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.
by Guest Blogger Christina Barmon, Aug 23, 2011, at 02:16 pm
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.
Noam sent in a link to a website with a post featuring “beautiful” Chinese women who have been executed. These women are apparently important not because of their sacrifice, or because of what they say about Chinese politics, but because they’re beautiful. Non-beautiful women who have been executed apparently draw no interest.
Noam’s submission gave me a fantastic excuse to post a video of our very own Gwen Sharp giving a 4-1/2 minute lecture about a similar phenomenon, the Missing White Woman Syndrome (originally posted at the NSC School of Liberal Arts and Sciences; transcript after the jump).
She covers quite a bit of ground. After introducing the concept, she discusses data on the disproportionate coverage of crimes against white women, and how this shapes perceptions of risk. In fact, white women are among the least likely type of person to be victimized. This graph, coincidentally sent in by Grace S., doesn’t break down the data by gender, but it shows a clear pattern by race.
The constant attention to white women’s vulnerability, even though it’s disproportionate, makes it seem as if they are especially likely to be a victim of violent crime. The risk that women of color will be victimized, then, is underestimated and not taken as seriously as it should be. Meanwhile, white women may confine themselves to safer-seeming leisure activities and occupational pursuits.
These patterns affirm the role of racism in news making — with violence against women of color apparently less newsworthy — and also shows that white women, though valorized, may self-curtail their lives out of fear that they are, accordingly, the most likely target of violence.
Follow Gwen on Twitter!
Chiricos, T., S. Eschholz, & M. Gertz. (1997). Crime, news and fear of crime: toward an identification of audience effects. Social Problems 44(3), 342-357.
Lundman, R.J. (2003). The newsworthiness and selection bias in news about murder: comparative and relative effects of novelty and race and gender typifications on newspaper coverage of homicide. Sociological Forum, 18(3), 357-386.
In my Sociology of Gender course I talk about how gender conformity isn’t simply a matter of socialization, but often a response to active policing by others. Single women usually avoid having too many cats, for example, not only because they’ve been taught that too many cats sends the wrong signal, but because they may be called a “cat lady” by their friends (a joke-y slur suggesting that she is or will be a batty old spinster). Or her best friend, with her best interests in mind, may discourage her from adopting another cat because she knows what people think of “cat ladies.”
People who find community in subcultures that are seen as “alternative” to the “mainstream” often feel like they are freed of such rules. But these subcultures often simply have different rules that turn out to be equally restrictive and are just as rigidly policed.
A recent submission to PostSecret, a site where people anonymously tell their secrets, reminded me of this. In it a lesbian confesses that she hates cats. Because of the stereotype that women love cats, the “cat lady” stigma may be lifted in lesbian communities. This lesbian, however, doesn’t feel freed by the lifting of this rule, but instead burdened by its opposite: everyone has to like cats. So she feels compelled to lie and say that she’s allergic.
When someone gave us this chunky dinosaur puzzle, I did a double-take. Yes, that’s a caveman there with the dinosaurs:
The blurb on the company’s website says that, along with the puzzle, “ The accompanying board book teaches young learners about dinosaurs.” Teaches, that is, with lessons like this:
A little harmless fun, or a little creationist indoctrination? (Do sociologists even believe in “harmless fun”?)
According to the Shure company, they deliver these “common threads” in all their products: “Originality and inventiveness; Excellence in design; Attention to detail; Exceptional quality; Educational merit.” So, not just entertainment.
A quick perusal suggests the rest of their products are not creationist — just the usual toy-gendering. They do have a Noah’s Ark puzzle, but it doesn’t claim to be educational. In that Shure is just keeping up Melissa & Doug (whose puzzle is at least Genesis-correct in not naming Noah’s wife):
And anyway, the story of Noah’s Ark is actually not a bad way to talk about reproduction.
But back to dinosaurs and people. Dinosaurs are not really more problematic for creationism than any other creatures that pre-date humans. But maybe because kids love dinosaurs so much, creationists spend inordinate energy trying to place them chronologically with people. Writes one such site:
The idea of millions of years of evolution is just the evolutionists’ story about the past. No scientist was there to see the dinosaurs live through this supposed dinosaur age. In fact, there is no proof whatsoever that the world and its fossil layers are millions of years old. No scientist observed dinosaurs die. Scientists only find the bones in the here and now, and because many of them are evolutionists, they try to fit the story of the dinosaurs into their view.
Up against this kind of propaganda, it is tempting to bring the hammer down on “harmless fun” featuring humans and dinosaurs playing together. That would mean none of these, either:
That is basically the argument of James Wilson, a University of Sussex lecturer, who has a talk on the subject here on Youtube.
In any case, we may be so used to seeing toys or other products like this — with humans and dinosaurs side-by-side — that we forget to ask whether they’re teaching kids a lesson, one that is at odds with science.
By the way, for non-biologists, like me, who like evolution and want some ammunition to defend it, I recommend Richard Dawkins’ recent book The Greatest Show on Earth. Some do find it a little dogmatic, and in the grand scheme I prefer Stephen Jay Gould, but it’s good for this purpose. Because rather than block access to dinosaur cartoons, I would rather arm myself – and the surrounding children – with the tools they need to handle them with confidence.
Trigger warning for those sensitive to war, suicide, domestic violence, or people suffering from war-related ptsd.
Generations of U.S. children have played with the iconic little green army men. Along with other war toys, they contribute to the socialization of some young boys into the idea that war is an exciting and heroic adventure.
An artist at the Dorothy Collective decided to reconfigure the little green army men so that they would tell the less glamorous stories. Inspired by an article about the suffering of a Colorado Springs-based battalion, she created these little green army men:
They’re a heart-wrenching commentary about the grown up realities of war and the socialization of children into the fantasy. Thanks to Hope H. for the tip.
Racialicious and Hermes’ Journeys featured a clip of stand-up comedian Gary Owens comparing black and white churches, joking about how long and loud black services are compared to white services. Two things are happening in the clip. First, Owens is commenting on two different styles of worship. This is really interesting sociologically because it shows that how one worships is a cultural phenomenon that varies. We’ve seen this powerfully illustrated by children recently in the viral videos Baby Preacher and Baby Worshipper.
Second, though, Owens is racializing these different forms of worship. In consultation with Gwen, she reminded me that what he’s really talking about is “the difference between more mainline churches vs. the charismatic evangelical ones.” At the latter churches yelling out and hours-long services are common, no matter the racial makeup of the congregation.
So, the clip is a good example of both a sociological principle (socialization) and a sociological mistake (racialization):