Tag Archives: socialization

Men Throwing “Like a Girl”: Separating Nature from Nurture

Screenshot_5One 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!

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Language, Culture, and Color: A Visit with the Himba

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.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The “Baby Producer”

Over the last couple of years, we’ve collected a number of awesome examples of kids illustrating socialization into particular types of interaction or performance. We had the toddlers expertly mimicking the cadences of a conversation; we had a 2-year-old rapping; there was the baby worshipper; and finally, the baby preacher, who has the gestures and rhythms of a certain type of preaching down pat.

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!

Babies Learn How to Have a Conversation

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.

For more really great examples of children learning to act like grown ups, see our posts on the baby worshipper, the baby preacher, the baby rapper, and the baby Beyonce. Via Blame it on the Voices.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Jimmy Kimmel Reveals the Rules of Gift Giving

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).

(UPDATE: I was quoted briefly on this phenomenon in a New York Times story on the prank.)

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.

More posts on androcentrism: “woman” as an insult, being a girl is degradingmaking it manly: how to sell a car, good god don’t let men have long hairdon’t forget to hug like a dudesaving men from their (feminine) selvesmen must eschew femininitynot impressed with Buzz Lightyear commercialdinosaurs can’t be for girls, and sissy men are so uncool.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Another Example of Socialization: Baby Rapper

As examples of childhood socialization into cultural patterns of interaction, we’ve previously brought you baby preacher, baby worshipper, and two babies mimicking a conversation. Thanks to Shruti S., we now have another awesome example: a 2-year-old, Khaliyl Iloyi of London, who has learned the cadences of rapping:

You’re welcome.

The Power of Conformity

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:

As Zimbardo says on his website,

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.

From Open Culture, via Boing Boing.

To Sit or Not to Sit: Gendering How We Pee

Tiffani W. at Peppermint Kiss sent in a great example of the social construction of gender and the devaluation of all things feminine, a comic posted at The Oatmeal:

According to Tiffani,

Women sit down to pee.  Women are sissy bitches.  Therefore, sitting down to pee makes you a “sissy bitch.”  If that second sentence weren’t there, the joke wouldn’t make any sense.

Not only do people think that it is girly (yuck!) to sit down and pee, they also think that it is natural that men stand. However, this is learned behavior. While peeing is biological, where and how we pee are cultural and imbued with meaning.

Whether you sit or stand depends on where you are in the world. I have personally witnessed women standing to pee in Ghana, and they did not make the mess that I, without any practice, would make. Enough Ghanaian women stand to pee for this sign to make sense (link):

Ignoring the fact that some women in other areas of the world stand to pee, many westerners claim–because they assume we are more civilized–that men evolved to stand while women evolved to sit. They think it is natural.

However, it may really be natural to squat. There is speculation that many of the ancient toilets that we assume people sat on were actually squat toilets. We may have actually squatted throughout much of history. If you have ever spent time around small children, you know they instinctually squat before we teach them to sit or stand. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends teaching a young boy to sit first. When you really, really, really want a young boy to just use the toilet instead of a diaper, the last thing you want to do is make it confusing by trying to teach him that sometimes you sit and sometimes you stand.

But many parents will go to a lot of trouble to teach gender even though it might cause them more trouble and a messy bathroom, hence the existence of tinkle targets and potty-training urinals like the one shown here, which promises to give your son a “real ‘stand up’ experience”:

On the other hand, in line with our greater comfort with women adopting masculine behaviors than men adopting feminine ones, a quick Google search yields a plethora of sites teaching women how to stand while peeing. And if you just can’t master it, well then there is a product for that.

So even something as seemingly “natural” as peeing varies culturally and illustrates our insistence in the U.S. on emphasizing gender difference and placing gender-segregated practices in a hierarchy that values masculine traits over feminine ones — even ones that are as mundane as how we pee.


Christina Barmon is a doctoral student at Georgia State University studying sociology and gerontology.

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