Families as They Really Are

Tylenol's videos are here.
Tylenol’s videos are here.

Repost from 9/8/2015.

The commercialization of everyday life usually gives me a headache, but I guess I can always take a Tylenol. After all, as Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who directed Tylenol’s recent #HowWeFamily advertising spots, put it, the “family brand” is “helping to dispel the fears around difference,” to “get people to understand diversity” by introducing them to a wide range of families in videos that show that “at the end of the day, no matter the gender of the parents, the color of the family’s skin, the religion that they come from, the background that they come from, all of these families have the same concerns. They want what’s best for their kid, they want to care for each other and create a home that’s safe and happy.” And sometimes, of course, they need a decent painkiller.

The Tylenol spots—of immigrant families, of mixed-race families, adoptive families, gay-parent families, military families, step-families, stay-at-home dad/working-mom families, and so on—are charming, well produced, and surprisingly rich and moving. The parents, some of whom are also celebrities, are appealing and articulate, the kids are cute, and the politics are unapologetically liberal. The introductory video takes direct aim at old notions of what and who makes a family, offering the company’s “modern take on the Norman Rockwell family.” It’s an easy target, but still.

“When were you first considered a family? When you fell in love? When you got married? When you had kids?” a kind woman’s voice asks over soft music and images of straight couples holding hands, getting married, holding kids. Then, over similar images of same-sex couples and mixed-race families: “When did you first fight to be considered a family? When you fell in love? When you got married? When you had kids? Family isn’t defined by who you love, but how.” (Pause, then: “Tylenol.”) Many of the participants challenge the idea of a “normal” family, while also asserting that, as one of them puts it, “We are, at heart, all the same.”

That people have families in a wide variety of ways, throughout history and across cultures, is well established if also still widely ignored. These Tylenol images, along with TV shows like Modern Family, are part of an ongoing demotion of the ideology of One True Family (married, heterosexual man and woman with kids), and an emerging celebration of family diversity, in popular culture —even as the legal system lags behind. That’s great, and certainly better than the stigma, discrimination, and sanctimony which nontraditional families still routinely face.

Still, it strikes me as significant that the Tylenol campaign, like the similar family representations that have been popping up, downplays the ways these families move differently through the world, glosses over the origins of the new kinds of families, like my own, that they celebrate, and focuses on only particular forms of non-traditional family. One might wonder, for instance, about the experiences of the white parent of kids of color in the face of racism, immigrant families in the midst of Trump-driven nativism, same-sex parents whose children participate in a fiercely heterosexist culture. One might wonder, too, why we don’t get sunny videos about women who chose to be, or have found themselves as, single mothers, or about multi-parent-by-design families, or #HowWeFamilyWithoutMoney. One might wonder about the birth families, egg and sperm donors, surrogates, and ex-spouses whose lives, labor, and emotions were part of the family creation process but who are invisible in #HowWeFamily. One might wonder about those marginalized members of our broader family—in the communal membership sense of “family” long used by queer people—who can’t, don’t, or don’t want to benefit from the respectability garnered by participation in conventional marriage and family institutions. One might wonder, that is, whether the demolition of the idea that there is a single “normal” family requires the erasure of the ways social inequality shapes family creation and family life.

We really shouldn’t expect advertising to show that to us, of course. That’s not Tylenol’s job. Sometimes corporate actions contribute to progressive social change—in this case, when their branding interests are served by presenting non-traditional families as symbols of liberal tolerance—and oftentimes not. But we should wonder, and we should talk, about the less comfortable, less pretty inequities that are an inherent part of family-making old and new. That family diversity has become a corporate marketing tool can be flattering to some of us. But buyer beware.

Joshua Gamson (@joshgamson) is Professor of Sociology at the University of San Francisco and a Fellow at the Stanford Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences. His most recent book is Modern Families: Stories of Extraordinary Journeys to Kinship.

educational policy For all of its craziness and scariness, the 2016 election campaign has hammered home for millions of Americans the degree to which massive inequities permeate our daily lives and threaten our democracy.

Unfortunately, understanding how inequalities affect us has yet to permeate the education policy world. While the transition from narrow, punitive No Child Left Behind Act to the Every Student Succeeds Act represents real progress, there is still a widespread belief that schools are the main drivers of achievement gaps and that they can, and should, be responsible for closing them. Correcting this fallacy is critical to getting the education system we need – one that is both equitable and excellent – and will help correct some of those larger inequities as well.

In reality, the same systemic forces that have sucked most of the income and wealth from the bottom half of our population in recent decades and channeled it into the top one percent have substantially widened income-based achievement gaps. Without intentional measures to direct a broad range of educational and other resources to reversing that trend, gaps will continue to grow. And because big disparities in parents’ – and society’s – investments in children begin at birth, those resources need to be channeled early.

Many of us know that students from poor families, and especially low-income students of color, are often two to three years behind by the time they begin high school. What is far less widely known is that those same students began school that far behind. In other words, our highly inequitable school system, which consigns students with the greatest deficits to the least credentialed and experienced teachers, is doing more to maintain gaps that children brought with them on their first day of kindergarten than to create them.

