Author Archives: Gwen Sharp, PhD

Boys Will Be Boys and Moms Will Get Used to It

Flashback Friday.

Lauren R. sent in photos of a Mother’s Day card she saw. She says that many of the cards were separated into those from sons or daughters, though the cards didn’t explicitly state that — whether it was from a son or daughter was instead indicated by the images or content of the text.

The particular card that drew her attention was labeled “mom from son funny” and says “Mom, for Mother’s Day I got you a card that’ll remind you of me…”:

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The card then opens on the opposite side you’d expect a card to and inside, on the left instead of the right side, it says, “It doesn’t do what it’s supposed to!”:

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It’s a great example of the construction of boys as naughty. Boys break rules, boys don’t do what they’re told…and even though they may get in trouble for this, boys also often get the message that parents also find it somewhat cute, or at least to be expected — boys will be boys, after all. Acting up sometimes is just what they do, and it’s a sign of their boyish spirit.

It’s hard to imagine a similar card designed to be from a girl. We don’t have similar beliefs that “girls will be girls,” and that you just have to expect that they’ll misbehave sometimes. It’s not that parents don’t know that girls fail to do what they’re told. But it doesn’t fit into cultural notions that girls just can’t help it, or that we should find it somewhat endearing even when we’re frustrated by their behavior. So when girls misbehave, adults generally interpret it as an individual choice on their part, rather than due to their sex (and, thus, not entirely under their control).

Originally posted in 2010.

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

Hermaphroditic Civil War Horse Statue Links Heroism to Maleness

Flashback Friday.

This is a picture of a statue in Lexington, KY, in honor of Civil War general John H. Morgan. It depicts him on his favorite horse, Black Bess. The inscription is “Gen. John H. Morgan and His Bess.”

Here’s what’s interesting about this: Bess, as you might guess, was a mare — a female horse.  The statue, however, has testicles. You can see them in the picture below. The sculptor gave Bess testicles because he considered a mare an unworthy mount for a general — despite the fact that Morgan himself seemed to think she was just fine.

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I found out about this in Lies Across America: What Our Historical Sites Get Wrong by James W. Loewen.  Images borrowed from here and here. This post originally appeared in 2007.

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

What Happens to Olympics Infrastructure?

Before the Olympics, we often hear a fair amount about the preparations for the games — how much is being spent, the facilities being built, whether the city will have everything ready in time. But once the Olympics end, we hear very little about what happens to the infrastructure that millions or billions of dollars were spent on.

John Pack and Gary Hustwit’s The Olympic City project documents the life of Olympic infrastructure once all the spectators pack up and go home. As they explain,

Some former Olympic sites are retrofitted and used in ways that belie their grand beginnings; turned into prisons, housing, malls, gyms, churches. Others sit unused for decades and become tragic time capsules, examples of misguided planning and broken promises of the benefits that the Games would bring.

Flavorwire published some of their photos, mostly of sites that have been left to decay, leaving a long-term mark on the landscape of the locations that host the games. Here are just a few of their haunting images posted at Flavorwire.

Beach Volleyball Stadium from 2008 Beijing Olympics:

Ski Jump from 1984 Olympics, Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina:

Train station built for 1972 Olympics, Munich:

Swimming pool at Lake Ahvenisto, Finland, from 1952:

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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

Shifting Discourses of Motherhood: The Victorian Breastfeeding Photo Fad

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

Last year Lynne Grumet set the internet a-flutter when she appeared on the cover of TIME magazine breastfeeding her toddler. Reactions were largely negative, often reflecting unease at the open display of a sexualized body part being used to feed a child older than the age we generally find acceptable. Others objected to what they saw as the sensationalism of the photo. Grumet later posed on the cover of another magazine in a pose that focused on bonding and intimacy, commonly cited as benefits by breastfeeding advocates. The entire episode tapped into larger cultural anxieties about appropriate mothering.

And as Jill Lepore explains in The Mansion of Happiness, it’s just the latest round in the changing discourse about breastfeeding; in the mid-1800s, images of breastfeeding mothers became a fad in the U.S. The use of wet nurses had never been as common in the U.S. as in Europe, and it became even less popular by the early 1800s; breastfeeding your own child became a central measure of your worth as a mother.  Cultural constructions of femininity became highly centered on motherhood and the special bond between a mother and her children in the Victorian era.

As daguerreotypes became available, women began to pose breastfeeding their infants, capturing them in this most essential of maternal roles:

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Cosetra has created a Pinterest board of vintage photos and paintings of breastfeeding that has more examples.

Within decades, American women suddenly seemed to lose the ability to adequately feed their babies, just as infant formula hit the market. Doctors continued to push breastfeeding, but cultural perceptions changed, and with them the social construction of femininity. Rather than being a symbol of maternalism, breastfeeding seemed incompatible with femininity — or, specifically, with white upper-class femininity. Breastfeeding didn’t mesh well with ideas of delicate, refined white women; it was too animal-like, too uncivilized. As Lepore relates, by the early 1900s, a study in Boston found that 9 out of 10 poor mothers breastfed, but only 17% of wealthy mothers did.

