Might be time for an academic Hollaback! Image by Ihollaback.org.
A recent study has exposed rampant sexual harassment in one of the most unlikely of places: anthropological fieldwork. In his article for Science Magazine, John Bohannon describes the work of Kathryn Clancy, a professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. After being shocked by the horror stories of her colleagues’ fieldwork, Clancy collaborated with Katie Hinde (Harvard), Robin Nelson (University of California, Riverside), and Julienne Rutherford (University of Illinois, Chicago) to create an online survey that could gauge the experiences of fieldworkers.
The survey results were troubling. About 30% of male and female respondents reported witnessing frequent or regular verbal abuse. A startling 63% of women (and 39% of men) reported personally experiencing inappropriate or sexual remarks. Of the women surveyed, 21% reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact or physical sexual harassment. That means more than 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted during their fieldwork. Bohannon writes:
“Less than 20% of abuses involved people from the community around a field site. Instead, most of the abuse happened within the team of researchers, usually perpetrated by someone higher in the professional hierarchy. Perhaps most troubling, some said that they had been victimized by their own fieldwork mentors.”
It is worrisome, ironic, and frankly embarrassing to think that those perpetrators behind such unsavory statistics are also the ones producing our social knowledge.
Finding more lessons from TV (in this case, shows like 30 Rock and Girls), we’re seeing how women are investing more in careers and/or casual encounters than commitments to deep romantic relationships. At face value, this looks like a great example of women’s empowerment as our society comes to terms with the fact that—well—the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin said it better than I can.
But as Leslie C. Bell writes in The Atlantic, this hesitance to pair off isn’t necessarily happening because young women are “masters of their own destiny.” Instead, the trend may be due to a new social norm that “ambitious young women in their 20s shouldn’t want relationships with men.”
Citing work from Laura Hamilton and Elizabeth Armstrong, who found that young women “believed relational commitments were supposed to take a backseat to self-development” (see their article, with Paula England, in Contexts magazine, Summer 2010), Bell argues that seemingly-progressive norms can cause undue stress when we assume individual interests are always in tension with social needs, and individual needs should always take priority.
Many young and aspiring women with whom I spoke felt as though it were counterproductive to their development to prioritize a relationship with a man.
Confused about freedom and desire, young women often split their social and psychological options—independence, strength, safety, control, and career versus connection, vulnerability, need, desire, and relationships—into mutually exclusive possibilities in life.
Bell’s point isn’t that women should go back to the old priorities either. Instead, they should recognize when it is healthy to balance a human need for social relationships with individual development. The sisters do it for themselves, but they shouldn’t always have to:
I would never advocate that women return to the stereotype of the single woman pining for romance… the successful woman who is in a relationship is not the same as the pining woman. She’s the one who is acknowledging the full range of her desires.
Women watch porn and go to strip clubs. They also pay for sex. Sociologist Kassia Wosick from New Mexico State University says this reality is now becoming part of the television canon, making it more “real” for the rest of society. Shows like HBO’s Hung and Showtime’s Gigolos revolve around women as sexual consumers. In an interview with Las Cruces Sun, Wosick explains her motivation:
I wanted to do research like this as opposed to just going out and asking women about their experiences to see the way the media constructs this, because media is essentially supposed to be a reflection of our everyday lives….
Still, we might ask, is this what women want to watch or what they’re given to watch? Through content analysis and focus groups, Wosick has found that women do feel connections with the shows. The racy viewing might be exactly what they need to chip away at a taboo of sexual consumerism and enjoy some the same pleasures that men are allowed—in fact, the images might be empowering and support egalitarianism:
Women participating as sexual consumers challenges traditional notions of gender and sexuality, which I argue is key in equalizing gendered power dynamics within society.
It is old news that many women are postponing childbearing until after they have established their careers. Those of us who have rounded to the other side of thirty have been warned repeatedly, by doctors, mothers, and the general public alike, about the impending, relentless ticking of our biological clocks and our diminished chances of pregnancy. With this demographic trend has come the tired yet all-too-relevant trope of the childless urban professional suddenly obsessed with pregnancy. (See, for reference, half of the characters in Sex and the City and all three female leads on Friends.)
