Making and Policing Masculinity in Public Space

Saturday, April 2, 2022, 8:45 AM - 10:15 AM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Gender and Sexuality; Social and Cultural; Urban and Suburban


In recent years, the contested nature of masculinity has been on full display in public space. From men’s disproportionate refusal to wear masks in the midst of a pandemic, to the demonstration of apparently aggrieved white masculinity in the form of insurrectionist violence, to the endemic brutality of white male police officers against Black men, ideas about what it means to be masculine are being made and remade in public and semi-public spaces across the country. This panel brings together scholars at different career points and housed at both liberal arts and research university institutions who are working on a variety of projects focused on masculinity, and public space. It asks what past contestations of masculinity can tell us about our present moment. How have Americans understood the boundaries and uses of masculinity over time, and how have these boundaries and uses been set and re-imagined in public space? How have race, class, and sexuality influenced the contestation of public masculinities? How have men asserted their masculinity through claims to public space? How has patriarchal control of public space abetted white supremacy? How have Americans responded to non-normative masculinities on display in public places? Emma Z. Rothberg focuses on how turn-of-the-twentieth-century municipal police departments used public space to shore up policemen’s own claims to masculinity despite their ethnic and class backgrounds. Dr. Molly Brookfield looks at the policing and defense of male ogling in public space, highlighting the case of Mack Ingram, a Black farmer arrested for “eye rape” in 1951 North Carolina, and the white, middle-class male commentators in the North who depicted Ingram’s case as a larger attack on men’s right to ogle women, or “girl-watch.” Stacey Bishop turns to an examination of how ‘vagrant’ or deviant working-class white masculinity was policed in Vancouver and San Francisco from the 1960s onward in the public spaces of the downtown core. Dr. Traci Parker, author of Department Stores and the Black Freedom Struggle: Workers, Consumers, and Civil Rights from the 1930s to the 1980s, chairs the session and Dr. Emily Remus, author of A Shoppers' Paradise: How the Ladies of Chicago Claimed Power and Pleasure in the New Downtown, closes with a comment.

Papers Presented

“The Finest” on Parade: Police Parades, Public Space, and Manhood in the Gilded Age

Between the Civil War and World War I, police departments across the United States became more formalized, bureaucratized, and militarized, particularly in the nation’s emerging urban centers. As police departments became official parts of municipal government, the ways in which they operated underwent massive change, particularly in terms of hiring and types of service. Policing promoted the idea of citizenship through service, a service that declassed and whitewashed its participants. This paper will focus on Gilded Age police-sponsored parades—a frequent phenomenon in American cities that replicated military reviews—in order to explore how police departments marshalled public space in order to shore up their claims to manhood despite patrolmens’ ethnic and class backgrounds. Reasserting manhood was particularly salient in urban areas at the turn-of-the-century as urbanization facilitated new ways of moving through and relating to space. This paper will argue these connections between gender, space, power, and legitimacy were particularly salient in an era in which the nation was rapidly urbanizing and diversifying due to massive waves of immigration.

Presented By
Emma Z. Rothberg, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Girl-Watching” or “Eye Rape”?: Race, Class, and Contesting Men’s Public Glances in the 1950s

On June 4, 1951, Black North Carolina farmer Mack Ingram stood accused of “eye rape” after a white teenage girl claimed Ingram had looked at her from a distance of seventy-five feet across a country road. The Ingram case, which garnered worldwide attention, drew on a racist rhetoric that cast a wayward glance from a Black man--whether real, as Ingram’s accuser claimed, or imagined, as Ingram’s lawyers argued--as a violent offense. In stark contrast, one year after the North Carolina Supreme Court finally acquitted Ingram, the 1954 publication of The Girl Watcher’s Guide celebrated and glorified the practice of ogling as the “genteel sport” of respectable, refined middle-class white men. The girl watcher became a widespread trope who appeared in periodicals, television commercials, films, books, and popular music. This paper examines the case of Mack Ingram in the context of the burgeoning mid-century phenomenon of girl-watching. It considers these two definitions of men’s looking: one that suggested a look was tantamount to rape, while the other suggested that watching women in public was the inalienable right of middle-class white men. It asks how these two versions of men’s looking co-existed and why, as Ingram stood trial, white male commentators saw Ingram’s plight as indicative of an attack on all men’s right to look at a pretty woman. In examining these differing definitions and reactions to men’s looking, this paper will further delineate how ideas about masculinity have been constructed, contested, and maintained both in public discourse and public space.

