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Sex is a Social Construction, Even if the Olympics Pretends it’s Not

What is your biological sex? That may seem like an easy question to answer, but it’s not. In our day-to-day lives, we often look at a person’s gender and assume their biological sex is inline with our cultural expectations (i.e. feminine people are females, masculine people are males). However, as the transgender community makes clear, the outward presentation of your gender is a matter separate from your genitalia.

Even if you could see a person’s genitals, you couldn’t identify them as male or female. Genitals may be an important part of how society defines our biological sex, but so too are our chromosomes, hormones, reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics [1]. There are many people who have genitals that society associates with males or females, but one or more of their other sex attributes do not comply with our social expectations. Today, we call these people intersex.

I’m guessing that some of you reading this think I’m being fancy here or that I am overcomplicating something that is dead simple. However, while many of us may find sex to be easy to define in our daily lives, defining sex scientifically is far harder if not impossible (Hood-Williams 1995). The inability of science to distinguish males from females may be a non-issue for most of us, but for olympic athletes it can be a major problem.

Sex Verification & The Olympics

Before athletes are allowed to participate in the women’s Olympic competitions, they are required to go through a sex verification process. The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) has established what it calls hyperandrogenism regulations which limit the amount of testosterone a female athlete can have in their body. Testosterone is a naturally occurring hormone that both males and females have in their bodies, but typically females have lower levels of testosterone than males. In addition to testosterone tests, women can be forced to provide blood and urine samples or have MRI scans of their bodies (Simpson et al. 1993). These examinations leave many athletes feeling humiliated and that their privacy has been violated….

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Gotta Catch ‘Em All: Pokémon Go and Hyperreality

Pokémon Go has been lauded for getting people outdoors, walking, socializing, and learning. But where do players draw the line between the game and their real world? In this piece, Amanda Fehlbaum explores the phenomenon of Pokémon Go using Jean Baudrillard’s concepts of simulacra and simulation.

You may have seen them in your neighborhood – people walking around, their eyes glued to their smart phones. Suddenly one exclaims, “Hey! There’s an Abra over here!” Another one talks about needing to walk to hatch their eggs. You wonder if aliens have invaded or if you are in some sort of social experiment, but the truth is both mundane and bizarre: people are playing Pokémon Go.

Pokémon Go is a free smart phone application that grew in popularity virtually overnight. As of July 11, 2016, people have been spending more time on Pokémon Go than on Twitter and it has been installed on more devices than Tinder. If you are old enough, you may recall the popularity of the Pokémon cards, television show, and video games. Pokémon are creatures that are fought, caught, collected, grown, or evolved into stronger forms.

Prior to the release of Pokémon Go, the interactions that took place were relegated purely to the virtual world and one’s imagination. In other words, if you caught a Pokémon, it was from getting a card in a pack or playing a video game. With Pokémon Go, people are sent out into their neighborhoods to find Pokémon “in the wild.” Granted, you can only see the Pokémon around you if you are using the Pokémon Go app; otherwise, you are oblivious to the Pikachus and Psyducks around you in parks, offices, police departments, gyms, churches, backyards, city streets, and some strange places. Users can also collect Pokémon eggs within the game that require users walk a certain distance in order to hatch….

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Activewear Everywhere: The Sociology of Conspicuous AthLeisure

In this post Nathan Palmer explains why increases in sales of athletic clothing haven’t corresponded to increases increased participation in athletics by discussing Veblen’s theory of the leisure class.

When I was a kid, the saying was, “if you leave your house in sweatpants you’ve given up on life.” My how things have changed. Today sales of athletic clothing have been booming, celebrities like Kate Hudson and Beyonce have their own athletic fashion lines, and wearing your workout clothes outside of the gym is increasingly become the norm.

The days of wearing $8 Hanes drawstring sweats are over [1]. Today, many customers will gladly pay over $100 for a pair of Nike sweatpants. Sweat pants have even gone “high fashion” with runway models strolling down the catwalk in $800 sweatpants(!).

