Tag Archives: gender

Not Your Typical June Cleaver

Image made available by James Vaughan via Flickr Creative Commons

Image made available by James Vaughan via Flickr Creative Commons

“Stay-at-home mother” evokes black and white images of well-coiffed women in starched aprons. Rather than a vestige of a bygone era, stay-at-home moms are on the rise, according to the findings of a new Pew Research study. In 2012, 29% of women with children under the age of 18 stayed home, a number that has been on the rise since 1999 and is 3% higher than in 2008.

However, while more women are staying home with their children, the face of the stay-at-home mom has changed dramatically since the 1950s “Leave It to Beaver” days. Stay-at-home moms today are less educated and more likely to live in poverty than working moms. Younger mothers and immigrant mothers also make up a good portion of stay-at-home moms.

The story of why mothers are staying home is more complex than you may imagine and has more to do with the poor labor market, the exorbitant price of child care, and the contemporary structure of work. In a recent interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, Barbara Risman, a sociologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, spoke about how this report has been picked up by the mainstream media:

What’s surprising to me is the headlines and how it’s portrayed in the news. Although the numbers are going up, when you look at what mothers say, 6% of the mothers in this study say they are home because they can’t find a job. When you take those 6% of mothers out, the results are rather flat. Part of the real story here then is that it’s hard to find a job that allows you to work and covers your child care, particularly if you have less education and your earning potential isn’t very high.

These days stay-at-home moms, who are more likely to be less educated, are not be able to make enough money for working to even be worthwhile. Many times, their pay wouldn’t actually cover the cost of child care. Beyond these important financial considerations, lower wage shift work makes it extremely difficult to coordinate child care in the midst of work schedules that change on a weekly basis.

For highly-educated, formerly-professional stay-at-home moms, it’s not that they’re “opting out” from the labor force, but they’re being pushed out by the “all-or-nothing” structure of professional jobs with 24/7 demands for worker availability. The nature of these jobs makes it very hard to be both a worker and a parent.

Young Girls Consider Sexual Violence Normal

Good sociological research illuminates how individuals in society interact with social institutions and with one another. Sometimes, this research can uncover some of the feel-good aspects of social life. Other times, it can leave you despairing for humanity and raging against social structures.

A new report by Marquette University sociologist Heather Hlavka evokes the latter feelings. Analyzing over 100 interviews with girls aged 3 to 17 who may have been sexually assaulted, Hlavka found that the majority of these young women didn’t see themselves as victims because they considered sexual harassment a “normal” part of everyday life and male behavior.

For years, politicians, pundits, academics, and community advocates have been troubled by the staggering statistic that 60% of sexual assault and harassment goes unreported. Hlavka’s research speaks to some of the reasons behind this figure. Beyond the normalization of sexual harassment and assault, she finds that assaults go unreported out of shame, fear of retribution, and mistrust of authority. This mistrust extends to male authority figures, including police officers, to whom many of these women and girls would report an assault.

Hlavka sees her study as a call to action. Changing the way we think about sexual assault and sexual harassment might be a big step toward stopping it.

You can watch Hlavka discuss her research on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show.


The Mental Labor of Working Mothers

Photo by Bandita via flickr.com

Photo by Bandita via flickr.com

You can do a lot of things in 29 hours: work a part time job, watch 58 episodes of a sitcom, or listen to ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ about 435 times. According to a study from Bar-Ilan University, working moms spend 29 hours a week worrying.

This study, picked up by Babble.com, demonstrates the “cycle of guilt” experienced by working moms who “feel they are being bad mothers for going to work and bad workers when they put their children first.” Trapped in this catch-22, worry results in less time, not to mention mental energy, for sleep, work, and childcare for working mothers.

Professor Shira Offer suggests that women bear a “double burden” of worry due to the tendency of women to change their work schedules to accommodate family issues. For example, mothers are more likely than fathers to take a day off of work to care for a sick child. That’s not to say men are worry free. Working men are reported to spend 24 hours a week worrying, losing a whole day.

Worry does more than just take up time; it can also contribute to lack of focus and a decrease in performance. If we didn’t spend so much time worrying, maybe we wouldn’t have as much to worry about.



