The cartoon added below inspired me to revive this post from 2008.

Many believe that the U.S. is at the pinnacle of social and political evolution. One of the consequences of this belief is the tendency to define whatever holds in the U.S. as ideal and, insofar as other countries deviate from that, define them as problematic. For example, many believe that women in the U.S. are the most liberated in the world. Insofar as women in other societies live differently, they are assumed to be oppressed. Of course, women are oppressed elsewhere, but it is a mistake to assume that “they” are oppressed and “we” are liberated. This false binary makes invisible ways in which women elsewhere are not 100% subordinated and women here also suffer from gendered oppression.

(If you’re interested, I have a paper showing how Americans make these arguments called Defining Gendered Oppression in U.S. Newspapers: The Strategic Value of “Female Genital Mutilation.”)

I offer these thoughts are a preface to a postcard from PostSecret.  The person who sent in the postcard suggests that she’s not sure which is worse: the rigid and extreme standard of beauty in the U.S. and the way that women’s bodies are exposed to scrutiny or the idea of living underneath a burka that disallows certain freedoms, but frees you from evaluative eyes and the consequences of their negative appraisals.

Cartoonist Malcolm Evans drew a similarly compelling illustration of this point, sent along by David B.:

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Amber W. sent in this ad for laser eye surgery:
See our post on the surprising history of the Rosie the Riveter icon.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

The declining birth rate in Latin America, depicted in this graph, is a nice example of the way that both cultural and social change affects individual choices.  Brazil is highlighted as an extreme case. It’s birthrate has fallen from over six children/woman in 1960 to under 1.9 today.

The accompanying Washington Post article, sent in by Mae C., explains that the decrease in the birthrate since the 1960s is related to migration to cities.  In rural areas children are useful. They can help with crops and animals.  In crowded and expensive cities, however, they cost money and take up space.  Economic change, then, changed the context of individual choices.

This transition — from a largely rural country with high birthrates to an industrialized one with lower birthrates — has been observed across countries again and again.  It’s no surprise to demographers (social scientists who study changes in human population).  But Brazil did surprise demographers in one way:

…Brazil’s fertility rate fell almost uniformly from cosmopolitan Sao Paulo, with its tiny apartments and go-go economy, to Amazonian villages and the vast central farming belt.

The decline in birthrate, in other words, has occurred across the urban/rural divide. Demographers attribute this to cultural factors.  The idea of “an appealing, affluent, highflying world, whose distinguishing features include the small family” has been widely portrayed on popular soap operas, while Brazilian women in the real world have made strong strides into high-status, well-paid, but time-intensive occupations.  They mention, in particular, Brazil’s widely-admired first female president, Dilma Rousseff, who has one child.

Ultimately, then, the dramatic drop in the birthrate is due to a combination of both economic and cultural change.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Earlier this month I read an essay that explained to me why I am not married. These reasons included:

  • I’m a bitch.
  • I’m shallow.
  • I’m a slut.
  • I’m a liar.
  • I’m selfish.
  • I don’t think I’m good enough.

I’m not kidding.

Coincidentally, the Pew Research Center released 2010 data showing that just 51% of all American adults were currently married. This is an all time low, down from 72% in 1960.

Comparing this data with the essay above is a nice illustration of the difference between “normative” and “normal.”  Normal is what is typical in a statistical sense; it is what actually holds.  Normative is what is believed to be good and right in an ideological sense; it is what it is believed does or should hold.

If you go by the essay, written by the thrice married and now single Tracy McMillan, marriage is an ideal state that we all should, or do, desire.  In her reality, if you aren’t married, it’s because you’re doing something wrong.  Marriage is normative.  In actual reality, though, the state of being married is not any more normal than the state of being unmarried.

Only if marriage is normative does the non-normality of marriage become something that needs explaining.  McMillan jumps in with hateful stereotypes, but social science has much better explanations.

  • Low-income women often do not take-for-granted (as many middle class people do) that they can sustain a marriage through tough times.  Accordingly, they wait much longer before marrying once they meet someone they like (as long as 10 years or more), so that they can be as sure as possible about the match.  In other words, they take marriage very seriously and are reticent to just jump right in.  They know they’re “good enough,” Tracy; in fact, they value themselves and their relationships enough to really put them to the test.  (Read Promises I Can Keep for more.)
  • Other women get divorced because men don’t do their fair share.  Unresolved conflicts over childcare and housework are one of the top reasons that couples dissolve.  Women struggle to keep up when they’re working a full time job and doing 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the childcare and housework.  They may not see the data, but they may intuit that single mothers do less housework than married ones (it’s true).  So they divorce their husbands.  They’re not “selfish,” they’re just trying to survive. (Read The Second Shift for more.)
  • Other people aren’t married because they’re in love with someone of the same sex.  They’re not “sluts,” they’re discriminated against.

