Author Archives: Lisa Wade, PhD

The Politics of Facial Hair

Recently we ran a graph showing the evolution of facial hair trends starting in 1842. It showed that about 90% of men wore facial hair in the late 1800s, but it was a trend that would slowly die. By 1972, when the research was published, almost as many were clean shaven.

So, why did facial hair fall out of fashion?

Sociologist Rebekah Herrick gives us a hypothesis. With Jeanette Mendez and Ben Pryor, she investigated the stereotypes associated with men’s facial hair and the consequences for U.S. politicians. Facial hair is rare among modern politicians. “Currently,” they noted, “fewer than five percent of the members of the U.S. Congress have beards or mustaches” and no president has sported facial hair since William Howard Taft left office in 1913, before women had the right to vote.

Using an experimental method, Herrick and her colleagues showed people photographs of similarly appearing politicians with and without facial hair, asking them how they felt about the men and their likely positions. They found that potential voters perceived men with facial hair to be more masculine and this was a double edged sword. Higher ratings of masculinity were correlated with perceptions of competence, but also concerns that the politicians were less friendly to women and their concerns.

In other words, the more facial hair, the more people worry that a politician might be sexist:

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In reality, facial hair has no relationship to a male politician’s voting record. They checked. The research suggests, though, that men in politics — maybe even all men — would be smart to pay attention to the stereotypes if they want to influence how others see them.

Thanks to my friend, Dmitriy T.C., for use of his face!

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.

The Unbearable Daintiness of Women Who Eat with Men

20150526_105320A substantial body of literature suggests that women change what they eat when they eat with men. Specifically, women opt for smaller amounts and lower-calorie foods associated with femininity. So, some scholars argue that women change what they eat to appear more feminine when dining with male companions.

For my senior thesis, I explored whether women change the way they eat  alongside what they eat when dining with a male vs. female companion. To examine this phenomenon, I conducted 42 hours of non-participant observation in two four-star American restaurants in a large west coast city in the United States. I observed the eating behaviors of 76 Euro-American women (37 dining with a male companion and 39 dining with a female companion) aged approximately 18 to 40 to identify differences in their eating behaviors.

I found that women did change the way they ate depending on the gender of their dining companion. Overall, when dining with a male companion, women typically constructed their bites carefully, took small bites, ate slowly, used their napkins precisely and frequently, and maintained good posture and limited body movement throughout their meals. In contrast, women dining with a female companion generally constructed their bites more haphazardly, took larger bites, used their napkins more loosely and sparingly, and moved their bodies more throughout their meals.

On the size of bites, here’s an excerpt from my field notes:

Though her plate is filled, each bite she labors onto her fork barely fills the utensil. Perhaps she’s getting full because each bite seems smaller than the last… and still she’s taking tiny bites. Somehow she has made a single vegetable last for more than five bites.

I also observed many women who were about to take a large bite but stopped themselves. Another excerpt:

She spreads a cracker generously and brings it to her mouth. Then she pauses for a moment as though she’s sizing up the cracker to decide if she can manage it in one bite. After thinking for a minute, she bites off half and gently places the rest of the cracker back down on her individual plate.

Stopping to reconstruct large bites into smaller ones is a feminine eating behavior that implies a conscious monitoring of bite size. It indicates that women may deliberately change their behavior to appear more feminine.

I also observed changes in the ways women used their napkins when dining with a male vs. female companion. When their companion was a man, women used their napkins more precisely and frequently than when their companion was another woman. In some cases, the woman would fold her napkin into fourths before using it so that she could press the straight edge of the napkin to the corners of her mouth. Other times, the woman would wrap the napkin around her finger to create a point, then dab it across her mouth or use the point to press into the corners of her mouth. Women who used their napkins precisely also tended to use them quite frequently:

Using her napkin to dab the edges of her mouth – finger in it to make a tiny point, she is using her napkin constantly… using the point of the napkin to specifically dab each corner of her mouth. She is using the napkin again even though she has not taken a single bite since the last time she used it… using napkin after literally every bite as if she is constantly scared she has food on her mouth. Using and refolding her napkin every two minutes, always dabbing the corners of her mouth lightly.

In contrast, women dining with a female companion generally used their napkins more loosely and sparingly. These women did not carefully designate a specific area of the napkin to use, and instead bunched up a portion of it in one hand and rubbed the napkin across their mouths indiscriminately.

Each of the behaviors observed more frequently among women dining with a male companion versus a female one was stereotypically feminine. Many of the behaviors that emerged as significant among women dining with a female companion, on the other hand, are considered non-feminine, i.e. behaviors that women are instructed to avoid. Behavioral differences between the two groups of women suggest two things. First, women eat in a manner more consistent with normative femininity when in the presence of a male versus a female companion. And, second, gender is something that people perform when cued to do so, not necessarily something people internalize and express all the time.

Kate Handley graduated from Occidental College this month. This post is based on her senior thesis. After gaining some experience in the tech industry, she hopes to pursue a PhD in Sociology. 

 

What Class War Looks Like

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Cartoon by Tony Auth for the Philadelphia Inquirer, featured at The Santa Cruz Comic News.
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.

Reversing a 100 Year Trend, Men are Staying in the Workforce Longer

In response to company pensions, employer age limits, shifts in the economy, and the initiation of social security, men have increasingly enjoyed a little 20th century social invention called “retirement.” In 1860, more than 80% of men age 70 to 74 worked, but by around 2000, that number had dropped to below 20%.

As of the 2000s, this more-than-100-year-trend of increasing numbers of men enjoying their “golden years” has reversed. This is your image of the week:

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Over at Made in America, from where I borrowed this graph, sociologist Claude Fisher explains the reversal of the trend (citations at the link):

The private sources of retirement support, such as company pensions and investments, have weakened; [and] public sources of aid are under strain from a lower birth rate, a stagnating economy, and political retrenchment. And the years that such support must cover are growing. In 1990 a 65-year-old man could expect to live about 15 more years; in 2010, 18 more years. That’s an extra 20 percent of financing needed.

