Sociology Focus

“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. Continue reading

Now The LGBTQ Community Can Be Just Like
Us Heterosexuals, Right?

In this essay Nathan Palmer uses last week’s landmark supreme court ruling to discuss heteronormativity and what it means to embrace diversity.

Social change is often a painfully slow process until it becomes instantaneous. After decades of activism by marriage equality advocates and the LGBTQ community in general, the U.S. Supreme Court in an instant made the right to marry anyone, regardless of their gender or sexual identity, legal in across the country. For those concerned with social justice, this was a week to party.

Unfortunately, sociologists often make for crummy party guests. We tend to look at everything with a critical eye and I found myself unable to turn that voice in my head off Friday as I read through the Supreme Court’s majority opinion. This decision, which written by Justice Kennedy, provides good examples of something sociologists call heteronormativity and offers us a chance to think about what we mean when we use terms like equality and diversity.

It’s Either Marriage or a Lifetime of Loneliness

Reading through the majority opinion[1], which was written by Justice Kennedy, I was struck by the multiple times marriage was presented as the only way to avoid a “lifetime of loneliness.” Continue reading

The Ties that Bind: The Sociology of Father’s Day Gifts

In celebration of Father’s Day, Ami Stearns argues in this post that the gifts we buy, or are encouraged to buy, for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day reflect deeper assumptions about what our society thinks it means to be a mother and a father.

It’s time to go buy your dad a tie! What are you getting your father for Father’s Day this year? One Father’s Day when I had no money, I decided to concoct some homemade barbecue sauce on the stovetop for my dad. I don’t even remember what ingredients I used, but for years afterward, Dad would bring up how good that jar of barbecue sauce was and ask if I could make it again (I was never able to recreate it, for some reason). Barbecue and men just seem to go together, don’t they?

Roberto Dabdoub Neckwear 2

The gifts that are promoted on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day often reflect society’s conception of what roles mothers and fathers are supposed to serve within the stereotypical heterosexual nuclear family. There are perhaps no other holidays that are quite so stereotypically gendered. Hanukkah, Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries have us seeking out unique gifts that are tailored to the recipient’s particular personality, likes, or hobbies. But Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gift ideas appear to fall back on socially constructed family roles. Continue reading

Orientalism and “India’s Daughter”

In December 2012, a young woman from New Delhi, India was sexually assaulted and murdered by six male perpetrators in such brutal fashion that the tragedy provoked nation-wide protests and drew extensive international media attention. The incident also inspired British filmmaker, Leslee Udwin, to produce a documentary titled India’s Daughter (see trailer here). As part of the documentary, Udwin interviewed one of the convicted perpetrators, who declared the victim should not have resisted and was responsible for her own victimization because she violated feminine norms by dressing inappropriately and staying out late at night. In this post, David Mayeda uses Edward Said’s system of Orientalism to analyze a discussion on India’s Daughter that took place earlier this year.

TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses sexual assault.

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Edward Said is one of the most influential academicians in the Humanities and Social Sciences. His system of Orientalism has been fundamental in assisting scholars to rethink how we understand discourse directed towards people of color and conversely, those of European descent. As described in Said’s seminal 1978 text, Orientalism entails constructing representations of non-European, colonized groups in negative ways across a range of mediums (military documents, popular media, academic study). Throughout this broad discourse, non-European cultures are framed as dangerous, backwards, inferior, simple, mystical and/or uncivilized, and lacking cultural diversity. Continue reading

Same Stuff, Different Place: Traveling in the Age of McDonaldization

Why do we travel to far off places? We say that we want “to get away” and “leave it all behind,” but do we really? Do our actions match our words?

Think about the last few times you traveled. Did the room(s) you slept in look a lot like the room you left at home? What about the meals you ate? Did you dine on something you’ve never eaten before? Finally, think about what you did for fun while you were away. Did you have a lot of first time experiences?

