Sociologists focus on our world today. Recently we have seen tragic news of shootings at a mall in Nairobi, a park in Chicago, and a Navy Yard in Washington D.C., all within the week. This devastating loss of innocent lives has impacted families, friends, and community members, and left many questions in our minds. As sociologists, we use three theoretical perspectives (think of them as three pairs of glasses with different lenses) to analyze society. One method that can be used for analyzing mass shootings such as the heartbreaking Navy Yard shooting in Washington D.C., is symbolic interaction. In this post, Bridget Welch describes symbolic interaction and how this sociological perspective can be used.
Last week Mediha Din analyzed mass shootings from a structural functionalist position. Today we will look at the same phenomenon, but from a different set of lenses — symbolic interaction (SI).
What is the meaning of light? Of fly? Breaking up? It all depends on the meaning that we have learned through interacting with others that helps us think through the possible menu of interpretations and choose our reactions. Because of our ability to interpret, we are capable of understanding the social world in a wide variety of creative and unique ways, and still capable of understanding each other. From this basic formula, we get three core principles of SI that I will explain using the example of mass shootings and the media.
Core Principle 1. People act towards things in terms of the meanings that they hold about those things.
When you think about a mass shooting, what do you think of? Sandy Hook Elementary school? The Aurora shooting at the movie theater showing Batman? Perhaps the mass shooting instance at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin?
We tend to think of the spectacular, or awesome (not that it’s good, but that it is awe inspiring); large scale shootings that grab national attention and keep it in a vice grip….
We all (even sociologists) react to others, to ideas, to objects based on the culture we live in. In this post, Bridget Welch attempts to take a big cultural step back to look at boobs in a new light.
“Have you seen this? There’s a breastfeeding doll. What’s your opinion on that?” my husband says to me.
I pause in the act of getting dressed, look at him and say, “Eww…” Looking away, I raise a hand to stop him from leaving, “But… but why? Why eww? Just a second…”
My mind starts racing. Why did I say “eww”? I start debating everything I know about breastfeeding. It all goes through my mind in a flash. The health benefits, the moments of bonding with your child, my own experiences with my son. I also think about how children play. How it’s normal and even healthy for young children to playact caring for babies.
“But it’s just gross,” I think to myslef. I mean, you watch the video. What’s your reaction? Be truthful! Was it some form of EWW, ICK, GROSS! or THAT’S JUST WRONG?!?!? Would you buy it for your kid?
I then remember the TIME cover and how that made me feel. I remember how I thought, “Now that’s just wrong. That kid’s got to be three at least!” By now I question that as well. Why am I so against this? Why does age make such a difference?
I think about how we know that for about 99% of human history, breast milk was the primary or only source of nutrition for children up to two years old and that breastfeeding continued after this (supplemented with other foods) for years. In fact, biocultural anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler who has long studied breastfeeding reports that “age at weaning in modern humans” should “be between 2.5 and 7.0 years.” <<My internal dialogue (and yours?): “Seven years! SEVEN years! You have GOT to be kidding me!”>> That means, for 99% of human history, my gut reaction would have been abnormal, strange, and even downright laughable to other humans.
But we don’t need to go to the distance past to be made fun of for our reactions to breastfeeding. All we need to do is hop a plane and we can get ridiculed all we want….
Babies are gendered before they even leave the womb! And once they are out, the sexualization begins. Bridget Welch reflects on how her son “flirts” with women and girls before he’s even clear on what a girl (or boy) is!
“He’s such a flirt,” was a common refrain when my son would gummily smile up and giggle at the women who stopped to see him. And they did stop. In droves. Remember, I told you how damn cute he was (is — thank you, see picture for exhibit A). The problem was that men stopped too (he was — is — that damn cute). Old, young, in-between, Stormaggedon (remember, this is my son’s fake name) would get love from everything on
two feet. And he would smile and burble away at all of them. Equally.
Not too long ago I was at an ice cream social with several of my colleague/friends and Stormaggedon. There too was a little girl that goes to school with him. Stormy spent the next hour running after her, calling after her, dancing with her. The adults around said stuff like, “Oh, she’s going to be trouble” and “WOW! Stormy’s got a girlfriend already!”