Presented By
Molly M. Brookfield, Sewanee: The University of the South

Policing White Male Vagrancy in the West Coast Metropolis, 1960‒2000

Long considered ‘wide open towns,’ both San Francisco and Vancouver, BC are credited with being cities that not only tolerate but encourage sexual and political experimentation, casual drug use, and countercultural yet cosmopolitan lifestyles. They are also thriving neoliberal cities and international entrepots serving as outposts for Pacific Rim trade and centers of finance. This paper examines some of the ways deviant working-class white masculinities have been policed, managed, and/or disciplined, alongside the growing wealth of these cities in the postwar era. It will follow the analytical thread of deviant working-class white masculinity from the manufacturing era to disinvested downtown cores through gentrification and the post-1970s urban economy. From the pathologized skid row man to the pathologized homeless man ‘dually diagnosed’ with drug addiction and mental illness, from juvenile runaways to squeegee punks, from the police crackdown on the young male hustler on the corner to the policing of the drunk or the drug user, deviant masculinities have vexed city efforts to remake and sanitize the central city. This talk will examine how dominant, normative assertions of ideal cosmopolitan masculinities clashed with non-normative, or resistant forms of white working-class masculinity.

Presented By
Stacey Bishop, University of Michigan

Session Participants

Chair: Traci Parker, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Traci Parker is an associate professor in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Department Stores and the Black Freedom Struggle: Workers, Consumers, and Civil Rights from the 1930s to the 1980s (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). Her work has been featured in the Journal of Women’s History, Race and Retail: Consumption across the Color Line (Rutgers University Press, 2015), The American Historian, the World of Jim Crow, and The SAGE Encyclopedia of Economics and Society, as well as on C-SPAN, PBS, and the History Channel.

She is currently writing Beyond Loving: Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Black Freedom Movement and co-authoring The Civil Rights Movement Reader: A Reader on the Modern Black Freedom Struggle with Dr. Marcia Walker-McWilliams (University of Massachusetts Amherst Press, forthcoming).

She has received grants and fellowships in support of her research from the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Chicago, among others.

Traci currently is the treasurer for the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, the nation’s largest organization of women historians, a member of the Organization of American Historians’ Brinkley-Stephenson Award Committee and serves on The HistoryMakers’ Higher Education Advisory Board. She earned her Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago.

Presenter: Stacey Bishop, University of Michigan
Stacey Bishop is a PhD Candidate in the History Department at the University of Michigan. Her dissertation studies the inner cities of San Francisco, CA, and Vancouver, BC, from the 1960s until the present. She follows the economic and cultural re-ordering of these cities by focusing on the social regulation of substance use, sexuality, and race in relation to urban poverty. Her research interests include urban history, gender and sexuality history, racial capitalism and inequality, and public health.

Presenter: Molly M. Brookfield, Sewanee: The University of the South
Dr. Molly M. Brookfield is Assistant Professor of History and Women's and Gender Studies at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. She is writing a history of men's harassment of women in public space, or street harassment, in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States, tentatively titled Watching the Girls Go By: Sexual Harassment in the American Street, 1850-1980. Her work focuses especially on the way the quietest, most trivialized forms of harassment, such as ogling or staring, have been normalized as the "right" of white, middle-class men over time and restricted women's free movement through American urban space.

Commentator: Emily A. Remus, University of Notre Dame
Emily Remus is Assistant Professor of History and Concurrent Assistant Professor of Gender Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Her research and teaching focus on gender, capitalism, urban life, and the built environment. Her first book, A Shoppers’ Paradise: How the Ladies of Chicago Claimed Power and Pleasure in the New Downtown, was published by Harvard University Press in 2019. That book explored the incorporation of women consumers into public space and public culture at the turn of the twentieth century. In 2019, she received a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) in support of her new project, Charge It: Women, Credit, and the Making of Modern America, which examines the role of women and gender in the development of modern credit practices. Prior to joining the faculty at Notre Dame, Remus was a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She received her PhD with distinction from the University of Chicago.

Presenter: Emma Z. Rothberg, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Emma Z. Rothberg is a PhD Candidate in the History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her dissertation focuses on the cultural practices of urban democracy and identity in American cities at the turn of the twentieth century. Her research interests include urban history, gender history, culturual history, memory, and digital history methodologies.