Tag Archives: animals

Dolphin Pets Cat, Sociologist Comments

Devoted SocImages readers know that I will make any excuse to put up a video involving animals.  I’m going to do it right now.

Screenshot (43)The video is a dolphin petting a cat. In the first part of the video, you’ll see the dolphin come out of the water and try to put his chin on the top of the cat’s head.  In the second part of the video, you’ll see how the dolphin learned to do that. The cat very clearly wants to rub the top of his head, specifically, on the dolphin and the dolphin is paying attention and learning.

This isn’t just adorable interspecies communication, it’s proto-culture.  It’s the transmission of an idea. I don’t know if all the dolphins in this video pet the cat this way, or if it’s just one dolphin, but I can certainly imagine one dolphin teaching the next, just as the cat taught the first dolphin.

Or, to put it more simply, humans aren’t special because we’re humans, were special because we’re animals.

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

New! in Pointlessly Gendered Products

It’s been a while since we treated our audience to a post featuring a collection of pointlessly gendered products.  Time to correct our lapse in diligence!  Here are some favorite examples we’ve added to our Pinterest board lately.

THE FOOD CATEGORY.

Pointlessly gendered endives:

1 (2)

Pointlessly gendered bread:

1 (3)

Pointlessly gendered eggs:

1 (4)

Pointlessly gendered sausages: 1 (5)

Thanks @appledaughter,  Lars F., @mamatastic, @day_jess, @jongudmundand, and @blessedharlot!

KID STUFF.

Pointlessly gendered tooth fairies:

Screenshot (38)

Pointlessly gendered alphabets:1 (2)

Pointlessly gendered child harnesses:

3

Thanks Sarah M., @day_jess, and @qaoileann!

GROWN-UP STUFF.

Pointlessly gendered socks:

1 (2)

Pointlessly gendered wrist support:1 (4)

Pointlessly gendered job ads:1 (5)

Bonus! Pointlessly gendered pet shampoo:

2 (2)Thanks Jen T., Lisa S., @nayohmei, and @doubleemmartin!

That’s all for now!  Check out the entire collection on Pinterest.

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

Children’s Books and Segregation in the Workplace

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

As children, many of us encountered Richard Scarry’s book, What Do People Do all Day?  A classic kid’s book, it uses animals to represent the division of labor that exists in “Busytown.”  The book is an example of a brilliant piece of analysis by sociologist John Levi Martin.

To oversimplify greatly: Martin analyzes nearly 300 children’s books and finds that there is a marked tendency for these texts to represent certain animals in particular kinds of jobs. Jobs that allow the occupant to exercise authority over others tend to be held by predatory animals (especially foxes), but never by “lower” animals (mice or pigs).

Pigs in particular are substantially over-represented in subordinate jobs (those with low skill and no authority), where their overweight bodies and (judging from the plots of these books) congenital stupidity seems to “naturally” equip them for subservient jobs. Here, see this additional image from Scarry’s book, showing construction work being performed by the above-mentioned swine.

In effect, Martin’s point is that there is a hidden language or code inscribed in children’s books, which teaches kids to view inequalities within the division of labor as a “natural” fact of life  – that is, as a reflection of the inherent characteristics of the workers themselves.  Young readers learn (without realizing it, of course) that some species-beings are simply better equipped to hold manual or service jobs, while other creatures ought to be professionals. Once this code is acquired by pre-school children, he suggests, it becomes exceedingly difficult to unlearn.  As adults, then, we are already predisposed to accept the hierarchical, caste-based system of labor that characterizes the American workplace.

Steven Vallas is a professor of sociology at Northeastern University.  He specializes in the sociology of work and employment.  His most recent book, Work: A Critique, offers an overview and discussion of the sociological literatures on the topic.  You can follow Steven at the blog Work in Progress.

Cross-posted at Work in Progress.

Woman-as-Cat in Anti-Suffrage Propaganda

Cats and dogs are gendered in contemporary American culture, such that dogs are thought to be the proper pet for men and cats for women (especially lesbians).  This, it turns out, is an old stereotype.  In fact, cats were a common symbol in suffragette imagery.  Cats represented the domestic sphere, and anti-suffrage postcards often used them to reference female activists.  The intent was to portray suffragettes as silly, infantile, incompetent, and ill-suited to political engagement.

1

2

3

Cats were also used in anti-suffrage cartoons and postcards that featured the bumbling, emasculated father cruelly left behind to cover his wife’s shirked duties as she so ungracefully abandons the home for the political sphere.  Oftentimes, unhappy cats were portrayed in these scenes as symbols of a threatened traditional home in need of woman’s care and attention.

54

While opposition to the female vote was strong, public sentiment warmed to the suffragettes as police brutality began to push women into a more favorable, if victimized, light.

6

As suffragettes increasingly found themselves jailed, many resisted unfair or inhumane imprisonment with hunger strikes.  In response, jailers would often force-feed female prisoners with steel devices to pry open their mouths and long hoses inserted into their noses and down their throats.  This caused severe damage to the women’s faces, mouths, lungs, and stomachs, sometimes causing illness and death.