By the 1950s, only 20% of mothers nursed their children. Then, ideas about motherhood changed once again; suddenly comparatively privileged, white women were drawn to movements that advocated breastfeeding. Formula came under increased scrutiny. And so continued the ongoing cultural debate over breastfeeding, motherhood, and proper femininity.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.  Sources: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University (direct link to daguerreotypes here); Marvelous Kiddoliveauctioneers.

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

Inequality in the U.S.: So Much Worse than We Think

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Earlier this week, Marty posted about the increasingly huge share of income going to the richest Americans. And as we’ve seen in the past, Americans tend to way — way — underestimate how unequal the U.S. is.

This video (via Upworthy) does a great job illustrating the distribution of wealth, and how it compares to Americans’ perceptions of both the real and ideal distribution. Even if you know all this stuff, and can recite the statistics, the visual representation of exactly what that means is still jarring.

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

Grandparents as Support System

Re-posted in honor of Grandparents’ Day.

My Christmas present to my mom one year was time off from childcare. For several days while I was back home, I took over all of her usual duties regarding her grandkids; as she tries to support two daughters who are divorced with kids and struggling to get by, taking care of grandkids had expanded to take up most of her non-working life. She was incredibly excited to have the free time to finally go to the dentist and do other basic errands for herself.

MetLife and Generations United just released the results of a study of grandparents’ contributions to the support and care of their grandkids. It illustrates how grandparents serve as a support system, providing both childcare and financial assistance.

The data come from a national sample of 1,008 grandparents over age 45. A caution: the survey was conducted online, though they say the sample was weighted to be representative of the full population, not just the online population.

On average, grandparents have 4 grandkids:

Thirteen percent of the sample reported caring for their grandchildren on a regular basis. Of those, a third watch the grandkids at least 5 days per week, while over 40% babysit less often, and 15% are raising their grandchildren:

Most grandparents reported that one of the reasons they watch their grandchildren is because they enjoy it, but their answers also make clear that grandparents are playing a key role in filling the gap in care during periods when parents are at work but kids aren’t in school:

Grandparents also serve as a form of economic safety net. It’s not surprising that grandparents buy stuff for their grandkids; we often depict grandparents as spoiling their grandkids with lots of toys and luxuries. But grandparents also provide more direct support. Of this sample, 62% had provided financial assistance in the past 5 years, and of those, 43% said they are providing more help than they used to because of the economic crisis. These graphs show the amount and type over the past 5 years:

And the money isn’t just going for toys and fun stuff. Clothing, general financial help, and educational expenses are the most common types of assistance, though the biggest average levels of giving are for investments, followed by educational expenses and helping buy a home:

A third (34%) said they continue to provide financial assistance even though they think it’s going to cause problems for their own financial futures.

For another aspect of the essential support grandparents provide, check out Philip Cohen’s earlier post on poverty and the number of kids living with their grandparents.

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

From Our Archives: For Labor Day

Today is Labor Day in the U.S. Though many think of it mostly as a last long weekend for recreation and shopping before the symbolic end of summer, the federal holiday, officially established in 1894, celebrates the contributions of labor.

Here are some SocImages posts on a range of issues related to workers, from the history of the labor movement, to current workplace conditions, to the impacts of the changing economy on workers’ pay:

The Social Construction of Work

Work in Popular Culture

Unemployment, Underemployment, and the “Class War”

Unions and Unionization

Economic Change, Globalization, and the Great Recession

Gender and Work

The U.S. in International Perspective

Just for Fun

Bonus!

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

Racial Violence after Hurricane Katrina

Screenshot_5Two years ago, Caroline Heldman posted about vigilante racial violence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The post focused on footage of white residents of Algiers Point gleefully describing how they shot at anyone they perceived to be a looter, which largely boiled down to being African American.

Yesterday Martha O. sent us a video that also looks at this militia group. It includes some of the footage of the White residents from the video in Caroline’s post, but focuses much more on the experiences of several African American men who lived in the neighborhood and were shot or threatened by their White neighbors. The men talk about the panic and terror they felt during these incidents. Toward the end, Donnell Herrington watches footage of the White residents bragging about their exploits. It’s brutal to watch this man listening to the militia members talk about shooting African Americans casually and with obvious enthusiasm and pride.

Trigger warning for racist language and discussions of racial violence.

The video is part of an in-depth story about the Algiers Point shootings featured in The Nation in 2008. And as Martha explained, it’s a harrowing example of how swiftly organized violent racism can emerge when external constraints are even briefly weakened.

Originally posted in 2012. Re-posted in solidarity with the African American community; regardless of the truth of the Martin/Zimmerman confrontation, it’s hard not to interpret the finding of not-guilty as anything but a continuance of the criminal justice system’s failure to ensure justice for young Black men.

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