Author Archives: heise

Summer Lovin’ and the Sexual Double Standard

Grease
“Hooking up” on college campuses has been the focus of a number of debates, both in the media and in sociology, over the past several years. Some argue that casual sexual encounters are detrimental to women’s self-esteem but that hookup culture “hurts boys too.” Others assert that hooking up, which has supposedly replaced dating on college campuses, is leaving both men and women “unhappy, sexually unfulfilled, and confused about intimacy.” Many sociologists, including Paula England and Lisa Wade, have been in the midst of these cultural debates about hooking up and its effects on young adults.

As hookup culture on college campuses seems relevant (or at least an interesting topic of discussion) to students in my classes, I spend a class during the weeks on gender and sexuality addressing the sociological debates about hooking up and casual sex. There is no shortage of readings that could be assigned on this topic, including many popular media articles. One of the readings that I always assign, “Is hooking up bad for young women?” from Contexts a few years ago by Elizabeth Armstrong, Laura Hamilton, and Paula England, does a great job of outlining the debates about hookup culture that continue to be relevant. (This article was also the focus of another Teaching TSP post several years ago). I also have them read Hanna Rosin’s article from The Atlantic and Lisa Wade’s response from Soc Images.

One of the points of discussion, the sexual double standard, is repeatedly brought up with frustration by female students in my classes. Why are women who have casual sex considered sluts while men are practically given a medal for hooking up? As I initially struggled to navigate these discussions, I turned to an unlikely place for guidance, the classic musical Grease. Who hasn’t belted out “Summer Lovin’” on the dance floor with friends?

As Sandra Dee (Olivia Newton John ) and Danny Zuko (John Travolta) trade off singing about their summer romance, they seem to be describing two different relationships. Sandra Dee tells her friends, “He was sweet, just turned eighteen,” as Danny dishes, “She was good, you know what I mean?” This song, it turns out, is a perfect illustration of different gender norms when it comes to sexuality.

For the class activity, I have students divide a sheet of paper into two columns with one side for Sandra Dee and the other for Danny Zuko. As they watch the Summer Lovin’ footage from Grease, I ask them to take notes in each column of quotes or themes from the song that reflect gender norms and the sexual double standard.  Afterwards, we make a list on the board of the stark differences in gender norms around sexuality.

I use this activity as a jumping off point from which to discuss the roots of the sexual double standard and some of the issues with hookup culture. Some questions that we consider in class discussion include:

1)     How could hooking up be considered bad for men or women or both? What could you argue are the benefits to hooking up?

2)     How do gender norms operate within hookup culture (Lisa Wade’s article does a particularly good job of outlining this issue)?

3)     Does hookup culture have the potential to disrupt the sexual double standard or to change gender norms?

Framing and Counter-framing

Dr. Abigail C. Saguy, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at UCLA, recently stopped by Office Hours to talk about her new book What’s Wrong with Fat?  

“The only people who see the whole picture,' he murmured, 'are the ones who step out of the frame.” - Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her FeetThis a a great podcast to assign to your students. It is not only a fascinating topic, but Dr. Saguy does a excellent job of explaining what a “frame” is how sociologists study framing strategies.

This podcast would be an excellent addition to a course or section on gender, medical sociology or the sociology of bodies. But, it would also work very well in a research methods or media course as an introduction to framing and counter-framing.

I suggest using this podcast as an example illustrating how sociologists study framing and then have students conduct a mini-research project of their own and find another social issue with competing frames. Use the questions below to guide your students in understanding how to study framing: 

PART ONE: Listen to the podcast and answer the following questions

  1. Define “framing” in your own words. Why does framing matter?
  2. What does it mean the “denaturalize” a frame?
  3. Using the abortion issue as a example of social movement framing, how do different framing strategies radically change how the issue could be understood by observers?
  4. List and describe all the ways that fatness is framed and counter-framed, according to Dr. Saguy.
  5. Dr. Saguy points out that how our society chooses to understand fatness will determine our responses to it. Choose one frame described by Dr. Saguy and explain what the social consequences of that frame might be.