A study by my colleague, Emma Garcia, finds that, in fact, students in the bottom social class quintile lagged their highest-social class peers by a full standard deviation in both reading and math at kindergarten entry. Those same students were about half a standard deviation behind on such social emotional skills as persistence, self-control, and social interactions, which are equally critical to academic, and life, success. Mind you, education researchers typically translate that “standard deviation” into two or three years of schooling. Let that sink in: one in five students start kindergarten one to three years behind, whether behaviorally or academically.

When we looked across racial groups, the gaps were smaller, and could be explained substantially by social class. Given that nearly half of black five-year-olds who started school in 2010-11, and almost two thirds of English-Language Learner Hispanic children, versus just 13 percent of their white peers, are living in poverty, however, shifting the comparison groups doesn’t improve those students’ real life contexts.

Schools didn’t start these problems. And the evidence tells us that schools alone can’t fix them.

Early fixes that will work.

Luckily, there is also some very good news on this front. Unlike fixes for our bigger, broader societal inequities, strategies for closing these early childhood gaps are well understood, extensively documented, and, miraculously, have fairly wide support across the political spectrum. A paper just published by five EPI researchers lays out both the multiple societal problems created by our failure to make the needed public investments in quality early child care and education, and the broad set of benefits to be reaped from righting that wrong.

First and foremost, an ambitious national investment in early childhood care and education would help get all our children to the starting gate in much better shape. Another recent study, conducted jointly by the National Institute for Early Education Research and the Center for American Progress, suggests that universal pre-k alone would narrow math gaps by between 45 percent and 78 percent (black- white and Hispanic-white gaps, respectively) and virtually eliminate pre-kindergarten reading gaps.

But the benefits to the investments we propose extend much further. Ensuring a living wage for child care providers would not only improve their quality of life and enhance their contributions to the economy, but help stabilize the workforce and, ultimately, benefit the children they care for. Because child care is such a burden for young families – as expensive as rent or more so in many cases – making high-quality child care available would provide a benefit of about $11,000 annually for Florida families with an infant and a preschool-aged child who are earning the state median income. And removing this barrier to women’s workforce participation would help bring American women in line with their international peers, with potential gains to the gross domestic product of as much as $600 billion annually.

As the election comes closer, we must continue to push all candidates in both parties to focus on the severe problems working Americans face. Let’s make the early childhood investments we suggest front and center. By our analysis they are low hanging fruit—politically and economically.

Elaine Weiss is the National Coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education, where she works with four co-chairs, a high-level Advisory Board, and multiple coalition partners to promote a comprehensive, evidence-based set of policies to allow all children to thrive in school and life.  Major publications for BBA include case studies of diverse communities across the country that employ comprehensive approaches to education. She has also authored two studies with EPI economist Emma Garcia on early achievement gaps and strategies to reduce them.

photo from CNN
Stephanie Coontz

Re-posted from cnn.com.

The public outrage over the “religious freedom” bills recently passed in Arkansas and Indiana caught the governors of those states completely off-guard, judging by their confused and contradictory responses.

As poll watchers, they surely knew that most Americans now oppose the discriminatory laws and practices they accepted as normal only a dozen years ago. But the politicians underestimated the pushback organized by local and national businesses, including companies with no previous record of public support for social equality.

They had better adjust to a new reality.

For the past three decades, socially conservative evangelicals and pro-business interests have been powerfully allied against government regulations, environmental initiatives and social welfare programs, while supporting lower taxes for the wealthy and pushing back against the growing diversity in America’s population.

For many, this alliance been puzzling: Other, equally devout Christians who place more emphasis on Jesus Christ’s message of unconditional love and on his denunciations of excessive wealth and neglect of the poor, have been uncomfortable with it, as have many business leaders. Their priorities, after all, are based on the bottom line. And companies that sell goods and services to the public are learning that support for discrimination — or even passive acceptance of it — threatens that bottom line.

Hence, after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a law that opened a new door for discrimination against same-sex couples, the threat of boycotts and other retaliation was swift, from groups as diverse as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Indiana Pacers, Walmart, Eli Lilly, Apple and even the Marriott International hotel chain.

Marriott International was founded by J.W. Marriott, a dedicated Mormon, and is now run by his son Bill, also a Mormon who fully accepts his church’s teachings about traditional marriage. Yet in June, Marriott International launched a “#Love Travels” marketing campaign, aimed at attracting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travelers with an assurance of “the company’s commitment to make everyone feel comfortable about who they are.”

Asked about the discrepancy between his religious rejection of same-sex marriage and his marketing overtures to same-sex honeymooners, Marriott pointed to the Bible’s injunction of unconditional love, but added “beyond that, I am very careful about separating my personal faith and beliefs from how we run our business.”

In 2014, global spending by LGBT travelers was estimated at more than $200 billion, and spending by this market segment is rising much faster than overall spending on travel. So Marriott worries when states start to make such travelers feel unwelcome.

