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“Trick-or-Treat, Smell My Feet”: How to “Do Halloween”

How do you “do Halloween?” In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath describes the conflicting messages she received from her family, her peers, and the media about how to celebrate Halloween. 

Jack-o-Lantern

Please accept my apologies for my belated post on Halloween. You see, I don’t really know how to “do Halloween.”

It’s not my fault that I don’t know how to “do Halloween.” I blame conflicting messages from the various agents of socialization in my life. I am constantly surprised by the extent to which others decorate for the holiday and invest in costume planning. Why would people invest this much time and money in Halloween?

My ambivilance towards the holiday is challenged by the presence of my 6-year-old daughter. And Pinterest and Facebook. Thanks to the kid, I have to act like I have some idea what is expected on this holiday. Thanks to social media I’ve learned I should carve a pumpkin, do something creative with fall leaves, visit a corn maze, visit a haunted house, make a homemade costume, participate in a costume contest, and make Halloween-themed food. These are just a few of the ways in in which I have failed at doing Halloween properly. In sum, my Halloween socialization has been influenced by my parents, the Internet, movies, and my child.

Let me begin by describing the Halloween of my childhood. I grew up in the era of imaginary razor blades in apples and Halloween costumes which consisted of plastic masks and what can only be described as a decorative garbage bag. My mother with her home economics degree (yes, that is a real thing), would never dress me in one of those suffocation-hazard outfits (though I did wear the plastic masks). She handmade my costumes before Pinterest made it a thing. I have no memory of picking out a costume at a store (except maybe when I went as a black cat). One year, I went as a clown (for the umpteempth time) complete with camouflage make-up.

I keep using the word “went” as if that means something. Where did I go? I’m sure your thinking, “trick-or-treating, of course.” Well, sort of….

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Beyond Janay Rice: Understanding DV (Trigger Warning)

The Rice domestic violence case brought physical domestic violence (DV) to the spotlight. But there is so much more to DV than what this case highlights. In this post, Bridget Welch interviews Diane Mayfield (the director of a victim’s center in my community) to explore some of what has been missing from the coverage.

Besides writing for this blog and being my professory self, I also volunteer as a hotline advocate for the local center for interpersonal violence (covers sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking). While I had a lot of reactions to the Rice domestic violence (DV) case that are probably different than a lot of people because of that experience, I struggled with what I wanted to focus on for a post discussing the case. I decided that enough people are actually discussing the case online, who needs another voice? Instead, I sat down with Diane Mayfield (director of the Western Illinois Regional Council-Community Action Agency (WIRC-CAA) Victim Services Program where I volunteer) to discuss what we hope the national attention to DV will teach us.

1. Domestic violence is not just physical.

Taking hotline calls and with the research I do on sexual assault, I hear a lot of reports of different types of domestic violence (sexual violence is frequently a component of DV). In one instance I talked to a woman who had been repeatedly raped by her boyfriend (justified by her causing it by “making” him feel jealous) who felt like she couldn’t leave him because he had systematically made her drop all of her friends and even cut her off from her parents. In another situation, I talked to a man whose ex-wife was demanding he do what she wanted or she would not let him see the kids. In another, a woman calls in tears trying to figure out how she could get away from her partner who constantly belittles her and makes her feel bad about herself. But she didn’t know how to because she had given up her job to take care of the kids and now had no money.

Diane points out that when you ask someone “what DV is, they just say it is physical violence.” But, the truth is, physical violence like what occurred in the Rice incident is just part of DV (in fact, for all we know, it’s just part of the abuse Janay faced). The Power & Control Wheel developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota shows all the way that domestic violence can occur — including what we saw in the three examples I used above — using children, shifting blame, verbal assault, economic control, and sexual abuse. In fact, while often people (including court officials like judges and police) take physical DV more seriously, other types — particularly economic (see the purple purse campaign) — make it harder for a victim to leave. And, as Diane points out, her clients often say it’s verbal abuse that is the worst. “Bruises and bones heal. It’s the verbal abuse and mental abuse that sticks. It gets in your head and won’t leave.”…

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Janay Rice, The Cycle of Abuse, & Obstacles for Victims

The disturbing video of NFL player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée during a dispute in an elevator has been seen by many and resulted in a great deal of discussion.  Ray Rice’s contract was terminated on Monday and he was suspended indefinitely from the NFL. His wife Janay Rice recently released a statement that led to more debate and confusion in the public. She stated “THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get…Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is!” How do sociologists explain violence in relationships and the occurrence of victims staying with an abusive partner? In this post, Mediha Din describes the concept of the Cycle of Abuse and social barriers that make it difficult for victims to leave abusive relationships.

