Tag Archives: emotion

Academics, Emotions, and the Head Shot

Fun fact: because the right side of the brain is more involved in processing emotions than the left and each side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body, the left side of the face is generally more expressive.

We humans must know this on some unconscious level, because self-portraits (or “selfies“) tend to feature the left side of the face more often than the right. In fact, real portraits — you know, painted by artists – show the same bias going all the way back to the 16th century.

I borrow these fascinating insights from a blog post by Owen Churches, a psychologist who wanted to know if all types of people leaned towards showing their emotional side, or if there were exceptions.  He and his colleagues decided to look at academics, collecting 5,829 head shots appearing on professors’ faculty pages.  He found that English and Psychology professors were most likely to pose in ways that drew attention to the left side of their face, but Engineering professors did not.  This, Churches writes, “suggests that these hard scientists seek to display themselves to the world as the unemotional clichés of popular myth.”

So, I thought I’d do a little experiment.  I collected the head shots of everyone in the sociology department at my college, Occidental, and everyone in the physics department (we don’t have engineering, alas). Trend holds!

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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.

The Surprising Reason We Don’t Tip Flight Attendants

When the airline industry first tried to go commercial after World War I, it needed to convince skeptical customers that air travel was safe.  One strategy was to make passengers feel that the entire crew was able and willing to see to their safety. This included the stewards, the all-male precursors to the stewardess. But which men to hire?

The default employee should have been an African American.  Ocean liners and train cars, air travel’s main competitors and the model on which they built their business, largely employed Black porters and stewards.  But the airlines believed that the overwhelmingly White passengers would not have felt comfortable placing their lives in the hands of Black men.  So they hired White men instead.  Kathleen Barry, who discusses this in her book Femininity in Flight, explains:

Equanimity on aircraft circa 1930 was a tall order for anyone, but stereotypes dictated that it would most likely come from white male attendants. With uniforms that echoed the naval-style garb of pilots, stewards reassured passengers that the white men in the cabin as well as the cockpit were competent and in control.

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If stewards were so capable and appreciated, why not offer one’s appreciation in cash?  The answer is, in short, because tips were for Black people.  Black porters on trains and boats were tipped as a matter of course but, according to Barry, tipping a White person would have been equivalent to an insult. A journalist, writing in 1902, captured the thinking of the time when he expressed shock and dismay that “any native-born American could consent” to accepting a tip.  ”Tips go with servility,” he said. Accepting one was equivalent to affirming “I am less than you.” This interpretation of the meaning of a gratuity, alongside airlines’ need to inspire confidence and simple racism, is why we don’t tip flight attendants today.

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.

Whimsical Branding Obscures Apple’s Troubled Supply Chain

The Trouble with Apple

Suicide at Foxconn. Poisoned workers. Colluding to inflate the price of e-books. Tax evasion (albeit, legal). Shady suppliers who can’t toe the line of labor or environmental laws in China. Apple’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years. Or, so it seems it should have. But, despite the fact that news reports on the company’s behavior and supplier relationships have been more negative than positive since 2012, Apple’s revenue has continued to climb and break records.

In fact, while the press has illuminated terrible labor conditions in the supply chains for iPhones and iPads (with the most recent revelations coming via China Labor Watch’s report on Pegatron sites where the “cheap iPhone” is in the works), sales of these products in particular have soared, and now account for the majority of the company’s revenue. Apple has jockeyed with ExxonMobil for the world’s most valuable company over the last few years, and currently stands second to the oil giant with $413.9 billion. Remarkably, Apple amassed $156 billion in revenue in 2012 without being the industry leader in any of its product sectors (in terms of unit sales), due to the very high profit margins on iPhones and iPads.

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How does Apple maintain this economic dominance in light of negative press that should be bad for its bottom line? How do we, the highly educated consumer base of the company, remain invested in Apple products when work conditions in China and the clever skirting of tax liability grate against our progressive sensibilities? As a sociologist who focuses on consumer culture, I suspect that it is Apple’s brand power that keeps us eating its fruit, and the company afloat. With its iconic logo, sleek aesthetic, and promise of creativity, excitement, and greatness embedded in its products and message, Apple successfully obscures its bad behavior with its powerful brand.

“Emotional Branding”

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Marketing and branding experts describe a brand as a vision, a vocabulary, a story, and most importantly, a promise. A brand is infused throughout all facets of a corporation, its products, and services, and is the ethos upon which corporate culture, language, and communication are crafted. A brand connects the corporation to the outside world and the consumer, yet it’s intangible: it exists only in our minds, and results from experiences with ads and products.

To understand Apple’s brand and its significance in our contemporary world, I have embarked on a study of the company’s marketing campaigns. I started with a content analysis of television commercials, and with the help of Gabriela Hybel have analyzed over 200 unique television spots that have aired in the U.S. between 1984 and the present. One of the key findings to emerge is that Apple, and the ad firms it contracts with, are exceptionally talented at what the marketing industry calls emotional branding.