Businesses seeking to develop brand loyalty among younger consumers have a special incentive to highlight their rejection of anti-gay bias. A CNN poll taken in February found that 72% of millennials nationwide believe that same-sex couples have the right to have their marriages recognized as valid. Even among white evangelical Protestants, 43% of millennials support same-sex marriage, compared with less than 20% of those their grandparents’ age, 68 and older.

It used to be that businesses could close their eyes to discrimination in areas geographically isolated from the more liberal coasts, but that is no longer possible. According to researchers for MTV’s “Look Different” anti-bias campaign, 90% of youths aged 14 to 24 agree that it is important to make their communities a less biased place, and almost 80% say that everyone has a responsibility to help tackle bias.

So who’s the “moral majority” now?

For media-savvy millennials, following that moral imperative means spreading the news about discrimination wherever it occurs and reaching beyond geographic boundaries to mobilize against it. In the first 24 hours after Arkansas passed its version of the “religious freedom” bill, the Twitter hashtag #BoycottArkansas was used 12,000 times. It then snowballed after celebrity blogger Perez Hilton tweeted it to his 5.9 million Twitter followers.

America has crossed a threshold where it is no longer a good business model or political strategy to be intolerant of diversity, whether that pertains to race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Since 2011, the majority of children that have been born in the United States each year are members of racial or ethnic minorities. Hispanics are projected to account for most of the growth in the labor force between now and 2060.

Women now lead men in educational attainment. And more than half of Americans live in states where same-sex marriage is legal. Business leaders and politicians who ignore or offend these constituencies do so at their own peril.

Stephanie Coontz teaches at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and is director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families. She is the author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.” 

Thompson“New Maternalisms”: Tales of Motherwork (Dislodging the Unthinkable). Edited by Roksana Badruddoja & Maki Motapanyane (Demeter Press, 2016).

When academics focus on a concept that is rooted in a fundamental human experience, they often retreat to detached and aggressive scholarly postures. This natural defense against graying the lines between personal and professional can lead to the driest literature. The authors included in New Maternalisms clearly reject this approach, choosing instead to get their hands dirty while grappling with the sticky task of conceptualizing motherhood. Contributor Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez defines maternalism as a field of study, that ‘strives to explain the complexity of “mothering” – subdividing motherwork according to biological and social reproductive functions.’ This definition contrasts with that of the OG political movement , lending double entendre to the concept of a ‘new’ maternalism. Despite its jargon rich title, this collection of essays is personal and accessible.

The editors, (former CCF Boardmember) Roksana Badruddoja & Maki Motapanyane note academia’s historic failure to recognize the voices and agency of mothers. In response, they bring together a diverse collection of essays that explore the ways in which societal structures and culturally grounded ideologies prescribe definitions of good mothering and limit women’s agency. In turn, these works illuminate the perspectives, strategies and resilience of marginalized motherhood.

The list of authors could be considered a list of invitees to a maternalist scholar’s dream dinner party. Layering the voices of emerging scholars, expert practitioners from the field, and skilled theorists the collection of essays reads like a conversation among kindred spirits across disciplines. The editors’ openness to including scholars with diverse academic experience and personal backgrounds is a kindness not only to the emerging scholars included in the collection, but to the reader. At times fearlessly raw, the authors admit to and struggle with the limitations to their own views of mothering while exploring examples of motherhood across a diverse array of cultural contexts. The effect is refreshing.

The contributions challenge both patriarchal and feminist concepts of mothering. They do this by presenting the realities of mothering within the contexts of marginalized demographics (e.g. mothers who are undocumented, same sex, homeless, indigent, and/or who have disabilities) and marginalizing experiences (e.g. mothers who carry genetically engineered children, work in the sex industry, have their children conscripted as soldiers, or feed their babies formula, as opposed to breast feeding). The issues raised are at once timely, given recent Supreme Court cases (e.g. constraints experienced by mothers living in mixed immigration status families and mothers in single sex marriages) and timeless, such as mothers struggling with identity after the loss of a child.

In short, the editors give us an education in what Badruddoja names in her own contribution to the collection, “the unschooling that is deeply needed around our cultural imaginations of motherhood”. Transitioning through the chapters, I found myself relating to, sympathizing with, and being irritated by the authors. In other words, I found the collection both engaging and challenging. Based on my, admittedly, limited experience as an educator – and my shamelessly extensive experience as a student – that is what I’d call pedagogical gold.

Amy Thompson is a recovering policy wonk and a PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work. She is currently immersed in her comprehensive exams on the development of agency in migrant children – some of whom are mothers (biological and/or structural).

photo via pixabay
photo via pixabay

What’s going on in the South?  First a “religious discrimination” bill passed both houses in Georgia (not signed by the Governor), then North Carolina passes HB2 sold as a “bathroom bill” but allows discrimination against LGBTQ people all over the state. And now Mississippi passes a “religious freedom” bill that includes the right to discriminate not only against LGBTQ folks but also fornicators, those radical people who have sex outside the bonds of marriage (you know, the rest of us, at least sometime in our lives). Is there a contest for which Southern state can be most crazy?