Ready to say, “no duh”? Well, here you go; most of the people buying these athletic clothes aren’t exercising in them. This fashion trend is often called athleisure, because these athletic clothes are often worn by people who aren’t working out. For instance, in the Wall Street Journal Germano found that sales of yoga apparel grew approximately 45% in 2013, but yoga participation that same year only grew 4.5%. In many social circles, it has already become the norm to wear athleisure clothes in everyday situations, and some journalists have suggested that wearing sweatpants at the office or yoga pants in a board meeting may soon become the norm.

Athleisure & Symbolic Fitness

Symbolic interaction is a sociological theory that examines how we use symbols to communicate with one another who each of us is and what each of us thinks is going on at the moment. Dramaturgy, which is a more specific theory within symbolic interaction, argues that every second of the day we are performing our identities. We use costumes, props, settings, and movement to perform for one another. From this perspective, our bodies are like walking billboards that tell those around us who we are and where our place is within social hierarchies.

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Your Spring Break Location is Often Determined by
Your Social Location

In this piece, April Schueths challenges the stereotype of spring break debauchery and asks us to consider how our spring break plans reflect the social stratification/inequality in the United States.

“What are you doing for spring break?” We all know the spring break stereotype of unruly beachfront debauchery; watch Jon Stewart break down Fox News’s “Exposing Spring Break” to see the stereotype in action. A stereotype is “a simplified and often negative generalization about a group (i.e., college students) that is often false or exaggerated” (Manza, Arum, and Haney 2013: A–11). Clearly, some students will head to the beach, and some will even engage in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking, unprotected sex, law violations, etc. Yet, it’s simply not true that all college students will do so.

It turns out that many students spend their time productively, volunteering or visiting family while others will take the time to work or catch up on coursework. It is interesting that students’ perception of what their peers are doing on spring break do not match their own self-reported plans.

Spring Break & Social Stratification

We also have to acknowledge that for many students, spending a crazy week at Daytona beach isn’t something they can afford. Some students have fewer spring break options than others. Low-income and working-class students often have difficulty even paying for the basic costs of higher education (i.e., books, housing, food, etc.) and thus work more than their higher income counterparts. Soria, Weiner, and Lu (2014: 14) point out:

“Low-income and working-class students face continued financial challenges while enrolled in college and are more likely to make decisions based on financial needs, rather than educational ones.” In addition, he majority of college students raising children and caring for family members work full-time while attending school.

The point is that the spring break stereotype is built on top of another stereotype; the false idea that all college students are 18–24 year olds without jobs or kids who have family money and student loans to pay for everything. If you fit that stereotype, then cheers to you, but there are many of your peers who don’t. Research from the National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2013 over a third of all full-time students aged 16–24 were employed and for part-time students the percentage jumped to over two-thirds (See chart below)….

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“Glamping” & The Gendering of Outdoor Recreation

Glamping (glamorous + camping) is one of the trendiest new outdoor activities. In this essay Ami Stearns argues that glamping is an attempt to overcome the stereotype that camping is manly and in the process Stearns asks us to consider why we gender any activity in the first place.

What do grilling hot dogs on a stick, pooping in the woods, gathering sticks for a fire, and working for hours to set up a sagging tent have in common? Camping! While it’s true that both males and females go camping, this is an activity that, in our culture, particularly embodies masculinity. Camping brings to mind the rugged outdoors and the sense of manly survivalism seen in movies like The Revenant (do NOT watch that movie without a big, warm blanket and a copious amount of beef jerky).

Gendering Outdoor Recreation

Outdoor life is typically associated with men, while indoor activities are considered the domain of women. For example, women tend to bicycle indoors while men ride “real” bicycles outdoors more often. Women are still doing most of the indoor chores while men work outside mowing lawns and carrying the trashcans out to the curb. Fishing, hunting, and camping are typically related to men’s activities more often than they are related to women’s activities. Many behaviors, like camping, are gendered, whether we are aware of it or not.

Keep in mind I’m not saying that women don’t camp or don’t enjoy camping. I am arguing that in our culture, we stereotype camping and other outdoorsy activities as more masculine than feminine. In terms of gendering an activity, it is much easier to create new, alternative versions of a masculine activity (like shaving) than to convince women to completely “inhabit” a masculine behavior. Plus, any good Marxist would state that alternative versions of products (like his and hers body wash) are merely marketing gimmicks to double the consumer pool. With all these things in mind, I give you the trendy concept of glamping. Glamping is the word that occurs after mashing-up glamour and camping. It calls to mind Victorian safaris and elegant getaways. Glamping is luxurious (some glampsites come with butler and chef) and “authentic, effortless, and inspiring.”