And, just for the record:

  • I’m not married because I don’t want or need the state’s approval of my relationship and  I certainly don’t want it interfering if we decide to part.
  • I’m not married because the history of marriage is ugly and anti-woman; because I don’t like the common meanings of the words “wife” and “husband”; and because even today, and even among couples that call themselves feminist, gender inequality in relationships is known to increase when a couple moves from cohabitation to marriage (and I don’t think I’m so special that I’ll be the anomaly).
  • I’m not married because I’m opposed to the marriage industrial complex. It’s exploitative, stereotypical, and wasteful.
  • I’m not married because I value the fact that my partner and I decide to be together every day, even though we don’t have to jump through legal hoops to do otherwise.
  • I’m not married because I don’t want to support a discriminatory institution that has and continues to bless some relationships, but not others, out of bigotry.
  • I’m not married because I don’t believe in giving social and economic benefits to some kinds of relationships and not others.  I don’t believe that a state- or church-endorsed heterosexual union between two and only two people is superior to other kinds of relationships.

After reading some of the great comments, I’d like to add that I’m not married because of several points of privilege:

  • I’m not married because I live in a society that allows women to work, keep their paychecks, rent an apartment, and have a bank account.  (And, frankly, I think it’s kind of neat to be in the first generation of American women who can realistically choose not to marry. I like the idea of embracing that.)
  • I’m not married because both my partner and I are lucky enough to have  a stable, full-time job that offers benefits, so we don’t need to get married so that one of us can get the other health insurance or some other benefit.
  • I’m not married because we are both U.S. citizens and don’t have to marry in order to live together.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The point is that when the normal and the normative don’t align it often leads to social conflict over the meaning of the gap.  Some people, like McMillan, may jump in to tongue-lash the deviants.  Others may revel in defending non-conformity.  In any case, it will be interesting to see how the conversation about marriage continues, especially if, as the trend suggests, married people become a minority in the near future.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Caroline Heldman’s Blog.

Demand #8 from the Occupy Wall Street list of demands is a call for a “gender equal rights amendment,” a good sign that OWS is thinking about inequality in all its various forms.  This sentiment, though, seems to be lost on (supposedly) liberal filmmaker, Steven Greenstreet, whose past work  includes documentaries about the Mormon influence in passing Proposition 8 and the conservative backlash against Michael Moore.  Greenstreet is also the proud creator of the website, Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street.  He was watching news coverage of the Occupy movement that inspired him to tell a friend,

Wow, seeing all those super smart hot chicks at the protest makes me want to be there… Hmmm… Yeah, let’s go with that.

We instantly went to Tumblr and made [Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street]. Our original ideas were admittedly sophomoric: Pics of hot chicks being all protesty, videos of hot chicks beating drums in slow-mo, etc. But when we arrived at Zuccotti Park in New York City, it evolved into something more.

There was a vibrant energy in the air, a warmth of community and family, and the voices we heard were so hopeful and passionate. Pretty faces were making signs, giving speeches, organizing crowds, handing out food, singing, dancing, debating, hugging and marching.

The evolution from “sophomoric” to “something more,” inspired by “community and family,” is not evident on the website.  Aside from the obvious reduction of activist women to sexual objects, this site is shockingly offensive in its inclusion of young women/girls, one with the caption “She is identified as being 18 years old.” [Hint: If you have to identify “her” as being of age, that’s a sign you probably shouldn’t be posting the photo.]

And these photos:

Greenstreet does not provide information about whether he gained permission from the girls/women featured, but since no names are provided, we can assume he did not systematically seek permission.

It is also unlikely that Greenstreet informed his subjects of his intention to post their photos on the Hot Chicks website.  With his accomplice, Brandon Bloch, Greenstreet shot a video with interviews of women in which it is clear they thought their words, not their bodies, would be the focus:

And in case the message that women are primarily sexual objects wasn’t clear, Greenstreet even includes photos of professional women in his voyeur collection:

Greenstreet has posted criticism on the Hot Chicks website like a badge of honor:

@JaeChick: Nothing like degrading women to get attention. You are a small, sorry excuse for a man.

