Author Archives: Gwen Sharp, PhD

Physiognomy: Faces, Bodies, and the “Science” of Human Character

Flashback Friday.

Reader Lindsey H. sent me a copy of a book called Vaught’s Practical Character Reader, apparently published in 1902 and revised in 1907 by Emily H. Vaught. Also available on Amazon. The book can best be described as an application of the theory of physiognomy, which is the idea that you can tell all kinds of things about a “person’s character or personality from their outer appearance” (wikipedia). Some images from Vaught’s book:

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The book is full of images in which the features stereotypically associated with Northern and Western Europeans, or the mythical Aryan race, are associated with sincerity, honestly, a work ethic, and every other positive character trait, whereas large and especially hooked noses and small, hooded, or almond-shaped eyes were indications of negative traits.

Here we learn that the broadness of a person’s face tells you whether they are vicious or harmless:

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The text does not explain whether the implication is that all Native Americans are vicious and all Blacks are harmless, or if these are just examples and those races would have just as much variety as we see among Whites.

For those of you who are considering procuring yourself a wife, Vaught provides some tips on picking out a woman who will be a good mother (the same general head shape indicates a good father as well):

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Avoid at all costs a man or woman with this head shape (notice the pointed nose, larger ears, and smaller eyes compared to the image above, in addition to the apparently super-important head protuberance):

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Also, based on the illustrations, apparently men who wear bowties are good fathers but those who wear neckties should arouse your suspicion. There is also a section titled “How to Pick Out a Good Child,” which I intend to take with me next time I am child shopping.

The back page advertises other books available from Vaught’s press, including Human Nature Year Book from the Human Science School and the new Text Book on Phrenology, which addresses “Heads Faces Types Races.”

I have seen examples of physignomy and phrenology before, and images of their practitioners measuring people’s heads and facial features, but I have never before seen an entire book devoted to it. These pseudosciences were taken quite seriously at the time, with “experts” showing that Africans and African Americans, for instance, had facial features that proved them to be less civilized and intelligent than those of European descent and that Jews were inherently deceitful.

Thanks a ton for sending it in, Lindsey!

Originally posted in 2009.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Cheap Scots and Disappearing Stereotypes

Flashback Friday.

A website called Found in Mom’s Basement posted this vintage toilet paper ad that plays on the stereotype that Scottish people are cheap. From the post:

Although the stereotype of the cheap Scotsman isn’t as widely known in the U.S. today, going back a few decades it was an ethnic stereotype that was used freely, often making the Scots the butt of jokes.

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The post has links to other examples, such as the Studebaker Scotsman, a low-cost, minimal-options car:

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As a commenter to that post pointed out, Safeway’s store brand cigarettes, advertised as being inexpensive, was “Scotch Buy” (found at Cigarettespedia):

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For a more recent example, we have McFrugal, a hardware site (now down):

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A reader, Julia, noted that Scotch tape was named that because:

it originally had adhesive only on the edges of the tape.  [An early user] told a 3M salesman to go back to his “Scotch bosses” (presumably too cheap to put adhesive all over the tape) and make it stickier.

The Scots-are-cheap stereotype is a great example of how ethnic stereotypes can lose their power. Maybe I’m just oblivious, but until a few years ago, I’d never heard of the stereotype that Scots were cheap. Without that context, the associations the ads are attempting to make would be meaningless to me — I would have just thought it was odd that McFrugal had a guy with bagpipes, but not understood that it might have any meaning. When I asked students in my race class about this, only a couple had ever heard this stereotype.

Obviously, though, it used to be a very common, widely-recognized notion. Much like the Irish and other European ethnic groups, as Scots became part of the larger “White” racial category, ethnic distinctiveness and stereotypes have become less prominent.

Originally posted in 2009.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

The Real Johnny Appleseed: Alcohol, not Apples

Flashback Friday.

If you’re like me, you probably grew up hearing a charming story about John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, in which he planted apples across America so that no one would ever go hungry again. The image, overall, is of an eccentric but kindly man who went around planting apples so pioneers could have fresh, healthy fruit to eat. Here’s the 1948 version of the story from Disney, if you have 15 minutes:


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In his book The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan discusses Johnny Appleseed. He really did exist, and he did travel around the frontier planting apples from apple seeds and later selling the apples to pioneers (and apparently giving lots of trees away, too). He was, by all accounts, extremely eccentric, wearing sackcloth as a tunic for clothing, going barefoot much of the time, and so on. He was a vegetarian, though I don’t know if chipmunks and other animals pranced around in the woods with him.

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But there’s a little detail the Disney movie and all the kids’ books about Johnny Appleseed got wrong. His apples weren’t for eating. They were for liquor.

Apples don’t grow “true” from seeds — that is, if you plant a Granny Smith apple seed, the tree that grows will not produce Granny Smith apples (the vast majority of the time, anyway). The only way to be sure what kind of apples a tree will produce is to graft limbs onto it from another apple tree that has the kind of apples you want. Most trees that grow from seeds produce smallish apples that are bitter and very much unlike the glowing waxed fruit we’ve come to associate with health and a good diet. People would not want to eat those apples. But what they could do with them is turn them into apple cider, alcoholic apple cider.