In his book named for this approach, Marc Gobé argues that understanding emotional needs and desires, particularly the desire for emotional fulfillment, is imperative for corporate success in today’s world. After studying Apple commercials, one thing that jumps out about them is their overwhelmingly positive nature. They inspire feelings of happiness and excitement with playful and whimsical depictions of products and their users. This trend can be traced to the early days of the iMac, as seen in this commercial from 1998.

An iPod Nano commercial that aired in 2008 takes a similar approach to combining playful imagery and song:

In a more recent commercial, actor and singer Zooey Deschanel, known for her “quirky” demeanor, performs a playful spin on the utility of Siri, the voice activated assistant that was introduced with the iPhone 4S in 2011.

Commercials like these — playful, whimsical, and backed by upbeat music — associate these same feelings with Apple products. They suggest that Apple products are connected to happiness, enjoyment, and a carefree approach to life. To tip the sociological hat to George Ritzer, one could say that these commercials “enchant a disenchanted world.” While Ritzer coined this phrase to refer to sites of consumption like theme parks and shopping malls, I see a similar form of enchantment offered by these ads. They open up a happy, carefree, playful world for us, removed from the troubles of our lives and the implications of our consumer choices.

Importantly, for Apple, the enchanting nature of these ads and the brand image cultivated by them act as a Marxian fetish: they obscure the social and economic relations, and the conditions of production that bring consumer goods to us. Now more than ever, Apple depends on the strength of its brand power to eclipse the mistreatment and exploitation of workers in its supply chain, and the injustice it has done to the American public by skirting the majority of its corporate taxes.

Next: Sentimental Consumerism, the Apple Way.

Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D. is a lecturer in sociology at Pomona College. She studies the connections between consumer culture, labor, and environmental issues in global supply chains. You can follwer her at 21 Century Nomad, visit her website, and learn more about her research into Apple here.

Why Male Pregnancy Matters

The reproductive health police are at it again, and this time they’ve got the gender and sexuality cops with them.  Despite the CDC reporting a decline in teen pregnancy across ethnic groups, public health and privately funded campaigns are popping up across the U.S. aimed at chastising, shaming, and blaming teenage mothers.

And now, the city of Chicago has gotten in on the act. Not satisfied with the traditional images of cheerleading teenage mothers with babies strapped to their chests, or wailing toddlers scolding their mothers for being too poor or too single, or even pop music icons who assure young women that motherhood ‘sucks’ even more than high school, the city of Chicago has decided to get creative. The Chicago Department of Public Health has created a series of posters featuring shirtless young men with apparently pregnant bellies – below the caption “Unexpected?”

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Ok, I get it. The campaign was designed to communicate the fact that most teen pregnancies are, yes, unexpected, and that teen fathers should bear an equal responsibility for said pregnancies. But as someone working at the interstices of narrative, health, and social justice, I am less concerned with wondering if teen pregnancy is ‘bad’, or even if shame and/or shock are effective motivators for behavior change (which I would argue they are not, check out Brené Brown’s eloquent argument). What concerns me is what other work such images are doing. In other words, what additional cultural stories is this campaign telling, and are those narratives socially just or unjust?

As this fantastic take-off from the Media Literacy Project shows, the primary problem with the Chicago campaign is its deeply trans-phobic narrative:

In the frame of the advertisers, the pregnant bellies in the ads are solely female while the rest of the body is solely male. The contrast is supposed to cause discord in the viewer, yielding feelings that the image is “disturbing” or “unexpected,” as the ads say. However, sex and gender are much more complicated than the advertisers understand. Transgender boys and men can become pregnant. Calling their bodies disturbing perpetuates a culture of ignorance, prejudice, and violence against transgender people.

The truth is, bodies which do not look traditionally ‘female gendered’ can and do become pregnant (consider the much publicized story of Thomas Beattie, for instance, a transgender man who bore three children) while bodies which do look traditionally ‘female gendered’ sometimes can or do not.

Philosopher Judith Butler asserted that gender is nothing more than a series of repetitive performances; behaviors which, in cis-gendered (not transgendered) people, are often so subconscious as to feel ‘natural.’ But simply consider that the gender-coding of many such behaviors have changed over time. Hairstyles, clothing, and work-home-balance are all easy examples. Requiring at the very least a working uterus, pregnancy is one type of public ‘performance’ that still appears ‘naturally female.’ Therefore, ‘male pregnancy’ can be a subversive act, as with the work of cyber-artists Virgil Wong and Lee Mingwei, where, as feminist science scholar Donna Haraway would say, one ‘queers what counts as nature.’

But that’s not what is going on here. As with the broadly comic absurdness of male pregnancy in films like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Junior, this anachronistic Chicago campaign actually reinforces a traditional gender binary while essentializing pregnancy as a function of only cis-gendered female bodies. In doing so, the campaign defeats its own stated purpose. By looking at these posters, cis-gendered boys won’t feel like pregnancy can happen to them. Rather, they will scoff, or laugh at the ‘absurdness’ of male pregnancy, reassured that their (utterly and fixedly ‘masculine’) bodies are ‘safe’ from such conditions. More devastatingly, the cis-gendered general public looking at these images will have their own prejudices and expectations about male pregnancy reinforced: as something ‘unexpected,’ shocking, and ‘unnatural.’

