There are more women in political office than ever, but the U.S. is not on the forefront of this change. In 2013, the U.S. Congress was 18% female which, internationally, places us in the middle of the pack.
The Democrats can boast better numbers than the Republicans, but it wasn’t always this way. At the Scholars Strategy Network, sociologist Danielle Thomsen observes that the Democratic party (green and blue) has increased female representation much quicker than the Republicans (red and purple), but only since the ’80s or so.
Thomsen argues that part of the reason for this difference has to do with increasing polarization in politics. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have become more ideologically extreme, but this has hurt Republican recruitment of women more than Democratic ones. This is because Republican women tend to be more moderate, on average, than Republican men. Since there is less room for moderation in the party, the selection process favors more conservative politicians. Among that group, there are very few women.
This hasn’t hurt the Democrats as much, since Democratic women are not more likely than Democratic men to hold moderate views. The opposite, in fact, may be true, increasing the rate at which women may be picked up and supported by the party.
Ads are always selling more than just a product. They’re selling a fantasy. In this case, buy Ballantine Ale and you’ll get this:
The this is this ad from 1954 is what interests me. I see same-sex friendship. These are presumably two heterosexual married couples — though some would disagree — but the ad isn’t about love, marriage, or sex. The ad is about the friendship that each spouse finds with their same-sex counterpart. The two couples come together not for platonic cross-sex companionship, in other words, but same-sex friendship.
For much of American history, the idea that men and women could be friends made little sense. This was not for the reason we tend to think this today (that is, sexual temptation), but because men and women were believed to be psychologically different. Differences between the sexes were believed to make cross-sex friendship impossible and pointless. You wouldn’t have anything in common and couldn’t understand one another. Women needed men for marriage, domestic divisions of labor, and children — and vice versa — but true friendship was reserved for someone of the same sex.
We certainly don’t need to return to that type of thinking — even if it was adorable — but I do appreciate the way this ad is committed to the idea that simple friendship is fantastic.
This is a Pink Lady: 15 oz. gin, 4 dashes of grenadine, and an egg white.
According to Shanna Farrell, the Pink Lady was popularized in the ’50s. Women were believed to have “dainty palates,” and so cocktails for women were designed to disguise any taste of alcohol. In the ’70s, the Pink Lady was surpassed by the Lemon Drop and, in the ’80s, the Cosmopolitan.
Farrell asks “What does it mean to drink like a woman” today? Anecdotally, she finds that bartenders consistently expect her to order something “juicy or sweet” — “It’s pink; you’ll like it” — and respond with a favorable nod when she orders something “spirit forward.”
This is typical for America today: women are expected to perform femininity, but when they perform masculinity, they are admired and rewarded. This is because we still put greater value on men and the things we associate with them.
This phenomenon of valuing masculinity over femininity — what we call “androcentrism” — may be changing how women drink, since everyone likes that nod of approval. Farrell reports that “women account for the fastest-growing segment of worldwide whiskey consumers.” Well hello, Hilary.
I wonder how men will respond to women’s incursion into the whiskey market. Traditionally we’ve seen male flight. As an activity, occupation, or product is increasingly associated with women, men leave. In a society where women keep infiltrating more and more of men’s domains, this is a bad long-term strategy for maintaining dominance (see, for example, the feminization of education). As I ask in my forthcoming sociology of gender textbook: “What will happen when women are sipping from all the bottles?”
Advertisements echo with many reverberations and overtones. Different people hear different things, and with all the multiple meanings, it’s not always clear which is most important.
This week Lisa Wade posted this Snickers ad from Australia. Its intended message of course is “Buy Snickers.” But its other message is more controversial, and Lisa and many of the commenters (more than 100 at last count) were understandably upset.
The construction workers (played by actors) shout at the women in the street (not actors). “Hey,” yells a builder, and the woman looks up defensively. But then instead of the usual sexist catcalls, the men shout things like,
I appreciate your appearance is just one aspect of who you are.
You know what I’d like to see? A society in which the objectification of women makes way for gender neutral interaction free from assumptions and expectations.
The women’s defensiveness softens. They look back at the men. One woman, the surprise and delight evident in her smile, mouths, “Thank you.”
But, as the ad warned us at the very beginning, these men are “not themselves.”
Hunger has transformed them. The ad repeats the same idea at the end.