PART TWO: Apply what you have learned and conduct your own framing analysis

  1. Now, use what you have learned about framing to find another example of a social issue with competing frames.
  2. Describe the social issue and at least two competing frames that you have observed.
  3. What are the goals of each framing strategy? How do those using this frame want you to understand this issue?
  4. For each competing frame, describe the logical response to the social issue that in encouraged by that frame. In other words, what are the  logical responses and potential social consequences of each frame?

 

 

Infantilization and Fantasy Football

Below is a guest post by Zachary Miner, a Sociology PhD student at SUNY Albany.  Zachary’s dissertation addresses stigma and firearms ownership cultures in the United States, but he enjoys researching a variety of other topics including gender/sexualities, work, and addiction.  In the post, he suggests an activity which uses examples from students’ everyday lives to explore gender stereotyping.
When presenting a topic in class, I find that it enhances students’ interest and participation levels if they see the relevance of that topic to their own lives. For that reason, I try to incorporate examples with which students are likely to be familiar, and which will cause them to engage more with the lesson. This is certainly good practice at all times, but it is especially important when discussing something that students may have deeply-held, or “common-sense,” beliefs about, such as gender. Students may find it unconvincing, for example, if you simply state as fact that adult women are often infantilized and marginalized when they try to enter realms traditionally dominated by men. However, if you can provide an example that they’re familiar with, and show them how to critically examine that example, it will help lay the groundwork for a deeper understanding of the concept.

The suggested activity to distribute to students is as follows:

Find one or more instances in your daily life where adult women are marginalized or infantilized (treated as if they are a child). Examples could include news stories, photographs, videos, websites, written accounts, etc. Once you’ve found your example, write a brief description/summary of the aspects you’ve identified as marginalizing or infantilizing, and then a 1-2 page reflection on why you think this behavior is taking place. Be sure to write in detail about the item you’ve chosen, and include references to relevant material from class (textbook, articles, etc.). Bring your item, and your reflection paper, to class and be prepared to discuss.


Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 11.59.11 AM

After giving out the assignment, I recommend working through an example in-class to get students thinking critically. Here’s one suggestion:

Ask the students if anyone in the class plays fantasy football (this works especially well in the Fall semester!). Inquire if one of the people who has raised their hand would be willing to explain to the class how the game works. Then, bring up the Fox
Sports fantasy football website dedicated to tracking a fantasy football league called “The Fox Sports Girls.”

After reviewing the site, begin a class discussion, focusing on some of the following points:

  • Ask students to identify examples of infantilization/marginalization within the page.
    • Examples:
      • Calling it “Girls Fantasy Draft” sets up an infantilizing tone from the start (“girls,” not “women”)
      • The double-entendre inviting viewers to enter a contest to compete with the Fox Sports Girls (“Want to play in their league?”) evokes the possibility of dating the women seen in the photographs (i.e. – “she’s out of my league”)
      •  The cutesy names for many of the teams (“Sunshine Sweeties,” “If The Shoe Fitz,” “Motor City Kitties,” and “The Cheesehead Cuties”)
  • Who is the target audience for this portion of the site, men or women? How do we know?
  • Highlight how the photographs of the women, with smiling faces, are prominently displayed at the top of the page. Explain how reducing women to just their bodies is common in our culture to devalue the contributions of women – see a sports-related example of this here. Compare this page to the rest of the site.
  • Ask students to explain why the male writers and commentators of Fox Sports are not portrayed as smiling faces alone. Ask students to conjecture why these women’s photographs are all that viewers can see, with no credentials or accomplishments listed, much less any advice about fantasy football.
  • Why is this “girls page” separate from the rest of the site?
  • Ask why there needs to be a gender binary in fantasy football at all. Why, in an activity with no physical component whatsoever, does Fox Sports re-create a gender binary based on physicality (i.e. – women and men play sports separately because women tend to be smaller/lighter)?
  • Also, remind students to be wary of taking “natural” differences too far. You might consider showing this clip from “Mythbusters”  – which suggests that at least some of the differences between the sports performance of men and women is actually cultural, and not biological.
  • Ask students to explain why the network believed it would be more appealing to feature a fantasy football team of only women than a Fox Sports team with both male and female staffers. Have students consider why the selling point of this team is that it is populated by women? Remind students that when something is seen as a novelty, or an aberration, it’s easier to dismiss it, or treat it less seriously, than if it is presented as the norm.


