Tag Archives: nation: United States

Rethinking a Zero Tolerance Approach to “Female Genital Mutilation”

I’ve written extensively — not here, but professionally — on the ways in which Americans talk about the female genital cutting practices (FGCs) that are common in parts of Africa.  I’ve focused on the frames for the practice (common ones include women’s oppression, child abuse, a violation of bodily integrity, and cultural depravity), who has had the most power to shape American perceptions (e.g., journalists, activists, or scientists), and the implications of this discourse for thinking about and building gender egalitarian, multicultural democracies.

Ultimately, whatever opinion one wants to hold about the wide range of practices we typically refer to as “female genital mutilation,” it is very clear that the negative opinions of most Westerners are heavily based on misinformation and have been strongly shaped by racism, ethnocentrism, and a disgust or pity for an imagined Africa.  That doesn’t mean that Americans or Europeans aren’t allowed to oppose (some of) the practices (some of the time), but it does mean that we need to think carefully about how and why we do so.

One of the most powerful voices challenging Western thinking about FGCs is Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, a Sierra Leonan-American anthropologist who chose, at 21 years old, to undergo the genital cutting practice typical for girls in her ethnic group, Kono.

She has written about this experience and how it relates to the academic literature on genital cutting.  She has also joined other scholars — both African and Western — in arguing against the zero tolerance position on FGCs and in favor of a more fair and nuanced understanding of why people choose these procedures for themselves or their children and the positive and negative consequences of doing so.  To that end, she is the co-founder of African Women are Free to Choose and SiA Magazine, dedicated to “empowering circumcised women and girls in Africa and worldwide.”

You can hear Ahmadu discuss her perspective in this program:

Many people reading this may object to the idea of re-thinking zero tolerance approaches to FGCs.  I understand this reaction, but I urge such readers to do so anyway.  If we care enough about African women to be concerned about the state of their genitals, we must also be willing to pay attention to their hearts and their minds.  Even, or especially, if they say things we don’t like.

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.

What’s Ikea for? Cultural Differences in Appropriate Behavior

Sociologist Sangyoub Park forwarded us a fascinating account of Ikea’s business model… for China.  In the U.S., there are rather strict rules about what one can do in a retail store.  Primarily, one is supposed to shop, shop the whole time, and leave once one’s done shopping.  Special parts of the store might be designated for other activities, like eating or entertaining kids, but the main floors are activity-restricted.

Not in China.  Ikea has become a popular place to hang out.  People go there to read their morning newspaper, socialize with friends, snuggle with a loved one, or take a nap.  Older adults have turned it into a haunt for singles looking for love.  Some even see it as a great place for a wedding.

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This is a great example of the social construction of spaces: what seems like appropriate behavior in a context is a matter of cultural agreement.  In the U.S., we’ve accepted the idea that the chairs in our local furniture store are not for socializing.  Some of us, depending on our privilege, could probably get ourselves arrested if we took a nap at our local Mattress King.  But this isn’t an inevitable truth.  If we all just collectively change our minds, the people with power included, then things could be different.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

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.

2013, An Extraordinary Year for Marriage Equality

More than exponential growth in the percent of the population with access to same sex marriage in their state:

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Graph by Philip Cohen.

And here’s the global data, thanks to @filipspagnoli.

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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.

Men Feel Bad Around Smart, Successful Women

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

 You know all those badass ladies out there that are inexplicably single? Well, maybe it’s not so inexplicable.

In a study contending for most-depressing-research-of-the-year, psychologists Kate Ratliff and Shigehiro Oishi tested how a romantic partner’s success or failure affects the self-esteem of people in heterosexual relationships.  The short story: men feel bad about themselves when good things happen to their female partners.  Women’s self-esteem is unaffected.  Here’s some of the data.

The vertical axis represents self-esteem. In this experiment, respondents were told that their partner scored high on a test of intelligence (“positive feedback”) or low (“negative feedback”).  The leftmost bars show that men who were told that their partners were smart reported significantly lower self-esteem than those who heard that their partners weren’t so smart.