North Carolina and Mississippi have suddenly become states to avoid if you care about human rights, if you are LGBTQ people, or if you know or love someone that is. Are there any Americans who shouldn’t be thinking of boycotting these states?

You might think that these new laws passed hurt transgender people only, but you’d be wrong.  These laws allow discrimination and legitimate harassment against anyone who doesn’t follow the typical expectations for how we look, or how we hold our bodies, or who we love, or who or whether we marry. These concerns about looks and bodies relate directly to what sociologists refer to as how we “do gender.” These laws try to impose one fixed and “normal” way to “do gender,” along with whom to partner and how.  But over the past 30 years that I have written about gender, I have seen dramatic changes to what is considered “normal” and whether sex outside of marriage is a crime or just another recreational activity that feels good. Many more people are open about their gender identities, and express them in a variety of ways. Our categories have changed and moved beyond a simple binary where “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls.”

The dramatic change has been especially clear in research for my new book on Millennials. The changes in how people “do gender” pushed me to write a book I had never planned to write. Indeed, after teaching a graduate seminar where the students and I collected over a hundred life interviews from young adults, I was startled to see the dramatic diversity, and increasing confusion, around gender and sexuality among Millennials.

I talked to two groups of young people who will be much hurt by a law that allows anyone to police who can use what bathroom, or who can love whom and when. Transgender people of all ages will be hurt. In my research, every transgender respondent had stories about the trouble they had going to the bathroom, even in states without laws that require gender discrimination. One transman told me that he often leaves an event and  travels a long way home on public transportation before going to the bathroom. As he told me about life as a transman he said “I wait until we get home. We call it the trans bladder. We can wait for hours before going to the bathroom.” Think of the physical pain, holding back the release of urine and excrement to avoid being bullied. And now realize that the states of North Carolina and Mississippi have just more than legitimized such harassment, they have required it by law. What kind of rude culture legitimates bullying? Is this the new meaning of southern hospitality?

Another group of research respondents will also suffer and have thus far remained invisible in the conversation, young people who reject the binary rules of gender. In my interviews I met people who identify as genderqueer: they do not want to be the opposite gender. Instead, they reject the label given at birth entirely as they reject the categories male and female which are irrelevant to their identities… Most, but not all, of these genderqueer young people grew up girls. They are often mistaken for men, but many continue to identify their sex as female, and their gender as queer. They too report already being hassled in restrooms.  Many avoid bathrooms.  One genderqueer respondent told me that she often faces uncomfortable interactions. “Usually they look at me trying to figure out if I am a boy or a girl…they’re like ‘I can’t tell cause she’s got short hair and she wears boy’s clothes, but those lips look kinda feminine. I think she’s got tits under there.” Another person quoted RuPaul “you’re born naked and the rest is drag” as the basis for androgynous self-presentation consciously designed to be neither masculine or feminine.

RuPaul’s view of the world is good sociology. Gender identity is very powerful but how we use gender—dressing or carrying our bodies–to present how we identify ourselves is complicated, ever changing, and culturally specific.   How we choose whom to love, and whether or not they have similar genitals seems the most intimate of decisions, and not good fodder for public policy. It takes very intrusive big government to want to judge intimate relationships. To legitimate harassment of people because of their gender expression hurts not only transgender and genderqueer people, it hurts us all. To legitimate harassment and discrimination on who you love, and whether or not that love is legally sanctioned by a marriage certificate, is not religious, it is hateful. Why should any couple be subject to questioning about their marital status? Why should anyone have to dress conservatively enough to assure vigilante enforcers that they are indeed male or female? How feminine must I dress to look like a woman?

As President of the Southern Sociological Society, and a woman who raised her child in North Carolina, I am proud that my professional association has voted not to meet in any state that discriminates against any of our members. I hope many more businesses and organizations join the boycott. If anyone is at risk for discrimination, we all are.

Barbara J Risman is currently a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at CASBS. She is a Senior Scholar at the Council on Contemporary Family and  is on-leave from  University of Illinois at Chicago.

photo via pixabay
photo via pixabay

Cross-posted with permission from Gender & Society.

Since 2002, federal and state governments in the United States have spent over $1 billion from the welfare budget on marriage and relationship education programs through the Healthy Marriage Initiative. This federal policy seeks to encourage marriage and the many social and economic benefits the government claims are associated with it—less poverty and domestic violence, better physical and mental health, higher academic achievement—by helping couples develop relationship skills focused on improving communication and resolving conflict. The federal agency in charge of overseeing healthy marriage funding recommends that curricula used in marriage education programs address how couples think about gender, specifically their beliefs about differences between men and woman and what they expect spouses to do based on gender. Many marriage education curricula address these topics because gendered expectations often influence how couples experience marriage and what they commonly argue about, namely housework, childcare, and earning money.