Fantasy Football Draft White Background
If you want to give students additional material to consider, or if you want to show that Fox Sports isn’t the only offender, you might also give students this article: “Ladies, fantasy football is much easier than you think,” by Alex Flanagan. In this article – which is intended to show that women can be good at fantasy football too – Flanagan unfortunately ends up reinforcing many stereotypes of femininity (beginning with the title of the article which implies that women don’t understand fantasy football). She describes the ups and downs of being involved in an all-women’s fantasy football league where the competitors initially rank their choices based on the physical attractiveness of the available players, they report viewing the team as an “outlet where you can be bitchy and competitive without hurting anyone’s feelings,” and where the prize at the end of the season is a purse

  • Have students discuss whether this article is a net positive or a net negative for women who play fantasy football.
    • Is it a dignifying account of women breaking stereotypes, or are the descriptions in the article continuing the marginalization of female fantasy football players?
  •  Ask students to consider the difference between “bitchiness” (in this all-female league) and “trash talk” (in an all-male league).
    • Why is this an expected part of the male fantasy football experience, but takes on a negative connotation when in a female league?
    • Explore how social norms of female politeness persist throughout society and limit the acceptable range of female emotions and behaviors.

You might also show this video “What is Yahoo! Fantasy Football?”, in which sports reporter Melanie Collins gives a mostly-neutral overview of what fantasy football is about, until the closing of the video where she acknowledges that skill does not always equal success, noting that, “Heck, even my Aunt Linda won last year!”

  • Ask students to consider whether the statement would still make sense if she had substituted “Uncle Jon” for “Aunt Linda.” Then explore with students why it reads as humorous to be beaten in a fantasy sports game by your aunt, but not by your uncle.
  • Ask students why a female reporter was chosen for this spot. Who are the target audiences? Would those audiences be more comfortable with a woman explaining fantasy football to them than a man?

 

The exercise described above can easily lead into a larger discussion of gender in sports. This is a fertile area for debate including the topics of how  women’s sports as a whole are seen as less exciting (and less marketable) than men’s sports, female competitors typically get paid less than men, and even female employees are largely relegated to secondary status (“sideline reporter” rather than “commentator,” for example). It could also offer an opportunity to explore the variety of ways in which women’s participation in traditionally male domains is de-legitimized.

The goal of this type of exercise is to get students thinking critically about something they’re familiar with, and considering what gendered messages exist within various aspects of their lives. Ideally, these kinds of exercises will help them realize that gender isn’t something they hear about for three hours a week in the classroom, or only read about in books, but rather is something they can see happening all around them.

 

 

 

FOOD, INC Film Guide

I use documentaries as a teaching tool very often in my classes. Students love them, and if you choose the films well, they love you too. To keep students awake and engaged, I always create a film guide that they fill out as they watch the film. Of course, showing the whole film would be preferable, but most of us are working with short class periods, so I’ve cut each film to an hour or less.

Here’s the first of many video guides I’ll share to accompany documentary films to watch in Sociology classes:

Film: FOOD, INC. 

Course: I showed this in Intro to Sociology. Would also work well in any course or section on Food, the Environment, or Capitalism.

