Sociology Focus

What Exactly Makes Merida “Brave”?

Why do people get married? Love, right? Maybe not. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how there are many reasons for marriage as illustrated in the film, Brave.

Pixar finally released a film starring a female lead!

In the Pixar movie Brave, which opened last week,the heroine is a young woman named Merida who is, of course, a princess. I’m actually not sure why Merida is even a princess except that the story is set it in medieval Scotland (and now she can be added to the Disney princess line-up and not be relegated to the sidelines like Mulan).

Much has already been written about Brave as yet another princess movie with untapped potential of actually crushing gender stereotypes. At least she doesn’t wear pink or long for prince charming or need rescued by prince charming, so there was some deviation from the princess trope.

In the end, (SPOILERS!) Merida rescues her mom and herself rather than needing the rescuing (if you ignore the part where she needs her three younger brothers to help her escape from her room in which her dad locked her).

I saw the film on Friday and instead of rehashing how Brave reinforces gender stereotypes, I am going to focus on the marriage in the film.

The gist of the film is that it is time for Merida to get married. She is to marry one of the princes of the other three clans in order keep the peace among the four clans. She is not interested in marriage and the men presented are, well, dolts. Love is not a prerequisite for this marriage. To find the best prince they hold an archery contest and even then, Merida shows them up as the best archer among them all.

What we see here is an alternative purpose of marriage, that is, marriage for political reasons rather than for love. Continue reading

The Power of “Vagina”: The Structure and Meaning of Words

Structural symbolic interactionist argue that not only do words have meaning, they also have meaning based on the person who utters them and the historical and structural position of that person in relation to that word. In this post, Bridget Welch explains how this is the case for vaginas everywhere.

Axe wound, muff, bearded clam, fish taco, camel’s toe, beaver, roast beef curtains…[1]

As I write this, there are over 7 billion people in the world. About half of those have a cooch.

Sarah Nell has already written about the horrors of trying to discuss the clitoris. But I’m going to take it one further. Say the one word about a woman’s reproductive system SHALL NOT BE NAMED. You ready for it? Take a deep breath. Go get your security blanket and teddy bear. Here we go:


Say it with me:

Vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina.

Now was that so bad?

The answer is yes if you are Representative Lisa Brown, a democrat in the Michigan House. While debating legislation that would restrict access to abortions, Brown stated: “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.”

If that wasn’t enough of a horror for the House to have to deal with, Rep. Barb Byrum muttered the word vasectomy when she was restricted from speaking on her amendment that proposed that proof of a medical emergency and/or risk of death was required before a man could get the above mentioned procedure.

Barred from speaking in the House as punishment for this horrific act of using scientifically correct terminology, you may wonder how the vagina should be referenced in polite discourse. Continue reading

Posted by Bridget Welch

I’ll Give You a Cookie if You Change the World

Cookies. Free Meals. And other random acts of humanity. In this post, Bridget Welch explains how having something nice happen to you — or doing something nice for others — could make the whole world a better place. 

When my husband came in to the house his eyes were glowing with happiness. A wide smile and obvious glee made it clear that something good had occurred. What that possibly could be, I had no clue. I mean, the man just went to McDonald’s to pick up some burgers and nuggets. “When I went through the drive through,” he said almost breathlessly, “the clerk told me that the car in front of me paid for my food and asked if I wanted to pay for the people behind.” He did, and the clerk told him that he was the eighth person in a row paying it forward backwards.

Have you perchance seen those Liberty Mutual Commercials? A bystander witnesses a stranger do “the right thing” (e.g. help someone rake a yard, returning money left behind, picking up a dropped toy) and then does the right thing in another situation. In turn, another person sees them do this act and they are so inclined to help someone else. And on goes the chain of kindness.

Social psychologists have called this the “happy glow effect.” A series of studies in the 70s looked at how making people feel good could cause them to want to make others feel good. My favorite of these was “Cookies and Kindness.” The researchers gave some people cookies and didn’t give others cookies.[1] They then saw that people who got cookies were more likely to give help when asked. Cookie = Happy Glow.

