Still from Goldiblox adverstisement via youtube.com
Although its catchy advertisement went viral, Goldiblox, the new toys encouraging girls’ interest in engineering, has been more discouraging than disruptive to some. Debbie Sterling, engineer and founder of Goldiblox, may have a refreshing aim - to increase girls’ interest in STEM by introducing them to engineering fundamentals at a young age – but why does the toy’s narrative have to be centered around beauty pageants? And why so many pink ribbons?
In an article for Al Jazeera, sociologist Lisa Wade of Soc Images explains that, because “toys are among the most heteronormative things in America,” we probably won’t be seeing one that rejects gender stereotypes altogether any time soon.
“The idea started in the ’70s that the way we should liberate women is to get them into guys’ stuff,” she said. “There’s nothing about this toy that breaks with what we tell girls to do in this country every day: model what boys do, but not break with femininity.”
Though Goldiblox supposedly addresses gender disparities in engineering programs, assuming that girls need a princess-centric toy to get them building, as opposed to good ol’ non-gendered building blocks, is not radical.
Photo by Melissa Roy via flickr.com
Liberal Protestantism is a victim of its own success, according to the late Robert Bellah, a sociologist who specialized in religion. In a process that he calls “Protestantization,” liberal Protestant values have influenced secular humanism to the point that they are indistinguishable.
This apparent victory is also a defeat, suggested Bellah. He argued that such widespread success simultaneously diminishes liberal Protestantism’s distinctiveness, at the same time that it dwindles the congregation size of churches. He observed,
There is more than a little evidence that most Americans, for example, would assent to unmarked liberal Protestant beliefs more often than to unmarked orthodox alternatives, and that this would be true not only for most mainline Protestants but also for most Catholics and even most Evangelicals.
Photo by Alberto G. via flickr.com
For many students, school violence, including bullying and physical fighting, is a daily concern and a regular experience. But what effects do these experiences or observations of violence within school have on students’ educational achievement?
Sociologist Julia Burdick-Will’s research on this question has uncovered some surprising and seemingly contradictory answers. She found that school violence had a negative effect on standardized test scores but yielded no changes in GPA. Burdick-Will argues that these findings may not be as oppositional as they first seem and suggests,
Violent crime rates affect the amount of material learned by the entire student body, but not the study skills or effort of individual students. GPAs, she points out, not only reflect learning, but also student behavior and standing within the classroom. Test scores are a more objective measure of content knowledge and performance on a given day.
In an age where school funding is increasingly reliant on standardized test scores rather than GPA, Burdick-Will’s findings suggest that unaddressed violence within schools could continue to have “lasting impacts on individual life chances and national levels of inequality.”
Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com
In the age-old struggle to “have it all,” many of us try to squeeze extra hours out of each day in order to accommodate all of our work and family responsibilities. In the past this discussion has revolved around female workers, those who juggle full-time work, parental duties, and the domestic chores of the “second shift.” However, as the nature of work changes – becoming more precarious at the same time more demanding – this struggle for work-life balance extends to workers of all genders, ages, and social classes.
In a recent Huffington Post blog, sociologists Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen discuss this very challenge, asserting,
The root problem, of course, isn’t that employees have family or personal commitments. The root problem is the rigid conventions of work that assume work must occur at certain times and places and that mistakenly gauge productivity by the number of hours spent at work.
Kelly and Moen research flexible working policies that can dramatically shift the very nature of work in order for this balance to be more attainable. They have found that the most effective flexible policies are those that are available to all workers, rather than perhaps mothers or specific individuals and that are collectively implemented with both employees and managers sharing control.
To move beyond decades of discussing work-life balance to meaningful change, employers need to shift from one-off accommodations. It’s time to make working efficiently, creatively, sustainably and flexibly the new norm.
These policies, such as remote work and varied hours, benefit organizations as well as employees. With these flexible policies, employees are not only more healthy and less stressed but also are more likely to work hard to keep their jobs.
From Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his controversial raids on and detentions of immigrants to Rush Limbaugh and his rhetoric about “feminazis,” some white men, those sociologist Michael Kimmel terms “angry white men,” are resisting perceived challenges against their masculinity and historical experiences of privilege.
In his new book Angry White Men, Kimmel has interviewed white men across the country to gauge their feelings about their socioeconomic status in a sluggish and globalizing economy as well as the legal and social advances made by women, people of color, GLBT individuals, and others. Kimmel has coined the term “aggrieved entitlement” to describe these men’s defensiveness and aggravation that both “their” country and sense of self are being taken away from them. Kimmel writes in the Huffington Post,
Raised to believe that this was ‘their’ country, simply by being born white and male, they were entitled to a good job by which they could support a family as sole breadwinners, and to deference at home from adoring wives and obedient children…Theirs is a fight to restore, to reclaim more than just what they feel entitled to socially or economically – it’s also to restore their sense of manhood, to reclaim that sense of dominance and power to which they also feel entitled.
The aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Photo by Jordi Bernabeu via flickr.com
With death toll rising from the devastating typhoon in the Philippines this week, it seems that we’re constantly being reminded of the destruction of natural disasters, especially for rural and poor areas. Rural communities can be difficult to reach in times of environmental chaos, and poorer regions don’t always have the resources to cope with a crisis. When city services shut down or relief aid doesn’t come through immediately, community members band together to manage the aftermath of the disaster as best they can.
Sociologist Eric Klinenberg believes that community resources including “public places from libraries to mom-and-pop shops and coffee shops” can influence the outcomes of a crisis by providing the community the familiarity and support they need. In researching one such disaster, the 1995 Chicago heat wave, Klinenberg found that the residents of neighborhoods with more social infrastructure—like libraries and coffee shops—fared much better during the heat.