To understand how marriage education programs funded by the government teach about gender, communication, and power within marriage, I analyzed twenty curricula approved for use in healthy marriage programs and participated in a training session, workshop, or class for eighteen of these same curricula. I specifically wanted to know if and how the curricula reinforced or challenged stereotypes of gender responsibilities—such as the beliefs that women should be caretakers and men should be family breadwinners—and whether the programs taught couples about how social inequalities between women and men shape couples’ abilities to share power and family labor.

I found that some programs assumed men and women are fundamentally different in how they think, feel, and communicate, and recommended that couples use relationship skills to overcome these differences. For example, the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program, the most commonly used marriage education curriculum in healthy marriage programs, noted that men are more likely to pull away when couples argue, while women want to talk through disagreements. In discussing how women and men often act differently in romantic relationships, these curricula did not acknowledge how men’s greater power outside marriage often gives them more power to withdraw from conflict within marriage.

Other programs, however, taught couples to question the belief that men and women are fundamentally different and to avoid gender stereotypes in expectations of how their spouses should think and act. The African American Relationships, Marriages, and Family curricula emphasized that gender stereotypes can be harmful to relationships and that couples should learn to be flexible when dividing work and care responsibilities. Another program, The Third Option, taught couples that they should “redefine the power struggle” within marriage by prioritizing cooperation over competition, as in a doubles game of tennis where spouses are on the same team. By focusing on fairness, equality, and shared power, many of the curricula provided limited tools for challenging gender difference and power within marriage by teaching couples strategies that privilege individual abilities, inclinations, and availability regardless of gender.

Nevertheless, the strategies for verbal negotiation taught by these programs did not address how gender inequalities—such as women’s overall lower pay—often create a power imbalance between husbands and wives tilted in favor of men, even when couples share egalitarian gender views. Gendered power exists in the broader society through unequal opportunities for women and men—or what sociologists call institutionalized gender inequalities—not just between two people in a couple. Government-sponsored marriage and relationship education programs therefore have contradictory implications for promoting greater gender equality. They encourage couples to question how narrow ideas of gender “roles” shape marital conflict and unhappiness. Yet, they are funded with money diverted from welfare programs that primarily support single mothers and children, while they teach that gender is a set of individual inclinations to be discussed and negotiated rather than a relationship of power connected to larger systems of inequality and state action.

As a case of what I call interpersonal gender interventions, healthy marriage programs focus on teaching individuals that gender equality primarily lies in developing and negotiating more egalitarian gender attitudes. Yet, interventions that promote ideas about equality will have limited utility if individuals learn to develop more egalitarian beliefs in the absence of institutional changes that enable them to act on these values. Policies need to do more than help couples redefine the marital power struggle through relationship skills; they must promote equitable access to education, employment, and stable earnings that allow partners to create fair, safe, and loving relationships. Only then will partners have truly equal power to express, pursue, and achieve their interests within marriage and family relationships.

Jennifer Randles is assistant professor of sociology at California State University, Fresno. Her article, “Redefining the Marital Power Struggle Through Relationship Skills: How United States Marriage Education Programs Challenge and Reproduce Gender Inequality,” is published in the April 2016 30 (2)  issue ofGender & Society. To view the article, click here.

photo credit: The Guardian
photo credit: The Guardian

Originally printed on The Conversation.

Last month, Tom Porton, an award-winning, veteran Bronx high school teacher, handed in his resignation after colliding with the school’s principal. Porton had distributed HIV/AIDS education fliers listing nonsexual ways of “Making Love Without Doin’ It” (including advice to “read a book together”).

What does it say when a teacher who encourages students to discuss nonsexual ways to express love causes controversy? And how do discussions at school about sex affect teenagers? Do adults lose teenagers’ trust when they are not allowed to speak frankly about how to create healthy intimacy?

My cross-national research on adolescent sexuality shows a profound discomfort in American society not just with teenage sex, but with teenage love. And the silence among adults that results – in families, schools and the culture at large – may take a particular toll on adolescent boys.

What does love have to do with it? 

Political battles have raged for decades about whether and how public school students in the U.S. should be taught about condoms and other forms of contraception even though the majority of American youth lose their virginity during their teenage years.

The United States has seen more political strife and cultural controversy around adolescent sexuality than many other countries that went through a sexual revolution in the 1960s and ‘70’s. The Netherlands is an interesting comparative case: Like the U.S., Dutch society was culturally conservative in the 1950s. But Dutch society emerged from the sexual revolution with a more positive approach to adolescent sexuality, one that center-stages love.

American curricula tend to focus on physical acts and dangers – disease and pregnancy – often eschewing positive discussions of sexual pleasure or emotional intimacy.

Feminist scholars have critiqued American sex education for its overemphasis of danger and risk, noting the cost to teenage girls. Scholars have argued that the “missing discourse” of girls’ desire impedes their sense of power in and outside of relationships, leaving them poorly equipped to negotiate consent, safety and sexual satisfaction.

But scholars have paid less attention to the missing discourse of teenage love in American sex education, and its effects on boys, who confront a broader culture that provides scant recognition of, or support for, their emotional needs.

In comparison, sex education in the Netherlands tends to frame boys’ and girls’ sexual development in the context of their feelings for and relationships with others. Curricula include discussions of fun and exciting feelings. They also validate young people’s experience of love.

