Cross-posted at Hawkblocker.This Dove commercial for hair dye is just fascinating. It features a woman talking about what color means to her. She observes that color is sensual, drawing connections between certain colors and the feeling of a cool breeze, the sun on one’s skin, a taste on one’s tongue, and more. She says colors are moods: blonde is bubbly, red is passionate. The voice-over explains that dying her hair makes life “more vivid” and makes her want to laugh and dance. She does it to invoke these characteristics.
She then explains that she’s blind. The commercial uses her blindness to suggest that hair dye isn’t about color at all. It’s about the feeling having dyed hair gives you, even if you can’t see the color. ”I don’t need to see it,” she says, “I can feel it.”
By using a woman who is (supposedly) blind, the commercial for hair dye uses the element of surprise to detach the product from the promise. The sole purpose of hair dye is changing how something looks, but this ad claims that the change in appearance is entirely incidental. Instead, dying one’s hair is supposed to make all of life more vibrant, every moment incredibly special, every pleasure more intense, and fill you to the brim with happy emotions. It’s completely absurd. Fantastically absurd. Insult-our-intelligence absurd.
And yet, it’s also exactly what nearly every other commercial and print ad does. Most ads promise — in one way or another — that their product will make you happier, your life brighter, and your relationships more magical. The product is positioned as the means, but not an end. Most hair dye commercials, for example, promise that (1) if your hair is dyed to be more conventionally beautiful, (2) you will feel better/people will treat you better and, so, (3) your life will be improved. This ad just skips the middle step, suggesting that chemicals in hair dye do this directly.
So, I’m glad to come across this utterly absurd commercial. It’s a good reminder to be suspicious of this message in all advertising.
In the New York Times, Arthur Brooks argues that conservatives are happier than liberals.
Brooks starts with a reference to Barack Obama’s remark four years ago about “bitter” blue-collar Whites who “cling to guns or religion.” Misleading, says Brooks. So is a large body of research showing conservatives as “authoritarian, dogmatic, intolerant of ambiguity, fearful of threat and loss, low in self-esteem and uncomfortable with complex modes of thinking.”
Despite that research, it’s conservatives, not liberals, who identify themselves as happy. And, Brooks adds, the farther right you go on the political spectrum, the more happy campers you find.
Brooks cites a couple of surveys that support this view. I was a bit skeptical, so I went to the GSS.
Sure enough, by about 10 percentage points, more conservatives identify themselves as “very happy” than do liberals. The difference is even higher among the extreme conservatives. As Brooks says, “none, it seems, are happier than the Tea Partiers, many of whom cling to guns and faith with great tenacity.”
Brooks cites two important factors linking political views and happiness: marriage (with children) and religion.
Religious participants are nearly twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives as are secularists (43 percent to 23 percent). The differences don’t depend on education, race, sex or age; the happiness difference exists even when you account for income.*
I still found it hard to reconcile these sunny right-wingers with the image of bitter and angry Tea Partiers. Then I remembered that the Tea Party is a very recent phenomenon. To a great extent, it’s a reaction to the election of President Obama. But Brooks is looking at pre-Obama studies of happiness. The most recent one he cites is from 2006. As the GSS graph above shows, Brooks is correct when he says, “This pattern has persisted for decades.” But those decades don’t include the Tea Party.
Maybe conservatives were happy because until recently, they didn’t have much to be bitter about. The US was their country, and they knew it. Then Obama was elected, and ever since November 2008 conservatives have kept talking about “taking back our country.” (See my “Repo Men” post from 2 1/2 years ago.)
What if we look at the data from the Obama years?
Maybe that bitter Tea Party image isn’t such a distortion. The GSS does not offer “bitter” or “Tea Party” as choices, but those who identify themselves as “extreme conservative” are nearly three times as likely as others to be “not too happy.” And overall, the happiness gap between conservatives and liberals is hard to find.
For all I know, Brooks’s general conclusion may be correct, but the recent data do at least raise some questions and suggest that the political context is itself a relevant variable.
Nearly eighty years ago, Harold Lasswell said that politics is about “who gets what, when, and how.” Maybe the lesson here is that if you are going to study the connection between political views and happiness, you should take account of who is getting what, and when.
*That’s a bit misleading. Happiness is in fact related to income, race, and education in exactly the ways you would expect, though for some reason Brooks does not include those variables in his analysis. What Brooks means is that the religion effect holds even when you control for those variables.
For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012. Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.
All that rot they teach to children about the little raindrop fairies with their buckets washing down the window panes must go. We need less sentimentality and more spanking.
