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“The Trouble with Girls…” is Really the Trouble with Sexism

Recently The Nobel Prizing winning scientist Tim Hunt made some controversial and sexist remarks about “the trouble with girls” in science. In this essay, Stephanie Medley-Rath uses her daughter’s STEM camp experience to argue that the real trouble in STEM fields is not with girls, but with sexism.

This summer my daughter attended a STEM-themed day camp. While STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, I really think the S could stand for sociology, but nobody asked me. The day camp was open to any child, but really it was mostly the children of middle class parents who were able to attend. The camp cost a fair amount of money and required parents to drop kids off at 9am and pick them back up at 3:30pm. There aren’t too many working class families that could both afford the tuition costs and have work schedules flexible enough to handle the drop off/pick up times. While I could go on about the social class implications of this STEM camp, I want to focus on gender.

In sociology 101 classes we often talk about social class, gender, and race individually, but in reality each of us lives at the intersection of our class, gender, and race[1]. To this end, sociologists emphasize a concept called intersectionality. What this means is that there are many characteristics that influence our life chances. You are probably most familiar with race, class, and gender stratification. But these things do not exist in isolation. For example, I know what the world is like for white middle-class women because I am one and have been one my entire life. Race, class, and gender work together. People perceive others on the basis of all of these things. As you have also learned in sociology, however, sometimes one of these characteristics becomes the most salient or trumps the other characteristics….

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Dirty Women: The Gendering of Mud Runs

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.

US Navy 110813-N-XS652-558 A runner navigates an obstacle during the 11th annual Armed Services YMCA Mud Run at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Cr

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….

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