Below is an activity I’ve seen used a few different ways. The activity helps to illustrate the issue of mate selection for forming a family; it also gets students thinking about gender, sexuality, and the life course.
First, have students think about their expectations of what their immediate family will be like someday. What are their plans for the future? Or, if they are already married or in a domestic partnership, what is their family like?
Then, have students draw a future mate randomly from the list below, which has been adapted from several versions of this exercise. The trick is that the draw is indeed random, so there will be same-sex, interracial, or other couples.
A middle-class, white man who travels three weeks each month for his job and has three kids from a previous marriage of whom he has custody. Currently, he has a live-in nanny but would rather have a full-time parent in the home for his kids.
A wealthy, African-American woman who owns a publishing business in Chicago.
A working class, Latino man from Costa Rica who wishes to live near his family in his home country.
An upwardly-mobile white woman who wishes never to have kids or at least not to care for them herself. (If you want kids, you will have to be the sole parent.)
A female, Presbyterian minister whose first job assignment is in central Kansas.
An African-American male professor who has tenure at Harvard.
A English man who wishes to live in the US but cannot get residency for 3-4 years as a result of the immigration waiting list for English citizens into this country.
A white, male Florida “cracker” whose family has owned a fishing business in Everglades City for two generations. He plans to adopt the business in five years and needs to continue working for the business until that time.
Martha Stewart’s sister, a middle-class, white woman who plans to be a homemaker.
An Indian woman (US resident) whose parents are planning to arrange a marriage for her with someone other than you.
Students must suppose they will fall in love with this person within five years and plan to form a family with them. Then, they should think about the following questions:
How will their future plans be affected by this selection? What will their other family members think? Where will they live? What about kids? What is the likelihood that they would actually consider marrying this person?
Check out the myriad posts on Soc Images about marriage and family, and consider coupling one or two with this exercise!
Yesterday in my Sociology of Gender class, we had a discussion on the Contexts article “Is Hooking Up Bad for Young Women?” by Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Laura Hamilton and Paula England (full text free on contexts.org). To get the discussion going, I showed clips of three journalists that the authors mention in the article–each with different perspectives on the sexual cultures of teen and young adult women.
As we watched, I had the students record the main arguments of the authors.
Then, after each video, I gave them 3-5 minutes to brainstorm about how the arguments relate to class material (especially the “Hooking Up” article, but anything from class) AND to brainstorm about personal observations (or “evidence”) that would either support or refute that argument.
After watching all three, I had them get into groups of 2 or 3 and share their observations with the group. Then, as group, they were instructed to decide on three arguments total that they feel their group has the strongest “evidence” to support or refute. (This worked really well and when I cut them off after 10 minutes, many groups were still discussing). Give them a handout like this to record their group’s decisions:
by Kia Heise and Hollie Nyseth, Nov 8, 2011, at 12:40 pm
Magazines geared towards teens are some of the best examples of illustrating gender norms for students new to Sociology. We recommend this activity for an Intro to Sociology class or to begin a course on the Sociology of Gender:
Send them home with a worksheet with these questions repeated 4-6 times so they can answer them about each image/article they find:
1. What message does this image/article portray about femininity or masculinity?
2. Do you believe this message has the potential to be harmful to young men or women? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?
3. Imagine you are talking to your younger brother/sister/cousin/daughter/son about this image or article, what would you say?
Have them bring their examples into class and form small groups for a “Gender Workshop” (this could definitely work in a large class!) They’ll take turns describing their finds to the other members of the group. After they’ve all had their turn, they’ll have a guided discussion about their experience, addressing these questions in a small group discussion:
1. What was this experience like for you? Was there anything surprising about looking at these magazines in this way?
2. Do you believe that absorbing gender norms like the ones discussed today could have negative consequences for young men and women? If so, how? Give examples:
3. Whose responsibility is it to manage such messages about gender norms? The publishers of the magazines? The authors of the articles? The advertisers? The parents of the teens? The teens themselves?
Prostitution is one of those topics that incites very strong reactions–making it very difficult to discuss in the classroom. In the Fall 2007 issue of Contexts, Ronald Weitzer provides us with a balanced, classroom-friendly way to get your students thinking about this issue beyond their gut reactions. Read the article here!
Use the discussion questions and the activity below to get the conversation started:
1) Define the oppression and celebratory models of prostitution. How would you characterize the alternative model proposed by the author?
2) What is your reaction to Weitzer’s claim that some prostitutes are empowered by their jobs? Do you agree that sex work can be empowering for women or do you agree more with the oppression model?
3) The article states that 17 percent of American men have paid for sex at some point in their lives. Do you think this is a high or low number? Why do you think there is a stigma against paying for sex?
ACTIVITY: Organize a class debate with one side arguing that prostitution should be legalized and regulated in the United States, and the other side arguing that it should remain illegal.
by Kia Heise and Hollie Nyseth, Feb 3, 2011, at 08:00 am
Men are Missing from African Family Planning by Ashley E. Frost and F. Nii-Amoo Dodoo, from the Winter 2009 issue of Contexts would work well in any class on gender or sexuality issues as well as accompanying any lesson on population/ family planning policies abroad. Use the discussion questions and/or the activity below to incorporate this article into your class.
ASSIGNMENT: Outline the main reasons the authors give for the high fertility rates among African women. In a nutshell, why aren’t current planning policies working? Using what you learned in the article as your guide, explain how gender roles and ideologies within different cultures can influence fertility rates. Compare the African example to another community that you are familiar with.