Or so said Granville Stanley Hall, founder of child psychology, in 1899. Hall was one of many child experts of the 1800s who believed that children needed little emotional connection with their parents.
Luther Emmett Holt, who pioneered the science of pediatrics, wrote a child rearing advice book in which he called infant screaming “the baby’s exercise.” “Babies under six months old should never be played with,” he wrote, “and the less of it at any time the better for the infant.”
Holt and Granville’s contemporary, John B. Watson, wrote a child advice book that sold into the second half of the 1900s. In a chapter titled “Too Much Mother Love,” he wrote:
Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning.
When you are tempted to pet your child remember that mother love is a dangerous instrument. An instrument which may inflict a never-healing wound, a wound which may make infancy unhappy, adolescence a nightmare, an instrument which may wreck your adult son or daughter’s vocational future and their chances for marital happiness.
In any case, it was in this context — one in which loving one’s child was viewed suspiciously, at best, and nurturing care both psychologically and physically dangerous — that psychologist Harry Harlow did some of his most famous experiments. In the 1960s, using Rhesus monkeys, he set about to prove that babies needed more than just food, water, and shelter. They needed comfort and even love. While this may seem stunningly obvious today, Harlow was up against widespread beliefs in psychology.
This video shows one of the more basic experiments (warning, these videos can be hard to watch):
The need for these experiments reveals just how dramatically conventional wisdom can change. The psychologists of the time needed experimental proof that physical contact between a baby and its parent mattered. Harlow’s experiments were part of a revolution in thinking about child development. It’s quite fascinating to realize that such a revolution was ever needed.
Special thanks to Shayna Asher-Shapiro for finding Holt, Hall, and Watson for me.
The daily care of their child is often more intensive but, in addition to that added responsibility, mothers were actively involved in getting their children needed services and resources. The need for mothers to be proactive about this was exacerbated by the fact that they had to negotiate different social institutions, each with an interest in claiming certain service spheres, but also limited budgets. ”While each system claims authoritative expertise,” Blum writes, ” either system can reject responsibility, paradoxically, when costs are at issue.” Because they often had to argue with service providers and find ways to beat a system that often tried to keep them at bay, they had to become experts in their child’s disability, of course, but also public policy, learning styles, the medical system, psychology/psychiatry, pharmaceutics, manipulation of jargon and law, and more.
Mothers often felt that they were their child’s only advocate, with his or her health and future dependent on making just one more phone call, getting one more meeting with an expert, or trying one more school. Accordingly, they were simultaneously exhausted and filled with guilt. I wondered, when I came across this Post Secret confession, if this mother was experiencing some of the same things:
Pew Research Center reports that, as of 2010, women make up about 15% of enlisted soldiers and commissioned officers:
Not all types of women are entering the military at the same rate. Nearly a third of women in the military are Black, about twice their proportion in the general population. In contrast, about half are white, about 2/3rds their proportion among civilian women.
A larger proportion of women, compared to men, said that they joined the military because it was difficult to find a good civilian job:
They were just as likely as men, however, to report other more common reasons for joining:
Interestingly, women reported high levels of strain re-entering the civilian population and the majority believe that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not worth fighting:
Nevertheless, a large majority felt that entering the military was good for their personal growth and career opportunities:
Controversial sociologist Mark Regnerus has been fooling around with the New Family Structures Survey. Back in June, Regnerus used the NFSS data to conclude that gay parents are bad for children. Now, he runs the regressions and finds that liberalism leaves women sexually dissatisfied.
Question:“Are you content with the amount of sex you’re having?”
The possible answers:
No, I’d prefer more
No, I’d prefer less
The differences were clear.
Those liberal women, they try and they try and they try; they can’t get no… satisfaction. Hey, hey, hey — that’s what they say.
The differences held even with controls for how much sex the woman had had recently. Nor did adding other possible explanatory variables dampen the effect:
[T]he measure of political liberalism remains significantly associated with the odds of wanting more sex even after controlling for the frequency of actual intercourse over the past two weeks, their age, marital status, education level, whether they’ve masturbated recently, their anxiety level, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, depressive symptoms, and porn use.
Regnerus says he was puzzled and asked an economist friend for her explanation. She, like Regnerus, is a serious Christian, and saw it as a matter of seeking “transcendence.” Liberal women want to have more sex because they feel the lack of sufficient transcendence in life and seek it in sex. Conservative women find transcendence in the seemingly mundane — “sanctifying daily life” — so they do not need sex for transcendence. Or as Regnerus puts it, “Basically, liberal women substitute sex for religion.”