Selections: Beginning to 27:30, 35:45 to 58:45, 1:25 to 1:29

Film Guide: (Food Inc Video Guide)

[Have students answer these questions as they watch the film in class and then give them a few minutes after the film to finish:

  1. Why are the products on the shelves in the supermarket so misleading? (give a few examples)
  2. Why and how did fast food restaurants change the way we produce food? (the film gives several reasons)
  3. How has the practice of farming changed in the new food industry? (the film gives several reasons)
  4. Why is corn in so much of our food today?
  5. Why, despite the advances in technology, do we still see so many cases of food poisoning in industrial food?
  6. In the 1970s, there were thousands of slaughterhouses in the United States. Today, we have _________ slaughterhouses that process the majority of the beef that is sold in the United States.
  7. Why is it that unhealthy food is less expensive than healthy food (good calories vs. bad calories)?
  8. 1 in _____ Americans born after 2000 will contract early onset diabetes. Among minorities, the rate will be 1 in ______.
  9. How has the meatpacking industry changed over the last 100 years?
  10. How is the food industry connected to undocumented immigration?
  11. What policy changes would address the problems addressed in this film?

 

Documentaries on Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Media

Some documentary suggestions for courses on Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Media courtesy of the SWS listserv. Thanks Kyle for sharing this with Teaching TSP!

 Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Media

Dreamworlds 3

Miss Representation

Reel Bad Arabs

This Film is Not Yet Rated

Reel Injun

Game Over:  Gender, Race, and Violence in Video Games

Wrestling with Manhood

The Codes of Gender

Mickey Mouse Monopoly

Ethnic Notions

Further off the Straight and Narrow

Tough Guise

The Celluloid Closet

The Bronze Screen

Beyond Beats and Rhymes

Killing us Softly IV

First Day of Class Activities 2

Teacher
In keeping with the theme Hollie started about what to do on the first day of class, I’ll share two activities that worked well in my first class of Intro to Sociology:

1) I have a small class this summer (23 students), so I had the time this semester to do student introductions. I wanted to use these introductions as a way to get students to start thinking about their social location. After a short lecture on the basics of sociological framework and the importance of examining context, I had students first go around the room and introduce themselves by name. Then, I asked them to add a little “context” to their introductions. Who are they? What experiences have shaped how they see the world? Instructions to the students:

  • ›Introduce yourself!
  • First, tell us your name (what you would like to be called).
  • ›For all subsequent rounds, introduce yourself further by adding context. Tell us something about your context (what has shaped your view of the world):
  • Who you are, your background, your family, your interests, what you like to do, who and what you identify with, your heroes, activities you do or used to do, why you are in college, your goals, places you have worked, etc.

Go as many rounds as you’d like (I did two). If students start to simply name their interests, start asking them how that interest may influence how they see the world to direct their thinking back to their own social location.

 

2) Next, I reviewed the basics what sociologists study. Then, to get students to start working out their own sociological imaginations, I had them spend five minutes jotting down their own sociological questions and then had everyone share at least one of their questions with the class.

Activity: ›Sociologists attempt to answer questions we have about the social world. What are some questions you have about the social world?

In a Word Doc (hooked up to a projector so they could see it), I wrote down all of their questions so  that we could come back to them throughout the semester to see if they had gained the tools to know how to answer them. If they asked questions that weren’t particularly sociological (for example: one student posed a question about renewable energy), I asked them to think about the social dimensions of this problem (e.g., business interests, capitalism, funding for scientific discovery, etc.)

 

Racial Stereotypes, Scapegoating, and the Economic Crisis

Office Hours sat down with  Catherine Squires to discuss her September 2012 article in American QuarterlyColoring in the Bubble: Perspectives from Black-Oriented Media on the (Latest) Economic Disaster. This is a great podcast to keep on hand for use in any class on race relations or any discussion on the recent economic crisis.

Letters
In this podcast, Squires explains how people of color were scapegoated by the mainstream media in responding to the sub prime mortgage crisis. Squires then explores how three publications that are targeted to African Americans or people of color more generally responded to this crisis. The podcast is a great discussion of  how neoliberalism and notions of “post-racialism” allow for stereotypes of people of color to remain unexamined and allow people of color to be scapegoated for social problems, even in this case of obvious fraud by lending companies.

We recommend the following discussion questions and activity to get students engaged with this topic:

1. How does Squires define “neoliberalism”? Were you familiar with this political philosophy before listening to this interview? Have you recognized the elements of neoliberalism in political discussions recently?