Ray Rice

Many people were surprised to find that one month after the assault in the elevator in Atlantic City, Janay Rice married the man that hit her. Many people also wonder the same thing about someone they know- how can he or she stay with that person?

Before analyzing abusive and unhealthy relationships, it is important to note that we cannot make assumptions about the relationship between Ray and Janay Rice, we can only use the public attention regarding this case as a starting point for discussing abuse. We must also remember that victims of abuse can be male or female, heterosexual or homosexual, married, dating, or “hooking up”, adults, teenagers, or tweens, rich or poor, educated or dropouts, and of any cultural, religious, or racial backgrounds.

In 1979, psychologist Lenore E. Walker developed the social theory of the Cycle of Abuse (also known as the Cycle of Violence), describing patterns that are often seen in unhealthy relationships. The cycle consists of three stages. Tension Building, Abuse, and Honeymoon.

Tension Building: During this stage, the victim feels things could blow up at any moment. The victim may feel that he/she is walking on eggshells, anticipating an explosion. Anything might set the abuser off, such as not returning a text or phone call immediately. The abuser may start a fight for no apparent reason.

Explosion. During this stage there is an outburst that includes some form of abuse. It can be intense emotional, verbal, sexual, or physical abuse, or a combination. This can include hitting, slamming someone against a wall, screaming, yelling, or humiliating. The abuse is not always physical and it does not always leave a mark. Spitting on someone is an example of abuse that is emotionally damaging but won’t leave a bruise.

Honeymoon: In this stage the abuser often apologizes profusely. They may say “I love you”, promise that it will never happen again, and buy the victims gifts. During this stage the abuser also often tries to shift the blame away from them self. They might blame their stressful job, alcohol, drugs, family stress, and very often- the victim, for the outburst of abuse….

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Miley Cyrus Has Found the Cure for Youth Homelessness

Did you watch the MTV Video Music Awards this year? Well if you missed it, Stephanie Medley-Rath brings you up to speed on Miley Cyrus’ cure for youth homelessness, which she unveiled at the VMA.

Homeless Youth Sleeping on Street

Once again, Miley Cyrus steals the VMA spotlight by pulling a stunt of some sort. This year, she had 22-year-old homeless man, Jesse Helt to accept her award to raise awareness for homeless youth living in Los Angeles. He prompted viewers to visit Cyrus’facebook page so that they, too, could donate to My Friend’s Place, an LA shelter serving homeless youth ane presumbly to educate themself on the issue.

I visited Cyrus’ website to learn more about her campaign and noticed that her campaign message begins:

  • “Just a few miles from where I live in Los Angeles, there are young people living on the street who come to this city with big dreams just like all of us.”

The implication is that these are young people who moved to L.A. to achieve their dreams rather than that they are from L.A. to begin with or are homeless for reasons that have little to do with seeking Hollywood-fame. The allure of Hollywood and celebrity is strong and Cyrus’ words are an attempt to get people to empathize because they (i.e., homeless youth) are “just like all of us” (i.e., the non-homeless)….

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Who Does The Work of Parenting?

Fathers Day is a day to celebrate the contributions that fathers make to all of our lives. One of the main contributions any parent makes is performing the labor it takes to have a clean house, have children who are clean/dressed, and all of the other housework tasks it takes to “produce the family” everyday. In this post Nathan Palmer explores the research on how heterosexual couples divvy up these tasks and invites dads everywhere to reflect on gender inequality.

It’s Fathers Day! So before I do anything else, I want to wish a happy Fathers Day to all of my fellow dads out there.

This got me thinking about the work of parenting. Because make no mistake, parenting is WORK. You have to feed your kids, wash’em, learn’em, drive them everywhere under the sun, and don’t get me started on all of the gross things I’ve done in the name of parenting. Now factor in all of the indirect parental work: grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning the house, etc. It’s A LOT of work.

Sociologists have long been interested in the work of parenting and specifically how that labor is divided up between parents. And the research is clear: women do more housework than men. For instance, one study compared time use journals of men and women from 1976 to those from 2005. These researchers found that while the gender inequality had decreased, women still performed more hours of housework than their male counterparts Stafford 2008. This finding holds true even if both men and women work outside the home (Stohs 2000).

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Structure, Agency & Snow, Oh My!

You pop out of bed, turn on your TV to the local news, and look to see if school has been canceled due to snowy weather. Bummer, it looks like your college is going to stay open. You look out the window and see that roads look awful. So what do you do? Stay home or go to campus? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath examines how much agency a student has when deciding whether to attend class on a day of extreme weather.

Car in Ditch on Snowy Day

The roads are yet again covered in ice and snow. While my daughter’s school cancelled classes due to the weather, my college did not. Where I teach is a commuter school and serves a very large geographic area. As an employee, my options were to cancel class and take a personal day or make every effort to hold class and keep my personal day. I like to hold onto personal and sick days until I absolutely need them, so I threw on my snow gear and went to campus.

I had some agency in the matter. Agency is a term sociologist use that describes a person’s ability to affect the world around them and/or get their way. It may be easier for you to think of agency as control or as “free will”. I could have used my agency and easily cancelled class because I have the personal leave I could take. I would even still get paid for the day if I opted to cancel class.

But, what about my students? How much agency did they have in choosing whether to drive to campus or stay home? Let’s consider the factors that would influence their “choice:”

  • The college did not close, as I mentioned above, yet some instructors did cancel classes. If a student had other classes that were cancelled, then perhaps they would be more likely to skip those classes that were not cancelled.
  • What if the teacher grades attendance, participation, or both? This is true of the courses that I teach. For a student to skip today, they would lose these points.
  • As a student paying tuition, to skip class means that your money is to some extent “wasted.”
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Praise the Lord & Pass the Ammo: Duck Dynasty & Civil Religion

A&E’s record-shattering show, Duck Dynasty has been lauded by religious groups and conservatives as wholesome, family functional reality television. In this post, Ami Stearns suggests that the iconic show can be used to illustrate Robert Bellah’s concept of civil religion in America.

Need a Halloween costume idea? Dress up as a Duck Dynasty family member! Out of dog dental treats? Duck Dynasty to the rescue! Need a fun new distracting game on your iPhone? Duck Dynasty’s Battle of the Beards should fit the bill. This show is not only incredibly popular, but its cast members are instantly recognizable in their long, ZZ-top beards, fatigues, and bandanas. Merchandise from the show is everywhere from Bass Pro Shops to Target. Recently, my friend’s daughter’s entire softball team dressed up as Duck Dynasty men for a game, complete with beards.

I literally can’t escape from Duck Dynasty, though- believe me, I’ve tried. Members of the Duck Dynasty family even showed up on my campus in Norman, OK, at a recent football game. I watched the record-shattering A&E show to figure out what all the hype was about and couldn’t determine the “lure” (you may substitute “duck call”) until I started thinking about the reality show in the context of religion.

Billed as a reality show that is, funny, functional, and family-filled, the premier of Season 4 broke records for viewership and became the most popular unscripted show in cable history.In case you’ve been living under a rock, the show follows the exploits of Phil Robertson and his Louisiana clan. Robertson created a duck call that became quite successful and made the family into multi-millionares.Duck Dynasty has become the poster child for American conservatism. Hallmarks of the show include the cast members sitting down to dinner as a family, praying before meals, refraining from cursing, teaching moral lessons, and exhibiting virtually no drama. What’s a reality show without screaming, profanity, and emotional breakdowns? The formula for a very popular show, it turns out.

In 1967, sociologist Robert Bellah published his theory of civil religion after analyzing the speeches of several presidents, from George Washington to John F. Kennedy. This concept disputes the notion of “separation of church and state” by claiming that political leaders invoke generic religious symbolism as part of expressing what it is to be an American. Examples of civic religion in America include the phrase “In God We Trust” on our money, and the addition of the words “Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Bellah suggested that civil religion encompassed the veneration of the flag, moral lessons learned from leaders, national myths, and the practice of leaders invoking the name of God in public.

Although Bellah’s concept of civil religion was intended to apply to political leaders, I would argue that American celebrities, such as the Robertson clan, also fill the role of national leaders. From Willie Robertson’s iconic red, white, and blue headband to the strong presence of fundamental conservatism that the show is famous for, Duck Dynasty is reflective of the civil religion that has become part of the national landscape.

Dig Deeper:

  1. Ask someone who watches Duck Dynasty what it is they like most about the show. Does their answer relate to conservatism, family, or religion?
  2. Compare Duck Dynasty to another conservative, religious show: 19 Kids and Counting. What are some reasons why Duck Dynasty is more commercially successful?
  3. Watch the following clip from the show. Does Phil’s opinion about today’s generation reflect current popular opinion?
  4. Read the following article. Describe how the beards in Duck Dynasty symbolize traditional family values, conservatism, and civic religion?