To test this idea, Regnerus controlled for religious attendance. When he did, “political liberalism finally went silent as a predictor.” Churchgoing liberals were no more insatiable than were their sexually content conservative co-worshipers.
So here’s the scenario. All women want transcendence. Since liberal women are not religious, they seek transcendence in sex and don’t find it. They’re dissatisfied, but they cling to the idea that sex will bring them transcendence if only they have more of it. So they keep looking for transcendence in all the wrong places. Conservative women seek transcendence in religion and in everyday activities. And that works.
Conclusion: Religion is deeply satisfying; sex, not so much.
This explanation, with its attribution of psychological-spiritual longing, makes some huge assumptions about what’s going on inside women’s heads.
I can offer a contrasting sociological explanation for Regnerus’ findings. It looks not to deep inner longings for transcendence but to social norms, beliefs, and values. It rests on the assumption that people’s desires are shaped by external forces, especially the culture of the social world they live in. In some groups, sex for women is good, so it’s OK for them to want more sex. In other social worlds, sex for women has a lower place on the scale of values. It is less of a “focal concern.”
These differences make for differences in who is content with what — a liberal, East Coast man and a WASP woman from the Midwest, for example:
Can we really say that the difference here is about spiritual transcendence?
In some social worlds, a woman can never be too thin or too rich. In those worlds, women diet and exercise in a way we might find obsessive. But that’s what their culture rewards. Some cultures hold that sex is a good thing — certainly more pleasurable than dieting and exercising — therefore, more is better. In some social worlds, that’s the way some people feel about money. Are these desires really about transcendence, or they about cultural values?
Oh, and on the sexual discontent matter, there are two other possibilities that may not to have occurred to Regnerus: (1) maybe conservative men are better lovers; they satisfy their conservative bedmates in ways liberals can only dream of. Or (2) conservative men are so bad at sex that when you ask their partners if they want more, the answer is, “No thanks.”
In this clip from a campaign rally, Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan argues that “traditional marriage” is a “universal human value.”
Ryan could not be more wrong. In fact, few practices have undergone more fundamental transformation.
For thousands of years, marriage served economic and political functions unrelated to love, happiness, or personal fulfillment. Prior to the Victorian era, love was considered a trivial basis for marriage and a bad reason to marry. There were much bigger concerns afoot: gaining money and resources, building alliances between families, organizing the division of labor, and producing legitimate male heirs.
These marriages were patriarchal in the strictest sense of the term. Men were heads of households and women were humanproperty, equivalent to children, slaves, servants, and employees. Women didn’t choose to enter a marriage that defined her as property, she was entered into the marriage by her father, who owned her until he “gave her away.”
Ultimately, in response to feminist activism as well as other forces, marriage would change. By the 1950s, a new kind of marriage would become ideal. This is the one that Ryan likely means when he uses the terms “traditional” and “universal.” In this model, men and women married by choice and were expected to find sustenance in their relationship. Women were not legally subordinate to their husbands (that is, she was no longer property). But the rights and responsibilities of husbands and wives continued to be defined differently. Women owed men domestic services (cleaning, cooking, childcare, and sex); in return, men were legally required to support their wives financially.
This type of marriage signed its own death warrant, a story I’ll tell in another post, and was relatively short-lived (and not at all universal, even at its peak in the U.S.). It was soon replaced by an ideal of marriage based on gender-neutral roles that spouses could work out for themselves. Today married couples are free to organize their lives however they wish. And they do. Stephanie Coontz, famed historian of marriage, writes:
Almost any separate way of organizing caregiving, childrearing, residential arrangements, sexual interactions, or interpersonal redistribution of resources has been tried by some society at some point in time. But the coexistence in one society of so many alternative ways of doing all of these different things—and the comparative legitimacy accorded to many of them—has never been seen before.
Ryan is right, then, in that “traditional marriage,” however you define it, is not normal in the U.S. He’s completely wrong, though, it calling it universal. Even a quick review of American history reveals it not to be so.
Coontz, Stephanie. 1992. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. New York: Basic Books.
Coontz, Stephanie. 2004. The World Historical Transformation of Marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family66, 4: 974-979.
In a stroke of brilliance, Jessica Valenti has named a new trope: Sad White Babies with Mean Feminist Mommies. The trope offers a visual “no” to the question that won’t die, “Can women have it all?” It serves as a cautionary tale to all the ambitious feminist ladies out there: go right ahead, get a good job, but don’t think for a second that you’re doing the right thing for your (future) child. Thanks to Larry H. and Zeynep A. for sending it in!