For example, the title of a widely used Dutch sex education curriculum is “Long Live Love, which is notable both for the celebration of sexual development, and for couching that development in terms of love.

Another example is of a PBS News Hour video, which shows a Dutch teacher engaging a group of 11-year olds in a conversation about what it feels like to be in love, and the proper protocol for breaking up (not via text message).

After watching the video, a male student at the University of Massachusetts spoke wistfully about what was missing from his own sex education experiences, stating, with a hint of outrage in his voice, “No one talks with us about love!”

‘Dirty little boys, get away!’ 

The differences between American and Dutch sex education curricula reflect broader cultural differences in the ways adults talk about young people and their motivations.

In interviews I conducted with Dutch and American parents of high school sophomores, the Dutch parents spoke about teenage sexuality in the context of their children falling in love.

One Dutch mother recalled that her son was “interested in girlfriends at a very early age and then he was also often intensely in love.” Her son would not have been unusual. Ninety percent of Dutch 12- to 14-year-old boys, surveyed in a national study, reported that they had been in love.

By contrast, American parents were very skeptical of love during the teenage years. They attributed adolescent sexuality to biological urges – particularly with regard to boys. I found it to be so, across the political spectrum.

Parents portrayed boys as slaves to their hormones. One self-described liberal mother said, “Most teenage boys would fuck anything that would sit still”.

A conservative father, who was anxious about his daughter’s dating, stated: “I’m a parent of a teenage cheerleader. I’m very concerned: ‘Dirty little boys! Get away! Get away!'”

What do boys want? 

I found that boys in both cultures are looking for intimacy and relationships, not only sex. But they differed in how much they believed they fit the norm.

The Dutch boys thought that their desire to combine sex with relationships was normal, whereas American boys tended to see themselves as exceptionally romantic.

Says Randy, an American boy I interviewed:

“If you ask some guys, they’ll say it’s mainly for the sex or whatever [that they get together with a girl], but with me, you have to have a relationship with the person before you have sex with her…. I’d say I’m exceptional”.

Randy is far from exceptional. In one U.S. survey, boys chose having a girlfriend and no sex over having sex and no girlfriend by two to one.

Other research too has shown American teenage boys – across racial and ethnic groups – crave intimacy, and are as emotionally invested as girls are in romantic relationships.

American boys end up paying a price for a culture that does not support their needs for intimacy. For the issue is that while boys crave closeness, they are expected to act as if they are emotionally invulnerable. Among the American boys I interviewed, I observed a conflict between their desires and the prevailing masculinity norms – if they admit to valuing romantic love, they risk being viewed as “unmasculine.”

Unrealistic and unfair expectations about boys’ lack of emotional vulnerability, in turn, make it harder for them to navigate both platonic and romantic relationships. One study found that as boys move through the teenage years, masculinity norms (beliefs that men should be tough and not behave in ways marked as “feminine”), particularly the stigma of homosexuality, make it harder to maintain close same-sex friendships, leaving boys lonely and sometimes depressed.

With less practice sustaining intimacy, boys enter romantic relationships less confident and less skilled. Ironically, many boys end up less prepared for, but more emotionally reliant on, heterosexual contacts.

Talk to us

When I asked my students to brainstorm about ideal sex education programs, based on research, they recommended focusing more on relationships. These young men suggested that having older boys mentor young boys, showing that it is normal for boys to value relationships could challenge the idea that it’s not masculine to need emotional closeness.

Certainly, such peer mentoring might go a long way to counteract the gender stereotypes and rigid masculinity norms that research has shown adversely affect boys’ sexual health.

The flyer Porton distributed invited an intergenerational conversation about emotional intimacy that is missing from most classrooms and boys’ lives. And it’s a conversation boys appear eager to have.

Amy Schalet is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. 


Reprinted from Chicago Tribune.  

Feminists my age and older — I’m in my late 50s — have been shocked to find how few young women are as excited as most of us by the prospect of having a female president. We grew up in a world where there were no powerful female role models — in politics, business or even in the movies — and where we were sternly warned against entertaining any aspirations of our own. We were expected to find our sense of achievement and meaning in the accomplishments of our future husbands and sons. Betty Friedan famously described how “the feminine mystique” forced women and girls of that era to conform to stifling stereotypes that caused long-term damage to their self-esteem and happiness. What a thrill it is, for many of us, regardless of our personal politics, to see a woman so close to smashing the stereotypes that held us back for so long. And why, we wonder, can’t young women see what it would mean for women everywhere to have such a role model?

But maybe at this moment in history we are looking to the wrong sex to find people who feel the anguish that gender stereotypes can cause. At this moment, could boys need gender equality even more than girls?

It’s no accident that the older women berating millennials’ supposed lack of feminism are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. These women grew up in an era when gender stereotyping was so pervasive it organized the course of every woman’s life, whatever her class, race, education or politics. Being a woman colored every aspect of life, and every choice to be anything more than a wife required us to defy powerful social norms. During the consciousness-raising meetings of the 1970s and 1980s, almost every young woman had a story about the pain she had felt when told that she wasn’t “being a lady” or worse still, was “acting like a man.”