@MeFunk: Whatsay you take down your sexist video, issue a formal apology to female protesters, and then I pour hot coffee on you?

He responded to critiques of sexism with the following statement:

Apparently a lot of controversy has erupted online from people passionately opining (among many things) that this is sexist, offensive, and dangerously objectifies women. It was not my intent to do that and I think the spirit of the video, and the voices within, are honorable and inspiring.

However, if you disagree with me, I encourage you to use that as an excuse to create constructive discussions about the issues you have. Because, to be honest, any excuse is a good excuse to bring up the topic of women’s rights.

Wow, what a humanitarian.  It appears that this fumbling display of overt sexism was really just a ploy to get us talking about women’s rights.  Thanks, Steven.


Thanks to Katrin, Melanie L., Jessie W., and Nathan Jurgenson of Cyborgology for asking us to write about this topic!

Arlie Hochschild, in her book The Second Shift, discusses a modern tension in American households resulting from a “stalled gender revolution,” i.e., the fact that women and the social construction of femininity have changed and men and masculinity have not caught up with these changes.  These tensions erupt when assigning responsibilities in the second shift of household labor and childcare, which often fall upon wives’ shoulders.  Traditionally, the dominant construction of masculinity does not allow men to participate in housework, such as laundry, since it is threatening to their sense of masculinity.  In fact, as argued by Julie Brines, the economic model of dependency holds for women but not for men.  Men can essentially trade in their salaries for the domestic labor performed by their wife; however, when women out-earn their husbands, they cannot seem to strike a similar bargain.  In this case, since the man is not fulfilling his traditional role as provider, he essentially refuses to further damage his reputation by engaging in “woman’s work” in the home.

Enter Tide:

In this Tide commercial, we see this threatening element of housework, as the “Dad Mom” tries to justify his laundry proficiency by reasserting his masculinity.  At the end, he confirms that he is still a man as he declares that he will “go do pull ups and crunches,” one would assume in order to build up his manly muscles.  Beyond this direct statement of his attempts to embody masculinity, throughout the commercial, we see three themes — normative heterosexuality, competition among men, and the codification of laundry as feminine — used to excuse his role as homemaker.

He first makes the claim that he is at home “being awesome,” and proceeds to explain how.  He stresses his unique (and alluring) mixture of masculinity and nurturing.  By describing himself in this way for the sake of the “Mom Moms,” he alludes to his heterosexuality, a basic element of hegemonic masculinity, in an attempt to establish some sex appeal.

Second, there is a competitive element to his dialogue as he boasts to other dads about his ability to dress a four-year-old and skills at folding a “frilly dress with complete accuracy.”  By making it a competition, he rationalizes his participation in housework. Boom!

Finally, this “dad mom” uses the “brute strength of dad” in combination with the “nurturing abilities of my laundry detergent” to complete this basis household task.  The task of doing laundry and the detergent, itself, is codified as feminine.  This combination is a “smart” one because this is exactly what women need: more men doing the laundry.


Amanda M. Czerniawski is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Temple University. She specializes in bodies and culture, gender and sexuality, and medical sociology.  Her past research projects involved the development of height and weight tables and the role of plus-size models in constructions of beauty.  Her current research focuses on the contested role of the body in contemporary feminist discourse.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.


In this post I’m happy to feature two short clips of sociologists at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas talking about the sex industry in Las Vegas.

First, in this two-minute clip, Barb Brents discusses the way that the sex industry in Las Vegas is set up in ways that protect “referral services” (the organizations that arrange for what often includes sex work), while exposing sex workers to policing and criminalization:

Second, Crystal Jackson, takes two minutes to explain that the stereotype of sex workers — women who have sex with men — makes male sex workers invisible and transgender sex workers seem deviant. This has consequences. It means that men in the sex industry are more able to evade the police (who aren’t looking for them), while transgender sex workers are even more likely than women to experience abuse from both the police and clients. This means that patriarchy is an insufficient theory with which to theorize sex work.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

In this ten-minute video, Feminist Frequency‘s Anita Sarkeesian does a great job of discussing the problem with “straw feminists,” overtly feminist characters who are made to look bitchy, ridiculous, or just plain wrong… even when they’re describing forms of gender inequality that really exist.  More, they’re used to suggest that feminism places men and women in opposition when, in fact, gendered expectations and institutions are oppressive to men as well.

By demonizing these characters, Sarkeesian concludes, the straw feminist leads real women to disassociate from feminism, even when they believe in the equal rights of men and women.

Transcript after the jump: