Hot Pants in the Frozen Aisle: Shaming & Norming the POWM

The popular “People of Walmart” website has achieved a cult-like following, with an accompanying book and merchandise for faithful followers. Public shaming as a form of social disapproval doesn’t just happen in the town square anymore. As Ami Stearns argues in this post, public shaming on user-submitted sites like “People of Walmart” can effectively mark norm boundaries and reinforce classism, sexism, and more.


The next time you consider running into Wal-Mart wearing skin-tight cheetah-print leggings and matching sport bra, please reconsider. You may become the latest object of ridicule on the website “People of Walmart (POWM).” From its humble beginnings as a small-scale site for friends to post pictures of unusual characters shopping at Wal-Mart, has taken off into an Internet phenomenon where those who dare to breach appearance norms are captured with photographic evidence for the rest of the world to examine. To supplement the main page, there are videos, a Twitter feed, a Facebook Page, and just to cover all the requisite social media bases, a Tumblr. Users from all over the United States of Wal-Mart are invited to submit photos and a witty caption to the main website for dissemination to the rest of society. The photos that are included on the POWM website feature individuals deemed “inappropriate” in looks, hairstyle, clothing, or general appearance.

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The Many Statuses of Oscar Pistorius

In this post, Sarah Michele Ford examines how South African runner Oscar Pistorius can help us understand the sociological concept of status, including ascribed, achieved, and master statuses.

The headlines when we in the Western Hemisphere woke on Valentine’s Day were surprising.

“A Nation Reels as a Star Runner is Charged in Girlfriend’s Death”

“Olympian Oscar Pistorius charged with murder”

“‘Blade Runner’ Athlete Charged with Murder of Girlfriend”

Never fear, this isn’t going to be a blog post about yet another famous athlete gone bad. Instead, it’s about the adjectives used before his name. In these news articles, and many others, you find Oscar Pistorius described using terms like “Olympic and paralympic runner”, “BladeRunner”, and “Olympian”. Before Reeva Steenkamp’s death, and before the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, he was known as the double-amputee track star, the man who fought to prove that his carbon-fiber prosthetics didn’t give him an unfair advantage over runners relying on flesh-and-bone limbs. He was the guy who “lost” a race against a five-year-old girl wearing her own version of the legs he races on.

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Preventing Violence Against Women & Girls: New Delhi

Violence against women comes in many forms, existing in varying degrees across all cultures and countries. Among other ways, violence against women happens through intimate partner violence, rape and sexual coercion, human trafficking, and infanticide (for a broad review, see Watts and Zimmerman, 2002). In this post, David Mayeda begins a 3-part series examining cases of violence against women from 2012 that happened in India, Pakistan, and the United States. First off, the tragic case of the 23-year-old female physiotherapy student who was recently sexually assaulted and killed by six male suspects in India’s Capital City, New Delhi.

Protests in Bangalore

On 16 December 2012, a 23-year-old female physiotherapy student from New Delhi, India was riding home with her fiance after seeing The Life of Pi when she was sexually assaulted on a bus by six male suspects. The assailants beat her and her fiancée, leaving them for dead. Reports vary, but some suggest the police wasted valuable time arguing over jurisdictional responsibility before helping the young woman. Roughly a week after the assault occurred, the young woman was flown to Singapore to receive further medical care. Unfortunately, the assault was so brutal and her organs so damaged, she passed away in late December. The suspects now face murder charges and the streets of India are alive with fervent protests:

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Contemporary Slavery: Thailand’s Matrix of Domination

As has been covered numerous times here in SIF, gender is a social construct ascribed to both males and females. Patricia Hill Collins (1990) argues further that gender operates along side multiple social constructs (race, class, nationality, sexuality) that are enmeshed in a “matrix of domination.” Within this matrix, uneven opportunity structures emerge for individuals who fall into these socially constructed groups. In this post, David Mayeda closes out his series on contemporary slavery by applying Collins’s matrix of domination to a type of work in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where adolescent males and young men are manipulated into commercial sexual exploitation.

Under what circumstances, if any, should a person be bought?

On the third night of our anti-slavery tour in Thailand, our group was being led through one of Bangkok’s red light districts. In this environment, sex was not the only thing being sold on the cheap. Tourists could cheaply purchase all kind of things – clothes, weapons, luggage, electronics. Though this was a work trip, the one leisure item I wanted to purchase was a pair of focus mitts for kickboxing. Some popped into my vision and I checked them out. Within a minute, the salesperson dropped his price from 2500 to 1000 baht (about $32 USD).

At that moment, the situation’s realness hit me, and I had a rather uninsightful but powerful reminder of why I was on this trip – to problematize the commodification of human life. We are all commodified to some degree. If you’ve held a job, you and your work skills were commodified as labor. But what if you were the object being commodified, if your body was being sold and your choice to be sold for someone else’s pleasure was minimized, even erased? This is the reality that characterizes sex workers’ lives across the world.