Those resources so dramatically improve the quality of our life on a regular day, but when there’s a heat wave or a hurricane or some other disaster, they can make the difference between life and death. In the Chicago heat wave, they did.
These types of social infrastructure benefit communities beyond times of crisis, according to Klinenberg who argues,
The nice thing about investing in climate security through social infrastructure is that the residual benefit is that we could dramatically improve the quality of life in these places all the time regardless of the weather. And it’s that kind of intelligent design that we desperately need at this moment.
Photo by Emily Baxter from “We Are All Criminals”
What separates those with a criminal record from the rest of the population? According to lawyer Emily Baxter, not a whole lot. Baxter’s new project “We Are All Criminals,” highlighted in a recent StarTribune article and a post on Public Criminology by Chris Uggen, examines the illegal activities committed by people without a criminal record. In Minnesota, 1 out of 4 residents has a criminal record, but Baxter’s project, she says on her website, is about the 75% that “got away, and how very different their lives may have been had they been caught.”
By emphasizing the crimes of the unconvicted, Baxter blurs the lines between criminal and noncriminal and draws attention to the detrimental effects that a criminal record has on the lives of those who are convicted. Many of the undocumented and unpunished transgressions confessed through her project were committed when the perpetrators were juveniles, many of whom are now lawyers, doctors, and professionals.
Executive director of the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis Michael Friedman is intrigued by the project, saying:
“I don’t think I’ve come across anybody who has not committed crimes as a juvenile,” Friedman said. “Allowing society to use juvenile criminal records as a marker for someone’s potential success, or risk for employment or opportunity, is not scientific. It’s dangerous and discriminatory.”
The most intriguing part of her project lies in its look at society as a whole. Imagine if we had all been prosecuted for every crime we committed, even as a juvenile. What would the crime rate look like then?
Photo by Jeff Kubina via flickr.com
With Illinois poised to become the fifteenth state to legalize gay marriage (when Governor Pat Quinn signs the bill into law on November 20), the tide of public opinion about legal rights for same-sex couples seems to be changing at a rapid rate. In a recent NY Times article, Ross Douthat argues that this trend is also evident in other cultural debates, including attitudes toward the legalization of gambling and marijuana.
Since 1990 when casinos were isolated to Nevada and Atlantic City, almost half of states have legalized and developed commercial casinos. Rather than a Hangover-style bachelor weekend in Las Vegas, for many people, casino-going is a much more mundane experience, a regular weekend excursion.
Additionally, the public opinion ratings about marijuana legalization have grown at the same rate as approval for gay marriage. Indeed, in addition to the recreational legalization of pot in Washington and Colorado, twenty other states have already legalized medical marijuana.
Douthat uses late sociologist Robert Bellah’s concept of “expressive individualism” to explain these attitudinal and legislative changes. Expressive individualism refers to the notion of being free to express oneself through rich experiences and feelings without restrictions. For Douthat, expressive individualism highlights “the rise of a live-and-let-live social libertarianism, the weakening influence of both religious conservatism and liberal communitarianism, the growing suspicion of moralism in public policy.”
However, in the midst of this growing support for individual choice and freedom, Douthat cautions against the social consequences of some of these new policies. He argues,
Previous societies made distinction between liberty and license that we have become loath to draw—because what seems like a harmless pleasure to the comfortable can devastate the poor and weak.
Photo by Jefferey Turner via flickr.com
Reminiscent of The Proclaimers’ 1988 hit about walking 500 miles, William Helmreich, a sociologist at the City College of New York, has been taking it to the streets for the past four years. During that time he has walked all 120,000 city blocks across New York City’s five boroughs, and he is sharing the knowledge gained from his observations, experiences, and conversations in a new book called The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City.
His work illustrates the utility of ethnographic research as a means of public sociology. In addition to observing the social world around him, Helmreich engaged people he encountered on questions ranging from the best parks in the area to their opinions on social issues such as immigration and gentrification
Both the diversity of the terrain and the outspoken character of the people he encountered likely contributed to the depth of Helmreich’s research. A New Yorker, he says, “is gruff, fancies himself to be knowledgeable, and cannot resist a challenge of answering, on the spot, in a wisecracking type of way, a spontaneous question.”
Photo by JC i Núria via flickr.com
Cul-de-sacs, long the scourge of urban planners and often imagined as markers of suburbia, social isolation, and, well, bowling alone, may actually increase social cohesion among neighbors. That is the conclusion that Thomas Hochschild, a sociologist at Valdosta State University, draws from his research on 110 homes in demographically comparable Connecticut communities.
He conducted interviews with sets of homes around bulb cul-de-sacs, dead end cul-de-sacs, and through streets and found that people living around bulb cul-de-sacs are more likely to know their neighbors, spend time with them, and borrow or lend food or tools to them, even when controlling for such variables as income, number of children in a household, and the length of time that a family had lived there.
It may be that the features of cul-de-sacs which so aggravate civil engineers – the decreased walkability and the lack of efficient traffic circulation through neighborhoods – are just what promote neighborliness among the people living there. It’s just easier for people to gather outdoors or let their children play outside without cars whizzing past.
Hochschild suggests that, if designed with urban planning considerations in mind, cul-de-sacs will be a critical part of improving the livability of communities. “I’m concerned about the breakdown of community and of society… I wouldn’t claim that cul-de-sacs are a panacea, a cure-all for community problems we’re facing. However, I think that it’s a piece of the puzzle.”