Tag Archives: feminism

Sociology of Pink

Two weeks into Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the pink ribbons have been fluttering in full force. A New York Times blog urges a little reflection on the meaning of this now ubiquitous phenomenon:

The pink ribbon has been a spectacular success in terms of bringing recognition and funding to the breast cancer cause. But now there is a growing impatience about what some critics have termed “pink ribbon culture.” Medical sociologist Gayle A. Sulik, author of the new book “Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health” (Oxford University Press), calls it “the rise of pink October.”

“Pink ribbon paraphernalia saturate shopping malls, billboards, magazines, television and other entertainment venues,” she writes on her Web site. “The pervasiveness of the pink ribbon campaign leads many people to believe that the fight against breast cancer is progressing, when in truth it’s barely begun.”

The campaign builds on a long history of breast cancer activism, beginning in the 1970s, and now represents mainstream recognition of the cause.

So how can the pink ribbon be objectionable? Among the first salvos against the pink ribbon was a 2001 article in Harper’s magazine entitled “Welcome to Cancerland,” written by the well-known feminist author Barbara Ehrenreich. Herself a breast cancer patient, Ms. Ehrenreich delivered a scathing attack on the kitsch and sentimentality that she believed pervaded breast cancer activism.

A few additional critiques:

In “Pink Ribbon Blues,” Ms. Sulik offers three main objections to the pink ribbon. First, she worries that pink ribbon campaigns impose a model of optimism and uplift on women with breast cancer, although many such women actually feel cynicism, anger and similar emotions.

And like Ms. Ehrenreich, Ms. Sulik worries that the color pink reinforces stereotypical notions of gender — for example, that recovery from breast cancer necessarily entails having breast reconstruction, wearing makeup and “restoring the feminine body.”

Finally, Ms. Sulik closely examines what she calls the “financial incentives that keep the war on breast cancer profitable.” She reports that the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which annually sponsors over 125 annual Races for the Cure and more than a dozen three-day, 60-mile walks, has close to 200 corporate partners, including many drug companies. These associations, she warns, are a potential conflict of interest.

Read the rest.

Sociologists on ‘Mad Men’

Mad Men anachronism.They may be big fans of the show, but some sociologists are calling out historical inaccuracies in AMC’s “Mad Men.” According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“As historians, most of us just love ‘Mad Men’ — it is so realistic, not just in the details, but in the gender dynamics,” said Stephanie Coontz, a sociologist and professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. “But, I think in this case they’ve gotten it wrong.”

Discovering Don was not the man she thought she knew was merely the last straw for Betty, who surely suspected her husband’s many dalliances. So she began a flirtatious relationship with Henry Francis, a well-placed aide to Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York.

Henry flew with her to Nevada, where “divorce mills” of the day allowed (mostly) women to establish residency for six weeks, then file for divorce.

But Ms. Coontz, who has authored a number of books examining American life and family, said she doubts someone like Henry would have considered courting a married woman with three young children.

“In 1964, Nelson Rockefeller could not run for president because he was divorced — anyone with high aspirations, unless he was absolutely besotted with love, would never have considered getting involved in a divorce.”

Another sociologist adds:

Christine B. Whelan is visiting assistant professor at Pitt, where she is teaching three classes on the sociology of marriage, gender and everyday life, respectively.

Her American Family course at the University of Iowa last year made occasional reference to “Mad Men,” but to her dismay, the students couldn’t relate.

“I said ‘Listen guys, I’m going to make this required viewing,’ ” Dr. Whelan said, laughing.

A divorced woman in 1963 was a social pariah, she said, but noted that the Drapers are not meant to be viewed as an average couple in average America. “It’s emblematic of a very small slice — not only does Betty get out of her [bad] marriage, she has another man all lined up.”

But the show doesn’t get it all wrong:

One thing “Mad Men” gets right is the neighborhood ladies’ opinion of Helen, an attractive, young divorced mother of two introduced in the first season.

“She is this dangerous creature, and the other women view her as a threat,” Dr. Whelan said.

And:

Ms. Coontz has a new book coming out based on interviews with women who read Betty Friedan’s iconic 1963 writings when they were young — “A Strange Stirring: ‘The Feminine Mystique’ and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.”

“People say feminists hurt the homemaker, but one of the first reforms was marriage,” she said. In “Mad Men,” “You can see Betty already grappling with the same malaise that my real-life informants went through.”

In season one, Betty realizes while driving the car that she cannot feel her hands.

“Early in the show, her hands go numb, numb just like the 188 women I interviewed for this book who thought, ‘I was crazy,’ or just felt numb. They couldn’t express it, this emptiness and despair.”