Breaking Bad: Reclaiming Masculinity in a Perilous Political Economy

AMC recently aired its final episode of Breaking Bad. With the series now completed, one might wonder how so many viewers could maintain loyalty to protagonist, “Water White,” the dorky low-level crystal methamphetamine producer, turned vicious kingpin, who over five seasons inflicted unbridled violence on a slew of characters. Even Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan expressed a sociologically-driven curiosity with Walt’s ability to emit public sympathy: “I have kind of lost sympathy for Walt along the way…I find it interesting, this sociological phenomenon, that people still root for Walt. Perhaps it says something about the nature of fiction, that viewers have to identify on some level with the protagonist of the show, or maybe he’s just interesting because he is good at what he does.” In this post, David Mayeda breaks down Breaking Bad’s success, accounting for reclaimed masculinity in a failed political economy.

For the few of you out there unfamiliar with AMC’s fictional drama, Breaking Bad tells the story of fumbling high school chemistry teacher with a PhD – Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) – who “breaks bad” by ditching his conventional teaching gig to produce and eventually traffic crystal methamphetamine across New Mexico and the greater American Southwest. Key in the series’ storyline is that Walt is a conventional family man, deeply in love with his pregnant wife, Skyler, and teenage son, Walt Jr., who suffers from cerebral palsy. That’s a lot of financial responsibility for any high school teacher. To make matters seemingly impossible, Walt is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Hence Walt works in tandem with former pupil, Jesse Pinkman, to start cooking meth in hopes of making enough money for his family’s long-term future.

Over the course of five seasons, Walter White transforms from a dorky, emasculated high school chemistry teacher who cannot provide for his family, to badass drug kingpin, steeped in money and power. With nothing to lose, Walt’s ascent stems from an incessantly growing cunningness, elite intellectual acumen, and at times, departure from his once conventional moral compass. Viewers have watched Walt kill rival drug dealers, associates and kingpins, stand idly by while Jesse’s love interest dies; we even know Walt poisoned a young child. Despite these departures from conventional morality, a substantial portion of Breaking Bads viewers still sympathize with, even cheer for Walt. How can this be?

Sociologically speaking, the answer lies in Walt’s ability to establish a kind of hegemonic masculinity under dreadful circumstances that on a different level, also impacted so many Breaking Bad fans….

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Correlation, Causation, & Teen Moms

High school sex ed, popular TV shows, and national PSAs would all have us believe that becoming a parent as a teenager (especially if you’re a girl) will cause tragic outcomes for both you and your child. In this post, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter helps explore the difference between causation and correlation to help in understanding how addressing social problems like teen pregnancy can get really complicated, really quickly.

Pregnant Woman in Swimsuit

“You’re supposed to be changing the world… not changing diapers.” “I never thought I would be a statistic.” These sayings, paired with pictures of coyly posed celebrities, are the crux of the Candie’s Foundation’s most recent campaign to prevent teen pregnancy. NYC’s approach is similar, replacing the celebrity photos with images of crying children beside tag lines like, “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.”

Coupled with images from popular shows like MTV’s 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom, at this point most Americans would take for granted that being a teen parent is the cause of a long list of poor social outcomes from dropping out of high school to living in poverty to raising kids who have their own set of problems. However, social researchers would caution that just because a relationship exists between teen parenting and negative social outcomes doesn’t mean that one is necessarily causing the other. As we’re about to explore, proving that something caused something else isn’t as simple as it may seem at face value….

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A Macaroni Necklace to Make-Up for Workplace Discrimination: Happy Mother’s Day!

Despite our gushy Hallmark cards, floral arrangements, macaroni necklaces, and brunch celebrating mothers, U.S. social policies regarding mothers continue to be dismal. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores some of the ways in which mothers in particular are penalized for “choosing” motherhood & the role social structure plays in the “choice” of parenthood.

Career or Family Signs

In the United States, motherhood (and parenthood) is viewed as a choice. Parenthood as a choice is a good thing in that it has decreased the stigma placed on the childless and childfree. The downside of choice-based parenthood is that it leaves society off the hook for supporting people who choose parenthood. While we have expanded support for families through the addition of workplace protections for breastfeeding mothers, our social policies remain lacking.

Let’s look at some of the social policies directed at families. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) turns 20-years-old this year. This means that for many of today’s traditional-aged college student, their parents were the first to have job protected leave to care for a newborn.

Many? Why not all? FMLA only covers employees who have been employed with their company for at least a year and work in companies with 50 or more employees. This means if your parent(s) worked in a company with 49 employees or worked there less than a year, then they would not have qualified….

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