That’s changed for young women. In my interviews with millennials for a forthcoming book, I found that it was the young men, not the young women, who told painful stories about their experiences with gender stereotyping. Feminism has so changed the world that young women no longer feel constrained in their girlhood even during their transition to adulthood. Research suggests gender consciousness will develop later of course, as women face the motherhood penalty at work and the growing pay gap with men as they age. But right now, everyone tells them “you go, girl.”

But if gender is invisible to most girls transitioning to adulthood, it is all too real to the boys who still get bullied for not “being a man” or for “acting like a girl.” I heard stories that turn my stomach about young men being teased for wanting to take a ballet class, or ridiculed in their adolescence because they’d rather hang in the kitchen with their sisters than play football with the guys in the family. Girls are increasingly allowed the freedom to be anything they want to be, but boys are still pressured to “man up.” As Stephanie Coontz, a historian and director of research for the Council on Contemporary Families, suggests, “Gender stereotyping of women is still real, but it tends to kick in after a woman leaves school and starts trying to combine her personal life and work life. It’s OK now for a girl to be a tomboy or an athlete or a great student. But the gender-typing of boys kicks in very young, and the penalties for gender-nonconformity are harsh.”

At this point in millennials’ lives, in this feminist-influenced you-go-girl world, young women understand gender to be a personal attribute, not a socially imposed identity. Why would they support a woman for president because she shared their sex category? The millennial women in my sample mostly claim never to have experienced sexism, and even if they may in the future, that’s not going to affect their votes now.

Perhaps a candidate who wants to open up opportunities that are limited because of sex should start talking to male millennials who increasingly express discontent with the pressures to be the primary breadwinner and not to take time off at work when they have a new baby at home or need to be available to help their mother die in her own home, with dignity. Young women feel they have the option to have a full-time career but also to cut back if they feel the need (at least if they are married to partners with incomes) but men do not. Men are beginning to resent the freedom women have for “choices” when they have none.

Perhaps Hillary Clinton should explain to young men how much better off they would be if they had a female president who appreciates their desire for a more balanced life than the masculine mystique allows. They may now be more ready to listen than are the young women who still labor under the illusion that they can have it all without men’s lives changing.

Barbara J. Risman, a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is on sabbatical at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. She is also a senior scholar at the Council on Contemporary Families.

FSU poster by Luis Rodriguez
FSU poster by Luis Rodriguez

In the midst of the Vietnam War, universities across the country became centers of political dissent against U.S. imperialism abroad and the quagmire that continued for years. Faculty and students galvanized behind anti-war messages that pushed the boundaries of traditional classroom environments. On the 24th of March in 1965, the faculty at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor came together to disrupt business as usual. Over two hundred faculty cancelled classes in favor of anti-war discussions, seminars, and lectures. These open forums lasted hours – upwards of 12 hours at a time – and engulfed the campus in critical discourse. Shortly after, Columbia University adapted a similar model and soon, so did many other schools. This was the birth of the teach-in.

In 2016, a time in our history when the U.S. incarcerates more of its own citizens than any other country, the time for disruption of business as usual at the university is overdue. As the #BlackLivesMatter movement continues to push the socio-political discourses on police brutality, mass incarceration, and the assaults on communities of color, the call for faculty at Framingham State University to connect our classrooms and teaching in alliance with the movement emerged through conversation, and this is the story of a new kind of teach-in we’re holding this week.

When we talked about a teach-in, we paused at the question, how? Like other colleges and universities, our campus includes many students who are tied to full-time or near full-time employment and intensive family commitments. Students, open to learning and activism, are stretched thin by financial and family burdens. Thus, while #BlackLivesMatter teach-ins outside of traditional classrooms have been occurring at other institutions across the country (Cornell and Missouri to name two), our model was centered within our classrooms, and evolved into a campus-wide re-direction of our courses for a week this semester.

The initial conversations was just with me and my soc colleagues. As sociologists, connecting our classrooms with ongoing issues of social justice is routine. Soc classes are (at times) a site for activism, a place that can push learning towards deconstructing power, and a space that offers transformative lenses on the world. Such ideas are not unique to sociology, but for many other disciplines, the connections between social justice, activism, and teaching are not so intrinsic. We knew we could work with sociology. Yet, we wanted to reach across all the disciplines.

My colleague had a simple idea: why not just ask our fellow faculty if they would adapt their Spring course content to relate to the #BlackLivesMatter movement? Would they be willing to adjust their courses during the same week? We asked…and had 30 classes enrolled after a day of mentioning it to colleagues. And now, for the week of February 22-26, over 88 faculty from 30+ disciplines in 143 classes will explicitly link #BlackLivesMatter to their course content and student communities.

