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.
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.
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
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.
No nipple clamps – no problem. In this post, Bridget Welch reviews THE MOVIE 50 Shades of Grey and is very surprised to find it a lot less offensive (and sexy) than she expected. SPOILER ALERT!
“Well, I’m flummoxed.”
Those are the words I spoke as the credits started to roll after 50 Shades was FINALLY and thankfully over.
To say that my reaction to the flick was a tad different from what I expected is like saying the sex in the film is BDSM — an astronomically huge misrepresentation. The film was neither misogynistic (hatred or prejudice against women) nor was the sex anything kinkier than what most couples try in a luke-warm attempt to spice things up. Instead, one of the core messages of the film is the message of consent. (I’m not going to spend the time on the plot — of what little existed. If you aren’t familiar, read here).
Before talking about how the movie highlights the importance of consent, it is important to know what consent is.
A few key points (for our purposes here) made in this video is that consent needs to be given explicitly prior to a sexual relationship emerging. This is contrary to our sexual scripts which are ideas largely shared in our society about how sex should occur. The term “script” here is used on purpose. We live social life as a play following scripts to perform behavior and make sense of others’ behaviors. Our common (heterosexual) script reads something like this:…
Have you ever done something “because it’s tradition” without really realizing where the tradition comes from? Every culture practices traditions passed down over generations. But few of us examine deeply the sometimes disturbing practices and historical meanings that some traditions reflect. In this post, Sarah Nell examines the common practice of women changing their names upon marriage.
I got married when I was 25, which 13 years later seems awfully young. Although I had “girl power” feminist leanings at the time, and rejected completely a June Cleaver future, I was madly in love and did not yet consider the feminist implications of my choices. Specifically, I did not see the point of keeping my own last name. I considered it, but at that time in my life taking my future husband’s last name seemed like the right thing to do. It’s what most women do. And more people expected me to change my name than not. In fact, some people would have been dismayed if I didn’t change it.
The practice of women taking their husband’s last name is an old tradition that goes back to a time when women were viewed as the property of men, just like the cows and chickens given as dowry. Marriage, then, was not an arrangement based on mutual love, rather it was a business transaction. In this context, women were commodities traded or exchanged for debts.
Over the years, the meaning of the name changing practice has changed. That is, my father and husband certainly did not view me as property to be transferred from one man to the other (though the rituals we performed suggest otherwise). Today, the practice of women taking their husband’s name is a symbolic gesture that reflects a couple’s desire to share a common name for their family unit. That seemed reasonable to me. So I did it. I took his name.
It didn’t take long for me to regret my choice.
I realized I’d given into a historically and profoundly patriarchal tradition. Like many others, I believed in the idea that marriage was “until death do us part.” As it turns out, my marriage did not last until death. Here I am, no longer married, but still very much alive. And I have a name that isn’t mine.
Why must I be a maiden OR a Mrs.? Must my name depend on my relationship to a man?
Upon the decision to divorce, I considered keeping my married name, or returning to my maiden name. But the more I thought about it, the more questions I had. Why must I be a maiden OR a Mrs.? Must my name depend on my relationship to a man? Why do we assume that the deep attachment and pride men feel about their names and identities are not also felt by women? What does it say about women’s contributions to the family that only men can “carry on the family name”? Why do we expect women to abandon their names and their identities in ways we would never expect men? How have we internalized this practice, and why do we perpetuate it?
The semester is just not finished until you have completed course/teaching evaluations. Most students probably see them as a pesky task, but we can learn a lot about ourselves as faculty and our students from these evaluations. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how gender bias influences the feedback on these evaluations.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Chrismakwanzika? No. It’s the end of the semester! During these last couple of weeks of the semester, you have written papers, passed your exams, and completed course/teacher evaluations. Let’s talk about these evaluations.
When your professor brings out the evaluation forms, you probably think a a few things:
- The semester really is almost over!
- If my classmate, who is handing out the evaluation forms, moves a bit more quickly, I can get out of class early today!
- I can give my professor fair and constructive feedback on this course and their teaching abilities.
What? Fair and constructive feedback isn’t what you had in mind? That wasn’t on the top of my mind either when I was in your shoes.
Now that I am the one being evaluated, I think about course evals a bit more than I did as an undergraduate. Many (rightly) critique these evaluations because students might not be the best judges of quality teaching given that at times what is best for learning might not be something students particularly enjoy. Learning a subject involves being challenged, dealing with confusion, and suffering through failure along the way to developing mastery….
The group of people behind the new, viral Instagram account, @brosbeingbasic, set out to answer one question: “What if guys acted like girls on Instagram?” Guys began by posting pictures of themselves (mostly selfies) with a plethora of hashtags commonly associated with “basic white girls” – think: ALLTHEPUMPKINSPICETHINGS, wine, Ugg boots, and leggings for days. The public has loved it with the account gaining over 100,000 followers in the first week. From a sociological standpoint, though, the phenomenon is a perfect example of how we perform gender. In this post, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter will be examining how Bros Being Basic can help explain the social performance of gender.