Here’s Lisa’s conclusion:
The twist ending is a genuine “fuck you” to the actual women who happened to walk by and become a part of the commercial… I bet seeing the commercial would feel like a betrayal. These women were (likely) given the impression that it was about respecting women, but instead it was about making fun of the idea that women deserve respect.
I suspect that Lisa too feels betrayed. She has bought her last Snickers bar.
My take is more optimistic.
In an earlier generation, this ad would have been impossible. The catcalls of construction workers were something taken for granted and not questioned, almost as though they were an unchangeable part of nature.* They might be unpleasant, but so is what a bear does in the woods.
This ad recognizes that those attitudes and behaviors are a conscious choice and that all men, including builders, can choose a more evolved way of thinking and acting. The ad further shows, that when they do make that choice, women are genuinely appreciative. “C’mon mates,” the ad is saying, “do you want a woman to turn away and quickly walk on, telling you in effect to fuck off? Or would you rather say something that makes her smile back at you?” The choice is yours.
The surface meaning of the ad’s ending is , “April Fools. We’re just kidding about not being sexists.” But that’s a small matter. Not so far beneath that surface progressive ideas are having the last laugh, for more important than what the end of the ad says is what the rest of the ad shows – that ignorant and offensive sexism is a choice, and that real women respond positively to men who choose its opposite.
* Several of the comments at Sociological Images complained that the ad was “classist” for its reliance on this old working-class stereotype.
by Laurel Westbrook PhD, Mar 19, 2014, at 09:00 am
Amelia Earhart, aviator. Wilma Rudolph, athlete. Sally Ride, astronaut. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, activist. Josephine Baker, performer. Virginia Woolf, novelist. Rosie the Riveter, archetype. Alice Paul, suffragist. Frida Kahlo, artist. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State.
What do these women have in common? They are the 10 iconic women featured this year by womenshistorymonth.gov, the official website of Women’s History Month in the United States. A rotating banner across the top of the page shows a photo of each woman, her name, and a one word description, presumably the reason she is worthy of celebration.
Unfortunately, the women singled out for recognition at the site appear to be considered notable mainly because they excelled at what are generally thought to be “masculine” pursuits. This is androcentric, meaning that it values masculinity over femininity. Traits that have been traditionally conceptualized as masculine (such as being a leader and good at sports and math) are now seen as valuable for girls to develop, while boys are often still discouraged from do things traditionally conceptualized as feminine (such as nurturing, cooking, and cleaning).
I am all for questioning the idea that certain jobs are “men’s jobs,” but we also need to challenge the idea that only women can do “women’s jobs.” If we do not, the belief that women should do “women’s work” and, more importantly, that women’s work is not worth celebrating, is left unquestioned.
Women’s History Month tends to follow this trend. None of the women we typically recognize at this time of year, for example, are noted for being good cooks, care givers, or educators of children, nor are they lauded for their nurturing of others, emotional openness, kindness, or compassion — all traditionally “feminine” traits. Caring for others and teaching youth are wonderful things that everyone should be encouraged to do. Our history books should be filled with people of all genders who were exceptional in these areas. But, these traditionally feminine pursuits are not what earns one accolades during Women’s History Month, or any other time. As a consequence, people are not taught to value such jobs or the people who do them. This one-sided celebration is unlikely to solve the very problem that Women’s History Month is ostensibly designed to combat: gender inequality.
“To all the women who quietly made history” (source):
Laurel Westbrook is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Grand Valley State University. Her research focuses on gendered violence, social movements, and the inner workings of the sex/gender/sexuality system.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. This granted women the right to have a credit card in her own name. This translated into an unprecedented degree of independence for women. Feminists and their allies fought for this new world and it’s a good thing because we love to buy things with our credit cards sooooooo muuuuuuuuch!
And, thankfully, credit card companies like Banif know just how to make us comfortable, by combining feminism and infantilization and kissing our asses because We. Are. So. Special. “Every day is women’s day!” Wheeeee!
The husband in this ad, though, likely thinks he would have been better off if his wife wasn’t allowed to make financial decisions without his approval. Stupid women and their stupid financial decisions. Ruining everything.
It’s okay though because we are multiracial and credit is love.
Of course, sometimes the men still pay. Amirite, ladies!?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.