Tag Archives: religion

If There’s a War, We’re Losing It: “Merry Christmas” vs “Happy Holidays”

1I would guess that most of us were unaware of the war on Christmas raging all around us until Bill O’Reilly started reporting from the front. He has since been joined by seasoned war reporters like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. I get the sense that they don’t really take themselves very seriously on this one – their war cries often sound like self-parody – and I guess that this attitude gives them license to say much that is silly and incorrect. Which they do.

Still, these Christian warriors may be right about the general decline of Christian hegemony in American culture.  What’s curious is how that historical trend seems out of sync with the historical trend in the war on Christmas. In fact, it looks like there was a similar war on Christmas 60-70 years ago, a war that went unnoticed.

O’Reilly’s war has two important battlegrounds – legal challenges to government-sponsored religious displays, and people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”   He sets the start of the current war in the early years of this century. From Fox News Insider:

“Everything was swell up until about 10 years ago when creeping secularism and pressure from groups like the ACLU began attacking the Christmas holiday. They demanded the word Christmas be removed from advertising and public displays.”

Many people caved in to their demands, creating what O’Reilly has dubbed as the “Happy Holidays” syndrome.

If pushed, O’Reilly might trace the origins of the war back further than that – to the 1960s.  That’s when the secularists and liberals started fighting their long war, at least according to the view from the right.  It was in the 1960s that liberals started winning victories and when the world as we knew it started falling apart. In the decades before that, we took it for granted that America was a White Christian nation.  We all pulled together in World War II without questioning that dominance. And our national religion continued to hold sway in the peaceful and prosperous 1950s. We even added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.  And of course, we all celebrated Christmas and said, “Merry Christmas,” no questions asked.

But then came drugs, sex, rock ’n’ roll, protests against an American war, and “God is Dead” on the cover of Time. Worse yet, in 1963 the Supreme Court ruled that the establishment clause of the First Amendment meant that public schools (i.e., government-run schools) could not impose explicitly sectarian rituals on children.  No Bible reading, no Christmas pageants.

The trouble is that even if this history is accurate, it doesn’t have much to do with the War on Christmas, especially “the Happy Holidays syndrome.”  I checked these two phrases at Google Ngrams – a corpus of eight million books.

The first big rise in “Happy Holidays” comes just after the end of World War II.

1

From about 1946 to 1954, it increases sixfold. It goes out of fashion as quickly as it came in, and even in the supposedly secular 1960s, it rarely turned up (at least in the books scanned by Google).  The next rise does not begin until the late 1970s, continues through the Reagan and Clinton years.

But just when O’Reilly says the War started, “Happy Holidays” starts to  decline.

And what about “Merry Christmas”?  According to the War reporters, the new secularism of the last ten years has been driving it underground.  But Ngrams tells a different story.

2

If there was a time when “Happy Holidays” was replacing “Merry Christmas,” it was in the Greatest Generation era of the 1940s.  Since the late 1970s, when “Happy Holidays” was rising, so was “Merry Christmas.” Apparently, there was just a lot more seasonal spirit to go around.

Perhaps the best way to see the relative presence of the two phrases is to look at the ratio of “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays.”

3

In 1937, there were 260 of the religious greeting for every one of the secular.  In the 1940s the ratio plummeted; by the late 1950s it had fallen to about 40 to one.  In the Sixties, “Merry Christmas” makes a slight comeback, then declines again.

By the turn of the century, the forces of “Merry Christmas” are ahead by a ratio of “only” about 18 to one.  Since then – i.e., during the period O’Reilly identifies as war time – the ratio has increased slightly in favor of “Merry Christmas.”

