4One of the first things other academics ask me is “why are you interested in toilets?”

For the vast majority of people, the biological function of waste excretion is an after thought, an activity that nobody wants to talk about, and often times, the mere thought of talking about shit grosses them out. I, however, am fascinated by the human and political dimensions of human waste and the challenges that solving the global sanitation crisis presents. More than excrement itself, I’m interested in a holistic view of sanitation (waste disposal, transportation, removal, treatment and reuse). This interest stems primarily from my training as a chemical engineer, my work experience as a sanitation engineer and researcher, and my interest from my doctoral studies in understanding the politics of policy intervention.

Contrary to what one might think, toilets are political. Owning a toilet will become a necessary prerequisite for politicians to run for office in Gujarat, India. The new Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, has made ending open defecation and increasing access to toilets one of his campaign promises and a crucial component of his political and public policy agenda. Modi’s “toilets first, temples later” has been seen as a strong statement in favor of increasing toilet and latrine access in India.

In my own work I have emphasized that even if we have the technical capabilities to increase access to toilets, latrines and sanitation infrastructure, often times we see lack of progress because institutional, cultural, behavioral and societal barriers have been erected through time. I have shown that the behavioral determinants of sanitation governance are complex and multicausal, and also have multiple effects. Not having a toilet in your own home or easily accessible can lead to violence and physical/sexual assault. Lack of toilets affects women disproportionately and leaves them vulnerable to physical violence. Earlier this year I wrote about the complex linkages between menstrual hygiene management, access to toilets, and violence against women.

To end open defecation and increase sanitation access, we need a set of policy strategies that aren’t solely focused (individually) on cultural practices, or access to latrines, or poverty alleviation. All these factors must be tackled simultaneously.

World Toilet Day takes place on November 19th. This year finally the United Nations named World Toilet Day an official UN day, although for all the noise it has been making, we are WAY behind the target for the Millennium Development Goals. If we really want to end open defecation by 2025, as the UN indicates, we are definitely going to need a better approach. In my own research, I have found that institution- and routine-based strategies help increase access to sanitation. I have also argued that access to toilets can be used as a political manipulation strategy. We should be interested in the global politics of sanitation because the crisis is far-reaching and widespread.

Today, I encourage you to reflect on the fact that over 1 billion people defecate in the open because they lack the dignity of a toilet, and that 2.6 billion people don’t have access to improved water and sanitation sources.

Think about it. It IS political. Because we can’t wait to solve the global sanitation crisis.

Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD is a professor of Resource Management and Environmental Studies with a specialty in the global politics of sanitation. You can follow him at raulpacheco.org, where this post originally appeared, and on Twitter and Facebook.

With interest, I have been watching the resistance to the right of trans people to choose public restrooms based on their identity instead of their biology at birth. Though there is no evidence that allowing trans people to use the bathroom of their choice will put anyone in danger, one of the arguments against doing so is that women or children will be victimized. Completely tone deaf to the actual experiences of trans people, the idea is nonetheless framed as allowing men to use women’s restrooms:


I can’t help but want to draw connections to history and a recent post at Notches, a history of sexuality blog, helped me do so.

Recall that it wasn’t so long ago that black and white people weren’t allowed to use the same restrooms in public. When this practice came under attack, segregationists in the South, like anti-trans choice advocates today, claimed that it would be dangerous for white women, claiming that they would be infected with black women’s venereal diseases.


White women participated in this resistance, protesting against the integration of their bathrooms. A girl at Central High in Little Rock, AR, for example, claimed that bathroom integration functionally stole bathroom facilities from white girls. “Many of the girls won’t use the rest rooms at Central,” she said, “simply because the ‘Nigger’ girls use them.”

Several decades later, conservatives fighting the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for women drew again on racism and the politics of the bathroom. They stoked fear in the American public by suggesting that passage of the ERA would lead to the sex integration of bathrooms. Still smarting from the loss of racial segregation, they even compared race and sex segregation, hoping that the public would be opposed to both.

In this anti-ERA flyer, the final threat is: “Do you want the sexes fully integrated like the races?”


Combining the two was a powerful tool, exploiting the longstanding racist belief that white women were uniquely vulnerable to predatory, sexually voracious black men. Both race and sex integration of bathrooms would mean that white women would be going to the bathroom not just with black women, but with black men. “I ain’t going to have my wife be in the bathroom with some big, black, buck!” said one North Carolina legislator.

This same argument, now with trans women as the target, is being made today.

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

Flashback Friday.

Labiaplasty, a plastic surgery in which the labia is reshaped, is on the rise in many Western countries. Usually this means trimming the labia so that it is less “obtrusive” and social pressure, especially from increased exposure to pornography, is blamed for the rise. For reference, see our post on the natural range of labia shapes and sizes (nsfw).