The plans have been remarkable. Communication Arts Professor Leslie Starobin will discuss Life Magazine’s coverage of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s with her Photojournalism students. Psychology Professor Dawn Vreven’s Cognitive Psychology students will look at research related to implicit bias. Flint, Michigan, is a focus in Biochemistry—as well as in Counseling Psychology. Sociology students are taking on topics ranging from Black lesbian families and respectability politics, to the case for reparations, and the foundations of mass incarceration. Many professors report having changed more than just this week in their classes. Online classes, graduate classes, freshman classes, and senior seminars have all found a way to connect.

Colleagues from disciplines that don’t automatically come to mind have stepped up. Physics professor Vandana Singh and her advanced physics students will examine the status of Black physicists in their field. Economics professor Luis Rosero and his Money and Banking students will look at “The Color of Money” and red lining. Computer scientist David Keil and his Information Technology students will examine the role of phone-videoing and social media in revealing the details of events that have needed to come to light.

The culmination is a Town Hall Meeting on Wednesday, March 2. It is a chance for everyone to hear from others about what they did. Our planning for this event, too, is pretty basic. Students will speak in brief at the beginning about the origins and influence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The central activity is people sharing their teach-in experiences from the past week—rather than some kind of panel or lecture. The creation of a common space after the week of teach-in courses bridges faculty innovation, student engagement, and activism. Holistically, hundreds of distinct classroom environments from a multitude of applied perspectives will come together to deepen our community’s commitment to the #BlackLivesMatter mission. Rather than a “conclusive” event, the Town Hall Meeting will involve addressing not only where we are in the present but also where we are going.

There will be other days for panels, structured dialogue, lectures, and more planning and other focused and topical demonstrations. Students are developing a speakers’ bureau to continue focused dialogues in dorms, clubs, and classrooms. But, this day is for students and faculty to see how vast and wide the significance of #BlackLivesMatter and to consider deeper engagement. My colleagues Virginia Rutter, Lina Rincón, and Patricia Sanchez-Connally were partners in growing this idea. I’ll report back how it goes. The creation of the necessary spaces, dialogues, and momentum is the spark that bridges classrooms with activism.

Xavier Guadalupe-Diaz, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Framingham State University in Framingham, MA.

9149031645_30c0e40961_z (1)
via Flickr Creative Commons

In January of 2013, Texas became one of several states to ban Planned Parenthood and its affiliates from using public funds to pay for health care. A February 3 New England Journal of Medicine study, “Effects of Removal of Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women’s Health Program,” examined the consequences, and Joseph Potter, Professor of Sociology at University of Texas-Austin, one of the study’s co-authors, will discuss the results  at the CCF 2016 Annual Conference.

Why is this study so important?

The NEJM study demonstrates the consequences of excluding Planned Parenthood affiliates from Texas’s fee-for-service family planning program. To do this, the authors evaluated rates of contraceptive-method provision, method continuation through the program, and childbirth covered by Medicaid two years before the exclusion and two years after the exclusion. The data in this study was drawn from all Medicaid claims from 2011 through 2014. 

As for results?

Once the exclusion was in place, provision of the most effective reversible methods of contraception (such as IUDs, implants, and injectable contraception) decreased and Medicaid-paid births increased among injectable contraceptive users. Specifically, claims for IUDs and implants declined 31 percent, claims for injectable contraceptives declined 35 percent, and Medicaid-paid deliveries increased by 27 percent among users of injectable contraception. So, by excluding affiliates of abortion providers (chiefly Planned Parenthood) led to reducing women’s access to highly effective contraception and the subsequent increase in Medicaid-paid births.

Dedicated women’s health providers matter.

“Simply put, dedicated women’s health providers matter. Providers who are mission-driven and have the requisite experience and knowledge appear to be critical for the delivery of the most effective methods of contraception—IUDs, implants, and injectables. From a demographic perspective, this is important because both national studies and local studies show that these methods dramatically decrease unintended pregnancy. We also have accumulating evidence that there is unmet demand for these methods in Texas” noted Dr. Potter in a press release from the NEJM. He went on to say “While this paper does not tell us much about women’s experiences after the exclusion, we have evidence from another study, recently published in the journal of Contraception, that Planned Parenthood clients encountered barriers such as unnecessary exams, multiple visits, and additional costs as they tried to find a new provider after January 2013.”

Hear more about this study at the CCF Conference.

The roll-back on women’s access to affordable and accessible reproductive health care is at a record high in Texas and around the country. Dr. Potter will update participants on controversial topics surrounding family policy, as well as outline key aspects of the public debate at The Council on Contemporary Families 2016 Annual Conference: Families as They Really Are: Demographics, Disparities, and Debate. The conference, at University of Texas-Austin, March 4 and 5, will be host to a range of topics and debates that will engage scholars from multiple disciplines. To hear from Dr. Joseph Potter, and learn details about the CCF 2016 Annual Conference visit here.

The NEJM article is coauthored by Amanda J. Stevenson, Imelda M. Flores-Vasquez, Richard L. Allgeyer, Pete Schenkkan, and Joseph E. Potter.

Molly McNulty is a CCF Public Affairs Intern at Framingham State University. She is a joint Sociology and Education major.