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In the second condition, respondents were asked to imagine a partner’s success or failure.  Doing so had no effect on women’s self-esteem (rightmost bars).  For men, however, imagining their partners’ success made them feel bad about themselves, whereas imagining their failure made them feel good.Screenshot_2

The various experiments were conducted with American and Dutch college students as well as a diverse Internet sample.  The findings were consistent across populations and were particularly surprising in the context of the Netherlands, which is generally believed to be more gender egalitarian.

We’ve got a long way to go.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post and Pacific Standard.

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.

African-American Travel and Jim Crow Segregation

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

I have driven across the United States several different times.  I always enjoy the experience.  It reminds me of just how vast and diverse this country really is, in terms of both its nature and culture.  Catching up with a friend after such a trip, I discovered that he’d never driven across the country and I insisted that he absolutely must.  ”Lisa,” he said intensely, lowering his head, “not everyone is welcome in every small town in America.”  My friend, you might guess, was Black.

It was a memorable lesson about my own white privilege.

This was in the 2000s, but I couldn’t help but think of it when I learned about the Green Book. A story on NPR about the book starts with the following summary:

In part, the Jim Crow era could be defined by the places African-Americans could go and the places they couldn’t. In the towns and cities where they lived, of course, blacks knew where they were welcome. On the road, though, who knew which restaurants and hotels, beauty shops and night clubs would slam doors in their faces?

The answer was ”The Negro Motorist Green Book.”  First published in 1936, and revised and re-published for almost 30 years, it helped Black people travel across a hostile America.

Green wasn’t just the color.  It was named after the book’s author — Victor Green — who was a postal worker.  Most African Americans were familiar with where they could and couldn’t go in their own cities.  So Green used his connections through the post office to collect lists from all over America, and even some other countries.  These lists were invaluable to Black travelers.

Even in the depth of Jim Crow, however, Green dreamed of a better time. In the introduction he wrote (source):

There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal rights and privileges in the United States.

His dream, I suppose, sort of did and sort of didn’t come true.  The Green Book is out-of-print.  Yet men and women like my friend still have good reason to feel uncomfortable showing their face in unfamiliar places.

Book covers borrowed from Electronic Village, AutoLife, and Phoenix Magazine.  You can see a complete pdf of the book here.

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.

A Short History of Santa Claus

Posted last year, but I love it, so here it is again!

In this fun four minute history of Santa Claus, CGP Gray explains how the character evolved, the role of Coca Cola, his conquest of the globe (i.e., Santa’s cultural imperialism), and the ongoing debates about where, exactly, he lives.

Also from CGP Gray:

Via Blame It On The Voices.

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.

Does Rising Inequality Threaten Future Economic Stability?

According to an article at the Wall Street Journal,  the average income for the bottom 90% of families fell by over 10% from 2002 – 2012 while the average income for families in all the top income groups grew.  The top 0.01% of families actually saw their average yearly income grow from a bit over $12 million to over $21 million over the same period.  And that is adjusted for inflation and without including capital gains.

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What was most interesting about the article was its discussion of the dangers of this trend and the costs of reversing it.  In brief, the article noted that many financial analysts now worry that inequality has gotten big enough to threaten the future economic and political stability of the country.  At the same time, it also pointed out that doing anything about it will likely threaten profits.  As the article notes:

But if inequality has risen to a point in which investors need to be worried, any reversal might also hurt.

One reason U.S. corporate profit margins are at records is the share of revenue going to wages is so low. Another is companies are paying a smaller share of profits on taxes. An economy where income and wealth disparities are smaller might be healthier. It would also leave less money flowing to the bottom line, something that will grab fund managers’ attention.

Any bets how those in the financial community will evaluate future policy choices?

Martin Hart-Landsberg is a professor of economics at Lewis and Clark College. You can follow him at Reports from the Economic Front.

Official Documents from the Arrest of Rosa Parks

Fifty eight years ago today, Rosa Parks kicked off a plan to bring down Jim Crow segregation by refusing to move to the back of the bus.  @ShawneeSoc sent us a link to the Washington Post, where they featured her original arrest documents.  A very cool piece of history.

rosa-parks rosa-parks-busBonus, here’s the law that Parks was arrested for violating and an explanation (thanks to Martín A. for the link):

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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.