Sweden Sees Progress in New Pronoun

Image via Camilla Eriksson.
Image via Camilla Eriksson.

 

Swedish nursery school teachers and LGBT groups have banded together over the addition of a gender-neutral pronoun to the official Swedish language. It all started five years ago. These two groups were among the first to use the gender-neutral hen as an alternative to the female pronoun hon and the male han. Now the common, conversational use of hen has led the Swedish Academy to include it in the newest edition of the country’s official.

In the Washington Post, linguist Sofia Malmgård explains that there are two ways to use the new pronoun:

First, if the gender is unknown or not relevant (as in: “If anyone needs to smoke, ‘hen’ may do so outside”). Second, it can be used as a pronoun for inter-gender people (as in: “Kim is neither boy or girl, ‘hen’ is inter-gender”).

In other words, the pronoun provides a way to talk about someone and disregard hen’s gender when it doesn’t matter or doesn’t conform to the traditional masculine/feminine binary.

In Sweden, ranked fourth on the World Economic Forum’s 2014 gender equality report, gender-neutral education is in vogue. Nurseries, kindergartens, and preschools have been at the forefront of the movement to help children grow up without feeling the impact of gender biases. At Egalia, a preschool in Stockholm, traditionally gendered toys and games are placed side-by-side to encourage children to choose by preference rather than convention; students are not referred to as male or female; and gender-neutral books line the shelves.

LGBT groups have also embraced the new pronoun as a way to raise awareness. Experts are cautiously optimistic that officially recognizing the word will encourage more people to use it., Lann Hornscheidt, a professor of Scandinavian languages and gender studies, believes hen really will help fight sexism and gender biases. As he told the Post,

The introduction of a pronoun which challenges binary gender norms has been an important step, following a more thorough debate over the construction of gender within the last 10 years.

For Gay Black Men, Negative Stereotypes May Have One Positive Consequence

Purple Sherbet Photography via Creative Commons
Purple Sherbet Photography via Creative Commons

 

Sociologists are quite familiar with the combination of marginalized identities that can lead to oppression, inequalities, and “double disadvantages.” But can negative stereotypes actually have positive consequences?

Financial Juneteenth recently highlighted a study showing that gay black men may have better odds of landing a job and higher salaries than their straight, black, male colleagues. Led by sociologist David Pedulla, the study sent resumes and a job description to 231 white employers nationwide, asking them to suggest starting salaries for the position. Resumes included typically raced names (“Brad Miller” for white applicants and “Darnell Jackson”) and listed participation in “Gay Student Advisory Council” to imply the applicant’s sexuality. Pedulla found that gay Black men were more likely to receive the same starting salaries as straight white men, whereas gay white men and straight black men were offered lowered salaries.

Pedulla’s findings have sparked a conversation among scholars and journalists about the complexity of stereotypes surrounding black masculinities and sexualities. Organizational behavior researcher and Huffington Post contributor Jon Fitzgerald Gates also weighed in on the findings, arguing that the effeminate stereotypes of homosexuality may be counteracting the traditional stereotypes of a dangerous and threatening black heterosexual masculinity.

Read Pedulla’s entire study, published in Social Psychology Quarterly, here: The Positive Consequences of Negative Stereotypes: Race, Sexual Orientation, and the Job Application Process.

Workplaces May Create Inequalities at Home

Image by Photophilde via Flickr CC
Image by Photophilde via Flickr CC

A new study finds that men and women increasingly desire egalitarian relationships, yet household labor often remains gendered and imbalanced. So what’s the holdup? Study co-author, sociologist Sarah Thébaud, explains to USA Today that workplace policies surrounding paid leave, flexible scheduling, and child care are making it harder for couples to balance household work:

“There is a lot of research showing that, in today’s economy, it is tremendously challenging for couples to strike an egalitarian division between work and family responsibilities. … Women who ‘opt out’ of full-time careers often report doing so not because it was their ideal preference, but because the inflexibility of their work hours or the high costs of childcare left them with few options. This limited set of options ends up reinforcing gender inequality, despite the fact that people are increasingly endorsing more gender-egalitarian attitudes and beliefs.”

Co-author David Pedulla adds that women, especially, need supportive workplace policies:

“[If] supportive policies are in place, women are much more likely to prefer egalitarian relationships and much less likely to prefer neo-traditional relationships.”

The study is based on a 2012 survey of a representative group of 18 to 32-year-old unmarried, childless men and women in the United States.

Could Porn Lead to Sex Trafficking?

Photo via Flickr CC, Slavesalicious. Click for original.
Photo via Flickr CC, Slavesalicious. Click for original.

Early in 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed twelve bills aimed at combating sex trafficking. These bills compliment laws signed last year to protect victims of trafficking, particularly children. Thus far, however, legislation has overlooked the causes of trafficking, namely, male perpetrators who engage in sexual violence and abuse and whose patronage makes the crimes profitable.