My husband didn’t get cookies, he got nuggets. But the happy glow was achieved.

Kinda cool, right? But what’s the big deal? If people have something nice happen to them, or witness something nice, then they’ll be nice. Whoopie (and not the pie, cause that could make you glow with happiness).

However if you couple the happy glow effect with six degrees of Kevin Bacon you may have something to write home about. Continue reading

On Digital Divides

Poor parenting leads to children wasting time with media according to recent news headlines. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath discusses the digital divide and some of the questions left unanswered by news reports.

I learned from the New York Times that wasting time is new divide in digital era on Twitter.

The crux of the argument is that most Americans now have access to the digital world, which includes computers and Internet. What is different is how these tools are being used by poor and well-off families.

First, parents poor parents are blamed for not better monitoring and not having the knowledge of how to better monitor their children’s use of the computer. In contrast, more well-off parents are portrayed as clearly having it all figured out. It’s not like well-off parents never received surprise phone bills in the hundreds of dollars for smurfberries and lemonade for cartoon giraffes or anything like that. Clearly, the more well-off are better at monitoring their children’s use of computers. My parents did very little monitoring of my computer usage. That could be because it involved using dos to get to exciting games of solitaire and minesweeper and my Internet access while living at home consisted of a dial-up connection that you paid for by the hour. Continue reading

The Writing on the Wall: Stigma vs. Authenticity

Who are you really? Are you brave enough to let the world know? In this post, Bridget Welch explores a core human motivation — to be seen as our authentic selves — and how that is problematic when who you are is stigmatized.

I enjoy using public restrooms. It’s not because I want to listen to others go. Or even because I get to fantasize about all the possible germs I’m getting from the seat. Or even because I like to eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations (cause women like to talk in the bathroom). Okay, I do like to eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations, you overhear the strangest things. The main reason I like to go in public restrooms? The reading material.

Between the jokes scrawled on the walls, above the references to pop culture, perhaps squeezed between a call “to love your body” and curse words, there will be a whole different kind of writing. Something like this:

I took both of these images in a women’s restroom at a large state university. For a much larger selection, see here.

A few of us have already written about one of the primary motivations for human behavior — to be thought well of. This is what is at the core of Goffman’s impression management. It’s why we struggle to maintain correct emotional displays, even when it costs us more than we may want to pay. We want other people to believe that we are competent. That we are good at what we do — at what we are.

But this is not the only motivation for behavior that social psychologists discuss. Among others, we are motivated to been seen as authentic human beings. That means, at times, we want to be recognized for who we truly are. Continue reading

Educational Fee Hikes, Student Protests, and Police Response

It is an interesting time to be a student of higher education, or perhaps an individual wanting to be a student of higher education. Across the world, universities are aligning themselves with conservative political entities as they raise student tuition and cut student support. In this post, David Mayeda reports on a recent student protest in Aotearoa/New Zealand, illustrating how state police continue to act in violent ways when faced with peaceful protests, and asks further, what future lies ahead for those who will not be able to afford a university education.

In Chile, hundreds of thousands of students and concerned citizens have been protesting for nearly a year, upset with the country’s highly privatized education system. As in many other regions, in Chile, if one lives in economic stress, securing a university education is highly unlikely. Likewise, the past few weeks in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, hundreds of thousands of protestors have been speaking out against proposed tuition hikes and newly imposed laws that restrict fundamental freedoms of assembly.

And as covered here in SociologyInFocus last year, University of California students were pepper sprayed by an officer while sitting peacefully in protest of tuition hikes at the system’s Davis campus, while a week before, Berkeley students were struck by police with batons. Below is some of the more benign footage I took on Friday 1 June at a University of Auckland student protest before being told to put away my iPad by police, or be arrested myself. With all these student protests and conflicts with police happening across the globe, what is going on?

Continue reading

Posted by David Mayeda