However, men are actually just as baby-crazed, if not moreso, than their female counterparts, according to an article by Katie McDonough at Salon.com. Sociologist Robin Hadley from Keele University surveyed 81 women and 27 men on their feelings about not having children. While men and women both expressed a desire for children at about the same rate, men were more likely to feel depressed, angry, isolated, and jealous about not having children. In fact, 69% of childless men surveyed “had experienced yearning for a child, in comparison to just 11% of women.”
According to Hadley,
This challenges the common idea that women are much more likely to want to have children than men, and that they consistently experience a range of negative emotions more deeply than men if they don’t have children.
One survey participant’s “coat-of-arms” generated by taking the Great British Class Survey. Click for image source.
Step aside, Downton Abbey, the British social hierarchy is astir again. The BBC Lab UK, with Manchester University’s Fiona Devine and Mike Savage from the London School of Economics, has conducted a class study of more than 161,000 people: the Great British Class Survey. In addition to studying each individual’s economic capital, the researchers also looked at respondents’ social capital (their social status and connections) and cultural capital (the nature and extent of their cultural interests and activities). According to Devine, this extensive survey allowed for “a much more complete picture of class in modern Britain” than previous work has captured.
The team’s results found that the traditional model of class was losing its relevance, with only 39% fitting into the working, middle, or upper class. According to the BBC, the team proposes “a new model of seven social classes ranging from the elite at the top to a ‘precariat’—the poor, precarious proletariat—at the bottom.”
The researchers believe the working and middle classes have waned because of the rise of the information age:
They say the new affluent workers and emergent service workers appear to be the children of the ‘traditional working class,’ which they say has been fragmented by de-industrialisation, mass unemployment, immigration and the restructuring of urban space.
In other words, information-age Britons don’t fit into industrial class structures. The people aren’t obsolete, but the categories may be.
American cheeses—not just the individually-wrapped slices—are making a comeback, as documented by MIT’s Heather Paxson, who recently published The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America. The anthropological work details her research into the people and processes behind artisan cheeses in the U.S. Looking over the last 50 years, Paxson indentifies a host of factors behind the re-emergence of American artisanal cheese: environmentalism, feminism, markets (both local and international), and 9/11, among others. In an interview with the Boston Globe, she commented:
Like most social movements, it only looks like a movement in retrospect… Cheesemaking appealed to people the way that some start-up dot-coms did. It was the rural counterpart to that.
Paxson, who studies “how people craft a sense of themselves as moral beings through everyday practices, especially those activities having to do with family and food,” became curious about artisanal cheese after eating a sample of Hooligan, a Connecticut cheese, and asking the questions that are the genesis of so much social science research: Who? How? Why?
One sign, made to be displayed outside the Supreme Court as it hears arguments on DOMA and Prop 8, hearkens back to the days of arguments about interracial marriage, using a photo of Mildred and Richard Loving, who famously won their case, Loving v. Virginia, before the Supreme Court. Photo by Reed Probus via flickr.com.
Last week, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments regarding California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that became a constitutional amendment legally defining marriage as an institution solely for the benefit of one man and one woman. On March 26, Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested the Court might simply dismiss the case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, without a ruling, so as not to dive into “uncharted waters,” particularly when the Court is considering another, related case.
Minnesota Public Radio invited Kathleen Hull, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota, to discuss the Court’s apparent willingness to side-step the case. She cited the results of a new PEW study showing that the younger generation was about 75% in favor of legalizing same sex marriage. She confessed:
Increasingly I find it difficult to engage the 18-22 year-olds on the same-sex issue. They are bored by it… They don’t know what there is to talk about.
