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Flippin’ The Script on Anthony Weiner & Blurred Lines

This week sexting photos of Anthony Weiner were released on the Internet… again. The disgraced congressperson running for mayor of NYC dominated the news cycle while at the same time Robin Thicke’s song Blurred Lines sat at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. In this piece Nathan Palmer uses both of these situations to give us a chance to “flip the script” and look at how social context affect how we understand any situation.

Sociology often hides in plain sight. One approach to bringing it into view is to see the familiar as strange which we discussed last week. Another strategy is to “flip the script”. That is, take any situation and imagine how it would be different if it had happened to a person of a different race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. or imagine if it had happened in another place or at another point in history. I have a couple of examples of script flipping to share with you, but first we should ask the sociological question: Why does this technique work in the first place? The answer is social contexts.

A context is the surrounding circumstances that help you understand a person, an action, or a situation. If I told you I punched a guy last Thursday you might be alarmed. However, if I told you that I mashed a dude’s face because he was attempting to kidnap my daughter, you’d probably not be alarmed because in the context of an attempted kidnapping violence is widely thought of as warranted.

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The Sociology of MMA: A Masculine Culture of Lack

If you’ve ever seen something you wanted to purchase that was advertised in a way that made you feel inadequate, I have a feeling you will relate to this post. Advertisers have a way of tapping into our emotions and sense of insecurities that influence us to build emotional relationships with products. This is all part of living in a society where ongoing production of goods and services is reliant on the population’s incessant craving for consumption. In this post, David Mayeda discusses a magazine’s presentation of mixed martial arts legend (MMA), Randy Couture, and how that presentation feeds into a “culture of lack.”

Randy Courture on Magazine

A few weeks ago I was working at the Auckland City public library. While strolling through the magazine section, I saw an issue of Muscle & Fitness with MMA legend, Randy Couture, on the cover. You may know Couture from his more recent acting career; he starred alongside Sly and company in The Expendables. But Couture’s stardom began as a combat sport athlete, first as a four-time Olympic alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling, and then winning Ultimate Fighting Championship titles five times in two different weight classes (heavyweight and light heavyweight), throughout his 30s and 40s. Now retired from professional fighting, Couture is approaching age 50.

Despite his seemingly ageless athleticism, Couture’s photo on the Muscle & Fitness cover made me do a double take. Could a near 50-year-old really look like this (see top photo)? Damn that “old man” is massive, and ripped! And if Couture can showcase such musculature, presenting an idealized version of physical masculinity at nearly age 50, why shouldn’t I?

Okay, I didn’t exactly go that far in my line of thought. Not only have I seen Couture fight on television a bunch of times, but I met and interviewed him back in 2007 (see picture, below).

The fact is, despite being a big and extremely athletic individual, Couture is not overwhelmingly massive. I’m about 5’8″ tall, around 175 pounds. The picture above of Couture and me is a bit misleading since I’m closer to the camera, but you can tell his actual physique is nowhere near that presented on the magazine cover….

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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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Hashtag @ctivism: Miss Representation, Tweets, & Feminist Praxis

Hashtag activism emerged on social media and remains a popular method of campaigning for or against an issue. Users can protest an incident or raise awareness of a social problem with a click of a button with very little personal investment. Yet, for all its ability to raise awareness, hashtag activism seems like “activism light.” Can it really accomplish anything? In this post, Ami Stearns discusses how the #notbuyingit campaign has actually created real world change and argues that hashtag activism can be a form of effective feminist praxis.

Digital campaigns seem to appear out of nowhere, only to quickly disappear from Facebook, twitter, and the public’s attention. Remember #Kony2012? Suddenly, everyone from college sophomores to retired grandmothers wanted to bring attention to this previously unknown Ugandan warlord and his child army. But what real good came of “liking” the issue or hashtagging Kony’s name all over twitter? Was real change enacted? This type of awareness-raising campaigning has been called “slactivism” because it only requires tapping a computer key in order to feel that something has been accomplished. Hashtag activism has the ability to communicate complex problems succinctly and quickly, as well as mobilizing users efficiently. Also, hashtag activism does not involve the personal sacrifice or time investments usually required by in-person protests or campaigns. The phenomenon of digital activism begs the question: how effective is it?