The report below is about the rise of labiaplasty in Australia. It offers some fascinating insight into why it is that porn stars have such “tidy” labia. It turns out that the aesthetic has nothing to do with the preferences of men, women, or porn producers. Instead, pornography features vulvas reduced to a simple “slit” because rating boards require that soft-core porn show “only discreet genital detail.”

Brad Boxall, Former Editor of Picture Magazine, explains:

The only acceptable vagina [sic: vulva] as far as the Classification Board is concerned is one that is ‘neat and tidy’ in their eyes. They basically consider the labia minora “too offensive” for soft core porn.

Accordingly, porn stars themselves sometimes have surgery and/or their vulvas are re-touched to make their labia minora disappear. This practice may have far-reaching consequences if non-porn stars all over the Western world are suddenly feeling like they have freakishly large labia… all because the ratings board has decided that the true range of bodies is unacceptably crass.

In the video you will see actual footage of labiaplasty and genital re-touching, so it’s not safe for work or the squeamish.

Originally posted in 2010.

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

Musician Ryan Adams recently released an album cover. A cover, that is, of an entire album written and performed by Taylor Swift. Both albums are titled 1989.

7via TheVine.com.

Critical praise for Adams’ version was immediate, turning quickly to a comparison of the two. At There’s Research on That!, Jacqui Frost explained that there was…

…a media frenzy about which album is “better” and who deserves credit for the “depth and complexity” that many say Adams brought to Swift’s poppier original. Some reviews argue Adams “vindicated” Taylor Swift as an artist; others argue that emotional depth was already present in Swift’s songwriting…

Swift’s 1989 was the best selling album of 2014 — by popular vote, it was obviously an excellent album — but many people seemed not to notice. Instead, they wanted to talk about who should get credit for the quality of Adams’ album, as if whether there was anything good there to begin with was an open question.

Frost draws on sociological research to suggest that gender might help explain why we have such a hard time giving credit to Swift.

First, she notes that musical genres are gendered and we tend to take feminized genres less seriously than masculinized ones. “Many publications that reviewed Adams’ version [of 1989],” for example, “did not review Swift’s original.” This may be because serious music critics don’t review pop.

Second, research shows that male creatives in the music industry are generally more likely to get credit than females ones. Frost writes:

[M]ale musicians, regardless of genre, are more likely to receive critical recognition and be “consecrated” into the popular music canon. Women are less likely to be seen as “legitimate” artists and are more often judged on their emotional authenticity and connections with “more” legitimate, male artists.

In fact, Frost notes, “the albums will be competing for a Grammy this year, and many think Adams will take it over Swift

Whatever you think of the two albums, the instinct to dismiss Swift’s album as “just pop” and Adams’ version as “artistic” is likely tied to the powerful ways in which the music industry, and our own experience of music, has a thumb on the scale in favor of men and masculine genres.

This post borrows heavily from Jacqui Frost at TROT! and you can find links to the original research there.

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

In a previous post, I wrote about a University of Illinois football coach forcing injured players to go out on the field even at the risk of turning those injuries into lifelong debilitating and career-ending injuries. The coach and the athletic director both stayed on script and insisted that they put the health and well-being of the scholar athletes “above all else.” Right.

My point was that blaming individuals was a distraction and that the view of players as “disposable bodies” (as one player tweeted) was part of a system rather than the moral failings of individuals.

But systems don’t make for good stories. It’s so much easier to think in terms of individuals and morality, not organizations and outcomes. We want good guys and bad guys, crime and punishment. That’s true in the legal system. Convicting individuals who commit their crimes as individuals or in small groups is fairly easy. Convicting corporations or individuals acting as part of a corporation is very difficult.

That preference for stories is especially strong in movies. In that earlier post, I said that the U of Illinois case had some parallels with the NFL and its reaction to the problem of concussions. I didn’t realize that Sony pictures had made a movie about that very topic (title – “Concussion”), scheduled for release in a few months.

Hacked e-mails show that Sony, fearful of lawsuits from the NFL, wanted to shift the emphasis from the organization to the individual.

Sony executives; the director, Peter Landesman; and representatives of Mr. Smith discussed how to avoid antagonizing the N.F.L. by altering the script and marketing the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league…

Hannah Minghella, a top [Sony] executive, suggested that “rather than portray the N.F.L. as one corrupt organization can we identify the individuals within the N.F.L. who were guilty of denying/covering up the truth.” [source: New York Times]

I don’t know what the movie will be like, but the trailer clearly puts the focus on one man – Dr. Bennet Omalu, played by Will Smith. He’s the good guy.

Will the film show as clearly how the campaign to obscure and deny the truth about concussions was a necessary and almost inevitable part of the NFL? Or will it give us a few bad guys – greedy, ruthless, scheming NFL bigwigs – and the corollary that if only those positions had been staffed by good guys, none of this would have happened?

The NFL, when asked to comment on the movie, went to the same playbook of cliches that the Illinois coach and athletic director used.

We are encouraged by the ongoing focus on the critical issue of player health and safety. We have no higher priority.

