Monthly Archives: November 2012

Situating Strain within Late Modernity

Robert K. Merton, in 1938, began delving into how societal arrangements could create, maintain, and exacerbate social tension and individual stress. His theory of ‘strain’ – tremendously oversimplified – proposes that crime/deviance becomes more likely when a disjuncture exists between culturally derived ends (i.e. monetary success) and what the social structure makes possible. This theoretical framework, from its onset, has been the focus of numerous efforts; being tested, criticized, buttressed, and modified to increase its viability. As a result, sociology and criminology now offer a variety of strain models so as to enhance an understanding of criminogenic conditions, criminal behaviors, and social deviance (see Merton, 1938; Cohen, 1955; Cloward & Ohlin 1960; Agnew, 1992, 2002; Messner & Rosenfeld 1994). However, criminologists and sociologists alike are recognizing conditions that, once again, may result in the modification or further development of the strain tradition.

(more…)

Girls, Boys, and Toys

Source: mommyish.com

The great American holiday, Black Friday, marks the beginning of the holiday shopping frenzy. At the top of most parents’ lists are children’s toys—be it the latest video games, coloring sets, dolls or action figures. Even as the toys and games become more elaborate (and expensive), one thing seems to remain the same: the gendered nature of children’s products. Having grown up in this gendered arena, I was the giddy recipient of many a Barbie doll, baby doll, and flowery art set (to be fair, my parents also gifted me less gendered items geared at learning, which were among my favorite presents). And the guys I know fondly remember unwrapping Tonka trucks, superheroes, and toy guns. But a recent toy catalog, distributed around Sweden, is flipping those standards on their head. The catalog totally reverses gender expectations—its pages contain little girls wielding toy machine guns and wearing blue, boys playing with dolls and wearing Hello Kitty tees. A representative explained that decision to alter the catalog reflects a changing market in Sweden, and a belief that toys don’t have to be for just girls or boys, but can appeal to all children.

While I’m not sure I’d support any child playing with a mock automatic weapon, I can definitely get behind the move to de-gender children’s entertainment. There is no doubt that our worlds are gendered from before we are even born. The announcement that, “It’s a girl” or “It’s a boy” carries incredible weight in our society, where gender appears as a fundamental category of identity and experience. We are so concerned with gender that babies—who generally look the same—must be dressed in clothing that immediately asserts their gender, whether it is through color choice (pink for girls and blue for boys), or cute little slogans (like “Daddy’s princess” or “Little slugger”).

Some might think that it is ok for boys and girls to like different things. Of course it is. But we have to recognize that these preferences don’t emerge out of the unique personality of each child, but rather are molded by the incessant pressures of socializing influences. Moreover, these preferences are not valued equally, and thus, our children are placed into positions of dominance and subordination before they even know those words. Boys’ toys encourage activity, courage, strength, ingenuity and a sense of adventure, all of which carry high social value. These toys prepare them for careers in the public sphere—for leadership roles and science degrees, for example. Girls’ toys, on the other hand, teach girls domesticity, passivity, and superficiality, none of which are socially valued or rewarded. Girls learn that their place is in the home, taking care of husbands, houses, and babies. These differences in (learned) preferences produce different personalities, and encourage differential treatment of boys/men and girls/women by parents, teachers, friends, employers, and mates. In this way, the ways we play have lifelong consequences. (For more on how boys “play,” see here.)

The emphasis on these gendered products comes in part from our gender ideology and part from our capitalist motivations. When corporate geniuses realized that parents having second or third children were <gasp!> reusing baby items, they saw an opening for generating more profits.  Here is the logic we were sold: Baby boys cannot possibly reuse their big sis’s sheets and onesies; dressing him in pink might turn him gay! Little girls should never wear their big bro’s PJs or play with his toys; she might never grow out of that tomboy phase and then become a lesbian. Ok, the messages aren’t quite so obvious, but this fear is imprinted in parents very early on and influences the way we are raised, and the people we become.

