Amanda Fehlbaum

Amanda Fehlbaum

Amanda Fehlbaum is an assistant professor in the Sociology, Anthropology, and Gerontology department at Youngstown State University. She specializes in gender, sex education, body and embodiment, and qualitative methods.

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Dysfunctional Donations: Situational Altruism and the Sending of Stuff After Disasters

When disaster strikes and people appear to lose everything, there is an impulse to send them anything. In this piece, Amanda Fehlbaum examines why people feel a need to help after a natural disaster and why donating stuff (as opposed to money) may not be such a great idea.

I was born and raised in Texas. I have friends all over the state, including in and around Houston, where Hurricane Harvey recently unleashed devastation and catastrophic flooding of unprecedented proportions. While my loved ones are currently fine, many others have not been so fortunate.

Disasters are considered both internal and external to a social system. Pictures of the destruction are disseminated across the media and individuals’ traumatic stories are told. People see the devastation and want to know how they can help, so they seek to make donations. While many people donate money, some are uncomfortable with sending cash, uncertain how the funds may be used or perhaps misappropriated. Others feel that they lack funds, but they want to provide something, so they look around their house for items to give.

Why Do People Help?

Altruism is concern with the welfare with others. A specific type of altruism is deployed during disasters: situational altruism. As defined by Russell R. Dynes (1994), situational altruism occurs when people believe there are new victims in need of assistance and that existing resources are inadequate to meet those victims’ needs. Media feed into this belief, emphasizing the scope of tragedy, helplessness, anti-social behavior (e.g., looting, price-gouging) and destruction of routine. As a result, viewers’ altruistic behavior is encouraged. Dynes (1994:4) writes:

  • The reality which is socially constructed confirms that “something” bad has happened; that many undeserving people are now victims; that these victims need, and more importantly deserve help and that help is not likely to come from the local community since helping institutions and their capacity to deal with problems has been damaged.

The impression given is not only is altruistic behavior needed in this situation, but it is essential.

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Trump’s Locker Room Talk: Proving Masculinity Through Objectification

In this essay Amanda Fehlbaum uses Quinn’s concept of girl-watching to analyze Donald Trump’s vulgar remarks about grabbing women’s genitals without their consent.

If you have been paying attention to the 2016 presidential election, you have likely seen or heard the leaked 2005 “Access Hollywood” footage of Donald Trump and Billy Bush making lewd and vulgar remarks about women. Trump was on the program because he taped a cameo appearance on the daytime soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” For the majority of the video, Trump and Bush are on a bus and they are not visible; however, their comments are recorded because both were wearing microphones that were recording at the time.

According to a transcript from The New York Times, Trump talks about how he tried to sleep with “Access Hollywood” host Nancy O’Dell, and then denigrates her appearance. Bush points out the actress Arianne Zucker with whom Trump shared his scene on “Days of Our Lives.” Bush says to Trump “your girl’s hot” and notes, “The Donald has scored!” At one point, Trump describes kissing women without their consent and grabbing women by their genitals.

After Bush and Trump exit the bus, Bush encourages Zucker to give “a little hug for the Donald” and “a little hug for the Bushy.” She gives both hugs. Bush mentions that it is difficult to walk next to a man like Trump and later asks Zucker to choose whether she would rather go on a date with himself or Trump. She declines to choose and says she would take both of them.

The airing of the leaked footage has had an impact on all involved. Both O’Dell and Zucker responded by releasing statements condemning the comments and the objectification of women. Bush issued a statement, writing that he was embarrassed and ashamed and, while there is no excuse, he “was younger, less mature, and acted foolishly in playing along.” He was fired from “The Today Show.” Trump issued a statement video in which he said, “Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, it was wrong, and I apologize.” He encouraged viewers to live “in the real world” and see the tape as “nothing more than a distraction from the important issues.” The comments also had an impact on the public at large. After Trump and Bush’s comments were leaked, thousands of women shared their sexual assault stories on Twitter….

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Gotta Catch ‘Em All: Pokémon Go and Hyperreality

Pokémon Go has been lauded for getting people outdoors, walking, socializing, and learning. But where do players draw the line between the game and their real world? In this piece, Amanda Fehlbaum explores the phenomenon of Pokémon Go using Jean Baudrillard’s concepts of simulacra and simulation.

You may have seen them in your neighborhood – people walking around, their eyes glued to their smart phones. Suddenly one exclaims, “Hey! There’s an Abra over here!” Another one talks about needing to walk to hatch their eggs. You wonder if aliens have invaded or if you are in some sort of social experiment, but the truth is both mundane and bizarre: people are playing Pokémon Go.

