Sociology Focus

Preventing Men’s Violence Against Women: A Zealand Case

Remember the Steubenville travesty that occurred in mid-2012 but didn’t start making headlines until months later? If you don’t recall, the case involved teenage males sexually assaulting a heavily intoxicated younger female, bragging of their exploits online, as various parties looked the other way or covered up the males’ actions. In the aftermath, certain mainstream media outlets were more sympathetic to the adjudicated males than to the female survivor. In this post, David Mayeda covers a strikingly similar case that has made headlines in New Zealand.

TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses sexual assault.

A while ago I began writing a few SIF articles focused on “preventing violence against women.” I discussed the Steubenville case, as well as the tragedy in New Delhi, India and in different form, examples from Pakistan. In retrospect, I should have recalled how Jackson Katz frames the issue by naming it “men’s violence against women,” highlighting men’s responsibility in gendered violence.

This past month, I was reminded how correct Katz is when 3News in New Zealand exposed a group of older teenage males from West Auckland called the Roast Busters. As reported by The New Zealand Herald, “The Roast Busters caused outrage by bragging on their Facebook page about getting underage girls drunk and having sex with them…. The Roast Busters Facebook page and the profile pages of some members – who are said to have targeted girls as young as 13 – have been taken down since news of their activities broke.”

Since this story broke, members of New Zealand’s mainstream and alternative media have provided excellent commentary critiquing the Roast Busters and a broader rape culture in New Zealand that “systematically trivializes, normalizes, or endorses sexual assault.”

Unfortunately, following the Roast Busters’ exposure, a number of other disturbing events emerged that exemplify how rape culture operates in a patriarchal society, where men’s privilege is embedded across society’s institutions. Take for instance the male-dominated institution of law enforcement. Police initially stated they could not take action on the Roast Busters because no victim had formally come forward to complain.

However, the public quickly learned that “police had received a complaint from a 13-year-old girl as far back as 2011.” Demonstrating how police blamed the very young victim instead of taking action against accused male perpetrators, it was later revealed, ”The girl…told 3News she was upset by the line of questioning used when she was interviewed by police in 2011, including about what she was wearing” (see also here). Continue reading

What *Does* a Fox Say?

What does a fox say? The silly, but catchy, song by Ylvis has become an international hit and YouTube sensation. While the song seems more interested in mocking the insincere emotions in electronic pop music, it does actually ask an interesting sociological question. What does the fox say? In this article Nathan Palmer will answer this question and ask you to think about how we socially construct the natural environment.

  • Dog goes “woof”
    Cat goes “meow”
    Bird goes “tweet”
    And mouse goes “squeak”
    Cow goes “moo”
    Frog goes “croak”
    And the elephant goes “toot”
    Ducks say “quack”
    And fish go “blub”
    And the seal goes “ow ow ow”
    Still there’s one sound that no one knows,
    What does the fox say?

My daughter and I sing this song as loud as we can as we drive home from school everyday. And while this song might seem completely non-sociological, it actually shows us how the natural environment and how we conceptualize it, is socially constructed. For instance, did you know that in Czech a dogs say “haf haf” (Capek 2008)? What’s going on here? Well, to answer that question, first we have to discuss why the natural environment is a social construction.

Continue reading

Celebrate with Spam: The Construction of Luxury Food Items

“Pass the Spam, please,” are probably not words you will hear at this year’s Thanksgiving table. However, in South Korea, Spam is a luxury item and is considered a very important part of the gift-giving ritual at the lunar Thanksgiving festival. In this post, Ami Stearns argues that Veblen’s theory of the leisure class can help explain why Spam is so popular in some countries.

These are a few of my favorite (Thanksgiving) things: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, green beans, stuffing, cranberry relish, fresh rolls, and turkey! You can’t leave out the turkey. The familiar Thanksgiving Day spread in American society is a near-sacred cornucopia of culinary delights. Although regional variations abound (macaroni and cheese was never included at my family’s holiday dinners, but it seems to be common in the south), severe transgressions are frowned upon (spaghetti or peanut butter sandwiches in place of a turkey? No.). The undisputed star of the patriotic Thanksgiving table is the turkey. Turkey is so symbolic of the season that, when I was a social worker, we spent the month before the holiday collecting and distributing frozen turkeys to needy families so they would not miss out on the right to display a giant turkey on the table in late November. If a family had to substitute something for the turkey, say, a can of Spam, it would speak to the lower social class of the household. Spam is, understandably, not something to be proud of as the family crowds around the harvest table. That is, unless you live in South Korea.

In America, Spam is somewhat of a joke, “polka parodied” by “Weird Al” Yankovic, and once made a spectacular run as the freaky focus for a now-defunct festival to help “Keep Austin Weird” in Austin, TX, in addition to serving as bizarre fair food along with pig toes on a stick.
Spam’s humble beginnings in 1937 spoke to the desperation of Depression-era and World War II rationing. The way my grandparents reminisced about 1940s-era Spam recipes only made me sad, not hungry.

However, the star of South Korea’s Chuseok lunar Thanksgiving festival, held recently in September, is none other than Spam. In fact, Spam is quite the status symbol of South Korea’s Thanksgiving holiday. South Korean stores even sell boxed sets around the lunar holiday. Continue reading

Why the Media Champions Malala, but Ignores Nabila

Malala Yousafzai has received an immense amount of media attention in the past few years, and rightfully so. Just last week here at SIF, Mediha Din took a conflict theory approach to discuss Malala’s global influence as the young activist continues to advocate for girls’ rights to education. In this post, David Mayeda continues to examine Malala’s social impact, dissecting why Malala’s popularity has risen so dramatically in western society, and why other very related stories go virtually unnoticed.

