The invasion of time saving appliances and convenience food items is nothing new in American kitchens. Sociologically speaking this can (and has been) explained through a variety of theoretical paradigms. This could certainly be understood as an ideal example of Habermas’ notion of the (re)feudalization of the lifeworld, the colonization of the private sphere by the sphere of economy and consumerism. This phenomenon can also be explained through feminist theory as a source of liberation for women in particular, relieved from domestic duties. There is however, another aspect to this that is worth exploring. If we extend Arlie Hochschild’s work on the “Time Bind,” another picture emerges. According to Hochschild, it is not necessarily that our work lives have encroached upon our private/home lives but rather that they have switched places. This reversal sheds light on the fascination with streamlining and making more efficient the everyday tasks of home: poaching an egg, “dry cleaning” at home, instant potatoes. If the verbiage of work has indeed entered the home as she posits, then it is not surprising to see constant innovation and products aimed at making everything at home “easier.” The world of work now has fax machines, digital communication, printers, copiers, scanners, and automated answering systems. In fact, many people in offices even send emails to a co-worker even when their offices may be next to one another. As silly as some of these inventions may seem (see New York Times article below) such as toaster ovens that can simultaneously toast bread and poach an egg or a microwave that can cook omelets and pizza; understood through the lens of Hochschild’s work it makes perfect sense. Home has become a locus of efficiency and productivity a place that must juggle and manage multiple and conflicting demands. The reversal then of home and work has directed consumer-driven attention to make the daily tasks of home, like they did with the daily tasks of work, as easy as the push of a button.
“Honey, I’m Not Home” (discussing Hochschild)
“Kitchen Gadgets Take the Fast Food Mentality into the Home”
The concept of immigration reform, like welfare reform focuses on symptoms and not the causes. Many of the policies involved in immigration reform are band-aids, temporary solutions rather than systemic alternatives. The New York Times recently reported on the failure of the Obama Administration to introduce a comprehensive bill designed to target immigration generally and immigrants specifically (see article below).
According to sociologist and immigration activist Grace Change, such reform bills reproduce/overlook three themes. First, the goal of ‘reform’ efforts is to continue to extract cheap labor to the benefit of the U.S. while minimizing the responsibility of the U.S. to the actual laborers. Second, reform emphasizes the need to “Americanize” and assimilate (i.e. a form of cultural imperialism). Finally, and perhaps most important, reform never addresses the policies and actions of First World countries such as the U.S. that have resulted in a “push-pull” wave of necessary immigration. U.S. economic and military actions overseas as well as development policies are the root cause of much of the debt, poverty, and structural inequalities in many of the countries that account for a large percentage of immigrants. (Disposable Domestics, Grace Chang, 2000)
In essence, immigration reform casts immigrants themselves as problems to be addressed, people who need to be assimilated or sent back to their native countries. Comprehensive reform should take into account the responsibility of the U.S. in (partially) creating the conditions in which individuals must uproot their lives, leave behind their families, their children, risk dying, and work in underpaid and precarious industries.
NY Times, “Reform on Ice”
While Sociologists of Culture and feminist theorists among others, have long emphasized the culturally contingent aspects of the construction of reality. A recent article about alcohol consumption in the New Yorker (see article below) illustrates not only this particular point but also draws attention to the ways in which these practices and seemingly “real” facts of social life are situated and structured. In essence, we embody these practices in ways that (re)produce them as a reality that exists apart from or rather outside of us. According to the authors of the study, “Persons learn about drunkenness what their societies import to them, and comporting themselves in consonance with these understandings, they become living confirmations of their society’s teachings.”
Such studies are reminders that the relationship between nature and nurture is dynamic and its consequences are both social and biological. In other words, the prevalence of sexual assault and violence in conjunction with alcoholic consumption has little to do with hormones and “natural” urges and more to do with the cultural context in which such behavior has become expected and perhaps even physically enabled. The social and cultural construction of reality is not merely a concept, it is a way of life that is dialectically engaged with our biology.
” Drinking Games,” The New Yorker
Advertisement air time during Super Bowl Sunday has always been a coveted commodity. Yet this seemingly trivial marketing dream has historically been used to display sexist ads, most notoriously by beer companies. Nevermind the fact that Superbowl Sunday is also a time in which violence against women is particularly likely (see article below), we are also now apparently going to be subjected to anti-abortion messages, known as “pro-family messages.”
