Pantene Urges Women to Stop Being Sorry—But Were They in the First Place?

It seems that female empowerment is an advertiser’s new best friend. Just look at Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches, Always’ #LikeAGirl, and CoverGirl’s #GirlsCan, each boasting millions of views: now Pantene is getting in on the action with its new commercial, Not Sorry.

The ad challenges women to stop apologizing reflexively. In general, viewers have reacted positively, but, as one article in The Atlantic suggests, there may be more to the story of “sorry.” The author suggests:

“One of the major problems with all this—besides the one embedded in the insistent equation of apology with weakness, and stubbornness with strength—is that “sorry” is, at this point, pretty much meaningless.”

So, is “sorry” meaningless or misunderstood? Take sociologist Erving Goffman’s characteristics of an apology: “expression of embarrassment or chagrin; clarification that one knows what conduct has been expected and sympathizes with the application of negative sanction; verbal rejection, repudiation, and disavowal of the wrong way of behaving along with vilification of the self that so behaved.” The Atlantic points out that these qualities aren’t present in the average, off-hand apology, like the ones featured in the video.

Of course, the author continues, the reflexive apology may just be an additional use of the word, rather than a constant expression of patriarchal oppression. In 1997, Deborah Levi proposed four types of apologies:

  • “‘Tactical” (acknowledging the victim’s suffering in order to gain credibility and influence the victim’s bargaining behavior)
  • “‘Explanation” (attempting to excuse the offender’s behavior and make the other party understand that behavior)
  • “Formalistic” (capitulating to the demand of an authority figure)
  • “Happy-ending” (accepting responsibility and expressing regret for the bad act)

Still, Pantene’s commercial doesn’t seem to show any of these kinds of “sorries.” Instead, one New York Times article specifies these apologies as “gestural.” Linguist Deborah Tannen tells The Times,

“Language almost never means what the dictionary definition says; it’s used the way others use it — as a ritual. But those who don’t share the ritual tend to take the words literally. Since American men don’t tend to use ‘sorry’ this way, they mistakenly take women’s use of it literally, as an apology.”

It seems sorry might be misunderstood by both apologizers and the recipients of those apologies—heartfelt or tossed-off. Ending women’s casual response apologies might promote empowerment, sure, but the very concept of the over-apologizing woman may actually be nothing more than a stereotype,as The Atlantic asks, is the notion of women as being overly apologetic could be “yet another label, yet another double standard that sticks, stubbornly, to women?”

A Tornado’s Aftermath: Predicting Community Change in the Wake of Natural Disaster

tornado photo

Tornadoes don’t discriminate. Photo by Marsmett Talahassee via Flickr.

The slew of tornadoes that recently hit the midwest nearly destroyed the small Nebraska town of Pilger. Twin tornadoes took out the town’s post office, fire station, and dozens of homes and businesses. Pilger is known for its slogan “The little town too tough to die,” but the devastation caused to this small community of 378 residents has the Omaha Herald looking to rural sociologist Randy Cantrell for answers to the question of this town’s survival. From the Omaha Herald:

Businesses and families in Pilger will decide what’s in their individual best interests, said Randy Cantrell, a rural sociologist at the Rural Futures Institute. Nothing else — including a community’s geographic location or population — matters as much in determining whether a place lives or dies, he said.

Cantrell goes on to argue that the aging population of Pilger is an important variable to consider, saying that almost one-third of the homes damaged in Pilger were owned or occupied by single people over 65. “That probably makes it iffy whether they rebuild or return,’’ he said. Speaking of the whole community, the article summarizes Cantrell:

Residents of all ages have many things to consider, Cantrell said. Among them are the age of their damaged houses, how much of an insurance payout they receive, where other family members reside and whether their jobs remain in town. Businesses pondering their future will consider that if they moved they would be starting over in a new market with no guarantee of success.

The residents of Pilger and nearby towns expressed confidence in the town’s ability to rebuild, citing the successful recovery of another small Nebraska town, Hallam, that was similarly devastated by a tornado in 2004. Given that no factor matters more, the community’s determination to rise from the wreckage may prove that not even a tornado can kill the tough little town.

For more on the sociology of natural disasters, check out this Sociological Images chart detailing how humans cause tornadoes and this SSN brief on how to better respond to natural disasters.

