Whose Voice is it Anyway? Gender and Power in Ventriloquism

Nina Conti (www.youtube.com)

Nina Conti (www.youtube.com)

Last week I went with a friend of mine to see a performance by comedian and ventriloquist Nina Conti. I really cannot recommend her enough, and as with all her performances I was in stitches. Whilst I could easily fill this post waxing lyrical at her talents, there is (as always) as sociological element to her work. Firstly, elements of her performance demonstrate how displays of emotion have become cultural currency, particularly for women. Secondly, it engenders interesting questions regarding power dynamics in interaction; there is a contradiction between her ‘powerful’ role as leader of the interaction, and the power-less position of being female.


Nation’s Latest Drug Scare, Heroin is Back


The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman triggered a national awareness that heroin had cycled back as a prominent drug in the United States. His death brought forth questions that challenged many people’s notions of a drug user—poor and unsuccessful. Many people asked how a person who had so much could get addicted to heroin. The reality is that Hoffman was one of many people throughout the United States using heroin. According to the National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health, 335,000 people used heroin in 2012 up from 239,000 people in 2010. (more…)

“Old enough to know better?” The decline of deviance in the young


By r.f.m II from Colora Maryland, United States (Self-Portrait #26) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


A recent article by editor of The Spectator, Fraser Nelson, highlighted an interesting set of trends among young people in the UK. Young people are having less sex, drinking less, and taking fewer drugs than older generations. Nelson invoked the 1990s BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, where the mother – binge-drinking, hedonistic, promiscuous fashionista Edina – was consistently disappointed by the celibacy, abstinence and downright sensibleness displayed by her daughter Saffron.  Saffie would chastise her mother for disturbing her homework when she arrived home drunk on champagne and vodka following a gallery opening or a fashion show, while Edina would complain about her daughter’s sexual restraint: “I don’t want a moustached virgin for a daughter, so do something about it!” (more…)

A Sociologist Volunteers Abroad

Source: SASANE

Source: SASANE


In ten days I’ll get on a plane from New York and travel for 15 and a half hours to Kathmandu, Nepal.  I’ll stay in Nepal for four weeks, living in a volunteer house with 13 foreigners, all volunteering at various organizations and institutions in and around Kathmandu.  Some volunteers will work in hospitals or medical clinics, while others will teach English in local schools, community centers, and orphanages.  There is even a program through the Ministry of Agriculture Development Department of Livestock Services to work on livestock breeding projects, disease prevention, and animal health policy.  I’ll be working at Samrakshak Samuha Nepal, SASANE, an anti-trafficking NGO established in 2008 by a group of former Nepalese victims of human trafficking.

The sexual exploitation of women and girls in the developing world has once again become a global campaign since the abduction and rumored mass marriages of over 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in mid April.  A-listers from Michele Obama to Ellen DeGeneres have been photographed holding the “Bring Back Our Girls” hashtag.  And a recent report from Amnesty International suggested that authorities in Qatar have failed to protect female migrant workers from abuse, including forced labor and human trafficking.


‘Goal: play anal with butt plug’ – New virtual prostitution and the limits to participation


New virtual prostitution – webcam porn to earn ‘tips’

Recently, I have thought about new forms of pornography and prostitution. The internet landscape in particular is changing rapidly. The old commercial porn industry is really in trouble; not only has it trouble finding a location for its filming after the ban from LA, sales have been going downhill – up to 80% have been lost since 2007. A big part of the reason for this decline is the boom of webcam sites, like Livejasmine and Omeglegirls. Private performers log in from a studio or even from home to perform one-to-one or group shows. Customers can design their very own live porn movie. The price for the private entertainment is quite high – up to £4 per minute. But some sites, like Omegle, use a group tipping-system, which makes it easy for free-riders to enjoy sex-shows without ever paying.


‘Real’ Men Don’t Rape, and Other ‘Sexy’ Language Dilemmas


Following on from a report from the White House on student sexual assault, the Obama administration has recently released an anti-rape PSA to launch the ‘1 Is 2 Many’ campaign to address the issue of sexual assault and rape. If you haven’t already watched it then do: it has a refreshing and positive rhetoric, placing the focus on the perpetrator and not the victim. “If I saw it happening I would help her, not blame her”, Daniel Craig states. It follows an argument that is entirely reasonable but often forgotten, that it is more effective to teach people not to rape than it is to teach people not to get raped.