O’Reilly may be right that at least in public greetings – by store clerks, by public officials, and by television networks (even O’Reilly’s Fox) – the secular “Happy Holidays” is displacing the sectarian “Merry Christmas.”  But that still doesn’t explain a similar shift over a half-century ago, another war on Christmas that nobody seemed to notice.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

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

1/3 of People Say Commercialism is the Worst Part of Christmas

In Pew Research Center data collected earlier this month, only 4% of respondents said that the thing they liked best about Christmas was the gift exchange. Only 1% said they most liked shopping or good deals and only 2% said it was the food.  Instead, the majority (69%) said it was the family and friend time that they most appreciated, followed by religious reflection (11%), and general happiness and joy (7%).  My pet suspicion, that people really like it for the vacation, came in at only 3%.

What do they like the least?  Commercialism and materialism top the list (33%), the expense comes in second (22%), and shopping comes in third (10%).

1

There may be some response bias here — that’s when people say what they think the researcher wants to hear instead of the truth — but, if the data are good, it reveals why marketers have to try so damn hard every season to convince us that the gifts, decorations, and food are what make the holiday special.  What would happen to spending if we all decided to do Christmas the way we wanted instead of the way it is in toy and jewelry commercials?  There are lots of monied forces that don’t want us to find out.

1All images from a Google search for “Christmas marketing.”

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.

Racism and Xenophobia in “War on Christmas” Rhetoric

1Last year a drug store chain in Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart, started playing Christmas music more than a month before the holiday.  Customers complained, perhaps, Tom Megginson suggested, because it is customary in Canada to wait until after  Remembrance Day on November 11 (a holiday honoring those who’ve died in wars) to start celebrating Christmas.

In response to complaints, Shoppers pulled the Christmas music and announced their decision on Facebook:

How might people interpret this decision?   Here’s a sampling of one type of response, collected by Megginson:

Notice that not wanting to hear Christmas in early November is conflated with not celebrating Christmas and that is conflated with a whole host of identities: not being a “real” Canadian and being non-Christian, non-white, an immigrant, and of a different “culture.”

For these commenters, the so-called War on Christmas is about much more than a competition between religious and secular forces, it’s also about the centrality of whiteness and a defense of “true” Canadianness against an influx of foreign cultures.  It is worth considering whether, in general, this debate is really code for racism and anti-immigrant sentiment more generally.

Photo by Petr Kratochvil. 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.

Hannukah and Social Privilege

Privilege comes in many forms: class privilege, white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege and so on.  Being privileged means that you “fit” in the society in which you live and reap rewards by virtue of just being.

Recognizing privilege isn’t just a matter of being thoughtful or empathetic, it usually involves sacrificing something.  Sometimes it’s something big (like the belief that your success is due entirely to your talents and hard work) and sometimes it’s something small.

The person who sent this confession to PostSecret is admitting to feeling frustrated by giving up one of those small benefits that come with privilege:

wrapping_
Originally posted in 2009.

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.

Over Half of Today’s Teenagers Are Virgins

In my lecture about the sex lives of college students, I remind students that they didn’t invent casual sex.  This always prompts some snickers.  The fact that today’s students have about the same number of sexual partners as their parents did at their age evokes an even stronger response.   About 1/5th of college students will be virgins when they graduate college.

In fact, college students aren’t as sexually active as the moralizing makes it seem.  And neither, it turns out, are teenagers.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, 57% of girls and 58% of boys age 15 to 19 have never had penile-vaginal intercourse.  Moreover, the percent of teenagers that have had intercourse has been dropping consistently over the last 20 years.

Screenshot_1

So, despite the fact that young people are more likely than earlier generations to engage in oral sex before initiating penile-vaginal intercourse (especially fellatio), they continue to take intercourse very seriously.  This may be, in part, because men are becoming more like women in this regard.  Men’s numbers have dropped much more sharply. In addition, for the first time the CDC study found that boys’ #2 reason for not having engaged in intercourse was that they were waiting for the right person.  Men cited this reason 29% of the time, compared to 19% for girls.  For both boys and girls, the #1 reason is that it’s against their religion (41% of girls and 31% of boys).  Concerns about pregnancy come in third.

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.

Who Wants a Christian America?