As explained previously in SIF, Malala Yousafzai is a 16-year-old girl from Pakistan now residing in England. Roughly two years ago when living in Pakistan, Malala was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen after she gained noteriety as an outspoken advocate for gender equity in education. A survivor of this horrific act, Malala continues her staunch social activism and has received extensive praise by the west for her actions. Check out her amazing interview on The Daily Show, where at one point she leaves Jonathan Stewart utterly speechless:

Considering the conditions that impact girls and women in Pakistan, it is not surprising, given her incredible conviction, that Malala spoke out for gender equity. Moving beyond educational gender disparities, in 2011, Pakistan was ranked as the world’s third most dangerous country in the world to be female. As reported by TrustLaw, in Pakistan: Continue reading

Preventing Epidemics and The Return of Polio

Polio was erradicated in Syria in 1999, but last week 10 cases were confirmed. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how social factors contribute to health outcomes and how the reemergence of polio in Syria could indicate an approaching epidemic of the disease.

Epidemiologists study the social factors that contribute to health outcomes (e.g., likelihood of contracting a disease or dying). Epidemiologists have found that factors such as race, gender, and age are correlated with health. For example, the leading killer of women in the United States is heart disease, but this is only true for white and black women. Cancer is the leading cause of death for Hispanic, Asian American, and American Indian/Alaska Native women. In other words, gender, race, and ethnicity are correlated with cause of death.

Epidemiologists work at organizations such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) These organizations track the spread of disease and work at preventing disease. Knowing who has contracted a particular illness can help the CDC and the WHO better predict which groups are most at risk so that they can better target prevention campaigns.

It is the job of epidemiologists to track epidemics, which could become pandemics. An epidemic is a disease that is widespread within a particular population (i.e., a community or country). A pandemic is an epidemic that has spread worldwide. HIV is an example of a pandemic in that it is found all around the world. Malaria is an example of an epidemic in that it greatly impacts some regions of the world while others remain untouched. It is possible for epidemics to be defeated.

Polio is an example of a disease that was once epidemic in the United States, but today is mostly a memory. Prior to the polio vaccine, there were approximately 35,000 polio cases each year in the U.S. After the vaccine, polio rates declined dramatically and there have only been 162 polio cases in the U.S. since 1980. Continue reading

What Can A 16 Year Old Teach Us About Education Today?

If you had the opportunity to meet President Obama and the Queen of England what would you want to discuss? Now imagine, you are 16 years old, what topics would be most important to you at that age? Your school? Your parents? Your favorite celebrities? For one 16 year old today, educational equality, rights for women, and terrorism are the issues she eagerly wants to discuss with heads of state and members of the United Nations. If you have not heard of Malala Yousafzai, her story is sure to inspire.  A year ago, at age 15, Malala was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen simply because she wanted to go to school. Miraculously, she survived and is now bravely speaking out in an effort to improve educational opportunities for children around the world. In this post, Mediha Din describes education from the sociological point of view known as Conflict Theory.

According to Conflict Theory, education is a mechanism that produces and reproduces inequality in society. Malala Yousafzai is passionate about combating this inequality. The recent 20/20 special about her journey describes a young girl growing up in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. In 2009, the Taliban banned girls in her region from attending school.

Malala began a blog for BBC News in opposition to the order and voiced her desire for education. Soon after, the New York Times created a documentary about her struggle for education, and her name became known.

In 2011, Malala told CNN, “I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk.”

A year later, Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while riding the bus home from school. She amazingly survived and continues to work as an activist for children’s education.

Conflict theory is a perspective in sociology that sees the world as an arena of competition. When analyzing any situation from this point of view, a conflict theorist emphasizes the importance of:

1. Competition: over scarce resources

2. Inequality: conflicts between haves” andhave-nots”

3. Discrimination: different treatment and opportunities for different groups such as rich versus poor, males versus females, employers versus employees.

Malala’s story clearly illustrates a competition over scarce resources. In this case, the precious resource is education. “In some parts of the world, students are going to school every day. It’s their normal life,” Malala told Diane Sawyer in an interview for ABC News. “But in other parts of the world, we are starving for education … it’s like a precious gift. It’s like a diamond.” Today, millions of children around the world reach age 15 unable to read or write. According to data from the Central Intelligence Agency, 774 million people age 15 and older are illiterate, 52% of these people live in South and West Asia, and 22% percent live in sub-Saharan Africa. Continue reading

Impression Management at an Academic Conference

Academics love conferences. It’s where we present our research and as you’ll see, present ourselves. In this post, Sarah Michele Ford examines the ways in which we all engage in impression management in professional – and really all – situations.

I spent the end of last week at an academic conference – the annual meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers. It’s a gathering of researchers from a wide variety of academic disciplines, countries, and perspectives. It’s also a gathering that I have often described as a very intellectual high school reunion.

Conference attendees

Photo by Hayal Oezkan | CC: By-SA

While the conference is very fun, it’s also a multi-day exercise in impression management. Impression management is a key component of symbolic interaction theory, arguing that, in all of our interactions with other people, we are using our self-presentation to influence their opinion of us. These attempts are sometimes conscious, but in many cases they are not. Everyone has a number of tools with which to engage in impression management; we can influence opinion through our dress, through our interactional behaviors, through our adherence to social norms. Impression management is also very much tied to the various social roles that we all inhabit; the self that we present in a professional environment may be very different than the self that we present when we are at school or when we are with our friends or family. This all comes back to the dramaturgical perspective advanced by Erving Goffman.*

While we all engage in impression management in every interaction, there are times when we are more aware of it than others. I personally become especially aware of it in the conference setting because I find myself in the position of being a researcher, a graduate student, a teacher, and a friend all at once. Continue reading