“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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Bun in a New Oven: Our Social Bodies in the Age of Uterus Transplants

The Cleveland Clinic recently performed the first uterus transplant in the United States, giving a woman the opportunity to become pregnant. In this piece, Amanda Fehlbaum reflects on how such an organ transplant is not just biological, it is social, too.

We tend to think of reproduction as a biological concept. In school, we learn about how egg and sperm meet and offspring result after a certain gestation period. Reproduction, however, is deeply culturally constructed and not nearly as simple as it appears. Technological advancements make the situation even more complex and demonstrate how childbearing is far from just biological.

Take, for example, news that surgeons at The Cleveland Clinic have performed the first uterus transplant in the United States. An unnamed 26 year-old woman, born without a uterus, received a uterus from a deceased donor after a nine-hour surgery on February 24, 2016. She will have to wait a year before trying to become pregnant through in vitro fertilization. After one or two pregnancies, the uterus will either be removed so that the woman can stop taking medication to prevent organ rejection or allowed to be rejected and wither away. 

Social Bodies

There is a propensity in our society to see the body as a biological object rather than something that must be understood within a social, cultural, and historical context. Women’s bodies in particular have a wide variety of norms, taboos, and expectations placed upon them, as seen in a previous Sociology in Focus piece. In fact, women’s bodies are largely tied to their reproductive abilities and some women, like the 26 year-old, yearn to experience pregnancy.

In a piece from The New York Times about uterus transplants, the 26 year-old woman notes that she had always assumed that she would have children. She was devastated to learn at age 16 that she had ovaries, but no uterus, due to Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome. She wondered if anyone would want to marry her if she could not bear children. Ultimately, she did marry and adopted two children; however, she still wanted the experience of pregnancy:

“I crave that experience. I want the morning sickness, the backaches, the feet swelling. I want to feel the baby move. That is something I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember,” she said.

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Growing Older Isn’t The Problem, Ageism Is

In this essay, April Schueths explores how our society is obsessed with youth and how this collective obsession influences our perspective of older adults and our attitudes toward getting older.

“Becoming older is a privilege denied to many,” the saying goes. But, are you excited about getting older? When I ask my students this question they often say things like, “No way!” and follow with a list of negative stereotypes describing older adults as sick, unhappy, slow, and sexually inactive. How do so many of us, including myself, come to this conclusion?

The aging population (i.e., individuals 65 and over) around the world is growing. In the U.S. alone, one in seven persons is now an older American, and this number is expected to double by 2060. As we’ve previously discussed here at Sociology In Focus with other concepts (seasons, time, etc.) aging is also socially constructed.

A Youth Obsessed Society

The U.S. has often been described as a youth obsessed society. Some have argued that aging is a fate worse than death. During 2014, nearly 13 billion dollars was spent on plastic surgery with the bulk of procedures performed on women 40 and older. The sale of anti-aging skin care products is also a booming business. U.S. consumers now spend more on anti-aging medications than on drugs for disease. Clearly people are feeling pressure to maintain their youth.

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Structure or Culture: Sociology’s Chicken or The Egg Dilemma

In this essay Nathan Palmer tries to answer an age old sociological question, does social structure determine our culture or does our culture determine our social structure?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Questions like this create what’s known as a causality dilemma because it is hard, if not impossible, to know which caused the other to happen. Sociologists have a causality dilemma of their very own and it can be encapsulated in an equally simple question: which came first, the culture of society or the structure of society?

Culture vs. Structure

Culture can be thought of as all of the ideas, symbols, values, beliefs, etc. that we use in our daily lives to interact with one another and accomplish tasks. A society’s culture affects individual and group behavior by shaping how we see the world, what situations we identify as problems, and what we think are reasonable courses of action to take to solve those problems.

Structure on the other hand describes the relationships between groups of people, organizations, and social institutions (e.g. the government, the economy, the education system, religion, the media, and the family). A society’s structure affects our behavior by making it easier for some things to happen and harder for others[^ex]. Both of these definitions are overly simplified, but they should suffice in the service of addressing sociology’s causality dilemma.

It’s important to remember that sociology as a discipline was born right after the industrial revolution as capitalism was beginning to take hold in Europe and The West. Two of sociology’s most influential early theorists, Karl Marx and Max Weber, tried to address our discipline’s chicken or the egg question by explaining the origins of capitalism as an economic system.

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Environmental Racism & The Social Roots of the Flint Water Crisis

In this essay, Nathan Palmer discusses the scandalous environmental tragedy in Flint, Michigan and shows how the catastrophe illustrates the connection between social inequality and environmental inequality.

For over a year in Flint, Michigan, the tap water has been a disgusting brown color. For over a year, local residents have been protesting in the streets, shouting at town hall meetings, and pleading with government officials to declare an emergency and clean their tap water. For over a year, state officials told the residents that the brown water was safe to drink. But, it wasn’t. The water was highly corrosive and contaminated with lead.

