| | |

Viola Davis & Hollywood’s Racial Structure

In this article Nathan Palmer discusses Viola Davis’s historic Emmy win, her powerful acceptance speech, and what both have to teach us about the racial structure of media in the United States.

Last week, Viola Davis the How to Get Away With Murder star became the first African American woman to win an Emmy for best leading actress in a drama. In her powerful acceptance speech, Davis made one of the clearest structural explanations of inequality I have ever heard:

  • “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

Davis’s cogent argument illustrates the widely documented and long standing unequal racial structure within Hollywood. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first let’s take a step back and discuss what social structure is and how it affects our lives and our communities.

Structure is All About Opportunities

Sociologists are always talking about how social structure influences individuals and groups. However, despite sociologists incessant use of the concept, we have done a rather terrible job at defining what it means (Rubinstein 2001)….

Read More


| | |

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:…

Read More


|

Target, Toys, & Gender: How Much Do Words Matter?

Words matter, but how much? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath examines the other ways in which gender-based signage remains in Target even with the elimination of gender-based words.

Target recently announced that it intends to remove gender-based signage in the toy aisle and the bedding aisle. Almost immediately the Internet reacted with both praise and criticism of Target’s decision.

At first, I thought this was wonderful. There really is no such thing as a “girl” or “boy” toy. Toys are toys, but as a society we tell a child what toys to play with based on our stereotypes and by the toys we put in front of them. After my initial reaction, I thought about it some more and decided I need to actually visit a Target before making up my mind.

I was at my local Target two weeks ago and observed workers restocking the toy section. Then I heard Target’s announcement and thought they must have been rearranging due to the new signage. If there are no signs indicating “girl” or “boy,” then they must be reorganizing the toy aisles to reflect this. Wrong!

I went back to Target a few days later (after the announcement) and did notice some rearranging had taken place. I can only really comment on the Lego section as that is the section in which I spend the most time and money. My Target has had Legos in two aisles. In one aisle, Legos  fill both sides. In the second aisle, Legos fill one side (the side closest to the other Lego aisle). The Lego aisles are placed in the middle of the toy section.

Let me first describe what the toy section looks like as a whole. At one end of the toy section, one can find toys for infants and toddlers. Next, you will begin seeing toys in pink and purple packaging: Disney Princess, Barbie, My Little Pony, Monster High, My Generation dolls, and a few others. Then the Lego section appears. Finally, the packaging turns more blue: Superheroes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Matchbox cars, Nerf Guns, and so on….

Read More


| |

“The Trouble with Girls…” is Really the Trouble with Sexism

Recently The Nobel Prizing winning scientist Tim Hunt made some controversial and sexist remarks about “the trouble with girls” in science. In this essay, Stephanie Medley-Rath uses her daughter’s STEM camp experience to argue that the real trouble in STEM fields is not with girls, but with sexism.

This summer my daughter attended a STEM-themed day camp. While STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, I really think the S could stand for sociology, but nobody asked me. The day camp was open to any child, but really it was mostly the children of middle class parents who were able to attend. The camp cost a fair amount of money and required parents to drop kids off at 9am and pick them back up at 3:30pm. There aren’t too many working class families that could both afford the tuition costs and have work schedules flexible enough to handle the drop off/pick up times. While I could go on about the social class implications of this STEM camp, I want to focus on gender.

In sociology 101 classes we often talk about social class, gender, and race individually, but in reality each of us lives at the intersection of our class, gender, and race[1]. To this end, sociologists emphasize a concept called intersectionality. What this means is that there are many characteristics that influence our life chances. You are probably most familiar with race, class, and gender stratification. But these things do not exist in isolation. For example, I know what the world is like for white middle-class women because I am one and have been one my entire life. Race, class, and gender work together. People perceive others on the basis of all of these things. As you have also learned in sociology, however, sometimes one of these characteristics becomes the most salient or trumps the other characteristics….

Read More


|

Now The LGBTQ Community Can Be Just Like Us Heterosexuals, Right?

In this essay Nathan Palmer uses last week’s landmark supreme court ruling to discuss heteronormativity and what it means to embrace diversity.

Social change is often a painfully slow process until it becomes instantaneous. After decades of activism by marriage equality advocates and the LGBTQ community in general, the U.S. Supreme Court in an instant made the right to marry anyone, regardless of their gender or sexual identity, legal in across the country. For those concerned with social justice, this was a week to party.

Unfortunately, sociologists often make for crummy party guests. We tend to look at everything with a critical eye and I found myself unable to turn that voice in my head off Friday as I read through the Supreme Court’s majority opinion. This decision, which written by Justice Kennedy, provides good examples of something sociologists call heteronormativity and offers us a chance to think about what we mean when we use terms like equality and diversity.