A New Kind of Kryptonite

Harassers question a woman's validity as "a person and as a real nerd." Photo by PhantmDark via Flickr CC.

Sexual harassment questions a woman’s validity as “a person and as a real nerd.” Photo by PhantmDark via Flickr CC.

“What are you supposed to wear to a convention if your comic book idol’s costume is a corset and thong?” asks sociology professor Dustin Kidd from Temple University in an interview with

Given the dress code at Wizard World Comic Con, the absence of a safe haven for nerds and geeks came as no surprise to HollabackPHILLY, a group aiming to end street harassment. They found an alarming amount of harassment directed at female cosplayers.

Cosplay is a chance to dress up in costume to honor or represent a character, usually from a comic book or similar medium. Unfortunately, many of the female characters are hypersexualized and the women who portray them can get brutally harassed at the conventions. As Kidd puts it,

Women in those kinds of outfits get read by men as displaying themselves for sexual reasons, as opposed to representing a superhero.

Some of the problems harken back to how people view female superheroes. A lot of female characters are portrayed wearing tight clothing or not much at all. Instead of being portrayed as strong and dignified like many of the male characters, they are portrayed as sexual.

As one woman who experienced harassment at AwesomeCon in Washington, D.C., describes,

…A man asked to take a photo with her and her friend. Then, he grabbed their breasts and urged his friend to snap the picture before they could wriggle free.

Psychology professor Kimberly Fairchild from Manhattan College talks about the negative consequences of harassment at conventions, saying

It makes women more likely to self-objectify. They start to think of themselves as body parts, objects, not full intelligent human beings . . . Objectification, in turn, has been linked to depression and anxiety.

To combat harassment, artist Erin Filson along with Rochelle Keyhan and Anna Kegler have created an advocacy group determined to make conventions a safer place. Under their banner of Geeks for CONsent, they have been lobbying for anti-harassment policies, trained volunteers and counseling for victims. Hopefully their efforts will serve as a new kind of kryptonite against nerd culture misogyny.

Religion and Your Resume: Even More Hiring Discrimination

But can He get you a job? Photo by David Woo via flickr CC.

But can He get you a job? Photo by David Woo via flickr CC.

It’s summer job hunt season. As a new batch of college grads looks for every edge on the market, sociologists have found a surprising barrier to getting hired: your religion. Vox and The Washington Post both picked up new research from Michael Wallace, Bradley R. E. Wright, and Allen Hyde, in which the authors distributed 3,200 resumes for job applications around two major southern U.S. cities (a follow up to earlier work in New England). The resumes were designed to look like those of recent college graduates, and they were essentially identical except for the applicants’ membership in a particular campus religious group. The authors found that putting any kind of religious affiliation on a resume reduced the chances that an applicant would receive a call back. From Vox:

Wallace said he thinks the US has a “schizophrenic attitude” when it comes to religion. “On the one hand, we have a high tolerance of religious freedom and diversity, people are free to practice whatever religion they want,” he told me in an interview. “On the other hand, there are certain boundaries on where it can be practiced.”

While including a religious affiliation did reduce call backs across the board, not every religious group faced the same barriers. Who faced the most hiring discrimination? According to the authors’ article:

In general, Muslims, pagans, and atheists suffered the highest levels of discriminatory treatment from employers, a fictitious religious group and Catholics experienced moderate levels, evangelical Christians encountered little, and Jews received no discernible discrimination.

These findings are consistent with other research and polling efforts to capture Islamophobia and anti-atheist attitudes in the United States, and they show that while employers may not enjoy religion in the workplace, we should also be concerned about which religious groups they will tolerate.

Colbert: If Hispanics Identify as White, GOP’s Alright

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 10.25.19 AMWhat do you get when you cross professor Carolyn Liebler from the University of Minnesota Sociology Department, Census data, and issues of identity? An immigration reform segment on the Colbert Report.

Recently, the Comedy Central satirist pulled a quote from Liebler’s research saying:

 2.5 million Americans who said they were Hispanic and “some other race” in 2000… a decade later, told the census they were Hispanic and white.

Of course, Colbert went on to explain his version of these findings: that Hispanics were voluntarily becoming white. Colbert points out that white people live in the best neighborhoods and get the best jobs, among other things. With that logic, why not “choose” to be white?