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The Height of Romance

Photo by Emiliano Horcada via flickr.com

Photo by Emiliano Horcada via flickr.com

When it comes to love, it’s what’s inside that counts…assuming you measure up.

Business Standard reports on the findings of Rice University sociology professor Michael Emerson, who found that women really do prefer tall men. Emerson’s study data showed that women preferred tall men for two reasons: feminity and protection.

One woman from the study said she wanted to feel delicate and protected at the same time. Sociologically, the preference for taller men seems to play into stereotypical gender roles and patriarchal society. Men weren’t as concerned with matters of height, but when they did weigh in, they preferred shorter women.

University of North Texas sociology professor George Yancy says, “The masculine ability to offer physical protection is clearly connected to the gender stereotype of men as protectors. And in a society that encourages men to be dominant and women to be submissive, having the image of tall men hovering over short women reinforces this value.”

In that case, instead of peering up into a man’s eyes this Valentine’s Day, I might just stand on a chair.

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Looking for Love in Hookup Culture

Photo by Courtney Carmody via flickr.com

Photo by Courtney Carmody via flickr.com

Many parents worry that college will introduce their kids to a realm of unmediated romps between the sheets, but for all the very public discussions about “hooking up,” the trend of unceremonious sex didn’t start with this generation. Despite common portrayals of unchecked, excessive sexuality on university campuses, the Millennial generation isn’t having more casual sex than the Baby Boomers did in their time. In an online article for Cosmopolitan Magazine, Charlotte Lieberman turns to sociology to explain why modern college romance (or the lack thereof) is “so screwed up.”

Lieberman draws from Michael Kimmel’s Guyland, which argues that our society rewards those who follow the “rules” of masculinity and show “no fears, no doubts, and no vulnerabilities.” This type of emotional detachment has become a common defense mechanism in the dating world, says Lieberman, as women are often applauded for taking on attitudes typical of men.

Most of my peers would say ‘You go, girl’ to a young woman who is career-focused, athletically competitive, or interested in casual sex.

Some feminists have viewed casual sex as an example of women’s liberation, as the freedom to break gender norms and act more masculine. However, according to sociologist Lisa Wade, this “freedom” doesn’t go both ways.

[No one says] “You go, boy!” when a guy feels liberated enough to learn to knit, decide to be a stay-at-home dad, or learn ballet.

According to both Kimmel and Wade, our culture celebrates “thick skin” and emotional detachment in sexuality, rather than the transgression of gender norms. Hookup culture has created a dating field with a “whoever-cares-less-wins” attitude.

With emoticons and emojis replacing emotions, another complication of modern-day dating, according to Lieberman, is modern-day technology. Text messaging has become a main form of communication, and Millennials have developed self-screening skills that model Kimmel’s rules of emotional distance.

[When responding to a guy’s text,] it can’t be 10 minutes on the dot, because then it is obvious you were waiting. It should be longer than 15 minutes to show you’re not desperate but within the 45-minute window if you are trying to lay groundwork for that evening.

What is “screwed up” about dating, according to Lieberman and sociologists, is not that this generation has become emotionally desensitized by casual sex, but that Millennials are looking for love in the midst of a culture that views emotional apathy as empowering and possesses the digital means to censor any emotions they may experience.

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The Persistence of the Second Shift

Photo by Kristine Lewis via flickr.com

Photo by Kristine Lewis via flickr.com

A survey about how Americans spend their time reports that men and women are finally working similar numbers of hours per week, at the office and in the home. That means the end of women bearing the bulk of the domestic load, right? Wrong.

The Wall Street Journal Online explores the different ways mothers and fathers spend their time in an article adapted from Jennifer Senior’s new book “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.” Though men are pitching in more around the house, it seems that women are still doing the more arduous domestic tasks, a phenomenon that sociologist Arlie Hochschild termed “the second shift.”

Senior points out one of the fundamental problems: “Not all work is created equal. An hour spent on one kind of task is not necessarily the equivalent of an hour spent on another.”