Pokémon Go is a free smart phone application that grew in popularity virtually overnight. As of July 11, 2016, people have been spending more time on Pokémon Go than on Twitter and it has been installed on more devices than Tinder. If you are old enough, you may recall the popularity of the Pokémon cards, television show, and video games. Pokémon are creatures that are fought, caught, collected, grown, or evolved into stronger forms.

Prior to the release of Pokémon Go, the interactions that took place were relegated purely to the virtual world and one’s imagination. In other words, if you caught a Pokémon, it was from getting a card in a pack or playing a video game. With Pokémon Go, people are sent out into their neighborhoods to find Pokémon “in the wild.” Granted, you can only see the Pokémon around you if you are using the Pokémon Go app; otherwise, you are oblivious to the Pikachus and Psyducks around you in parks, offices, police departments, gyms, churches, backyards, city streets, and some strange places. Users can also collect Pokémon eggs within the game that require users walk a certain distance in order to hatch….

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Weighty Matters: The Biggest Loser and Framing Fatness

Many people try to lose weight, but very few succeed in keeping it off – even those who were on The Biggest Loser. In this post, Amanda Fehlbaum reveals that America’s obsession with weight has more to do with how fatness is framed in our public discourse than improving people’s health.

The United States is engaged in a national public health campaign to eat healthy and get more active in order to combat fatness. The dominant message from the government, media, and public health is that the country is in the midst of an obesity epidemic that puts not only the wellness of citizens, but the safety and finances of the nation at risk. As a result, Americans have become focused on fat, its meanings, its morality, and what we can do to rid ourselves of it.

One indication of our society’s obsession with fat is the television programs dedicated to weight loss. First, there are plenty of infomercials for diets and exercise programs that promise new, fun ways of burning fat. Then, there are commercials throughout the day in which a celebrity spokesperson invites viewers to join them in their easy, simple weight loss program. Last, there are the television shows about weight loss, such as My 600 lb Life, Fit to Fat to Fit, Extreme Weight Loss, and My Diet is Better Than Yours.

Can there be a ‘Biggest Loser’?

The longest running weight loss-related television show is The Biggest Loser. The show is a contest in which the person who loses the greatest percentage of their starting weight wins a cash prize. The Biggest Loser completed its 17th season in February 2016 and the show consistently ranks in the top 10 of the U.S. Nielsen ratings. The contestants engage in intense dieting and exercise over the course of a few months. The winners tend to lose close to, if not over, half of their original body weight over the course of 7 months.

The Biggest Loser was in the news recently because of a study that followed 14 of the 16 contestants from the 8th season over the past six years. Researchers were shocked to find that the contestants’ metabolism had significantly slowed and were, in essence, trying to get the contestants back to their original weight. Scientists already knew that engaging in any sort of deliberate weight loss will result in a slower metabolism after the diet ends. What they did not know was that metabolism does not bounce back, even years later. Furthermore, the contestants also had below normal levels of leptin, a hormone that controls hunger. Weight crept back on to the contestants and some are heavier today than they were before starting The Biggest Loser. For example, the season 8 winner has gained over 100 pounds back of the 239 he lost….

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Matching Men: Tinder & The Presentation of Masculinity

On Tinder, you are given very basic information and have to make a decision to swipe left (reject) or swipe right (accept) the person on your phone screen. In this essay, Amanda Fehlbaum investigates how men perform their masculinity on this notorious dating app.

Last weekend, I went on a date. I did not meet this person while browsing at the grocery store or partying at the club. My friends did not set me up on a blind date, nor was he a friend of friends. I did not even connect with this man on a dating site like Match or eHarmony. We connected on Tinder.

Tinder is described in the Apple App Store as “a fun way to discover new and interesting people nearby,” noting that over 10 billion matches have been made using the app. The way it works is this: You sign up using your Facebook profile and your Tinder profile is populated with some photos, your name, age, location. You have the option of including where you went to school and your occupation as well as the option to write a 500 character-length description about yourself.

You are then presented with the photo, name, age, and information of people within a set radius of your location. Because the app is covertly linked to your Facebook, you can also see if you have any friends in common with that person. You do not get to filter matches beyond sex, age, and location. In other words, you see every person who fits just those three criteria….

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Bun in a New Oven: Our Social Bodies in the Age of Uterus Transplants

The Cleveland Clinic recently performed the first uterus transplant in the United States, giving a woman the opportunity to become pregnant. In this piece, Amanda Fehlbaum reflects on how such an organ transplant is not just biological, it is social, too.

We tend to think of reproduction as a biological concept. In school, we learn about how egg and sperm meet and offspring result after a certain gestation period. Reproduction, however, is deeply culturally constructed and not nearly as simple as it appears. Technological advancements make the situation even more complex and demonstrate how childbearing is far from just biological.

