I watched the first U.S. Presidential debate of the election last night and I noticed something interesting about the coverage at CNN.  Notice that the live viewer information along the bottom includes the degree to which female (yellow) and male (green) Colorado undecided voters like or dislike what each candidate is saying (measured by the middle bar).

By choosing to display data by gender, CNN gives us some idea of how men and women agree or disagree on their evaluations of the candidates, but it also makes gender seem like the most super-salient variable by which to measure support.  They didn’t, for example, offer data on how upper and middle class undecided voters in Colorado perceived the debate, nor did they offer data on immigrant vs. non-immigrant, White vs. non-white, gay vs. straight, or any number of demographic variables they could have chosen from.

Instead, by promoting gender as the relevant variable, they also gave the impression that gender was the relevant variable.  This makes it seem like men and women must be really different in their opinions (otherwise, why would they bother highlighting it), strengthening the idea that men and women are different and, even, at odds.  In fact, men and women seemed to track each other pretty well.

It’s not that I don’t think gender is an interesting variable, it’s just that I don’t think it’s the only interesting one and making it seem so is problematic.  I would have loved to have seen the data parsed in other ways too, perhaps by rotating what variables they highlighted.  This would have at least given us a more nuanced view of public opinion (among undecided voters in Colorado) instead of reifying the same old binary.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

The crucial moment in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” for me at least, was the sight of Hushpuppy  in a new purple dress.  Hushpuppy, a seven-year-old girl is the central figure in the film, and up until that point we have seen her, dressed in the same clothes every day, living in The Bathtub, a bayou area south of a fantastical New Orleans-inspired city, on the unprotected side of the levee.**

Life in The Bathtub is harsh.  The people there (“misfits, drunks and swamp-dwellers” — Washington Post) live in shacks cobbled together from scrap metal and wood.  They fish from boats that are similarly improvised.  They scavenge.  The children’s education comes from the idiosyncratic stories of one woman.

They are wild people living among wild things, unconstrained by laws or walls, reliant on ancient prophecies and herbal cures, at home with the water that may overwhelm them at any moment.  — New York Review

After a Katrina-like flood, the authorities force the evacuation of The Bathtub.  Hushpuppy and the others are housed in a shelter – a large, brightly-lit room (a high school gym?) – and given new clothes.  This is when we see Hushpuppy in her new purple dress heading out the door, presumably to a real school.

No, no, no, I thought. This is all wrong. This is not her.  She belongs back in The Bathtub, for despite its rough conditions, the people there are a real and caring community.  Her father loves her and prepares her for life there.  The people there all love her and care for her, as they care, as best they can, for one another.

That was the voice of cultural relativism telling me to look at a society on its own terms, with understanding and sympathy.

At the same time, though, the voice of ethnocentrism was whispering in my other ear.  This is America, it said.  These conditions are the things you deplore and want to improve — lack of decent health care, education, clothing, shelter, and basic safety.  (In an early scene, Hushpuppy tries to light her stove with a blowtorch, nearly incinerating her shack and herself.)  It’s wrong that people in America live like this.

It was not much of a contest.  Cultural relativism won.

In turning the audience into cultural relativists, the movie plays on old themes in American culture.  We’ve always had our suspicions of civilization and refinement, and we’ve had a romantic attachment to the unrefined and rugged.  In “Beasts,” the shelter — sterile, impersonal, and bureaucratic — is contrasted with The Bathtub — rough-hewn, but an authentic community nonetheless.

Then there is Hushpuppy.  I’ve commented before (here, for example) that children in American films are often wiser, more resourceful, and more honest than the adults, especially those who would try to change them.   Add Hushpuppy to the list.*

In the end, the audience seemed relieved when she and the others make their escape.  We don’t want Huck to be civilized by Aunt Sally.  And we do want Hushpuppy to light out for the territory of The Bathtub.


* I should add that much of the credit for convincing the audience goes to the unforgettable six-year-old actress who plays Hushpuppy.

** Images borrowed from dirty-mag, allmoviephoto, thevisualvamp, filmreviewonline, boscosgrindhouse, and tampabaytimes.

Cross-posted at PolicyMic.

In this clip from a campaign rally, Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan argues that “traditional marriage” is a “universal human value.”

Ryan could not be more wrong. In fact, few practices have undergone more fundamental transformation.

For thousands of years, marriage served economic and political functions unrelated to love, happiness, or personal fulfillment.  Prior to the Victorian era, love was considered a trivial basis for marriage and a bad reason to marry.  There were much bigger concerns afoot: gaining money and resources, building alliances between families, organizing the division of labor, and producing legitimate male heirs.

These marriages were patriarchal in the strictest sense of the term.  Men were heads of households and women were human property, equivalent to children, slaves, servants, and employees.  Women didn’t choose to enter a marriage that defined her as property, she was entered into the marriage by her father, who owned her until he “gave her away.”