I won’t suggest that we can buy our way out of a rigid gender scheme. If capitalism is part of how we got into this mess, it can’t be the long term exit strategy. Indeed, this marketing strategy was probably less a political statement for gender neutrality, and more a new way to generate profits. But I think, in the short term at least, children can benefit from the message this catalog sends. (I’ve discussed the problem of balancing long and short term strategies for dealing with gender inequality here.) If it encourages parents to reward boys’ caretaking instincts, or girls’ sense of adventure, the next generation might be a little better off. And I think it could encourage us all to think of new ways to imagine children’s worlds, to challenge the simplistic binary that has governed us for so many generations, perhaps, even, to make gender nonconformity fun. That’s my Christmas wish.

 

Further Reading

Auster, Carol J. and Claire S. Mansbach. 2012. The Gender and Marketing of Toys: An Analysis of Color and Type of Toy on the Disney Store Website. Sex Roles 67(7-8): 375-388.

Goldberg, Abbie E., Deborah A. Kashy and JuliAnna Z. Smith. 2012. Gender-Typed Play Behavior in Early Childhood: Adopted Children with Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Parents. Sex Roles 67(9-10): 503-515.

Mendes, Kaitlynn and Cynthia Carter. 2008. Feminist and Gender Media Studies: A Critical Overview. Sociology Compass 2(6): 1701-1718.

 

I See the Target: Social Media and the Accountability of Military Technology

An image from Bridle’s Dronestagram

In a recent article, Brad Allenby and Carolyn Mattick argue that the ‘rule book’ of international warfare needs to be rewritten to include of the use of new technologies, in particular drones.[1] Drones sit in an ambiguous legal space because they are unmanned aerial vehicles that are often used to fly in a restricted airspace. Compounding this problem is that the use of drones is largely undocumented as a matter of national secrecy. Nevertheless another layer of technology, social media, is now providing a battleground for visual accountability. On the one hand, I want to draw attention to the use of Instagram to highlight the use of social media to inform – and critique – the use of drones through layered representations of their targets. On the other, and competing with this critique, we must look at the use of drone target visuals released by governments to communicate the drones precision and safety. These examples are a way of demonstrating how social media produces a visual politics that can be used to highlight the use of these new military technologies. This contestation for visual accountability may be the social inroads to in fact see the target. The target I am alluding to here is not what the drones see but the frameworks that that legitimatize the actions of these drones.

(more…)

Neoliberalism, Anomie, and Interpersonal Violence: Normlessness Leads to Criminality?

(If you’re interested in this topic, please see my earlier posts on neoliberalism (1) and (2))

Source: Fotolia

Increasingly, there appears to be a connection between neoliberalism and the development of anomie. Such an association is unsurprising considering that neoliberalism encourages individuals to achieve ever greater success even though such a goal is unrealistic. In response to being blocked from realizing their never-ending aspirations, Merton (1968) argues that people in success-driven societies will feel deprived and frustrated as a divide forms between idealistic ambitions and factual reality. While such a divide has traditionally been the widest in developed capitalist states like the U.S., Passas (2000) contends that the growth of neoliberalism has exacerbated this problem in countries throughout the world. As a result, anomie, or the “withdrawal of allegiance from conventional norms and a weakening of these norms’ guiding power on behavior” has increased on a global scale (Passas 2000:20). Oozing with the anomie brought about by constant strain, neoliberalism can intensify the occurrence of violence as frustrated people struggle to live and to succeed in an unequal society. In response to this idea, it appears that as neoliberalism becomes more prominent in a country, it can be expected that anomie and, as a result, interpersonal violence within that country will increase. (more…)

Football and Brain Damage, or How American Masculinity Ravages Men’s Bodies

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year, many retired football players and their families filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL. The complaint states that the NFL hid evidence of the dangers of the game, dangers like brain damage from repeat concussions and sub-concussive trauma. New research indicates that the repetitive beatings that football players experience over the course of their career causes irreparable damage to their brains, leading to cognitive, emotional, and functional problems similar to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Several players committed suicide after repeat concussions left them with depression and mood swings, and many others continue to suffer memory loss, cognitive impairment, and balance problems.