How Did This Happen?

The Social Roots of Environmental Catastrophe

When I tell people that I teach environmental sociology, typically their first question to me is, “what does the environment have to do with sociology?” It is as if the natural environment couldn’t be farther from the social environments that humans inhabit. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Environmental sociology exists to highlight how the way we think about and interact with the environment is shaped by our society’s culture and social structure. One of the greatest contributions sociologists have made to environmental science has been revealing the many ways social inequality is connected to environmental degradation. Simply put, social inequality often leads to environmental inequality.

Environmental inequality describes any situation where one social group is disproportionately affected by environmental hazards (Pellow 2000). One specific form of this inequality is Environmental racism which, “refers to any policy, practice, or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages (whether intended or unintended) individuals, groups, or communities based on race or color” (Bullard 1993: 3). In study after study, researchers have found that poor people and specifically people of color live in environments that are more toxic and more prone to environmental catastrophe (Brulle and Pellow 2006). Two primary reasons for this environmental inequality are sociological: residential segregation and NIMBY politics.

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Can’t Buy Me Love (Or Can You?)

You know Valentine’s Day is just around the corner when the stores are filled with the pink and red signs, along with chocolates, cards, jewelry, and flowers. In this post, Ami Stearns argues that love – an abstract concept- is bought and sold on Valentine’s Day through the purchase of goods and services. Whether we realize it or not, we commodify our love on Valentine’s Day. Those who “opt out” may face the wrath of a significant other.

In middle school, a boyfriend promised he had sent me a bouquet on Valentine’s Day that never showed. While the school hallways echoed with screeches of appreciation over other deliveries of cold roses and baby’s breath, I felt like I had been slapped in the face. It later turned out that there was a mix-up at the florist and I received my flowers the next day. I’ll never forget this thirteen year-old boy saying, “It’s the thought that counts” and me thinking, “That is NOT how this day works!” In my view, I had overestimated our relationship.

In America, many of our holidays have taken on a life of their own: the guts of stores literally change color depending upon the season. We have rituals, meals, and expectations surrounding nearly every holiday. Sociology offers several useful lenses through which to view these holidays. In previous pieces on Sociology In Focus, we have analyzed HalloweenChristmasFather’s Day, and Thanksgiving. This post will explore Valentine’s Day through one of Marx’s core concepts: commodification.

The Stuff of Valentine’s Day

You love it or you hate it- but Valentine’s Day is an inescapable part of our culture. It’s risky to ignore this holiday if you’re part of a couple. The day affects our romantic decision-making as well: would you start dating a new person right before Valentine’s Day? I wouldn’t! Not only do we avoid getting entangled right before V-Day, we sometimes find ourselves re-evaluating relationships during this love-filled month: Mid-February actually boasts one of the highest break-up rates in the year. Valentine’s Day is clearly more than “just” a holiday, but is in fact a socially constructed expectation of what love looks like and how we express that to others through gifts such as chocolate, candies, romantic dinners, or flowers.

On Valentine’s Day, particularly, beleaguered florists hope to break even on the flower-filled day (however, once a sure thing, mom and pop flower shop “owners” these days are becoming laborers themselves and may even lose money on the historic flower-buying holiday). The obligation of buying that special something is a large profit for a handful of corporations- not very romantic, is it?…

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Make America Great Again!

Vote for me! I promise to make America great! In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath considers how one might conceptualize and operationalize the notion of “great” using the 2016 US Presidential candidates’ campaign platforms. 

Donald J. Trump’s campaign slogan is “make America great again!” But that brings up the question, how do you measure greatness? In his slogan, Trump is implying two things:

  1. America is no longer great, but once was.
  2. If elected president, then he will make America great again.

But what does he mean by “great”? Let’s start by considering his key campaign issues. According to his website, he has stated positions on five issues:

  1. U.S. China Trade Reform
  2. Veterans Administration Reforms
  3. Tax Reform
  4. Protecting Second Amendment Rights
  5. Immigration Reform

Why these issues? Are the alleged problems related to these five issues all that is preventing America from being “great again”? Why not other issues?

Others could make the case that America is still great or already great again. For example, unemployment rates in 2015, were back to the 2005 level of approximately 5 percent. The US high school dropout rate declined from 12 percent in 1990, to 11 percent in 2000, and then to 7 percent in 2013 according to the National Center for Education Statistics.1 The survival rate for childhood leukemia has improved dramatically since the 1950s (National Cancer Institute). Crime rates and teenaged pregnancy rates have declined, too. While none of these problems have been solved, progress has been made in a number of areas.

But wait, perhaps my glass really is half-empty. What about the 987 people killed by police in 2015? Or the declining share of Americans in the middle class? The size of the US middle class has declined to 50 percent of the US population from 61 percent in 1971 according to the latest PEW data. Or childhood poverty? Childhood poverty remains stable for blacks, but has declined for whites, Hispanics, and Asian Americans. One in five US children, however, lives at or below the poverty line, making the US at number two behind Romania with the highest level of child poverty in the Western world as reported by The Washington Post….

