Author Archives: cllewellyn

Sexing Up the Sex Ed Classroom Revisited

Source: thesociologicalcinema.com

Source: thesociologicalcinema.com

About a year ago, I wrote my first post for Sociology Lens about the tensions over sex education in the United States. Specifically, I commented on Jessica Field’s Sociology Compass article, “Sexuality Education in the United States: Shared Cultural Ideas Across the Political Divide,” in which she argues that, regardless of political position on sex education, most participants in debates operate from a shared assumption about the dangers of adolescent sexuality. Following Fields, I called for a truly comprehensive form of sex education that recognizes confusion, pleasure, and the risks of sexual activity.

Now, a year later as I end my time as a Sociology Lens contributor, I am happy to write that I have finally found a model of sex education that achieves the goals that I set out in that first post. A group in Iceland has created a government-sponsored awareness video that teaches teenagers about issues relevant to their sexual lives: confusion in the bedroom, body differences and issues, protection and contraceptives, emotional responses to sex, and sexual violence (Trigger warning: the video explicitly covers the topic of rape, which may be sensitive for some). In January 2013, all teenagers in Icelandic public schools screened the video. (more…)

Social and Cultural Components of Obesity

 

Source: healthamericans.org

Source: healthamericans.org

Recent California statistics  by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation expose a contradiction plaguing weight loss initiatives in the United States. More and more Californians are exercising, but obesity rates are rising across the state. Between 2001 and 2011, all of the counties in California saw an increase in rates of exercise. The increases were particularly dramatic for women; the rates of women who completed a sufficient amount of physical activity in a week rose from 50.7% in 2001 to 59.25% in 2011. Given the link between exercise and weight loss, increased activity should be related to a decrease in the number of obese people. Yet, this is not what researchers observed. Instead, the Health and Metrics Evaluation study found that obesity rates are on the rise: rates have increased in every county in California. Despite more exercise, Californians are not necessarily maintaining a healthy weight. The researchers concluded that Californians, like many people throughout the United States, are consuming more calories than they lose through activity. Diets and caloric intake are still too high, meaning individuals hold onto or even gain weight, rather than losing it through exercise. (more…)

New AMA Blood Donation Recommendations

Source: istockphoto.com

Source: istockphoto.com

Last month, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted against the Federal Drug Administration’s (FDA) ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men. In 1983, the FDA initially banned blood from men who have sex with men because of the not yet understood nature of HIV and AIDS and the explosion of fear over transmission. At this time, the rates of HIV and AIDS were highest in the gay male population and the testing procedures for detecting the virus in the blood were not very reliable. Now, the AMA explains that testing procedures are better and that sexual intercourse between men does not guarantee transmission of HIV. Banning blood donations from this population is not just unwarranted, but discriminatory. Instead, the AMA recommends that gay men should be evaluated on an individual basis. Following in the steps of the United Kingdom and Canada, the AMA asks that men who have abstained from sex with another man for at least a year should be able to donate blood. (more…)

Breadwinning Mothers and the Importance of Intersectional Thinking

Source: pewsocialtrends.org

Source: pewsocialtrends.org

It is hard to imagine that only several decades ago, many women in the United States did not work outside the home. If they did work, their income was a supplement to the household, not the primary share. In fact, in 1960, census reports found that mothers were the primary breadwinner in only 11% of households. A new Pew Research Center study shows us how much times have changed. Not only are women working and making more money than ever before in history, the Pew Center is now reporting that mothers bring in the primary income for 40% of U.S. households. This is a dramatic shift in the politics of gender, work, and family in a relatively short amount of time.

