Research 

The Mating Game: Courtship in an Era of Gender Upheaval. (Under Contract with University of California Press):

This study examines how the intersections of gender, sexuality, and class shape men’s and women’s courtship behaviors and narratives and how, in turn, these experiences affect egalitarian outcomes in romantic relationships.  Using data from in-depth interviews with 105 college-educated young adults with diverse sexualities and gender identities, I argue that a persistent belief in distinct and complementary genders - despite the rise of employed women and the decline of traditional households - prevents the formation of fully egalitarian relationships. My analysis charts the process by which gender inequality persists in romantic relationships, demonstrating that, as educational and occupational gender gaps shrink, strategies of symbolic gendering are an increasingly important arena for maintaining or undermining inequality. Amid the current debate over whether the gender revolution is proceeding or stalling, this research casts light on a number of core issues in several fields, including the directions of family change and the prospects for more equal gender relationships.

"'We Can Write the Scripts Ourselves': Queer Challenges to Heteronormative Courtship Practices." Gender & Society 31(5): 624-646..

Courtship conventions are premised on widespread and deeply held cultural beliefs that men and women need and want different things from their romantic relationships. Yet queer relationships challenge the notion of distinct gendered behaviors in romantic relationships, and queer people often explicitly seek to undermine conventional relationship practices. Using interview data from 40 LGBTQ-identified respondents, I examine how queer people negotiate culturally dominant gendered dating and courtship practices. My findings show that, rather than replicate heterosexual norms, respondents actively reject them, seeking new and more egalitarian ways of building romantic relationships. Significantly, the narratives drawn on to justify egalitarian dating practices are similar to those used in their committed relationships. Respondents emphasized egalitarian, flexible, and non-gendered care work in committed relationships, indicating that how people date may potentially set the stage for the dynamics in their relationships. The importance placed on these alternative norms in queer communities, however, contradicts respondents' assertions that they can create relationships free from cultural constraints, demonstrating how emerging norms can breed their own pressures for conformity. 

 

“Negotiating Courtship: Reconciling Egalitarian Ideals with Traditional Gender Norms.” Gender & Society 28(2): 189-211. 

Traditional courtship norms delineate distinct gendered behaviors for men and women based on the model of a dominant, breadwinning male and a passive, dependent female. Previous research shows, however, that as women have increased their access to earned income, there has been a rising ideological and behavioral commitment to egalitarian relationships. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 38 college-educated women, this article explores how women negotiate these seemingly contradictory beliefs in order to understand how and why gendered courtship conventions persist even as heterosexual romantic relationships become more egalitarian. My findings show that, while the women reference essentialist beliefs about men’s “nature” to explain their commitment to courtship conventions, they draw on narratives of choice, individualism, and personal autonomy to assert that the symbolic gendering of courtship will not interfere with their desire for an egalitarian marriage. However, women’s behaviors and narratives reinforced notions of gender difference, potentially providing support for other forms of gender inequality.

 

"The Limited Construction of an Egalitarian Masculinity: College-Educated Men's Dating and Relationship Narratives." Men & Masculinities 18(3): 271-292.

According to dominant cultural representations, masculinity in heterosexual relationships is signified by men’s dominance, aggression, sexual promiscuity, and emotional unavailability. Yet, the preferred way of doing masculinity is context-specific, and middle-class men face increasing expectations that they engage in egalitarian relationships. In this study, I use in-depth interviews with 31 college-educated, heterosexual men to explore how they construct their masculinity under changing social conditions. My findings show that men use egalitarian narratives as a form of identity work in which they compose understandings of themselves as progressive, caring, and respectful of women, in contrast to the majority of men, whom they ascribe with stereotypical male traits. However, these egalitarian narratives serve as a shield, allowing men to dismiss inequalities that emerge in their romantic relationships as the result of individual preference so that gendered outcomes are allowed to go unquestioned, leaving gender inequalities intact.

ELLEN LAMONT

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR

DEPARTMENT OF SOCIOLOGY

APPALACHIAN STATE UNIVERSITY