Getting a foot massage (or anything else) on the cheap is made possible by global inequality.

Similar to other countries, Thailand’s commercial sex industry preys on the young and vulnerable. Most of those exploited are young women who might exert elements of choice when working in this environment, though “choice” is minimized by poverty, familial and cultural expectations tied to gender and birth order, and limited employment options. Within this matrix of domination, other women are fully controlled as sex slaves, given literally no choice. This industry also victimizes young men and adolescent boys whose choices are manipulated.

Illustrating that males and females can both be feminized (or masculinized), “boy bars” exist catering to wealthier men from predominantly western countries. The males who work in these bars are typically heterosexual but play a more effeminate role to improve their chances of attracting foreign men who pay for their sexual services. In this context, the Asian males, like their female counterparts in the commercial sex industry, are a commodified form of erotica for the privileged western male consumers (see hooks, 1992)….

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Socially Constructing Drug Users, Dealers, and Convicts

What would you say if I told you that we socially construct what we think of as a criminal? By that I mean as a society we pick and choose what actions to call crimes and which people to prosecute for those actions. Sounds like some highfalutin sociology mumbo jumbo, right? Well, in this post Nathan Palmer uses the “War on Drugs” to show us how “the criminal” is socially constructed.

Stop reading this for one second and imagine a drug deal between two people you’ve never met before. What did the buyer look like? What did the seller look like? Where did the transaction take place? Got it? Good.

So, in the situation you imagined did the drug buyer know the drug dealer personally or where they strangers? Was the dealer a different race than the buyer? What about class, was one of them rich and the other less so?

If you don’t have first hand experience with drug deals, where did you get the ideas and imagery that popped into your imagination? For many of us, we glean what little we know about drug dealing from the news media and from Hollywood.

Turn on the TV and drug deals look like this: A car full of bratty spoiled white kids roll through an inner city neighborhood where African American men stand on nearly every corner drugs in hand. The car stops, a dealer leans to the passenger window, and then drugs and money exchange hands. But is this cliche reality?

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DRC Death Toll Exceeds 5 Million & Almost No News Coverage?

In the past few weeks, conflict between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza has received extensive attention in western media, and understandably so. The death toll among Israelis stands at 6 and Palestinians a staggering 160, not to mention the number of injuries and damage of infrastructure. In a bit of a surprise, left-leaning western media has also given a smidgen of attention to ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – a colossal conflict that has been happening since 1998. In this post, David Mayeda reviews Virgil Hawkins’s concept of “stealth conflicts,” which refers to those conflicts happening across the globe that are massive in scope but receive virtually no attention from mainstream media, academia, government, or the general public.

If someone were to ask you what has been the biggest global conflict of the past decade, what would you say? The war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the civil war in Syria? None of those responses would be surprising given the amount of attention those conflicts receive from mainstream media. In fact, those are and have been serious conflicts. But what about any conflicts in parts of Africa? Could you even name one?

The reality is, the biggest conflict that our world has seen since World War II revolves around a country in central Africa called the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The conflict is an offshoot of sorts from the 1994 Rwandan genocide, though the violence raging across and around the DRC has festered into its own world war involving a total of nine African countries. Just how big is the conflict in and around the DRC? Since 1998, over FIVE MILLION people have died, many directly at the hands of soldiers and the use of small arms (i.e., guns, machetes). However, far more have died from being rendered internally displaced persons, meaning they have been forced to flee their homes and thus are heavily susceptible to death via disease and malnutrition….

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FLIES HAVING SEX: Normalizing Heterosex

You’re only reading this because you saw the fly sex. You know why? We’re obsessed with sex. It’s everywhere. But, at the same time, we never TALK about it. In this post, Bridget Welch explores how this combination of obsession with lack of discussion (re)defines what is acceptable sexual behavior.

You’ve heard it. Sex sells.

Television. Movies. Video games. T-shirts. Music. Books. Even winning toddler beauty contests. Sex is omnipresent. It even fills out our political soap operas. Most recently is the case of retired four-star General David Petraeus who resigned from his position as director of the CIA because of an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, his biographer.

In the past two years, Petraues is not the only one to provide us titillating scandals in the political arena. Remember Anthony Weiner’s weiner? Hiking the Appalachian Trial? The shirtless representative? The affair of the purity pledger? Eric Massa tickling his staffers (he is also the man who redefined snorkeling for a whole generation)? And many many more – including an excellent case of $52,000 being spent at a strip club by the Republican National Committee.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
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Heh heh… She said PROBE.