Additionally, like other individual-level ‘shaming and blaming’/’shocking’ campaigns, this Chicago anti-teen pregnancy series deflects attention from more systemic understandings and structural changes: from finding funding for affordable and accessible reproductive health care, to anti-poverty work, to programs which support LGBTQ youth. While they may satisfy the need for a ‘moral panic’ among us middle-aged people as we ‘clutch the pearls and think of the children,’ what such anti-teenage pregnancy campaigns don’t do is actually increase the well being of our young people – be they male or female, cis- or trans-gendered.

Cross-posted at Adios Barbie.

Sayantani DasGupta is a faculty member in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. She is the editor of Stories of Illness and Healing: Women Write their Bodies,  co-authored The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales, and authored Her Own Medicine: A Woman’s Journey from Student to Doctor.

“I Hate Your Friend… So I Stuck My D— in Her Water Bottle”

Earlier this year I wrote about how truly disturbing it is that so many of our insults have sexual connotations.  ”Fuck you,” is a choice example, but I give lots more in the original post (read at your own risk).  I concluded:

…it’s interesting, right, to notice how often attempts to hurt other people come in the language of sexuality.  This reveals why sex can be scary, especially for women who are so often positioned as the one who “gets fucked”…  It’s also part of how we demean and marginalize gay and bisexual men.

This post came to mind when I saw this confession at PostSecret:

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Let me put this in black and white: this person expressed “hate” by exposing another person to his penis.  So he considers his penis a thing that can defile.  This is the same penis that he puts (presumably) in his wife who he (presumably) doesn’t hate.  If I were his wife, I would wonder how exactly he decides when putting his penis in things is a loving thing to do and when it’s a way to harm or humiliate someone.

I don’t mean to pick on this individual.  The idea that it’s funny (“LOL”) to expose this woman to his genitalia without her consent is widespread.  This confession is just a manifestation of our cultural belief that men can hurt people with their penises.  And that it’s funny when they do.

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.

Sociology on The Colbert Report!

Sociology represent!  Watch Kjerstin Gruys, UCLA sociology Ph.D. student, on The Colbert Report.  Her new book is called Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body By Not Looking at It.

See also a previous guest post where she answered the question, Can a Feminist Diet?

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.

Michael Douglas’ Cancer Confession: The Risk of HPV and Oral Sex

Cross-posted at Girl w/ Pen.

Having written about sexually transmitted HPV (human papillomavirus) for 13 years, I’ve been waiting for the day when a celebrity would lend his or her fame to spotlight the realities of HPV infection, especially of HPV-related oral cancers.  That day has come: this week Michael Douglas has announced that his cancer was caused by an HPV infection that was likely transmitted through oral sex.  The mucus membrane tissue of mouth and throat are similar to those of genital skin, so researchers have known for some time that, like herpes, HPV could be transmitted oral to genital, as well as genital to oral.

My hopes are that big news can be a long-needed catalyst for change.  Back in 2009, the research findings were already clear: oral transmission of cancer-causing HPV means that almost all of us are more likely at risk than we are safe from risk.  For my 2010 feature article in Ms. Magazine, I focused on the importance of not only educating the public about HPV-related cancers in men but also about the HPV-oral cancer link. In addition, I advocated for the need to destigmatize all STDs: my research and book have shown that STD stigma makes it more likely for at-risk/infected  individuals to put off getting tested and treated. STD stigma also makes it less likely for individuals to disclose their sexual health status to partners, placing those partners at greater risk for infection.  In addition, negative stereotypes about the “types” of women and men likely to be infected distort our ideas of who is at risk.

I’ll wrap up this post with a call: for us to come together, to learn the facts and not be swayed by incomplete media coverage and confusing pharmaceutical claims.  We must support significant funding increases to investigate exactly how we can prevent HPV-related oral/throat cancers, which research shows to be steadily on the rise and more fatal than cervical cancers in the U.S.

Adina Nack is the author of Damaged Goods? and a professor of Sociology at California Lutheran University.  She specializes in medical sociology, gender inequality, and sexual health and writes for Girl w/ Pen.

In Which I Tell College Grads Not to Follow Their Dreams

Well, sort of.

In my and Gwen Sharp’s advice for new college grads, we advise against trying to find a job that you love.  ”This sets young people up to fail,” we wrote. Instead:

…it’s ok to set your sights just a tad below occupational ecstasy.  Just find a job that you like.  Use that job to help you have a full life with lots of good things and pleasure and helping others and stuff.  A great life is pretty good, even if it’s not perfect.

This has gotten us quite a bit of feedback, both positive and negative, and helped spark a Huffington Post Live segment exploring the topic, featuring two young entrepreneurs, a career development counselor, and “the requisite” economist (his words!).

I try (largely unsuccessfully) to keep the conversation grounded in a class analysis, reminding the group that using ourselves as examples was sampling on the dependent variable.  And I suggest that, instead of telling young college graduates to “find the thing they were meant to do,” we should help them see that they are likely looking at 100 different satisfying futures. All they need to do is find one of them.

The full segment is longish, but the best part is the first minute, a compilation of wildly successful people giving commencement speeches about how everyone should just find their passion and follow their dreams.

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.