ACTIVITY: Imagine that you are a public health official working with the U.N. on overpopulation in Africa. Given what you learned from this article, create a plan for a program that would be more successful in reducing fertility rates among women in Africa.
by Kia Heise and Hollie Nyseth, Nov 11, 2010, at 08:00 am
Check out the article “Is Hooking Up Bad for Young Women?“ by Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Laura Hamilton and Paula England, which appears in the Summer 2010 issue of Contexts. This highly accessible and interesting article will work great in an undergraduate course on sexualities or gender.
The article offers insight on the “hook-up culture” among young people today by examining the Baby Boomers’ panic over teenage casual sex, presenting the data on casual and serious sexual relationships among teens, and examining pros and cons of hook-ups for women.
The authors cite the work of some journalists and others who have commented on “hooking up” among young women in very different ways:
Laura Sessions Stepp, author of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both (2007)
Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women (2010)
Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005)
A fun and interesting way to use this article in your class is to allow students to take on the role of commentator by writing a short paper (3-4 pages) on their understanding and opinions on hook-up culture. You could have them read sections from the books above and/or read blog posts like this one from Salon.com in addition to this article from Contexts, and also have them research and cite scholarly work on the subject, like the work cited in the article.
Have them take a position on the issue of “hooking up”/casual sexual interactions in college and use evidence they find in their research to back up their claims.
Questions that could be used to develop their argument include:
Do you think that hook-up culture is empowering for women or not?
Why do you think hooking-up is more common now than ever?
Why do you think young people hooking up causes such a moral panic?
Is sexual interaction within relationships preferable to hook-ups?
Is there a sexual double standard between men and women when it comes to hooking up?
How does the hook-up culture described in this article relate to same-sex relationships?
by Kia Heise and Hollie Nyseth, Oct 28, 2010, at 08:00 am
Students will eat up this article from the Summer 2010 issue of Contexts: “Sex, Love, and Autonomy in the Teenage Sleepover” by Amy Schalet. This interesting article compares American and Dutch teenagers and their parents on their opinions on teenage sexuality, including sleepovers with their boyfriends/girlfriends.
Get a discussion of teenage sexuality started by giving your students this anonymous survey on their own experiences with and ideas about teenage sexuality. Adapt it to your own tastes and class’ needs. The idea is to keep it anonymous so they answer candidly, and then compile the answers yourself and share them with the class. We would suggest giving this survey at the end of one class and then having the discussion at the beginning of the next.
Another way to use a survey in class is to use the same questions as another survey, like this Gallup Poll on teens and sex, and then compare the class’ answers to the public.
by Kia Heise and Hollie Nyseth, Oct 14, 2010, at 08:00 am
We all love to hate reality TV. This assignment asks students to watch a few episodes of America’s Next Top Model after reading an interesting and accessible culture review from Contexts. There are many elements in ANTM worth sociological examination: race, gender, and sexuality of contestants and judges, gender performance, use and display of bodies, modeling culture, body image, patriarchal power, infantilizing women, feminism, self-branding and individualized success ideals. You could even ask students to send you clips of segments they found especially provocative and show some of them in class to spark the discussion.
Read the culture review “The Top Model Life” by Elizabeth Wissinger featured in Contexts magazine’s Spring 2010 issue.
Then, watch an episode (or a few) of America’s Next Top Model online.
by Hollie Nyseth and Kia Heise, Aug 5, 2010, at 03:06 pm
Here is an activity that was given to us by Amy Alsup, a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota. The activity revolves around a clip from Season 1 of Mad Men located on Youtube and entitled “Peggy and the Gynecologist.”
It is the early 1960s and Peggy Olson begins work at Sterling Cooper advertising agency as a secretary. Her co-worker Joan recommends that Peggy embrace the attention from men and “show a little leg.” In this scene, Peggy visits the gynecologist to get a prescription for contraceptives. The gynecologist warns Peggy not to “be a strumpet” and sleep around just because she is not likely to get pregnant on the pill.
This clip demonstrates stereotypical attitudes about women and sexuality. While women are expected to give men sexual attention, they are at risk of being considered “tramps” if they are rumored to be involved in high amounts of sexual activity. The gynecologist in this scene warns Peggy, “Even in these modern times, easy women don’t find husbands.” The assumption here is twofold: women are expected to give men sexual attention under the radar but still expected to “be proper” and get married. Although it is not Peggy’s intention to immediately “find a husband,” it is expected that this is her goal.
This clip could be used to introduce a lecture, discussion or active learning exercise on the medicalization of women’s sexuality. It could also be used to introduce a broad discussion on gender roles and sexuality in the 1960s.
Active Learning Exercise Idea:
Have students read a book or article about women’s sexuality and social control. Show this video clip in class, and have students write a written reflection addressing the following questions, then discuss with a partner:
(1) How are women’s bodies subject to control today? Is this different or similar than in the past?
(2) Birth control for many women was empowering when it was first prescribed in the 1960s. However, prescriptions were also regulated and controlled in large part by men. How is women’s health regulated today? Are there improvements or new setbacks? What are they?
(3) What is medicalization? How can this concept be used to understand the power dichotomies between doctors and patients? Men and women?
Ideas for texts include:
Conrad, Peter. 1992. “Medicalization and Social Control.” Annual Review of Sociology, 18: 209-32.
Gordon, Linda (2002). The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.