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Throw Me Something, Mister! Mardi Gras and Deviance

Mardi Gras is typically a time where deviant behavior is expected and encouraged. Lewdness, public intoxication, and begging are all commonplace during this centuries-old festival. Within all societies, certain behaviors that would be considered inappropriate are allowed in some contexts. In this post, Ami Stearns examines Mardi Gras with a Durkheimian lens to suggest that deviance is relative.

Mardi Gras is serious business in Louisiana. This will be my second Mardi Gras in South Louisiana but the first that I will brave the crowds in New Orleans for a firsthand look at this over-the-top festival that has ancient roots in Western history. Many cities across the nation also celebrate Mardi Gras, and share in the typical problems that accompany the revelry, including shootings (both at people and at Centaur floats), partiers falling from rooftops, “suspicious” activity, and general mayhem.

The Situational Normality of Begging at Mardi Gras

What comes to mind first when conjuring up a Mardi Gras scene are probably the beads that are thrown en masse from passing floats- but beads are not exclusively thrown to women who bare their breasts. Beads and coins are thrown to those who beg the loudest, basically rewarding the best beggars. At the Mardi Gras parades in Lafayette (the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in the world and, most notably, fairly devoid of nudity), I noticed that the loudest people who shouted “Throw me something, mister!” received the most beads.

The “urban” Mardi Gras that is most well known demands that the revelers scream and beg for things, usually in return for nothing. But there is also a more rural version that is still practiced vibrantly in small communities all over South Louisiana. During these Mardi Gras celebrations, the members of the parade do the begging, running from house to house in tattered clothes to beg for food. The items that are collected, including live chickens, ultimately end up in a delicious gumbo….

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“Hey Teacher Lady” or How Not to Email your Professor

Have you ever been unsure of how to address your professors when you email them? Are you unsure of what to call them? You are not alone. In this post, Sarah Nell provides a few stories and some advice for how to avoid awkward communication so you can get this important communication right.

When my nephew started college, he told me he overheard a peer say, “The professor insists that we call her doctor, but she doesn’t even wear a white coat. I don’t get it.” While I didn’t have the chance to help this student get it, I do have the chance to help you. It may seem like a small, insignificant detail, but trust me: it is worth getting this right.

I have received too many inappropriate emails from students. I don’t think most students mean any disrespect, but not knowing proper greetings has made for some uncomfortable electronic communication. I have gotten emails from students, that begin with “Hey Sarah” or even worse, have no greeting at all. Hopefully this explanation will help you develop a positive professional relationship with your college professors by avoiding some common communication blunders.

I understand that, probably, most of the teachers you’ve had throughout your pre-college education have been women that you called Mrs. Last Name. Because that was her name. You likely also called male teachers Mr. Last Name. However, the people who teach you in college hold, more often than not, doctorates in their fields of study. I will give you the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe you don’t know how people become college professors or that you are expected to call them something different. I think it is worth explaining, and important for you to know who is teaching you….

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Fatherhood, Paternity Leave, and Facebook

In this essay, Mediha Din explores the changing face of fatherhood in the work force.

Big tech corporations in the United States are making major changes when it comes to their policies about dads and families. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook is currently partaking in 2 months paternity leave after the arrival of his baby daughter. Facebook offers 4 months of paid leave to mothers and fathers within a year of a child’s arrival. Netflix recently announced it will give its salaried employees up to 12 months of paid parental leave to take at their own discretion. Amazon announced that regardless of gender, both biological and adoptive parents who have worked for the company for more than a year are now entitled to six weeks paid parental leave. Google and Microsoft offer 12 weeks paid parental leave, while LinkedIn and Apple offer 6 weeks paid leave. Yet, many Americans working outside of the tech industry may not have this option. Even if they did, research shows that often times, dads do not use the paternity leave their company offers.

Throughout history American society has had changing views on family dynamics. The social meanings associated with divorce, single parenthood, and cohabitation have transformed over time. The decisions of some major corporations to acknowledge and offer extended paid paternity leave indicate that the social meanings of fatherhood are also changing.

There are quite a few things that stand out about the paternity and parental leave policies of some of the tech companies mentioned above:

  • Notable of course is the the length of time offered off, from 6 weeks up to one year.
  • More impressive perhaps, is that it is paid. The United States is currently one of only four countries in the world that do not have any mandated paid leave for mothers or fathers. (The other countries are Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland.)
  • Finally, what stands out about the newer policies is the fact that a culture has been created to actually encourage fathers to take off the time they are entitled to. According to the Business Insider, “The company (Facebook) has cultivated a culture where it’s taboo not to take the full four months or for dads to take less than moms.”

U.S. Parental Leave From a Global Context

Though the United States does not mandate paid maternity leave or paternity leave, some countries not only mandate the leave, but are also working on changing the stigma associated with father’s taking time off for their families….

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