(more…)

Gender, Sexuality, and the HPV Vaccine: Part 2

 

Source: Consumer Reports

In mid-October, I posted about a recent study that assesses the relationship between rates of sexual activity-related outcomes and the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination. The researchers found that injection of the vaccine is not associated with elevated rates of sexual activity-related outcomes in young girls, specifically pregnancy, contraceptive counseling, and sexually transmitted infection testing and diagnosis. While removing the stigma around the vaccine will help girls and women, I asked why the vaccine continues to be associated with women, even though Gardasil is approved for men, too.

Gardasil, the vaccine that prevents 70% of HPV-related cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts, was first approved for use in women by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006. Soon after, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that the vaccine become a part of the normal vaccination schedule for girls. In 2009, the FDA approved the vaccine for men, but the CDC initially did not recommend the vaccine as part of the normal vaccination schedule for boys (the CDC changed its mind in 2011, though). In this next post, I will go into more depth about the research guiding the CDC’s initial decision and suggest that the guidelines were only possible when assuming a heteronormative model of transmission, as well as women’s general responsibility for reproductive health. Both of these assumptions continue to perpetuate the link between the vaccine and women.

(more…)

Economies of Review on Amazon.com

An image uploaded by ‘zigzagzilla’ to the review section of the ‘Avery Durable View Binder’ on Amazon.com

Amazon.com provides a number of feedback spaces. These kinds of spaces are the communicative loops that situate digital consumption. Recently we have seen a number of variations in the form of these reviews. Critically, these reviews include ones that take the form of explicit social commentary and go beyond the particularity of a simple product review. This practice drew me to the thinking about economies of review, as parables for digital communication and consumption. Can such reviews challenge spaces of consumption, transform them, go beyond their commercial logics? If so, could we be reviewing these goods not just on their functional or symbolic usefulness, but on how their production is embedded in social, political and ecological vectors?

In the early days of Amazon.com staff would write the reviews of the books were being sold.[1] Over time Amazon developed an agreement with publishers and newspapers to copy their reviews of books onto Amazon.com. This method evolved into the system of feedback we know today whereby customers themselves are able to create an account and write reviews. Not only can you review products, but also review specific comments of other reviewers. In addition, other customers/reviewers are able to rate the review according to ‘helpfulness’ and, as a result, the reviewer will be ranked in relation to other reviewers. The top 1000 reviewers often receive perks from Amazon such as discounts.

I would like to now distinguish four ‘types’ of reviews. The first, perhaps most obviously, being the ‘genuine’ review that is written by a consumer with the interest of informing the public about the product. Here, “self expression” and “enjoyment” seem to be the driving factors of review writing.[2] Reviewers of this sort do not appear to earn a income from their reviews, but see it as a way to express their opinions about a product in a space where others can used their advice in order to make decisions regarding consumption.

(more…)

Neoliberalism and Inequality: A Recipe for Interpersonal Violence?

(If you are interested in this post, please see my earlier post on neoliberalism)

Source: Microsoft Clip Art

Based on recent research, there appears to be a link between the ideals of neoliberalism and increasing rates of inequality. Navarro (1998) argues, for instance, that neoliberal policies have contributed to growing inequalities around the globe and to worsening living conditions for the majority of the world’s people. For her part, George (1999) agrees and blames increasing inequality on the common neoliberal practices of placing public wealth into private hands, approving tax cuts for the wealthy, and pushing wages down for the non-elite. And, unfortunately, evidence suggests that inequality may mediate the relationship between neoliberalism and a third variable: interpersonal violence. In this regard, Krug et al. (2002:1086) write that “economic conditions [i.e., inequality] are both the causes and the effects of violence” with those on the poorer end of the spectrum experiencing the most violence. Other scholars, too, have found that inequality is positively correlated with violent crime rates (see Fajnzylber, Lederman, and Loayza 2002). Considering these findings, it appears that as neoliberalism becomes more prominent in a country, it can be expected that inequality and, as a result, interpersonal violence within that country will increase. In an attempt to demonstrate this argument, I will review these relationships before providing a brief case study to demonstrate how these variables may be interrelated. (more…)