Not wanting to create a group of martyrs for the suffragist cause, the British government responded by enacting the Prisoner’s Act of 1913 which temporarily freed prisoners to recuperate (or die) at home and then rearrested them when they were well.  The intention was to free the government from responsibility of injury and death from force feeding prisoners.

This act became popularly known as the “Cat and Mouse Act,” as the government was seen as toying with their female prey as a cat would a mouse.  Suddenly, the cat takes on a decidedly more masculine, “tom cat” persona.  The cat now represented the violent realities of women’s struggle for political rights in the male public sphere.

7

The longevity of the stereotype of cats as feminine and domestic, along with the interesting way that the social constructions flipped, is a great example of how cultural associations are used to create meaning and facilitate or resist social change.

Cross-posted at Jezebel and Human-Animal Studies Images.

Ms. Wrenn is an instructor of Sociology with Colorado State University, where she is working on her PhD.  She is a council member of the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section and has published extensively on the non-human animal rights movement. 

Tiny the Pterodactyl and the Gender Ideology of Halloween

Here’s an interesting example of the triumph of ideology over simple fact.  Fia K. sent in a link to a costume sold at Amazon titled “Tiny Boy’s Costume.”  The costume is a green pterodactyl.  There is no equivalent Tiny Girl’s Costume.  When I search for that phrase, the search engine deletes the word “girl” and sends me back to here.

Screenshot_1

This is more than just an instance of associating boys with dinosaurs and excluding girls, although that would be problematic enough.  No, the costume is called “Tiny” because it’s associated with a cartoon character with that name from the show Dinosaur Train.

Funny thing is, Tiny is female (note the eyelashes, you can always tell by the eyelashes).

dinosaur-train

This is evidence of how powerful gender ideology can be.  Tiny’s actual fictional femaleness is less powerful than the ideological association of boys and dinosaurs.  Hence, a Tiny Boy’s Costume.

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

Racist Halloween Costumes for your Dog

Can we at least agree that it’s racist to dress your dog up like a racial caricature?

“Little Spanish Bandito Dog Costume” (link):

4659-large

“The Geisha Dog Costume” (link):
Screen_shot_2009-10-22_at_11_47_11_AM

“Pup Shalom Dog Costume” (link):

 

futurememories_2073_276562741)

“Indian Dog Costume” (link):

brandsonsale-store_2073_22060987

Originally posted in 2009, but the links are still live! Via Alas A Blog.  

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

Sexual Dimorphism in the Green Spoonworm

Screenshot_1Last month I had the pleasure of writing a really fun essay about sexual dimorphism for Salon.  The phrase refers to the degree to which males and females of a species are different.  I offered a bunch of fun examples of strong dimorphism and imagined what humans would be like if we were like those animals.

Men would be 11 feet tall, for example, if we were as dimorphic as the elephant seal; they’d be the size of a walnut if we were like the blanket octopus.  And don’t we all think that glistening iridescent skin, like the feathers on male birds, would make men more fabulously attractive?  It’s a no-brainer.

In any case, coincidentally the New York Times put together an animated video about one of my favorite examples: the green spoonworm.  The male spoonworm is very small compared to the female, equivalent to a human male being about the size of a breath mint.  And he lives his entire life inside of the female’s digestive tract.  Now that’s sexual dimorphism!  Enjoy:

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

A Sweet and a Sad Story of Animal Nurture

I recently across two examples of cross-species education.  Both illustrate that what we often consider instinctual must also often be learned, revealing that nature and nurture are not competitive forces, but deeply interconnected.  The first is adorable to the point of making me cry from laughter, the second is so sad I can hardly stand it.

Here’s the first.  A sheep tries to teach a young bull how to head butt.  Words don’t do justice to the care and patience shown by this teacher.

Perhaps the bull just isn’t ever going to understand, but the fact that the sheep seems to understand that the bull doesn’t understand, and then thinks of an idea of how to fix that, is amazing to me.  Presumably, he would take as much care with a young sheep who would be predispositioned for head-butting, but might still benefit from some instruction.

Here’s the second.  Remember the movie Free Willy, where the captive killer whale is freed by a little boy?  Well, in true Hollywood irony, the whale that played Willy, Keiko, wasn’t freed at the end of the movie, of course.

Screenshot_1

After the movie was released in 1993, however, people joined in a movement to free him.  After 22 years in captivity, humans — who count as animals in this story – spent a decade and 20 million dollars trying to rehabilitate him to the wild, attempting to teach him how to feed himself and bond with wild whales.  He continued to seek out humans, even after he was left to fend for himself, and died in 2003 from pneumonia.

There are lots of lessons to take from this story.  One is the importance of nurture in making us what nature intended us to be.  Keiko was a social individual who learned how to be a captive killer whale.  Given the opportunity, he never could be the wild killer whale he once had the potential to be.  Or, at least, we’ll never know if he could.

Whenever we talk about human biological imperatives, we should remember the patient sheep and the friendly killer whale.  We need each other to become human, and we can become human in many different ways, depending on what is demanded of us.  Nature never works alone. Without each other, we simply don’t become recognizably human at all — as one of the worst cases of child neglect taught us only too well — regardless of our biological potential.

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