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Rousey & UFC 193: Women’s Revolution or Limited Liberal Feminism?

This weekend in Melbourne, Australia, Ronda Rousey will defend her mixed martial arts (MMA) bantamweight championship against Holly Holm in the main event of UFC 193. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is marketing UFC 193 as a women’s revolution in sports. Not only are Rousey and Holm – two women – squaring off in the main event, but in the co-main event, Joanna Jędrzejcyk defends her UFC straweight title against Valerie Letourneau. UFC 193 will stand as the first major event in combat sport history where the main event and co-main event are both headlined by female fights. Still, one must ask, even with Rousey’s rise to stardom, how far has the UFC has come with respect to gender equity? In this post, David Mayeda examines the UFC’s inclusion of female fighters and argues UFC 193 symbolizes the limitations of liberal feminism.

Roughly four years ago, UFC President, Dana White, stated soundly women would never fight in the UFC. Less than two years later, he signed Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche to compete in the UFC’s first women’s fight for the newly established bantamweight championship. Prior to Rousey’s entrée into the organization, women, including Rousey, had been competing in MMA. Still, the UFC was and remains the most prominent MMA ogranization, and since her victory over Carmouche, Rousey has shifted the way society views MMA.

At present, the UFC includes two women’s divisions. Rousey is champion at the bantamweight level (upper limit of 135 lbs), while Joanna Jędrzejcyk – a 6-time world champion in Muay Thai – stands as the strawweight champ (upper limit of 115 lbs). Although male fighters still outnumber female fighters at UFC events, the inclusion of female competitions in the UFC is now very normalized. However, at this weekend’s event in Melbourne, Australia, female fighters are truly taking the spotlight, as Rousey, Jędrzejcyk and their respective opponents will close out the card in the two main event matches.

Unsurprisingly, the UFC is marketing the event around these shifting gender norms and capitalizing off Rousey’s ascent to mainstream celebrity status. As seen in the promotional video, above, representations of Rousey, a two-time Olympic judoka and bronze medalist in 2008, and Holm, a 19-time world boxing champion, revolve around girls’ contested climb into combat sport greatness, as they disrupt notions of socially acceptable femininity through their childhood and adolescence….

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Cultural Appropriation and Indigenous Peoples

In multicultural societies, different cultural groups are bound to share their respective norms, exchange traditional values and learn from one another. Present-day technology has helped make our global society smaller. Not only do people migrate at faster rates, in larger numbers and with varying levels of privilege. Additionally, information technology expedites cultural interchange and movement of financial capital across global platforms, often times in a matter of seconds. If cultural interchange is an inevitable by-product of globalization, how should we interpret use of culture for capital gain? In this post, David Mayeda offers analysis of a recent commercial, which presents rugby icon Richie McCaw and Māori culture as symbols to sell products for Beats by Dre, and asks if this representation of Māori culture is cultural appropriation.

With expected victories and massive upsets, the 2015 Rugby World Cup (RWC) is now in full swing. Back in 2011, New Zealand’s All Blacks were winners of the RWC, led by team captain and rugby legend, Richie McCaw. Though aging, McCaw is still an impact player and continues his role as captain. An icon in the sport, it’s probably no coincidence that Dr. Dre’s “Beats by Dre” company released the following YouTube video featuring McCaw at the start of this year’s RWC. While watching, note inclusion of New Zealand’s indigenous Māori practicing haka that adds to the commercial’s ambiance.

Haka is a Māori war dance, used historically in times of conflict and coming together. In contemporary New Zealand, haka are still used to signify an occurrence’s importance, and in popular culture it is not uncommon to see haka performed at sporting events by Māori and non-Māori alike (to learn more on the connection between the haka and NZ rugby, watch the video, below; to see the All Blacks perform at this year’s RWC, click here). According to the New Zealand Herald, the haka in the above commercial was written specifically for the Beats by Dre ad….

