This week Meredith Kleykamp tweeted us a photo of a comment written on her 3rd grade son’s cursive homework. The teacher wrote: “beautifully written! for a boy!”
So what’s the message here?
Some argue that boys are slower than girls to develop the fine motor coordination that facilitates beautiful handwriting. I’ve never interrogated that research, but let’s assume, for sake of argument, that that’s true.
If it’s true, then maybe Kleykamp’s son’s handwriting really is beautiful “for a boy.” But does that make the teacher’s comment innocuous?
Kleykamp observes: “‘Beautifully written’ is sufficient to convey praise.” Then what additional message does the extra commentary send? Given a social context in which boys are encouraged to be unlike girls, Christopher Knorr thought the subtext might be: “you will be forced to choose between your penmanship and your masculinity.”
Scholars call these kinds of lessons the “hidden curriculum.” Here’s another shocking example.
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:
Pointlessly gendered bread:
Pointlessly gendered eggs:
Pointlessly gendered sausages:
Thanks @appledaughter, Lars F., @mamatastic, @day_jess, @jongudmundand, and @blessedharlot!
Pointlessly gendered tooth fairies:
Pointlessly gendered alphabets:
Pointlessly gendered child harnesses:
Thanks Sarah M., @day_jess, and @qaoileann!
Pointlessly gendered socks:
Pointlessly gendered wrist support:
Pointlessly gendered job ads:
Bonus! Pointlessly gendered pet shampoo:
Thanks Jen T., Lisa S., @nayohmei, and @doubleemmartin!
That’s all for now! Check out the entire collection on Pinterest.
Like a lot of moms, I faced the Barbie dilemma when my daughter was younger. Ultimately I figured a little bit of Barbie would sate her appetite (and stop the nagging) without doing too much harm. Like a vaccination, or homeopathic inoculation against the Big Bad. I told myself my daughter didn’t use her dolls for fashion play anyway: her Barbie “funeral,” for instance, was a tour de force of childhood imagination. I told myself I only got her “good” Barbies: ethnic Barbies, Wonder Woman Barbie, Cleopatra Barbie. Now that she’s 10 and long ago gave the dolls away (or “mummified” them and buried them in the back yard in a “time capsule”), I can’t say whether they’ll have any latent impact on her body image or self-perception. It would seem ludicrous, at any rate, to try to pinpoint the impact of one toy.
But now, according to a study published this week, it turns out that playing with Barbie, even career Barbie, may indeed limit girls’ perception of their own future choices. Psychologistsrandomly assigned girls ages 4-7 to play with one of three dolls. Two were Barbies: a fashion Barbie (in a dress and high heels); and a “career” Barbie with a doctor’s coat and stethoscope. (NOTE: I just pulled these images from the web: I don’t know which actual Barbies they used.)
The third, “control” doll was a Mrs. Potato Head, who, although she comes with fashion accessories such as a purse and shoes, doesn’t have Barbie’s sexualized (and totally unrealistic) curves.
So, after just a few minutes of play, the girls were asked if they could do any of 10 occupations when they grew up. They were also asked if boys could do those jobs. Half of the careers, according to the authors, were male-dominated and half were female dominated. The results:
Girls who played with Barbie thought they could do fewer jobs than boys could do. But girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly the same number of possible careers for themselves and for boys.
More to the point:
There was no difference in results between girls who played with a Barbie wearing a dress and the career-focused, doctor version of the doll.
Obviously, the study is not definitive. Obviously, one doll isn’t going to make the critical difference in a young woman’s life blah blah blah. Still, it’s interesting that it doesn’t matter whether the girls played with fashion Barbie or doctor Barbie, the doll had the same effect and in only a few minutes.
That reminded me of a study in which college women enrolled in an advanced calculus class were asked to watch a series of four, 30-second TV commercials. The first group watched four netural ads. The second group watched two neutral ads and two depicting stereotypes about women (a girl enraptured by acne medicine; a woman drooling over a brownie mix). Afterward they completed a survey and—bing!—the group who’d seen the stereo- typed ads expressed less interest in math- and science-related careers than classmates who had watched only the neutral ones. Let me repeat: the effect was demonstrable after watching two ads.
And guess who performed better on a math test, coeds who took it after being asked to try on a bathing suit or those who had been asked to try on a sweater? (Hint: the latter group; interestingly, male students showed no such disparity.)
Now think about the culture girls are exposed to over and over and over and over and over, whether in toys or movies or tv or music videos, in which regardless of what else you are—smart, athletic, kind, even feminist, even old—you must be “hot.” Perhaps, then, the issue is not “well, one doll can’t have that much of an impact,” so much as “if playing with one doll for a few minutes has that much impact what is the effect of the tsunami of sexualization that girls confront every day, year after year?”
A few times on SocImages we’ve been tickled to highlight instances of very young children performing adult behavior. In each (adorable) case, they were great examples of how children learn how to a culturally intelligible adult and particular kinds of ones at that.
This one is of a little girl in a Baptist church in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan mimicking a choir conductor. It’s fantastic.