Republicans tend to be Second Amendment absolutists.  The NRA and their representatives in Congress haven’t yet weighed in on the specific issue of, say, banning assault rifles in LAX, but they just might argue that such a law would be an unconstitutional infringement of the right to bear arms.

The  First Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” and when it comes to the Establishment Clause, Republican ideas become a bit more nuanced.  Here are the results of a recent YouGov survey.  The question was, “Would you favor or oppose establishing Christianity as the official state religion in your state?”

1

Democrats and Independents oppose the establishment of Christianity – “strongly oppose” is their modal response.  But a majority of Republicans favor making their state a Christian state, and of those, most (two-thirds) are in the “strongly favor” pew.

This is not to say that Republicans are unaware of the Establishment Clause.  “Based on what you know, would you think that states are permitted by the constitution to establish official state religions, or not?”

2

Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to say that the Constitution does not permit state religions.  They just think that on this one, the framers of the Constitution got it wrong.

Republicans are only a bit less enthusiastic about establishing Christianity as the official religion of the entire country.  “Would you favor or oppose a Constitutional amendment which would make Christianity the official religion of the United States?”

3

A plurality, 46% – almost a majority – want to correct the Framers’ careless omission by amending the Constitution.  We can’t know specifically what the people who favor this have in mind. Republicans themselves probably differ in their ideas. Maybe only symbolic gestures, like invoking Jesus’s blessing on public events. Maybe public indoctrination – requiring Christian prayer and Bible reading in the public schools. Or maybe more tangible forms of support – giving taxpayers’ money directly to Christian organizations for explicitly religious purposes.

In any case, this is an interesting piece of data to keep in mind for next time a representative of the political right argues that the Constitution is unamendable and inflexible.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

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

The Blood of Carrie: A Feminist Review of the Re-Make

Carrie is largely about how women find their own channels of power, but also what men fear about women and women’s sexuality. Writing the book in 1973 and only three years out of college, I was fully aware of what Women’s Liberation implied for me and others of my sex. Carrie is woman feeling her powers for the first time and, like Samson, pulling down the temple on everyone in sight at the end of the book.”

– Stephen King, Danse Macabre

Screenshot_1Most feminist criticism of Stephen King’s Carrie has focused on the male fear of powerful women that the author said inspired the film, with the anti-Carrie camp finding her death at the end to signify the defeat of the “monstrous feminine” and therefore a triumph of sexism. But Stephen King’s honesty about what inspired his 1973 book notwithstanding, Carrie is as much an articulation of a feminist nightmare as it is of a patriarchal one, with neither party coming out on top.

The rise of Second Wave feminism in the ’70s posed serious threats to the patriarchal order — as well it should have. But even for those who think change is not only necessary but good, change can be pretty scary. This, with a hat tip to the universality of being bullied, is one of the reasons Carrie scares everyone.

While men in the ’70s felt threatened by the unprecedented numbers of women standing up for themselves and attempting such radical social changes as being recognized as equal under the law, women themselves must have felt some anxiety that the obstacles to fully realizing themselves might be too big to conquer. The story therefore resonates with men in terms of the fear of (metaphorical) castration prompted by changing gender roles, and with women in terms of the fear that no matter how powerful we become, social forces are still so aligned against us that fighting back might destroy not just the patriarchy but ourselves.

Feminism was not the only thing on the rise in the ’70s: so was Christian fundamentalism. In 1976, the year that the original movie debuted, 34 percent of Protestant Americans told the Gallup Poll that they had had born-again experiences, leading George Gallup himself to declare 1976 the Year of the Evangelical. In fact evangelism, then as now — when 41 percent of Americans report being born again — was one of feminism’s more formidable foes, one of those very social forces that would rather destroy women than see them powerful.