He’s two. She’s two. He was chasing her because: (1) He’s a toddler and has way too much energy BEFORE being given a dish of ice cream and a cookie; (2) He knew her and regularly plays with her at school; and (3) She was faster (and it doesn’t help that he demands to constantly wear Spiderman wellies that are two sizes too big — shown on the wrong feet in the picture). He wasn’t chasing her to kiss her or ask her out on a date. And, even if he did kiss her (it could happen) it wouldn’t have been sexual it would have been slobbery (trust me, I know his kisses). Again, because HE’S TWO.
The fact is, Stormy “flirts” with men as much as women. He chases boys as much as girls. But it is only when a girl is involved that his behavior becomes sexualized. The reason relies largely on the fact that the US makes heteronormative assumptions. Heteronormativity is a cultural belief system that takes for granted that human beings occur as either male or female and form romantic and sexual attachments to those of the opposite sex. As a result, heternormativity results in the erasure of bodies that do not fit into the male/female dichotomy (born intersexed which occurs a lot more commonly than we think and is a 100% natural occurrence)….
Have You ever see a kid stick her fingers in her ears and yell “LA LA LA” at the top of her lungs to keep herself from hearing her parents tell her to do something she doesn’t want to do? In this post Bridget Welch explore how what the United States is doing about the recent uprising in Egypt is kinda like that.
Nathan Palmer recently wrote about the turmoil in Egypt. After explaining what happened when the first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi was arrested by the Egypt military, Nathan points out that there are many ways to sociologically analyze the events in
Egypt and that he would be doing so by discussing the large social structural concerns relating to social control and cohesion.
A point that I try to make in my sociology courses is that social life is a complex chaos of craziness. Given any social event (especially something as large as national-level protests and military action), there are a lot of factors in play. In order to come to an understanding of any social process then, we need to whittle down that craziness into something we can manage. Frequently, the way we do so is through applying a particular framework (or theory) through which we view the events. This framework cues us into what elements to pay attention to and which to ignore. So while Nathan was looking at the revolt in terms of social control, I am going to use another framework — the power of naming — to explore another part of the Egyptian events — the U.S. response.
A name has three components. First, the label (that’s the obvious part). Second, it has some kind of affective component (how you feel about the thing). Third, it indicates to self and other what should be done with the object that has the label. For example, if there are flames racing up the aisles of a theater you are likely to label that “FIRE!”. You probably don’t much LIKE fire (at least in this context). And, when you yell “FIRE” in that theater it suggests to you (and everyone that hears you) that you need to hall butt out of that theater….
Just who do you think you are? Chances are the answer depends on where you are and who you’re with. Confused yet? Well, in this piece, Bridget Welch will help you make sense of all of this by exploring how many people are living in her head (and yours).
As we stepped into my son’s daycare for the first time, the director of childcare center stopped us to introduce us to another family and their son. “This is David and his mom, Cathy, and his dad, Rupert.” Turning her head toward David, Cath’, and Rupert she continued, “And I’d like to introduce you to Stormaggedon and… um… Stormaggedon’s mom and dad.”
As the daycare provider stuttered and then improvised, I realized that she didn’t remember what my name is. We were introduced to “David’s mom and dad” (no names given) then tried unsuccessfully to peel my clutching toddler off of my legs so he could interact with the other children.
After a while my husband turns to me and says, “Hun, we’ve got to go.” Looking at the clock, I saw he was right. We gave up the always useless endeavor of attempting to control the behavior of toddlers and headed to campus. There I was greeted by colleagues as “Bridget” and the assistant Dean I saw in the hallway greeted me with the same. Some student’s hailed me with a “Hey Doc!” or “Hi Dr. Welch.”
Within a twenty minute timeframe I went from “Stormaggedon’s mom” to “Mommy,” to “Hun”, to Bridget, to Dr. Welch. What happened was that with each new interaction partner, who I was in that moment slightly changed….
The “perfect penis” recipe = 1 cup of history, 2 tablespoons of stereotype, a dash of Asian male emasculation, add a liberal helping of the fear of Black males. In this post, Bridget Welch sees how men in different racial groups measure up. WARNING: Untrue, offensive, and just plain wrong racial stereotypes ahead.
This is a question my husband regularly asks when I tell him what we talked about in class that day. The question was asked yet again today.
“It was relevant. It was!” is my usual standby (but no less earnest) reply.
“Penis size is NEVER a relevant class topic,” he retorts.
