Remember the Steubenville travesty that occurred in mid-2012 but didn’t start making headlines until months later? If you don’t recall, the case involved teenage males sexually assaulting a heavily intoxicated younger female, bragging of their exploits online, as various parties looked the other way or covered up the males’ actions. In the aftermath, certain mainstream media outlets were more sympathetic to the adjudicated males than to the female survivor. In this post, David Mayeda covers a strikingly similar case that has made headlines in New Zealand.
TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses sexual assault.
A while ago I began writing a few SIF articles focused on “preventing violence against women.” I discussed the Steubenville case, as well as the tragedy in New Delhi, India and in different form, examples from Pakistan. In retrospect, I should have recalled how Jackson Katz frames the issue by naming it “men’s violence against women,” highlighting men’s responsibility in gendered violence.
This past month, I was reminded how correct Katz is when 3News in New Zealand exposed a group of older teenage males from West Auckland called the Roast Busters. As reported by The New Zealand Herald, “The Roast Busters caused outrage by bragging on their Facebook page about getting underage girls drunk and having sex with them…. The Roast Busters Facebook page and the profile pages of some members – who are said to have targeted girls as young as 13 – have been taken down since news of their activities broke.”
Since this story broke, members of New Zealand’s mainstream and alternative media have provided excellent commentary critiquing the Roast Busters and a broader rape culture in New Zealand that “systematically trivializes, normalizes, or endorses sexual assault.”
Unfortunately, following the Roast Busters’ exposure, a number of other disturbing events emerged that exemplify how rape culture operates in a patriarchal society, where men’s privilege is embedded across society’s institutions. Take for instance the male-dominated institution of law enforcement. Police initially stated they could not take action on the Roast Busters because no victim had formally come forward to complain.
However, the public quickly learned that “police had received a complaint from a 13-year-old girl as far back as 2011.” Demonstrating how police blamed the very young victim instead of taking action against accused male perpetrators, it was later revealed, “The girl…told 3News she was upset by the line of questioning used when she was interviewed by police in 2011, including about what she was wearing” (see also here)….
Malala Yousafzai has received an immense amount of media attention in the past few years, and rightfully so. Just last week here at SIF, Mediha Din took a conflict theory approach to discuss Malala’s global influence as the young activist continues to advocate for girls’ rights to education. In this post, David Mayeda continues to examine Malala’s social impact, dissecting why Malala’s popularity has risen so dramatically in western society, and why other very related stories go virtually unnoticed.
As explained previously in SIF, Malala Yousafzai is a 16-year-old girl from Pakistan now residing in England. Roughly two years ago when living in Pakistan, Malala was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen after she gained noteriety as an outspoken advocate for gender equity in education. A survivor of this horrific act, Malala continues her staunch social activism and has received extensive praise by the west for her actions. Check out her amazing interview on The Daily Show, where at one point she leaves Jonathan Stewart utterly speechless:
Considering the conditions that impact girls and women in Pakistan, it is not surprising, given her incredible conviction, that Malala spoke out for gender equity. Moving beyond educational gender disparities, in 2011, Pakistan was ranked as the world’s third most dangerous country in the world to be female. As reported by TrustLaw, in Pakistan:…
If you had the opportunity to meet President Obama and the Queen of England what would you want to discuss? Now imagine, you are 16 years old, what topics would be most important to you at that age? Your school? Your parents? Your favorite celebrities? For one 16 year old today, educational equality, rights for women, and terrorism are the issues she eagerly wants to discuss with heads of state and members of the United Nations. If you have not heard of Malala Yousafzai, her story is sure to inspire. A year ago, at age 15, Malala was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen simply because she wanted to go to school. Miraculously, she survived and is now bravely speaking out in an effort to improve educational opportunities for children around the world. In this post, Mediha Din describes education from the sociological point of view known as Conflict Theory.
According to Conflict Theory, education is a mechanism that produces and reproduces inequality in society. Malala Yousafzai is passionate about combating this inequality. The recent 20/20 special about her journey describes a young girl growing up in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. In 2009, the Taliban banned girls in her region from attending school.
Malala began a blog for BBC News in opposition to the order and voiced her desire for education. Soon after, the New York Times created a documentary about her struggle for education, and her name became known.
In 2011, Malala told CNN, “I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk.”
A year later, Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while riding the bus home from school. She amazingly survived and continues to work as an activist for children’s education.
Conflict theory is a perspective in sociology that sees the world as an arena of competition. When analyzing any situation from this point of view, a conflict theorist emphasizes the importance of:
1. Competition: over scarce resources
2. Inequality: conflicts between “haves” and “have-nots”
3. Discrimination: different treatment and opportunities for different groups such as rich versus poor, males versus females, employers versus employees.
Malala’s story clearly illustrates a competition over scarce resources. In this case, the precious resource is education. “In some parts of the world, students are going to school every day. It’s their normal life,” Malala told Diane Sawyer in an interview for ABC News. “But in other parts of the world, we are starving for education … it’s like a precious gift. It’s like a diamond.” Today, millions of children around the world reach age 15 unable to read or write. According to data from the Central Intelligence Agency, 774 million people age 15 and older are illiterate, 52% of these people live in South and West Asia, and 22% percent live in sub-Saharan Africa….
Tom Hanks’ latest box office film, Captain Phillips, is making waves. According to one source, the film has already garnered $58 million in domestic ticket sales, and $63 million globally. For those of you unfamiliar with the film, it recounts a story that played out in real life off the coast of Somalia in 2009, when a group of Somali pirates took Captain Richard Phillips and his ship – the Maersk Alabama – hostage in an attempt to hold him for ransom. These events were aired in real time on numerous mainstream American news outlets. In this post, David Mayeda contextualizes Captain Phillips’ narrative, explaining how it falls into a “protectionist scenario” that makes for typical Hollywood drama.