Ms. Coontz came across a Gallup poll from December 1962, that indicated American housewives were happy with their lives, but 90 percent said they would advise their daughters to delay marriage and work at a job first.

the benefits of working women in marriage

115.365 - Porn for Women: VacuumingDoes a rise in women’s earning power have benefits to marriage beyond economic stability?  In an attempt to address this question, a recent New York Times article summarized some of the recent social scientific evidence on the rise of working women:

Last week, a report from the Pew Research Center about what it called “the rise of wives” revived the debate. Based on a study of Census data, Pew found that in nearly a third of marriages, the wife is better educated than her husband. And though men, over all, still earn more than women, wives are now the primary breadwinner in 22 percent of couples, up from 7 percent in 1970.

While the changing economic roles of husbands and wives may take some getting used to, the shift has had a surprising effect on marital stability. Over all, the evidence shows that the shifts within marriages — men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home — have had a positive effect, contributing to lower divorce rates and happier unions.

The article points to demographic and sociological evidence that suggests greater marital stability and egalitarianism when a woman is more economically independent:

While it’s widely believed that a woman’s financial independence increases her risk for divorce, divorce rates in the United States tell a different story: they have fallen as women have made economic gains. The rate peaked at 23 divorces per 1,000 couples in the late 1970s, but has since dropped to fewer than 17 divorces per 1,000 couples. Today, the statistics show that typically, the more economic independence and education a woman gains, the more likely she is to stay married. And in states where fewer wives have paid jobs, divorce rates tend to be higher, according to a 2009 report from the Center for American Progress.

Sociologists and economists say that financially independent women can be more selective in marrying, and they also have more negotiating power within the marriage. But it’s not just women who win. The net result tends to be a marriage that is more fair and equitable to husbands and wives.

The changes are not without their challenges. “With women taking on more earning and men taking on more caring, there’s a lot of shifting and juggling,” said Andrea Doucet, a sociology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. Her study, the Bread and Roses Project, tracks couples in the United States and Canada in which women are the primary breadwinners. But the dynamic is “not as easy as you’d think it would be,” she said. “You can’t just reverse the genders.”

Men, for instance, sometimes have a hard time adjusting to a woman’s equal or greater earning power. Women, meanwhile, struggle with giving up their power at home and controlling tasks like how to dress the children or load the dishwasher.

Highlighting additional sociological evidence:

Kristen W. Springer, a sociologist at Rutgers, has found that among men in their 50s, having a wife who earns more money is associated with poorer health. Among the highest earning couples in her study, a husband who earns less than his wife is 60 percent less likely to be in good health compared with men who earn more than their wives.

And despite the sweeping economic changes in marriage over the last 40 years, all is not equal. Even among dual-earning couples, women still do about two-thirds of the housework, on average, according to the University of Wisconsin National Survey of Families and Households. But men do contribute far more than they used to. Studies show that since the 1960s, men’s contributions to housework have doubled, while the amount of time spent caring for children has tripled.

And the blurring of traditional gender roles appears to have a positive effect. Lynn Prince Cooke, a sociology professor at the University of Kent in England, has found that American couples who share employment and housework responsibilities are less likely to divorce compared with couples where the man is the sole breadwinner.

the kids (of gays) are alright

madreslesbianas88.jpgA recent New York Times article reported on some of the data that is known about gay and lesbian parenthood and how children of same-sex parents turn out. 

The Williams Institute at UCLA finds that approximately 115,772 American same-sex couples have children.  

Summarizing the state of the field:

Until relatively recently, we didn’t know much about the children of same-sex couples. The earliest studies, dating to the 1970s, were based on small samples and could include only families who stepped forward to be counted. But about 20 years ago, the Census Bureau added a category for unwed partners, which included many gay partners, providing more demographic data. Not every gay couple that is married, or aspiring to marry, has children, but an increasing number do: approximately 1 in 5 male same-sex couples and 1 in 3 female same-sex couples are raising children, up from 1 in 20 male couples and 1 in 5 female couples in 1990.

Concerning child outcomes:

“These children do just fine,” says Abbie E. Goldberg, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Clark University, who concedes there are some who will continue to believe that gay parents are a danger to their children, in spite of a growing web of psychological and sociological evidence to the contrary.

In most ways, the accumulated research shows, children of same-sex parents are not markedly different from those of heterosexual parents. They show no increased incidence of psychiatric disorders, are just as popular at school and have just as many friends. While girls raised by lesbian mothers seem slightly more likely to have more sexual partners, and boys slightly more likely to have fewer, than those raised by heterosexual mothers, neither sex is more likely to suffer from gender confusion nor to identify themselves as gay.