I’m sure you’ll have your own favorite thing about it, but mine is her intensity. Maybe it’s an indication of just how seriously she takes learning. At one time, and in a different way in the modern world, learning to copy adults was a matter of life or death. This must be part of what it means to be a human child even today.
But it may also be part of the mimicry. Conducting tends to be a pretty serious business. Maybe she’s just performing seriousness as part of the game, like her heartfelt facial expressions.
Either way, it’s a pretty impressive performance and a wonderful example of children’s active involvement in their own socialization.
The narrative of the American Dream is one of upward mobility, but there are some stories of mobility we prize above others. Who is more successful: a Mexican-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. with less than an elementary school education, and who now works as a dental hygienist? Or a Chinese-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. and earned Ph.D. degrees, and who now works as a doctor?
Amy Chua (AKA “Tiger Mom”) and her husband Jed Rubenfeld, author of the new book The Triple Package, claim it’s the latter. They argue that certain American groups (including Chinese, Jews, Cubans, and Nigerians) are more successful and have risen further than others because they share certain cultural traits. Chua and Rubenfeld bolster their argument by comparing these groups’ median household income, test scores, educational attainment, and occupational status to those of the rest of the country.
But what happens if you measure success not just by where people end up — the cars in their garages, the degrees on their walls — but by taking into account where they started? In a study of Chinese-, Vietnamese-, and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles whose parents immigrated here, sociologist Min Zhou and I came to a conclusion that flies in the face of Chua and Rubenfeld, and might even surprise the rest of us: Mexicans are L.A.’s most successful immigrant group.
Like Chua and Rubenfeld, we found that the children of Chinese immigrants exhibit exceptional educational outcomes that exceed those of other groups, including native-born Anglos. In Los Angeles, 64 percent of Chinese immigrants’ children graduated from college, and of this group 22 percent also attained a graduate degree. By contrast, 46 percent of native-born Anglos in L.A. graduated from college, and of this group, just 14 percent attained graduate degrees. Moreover, none of the Chinese-Americans in the study dropped out of high school.
These figures are impressive but not surprising. Chinese immigrant parents are the most highly educated in our study. In Los Angeles, over 60 percent of Chinese immigrant fathers and over 40 percent of Chinese immigrant mothers have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
At what seems to be the other end of the spectrum, the children of Mexican immigrants had the lowest levels of educational attainment of any of the groups in our study. Only 86 percent graduated from high school — compared to 100 percent of Chinese-Americans and 96 percent of native-born Anglos — and only 17 percent of graduated from college. But their high school graduation rate was more than double that of their parents, only 40 percent of whom earned diplomas. And, the college graduation rate of Mexican immigrants’ children more than doubles that of their fathers (7 percent) and triples that of their mothers (5 percent).
There is no question that, when we measure success as progress from generation to generation, Mexican-Americans come out ahead.
A colleague of mine illustrated this point with a baseball analogy: Most Americans would be more impressed by someone who made it to second base starting from home plate than someone who ended up on third base, when their parents started on third base. But because we tend to focus strictly on outcomes when we talk about success and mobility, we fail to acknowledge that the third base runner didn’t have to run far at all.
This narrow view fuels existing stereotypes that Chua and Rubenfeld play into — that some groups strive harder, have higher expectations of success, and possess a unique set of cultural traits that propels them forward.
For at least a generation, Americans have been measuring the American Dream by the make of your car, the cost of your home, and the prestige of the college degree on your wall. But there’s a more elemental calculation: Whether you achieved more than the generation that came before you. Anyone who thinks the American Dream is about the end rewards is missing the point. It’s always been about the striving.
Jennifer Lee, PhD, is a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine. Her book, The Diversity Paradox, examines patterns of intermarriage and multiracial identification among Asians, Latinos, and African Americans.
In this excellent 6 minute video, CJ Pascoe discusses some of the findings of her widely acclaimed book, Dude, You’re a Fag. She points out that, while being called “fag” and other terms for people with same sex desires are the most common and most cutting of insults between boys in school, they rarely mean to actually suggest that the target is gay. Instead, the terms are used to suggest that boys are failing at masculinity.
This, she points out, is not “unique to childhood.” For this reason, calling it bullying it is probably a distraction from the fact that this doesn’t just happen among kids. She includes, as an example, a bomb destined for Afghanistan with the phrase “highjack this, fags” written on it by American soldiers.
Kids, then, aren’t in a particularly nasty stage. They’re “repeating, affirming, investing in all of these norms and expectations that we as adults are handing down.” If we used more adult language, Pascoe argues, we might do a better job of thinking how we’re teaching boys how to be this way.
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.
‘Tis the season to remind us that men and women are different and one of women’s jobs is to pander to a hypothetical heterosexual male gaze. The University of Akron’s Will LeSuer photographed the Christmas-themed costumes for sale at a local store, noting the not-so-implicit gendered expectations.
Surprise, the main theme of the women’s costumes was cute and flirty:
The men’s themes are, let’s see, comfortable and… superhero?
And, yes, it starts when they’re kids.
Here’s a fun compare-and-contrast for maximum icky feeling. The sexualization of girls and the infantilization of women, in one holiday-themed shot (“child” costume on left, “adult” on right):