2. How does Squires define “post-racialism”? Were you familiar with this ideology before listening to this interview? Have you seen this ideology expressed by politicians? by your family and friends?

3. In what ways did Squires find that people of color were blamed for the sub prime crisis?

4. According to Squires, how did the ideologies of neoliberalism and post-racialism lend support to the blaming of people of color (instead of focusing on racist practices by the lending companies)?

5. Take a look at the three news outlets that Squires examines in this paper: Black EnterpriseThe Root, and Colorlines.  Take a few minutes to look over each site. How do they seem similar and different? According to Squires, how did each of the news sources respond differently to the economic crisis?

6. Is Squires optimistic that these news sources created by and for people of color have the ability to challenge dominant narratives about people of color? Why or why not?

Ripple Effects of Incarceration

Below is a guest post by Marie E. Berry, a Sociology PhD student at UCLA.  Marie studies the political engagement of women after mass violence.  In the post below, she suggests an activity to accompany Megan Comfort’s recent special feature.

Who is affected when an individual goes to prison? Megan Comfort’s recent special feature, “Repercussions of Incarceration on Close Relationships,” is a powerful reminder of the wide-reaching impact of the U.S.’s high incarceration rates on our society. This article would be an important addition to any class that tackles issues related the criminal justice system, class, race, or inequality in general. It could also be used in the context of an international human rights law class, especially as it references the ways different countries are tackling the issue of incarcerated mothers.

Incarceration rates have increased at an astonishing pace over the past few decades. As Comfort notes, the number of people behind bars in the U.S. has jumped from approximately 380,000 in the mid-1970s to 2.2 million on any given day today. We don’t yet have a way of assessing the full social effects of this, although we can begin to imagine some impacts given that just over one-half of all prisoners report that they are a parent to a child under 18 (Glaze and Muraschak 2010).

The following exercise would be useful for two primary purposes: first, to help students comprehend the vast number of people who are affected when an individual goes to prison, and second, to begin a discussion what this means in the context of the class, racial, and regional inequalities that exist within the criminal justice system. This activity could be done individually and is written as such; however, it could also be done as a class with several volunteers completing the exercise on the white board.

  1. Imagine that each member of the class will be spending the following 3 years in prison.
  2. Take out a blank sheet of paper, and start by placing your name at the center of the paper.
  3. Draw one ring of “ripples.” Within this ring, list the names of the people in your life that will be the most directly impacted by your absence. Think here about immediate family members, best friends, etc.
  4. Think now about how your absence will affect each individual in this ripple, using what you learned in Comfort’s article.  Specifically, think about the following questions:
    • Who would come visit you?
    • What responsibilities do you currently have that will have to be adopted by someone else? (Financial responsibilities? Support obligations?)
    • Which relationships will be strained by your absence?
    • Using what you learned in Comfort’s article, who in your life might go through a “secondary prisonization”?
  5. Next, draw a second ring.  On this ripple, list the names of other people who will be directly affected by your absence. Think here about your employer, your classmates, your group of friends, etc.
    • How will your absence affect each individual in this ripple?
  6. Outside of these ripples, try to list the names of everybody else you interact with on a regular basis. What impact will your absence have on these individuals?

While this activity doesn’t fully assess the network of individuals whose lives are affected by the incarceration of a single individual, it will help students grasp the scope of our penal system’s impact on our society.  It might also be helpful to note that this isn’t a “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” exercise, which might lead students to make assumptions about the reasons for their hypothetical “imprisonment.” Instead, it is a chance to begin to assess the interconnectedness of our society and thus the number of lives that are affected each time someone goes to prison.

It would then be good to follow this activity with some general discussion questions.  These could be discussed in small groups or as a class.