From my non-scientific anecdotal observations, most of us leave home only to recreate the same daily routines we seemed to so earnestly want to get away from. Instead we stay at the Best Western, drink Starbucks, eat at chain restaurants, and go shopping, swimming, drinking, to the movies, or any of the other things we can do at home. It would seem that, for the most of us, we want to do the same old things , just in new places[1].

That people want to recreate their home routines while away doesn’t really say that much about society, but the fact that they so easily can recreate their routines does. While we may take it for granted, we should be awed by the fact that you can go nearly anywhere in the U.S. (and increasingly anywhere in the world) and have an almost identical experience. The sociologist George Ritzer would suggest that this is all made possible because of the phenomenon he calls The McDonaldization of Society.

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How You Learned To Play Nice & Get Along with Others

There are 7 billion people in the world and every day we interact with one another like a giant ant colony. Just imagine how many one-on-one interactions happen every single day. Isn’t it remarkable that, for the most part, these interactions go according to plan. How is it that we can interact with people we’ve never met before? How do we know what these strangers will expect of us? The answer is simple, right? Common sense tells us how to interact with one another.

As we discussed in the first part of this series, despite it’s name, common sense is a fantastically complex system of rules within rules. It is so complex in fact, that currently there isn’t a supercomputer or algorithm that could recreate it. You read that right, common sense, the thing we all take for granted- the thing that even children have developed, is far more complex than all of our fancy modern technology can handle.

The sociological question you should be asking now is, if common sense is so complex, how did each of us develop it in the first place?

Common Sense & The Generalized Other

From the moment you opened your eyes, the humans around you have been interacting with you. As a newborn they made faces at you, spoke words around you, and taught you that certain stimuli (e.g. crying) would be rewarded (e.g. with food). You first learned to mimic these behaviors and then over time, through repeated one-on-one interactions and trial and error, you learned that there is a collection of rules, roles, ways of thinking, beliefs, customs, etc. that those around you were using to interpret your actions and design their responses.

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Why We Do Crazy Things for the Ones We Love

In this essay Nathan Palmer discusses the influence significant others have on our thoughts and behaviors.

Right now my legs feel like Jell-O and my head feels like I’ve gone 12 rounds in the ring with Floyd Mayweather. Over the last four days I drove for 20 consecutive hours by myself from my home in Georgia to my hometown in Lincoln, NE. I spent 48 hours there and then again drove 20 hours back home. What was I thinking? Why would I do that to myself? The answer is simple: family.

The drive was hard, but that all melted away when I saw my beautiful niece moments after she came into the world. Being there to hold her, to comfort my sister-in-law, and to hug my brother as he became a father was priceless. In the end, the drive was a tiny price to pay for these life-long memories. I would do almost anything for my family and that, believe it or not, is a key lesson of sociology.

Others’ Influence on You

Others influence our thoughts and behaviors, that simple truth is at the center of sociology. Interacting with others is how we learn what is right/wrong, acceptable/unacceptable, appreciated/unappreciated, nice/mean, and so on. Most everything you know is something you learned from interacting with other people. Others teach us how to behave and influence how we think about the world and ourselves.

At the same time, not all others are created equal. Significant others is the term sociologists use to describe people who have a profound influence on our thoughts and behaviors[1]. Often an individual is close both emotionally and physically to their significant others. Family members, best friends, and mentors most commonly fall into this group.

Significant others have a strong influence on us because we place a higher value on their opinions and viewpoints. We avoid saying or doing things that might disappoint, hurt, or offend our significant others. Similarly, we try to say and do things that we think our significant others will appreciate.

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Ex Machina & Why Robots Don’t Have Common Sense

In this essay, Nathan Palmer uses the movie Ex Machina to discuss why common sense is so hard to replicate in a computer program.

Ex Machnia is a thrilling science-fiction movie that will leave you asking yourself, “what does it mean to be human?” In the film, we first meet Caleb who is a coder at Bluebook, the world’s most popular internet search company that seems like a fictionalized version of Google and Facebook combined. Caleb has been selected to fly to a secret underground Bluebook research facility to work directly with the company’s billionaire CEO, Nathan. There Caleb learns that Nathan has created a robot with artificial intelligence (A.I.) named Ava.