The abortion wars we see played out in such ideological ploys claim dualistic extremes: the celebration of life and family versus women’s choice and apparently a choice against life. This false binary both masks the underlying issues that make abortion a viable option for some people and simultaneously reveals what it really means to celebrate ‘life’ and ‘family.’ Does speaking out about violence against women, domestic abuse, and overt sexism in advertising not qualify as a pro-family message?
Catherine MacKinnon, a prominent feminist legal scholar reminds us that framing the abortion debate in these terms serves the purpose of avoiding the structural and societal inequalities that many women face when it comes to contraception and sexual relations. Birth control, religious beliefs, cultural practices, and sex itself are in fact areas of contestation and are always already situated within unequal gender relations. As MaKinnon notes, arguing about whether abortion is life or death for the child forcloses discussion around the social, religious, economic, and political contexts in which sexual relations occur.
The debates surrounding advertisements during Super Bowl Sunday brought up by such controversial topics have failed to point out the inconsistencies and contradictions that are played out not just on tv, but rather on the bodies of women everywhere.
Domestic Violence on Super Bowl Sunday
CNN video on “Anti-abortion ad Uproar”
Catherine MacKinnon in the Blackwell Dictionary of Cultural and Critical Theory
The New York Times recently reported that gender relations are completely changing due to the shift in the number of highly educated and highly paid women in the workforce as well as the high rates of unemployment among men. Aside from the fact that a majority of these women are white and middle to upper class, this article fails to acknowledge that gender relations are only partially structured economically. Twenty years ago the media declared that women were finally equal because they were working outside of the home in large numbers. Yet sociological evidence pointed to a double bind for women, the difficulties of mothering while working, and finally the stay-at-home-mom movement we have been witnessing among educated and well off women.
What we tend not to discuss and theorize is the traditional gendered symbolic order that seems to hold steadfast amidst the multiple social, economic, and political changes. Fears of backlashes against the shifting roles between men and women in the home, criticism of day cares and absentee mothers often surface at the moment in which the symbolic order appears to shift.
Nancy Fraser, the social philosopher calls for transformative social-feminist redistribution and recognition in order to address the multiple axe along which gendered symbolic orders are reified and strengthened. As a society we have not done enough to transform relations at all levels, rather we see affirmative change as the goal. So while it is progress to see more and more women in the workforce, there positions are precarious until the structural and symbolic orders have progressed simultaneously.
NY Times, “More Men Marrying Wealthier Women”
Nancy Fraser in the Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Culture
The category of the Exotic Other has embraced the African female; at least for this season. The New York Times recently published a fashion article (see below) equating Africa, Tarzan, and tree climbing with sensuous beauty in the world of fashion. Aside from the glaring issue of the geographic ignorance of these comments, this article reveals the explicit racism, commodification, misappropriation and sexism inherent in media and art that continue to have a negative impact on those who are being “othered.”
According to Malcolm Harris, the director of a popular fashion-focused Webzine. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. People are incorporating bits and pieces into their wardrobes and their lives.”
Yet it does very much matter who you are and where you are from. The models strutting the catwalks in African-inspired fashion are majority white and Western and perhaps most importantly, this is about taking bits and pieces of interpretations of “Africa” and incorporating them into the wardrobe of mostly Western women.
Perhaps most distressing in the article is the overt manipulation of cultural exoticism for capitalist purposes. As Adorno and Horheimer remind us, “Under monopoly all mass culture is identical, and the lines of its artificial framework begin to show through. The people at the top are no longer so interested in concealing monopoly: as its violence becomes more open, so its power grows” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1944, 121). In other words, today Africa, tomorrow Thailand may be hailed as the new look for the season. The marketing employed does not seek to cover up the fact that this is marketing, rather, it does so openly and freely. In the end the only difference is that the “Exotic Other” of the season changes.
NY Times, “Designing to an Afro Beat”
Notions of authenticity and modernity are often challenged by indigenous groups. The Ya’kuana and the Sanema of Venezuela (see article below) use microphones to record birdsongs, the Yanomami of Brazil have learned how to use video equipment to document their own cultural traditions and ceremonies, and the Runakuna of the Peruvian Highlands adopt Western urban clothing in their ventures into the cities. Often with indigenous groups there is an underlying current of Edward Said’s Orientalism, the Other. The traditions, languages, clothing, and religions associated with indigenous groups are held to standards of authenticity and purity that surpass reality. There are critics both within and outside of indigenous groups that claim that the use of such technology or the adoption of non-indigenous clothing are signs of inauthenticity. These issues raise serious questions about when, where, and why and how we hold others to such strict measures. Further, what does it mean to be authentic and perhaps most importantly, why are technological advancements off-limits to particular populations?