It’s Either Marriage or a Lifetime of Loneliness

Reading through the majority opinion[1], which was written by Justice Kennedy, I was struck by the multiple times marriage was presented as the only way to avoid a “lifetime of loneliness.”…

Read More


| |

The Ties that Bind: The Sociology of Father’s Day Gifts

In celebration of Father’s Day, Ami Stearns argues in this post that the gifts we buy, or are encouraged to buy, for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day reflect deeper assumptions about what our society thinks it means to be a mother and a father.

It’s time to go buy your dad a tie! What are you getting your father for Father’s Day this year? One Father’s Day when I had no money, I decided to concoct some homemade barbecue sauce on the stovetop for my dad. I don’t even remember what ingredients I used, but for years afterward, Dad would bring up how good that jar of barbecue sauce was and ask if I could make it again (I was never able to recreate it, for some reason). Barbecue and men just seem to go together, don’t they?

The gifts that are promoted on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day often reflect society’s conception of what roles mothers and fathers are supposed to serve within the stereotypical heterosexual nuclear family. There are perhaps no other holidays that are quite so stereotypically gendered. Hanukkah, Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries have us seeking out unique gifts that are tailored to the recipient’s particular personality, likes, or hobbies. But Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gift ideas appear to fall back on socially constructed family roles….

Read More


Orientalism and “India’s Daughter”

In December 2012, a young woman from New Delhi, India was sexually assaulted and murdered by six male perpetrators in such brutal fashion that the tragedy provoked nation-wide protests and drew extensive international media attention. The incident also inspired British filmmaker, Leslee Udwin, to produce a documentary titled India’s Daughter (see trailer here). As part of the documentary, Udwin interviewed one of the convicted perpetrators, who declared the victim should not have resisted and was responsible for her own victimization because she violated feminine norms by dressing inappropriately and staying out late at night. In this post, David Mayeda uses Edward Said’s system of Orientalism to analyze a discussion on India’s Daughter that took place earlier this year.

TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses sexual assault.

pic1

Edward Said is one of the most influential academicians in the Humanities and Social Sciences. His system of Orientalism has been fundamental in assisting scholars to rethink how we understand discourse directed towards people of color and conversely, those of European descent. As described in Said’s seminal 1978 text, Orientalism entails constructing representations of non-European, colonized groups in negative ways across a range of mediums (military documents, popular media, academic study). Throughout this broad discourse, non-European cultures are framed as dangerous, backwards, inferior, simple, mystical and/or uncivilized, and lacking cultural diversity.

Coupled with this definition of “the other,” comes the implicit understanding that those who are not Orientalized must be by comparison, uniformly safe, forward thinking, superior, advanced, scientific and/or civilized. To this end, Said argues that when western European powers define “others” in disparaging ways, they are simultaneously coming to understand themselves in opposing, positive terms.

Said contends further that an Orientalist system served as the foundation for British and French colonialism from late 17th century until World War II, and American neo-colonialism in the post-World War II period, though Said acknowledges Italy, Spain, Portugal, Russia and Germany relied on Orientalist practices as well.

It is in this regard that Orientalism is so important as a conceptual framework, because without first Orientalizing non-European cultures, colonizing powers could not justify taking possession of other countries and imposing economic and educational systems that benefitted colonizers at the expense of the colonized. Understanding themselves as higher cultures, western Europeans assumed the right to bring said lower cultures along, no matter how grizzly the means….

Read More


|

My Orthodontia Dreams, Gender, & the Occupational Revolving Door

What does gender have to do with professional and academic aspirations? In this post, guest author Hollace Good recalls her own academic and professional goals and examines how gendered role expectations once left her questioning her decisions.

While many of my 2nd grade peers dreamt about growing up to be teachers, police officers, or Sonic the Hedgehog, I was eagerly awaiting my chance to attend dental school and becoming an orthodontist. As I obediently trooped from office to office with my mom looking for non-surgical, nightmarish headgear-free ways to correct a problematic underbite, I was fascinated by the sorcery of dental impressions and entranced by the rainbow assortment of bracket elastics. My gregarious, power-crazed little self was enamored by the command the orthodontist had over the entire office, I was in awe of his crisp, wizard-like lab coat, and covetously imagining the untold fortune he was surely earning.