From a sociological perspective, he might have something there. Issues of identity are fluid. Looking at such a large change in the Census data provokes questions as to why this variation in identity exists. In an interview with NPR, Liebler drew a parallel to her work studying Native American identity:

Between 1960 and 1970, nearly a half-million more Americans identified themselves as Native American—a number that was too large to be explained by mere population growth, she said. Something else had to explain it.

In Colbert’s telling, ethno-racial identification shifts will be key in Republican victories in upcoming elections—the more people who identify as “white,” the more votes the GOP will garner.

Check out the clip here! For more on race and ethnicity among Hispanic Americans, see Wendy Roth’s “Creating a ‘Latino’ Race.”

No Rest for the Weary

first step to success

Photo by CJ via Flickr CC.

College students are tired of sleeping, according to a BBC interview with Catherine M. Coveney. She’s a British sociologist who recently explored the sleeping practices and subjective sleep experiences of two notoriously sleep-deprived groups: shift workers and college students. After conducting 25 semi-structured interviews with individuals dispossessed of rest, she concludes that our social context impacts how we understand the meaning of sleep and how we manage our sleeping schedules as a result.

The hospital-based doctors, nurses, police officers, call center employees, and other shift workers Coveney interviewed describe actively managing their sleep schedules around work patterns, finding childcare, and spending time with their partner. It is something that is constantly at the back of their mind. To illustrate why they view “broken sleep” as part and parcel of the job, Coveney explains how sleeplessness is built-in to the work structure:

There are some occupations where nothing is sanctioned…. The two nurses that I spoke to, they had to work waking nights. So even on their break, they weren’t allowed to go to sleep during the night. That’s not to say it didn’t occasionally happen, but that it was not a sanctioned practice. That was something that was seen as going against the rules of their profession.

On the surface, the sleep patterns of the college students look identical to the shift workers: “They did describe a kind of similar pattern; they did describe taking naps during the day, having a shorter sleep at night, having a two hour nap the next day.” Yet because they see sleep as an  “expendable luxury,” they don’t view their own erratic sleep as “broken.” According to Coveney, for the college students,

…it was more flexible, it was more their choice, so in a sense they were customizing their sleep patterns to fit around their social activities…. I suppose it was seen as disposable in a sense, they could cut back on sleep if they chose to, they could indulge in sleep if they chose to.

Although both groups thought of sleep in functional terms—the necessary amount determined by what was needed to get them through what they had to do the next day—Coveney reports, “None of the students I spoke to said they would prioritize a night in bed because they thought they hadn’t had enough sleep. If there was something else they wanted to do, they‘d do that. And they’d catch up later, they’d sleep longer the next day, they’d take a nap…. Some of them did go as far as to say if they could get rid of their need for sleep, it would give them much more time to do other things.” Even the value of sleep depends on supply and demand.

To learn who else is getting more sleep than you are, check out these TSP classics on the gender sleep gap and on segmented sleep.

Abortion and Cinematic Calamity

m_350_oc_1sht_V1.inddThe comedy Obvious Child hit theaters last Friday, and it’s been praised as “the most honest” abortion movie Slate‘s Amanda Hess has ever seen. Honest, in that the film’s protagonist Jenny Slate decides to have an abortion and goes through with it. Her relationship does not implode, she does not suffer crippling guilt, and she survives. Her life goes on. It turns out that this kind of straightforward portrayal is a rarity in American film and television, though millions of women have abortions every year (the Guttmacher Institute pegs the number of worldwide procedures at about 42 million per year). In a recent Contraception article, a pair of sociologists report that pre-Roe v. Wade era plotlines disproportionately featured the death of women characters who even thought about abortion. After abortion’s legalization, portrayals came to suffer from a different distortion: “These movies tell us that it was wrong [before Roe] for laws to dictate what a woman ought to do with her body, but now that she has the choice, she should choose to give birth except under the most extenuating of circumstances,” Hess writes. Obvious Child rejects, well, the obvious.

Watch the trailer for the film here.

Capital Punishment, Public Opinion, And Who Should Suffer

A Guardian UK graphic from 2011 draws on execution data from Amnesty International.

A Guardian UK graphic from 2011 draws on execution data from Amnesty International.

In societies that allow for the death penalty in criminal punishment, there has been a shift toward ever more “humane” methods of execution. The rhetoric surrounding these changes generally involves not violating the rights of the prisoner by applying a cruel or unusual punishment—that is, just death, not torture.