Such a process of Othering reveals a deep pattern of Othering, a discriminatory symbolic dimension over the use and ownership of modernity and of the articulation of an identity.
NY Times, “Clinging to the Forest Despite Chaos”
Edward Said in the Blackwell Dictionary of Culture and Critical Theory
Eva Illouz, in Cold Intimacies asks us to consider how technology changes notions of the body and of emotions. One of the forced rearticulations occurs in the realm of the presentation of self. As Illouz notes, when technology (specifically in the form of the Internet) mediates relationships we are simultaneously displaying our innermost private selves in an extremely public way. The subjects of our own experiences and author of what we choose to reveal yet increasingly vulnerable to the scrutiny and objectification of others.
New technology enables individuals to do background checks on potential partners, looking into financial status, marriage and divorce histories, and criminal records (see article below). One of the reasons given to support this technology is the claim that people do not always accurately represent themselves. While that is certainly true in today’s world of online dating (and has always been true), we need to think about both the consequences of such technology and interrogate whether any representation of self on the Internet is “true.”
The beauty of online self-representation is that individuals can misrepresent themselves, they can omit their negative traits, use catch phrases that may not describe them but garner attention and seem more likely to attract a mate, and can even doctor photos. Granted that this kind of misrepresentation is distinct from lying about one’s marital status but we do need to take seriously the notion that the presentation of self is always a partial truth.
The background check technology only serves to exacerbate the blurring of public and private, our simultaneous subject-object position, and allows the Internet (and consumerism) to mediate intimate relations. As Illouz notes, “the Internet radicalizes the demand that one find for oneself the best (economic and psychological) bargain” (Ilouz 2007, 86).
CNN “Is Your Date a ‘Stud’ or a ‘Dud?’ Ask Your Phone”
Dress codes in schools have long been a source of intergenerational conflict, control, and increasingly obvious, a way to police gender norms and sexuality. In an article that interrogates these instances of specific gender and sexuality “violations” through clothing and accessories, we can see both an increase in apparel as a means of identity formation and exploration but also a trend that has received little attention. Why is it that anytime a child or teen decides to transgress norms through clothing in particular there is an assumption of gender ambiguity and homosexuality? Certainly when women first began to wear pants in place of skirts they were not necessarily declaring their lesbianism nor a desire to be men. The ability to use clothing as an expression of the exploration of gender, of sexuality, of trans identities is certainly an important aspect of psychological development but so too is using clothing to articulate a sense of individual identity, to challenge parental authority, to mark oneself as part of a collective. This notion that somehow a boy who wears a dress is automatically gay and feminine only reveals what Judith Butler argued in Gender Trouble, that we continue to uphold a binary gender system that is perfectly mapped onto a particular sexual binary. In other words, a girl who wants to wear a tuxedo probably wants to be a boy, and gay. As the saying goes, the clothes make the man (as long as he is attracted to girls and wears pants!)
NYTimes, “Can a Boy Wear a Skirt to School?”
Judith Butler in the Blackwell Companion to Social Theorists
Discourse surrounding feminism, feminist theory, and even Women and Gender Studies departments has grown increasingly skeptical. Questioning the need for feminism in this “post-feminist” world and citing the high attendance of women in universities, American society seems fixated on closing the door on calls for social justice based on gender. Two recent new stories however, highlight the decisive need for a reinvigorated gender-based movement. Gains in college attendance and females entering into all sectors of employment have overshadowed the continued pay gap (equal pay for equal work?), discrimination relating to maternity leave, and the clear lack of women in executive and leadership positions. In this dangerous ideology, if a woman can’t make it, its her own fault. Perhaps most disturbing is the story of a 15 year old girl gang raped in the alley behind her high school on Homecoming night for 2 1/2 hours. Rape and sexual abuse of girls and women, date rape,and domestic violence have not decreased but rather been steadily increasing. Is this what it means to live in a post-feminist world? We must renew our efforts at social justice, not simply for women but for all marginalized groups, this is the unfinished task of feminism.
NY Times “The Mismeasure of Woman”
CNN “Police: As many as 20 present at gang rape outside school dance”