In a recent Huffington Post article, sociologist Gail Dines offers insight into the “demand side” of sex crimes, citing pornography as an influence:

The biggest sex educator of young men today is pornography, which is increasingly violent and dehumanizing, and it changes the way men view women.

Dines argues that porn teaches men to behave in sexually violent and abusive ways:

We know that trafficking is increasing—which means demand is increasing. This means that men are increasingly willing to have sex with women who are being controlled and abused by pimps and traffickers. There are only two conclusions here: That men are naturally willing to do this to women—biology—or that they are being socialized by the culture to lose all empathy for women. I refuse to accept that men are born rapists, porn users, or johns.

Dine’s controversial topic of study—and its results—casts important questions on a growing, if often “unseen” crime.

What Doulas Do

Photo from Persephone's Birth by eyeliam on flickr.com
Photo by eyeliam via Flickr CC.

Pregnancy can be stressful. Friends and family may have good intentions, giving informal support to expecting mothers, but their helpful hints sometimes come across as critical. A doula, however, provides emotional support before, during, and after birth, and helps women make informed health decisions.

Sociologist Lisa Hall talked to Missouri State News about her research on doula services and how these workers’ contribute women’s well-being. Hall reflected on one interview:

The client’s words were, “if it had not been for my doula, I think I might have just left my baby with my husband and moved away.” She had no confidence that she could be a good mom—especially in the midst of criticism—and the doula empowered her.

Many doula clients receive WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) services and lack access to adequate healthcare due poverty or homelessness. Furthermore, lack of education and connections (part of what social scientists call “social capital”) prevents many low-income and young women from asking questions or expressing health concerns. And, for all women, a doula can serve as a liaison to health service providers. Hall elaborates, “It’s a major view shift for some of these [expectant mothers] who haven’t been taken seriously or hadn’t been treated like an adult …”.

Taking a client’s physical and emotional needs seriously is just one aspect of doula services. The Doula Foundation teaches effective parenting, helps with healthcare access, and encourages breastfeeding, all of which benefit mothers and their children by providing a tool kit of positive health practices. Other groups, like the Isis Rising Prison Doula Project, bring doula services into spaces where birth may have even further complications.

The Political and Cultural Problem of Paid Leave

This co-edited volume considers "Public Policies and Innovative Strategies for Low Wage Workers."
This co-edited volume considers “Public Policies and Innovative Strategies for Low Wage Workers.”

One of the most forceful themes in the 2015 State of the Union Address was the need to help working families. President Obama and other progressives argue that implementing policies like guaranteed paid sick leave and child care tax credits will boost the national economy by making it easier for mothers to work. Opponents believe the policies will hurt businesses, damaging job growth and economic recovery.

Sociologists have long studied how the roles of parent and worker intersect, and some of their data and findings are being put to use in this political debate. The New York Times’s Upshot blog highlighted several studies of paid leave policies, including CUNY sociologist Ruth Milkman’s work. Milkman’s analysis supports paid leave and credits for child care—she argues that “For workers who use these programs, they are extremely beneficial, and the business lobby’s predictions about how these programs are really a big burden on employers are not accurate.” Milkman, along with economist Eileen Applebaum, surveyed California firms about whether their costs had increased as a consequence of that state’s paid leave law. 87% of companies said that their bottom line had not suffered, and 9% found that their costs had actually decreased, thanks to lower worker turnover or health benefits payments.

Yet even in California, New Jersey, and Washington, the three states that have, thus far, enacted paid leave laws, many workers don’t know about the policies. State-level political campaigns may change policy, but a broader national discussion must help change workplace cultures to make good on the policies’ promise.

Modeling: A Tough Job at Any Size

Fashioning Fat coverIn December, thousands watched tall, thin models parade bedazzled bras, panties, and angel wings down the runway at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. In the U.S., however, these “standard size” models aren’t representative of either the female population (an average size 10-14) or of the entirety of the modeling population.

Sociologist Amanda Czerniawski, who worked as a plus-size model in researching her book  Fat: Inside Plus-Size Modeling, was featured in a Pacific Standard article about the opportunities and limitations for plus-size models in the fashion industry. She explained that featuring plus-size models can be considered an “act of resistance” against the fashion industry’s standard ideals. Still, while plus-size models contribute to a more inclusive idea of beauty, Czerniawski said the status quo is hard to change:

Though plus-sized models want to change notions of beauty and glamour, she argues, the industry restricts their efforts and their effectiveness. Plus-sized models are not really all that free; though they do not have to be a size zero, their bodies are still regulated and policed.

The article goes on to explain how some plus-size models find themselves labeled too small, too big, or not the right type for a given job. Further, though plus-size models continue to gain visibility in the fashion industry, they still have fewer opportunities than “straight” (that is, willowy) models.

In the end, all modeling is about capitalism:

Many of the indignities that Czerniawski details—lack of benefits, arbitrary management decisions, exploitative contracts—are typical of many (most?) labor relationships under capitalism.