Take, for example, news that surgeons at The Cleveland Clinic have performed the first uterus transplant in the United States. An unnamed 26 year-old woman, born without a uterus, received a uterus from a deceased donor after a nine-hour surgery on February 24, 2016. She will have to wait a year before trying to become pregnant through in vitro fertilization. After one or two pregnancies, the uterus will either be removed so that the woman can stop taking medication to prevent organ rejection or allowed to be rejected and wither away. 

Social Bodies

There is a propensity in our society to see the body as a biological object rather than something that must be understood within a social, cultural, and historical context. Women’s bodies in particular have a wide variety of norms, taboos, and expectations placed upon them, as seen in a previous Sociology in Focus piece. In fact, women’s bodies are largely tied to their reproductive abilities and some women, like the 26 year-old, yearn to experience pregnancy.

In a piece from The New York Times about uterus transplants, the 26 year-old woman notes that she had always assumed that she would have children. She was devastated to learn at age 16 that she had ovaries, but no uterus, due to Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome. She wondered if anyone would want to marry her if she could not bear children. Ultimately, she did marry and adopted two children; however, she still wanted the experience of pregnancy:

“I crave that experience. I want the morning sickness, the backaches, the feet swelling. I want to feel the baby move. That is something I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember,” she said.

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Don’t Drink the Water: The Crisis in Flint from a Sociological Perspective

When something bad happens, often people’s first instinct is to blame themselves rather than look at the larger social context in which it happened. In this essay, Amanda Fehlbaum explores the way that the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, went beyond being one woman’s private trouble and became a much larger public issue.

The news about Flint, Michigan’s water crisis has been both heartbreaking and frustrating to learn about. A recent report from The Guardian claims that “every major US city east of the Mississippi” tampers with their water tests in order to give lower indications of the amount of lead in drinking water. Such a claim is very serious and cities around the country are now looking into the lead levels in their own drinking water. I live in a suburb of Youngstown, Ohio. While no notices have been given about my drinking water have been made, another Youngstown-area community in my county found lead levels that exceeded federal standards. Given that you cannot see, smell, or taste lead in the water, you have to place trust that your water department has your best interests in mind.

A Public Issue

Lead in water can lead to delays in physical and mental development in infants and children as well as kidney problems and high blood pressure in adults. Lead can also accumulate in the body in kidneys, teeth, bones, and the liver and be released during times of stress, when bones break, or during pregnancy. Amount of lead in water is measured in parts per billion (ppb). Water tests that reveal 15 ppb are meant to trigger measures to lower the level, although The Washington Post states that even 5 ppb are cause for concern….

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Running on Red: A Marathoner Tests the Menstruation Taboo

There is an unwritten rule for women: hide your menstruation and any products associated with it. One woman recently decided to break this rule while running 26.2 miles through London without a tampon to stop her flow? In this post, Amanda Fehlbaum examines the reaction to Kiran Gandhi’s run and argues that people’s discomfort has to do with maintaining civilized bodies.

As a person who has completed four half marathons, I take inspiration from reading stories about other runners and their reasons for taking take to the road. Recently, the story of Kiran Gandhi’s experience at London Marathon made international news. The tale of Kiran’s run could have gone unnoticed among the 37,675 racers were it not for the growing spot of blood between her legs. Kiran consciously ran without a tampon for 26.2 miles.

Kiran Ghandi

This is the stuff of nightmares for many women. Menstruation is a taboo subject- to be hidden from sight at all times. The concealment of one’s period has come to be a cultural norm or a behavior that is expected of girls and women. I would venture to guess that many women share my adolescent experience of burying a package of maxi pads under the rest of the groceries and hoping that the cashier at the checkout stand was a woman (heaven forbid it was a male classmate!).

Why Did She Do It?

There were a few reasons that Kiran ran without a tampon. As noted on her blog, one reason she let her period blood flow was because she did not want to worry about changing a tampon. She wrote, “It would have been way too uncomfortable to worry about a tampon for 26.2 miles.” Tampons have to be changed every 4 to 8 hours depending on the heaviness of the flow and the absorbency of the tampon itself. Kiran would have had to find a way to have tampons on hand throughout the race, plus a way to adequately wash her hands before and after insertion. If you have spent any time in a port-a-potty, you know that the experience is neither that pleasant, nor is it the most sanitary environment.

The second reason Kiran ran without a tampon was to combat the stigma of periods. Menstrual blood has had a bad rap for quite some time. The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder thought that menstrual blood could ruin crops, dull steel blades, drive dogs mad, kill bees, and sour milk! While our ideas about periods have progressed to be less damaging, there is still an idea that periods are dirty. Kiran had this in mind when she ran. After the race Kiran wrote:…

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