Originally posted at Montclair SocioBlog. Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Despite popular notions that the U.S. is now “post-racial,” numerous recent events (such as the Rachel Dolezal kerfuffle and the Emmanuel AME Church shooting) have clearly showcased how race and racism continue to play a central role in the functioning of contemporary American society. But why is it that public rhetoric is at such odds with social reality?

A qualitative study by sociologists Natasha Warikoo and Janine de Novais provides insights. By conducting interviews with 47 white students at two elite universities, they explore the “lenses through which individuals understand the role of race in society.” Described as race frames, Warikoo and de Novais articulate two ways in which their respondents rely on particular cultural frames in making sense of race and race relations.

  • The color-blind frame: the U.S. is now a “post-racial” society where race has little social meaning or consequence.
  • The diversity frame: race is a “positive cultural identity” and the incorporation of a multitude of perspectives (also referred to as multiculturalism) is beneficial to all those involved.

Integral to Warikoo and de Novais’ study is the finding that about half of their student respondents simultaneously house both the color-blind and diversity frames. Of 24 students who held a color-blind frame, 23 also promoted a diversity frame. Warikoo and de Novais explain this discursive discordance as a product of the environments in which respondents reside: a pre-college environment where race is typically de-emphasized and a college environment that amplifies the importance of diversity and multiculturalism.

Importantly, Warikoo and de Novais argue that the salience of these two co-occurring race frames is significant not only because of their seeming contradictions, but because they share conceptions of race that largely ignore a structural frame: the idea that social structures are an important source of racism and racial inequality in the U.S. Ultimately, Warikoo and de Novais’ findings illustrate the general ambivalence that their white respondents share about race and race-based issues — undoubtedly reflective of the discrepancies concerning race in broader society.

Cross-posted at Discoveries.

Stephen Suh is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Minnesota and a graduate board member at The Society Pages. His dissertation research examines the growing global trend of ethnic return migration through the perspectives of Korean Americans.

Flashback Friday.

The common sense assumption about success in sport often involves the belief that success is a result of innate talent and intensive practice. The more of both you have, the better you are. However, who is good at a particular sport is also the result of how that sport is organized. Sports have rules and those rules are made by the people who have the power to enforce their own ideas about what the rules should be over and against less powerful people with other ideas.

Long distance ski jumpers benefit from maximizing their surface area while simultaneously decreasing their weight. The less they weigh and the more drag they can produce, the farther they go. Their bodies are the primary source of weight and, as a result, there is incredible pressure for competing ski jumpers to be as thin as possible.

After criticism that the sport was creating an incentive for disordered eating, the International Ski Federation began penalizing jumpers who had a body mass index below 20. These skiers were required to jump with shorter skis, the primary source of drag. The hope was that the shorter skis would balance out the incentive for thinness, allowing jumpers to be competitive without starving themselves.

So, who wins isn’t only related to talent and practice. It is also a consequence of rules that no longer make the ability to train while starving oneself an advantage. This is a great example of the way that we write rules that shape the context for success in a sport.


In light of this, it’s really interesting to consider the fact that ski jumping was the last Olympic event that excluded women. Women were given their first ski jumping event in 2014, though they still have one and the men have three.

The International Olympics Committee and the International Ski Federation listed a myriad of reasons for this, ranging from claims that the sport is not yet developed enough, to the idea that adding women would crowd an already overwhelmed Olympic schedule, to the assertion that the sport is not “…appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”

The rationales seem transparently thin, leading to the suggestion that the real reason that women weren’t allowed to compete — and still aren’t on parity with men — is because they might kick ass. If being lighter is an advantage, then women might beat men at the sport. In fact, during the time women’s future in Olympic ski jumping was being debated, the world record holder on the ski jump track at that year’s Olympics was held by a woman: Lindsey Van.

Sociologists recognize sport as a terrain on which social claims about gender are demonstrated. Not letting women play is one way that the mythology of men’s physical dominance has been maintained. Football is an excellent example. Women aren’t allowed to play football, it is asserted, because they are not big enough and would get hurt. Of course, rules that make size so critical to success in football also exclude the majority of men (who aren’t big enough to play either). If we organized football by weight classes, instead of gender, women could play football, and so could all of the men who are excluded as well. But, if we organized football by weight classes, we couldn’t claim that women were too small, weak, and fragile to play it.

It will be interesting to see how the future of women’s ski jumping plays out.

Originally posted in 2010.

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

I usually try to avoid posting videos that are more than five minutes long, but this commentary about trans rights from John Oliver was too great to pass up. He does a wonderful job of introducing what it means to be transgender, as well as discussing:

  • media coverage,
  • the terrible statistics on discrimination and anti-trans violence,
  • the gender binary in institutions and institutional inertia,
  • and the ridiculousness of “bathroom bills.”

Mostly, he just does a great job of talking about how easy it really is to just get over it and treat people like people.

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