For much of American history, alcoholic beverages were widely consumed by both adults and children. Before clean water was necessarily available, it was safer to drink alcohol, particularly in cities.

So how did we go from apples as source of liquor to apples as healthy fresh fruit? According to The Straight Dope,

We stopped drinking apples and started eating them in the early 1900s. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union publicized the evils of alcohol, the movement towards Prohibition was gaining momentum, and the apple industry saw the need to re-position the apple… We can thank prohibition for shifting the image of the apple to the healthy, wholesome, American-as-apple-pie fruit that it is today.

Anyway, it’s sort of a funny instance of both the way we sanitize history and of re-branding. Most of us, raised on images of Laura Ingalls Wilder, can’t imagine early pioneers drinking alcohol all day and happily giving it to their children, or that there might be legitimate reasons for doing so (protecting your kids from getting dysentery from polluted water, for instance). And apples have become such an icon of health that the idea of campaigns against them as sources of liquor is unimaginable.

Originally posted in 2009.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Sexy Women as Food: A Collection

Flashback Friday.

In her now-classic books The Sexual Politics of Meat and The Pornography of Meat, Carol Adams analyzes similarities in the presentation of meat products (or the animals they come from) and women’s bodies.

She particularly draws attention to sexualized fragmentation — the presentation of body parts of animals in ways similar to sexualized poses of women — and what she terms “anthropornography,” or connecting the eating of animals to the sex industry. For an example of anthropornography, Adams presents this “turkey hooker” cooking utensil:

Adams also discusses the conflation of meat/animals and women–while women are often treated as “pieces of meat,” meat products are often posed in sexualized ways or in clothing associated with women. The next eleven images come from Adams’s website:

For a more in-depth, theoretical discussion of the connections between patriarchy, gender inequality, and literal consumption of meat and symbolic consumption of women, we highly encourage you to check out Adams’s website.

This type of imagery has by no means disappeared, so we’ve amassed quite a collection of our own here at Sociological Images.

IndianFeminist sent in this example from India for a Mango flavored drink called Slice. “The brand ambassador,” our reader writes, “is Katrina Kaif, undoubtedly India’s most popular actress.” The ad puts her inside the bottle and merges her with the liquid, then offers her as a date.

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An ad I found for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter turns Spraychel into a female politician:

Blanca pointed us to Skinny Cow ice cream, which uses this sexualized image of a cow (who also has a measuring tape around her waist to emphasize that she’s skinny):

For reasons I cannot comprehend, there are Skinny Cow scrapbooking events.

Mustard and ketchup make up a “sexy” woman (from Las Vegas Living):

Are you hungry for some lovin’, er, lunchin’? Do you have an all-American appetite for chick(en)s? Or are you secretly ravenous for pig? We think we might have just the thing to satisfy your lust for breast, thigh, and rump:

(These ads were designed by a marketing firm in Thailand. Found via copyranter.)

Denia sent in this image of “Frankfurters” with sexy ladies on them. The text says “Undress me!” in Czech.

Finally, Teresa C. of Moment of Choice brought our attention to Lavazza coffee company’s 2009 calendar, shot by Annie Liebowitz (originally found in the Telegraph):

And this, of course:

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Spanish-language ads for Doritos (here, via Copyranter):

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Amanda C. sent in this sign seen at Taste of Chicago:

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Dmitiriy T.M. sent us this perplexing Hardee’s French Dip “commercial.”  It’s basically three minutes of models pretending like dressing up as French maids for Hardees and pouting at the camera while holding a sandwich is a good gig:

Dmitriy also sent us this photo of Sweet Taters in New Orleans:

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Jacqueline R. sent in this commercial for Birds Eye salmon fish sticks:

Crystal J. pointed out that a Vegas restaurant is using these images from the 1968 No More Miss America protest in advertisements currently running in the UNLV campus newspaper, the Rebel Yell. Here’s a photo from the protest:

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And here’s the ad:

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Edward S. drew our attention to this doozy:

Dmitriy T.M. sent us this example from Louisiana:

Haven’t had enough?  See this post, this post, and this post, too.

Originally posted in 2008.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Google Maps and the Relative Importance of Native American Reservations

As we live our lives increasingly in the digital realm, the sights, sounds, and moving images of the internet impact our conception of the world around us. Take, for example, the many online mapping services.  What began as simple tools to find driving directions have evolved into advanced applications that map multiple layers of data.

But who decides what we see? What features are considered sufficiently important to be included? And what information about our country do those design decisions make invisible?

Here’s the map of South Dakota provided by Google Maps. Notice that the many Indian reservations are unmarked and invisible.  If you scroll in, eventually the reservations appear. At the state level, though, they’re invisible.

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In contrast, Indian reservations do show up on Bing:

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Among the other map services, Yahoo! Maps and MapQuest do label Indian reservations while OpenStreetMap does not.