Among other things, the economic health of older Americans is an important sign of the overall health of the economy. It will be interesting to keep an eye on this statistic in the near future.

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.

The Fractal Nature of the Gender Binary: Or Blue vs. Turquoise

Flashback Friday.41EXTGX1VRL__AA400_

A reader named Judith B. wrote in confounded by the copy describing the watch pictured above. It began:

Don’t be fooled by the girly blue and white face on this multifunction Pro Spirit® digital sports watch. It’s more than a match for any tough guy’s watch…

“Girly blue and white?” she asked. “Huh?”

I think I’ve got an answer for you, Judith. And it has to do with fractals. Trees are good examples of fractals: branches can split into two branches, and each of those branches can split into two branches, etc.

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The gender binary — that is, the rule that everything (oh animalsjobs, food, kleenex, housework, sound, games, deordorant, love and sex, candy, vitaminsetc) gets split into male and female — is fractal. That means that, for every male or female version of something (say sports versus dance), there is a further gendered split that can be made. If we take sports, we might divide it into the masculine football and the feminine swimming. If we take swimming, we could probably divide it down further. Take education (which is, arguably, feminized): we can split it into physical sciences (masculine) and social sciences (feminine). And we can split the physical sciences into biology (dominated these days by women) and physics (dominated by men). So the gender binary has a fractal character.

What does that mean for blue? Well, it means that, even though “blue” is socially constructed to be masculine, blue can be broken down into more and less masculine types of blue. Turquoise and light blue, for example, are often seen as more feminine that the primary color blue or royal/dark blue. The text, then, is referring to, literally, “girly blue.” Lots of ads aimed at women employ the feminine blues. These ads sent in by some of my former students are good examples:
Female Masculinity - Sports 5Gender - Balance 20Female Masculinity - Sports 6

Usually the use of a “girly blue” serves to balance masculinity and femininity.  It’s no accident that these ads are sports-related, or use copy such as “strong & beautiful” and “I totally have a soft side. You comfortable with that?”

So, that’s my explanation for “girly blue”: fractal gender binaries.

Originally posted in 2010.

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.

Same-Sex Parents Spend More Time with Their Children

At the end of this month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments as to whether the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex marriages and to recognize same-sex marriages allowed in other states. In the arguments heard in the lower courts and the record-setting number of amici filed for this case, debate has often veered from whether same-sex couples should be able to marry and waded into the question of how they parent children. Social science research has been front and center in this debate, with a variety of studies examining whether families with two parents of a different sex provide better environments for raising children than two parents of the same sex.

No differences? In general, these studies have examined differences in children’s developmental outcomes to make inferences about differences in what is happening in the home, conflating how children do with the ways that people parent in same-sex and different-sex couples. The “no differences” conclusion refers to the fact that few studies have revealed significant differences in these outcomes between children raised by different-sex parents and same-sex parents. This conclusion about parenting based on data on children, however, may be biased in both directions. For example, same-sex couples are more likely to adopt “hard-to-place” children from the foster care system. They are also more likely to have children who have experienced family instability because they transitioned into new family settings after being in families headed by ‘straight’ couples. Both of these factors are known to affect children’s wellbeing, but they are not as strongly tied to parenting.

New study clarifies. In our new study in the June issue of Demography, we directly address the arguments being made about differences in parenting in two-parent families by examining parents’ actual behaviors. Using the nationally representative American Time Use Survey, we examine how much time parents in same-sex and different-sex couples spend in child-focused activities during a 24-hour period, controlling for a wide range of factors that are also associated with parenting, such as income, education, time spent at work, and the number and age of children in the family. By ‘child-focused’ time, we mean time spent engaged with children in activities that support their physical and cognitive development, like reading to them, playing with them, or helping them with their homework.

Supporting a no differences conclusion, our study finds that women and men in same-sex relationships and women in different-sex relationships do not differ in the amount of time they spend in child-focused activities (about 100 minutes a day). We did find one difference, however, as men in different-sex relationships spend only half as much child-focused time as the other three types of parents. Averaging across mothers and fathers, we determined that children with same-sex parents received an hour more of child-focused parent time a day (3.5 hours) than children in different-sex families (2.5 hours).

A key implication of our study is that the focus on whether same-sex parents provide depreciably different family contexts for healthy child development is misplaced. If anything, the results show that same-sex couples are more likely to invest time in the types of parenting behaviors that support child development. In line with a recent study that has continued to highlight that poverty — more so than family structure — is the greatest detriment to parenting practices, it’s hard not to see how delegitimizing same-sex families in ways that create both social and economic costs for them, pose a greater source of disadvantage for children.

Cross-posted at Families as They Really Are.

Kate Prickett is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology and the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin; Alexa Martin-Storey is a developmental psychologist and Assistant Professor at the Université de Sherbrooke, in Sherbrooke, Quebec. You can find their new study (with Robert Crosnoe) here.

Whether You Call It “Protest” or “Rioting” May Depend on Your Race

On average, white and black Americans have different ideas as to what’s behind the recent unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll of 508 adults found that nearly two-thirds of African Americans felt that the unrest reflected “long-standing frustrations about police mistreatment of African Americans,” compared to less than one-third of whites.

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In contrast, among whites, 58% believed that African Americans were just looking for an “excuse to engage in looting and violence.” A quarter of black respondents thought the same.

Though they may see it differently, almost everyone expects the uprising to reach more cities over the summer.

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.

Snow White and the Seven Trolls

2By Gemma Correll. Visit her tumblr or buy stuff here.

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.