We gasp in horror as we hear the steamy details. Wait a second… A man sending a shirtless picture is steamy? I hope your sex-life (even if it’s solo) is steamier then that. And yet, he resigned in shame from the U.S. House. Why?…

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Contemporary Slavery: Connections to Thailand’s War on Drugs

Slavery and other exploitive systems do not exist in a social vacuum. Rather, they are deeply connected with other institutions in society, materialising in ways that intensify existing social disparities. In this post, David Mayeda continues his series on contemporary slavery, based on an August trip that examined the issue in Thailand. Specifically, this post discusses the Thai government’s 2003 war on drugs and its influences on minority group members.

rice patties in Thailand
Laboring in the rice patties – one of the few alternatives to excessive labor exploitation in northern Thailand.

As noted in this series’ first post, the two social groups most severely impacted by Thailand’s policies surrounding statehood are (1) an ethnically diverse range of rural hill tribe Thai, and (2) Burmese migrants, many of whom are refugees. Given these groups’ exclusion from formal citizenry rights and in turn from mainstreamed education and health care systems, they are all the more vulnerable to being exploited as labor, even ensnared in slave-based settings. However, worker exploitation is not the only way in which these groups are systemically mistreated. Broad-based governmental policies directed towards other social issues often have unintended deleterious consequences. Given the extreme power imbalances existing in Thailand, it is unsurprising that minority groups feel the brunt of these wayward policies.

In the 1970s and 80s, the United States and United Nations funded efforts leading to the widespread eradication of opium in Thailand and other countries. As is the common pattern in society, when governmental forces eliminate the production and distribution of one drug without altering the root causes of demand, another drug simply replaces the old one. Thus, the basic drug trafficking system stays in place, only with a different product permeating the market, which is what happened in Thailand. While opium production, distribution, and use still occurs in and around Thailand, between 1993 and 2001, various forms of methamphetamine replaced opium, becoming the more popular drug across Thailand (Wong & Wongtongson, 2006, p. 131)….

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Cooking Meth, Selling Weed, & Our Fascination with Innovators

What does a high-school chemistry teacher who begins manufacturing meth to pay for his cancer treatment, a widowed suburban housewife who begins dealing pot to save her family financially, and a CIA agent who allows her sister to secretly treat her for bi-polar in order to keep her job all have in common? Well, other than being main characters in popular American TV shows, they are all what Robert Merton would call “innovators”. In this post, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter explores our cultural fascination with deviance innovation through the lens of Merton’s strain theory.

Between MTV’s Cribs, My Super Sweet Sixteen, and the Real Housewives of various cities, is it safe to say that as a society we want to be financially successful? Would it be fair to assume that most people in the US admire the wealthy? While social movements like Occupy Wall Street have been critical of the super rich, the abundance of rich people in television suggests that many of us still want to live their lifestyle.

Now what would you think of me if I had a house nice enough to be on Cribs, spent more on lavish parties than most Americans make in a year, and never left the house except in designer clothing? Now what if I told you that I had earned my money by “cooking and slanging “crystal meth?

Before you answer, let me bring in some sociology that may help you. Robert Merton was interested in what motivates some people to break the mold or even the law. He argues that there is a difference between the goals in a culture and people’s ability to equally achieve them. That is, in our culture almost everyone wants to be financially successful. It’s the carrot that is dangled in front of us to motivate us through schooling, work, and life. However, not everyone has access to the same resources and opportunities required to achieve this goal.

Understanding Innovation

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Declining Homophobia among Male Athletes

Historically, sport has been constructed as one of the last institutional bastions of hegemonic masculinity where homophobia stands as cultural norm. Such a perspective definitely pervades in numerous sporting contexts. But times are changing. A recent poll of professional athletes conducted by ESPN found that 61.5% and 92.3% of National Football League and National Hockey League players, respectively, support gay marriage. Some professional athletes are speaking up as individuals and collectively as teams to support marriage equality and admonish homophobia in general. In this article, David Mayeda, examines this critical cultural shift in sport.

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has done his share to end homophobia in society.

If you have not read the phenomenal letter Minnesota Vikings punter, Chris Kluwe, wrote to Maryland state delegate, Emmett C. Burns Jr. this past September, well, it is a must read. In the letter to delegate Burns, Kluwe supports Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo in the movement to legalize gay marriage (i.e., marriage equality). Previously, delegate Burns had admonished Ayanbadejo for speaking out in support of gay marriage. Among numerous other gems, Kluwe writes to Burns:

“I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster…. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?”

Again, the entire piece is a must read.

Kluwe’s and Ayanbadejo’s support for gay marriage reflects a broader and quite radical shift among male athletes – a declining trend in homophobia and being outspoken about it. Another very informative article by NPR notes that although no player in one of America’s four major professional sports (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey) has come out while still a competitive athlete, support for gay rights in these sports is growing. Unfortunately, the fact that gay athletes who are male typically come out after their athletic careers have ended demonstrates the violent forms of social control they fear from athletic teammates, coaches, management, and the broader fan base. However earlier this month, professional boxer Orlando Cruz came out, an especially significant act given that Cruz is still boxing….

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