Phone with Twitter Showing

The Miss Representation organization is a non-profit group dedicated to fighting back against the misrepresentation of women in the media and in larger contexts. Their website reinforces their activist orientation, stating: “Consumers are using their power to celebrate positive media and advertising, and challenge negative media and advertising”. Miss Representation even has a phone app to assist users in digitally protesting negative and sexist portrayals of women in commercials, in the news, and even in products. Using the hashtag #notbuyingit, twitter users can target the offending company and hope to see real change take place.

This hashtag activism has succeeded in a number of instances….

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How We “Do Gender”

Sociologists have long argued that gender is more of a social performance than a biological fact. Many students find this idea challenging because they have up until a sociology class felt their gender identity was just, “natural”. In this post, Sarah Michele Ford uses two models to illustrate the performance qualities of gender.

How Do We Do Gender?

Take a look at this model. Now take a look at this model.[1. Due to legal reasons we couldn’t post the photos here. Sorry for the slight inconvenience.]

So what do we notice? They’re both 6’2″ tall. They both have cheekbones that could, as the saying goes, cut glass. And they are both models.

You probably assumed that the first model is female and the second model is male.

You assumed wrong.

The first model is Andrej Pejic, who models both mens- and womenswear. The second model is Casey Legler, who exclusively models menswear. Andrej is male and Casey is female.

In society we often associate a particular gender with a particular biological sex. In the United States we often connect masculinity to males and femininity to females, but this connection is socially constructed (not to mention that both femininity and masculinity are socially constructed as well). In the case of these two models, each performs a gender that is not inline with what society commonly expects from males and females.

So what’s going on here?…

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Jason Collins & The Ever Present Gender Policing

Last Monday Jason Collins became the first active male athlete in American team sports to come out as a gay man. On the same day, MTV announced that it was launching a show called Guy Court where men who violated the “guy code” would be punished. In this piece Nathan Palmer explains how these two events are connected by homophobia and discusses the sociological concept of gender policing.

Jason Collins
Jason Collins

Last Monday Jason Collins published an essay in Sports Illustrated that announced to the world that he was a gay man. This was noteworthy because Collins was the first active male athlete in the big four of American male team sports (i.e. football, baseball, basketball, hockey) to come out. Collins is by no means the first athlete to come out. Many other athletes have come out. In fact, a couple of days before Collins’s announcement Brittney Griner signed an endorsement with Nike to become the first out-and-proud athlete to do so with the company. All that said, it was a big deal. It took a lot of courage on his part.

So the question we should be asking as sociologists is, why? Why was it such a tough decision? Why did it take so long for any active male athlete in major American team sports to come out? The answer is obvious: homophobia, prejudice, and discrimination.

The other question we should be asking is, what does Collins coming out mean for the prevalence of homophobia in the United States? Many commentators on the cable news channels have argued that Collins’s announcement along with the pro-marriage equality victories during the last election cycle signal that open bigotry toward the LGBT community is on a rapid decline. So are they right? Are we about to enter a whole new era of acceptance, respect, and equality? To answer that question, we first need to explore the deep connection between masculinity and homophobia.

Masculinity, especially in the United States is often defined by it’s opposition to femininity. This is the main argument that Sociologist Michael Kimmel makes in his essay, Masculinity as Homophobia[1]. That is, to be a “real man” is to avoid being feminine in any way. If it’s feminine to cry, show fear, or care about the way you look, then any man who does that is seen as “unmanly” and likely to have their “man card” pulled. All of this results in narrowing the definition of masculinity. Put another way, we create this ever shrinking box that all men are expected to conform to or they’ll be punished….

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The Sociology of MMA: Women’s Integration into the UFC

Ronda Rousey

It took two decades for women to take center stage in the UFC – MMA’s most prominent organization – as athletes. The change happened on 23 February 2013 when Ronda Rousey (pictured left) defeated Liz Carmouche in UFC 157’s main event match. In this post, David Mayeda uses different feminist approaches to explore women’s future in the UFC.

