Tag Archives: teaching

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.

 

 

 

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?

Presidential Debates as a Teaching Tool

Today we have a guest post from our fellow TSP board member, Kyle Green. Kyle is teaching Sociological Research Methods and wanted to share this activity that he is having his students complete while watching the presidential debates. Thanks Kyle!

I believe that one of the most important skills that a sociology major learns is how to recognize a good/bad argument, how to recognize when someone is using the right/wrong data to support their view, and to think about how the effectiveness of different types of argument varies by both topic and situation.

The presidential and vice-presidential debates present a great opportunity to put these skills into use. And it gets the students to think critically about politics, which is never a bad thing.

I require that the students in my research methods class watch any two of the four debates. They are asked to take detailed notes about the types of arguments the participants on each side made and the data they used to support their claims. The notes should also include:

  •  Self-reflection (How closely do they follow politics? Are they a strong supporter of a particular political party or involved in particular issues? Did watching the debate change their view?)
  • What arguments did they find the most or least convincing? Why?
  • What type of information was the most or least effective in this format?
  • How did the format of the debates affect the arguments used and supporting information presented?
  • Did you spot any of the common research errors or logical fallacies we discussed in class?

I have the students bring their notes to the first class after the final debate. I then divide them into groups of three where they have a chance to discuss their observations before have a larger class discussion about the lessons we learned.