As Nathan Palmer pointed out way back in November of 2011, Hollywood has a way of recycling ideas such that viewers can consume moderately new ideas and easily digest them through familiar formulaic scripts. One of the dominant formulas that makes for a fiscally successful Hollywood action flick is that of the “protectionist scenario.” Carol Stabile notes that this scenario includes characters that fall into one of three categories (bullet points not in original text):
- “the protected or victim (the person violated by the villain);
- the threat or villain (the person who attacks the victim); and
- the protector or hero (the person who protects or rescues the victim or promises such aid)” (p. 107).
We see the protectionist scenario play out in numerous forms of mainstream media; Captain Phillips is no exception. Even when the real Captain Richard Phillips was kidnapped in 2009 and held for ransom as the United States Navy Seals prepared their rescue mission, one could almost feel the protectionist scenario developing in real life. Captain Phillips was the victim, the Somali pirates the villains, and the American military the heroes. Hence, it is no surprise the story dominated mainstream news and was eventually reconstructed into Hollywood entertainment.
Though movie previews are very short and only provide a taste of the full film, the victim-villain-hero labels are blatantly apparent in the Captain Phillips trailer:
In fact, the Captain Phillips story may be more complex. Some may argue the Captain Phillips character also holds dimensions of heroism, and the Somali pirates, dimensions of victimization (see here). These nuances notwithstanding, the dominant protectionist scenario remains strong….
With event names like “Dirty Girl” and “Pretty Muddy,” women-only mud runs have quickly become a hot trend. The LoziLu Women’s Mud Run boasts themed obstacles in the course such as “Bad Hair Day,” “Tan Lines,” and the “Mani-Pedi.” Marketed to women as fun, athletic, fitness challenges, these messy events are structured to celebrate women’s physicality and their ability to “get dirty” like the guys. However, in this post, Ami Stearns suggests that female-only mud runs have a downside. While mud runs and dirty obstacle courses could be sites where the gender binary is challenged, more often the women-only runs serve as sites where normative gender performativity takes place.
My sister, Erin, is a beast. She’s completed a series of muddy obstacle runs over the past few months, proving her prowess, agility, and stamina while literally clawing through mud and muck. Her husband and three kids have even gotten in on the action by participating in past mud runs with her.
The rising popularity of muddy obstacle courses can provide locations where females show that their strength and endurance capabilities equal those of males, and demonstrate to their daughters that getting dirty and playing in the mud is socially acceptable behavior for women. Interestingly, an off-shoot of these obstacle courses has been marketed specifically to females. While women-only mud runs can provide a space to break gender norms, most of these events seem mired in the muck of normative (or traditional) femininity. Some examples of normative femininity include wearing pink, excessive attention to body adornment and body size, exhibiting nurturing and empathetic qualities, and caregiving….
[Read this with the movie trailer voice in your head] In a world where men and masculinity are valued above women and femininity and the voice of god sounds like a man. Can there be any sense of justice? Can a hero rise from the ashes that were this country’s dreams of equality? [Now read this with nerdy sociologist voice] In this piece, Nathan Palmer discusses how we manipulate our voices to perform gender and asks us to think about what our vocal performances say about patriarchy in our culture.
My Mom’s Phone Voice
Voice & The Performance of Gender
We have talked extensively on SociologyInFocus about how gender is a performance. That is, we “do gender”. Right now if you wanted to act feminine or to act masculine you could change your clothing, how you move, how you sit, the facial expressions you use, but arguably the first thing you would change is your voice. Gender is a performance and like any performance there are costumes, lines, mannerisms, etc. that you embody to perform the role. The rules of gender performance are so clear and present throughout society that even my 5 year old can recite them:
Patriarchy, Cultural Symbols, and In A World
As a sociologist concerned with inequality, I think the juiciest question to ask is, are all voices treated equally? That is, do we empower some gender presentations and disempower others? This question is the central question explored in the movie In A World:
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 Bad‘s 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….
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)….
In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores how aging is portrayed in a fashion magazine to explore the norms of aging in popular culture.
I picked up a copy of the August issue of Vogue at the newstand. This particular issue is “The Age Issue.” The cover proclaims: “Fall Looks for Everyone.”
I saw advertisements with Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, and Jennifer Aniston completely wrinkle-free. No surprise here, but disappointing, considering the issue’s theme is aging. I’m younger than all these women, yet I have more wrinkles than them. Of course, I have never found myself accurately reflected in the a fashion magazine.
Very quickly, I realized this issue of Vogue is not about growing old gracefully or even looking good at any age. The magazine was chock-full of advertising promising “younger looking skin in 15 minutes” or “fighting 7 signs of aging.” One advertisement was for some sort of serum that has “complete age control concentrate” on the packaging. Age control in a bottle. What? What does that even mean? The message I got from all of this is that the appearance of age can be controlled.
Shortly before reaching the mid-point of the magazine is an advertisement for cigarettes. Absent from the ad was any indication that smoking cigarettes causes wrinkles. For an editorial message completely bent on “controlling” aging, one would think that accepting advertising for a product that accelerates the appearance of aging would have been refused.
I read on (let’s be real, I skimmed). The writers of Vogue ask the tough questions:
- “Can you wear grunge when your kids are wearing it” (p. 106)?
- “Is traditional [plastic] surgery passé” (p. 120)?
- “Is height loss inevitable as we age” (p. 134)?