Hull told MPR that California’s law not only lags behind public attitudes, but also behind the business and entertainment worlds. She also refutes claims that there isn’t enough data to rule on the subject if it’s considered through the lens of child-rearing:
I was a little stunned when one of the justices said something to the effect of “yeah, we don’t have any information on this.” […] We have decades of research now on the effects of same-sex parenting on children and it is all kind of in the same direction: That there is no difference from being raised by heterosexuals.
Working from home photo by Victor1558 via flickr.com.
Best Buy has ended its Result Only Work Environment (ROWE) program, which famously allowed employees to telecommute, working in the office on a set schedule, or have the flexibility to do both. Evaluations were based solely on job performance, with no consideration of attendance. Best Buy’s policy change follows a similar change at Yahoo, where CEO Marissa Meyer no longer allows staff to work from home.
Executives at both companies cite a need to improve competitiveness, and they argue that requiring employees to come to the office will enhance collaboration and innovation. Erin Kelly, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota, is skeptical. She argues that ROWE is not to blame for the companies’ struggles:
“I’m concerned that these flexibility initiatives and telework initiatives are getting blamed for what may be other problems those organizations are facing in the broader market,” Kelly told the Star Tribune.
Jennifer Glass, a sociologist at the University of Texas, similarly disputes research claims that required attendance improves innovation among employees.
[M]uch of this “research” simply shows that workers who collaborate with others in loose networks generate better ideas. It doesn’t suggest that the best way to create new products and services is by isolating your employees in the silo of a single location.
Best Buy and Yahoo are calling for all hands on deck, but do all hands need to be on deck at the same time?
Academic work on this topic often wanders into big, macro-level thinking about gender roles and social structures, but a recent article in The Atlanticpushes us to think about this issue in terms of the small, everyday choices that make home better for everyone. Alexandra Bradner outlines the problem for heterosexual families:
Because no one can afford to fully replace themselves at home while they are at the office… working mothers have famously picked up the slack for both partners, subsidizing our market with their free labor… this means that mothers are important, in all of the ways in which socially conservative forces routinely note. But it could also mean that [they] are exploited… to do more than their fair share of the family’s work, all without compensation.
Bradner offers three possible explanations for this problem:
Men don’t see the work that needs to be done
Men see what needs to be done, but don’t think they can do it as easily or effectively as their wives can
Men’s workplace structures won’t let them take the extra time to do their share of the chores
Instead of arguing for a large-scale overhaul of “women’s responsibilities” or workplace regulations, Bradner addresses all three issues with one simple suggestion: Men should ask their partners, “Do I do half the laundry? Do I change half the diapers?” Then, couples can make conscious choices about work distribution.
When husbands and colleagues come through with these “small acts of heroism,” splitting the work, Bradner, agues we get closer to a society that cares about caring for people:
It’s not, exclusively, a conversation for and among women. This is a conversation about families and about babies and their care, which makes it a conversation about kindness, responsiveness, and our nation’s collective future.
Despite being a word (and act) that’s tricky to time, perhaps love can be deciphered by an algorithm. Increasingly, online dating sites are using the results from user surveys to try to do just that. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers who advises Chemistry.com, uses a questionnaire to identify people as Negotiators, Directors, Builders, or Explorers. Directors, for example, tend to match well with Negotiators.
And whether the sites are actually helping people find “the one,” their personality tests and post-date reviews are providing a treasure trove of data for social scientists. In an interview with Buzzfeed, Michael Rosenfeld, a sociologist at Stanford, raises methodological questions about the value of the data—for example, people who create profiles on data sites are not a random sample of the population.
Still, sampling aside, Rosenfeld points out the cultural implications of the rise of online dating, noting:
The Internet has increased the decline of family but also of friends and coworkers and school, because [it’s] an efficient marketplace, especially if you are looking for something particular.
If people continue to turn to the online marketplace, larger sample sizes and more feedback may make matchmaking websites more efficient and give researchers more insights into the science of attraction (including people’s attraction to such sites).
Scanning the journals and tracking the media for the best in cutting edge social science, served up in a concise, snappy style. Edited by students in the undergraduate and graduate sociology programs at the University of Minnesota. Read more...