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Pacquiao vs Mayweather: A Clash in Cultural Values

Most fight fans say it should have happened five years ago, when boxing’s two greatest contemporary icons stood at the height of their athleticism. But nobody is complaining that Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao and Floyd “Money” Mayweather have slipped past punches over contract disputes and will finally trade blows in the ring on 2 May 2015. This latest rendition of boxing’s history making prize-fight indeed breaks precedence, if for no other reason, for its financial provisions. The two pugilists will share an estimated $200 million in prize money, with Mayweather banking $120 million and Pacquiao $80 million, a 60%-40% split, as ticket sales for the contest skyrocket in value. In this post, David Mayeda, explains how the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight is far more than a major boxing competition, also representing a colossal clash in cultural values.

As much as any other sport, boxing has shared a dynamic relationship with American cultural politics. Throughout the twentieth century, African American heavyweight champions, such as Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Joe Frasier, Muhammad Ali, and George Foreman, symbolized diverging viewpoints tied to civil rights, patriotism, and imperialism.

At present time, however, boxing’s landscape has become highly depoliticized, stuck in a period of commercialized globalization where today’s boxing superstars are constrained by business interests that limit political expression. Despite these corporate restraints, the impending Mayweather-Pacquiao competition represents a clash in cultural values, as notions of intense American individualism square off against collectivism and humility.

“Money” Mayweather and American Individualism

No other athlete represents American individualism and capitalistic greed more ardently than “Money” Mayweather. The highest paid professional athlete in the world, Mayweather regularly and notoriously flaunts his wealth and extravagant lifestyle. Boasting that he is untouchable across an array of levels, Mayweather recently stated, “Is it about the money? Absolutely. Is it about the fame? Absolutely. It’s everything wrapped into one. I want to be the best. Not just the best fighter but I want to be the best athlete, period. When I leave, I will be known as ‘TBE’ and that’s the best ever.”…

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How to Outrun a Dementor: Hyperrealism at Universal Studios

When is the last time you actually felt like you were living inside your favorite movie? At Universal Studios in Orlando, the theme park creates scenes from famous movies and then embeds the customer inside that world with rides that use virtual reality. In this post, Ami Stearns uses Jean Baudrillard’s concept of hyperrealism to explain the odd feeling of existing inside the reality of a world that does not truly exist.

I don’t think I’ve been to a theme park since the 1980s, so to say that rides have changed a little is putting it mildly. On a recent trip to Florida for a conference, I took a day off to attend Universal Studios with some friends. I’m not a big fan of roller coasters, standing in line for hours, or crowds, which are just a few of the reasons for my decades-long absence from amusement parks. I didn’t expect the park to be populated by too much other than the usual roller coasters and water rides – honestly I was just hoping for some epic funnel cakes or deep fried-Oreos while I watched others zipping along upside down. However, I was very surprised. Universal Studios has created the ultimate movie experience in the form of rides that put you -yes, YOU- inside the movie. If you love movies, which I do, Universal Studios has the ability to make you feel like you are a character inside the movie. You see the action and feel the action. Your brain thinks you ARE in the middle of a Quidditch match and reacts (dizzyingly) in appropriate ways. The feeling is so real, in fact, that I had to close my eyes several times during rides in order to remind myself it was only a ride and I wasn’t actually swooping around on a broom seven stories high….

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“All we have is us!” Changing Lives with Football & Social Capital

In this essay Nathan Palmer discusses how the The River Rouge high school football team has developed social capital to achieve both on the field and in the classroom.

Just south of Detroit, in a neighborhood struggling with poverty and crime is a shining example of what we can accomplish when we work together. Head coach Corey Parker has The River Rouge Panther high school football team focused on a vision and committed to each another.

How are the Panthers defying the odds? Why are these young men achieving academically when roughly a third of their peers won’t even graduate? How did coach Parker change the culture of the football team? Social capital.

How Social Capital Transforms Lives

Why do some schools do better than others? That was the simple question that sociologist James Coleman wanted to answer. The intuitive answer to this question was, money. It would make sense that schools with fewer resources would have lower educational outcomes (e.g. low grades, graduation rates, and college enrollment rates). However, in 1966 Coleman published a study which suggested that the amount of money a school had to spend on it’s students had only a modest impact on student outcomes (e.g. graduation rates, GPA, etc.)[1]. So if not money, what else could explain school success? Coleman believed that differences in school performance were due to differences in social capital.

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