I like this advert for a number of reasons. It is clear and concise, moving and inspiring without being patronising, and doesn’t rely on ‘misery porn’ or fear to get its point across. It has a sense of hope and optimism, a “we can do this!” attitude. It is encouraging rather than threatening and manages to discuss rape whilst being approachable. I say all this because I don’t want to fall into the sociological trap of jumping straight into criticism without saying positive things, or to belittle how progressive this perspective is. This advert is a significant improvement on anti-rape campaigns that blame the victim, and I hope for more. However, there are overarching themes that this video throws up that I have to acknowledge, because despite liking this advert, it still has discursive effects and impact beyond simply preventing rape.


The Rise of Police Body Cameras

LondonCctvIrony (1)

Police departments across the country are rapidly increasing their technological capacity to become a more efficient and effective force. These technologies vary from new weapons, wide-area surveillance, facial recognition software, closed caption television cameras, and crime mapping software. Each of these technologies is oriented towards identifying offenders and preventing or intervening in crime incidents. The technology has become a multi-billion dollar industry with vendors regularly contacting departments attempting to sell them the next great technology. One technology becoming increasingly popular with the police is body-cameras. The police are beginning to wear small cameras on their shirt, hat, or sunglasses in order to capture interactions with citizens. The body-cameras are one of the few technologies adopted by the police that focus on limiting police behavior. Body cameras are thought to reduce police deviance and increase police professionalism by monitoring police actions (Ariel & Farrar, 2014). The movement towards police wearing body cameras causes the police to be more aware of their behaviors and acts as a deterrent for the police committing crimes. Multiple research studies indicate video technology alters the behavior of offenders (Chartrand, & Bargh, 1999; IACP, 2004).   (more…)

Throwing like a Girl? The Case for Gender Similarity in Sports

Source: Nathan Rupert (SD) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Finally, it’s almost summer. And as the weather gets better, more and more social life in my neighborhood shifts outside to the street. As I was sitting at my desk the other day, I noticed two kids playing in the street, a boy of maybe 10 years and a girl, maybe 8. The boy was practicing his basketball skills, dribbling the ball between his legs, moving backwards, sidewards, spinning around, all while keeping perfect control over the ball. The girl on the other hand was listening to music and practicing dance moves from the latest music video (needles to say, both kids were far more skillful in their respective activity than I ever will be). Then something interesting happened: The kids started teaching each other their respective activities. And while the boy did quite a good job of learning the girl’s dance moves, the girl struggled when it came to dribbling the basketball: Whereas before as she was dancing, she was able to move extremely smoothly and elegantly, now her body became stiff. Her eyes fixated on the ball so as not to lose control, her upper body moved up and down parallel to her hand awkwardly and in a very choppy way; and she kept losing the ball repeatedly after every dozen or so dribbles. Is this little anecdote proof then that girls are just naturally less adept at ball games than boys [spoiler alert: it's not]?


A one-way ticket to Carbon Heaven, please?

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACarbon_footprint_representation.jpg

I recently had my carbon footprint calculated over the phone with a member of an environmental NGO called the Surefoot Effect. It was an interesting experience.

The conversation was going well. I was asked questions about how I heat my flat (answer: I’ve never turned the heating on), how I commute to work (I cycle), how much meat I eat (I’m vegetarian) and my carbon footprint came in at roughly half the UK average, until I was asked about the topic I was dreading… how much I fly. Last year I took a series of long-haul flights, because I’d finished a job in South Korea, and on my way back to the UK I visited Malaysia and India as a tourist. These flights bumped up my carbon footprint considerably. Without flights, my carbon footprint was around 6 tonnes of carbon.  With flights, my footprint was doubled to 12 tonnes, slightly more than the UK average. All my good, green work, it seemed, had been for nothing. I am just as much of a carbon terrorist as all my car-driving, meat-eating peers.


Can We Just Say “Menstruation” Please!

Source: Heidi Rademacher, 2014

Source: Heidi Rademacher, 2014


Several years ago, I worked on a project designed to examine how menstruation is socially constructed and how this construction has created social taboos that have impacted American women’s attitudes towards their bodies before, during, and after menstruation.  After speaking with women between the ages of eighteen and sixty, I found women today often feel “dirty,” “gross,” or “unclean” while menstruating.  Although some women also associated menstruation positively with childbirth and motherhood, the majority of women I spoke to felt it was a private, if not shameful, topic.

As my research interests grew and changed I put this project in the back of my mind. Then last week while working at my neighborhood coffee super-chain, I noticed a smaller wastebasket next to the toilet.  Someone had made a label on the wastebasket that said, “For girl things.”  I was instantly irritated by the label but I was not sure why. I recognized the label was attempting to be cute or funny.  The problem was the euphemism did not read as cute or funny.  In fact, it was the opposite.  The words could not even be said: Menstrual Products.