Ultimately, in response to feminist activism as well as other forces, marriage would change.  By the 1950s, a new kind of marriage would become ideal.  This is the one that Ryan likely means when he uses the terms “traditional” and “universal.”  In this model, men and women married by choice and were expected to find sustenance in their relationship.  Women were not legally subordinate to their husbands (that is, she was no longer property).  But the rights and responsibilities of husbands and wives continued to be defined differently.  Women owed men domestic services (cleaning, cooking, childcare, and sex); in return, men were legally required to support their wives financially.

This type of marriage signed its own death warrant, a story I’ll tell in another post, and was relatively short-lived (and not at all universal, even at its peak in the U.S.).  It was soon replaced by an ideal of marriage based on gender-neutral roles that spouses could work out for themselves. Today married couples are free to organize their lives however they wish.  And they do.  Stephanie Coontz, famed historian of marriage, writes:

Almost any separate way of organizing caregiving, childrearing, residential arrangements, sexual interactions, or interpersonal redistribution of resources has been tried by some society at some point in time.  But the coexistence in one society of so many alternative ways of doing all of these different things—and the comparative legitimacy accorded to many of them—has never been seen before.

Ryan is right, then, in that “traditional marriage,” however you define it, is not normal in the U.S.  He’s completely wrong, though, it calling it universal.  Even a quick review of American history reveals it not to be so.


  • Coontz, Stephanie. 1992. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap.  New York: Basic Books.
  • Coontz, Stephanie.  2004. The World Historical Transformation of Marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family66, 4: 974-979.

See also The Daily Show on nostalgia, the “traditional” age of marriage, and mocking “traditional marriage.”

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

As we enter the home stretch of the presidential campaign, there’s a steady stream of media discussions of potential turnout and differences in early voters and those who vote on Election Day, analysis of the demographics of swing states, and a flood of campaign materials and phone calls aimed at both winning us over and convincing us to actually go vote (those of you not living in swing states may be blessed with less of this).

So who does vote? And how many of us do so?

Demos.org recently released a report on voting rates and access among Native Americans. It contains a breakdown of voting and voter registration by race/ethnicity for the 2008 presidential election. That year, about 64% of all adults eligible to vote in the U.S. did so, but the rates varied widely by group. White non-Hispanics and African Americans had the highest turnout, with every other group having significantly less likely to vote. Half or less of Asians, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Hispanics voted:

For every group, the vast majority of those who register do go on to vote. But significant numbers of people who have the right to vote aren’t registered to do so, and even among registered voters (the darkest blue columns), turnout is higher among White non-Hispanics and African Americans than other groups. This could reflect lack of interest in or enthusiasm for the election or the candidates, but likely also reflects structural and organizational differences, from poverty to the lack of concerted efforts by campaigns to make voting easier by providing shuttles to the polls and otherwise getting out the vote in these communities.

Cross-posted at Family Inequality.

People don’t know how much they’re eating.

A recent experiment found that people eat more when the container is larger, even when the portion size is not. They gave Belgian college students a container of M&Ms and parked them in front of a TV, with some cover story. The students were randomly assigned to three groups, medium-portion/small-container, medium-portion/large-container, and large-portion/large-container. These were the results: The ones who got the large container ate more, whether it was full or not (the difference between the two wasn’t significant).

These kinds of experiments continuously suggest that distractions, distortions and other apparently irrelevant information and events routinely have large effects on people’s eating practices (here’s an extensive review). One infamous study showed that even people served 14-day-stale popcorn at the movies ate 34% more when it was served in a large container. In an earlier popcorn study, researchers found that people given large containers not only ate more, but were less able to report how much they ate. They concluded:

When a food is eaten from a large container, it appears easy to lose track of how much one eats. Even if the food were to taste relatively unfavorable, eating it from a large container may cause one to overeat because they lose track of how much they have consumed.

About that Yogurt Tub…

All this occurred to me when I visited one of our many local Frozenyo franchise outlets. It’s a self-serve frozen yogurt place where you pay one price by weight no matter what you put in your bucket. The trick that impressed me is the bucket — there is only one size, and it’s very large. But you can’t judge how big it is because there’s nothing to compare it with — no sizes or prices on the wall, no mini cup for kids — just one stack of identical buckets. So the person who posted this picture on Yelp probably thought she had a reasonable size serving, since the thing is barely half full:

There are three possible ways to judge your self-served serving size. You can go by the tub (“I filled it half way”), you can go by the person next to you (“sheesh!”), or you can look at the cartoon penguins on the wall:

How much is the penguin eating? I took home one of the buckets, and measured the volume of water it holds: 18 ounces. In comparison, a standard kid-sized serving bowl, the kind some people use to give their kids ice cream at home, holds 12 ounces:

An innocent child used to half a bowl of ice cream — in the bowl on the left — might be pretty steamed if you served her this:

According to the serving size information on the back wall of Frozenyo, I think that’s about 1.5 servings, or 150 calories of the nonfat variety, before toppings. The penguin’s overflowing bowl is 5.0 servings. With no toppings that’s 500 calories. If you pile it with M&Ms, sprinkles, hot fudge, Captain Crunch, coconut topping and fresh kiwis, who knows. It’s not really that many calories to consume — the same number as a single slice of banana bread at Starbucks.