But it is. Oh, how it is.
Flash back to class today. I just finished talking about how sociologist Evelyn Nakano Glenn argues that racial and sex identities are social constructions that are relational. In other words, the meanings attached to each normative social position is constructed in opposition to a social position that is demeaned. In this way, white womanhood is constructed as virtuous and normalized through its inherent rejection of black womanhood. Heterosexual is constructed in opposition to the aberrant homosexual. And, as we will discuss in this post, white masculinity is positioned as the optimal manhood in its placement between two extremes — Asian and black masculinity. Prior to explaining how this operates we will first explore how masculinity itself is constructed as the opposite, the repudiation, the rejection, of the feminine.
Men constantly police themselves and each other to make sure that they are acting masculine – in ways that are not “sissy” or “feminine” in anyway. As Michael Kimmel argues, “Our efforts to maintain a manly front cover everything we do. What we wear. How we talk. How we walk. What we eat. Every mannerism, every movement contains a coded gender language.” The reason for constant policing, for avoiding any type of behavior that is “feminine” is simply that to be “sissy” is to chance being labeled gay (see C.J. Pascoe’s discussion of the “fag discourse”) and consequently emasculated….
You’re only reading this because you saw the fly sex. You know why? We’re obsessed with sex. It’s everywhere. But, at the same time, we never TALK about it. In this post, Bridget Welch explores how this combination of obsession with lack of discussion (re)defines what is acceptable sexual behavior.
Television. Movies. Video games. T-shirts. Music. Books. Even winning toddler beauty contests. Sex is omnipresent. It even fills out our political soap operas. Most recently is the case of retired four-star General David Petraeus who resigned from his position as director of the CIA because of an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, his biographer.
In the past two years, Petraues is not the only one to provide us titillating scandals in the political arena. Remember Anthony Weiner’s weiner? Hiking the Appalachian Trial? The shirtless representative? The affair of the purity pledger? Eric Massa tickling his staffers (he is also the man who redefined snorkeling for a whole generation)? And many many more – including an excellent case of $52,000 being spent at a strip club by the Republican National Committee.
Heh heh… She said PROBE.
We gasp in horror as we hear the steamy details. Wait a second… A man sending a shirtless picture is steamy? I hope your sex-life (even if it’s solo) is steamier then that. And yet, he resigned in shame from the U.S. House. Why?…
Recently there has been quite a discussion of comments by Rep. Todd Akin about “legitimate” rape. In this post, Bridget Welch discusses how his comments are not so new and what they say for how we stereotype rape.
“What is rape-rape and what is rap-ished?” asks the satirist Kristen Schaal months before Rep. Todd Akin’s (Missouri) comments. In his discussion about why rape should not be a legal exception for abortion, he stated, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
There are many things to be concerned about with this statement. Not least of which is that there seems to be very little understanding about how the female body works and how pregnancy occurs. Fact: Woman can, and do, get pregnant as the result of rape. Another concern, and what we’ll be tackling here, is the idea that rape can be more or less legitimate.
So, how is it possible that Kristen Schaal did her bit months before Akin’s statement? Simply because comments like Akin’s are nothing new. He is not the first to modify rape and discuss it as more or less real. They are part and parcel of America’s rape culture (read a description of rape culture here, but be warned, there is bad language)….
With the thousands of hours and millions of words reported on the London 2012 Olympics, there was one story that was relatively ignored. As we watched awesome synchronized diving, Mitt Romney’s horse prance, runners blaze new records, most of us failed to realize one thing. The ground on which the rhythmic gymnasts ribbon-twirled once, not too many years ago, was a neighborhood with businesses, factories, nature lands, and residents. In this post, Bridget Welch discusses not the athletes, but the people who actually used to live where the Olympic Village now stands.
I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics with awe. As the pastoral English countryside was shoved away for the smoke stacks of the industrial revolution, I was amazed at the pageantry. The stage was set for the upcoming stories of transformation of young boys and girls into Olympic champions. From the achievements of Gabby Douglas to the announced retirement of Michael Phelps, we ate up these stories. But the real story of transformation went untold.
Think about it for a second. The Olympic Village was located in London – a city of over eight million people. If you’ve ever been to a big city, quick question: Can you think of a vacant area in these cities big enough to house the Olympics?
Same deal in London….