The triggering event of Carrie–the infamous shower scene–is a product of the meeting of these two forces. Because of a fundamentalist Christian worldview in which menstruation is not simply a biological process but rather evidence of Eve’s original sin being visited upon her daughters,Carrie‘s mother does nothing to prepare her for getting her period. When she starts bleeding at school, Carrie naturally panics, and as a result faces the scorn of her peers — who laugh at her for not knowing what’s happening – and the scorn of her mother, who believes that “After the blood the boys come. Like sniffing dogs, grinning and slobbering, trying to find out where that smell is.”

I can’t believe I’m about to go all Freudian here, but for the male viewer the shock of seeing unexpected blood between one’s legs clearly represents a fear of castration–a literal embodiment of King’s anxieties about feminism. From the woman’s perspective, the menstrual blood obviously signifies Carrie’s maturation — coming into her power — which has been marred by fundamentalism.

10304319383_31b0b70ec7Without making the new remake of the movie any more violent, director Kimberly Peirce emphasizes the imagery of this inciting event by adding waaaaay more blood to her Carrie. When Carrie gets her period in the shower, there’s more blood than in Brian De Palma’s film. When Carrie gets some of that blood on her gym teacher, which happens in both films, Peirce adds more of it, and the camera lingers on it longer and returns to it more often.

When Carrie’s mother locks her in the closet, Peirce has the crucifix bleed–something that doesn’t happen in the first movie. The blood of the crucifix connects Carrie’s first period to the suffering of Christ, deepening the relationship between debased femininity and religion.

Then, when Carrie gets pig blood dumped on her head at the prom, there’s not just more of it in the second film: Pierce shows the blood landing on her in slow motion three times. This final deluge of blood echoes a scene that Pierce added to the beginning of the movie, in which Carrie’s mother endures the bloody birth of her daughter. Carrie, then, is essentially born again at the prom, and the devastation she wreaks can be read as a result not of her feminine power but of the corruption of it by religion.

Peirce told Women and Hollywood that her goal was to make Carrie as sympathetic as possible. She removes the male gaze aspect of the original shower scene, in which many of the girls are naked and the long, slow shots of Carrie’s body are rather pornified. She makes sympathy for Carrie’s primary nemesis at school pretty much impossible by changing her from an angry girl in an abusive relationship to a sociopath without a conscience. In the new film, Carrie even has the strength to challenge her mother’s theology. Her prom date is more likeable and Peirce uses his death–something De Palma doesn’t reveal until the end — as further motivation for Carrie’s rampage.

None of this changes the fact that Carrie dies at the end, but it does foreground the idea that the message doesn’t have to be that powerful women are indeed dangerous. It can be that fundamentalism is dangerous to women.

If you’re a feminist, I say go see Carrie. Watching her be destroyed — but not without taking out a lot of the patriarchy with her — and then, as a viewer, emerging again into the sunlight unscathed, allows feminists to process some of our deepest fears about what we’re up against. Then we can get on with making the world a place where religious beliefs don’t corrupt our sexuality, where women don’t have to destroy themselves to be powerful and where women’s equality doesn’t trigger men’s fear of their own doom.

Holly L. Derr, MFA, is a feminist media critic who writes about theater, film, television, video games and comics. Follow her @hld6oddblend and on her tumblr, Feminist FandomFor more of the Feminist Guide to Horror Movies, check out Parts OneTwoThree, and Four at the Ms. Magazine blog.

Cross-posted at Ms. Magazine.  Photos courtesy of Jade and thefanboyseo1 via Creative Commons 2.0

Racist Halloween Costumes for your Dog

Can we at least agree that it’s racist to dress your dog up like a racial caricature?

“Little Spanish Bandito Dog Costume” (link):

4659-large

“The Geisha Dog Costume” (link):
Screen_shot_2009-10-22_at_11_47_11_AM

“Pup Shalom Dog Costume” (link):

 

futurememories_2073_276562741)

“Indian Dog Costume” (link):

brandsonsale-store_2073_22060987

Originally posted in 2009, but the links are still live! Via Alas A Blog.  

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.