But the point is you don’t know how much you’re eating. One Yelp reviewer cautioned that you can get a stomach ache after eating at Frozenyo, because “your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” I think it’s because the dump-truck sized delivery vehicle you eat it out of is bigger than your stomach.

But most reviewers love it for the individual control over serving size and toppings, and the reasonable price ($.39 per ounce by weight, or $5-$6 for a typical load).* I think it’s a winning business model, with low labor costs, because all you need is one person to pour the mix into the machines and another to weigh the tubs and swipe credit cards. According to the company’s ambitious map, there are still 46 states with “territory available.”

If I were them, I would increase the bucket size by 5% per year. I doubt anyone would notice.

* Paging George Ritzer: it’s the irrationality of rationality.

Katrin sent in a delightful video by the 1491s, a sketch comedy troupe that frequently skewers popular representations of Native Americans and their various cultures. The group recently released a new video featuring footage of 1491s member Ryan Red Corn dancing at the Santa Fe Indian Market interspersed with shots of visitors to the market and examples of appropriation of Native cultures, all set to Irving Berlin’s “I’m an Indian Too,” from Annie Get Your Gun. It’s a great send-up of the whole Native-culture-as-fashion-statement trend:

The New York Times‘ Sabrina Tavernise reports that the long term trend of increasing life expectancy has reversed it self among one specific group of people.  Between 1990 and 2008, the life expectancy of White men and women without high school degrees has dropped.  Women have lost five years, men three.

The difference in the life expectancy between men and women without high school degrees and those who complete college are even more striking.  Women with a college degree can expect to live, on average, more than 10 years longer than high school drop outs.  Among men, the gap is even larger, a whopping 13 years.

The words “alarming” and “vexing” were used to describe this drop in life expectancy.  Scholars are still unsure of its causes, but note the stress of balancing work and family, “a spike in prescription drug overdoses among young whites, higher rates of smoking among less educated white women, rising obesity, and a steady increase in the number of the least educated Americans who lack health insurance.”

Ultimately, they argue, as fewer and fewer people fail to graduate from high school, the concentration of disadvantages in those that do are making this population especially vulnerable to all kinds of ills, some of which kill them.

Hat tip to The Global Sociology Blog.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

SocImages News

Paul Frank, creator of fashion icon Julius the Monkey, emailed us.  He wanted to let us know that he opposed the monkey’s appearance in a Native American-inspired fashion event that we used as an example of cultural appropriation.  The post and the follow up can be found here.

My unusually strong argument about Chris Brown’s battered woman tattoo (in which I drew extensively from Amanda Marcotte) was reposted at Jezebel and received a great deal of attention and debate.

Gwen was quoted at Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish talking about awareness of beneficiaries’ awareness of their use of government programs.

I was quoted in the Deseret News in a story about the challenges faced by families in the age of the internet.

SocImages posts also appeared at Ms., Jezebel, and Racialicious this month:

Upcoming Lectures and Appearances

I had a fabulous time at Indiana State University this month and I’m looking forward to upcoming talks in California and Boston:

  • California State University – Northridge (Oct. 8): “Female Genital ‘Mutilation’ in the American Imagination”
  • Western Political Science Association (Hollywood, CA, Mar. 28-30): panels on “Public Intellectualism” and the “Twenty-First Century Sex Wars”
  • Harvard University (Women’s Week, Mar. 8-14): “A Feminist Defense of Friendship”

New Intern

Please welcome Laura Bertocci, our new SocImages intern.  Laura is a senior History major at Occidental College currently writing her thesis on the American media coverage of the Chilean dictatorship in 1973, inspired by her recent semester abroad in Valparaíso, Chile. She has worked at her hometown’s branch of Patch.com, LA politics blog The City Maven, Forbes Magazine, and Gannett Government Media in every role from reporter to editor to photographer, and plans on pursuing journalism after graduation.

Most Popular Posts

Speaking of Laura, she collected this set of our most popular posts from September:

Newest Pinterest Page

Gwen put together a new Pinterest page featuring a collection of a SocImages audience favorite: Pointlessly Gendered Products.  See all of our boards here.

Social Media ‘n’ Stuff

This is your monthly reminder that SocImages is on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and Pinterest.  Lisa is on Facebook and most of the team is on Twitter: @lisadwade@gwensharpnv@familyunequal@carolineheldman@jaylivingston, and @wendyphd.

In Other News…

Wow, who’s that with the Bluth Company stair car!?