The Author Hollace Good as a Child

As my treatment progressed and my bite slowly normalized, over the course of an expensive ten year process, I actively envisioned myself in this lab coat planning treatments for my patients. I eagerly shared my career aspirations to anyone who asked. When I was very little the adults I told were thrilled probably because my dream meshed with the social (and parental) pressures urging kids to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Despite my academic competence and enthusiasm for all things “ortho,” sometimes people around me greeted me with doubt. Snarky sentiments like “Gee, that’s awfully ambitious!” and ambivalent responses like “Yes…I’m sure you will do just fine.” were irksome, but nothing that I couldn’t cope with. The interactions that weighed on me most were always initiated by a set of sanctimonious relatives who only seemed motivated to speak to me so that they could scrutinize my ambitions. No matter how many times we discussed future plans, they never failed to ask me if I still wanted to be a dental hygienist and if I would be able to spend plenty of time at home with my family. They made me wonder: Was I being ridiculous for imagining that I, a young woman, could someday successfully occupy a position of greater power, authority, and knowledge? What is more, was I out of line for even considering a career and a family an appropriate trajectory for any woman?

Such dismissive sentiments are often engrained responses, guided and tempered by norms surrounding gender-appropriate roles and paths. Women make up the majority of licensed dental hygienists, a whopping 95%, while accounting for only 25% of practicing orthodontists according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With such a gap, no wonder people saw fit to question my goals. You are likely wondering, why is there such a stark gendered difference between dental professionals? To answer this question, I will briefly examine two models that attempt to explain these tendencies toward gender-based occupational categorizing. First, I will explore the pipeline model and follow with a discussion of the revolving door theory.

Read More


| |

Bruce Jenner & Status Transitions

In this essay, Nathan Palmer uses the Bruce Jenner interview to explore social statuses and categorization systems.

On Friday, Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner publicly announced that, “for all intents and purposes, I am a woman.” Jenner discussed his transition with Diane Sawyer during a ABC News television special that 16.8 million people watched live. In the wake of Jenner’s announcement, there have been many smart discussions of gender identity, the difference between sexuality and gender, and the on going legal discrimination against gender and sexual minorities.

As I watched on Friday, the sociologist in me was struck by how the television show ended. As a montage of video clips played Sawyer said in a voice over, “It’s time to leave. The transition is ahead, so in a sense as we said, this is a kind of farewell to the Bruce Jenner we though we knew.” Sawyer then asked Jenner if he felt like he was saying goodbye to something. He replied, “I’m saying goodbye to people’s perception of me and who I am. I am not saying goodbye to me, because this has always been me.” I can’t think of a better way to describe a status transition.

Statuses

A status describes a position within a community or group and its corresponding position within a social hierarchy of honor and prestige. Each status affords the individual who possess’s it a set of duties, rights, immunities, privileges, and usually it is also associated with a particular lifestyle or pattern of consumption. Every status has a corresponding set of roles. Roles are the set of behaviors and ways of thinking we expect a person of a given status to display. This is harder to understand in the abstract, so let’s focus our attention on the status at the center of the Jenner announcement, gender.

Read More


|

“This Isn’t An Act!” The Sociology of Gender Performances

In this essay Nathan Palmer asks us to consider how we perform our gender, even if it doesn’t feel like a performance to us.

Where did you learn to perform your gender? Chances are, this question sounds strange to you. Before I took a sociology class, I would have responded, “I don’t perform my gender, I am just being my true self. This is who I am, I’m not faking this.” I don’t doubt for a second that almost everyone reading this is being their authentic selves, but performing gender has nothing to do with authenticity and after you perform anything long enough, it stops feeling like a performance and starts feeling natural.

Separating The Men From The Boys Masculinity

If you’re still confused, then it might help to disentangle gender from sex. Sex is the term we use to describe biological distinctions between males and females. Gender on the other hand is a term we use to describe the social performances we associate with the terms masculinity and femininity. For instance, femininity in the U.S. is often associated with compassion, emotional sensitivity, submissiveness, and dependence on others. Masculinity is often associated with rugged independence, aggressiveness, a lack of emotions (except anger), leadership, and dominance.

However, these gender associations are not laws of nature. Females can be dominant leaders and males can be emotionally sensitive caretakers. In fact, males and females can exhibit the behaviors associated with masculinity at one moment (e.g. at work) and then a short time later flip and exhibit feminine characteristics (e.g. at home). While in the U.S. we associate males with masculinity and females with femininity, both males and females can perform either masculinity or femininity and most of us do.

The Theater of Gender

Sociologists call gender a performance because gender is often like a theatrical play. Think of the costumes we associate with masculinity (e.g. suits, baggy clothes, short hair) and then think about the costumes we associate with femininity (e.g. dresses, tight/revealing clothing, long hair). Now think about the blocking (i.e. movement on stage) and dialects (i.e. manners of speech) we associate with males and females. A student of mine once told me I was too “swishy with my hands” during my lectures. What he was doing was giving me a cue that my gender performance was inappropriate for a masculine person like myself[1].

Read More