Yet, not all women benefit equally. It turns out that there are two types of breadwinning mothers: married women who out earn their husbands and single mothers who are the only source of income for the family. The married women constitute 37% of the breadwinning mothers. They are well educated, better paid, older, and disproportionately white. The single mothers constitute the majority of breadwinning mothers, or 67%.  They are less educated, poorer, younger, and usually women of color. (more…)

Harvard University Students Take a Stand Against Controverisal Dissertation

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

This week, Harvard University students are taking a stand against a controversial 2009 dissertation, “IQ and Immigration Policy,” which argues that Hispanics have lower IQs and develops contentious suggestions for U.S. immigration reform based on this assumption.  Jason Richwine, the author of the dissertation and currently a research contributor for The Heritage Foundation, ultimately recommends that U.S. immigration policy should be based on intelligence, excluding individuals with lower IQ scores and including individuals with higher scores. Though Richwine claims that he does not endorse ethnicity-based immigration reform, his use of IQs disaggregated by race and ethnicity raises questions about the intent of his work. (more…)

Why I Won’t Shop at Abercrombie and Fitch (and the reason is not the loud and obnoxious music)

whitematters.wordpress.com

whitematters.wordpress.co 

 

The CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, Mike Jeffries, is up-front about his marketing and sales strategy: appeal to “cool” and “popular” kids to make the brand distinctive and desirable. While anybody can wear other brands, only those who fit an ideal body type can have the privilege of sporting Abercrombie and Fitch tees and jeans. How does Jeffries achieve this goal? The Abercrombie and Fitch advertisements use models who are “all American” (white and skinny), the stores employ similarly small and fit workers, and the largest size available for women is a size 10. Jeffries does have all of his bases covered: no one will mistake Abercrombie and Fitch as a brand that markets to the masses. (more…)

Nature AND Nurture: Undermining Inequalities with Sociology and Biology

Source: www.cie.uci.edu

Source: www.cie.uci.edu

In the most recent issue of Sociology Compass, Lisa Wade contributed an article, “The New Science of Sex Difference,” about the relationship between biology and social identities and inequalities. The debate about socialization usually boils down to two seemingly opposed positions: nature versus nurture. Historically, biologists, and other fans of the life sciences, contended that natural forces in the body, like hormones, genes, and brains, determine the development of an individual. On the other hand, sociologists refute the claim that human behavior and identity can be reduced to biological phenomena; instead, our social environment, and how we are nurtured within that environment, constrain and enable our actions, life outcomes, and sense of self.

Yet, Wade cautions against this false dichotomy. Many biologists and sociologists now recognize the importance of social structures and experiences on the actual fabric of the body. That is, the issue should not be nature versus nature, but instead both nature and nurture. Wade points to numerous scientific and sociological studies that begin to bridge the gap between two previously polarized sides: these scholars show how our hormones, our brains, and even our genes are structured, and at times restructured, by our social experiences and encounters. (more…)

Girls Who Code: Gender, STEM, and the Importance of High School Intervention

Source: girlscouts.org

Source: girlscouts.org

Last fall, like any good teacher of the sociology of gender, I introduced my class to the patterns of gender bias in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). My students were not shocked by the observation that few women enter these fields in college. In fact, one of my students raised her hand and explained the bias first hand. She was a computer science major, enrolled in a computer science course held in the same lecture hall in the time block before our class. She would see the composition of the classroom change as one course ended and the other began: mostly men would leave the computer science class, and then relatively equal numbers of men and women entered the sociology of gender class. My class discussed many ways to eliminate the gender bias in STEM fields, including high school level interventions to enable girls to excel in these majors. This is why I was so excited to open the New York Times this week and read an article about Girls Who Code, an organization that teaches computer code to high school girls in order to prepare them for a college major in computer science. (more…)

Leaning In and Working Together: The Leanin.org “Circles” Initiative

Source: http://emanaliahmed91.blogspot.com

Source: http://emanaliahmed91.blogspot.com

Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, has created quite the buzz in the media, drawing accolades and criticism from widespread analysts, academics, feminists, business people, journalists, etc. Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, contends that the norms of femininity prevent women from gaining success in the workplace. While insufficient work and family policies are obstacles for women, one major, often overlooked, barrier is the rigid boundaries of masculinity and femininity, which hinder men’s participation in family and relationships and women’s drive in the workplace. Sandberg encourages women to “lean in” to their own success, to work hard and to defy the norms that hold them back.