Caleb soon learns that he will be administering the Turing Test on Ava.

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My Orthodontia Dreams, Gender, & the Occupational Revolving Door

What does gender have to do with professional and academic aspirations? In this post, guest author Hollace Good recalls her own academic and professional goals and examines how gendered role expectations once left her questioning her decisions.

While many of my 2nd grade peers dreamt about growing up to be teachers, police officers, or Sonic the Hedgehog, I was eagerly awaiting my chance to attend dental school and becoming an orthodontist. As I obediently trooped from office to office with my mom looking for non-surgical, nightmarish headgear-free ways to correct a problematic underbite, I was fascinated by the sorcery of dental impressions and entranced by the rainbow assortment of bracket elastics. My gregarious, power-crazed little self was enamored by the command the orthodontist had over the entire office, I was in awe of his crisp, wizard-like lab coat, and covetously imagining the untold fortune he was surely earning.

The Author Hollace Good as a Child

As my treatment progressed and my bite slowly normalized, over the course of an expensive ten year process, I actively envisioned myself in this lab coat planning treatments for my patients. I eagerly shared my career aspirations to anyone who asked. When I was very little the adults I told were thrilled probably because my dream meshed with the social (and parental) pressures urging kids to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Despite my academic competence and enthusiasm for all things “ortho,” sometimes people around me greeted me with doubt. Snarky sentiments like “Gee, that’s awfully ambitious!” and ambivalent responses like “Yes…I’m sure you will do just fine.” were irksome, but nothing that I couldn’t cope with. The interactions that weighed on me most were always initiated by a set of sanctimonious relatives who only seemed motivated to speak to me so that they could scrutinize my ambitions. No matter how many times we discussed future plans, they never failed to ask me if I still wanted to be a dental hygienist and if I would be able to spend plenty of time at home with my family. They made me wonder: Was I being ridiculous for imagining that I, a young woman, could someday successfully occupy a position of greater power, authority, and knowledge? What is more, was I out of line for even considering a career and a family an appropriate trajectory for any woman?

Such dismissive sentiments are often engrained responses, guided and tempered by norms surrounding gender-appropriate roles and paths. Women make up the majority of licensed dental hygienists, a whopping 95%, while accounting for only 25% of practicing orthodontists according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With such a gap, no wonder people saw fit to question my goals. You are likely wondering, why is there such a stark gendered difference between dental professionals? To answer this question, I will briefly examine two models that attempt to explain these tendencies toward gender-based occupational categorizing. First, I will explore the pipeline model and follow with a discussion of the revolving door theory.

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Structural Strain Theory and the Baltimore Riots

Why do people riot? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how Robert Merton’s structural strain theory can shed some light on the Baltimore riots. 

Over the last few weeks, thousands of people took to the streets in Baltimore, Maryland and cities around the country to protest the killing of Freddie Gray and the violent mistreatment of African Americans across this country by law enforcement. Last Monday, a small sub-set of the protestors in Baltimore rioted, looting and burning multiple business. Both the mainstream news media and many people on social media immediately started asking, why are these people rioting? Why would anyone riot in city they live in? While the answers to those questions would take for more time than I have hear, part of their answers lie in the strain theory of deviance.

Structural Strain Theory

The sociologist Robert Merton argued that deviance (i.e. people breaking social norms/rules) is produced by how that society distributed the means to achieve cultural goals. According to his structural strain theory (or anomie strain theory), deviance is a result of a mismatch between cultural goals and the institutionalized means of reaching those goals.

Cultural goals refer to legitimate aims. In the United States, we might refer to the cultural goal as the American Dream. In general, the American Dream includes economic success, home-ownership, and a family. A person achieves the American Dream through hard work and education (i.e., a college degree). Education is an institutionalized means of achieving the cultural goal. Military service might also be considered an institutionalized means. Continue reading