Cross-posted at BlogHer.One of the few genuinely large observed differences between men and women involves throwing ability. Men, on average, are much stronger throwers than women. Hence the phrase “throws like a girl.”
That we observe a difference, however, tells us nothing about where that difference comes from. Figuring that out is much more difficult than simply measuring difference and sameness. We know that the difference emerges at puberty, suggesting that sheer size might have something to do with it. But the fact that boys and men, on average, get much more practice throwing than women might also play a role. How to test this?
Well, here’s one way: compare men and women throwing with their non-dominant hand. Muscle memory doesn’t transfer from one side of the body to the other. Accordingly, since most people have a lot of practice throwing only with one hand, comparing the throws of men and women using their non-dominant hand might tell us something interesting.
I don’t know that that study has been done, but an enterprising videographer has captured video of a set of men throwing with the “wrong” hand. What I like most about the video is the men’s facial expressions. You can see them laughing at themselves, suddenly reduced to a beginner thrower. Though we still don’t know how much of it is biological and how much social — though, this is the wrong question anyway – it reveals that, no matter what the answer, men’s throwing ability is strongly related to practice:
A big thanks to Reynaldo C. for sending in the video!
As children, many of us encountered Richard Scarry’s book, What Do People Do all Day? A classic kid’s book, it uses animals to represent the division of labor that exists in “Busytown.” The book is an example of a brilliant piece of analysis by sociologist John Levi Martin (full text).
To oversimplify greatly: Martin analyzes nearly 300 children’s books and finds that there is a marked tendency for these texts to represent certain animals in particular kinds of jobs. Jobs that allow the occupant to exercise authority over others tend to be held by predatory animals (especially foxes), but never by “lower” animals (mice or pigs).
Pigs in particular are substantially over-represented in subordinate jobs (those with low skill and no authority), where their overweight bodies and (judging from the plots of these books) congenital stupidity seems to “naturally” equip them for subservient jobs. Here, see this additional image from Scarry’s book, showing construction work being performed by the above-mentioned swine.
In effect, Martin’s point is that there is a hidden language or code inscribed in children’s books, which teaches kids to view inequalities within the division of labor as a “natural” fact of life – that is, as a reflection of the inherent characteristics of the workers themselves. Young readers learn (without realizing it, of course) that some species-beings are simply better equipped to hold manual or service jobs, while other creatures ought to be professionals. Once this code is acquired by pre-school children, he suggests, it becomes exceedingly difficult to unlearn. As adults, then, we are already predisposed to accept the hierarchical, caste-based system of labor that characterizes the American workplace.
Steven Vallas is a professor of sociology at Northeastern University. He specializes in the sociology of work and employment. His most recent book, Work: A Critique, offers an overview and discussion of the sociological literatures on work. You can follow Steven at the blog Work in Progress.
Earlier this week I wrote a post asking Is the Sky Blue?, discussing the way that culture influences our perception of color. In the comments thread Will Robertson linked to a fascinating 8-minute BBC Horizon clip. The video features an expert explaining how language changes how children process color in the brain.
We also travel to Namibia to visit with the Himba tribe. They have different color categories than we do in the West, making them “color blind” to certain distinctions we easily parse out, but revealing ways in which we, too, can be color blind.
Thanks to Stephanie V., now we’ve got another example. This 4-year-old has not only figured out how to rap using different cadences and tones, he accompanies himself on a keyboard and drum machine, and has a pretty excellent grasp of song construction. Enjoy!
For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2011.
In this hilarious two minute video, twin toddlers practice having a conversation. They don’t really know words, but they know HOW to do it. They’ve figured out how to sound sure of themselves, how to sound inquisitive, how to gesticulate, how to aim their efforts at a second person, and how to take turns. They’ve learned, in other words, the rules of talking to another person, even before they’ve learned how to talk. A fun example of socialization.
Late Night TV host Jimmy Kimmel encouraged his viewers to film their children getting early Christmas presents that they would surely hate. The result is a collection of children acting badly: bursting into tears, saying they hate their parents, lecturing them on proper gift giving protocol, etc. It’s funny and also a great illustration of the gift-giving rules that Theodore Caplow meticulously lists in his article, Rule Enforcement Without Visible Means: Christmas Gift Giving in Middletown (pdf) (btw: this is the very first article I assign in Soc101).
In a number of cases, the gift is considered bad because the recipient is a boy and the gift is for a girl. One boy, for example, gets a Hello Kitty gift, another gets a pop star-themed coloring book. The boys’ reaction at being presented with a girls’ gift reveals their internalization of androcentrism, the idea that masculinity is superior to femininity. They express both disgust and, in some cases I think, fear at being poisoned by contact — especially such personal contact as “I got this for you” — with girlness.
In The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Philip Zimbardo tries to explain how seemingly ordinary, average people can become involved in, or passively fail to oppose, evil acts. Zimbardo is the researcher who designed the (in)famous 1971 Stanford prison experiment, in which students were randomly assigned as “prisoners” or “guards” for an experiment on how prison affects human behavior. The experiment, meant to last two weeks, had to be called off after 6 days because of the extreme negative effects on, and brutality emerging among, the participants. Zimbardo’s study, as well as others such as Milgram’s obedience experiment, highlighted the role of conformity to social norms and obedience to apparent authority figures in leading people to engage in actions that would seem to be so ethically unacceptable that any decent person would refuse.
Dolores R. sent in a Candid Camera clip from 1962 that illustrates the power of conformity:
We laugh that these people are manipulated like puppets on invisible strings, but this scenario makes us aware of the number of situations in which we mindlessly follow the dictates of group norms and situational forces.