While some praise Sandberg’s strong business sense and work ethic, others criticize her claim that women are their own biggest obstacles to success in the workplace. As a sociologist and a feminist, I am skeptical about her assertion that women hinder their own progress. In addition to a cultural shift in ideas about women’s leadership and business skills, we need stronger work and family policies. However, I am intrigued by her claim that cultural norms about masculinity and femininity are a major part of individual work and family issues. This seems like an obvious claim, yet a hard problem to solve. How do we change cultural ideas about what men and women can and should achieve in the workplace and in the home? (more…)

The Good and Bad News about HIV Infections

Source: CDC

Source: CDC

This week, great news emerged out of Mississippi: an infant, previously infected with HIV, has been cured of the virus. This development indicates promise for the future. We have now entered an era with the possibility of curing a once incurable disease. This is certainly a time to celebrate the progress of modern medicine and its ability to save the lives of millions of people. However, alongside this great news, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has released new data on the rates of new HIV infections among adults and adolescents in the United States. This data reminds us that we still have a long way to go to eradicate this infection; many, many men and women are diagnosed with HIV every day.

Specifically, the CDC reports that southern states, like Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, have some of the highest rates of new HIV infection among adults and adolescents in the United States. The rates of diagnoses in these states is anywhere from 20.0 to 177.9 new HIV infections for every 100,000 people in the population. While some northern states, like New York and New Jersey, have comparable numbers, the greatest concentration of these astoundingly high rates can be found in the southern half of the United States. Something is clearly going on here.

Some analysts point to the lack of complete and factual sexual education in the disproportionately affected states. None of these southern states require comprehensive and accurate HIV/AIDS education. Two states, Florida and Texas, do not require any sexual education in public schools. While the CDC did not statistically test the relationship between comprehensive sex education and rates of new HIV infection, the link between the two seems pretty obvious: if students learn how to prevent the spread of the disease through safe sex practices, their risk of infection should decrease.

Why, then, are states still resistant to comprehensive sex education in their schools? We have moved past the days when the federal government espoused an abstinence-only agenda and tied education funds to states’ adherence to the “no sex outside of heterosexual marriage” motto. Since President Obama has entered office, an equal amount of funds for comprehensive sex education that teaches about safe sex practices, including abstinence, and about sexualities other than heterosexuality is available for states wishing to educate their students. Yet, some states, like Florida and Texas, do not take advantage of this funding.

Sociologically, we know that a fear of adolescent sexuality underlies many of the concerns about sexual education in public schools. In my first Sociology Lens post back in 2012, I described some of these fears by drawing on Jessica Field’s Sociology Compass article, Sexuality Education in the United States: Shared Cultural Ideas Across the Political Divide. In this article, Fields insightfully points out that regardless of political position on the issue of sex education, most people are motivated by the desire to regulate an out-of-control or dangerous adolescent sexuality. Fields’ argument continues to be relevant today; the new statistics on rates of HIV infection seem to be an unfortunate consequence of these publicfears.

While I am very optimistic about the health of the Mississippi baby, I am hesitant to say that this medical progress is enough. Can the same procedure be used to cure older individuals infected with HIV? Will the procedure be widely available at a reasonable rate? In the absence of these answers, we need to remember that one of the ways to eradicate HIV is to spread knowledge about safe sex practices so that new infections decrease. In addition to new medicine, we need to continue to raise awareness about safe sex and disease prevention through publically funded education.

Suggested Readings:

Guttmacher Institute. 2013. State Policies in Brief: Sex and HIV Education.

Kirby, Douglas B, B.A. Laris, and Lori A Rolleri. 2007. “Sex and HIV Education Programs: Their Impact on Sexual Behaviors of Young People throughout the World.” Journal of Adolescent Health 40: 206-217.