  1. This activity began to give us an idea of the vast number of people who would be affected if you were to go to prison. Now, let’s consider these ripple effects in the context of what we know about the profiles of the US prison population. What are some of the family, community, and society level effects of incarceration rates, given that the people most likely to end up behind bars are extremely poor, African American, and live in areas of comparable disadvantage?
  2. What does Lois Wacquant mean when he refers to the phenomenon of “hyperincarceration”? In which ways does the US criminal justice system target policing and punishment policies “first by class, second by race, and third by place”?
  3. Comfort describes how female visitors to the prison are often asked to change clothes, which they must find in a bin of discarded attire in the visitor’s center. How does this restriction on the individuality and autonomy of the visitors parallel similar restrictions on the incarcerated population? What impacts might this have on an individual/family/community/etc.? How does this process reflect what Foucault described as a process of dismantling of the self?
  4. How might incarceration continue to have ripple effects once an individual is released?

Latino: Race or Ethnicity?

Is “Latino” a race or an ethnicity? As sociologists, we are quick to refer to “Latino” as an ethnicity, but will just as easily include “Latino” as a racial category next to “White,” “Black,” and “Asian.” So, which is it? And why does it matter?obligation

Wendy D. Roth tackles this question in her recent special feature on The Society Pages “Creating a ‘Latino’ Race.” This feature would be a great addition to any discussion of race and ethnicity in the United States and how those categories have evolved over time for White, Asian and Latino immigrants and citizens. This topic would be ideal for the first weeks of a course on Race and Ethnicity or to introduce the topic in an Intro to Sociology class. This would also be a good topic for a Research Methods class when discussing how we classify racial categories and why this practice can be controversial.

Use the following activity in class to get a conversation going about race, ethnicity and Latino identity:

First, hand out an example of the Census questions on race and ethnicity. Have students fill them out on their own. Then ask:

1. Did you feel that the available categories on this form lined up with your own racial and ethnic identity? Why or why not?

2. Do you think that having “Hispanic” as an ethnicity and not a race makes sense? Why or why not?

3. What benefits do you see to having “Hispanic” listed as an ethnicity? What drawbacks?

4. What might you change about this form if you could? Do you believe there are better ways to classify people racially?

 

Then, start a conversation about Roth’s finding using these questions:

1. According to Roth’s research, how is the way that Puerto Rican and Dominican migrants understand race and ethnicity quite different from how Americans traditionally think of race and distinguish it from ethnicity?

2. When Latino immigrants come to the United States, how do they fit into the racial classifications already in place (now and in the past)? How do these classifications not line up with how they identify themselves?

3. According to Roth’s finding, how does the experience of Latinos in the United States differ based on skin color? What does this say about race and racism in the United States?

4. Why have many Latino immigrants seen it as advantageous to remain “bicultural” instead of “passing” for (non-Hispanic) white?

5. Why is the Latino race/ethnicity question a controversial topic? Why does it matter if Latino people are understood as an “ethnicity” or as a “race” by the US government? What might this potential change mean for Latino Americans? How would such a change disrupt notions of strict racial categories held by many Americans?

 

Beggars & Morality

Beggar
Office Hours recently chatted with  Shai Dromi about his recent article, Penny for your Thoughts: Beggars and the Exercise of Morality in Daily Life. The article focuses on how people experience and understand interactions with needy people begging for money on the street.

This article (or interview only) would be great for use in a sociology course because it skillfully addresses how the concept of morality is constructed when we are faced with people that need help. Dromi finds that passersby–whether they decided to help the beggars or not–represented their own behavior as being appropriate and moral. Use the following questions to help students better understand this concept and to facilitate a classroom discussion on this topic:

 

1. How is this research different than past research on beggars?  How has past research framed the beggar-passerby relationship?

2. Where was this research conducted? In your own city, how often do you see people begging for money on the street?

3. Was there a common interaction among the people Dromi interviewed and the beggars? Did this surprise you at all?

4. How did the people Dromi interviewed describe their choices to help or not help the beggars in terms of their moral character? How did these strategies help them to maintain their perception of themselves as moral persons? What does this tell us about the concept of morality?

5. How did the passersby attempt to identify the “authenticity” of the beggars? What type of clues did they look for? How did these markers of “authenticity” influence whether they helped the person or not?