In an interview with The Voice of Russia, University of Colorado professor Michael Radelet explains that the real motivations for a turn toward the medicalized execution may have more to do with minimizing the suffering of the audience than the condemned. When asked if there was a humane way to kill someone, Radelet points out that shooting and guillotining have no history of failure, unlike generally bloodless lethal injection (recently pegged at 7% in the U.S. by Amherst College’s Austin D. Sarat).

“Most state authorities in the US couldn’t care less whether or not the inmate suffers, what they care about is the suffering by the audience. This all has to do with the spectators.” Apparently, modern sorts want their vengeance deadly, but not grisly.

Radelet says that the death penalty is mainly political, allowing the public to be convinced their society is tough on crime. If the obvious question in the death penalty debate is: Do you support the death penalty? Data Radelet cites points to a more thorough question: Do you support the death penalty, given the alternative of life without parole? When the question is rephrased, support for the death penalty actually goes up a bit. It seems that, when the respondents consider a lifetime of suffering against death, their views on the suffering of others shift yet again.

Under God or Over It? New Data on Religion and Politics

Courtesy the Boston Public Library.

Courtesy the Boston Public Library.

It’s been a busy time for social facts on religion in American life. First, The Washington Post reported new data from the Pew Forum suggesting that more Americans would be willing to vote for an atheist president. While the original report noted that atheism is still a “top negative” for voters—with more respondents saying it would make them less likely to vote for a candidate than drug use, political inexperience, or an extramarital affair—there is still some optimism in the fact that this number has declined by 10% since 2007.

Second, a new report from the Public Religion Research Institute found that Americans are still over-reporting their church attendance, moreso in phone than in online surveys. The Huffington Posthosted a roundtable on the issue, and a take in The Atlantic emphasized the political implications of this data—liberals are more likely to inflate their church attendance than conservatives, and this may be because of negative stereotypes that liberals are “anti-religion.”

In a journalistic trifecta, all three stories noted research from Minnesota sociologists Penny Edgell, Joseph Gerteis, and TSP’s own Doug Hartmann on the continued stigma faced by atheists in American culture. From The Atlantic:

When three University of Minnesota sociologists surveyed American religious attitudes in 2006, they found “not only that atheists are less accepted than other marginalized groups but also that attitudes toward them have not exhibited the marked increase in acceptance that has characterized views of other racial and religious minorities over the past forty years.” Americans are today more likely to say they would vote for a Muslim or a gay or lesbian for president than an atheist.

Edgell also discussed current trends in church attendance on The Huffington Post and updated her 2006 research in The Washington Post:

A 2006 study by University of Minnesota sociologist Penny Edgell found atheists were the most mistrusted minority in the U.S. Edgell said Tuesday that an updated study based on a 2014 online survey would be released soon. Preliminary results show the mistrust meter hasn’t budged.

Despite an inclusive trend in what Americans say they look for in a candidate, religious identities are still an important marker of who can lead the flock(s).

For more on the cultural factors that may be driving these trends, check out this classic TSP feature: The Social Functions of Religion in American Political Culture.

Can a Rise in Rape Reports Be Good?

The 40th Anniversary of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre marks just one of the long-standing resources available to victims. It is funded both publicly and privately.

The 40th Anniversary of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre marks just one of the long-standing resources available to victims. It is funded both publicly and privately.

A recent Metro News article turned to social scientist Isabelle Côté for an explanation about an alarming rise in the rate of sexual assaults in Ottawa, Canada. Côté suggested that the data could point to something other than an actual increase in assaults: since Ottawa devotes resources to programs that help those who have been assaulted, Côté believes victims may be more likely to report the crime there than elsewhere.

Still, sexual assault is significantly underreported. Côté tells the paper only about 10% of sexual assaults are actually reported to the authorities. That means perhaps a number as low as 6,000 (the number reported in Ottawa last year) should be cause for concern. Côté told Metro News that issues of race, class, and gender stereotypes can influence whether the crime is reported—and whether the victim is believed.

Increasing rates of reported sexual assault may be a good thing if it means more victims are coming forward. Côté also discusses the importance of funding for rape prevention alongside support for victims. The key is to reduce assaults but dramatically increase reporting when they occur.