While these mapping tools certainly empower the individual, it is the designers and the developers behind them who hold the real power.  I can only speculate as to why Google Maps does not include reservations at the state level, but their decision impacts the way we understand (or don’t understand) the geographic and social reality of this country.

Stephen Bridenstine is pursuing a history masters degree at the University of British Columbia, where he studies popular attitudes and public memory concerning Indigenous peoples, the historic fur trade, and the natural environment. He blogs about non-Native America’s weird obsession with everything “Indian” at his blog Drawing on Indians, where this post originally appeared.

This post was updated to reflect 2014; it originally appeared on SocImages in 2011.

What Color are People? Black as Neutral in Russian Comics

Flashback Friday.

In her article “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peggy McIntosh talks about a number of types of white privilege, including using the phrases “flesh tone” or “nude” to describe light skin and featuring mostly white people in tv, movies, and advertising.

When I’ve had students read this article, they often argue that it just makes sense to do that, since the majority of people in the U.S. are white. They also question what other color could be used as a “neutral” or “normal” one.  In fact, this is exactly what was argued in the comments to this post about the “white” Facebook avatar.

But English Russia points out that in Russia, it’s not uncommon for people in cartoons to be black; not Black racially, but literally black. Below are examples of these cartoons, introduced with English Russia‘s translations.

“My pussy could have Whiskas instead of whiskey.”

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“Sir, don’t throw away the empty bottle, I would take it to the recycle point for spare money.”

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“Tourist: ‘Is it true that the Earth is round?’ Men: ‘We don’t know son, we’re not locals.'”

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Despite the fact that many people in Russia would be classified in the U.S. as white, these cartoons obviously use the color black as a neutral color — the people in the cartoons aren’t Black in any racial sense, it’s just the standard color the artist has used for everyone. You might contrast these with things in the U.S. that are labeled “flesh” or “nude” to counter the idea that there are no other options but a sort of light peach color to be the fallback color when you aren’t specifically representing a racial minority.

Thanks to Miguel at El Forastero for the link! Originally posted in 2009.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

“Rental Dreads”: Female Sex Tourists in the Caribbean

Flashback Friday.

While preparing a lecture on sex tourism, I ran across this video about men who have sex with female tourists in the Caribbean:

There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on there, no? I was fascinated by the female hotel owner who talks about the men “preying” on the female tourists, clearly placing the power in the hands the men who, she argues, use the female tourists for money but don’t really care about them. I tried to imagine someone talking similarly about female sex workers “preying” on foreign men’s need for affection and attention.

This might make for a great discussion about perceptions of sexual agency: how do gendered sexual norms, economic differences, and the different races and nationalities of the individuals involved affect how we think of their interactions and who we see as the victim?

In her chapter on sex tourism in Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality), sociologist Joane Nagel discusses the role of racialized sexualities in making some groups attractive tourists looking for an ethnosexual adventure. In the Caribbean, dark-skinned men with dreads are particularly attractive to some female tourists because of stereotypes of Black men as extremely sexual and masculine, which plays into fantasies of being swept away by a strong, skilled lover. At the same time, White Western women may represent the possibility of a better life (through continued gifts of money even after the vacation is over) and sexualized adventures to the men they sleep with while on vacation. Nagel argues that these encounters generally reinforce, rather than challenge, existing racial and gender inequalities, since they play on stereotypes of sexualized Others as animalistic, primitive, and, in the case of men, as super-masculine (and super-endowed).

Then again, Nagel also questions whether any relationship between tourists and “local” men should count as sex work. The individuals involved don’t necessarily think of their interactions in those terms. And who is to decide if a particular situation is “sex tourism” as opposed to a “real” relationship? How does that assumption invalidate the possibility that Black men and White women might have real, meaningful relationships? Or primarily sexual relationships, but with both partners respecting the other?

Originally posted in 2009.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Identifying Race in Fuzhou, China

Flashback Friday.

Laura A. sent in a video in which African American men ask people in Fuzhou, China, what race they believe people in some photos are:

It’s a good example of the social construction of race. Notice how several people in the photos who would be considered Black in the U.S. don’t seem Black to the Chinese people looking at them, because they don’t have the features that they assume Black people have (such as big lips). Since they don’t have those features…they can’t be Black. We also see here that racial differences that would be easily identified in one culture (such as the U.S.) aren’t necessarily recognized in the same way in another. If race were a fixed, biological characteristic, we’d expect more consistency in how it’s defined, how many races people are divided into, and so on.

At about 3:45 you can see the African American men compare their skin color to some Chinese teens (?), who initially define themselves as “yellow people.” But after comparing their skin color, the Black men tell them they’re Black too. I wouldn’t say that the teens seem to be taking the news with great excitement.

Of course, it’s also interesting that the filmmakers refer to the people in the pictures as “really” Black, and tell the Chinese people who are guessing whether they are right or wrong in guessing their race, which implies there actually is a specific race that they belong to. They’re correct in saying that’s the race most people in the U.S. would place those individuals in, but since race is socially constructed, you can’t really say any way of categorizing people by race is “right” or “wrong.”

Originally posted in 2009.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.