A man with both tattoos and a goatee stares up at the camera sleepily from his bed, his lips slightly parted, paired with the hashtags #iwokeuplikethis and #longhairdontcare… Another post shows a guy eating cheesecake and drinking wine next to the caption, “Calories don’t count on #Thanksgiving lmao!!! #CheatDay #PumpkinCheesecake #SpinClassTomorrow #LoveMyMerlot”… Yet another has a guy taking a bubble bath with a glass of wine, candles, and a face mask while reading The Help. The posts are catchy and humorous at first glance, but as a sociologist, it was hard not to stop and think about why this was so funny. From a sociological standpoint, one way of understanding gender is through the lens of social constructionism, which is the idea that we create “reality” through our social interactions with one another.
Why are men far more likely to be in positions of leadership than women are? In this post, Nathan Palmer partially answers this question using the concept of the Glass Cliff.
What does it mean to have social power? That’s a tricky question to answer, so maybe we could make it easier by focusing on just one particular group and just one particular type of social power. Let’s talk about men and their current strangle hold on economic social power.
Every year Fortune magazine publishes a list of the 500 publicly traded U.S. companies with the largest gross revenues. The Fortune 500, as it’s called, can serve as a good representative sample of the largest and most influential firms within the U.S. economy. The people running these companies are behind the wheel of the U.S. economy.
Of the all the CEOs in charge of the Fortune 500 companies, 95.2% are men. Despite representing 51% of the U.S. population, only 24 women (or 4.8%) of the largest revenue generating firms in the states are ran by women. That’s what social power (i.e. collective power between people of a similar social location) looks like.
But, to be fair, we should note that the proportion of Fortune 500 companies led by women is growing. In 2011, just 12 women (or 2.4% of the whole) served as CEO of one of these companies. So perhaps there is reason for a tiny bit of optimism. Expanding our focus to the Fortune 1000 (which includes the Fortune 500 in addition to the next 500 largest revenue generating U.S. publicly traded firms) only 27 women CEOs are added to the total. Which means of these 1000 highly influential economic firms, only 5.1% are led by women.
I could spend an entire semester unpacking the reasons why we see so few women CEOs. There are so many cultural and structural barriers that keep women from turning the tide of economic patriarchy (i.e. a male dominated economic system). Instead of telling you the whole story of gender inequality, I want to tell you about just one piece of the puzzle. That piece is called the Glass Cliff and it shows us how sometimes we create more inequality in the process of trying to reduce inequality.
Set Up For Failure: The Glass Cliff
As a sociologist our job is to observe the social world, identify patterns within our observations, and then use those patterns to draw conclusions. When we observe how applicants are chosen for leadership positions within society we see that when women and people of color are tapped to lead, the positions they step into have similar qualities.
In particular, in the relatively rare cases when women and people of color secure leadership opportunities, they are often taking the helm for a company, agency, or group that has been in decline, is currently in crisis, or is at a high risk of failing (Ashby, Ryan and Haslam 2007; Haslam and Ryan 2008; Ryan and Haslam 2005).
Billions of dollars are spent each year on advertising in an effort to shape the way you think. In this post Nathan Palmer asks us to take another look at the advertisements that are all around us and the messages they communicate.
Want to see something cool? Turn on your TV or load up an internet video and instead of fast forwarding or clicking “Skip Ad”, stop and watch the commercial closely. Pay attention to what they are talking about and more importantly, what they are not talking about.
Commercials for diamond rings focus on how happy your romantic partner will be when they receive your gift. Commercials for minivans focus on how cool you will look in your “swagger wagon.” Coffee commercials focus on loved ones returning home to share a pot of coffee.
Isn’t it strange that commercials don’t focus on the qualities of the product they are trying to sell?
There are of course, exceptions to this rule. Most notably “infomercials” for products like OxiClean, Xhose, or Might Putty. But the fact that we call them infomercials suggests that “regular commercials” are largely absent of info about the products they are selling.
Do you know how your life is better because of feminism? If you don’t, Sarah Nell will show you that many of our taken for granted opportunities today are a result of feminist struggles for equality. She will also try to compel you to thank them for what they’ve done for you.
I am a feminist. Lately, I have been thinking about feminists who are much older than I am, and feeling appreciative for the roads they have paved for me. Gloria Steinem, arguably one of the most prominent and important (white) feminists we have known, turned 80 this year. So would have Audre Lorde, revered Black lesbian feminist poet, if she hadn’t died of cancer in 1992. There is something about that generation of feminists that is important for us to know. For instance, it is hard sometimes to imagine what it was like when women like Steinem and Lorde were my age; I have grown up taking much for granted. It’s worth noting that I am white and middle-class. I recognize my race and class privilege, and know that these shape my experiences and perspectives.
I was raised in a family with relatively traditional gender values. My dad was the breadwinner and my mom the homemaker. My mom did go to work full-time when I, the youngest child, went to school and I have grown to appreciate the important impact having a working mother had on my own career ambitions. As I got older and developed a feminist- consciousness, I talked to my mom about these things. When I asked why she didn’t pursue a career when she was younger, she would say, “It was just that way back then. You got married and had a family.” She seems to know that her unpaid domestic labor was a valuable contribution to our family economy, but also that she had the potential to be more than this arrangement allowed. Given the context in which she grew up, it wasn’t a huge leap for her to fall into this pattern. And, for the most part, mom was right. Women had to be willing to withstand the very steep, uphill battle towards a different path, and to believe that it was worth doing….
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.”…