During its first two decades of existence, the UFC was not only framed as a masculine institution; it was constructed that way almost in its entirety. Aside from ring card “girls” and the occasional female referee, women’s presence in the UFC was essentially non-existent. Women were not apparent in prominent managerial, coaching, or athletic roles. The latter changed this past February when Ronda Rousey defeated Liz Carmouche in round 1, via armbar submission, in the UFC’s first match involving female fighters:

Since the Rousey-Carmouche fight, the UFC has held a second match with women. The winner of that fight (Cat Zingano) will now challenge Rousey for her Bantamweight Title. But before that, the two will face off as coaches on the UFC’s reality television show, The Ultimate Fighter (now in its 18th season), which will include male and female contestants. TUF 18 tryouts just took place:…

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Harry Potter and the Nature versus Nurture Debate

“There’s not a witch or wizard that’s gone bad that wasn’t in Slytherin.” In this post, Sarah Michele Ford uses the world of Harry Potter to examine the question of nature versus nurture. Is everything about us determined by our genetics, is social contact the only force shaping us, or is there an interaction between the two that sets each individual on their path?

The Sorting Hat
The Sorting Hat by ~sahinduezguen

In the world of Harry Potter, one of the first experiences students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry have is the “sorting”, in which a sentient, talking hat decides which of the four school houses each student blonds in. Each house has its own character – Gryffindors are said to be brave, Ravenclaws smart, Hufflepuffs loyal, and Slytherins power-hungry. Enormous weight is put on which house a student is sorted into; they are told that while they are at school, their house will be “like family”. For those of us who have spent the last 15 years immersed in J. K. Rowling’s fantasy world, this all makes perfect sense. Those of you who have managed to avoid the media juggernaut might be shaking your heads and wondering how on earth this could possibly relate to sociology.

Underneath the trappings of wizards, witches, and magic, the Sorting Hat taps into a fundamental question that both sociologists and psychologists ask about human beings: what is the relative influence of our genetics versus the influence of our social environments on things like our personality, intellect, etc.? This argument, known as the “nature versus nurture debate”, has been ongoing for decades. As the hat is placed on each new student, it assesses what’s “in their head” and uses what it sees there to decide which House will be the best fit….

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Preventing Violence Against Women & Girls: Steubenville & Sport

TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses sexual assault.

A good number of sociological bloggers and progressive journalists have rightly been covering the recent Steubenville rape case in which a small group of high school football players sexually assaulted an adolescent girl and then boasted of their exploits across social media. The case has made international headlines not only because of the sexual assault and how blatantly the perpetrators bragged about their actions, but also because the perpetrators were high status male athletes in their local community. Consequently, many of their peers and even some adult mentors essentially covered up the crime. In this post, David Mayeda reviews some of this case’s sociological coverage and discusses how sporting culture plays into rape culture across the globe.

Yes Means Yes, No Means No Campaign Logo

In August 2012, at least two teenage male football players from Steubenville High School (Ohio, USA) sexually assaulted a girl from West Virginia who had come to Steubenville for a party. In a variety of disturbing ways, the males involved arrogantly bragged about the assault in online videos and on Twitter and Instagram. Sociological Images provides the alarming footage of a Steubenville High alumni who incessantly makes fun of the sexual assalut – a vivid example illustrating clear existence of what sociologists and others call a rape culture, where rape is celebrated, minimized, dismissed, covered up, and/or blame is assigned to the victim(s) (see also here and here).

Rape culture, however, frequently interacts with additional institutional forces. As noted previously, some dimensions of sporting culture also perpetuate a society’s rape culture. Dave Zirin at The Nation reminds us to question how male sporting culture operates in society. As young male athletes grow up receiving immense amounts of social privilege (e.g., incessantly being given unearned privileges and exonerated from personal mistakes), does the likelihood that they will engage in more extreme deviant actions correspondingly increase? Let me be clear, not all venerated male athletes unabashedly engage in harsh forms of deviance. In fact most probably don’t, but does the likelihood increase? Here’s howZirin posed the question:…

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Princess Scientist

In this post Stephanie Medley-Rath explores how The Big Bang Theory relied on individual choice as the explanation for the lack of women in science instead of focusing on institutionalized sexism among scientists. 

Boy looking into microscope

The Big Bang Theory (BBT) jumped on the princess scientist trend in this week’s episode, “The Contractual Obligation Implementation.” The episode tackled a hot topic: recruiting more girls and women into the STEM fields (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields).

The white men of BBT where charged with figuring out how to increase the number of girls and women in STEM fields as part of their committee work at the university. Raj had his own dedicated storyline which involved a socially-awkward date fulfilling the “sexless Asian man” trope. Spoiler alert: Raj does not get a kiss good night.

The white men of BBT brainstormed to come up with brilliant ideas to recruit more women to STEM fields….

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