This means including a wider range of sizes among models is unlikely to change the regulation of their bodies; it’ll just mean more women in a glamorous and restrictive sector of sales.

Women at the Top Find the View Depressing

Photo by Charlotte Morrall via Flickr CC. Click for original.
Photo by Charlotte Morrall via Flickr CC. Click for original.

Gender bias in the workplace may not be breaking news, but its negative impact on mental health among powerful women might surprise you. A new study highlighted in Fast Company magazine suggests that women in high-ranking positions experience increased symptoms of depression. Lead author, sociologist Tetyana Pudrovska, describes the unexpected findings that came out of the WILLSHE project on the experiences of highly successful women:

What’s striking is that women with job authority in our study are advantaged in terms of most characteristics that are strong predictors of positive mental health. These women have more education, higher incomes, more prestigious occupations, and higher levels of job satisfaction and autonomy than women without job authority. Yet, they have worse mental health than lower-status women.

Men do not seem to suffer similar negative mental health consequences when in powerful occupations. Marianne Cooper, sociologist at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, explains:

Women leaders are viewed as being less competent than men, they’re evaluated in performance reviews on personality traits while men are evaluated on accomplishments, and they’re interrupted more often during team meetings. The day-to-day interactions can become tiring to deal with—it’s like death by 10,000 paper cuts.

The Myth of the Trophy Wife

Photo by Gary Willmore via Flickr.
Start seeing trophy husbands. Photo by Gary Willmore via Flickr.

When a pretty, young woman is seen walking hand-in-hand with an older, perhaps less attractive, male, accusations of a “trophy wife” situation are quick to follow. But this quick judgement ignores an important factor – pretty women can be rich too. In an interview with NPR, Notre Dame sociologist Elizabeth McClintock discusses her recent study that finds little evidence for the existence of trophy wives. She tells NPR that people typically couple based on similarities in income, looks, and education, thus:

If usually rich people marry rich people and pretty people marry pretty people, then having a pretty woman with no money marry an ugly, rich guy, that’s a violation of the usual pattern that people select somebody who’s a whole lot like themselves.

Numerous studies argue that the trophy wife phenomenon makes evolutionary sense, as poor, pretty women are able to trade their looks for money. But McClintock argues that these studies are wrong. NPR’s Shankar Vedantam describes her reasoning:

McClintock thinks this earlier work is wrong for two reasons. First, the earlier studies don’t consider this important variable, which is that pretty women might themselves be well-off. So if a woman herself has wealth or status, what you really don’t have is a trophy wife phenomenon. All you have is matching rich with rich…And McClintock points out there’s another confounding variable here, which is that beauty and wealth often tend to go hand in hand. And that’s because the wealthy often have access to better nutrition, better cosmetics…. If wealth and beauty are actually going hand in hand really often it could be that lots of pretty women might themselves be rich, which again means they might not be trophy wives.

In McClintock’s study of over 1500 American couples, she found that, after controlling for the income of both partners, “the trophy wife phenomenon effectively disappeared.” Our gendered assumptions of women’s roles in relationships have helped to construct this myth of the trophy wife, which says a lot more about our own biases than actual reality. Vedantam sums it up nicely:

If you look only at the universe of good-looking guys, you will also see that good-looking men tend to be with rich women, but we are far less likely to say, oh, look, trophy husband. And so of course that’s a reflection of what’s happening inside our own heads, not actual reality.

 

NFL’s Domestic Abuse Prevention Team Drafts Sociologist Beth Richie

Photo of Marcel Love by Greg Keene via Flickr.
Go Love!  Photo of Marcel Love by Greg Keene via Flickr.

In response to the disturbing number of domestic violence arrests of its players, the NFL recently created a panel for implementing domestic abuse education and prevention strategies within the league. Beth Ritchie, the University of Illinois at Chicago’s director of the Institute of Research on Race and Public Policy, was named as one of its five senior advisors.

In an interview with Jia Tolentino for Jezebel, Richie explains that “Race and gender and class justice can’t be separated.” Because about two-thirds of the NFL’s players are African American, it’s important to understand how these factors are connected in designing an effective domestic abuse education program. She explains:

…African-American people perceive and therefore use (or don’t use) police differently. The police aren’t necessarily seen as a protective force; there’s a different loyalty to one’s own people in disclosing, there’s a protectiveness built up from the way the media skews the actions of black men. Consequently, black sexual assault survivors have to walk through a maze before they can acknowledge the abuse or are willing to come forward. There’s a different willingness to turn our men over to the state. And I don’t want to say that turning in an abuser is easy for any woman, but it’s meaningfully different for black women.

Because of this dynamic, Richie plans to work with the wives and partners of NFL players as well, to better understand the challenges of preventing domestic violence. Mindful of the complexity of the problem, she’s excited about the NFL’s initiative:

The NFL taking this up so aggressively is very important, but there’s a real need to be careful; the NFL is an employer, not law enforcement, not family. I think they are trying to be respectful of women’s desires to make their own decisions about whom they’re with, while still holding men accountable.