Gender plays a key role in the differences that are known between children of heterosexual and sexual minority parents:

More enlightening than the similarities, however, are the differences, the most striking of which is that these children tend to be less conventional and more flexible when it comes to gender roles and assumptions than those raised in more traditional families.

There are data that show, for instance, that daughters of lesbian mothers are more likely to aspire to professions that are traditionally considered male, like doctors or lawyers — 52 percent in one study said that was their goal, compared with 21 percent of daughters of heterosexual mothers, who are still more likely to say they want to be nurses or teachers when they grow up. (The same study found that 95 percent of boys from both types of families choose the more masculine jobs.) Girls raised by lesbians are also more likely to engage in “roughhousing” and to play with “male-gendered-type toys” than girls raised by straight mothers. And adult children of gay parents appear more likely than the average adult to work in the fields of social justice and to have more gay friends in their social mix.

Same-sex couples, it seems, are less likely to impose certain gender-based expectations on their children, says M. V. Lee Badgett, director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of “When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage.” Studies of lesbian parents have found that they “are more feminist parents,” she says, “more open to girls playing with trucks and boys playing with dolls,” with fewer worries about conforming to perceived norms.

They are also, by definition, less likely to impose gender-based expectations on themselves. “Same-sex parents tend to be more equal in parenting,” Goldberg says, while noting that no generalization can apply to all parents of any sexual orientation. On the whole, though, lesbian mothers (there’s little data here on gay dads) tend not to divide chores and responsibilities according to gender-based roles, Goldberg says, “because you have taken gender out the equation. There’s much more fluidity than in many heterosexual relationships.”

Menstrual activism(?)

In an article entitled, “First Blood: Introducing Menstrual Activism,” Salon.com explores the ‘negative cultural stance toward menstruation’ and what is being done to counter it.

The background, from Salon.com:

Every woman has one. Not what you’re thinking — that too, yes, but I am referring to a menstruation horror story. A bright blood stain blooming on the back of white jeans, a first period that has the audacity to arrive during gym class or one that colors a yellow swimsuit red while you are waterskiing with your grandfather, as happened to Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, the editor of “My Little Red Book.”… But does the embarrassment many women feel arise from a negative cultural stance toward menstruation? And do we need a concerted effort to address it?

In an article published in the Guardian on Friday, writer Kira Cochrane situates “My Little Red Book” at the center of a new wave, as it were, of “menstrual activism.” (The movement is also called “radical menstruation,” “menstrual anarchy” or “menarchy.”) The term, she writes, “is used to describe a whole range of actions,” such as “simple efforts to speak openly about periods, radical affronts to negative attitudes, and campaigns for more environmentally friendly sanitary products,” since a woman could create her own personal landfill with the 11,400 tampons she uses in her lifetime. (What I want to know is: Who counted?)

The sociological commentary:

Chris Bobel, a women’s studies professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and the author of an upcoming book, “New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation,” explains that many “menstrual activists begin by thinking, wait a minute! Do we have to regard our period as something dirty? Do we have to greet a girl’s first period with silence?” According to Cochrane, these women are attempting to take “the shame out of periods,” to overcome the supposed “menstrual taboo.”

But are significant changes really happening?

But the greatest indicator that the cultural attitude toward menstruation has shifted may be the ads for “feminine products.” Ads have ceased to be so euphemistic you have no idea what product is being peddled (“Be free and active!”). The latest from Tampax are hilariously direct in their wink-wink indirectness. Mother Nature (played by Catherine Lloyd Burns) offers a “monthly gift” — a box wrapped in red paper, a symbol obvious enough to please teenage boys and dissertation writers alike — to various women (in one ad, it’s Serena Williams) at inopportune moments. When primetime viewers are savvy enough about menstruation to get in-jokes about periods and blood, it’s a safe bet that the stigma has eased.

Those who prefer to remain quiet about the subject may not be evincing gynophobia so much as conversational etiquette. It may be an act of modesty, not of shame. People don’t much discuss erectile dysfunction or bowel problems either, and not for reasons of gender, or because those bodily processes are particularly taboo. When menstruation is a relevant subject between people — girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives, female friends — it’s not generally treated as humiliating or distasteful. And indeed, women don’t seem to feel much fear about talking about it. Case in point: “My Little Red Book,” for which 90-odd female writers agreed to share their stories.

Read more.