For instance, taking care of children is often more stressful and strenuous than other solitary and monotonous domestic tasks, like washing dishes. One woman in Senior’s book describes doing the dishes as an opportunity to sit in the kitchen and let her mind wander. When put that way, it sounds a lot less stressful than wrangling toddlers.

Women also tend to be responsible for time-sensitive tasks. Getting kids ready for school or carting them off to extracurricular activities on time can greatly add to a woman’s stress. This leads women to do more multi-tasking than men. Having to manage time so strictly can cause mothers to worry and feel a constant sense of urgency.

Although it seems we have come a long way with men and women dividing chores on the domestic front, when we break it down to the stress and demand involved with individual tasks, women are still bearing the brunt of household management and childrearing.

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Disrupting the Pink Aisle

Still from Goldiblox adverstisement via youtube.com

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.

Angry White Men and Aggrieved Entitlement

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.

Why Are Poor White Women Dying Younger than Their Moms?

Photo by Kris Mouser-Brown via flickr.com

Photo by Kris Mouser-Brown via flickr.com

In a recent article in The American Prospect, Monica Potts examines the mystery of what is killing poor white women. Research on longevity by Jay Olshanky from the University of Illinois in Chicago and a team of collaborators found that white women who dropped out of high school are dying on average five years earlier than the their equivalents in the generation before them. These results have researchers baffled – not since the fall of the Soviet Union, when life expectancy for men dropped by seven years, has there been such a dramatic change in longevity in a single generation.

Most Americans, including high-school dropouts of other races, are gaining life expectancy, just at different speeds. Absent a war, genocide, pandemic, or massive governmental collapse, drops in life expectancy are rare. “If you look at the history of longevity in the United States, there have been no dramatic negative or positive shocks,” Olshansky says. “With the exception of the 1918 influenza pandemic, everything has been relatively steady, slow changes. This is a five-year drop in an 18-year time period. That’s dramatic.”

Numerous researchers are investigating the root causes of this drastic shift. Jennifer Karas Montez from Harvard and Ann Zajacova from the University of Wyoming tested a number of potential factors, including employment, income, and health behaviors like smoking and drinking. White female high school dropouts are less likely than women with a high school education or more to work, and if they do work, it is often low wage, low skill jobs in the service sector. But certainly, many other demographic groups work minimum wage jobs. Indeed, black women who dropped out of high school have seen an increase in their life expectancy over this time.

Although women generally outlive men in the U.S., such a large decline in the average age of death, from almost 79 to a little more than 73, suggests that an increasing number of women are dying in their twenties, thirties, and forties. “We actually don’t know the exact reasons why it’s happened,” Olshansky says. “I wish we did.”


“You’re dad’s favorite.”

At least it's not a favorite *kid*! Vintage ad via JBCurio, flickr.com.

At least it’s not a favorite *kid*! Vintage ad via JBCurio, flickr.com.

A new study from Purdue University lends weight to the idea that, emotionally, children do not always grow up in the “same” home. Research by Professor Jill Suitor and graduate student Megan Gilligan builds on this with a bit of sibling rivalry: siblings are likely to be more bothered by perceived favoritism from fathers than from mothers.

Other work has shown moms who picked “favorites” had caused sibling tension, but studying the influence of both parents was a novel approach. Revisiting 2008 interviews (from the Within-Family Difference Study) with “Baby Boomers” whose parents were still alive, the authors spotted the difference. Karl Pillemer of Cornell University, who has worked with Suitor and Gilligan on this data previously, commented in a HealthCanal article:

We often think of the family as a single unit, and this reminds us that individual parent and child relationships differ and each family is very complex. Favoritism from the father could mean something different than favoritism from the mother. We suggest that clinicians who work with families on later-life issues be aware of this complexity and look for such types of individual relationhsips as they advise families on care giving, legal, and financial issues.

Suitor also offered an explanation:

Mothers are often more open and affectionate with their children, whereas fathers have sometimes been found to be more critical, leading offspring to be more concerned when fathers favor some children over others.

From families to gender, culture, and the lifecourse, scholars are sure to take up this new angle on household dynamics.