In The Princess and the Frog, Tiana and her parents can only dream of opening a restaurant.
In The Princess and the Frog, Tiana and her parents can only dream of opening a restaurant.

Originally published March 30, 2016

Disney movies get a lot of flack for promoting unrealistic gender expectations, especially for young girls. But kids are getting messages about more than just gender. A recent article in New York Magazine featured a study helmed by sociologist Jessi Streib that revealed that successful G-rated movies, including many Disney films, communicate unrealistic depictions of social class.

In over half of the 32 films they studied, the main characters were upper- or the upper middle-class, clearly misrepresenting the distribution of wealth both in the U.S. and the world. In addition, many downplayed or even romanticized the hardships of lower-class status. For instance, in Aladdin, wealth and poverty are depicted as two sides of the same coin with each equally constraining individuals’ lives. Unlike in adult films where working class characters tend to be portrayed as irresponsible, in G-rated films, working-class characters are shown as warm members of a tight-knit community. In fact, in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, it is the lower-class characters who teach their upper-class characters about humanity, empathy, and love:

The key takeaway, from the authors’ point of view, is that these films legitimize and reinforce class structures. Middle-class and poor people are de-emphasized, as are the difficulties associated with not having enough money. Moreover, climbing the class ladder isn’t presented as particularly difficult.

Click to visit Hoaxmap.
Click to visit Hoaxmap.

Over a million migrants and refugees entered Europe in 2015, leading many to dub this mass migration a “crisis.” Many are seeking asylum, especially those from countries experiencing considerable violence like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Many Europeans have reacted to the influx with fear, spreading stories that associate refugees and migrants with crime (something social scientists like to call “crimmigration”). In response, two German women created Hoaxmap to track and dispel rumors about refugees in Germany (a country that has been particularly welcoming to immigrants, per its Chancellor Angela Merkel’s directives). Of the 40 types of rumors tracked on Hoaxmap, most pertain to theft or sexual assault.

The discrepancy between documented and rumored crimes may reflect the way rumors spread and their connections to real events that people believe are plausible. Sociologist Gary Alan Fine, recently featured in an Atlantic article, agrees: “Once you have a plausible story then the criteria for information you need in order to believe [a new story] is much lower, because you would say ‘this is like what happened elsewhere.’” In fact, almost half of the rumors about sexual assault and rape associated with the contemporary immigrants cropped up in the two months following reported New Year’s Eve assaults on women in Cologne. Sociologist Mar Warr concurs that “even a small increase in apparent risk (like a locally reported rape or rapes) can generate substantial and widespread fear.” In reality, most crime in destination locations appears to have been directed at asylum seekers, rather than perpetrated by them.

Frank and Claire Underwood House of Cards Promo

Spoiler alert! This season the popular Netflix series “House of Cards” got a bit more radical. Main characters and power couple Claire and Frank Underwood are unapologetically, consensually non-monogamous. In fact, sociologist Mimi Schippers says the show portrays “one of the best television representations of an open/poly relationship I’ve seen.” In the fourth season, Claire, married to the President of the United States, becomes sexually involved with Thomas Yates, a writer. While many shows depict “extramarital affairs” as inherently negative, “House of Cards” Frank affirms that Tom can “give” Claire things he can’t.

In a blog post for NYU Press, Schippers argues that the Underwoods go “beyond” marriage, monogamy, and dominant gender norms. According to research she conducted for her upcoming book, men in polyamorous relationships tend to shift their understanding of masculinity because they must forgo jealousy and control over the women in their lives. The openly non-monogamous relationships on “House of Cards” thus challenge more than just ideas about what relationships should look like. It confronts gendered expectations for men to be competitive and possessive and grants women sexual autonomy, independent of men.

[T]he Underwoods distinguish themselves from society’s ideas of the “perfect couple” by being both child-free and consensually non-monogamous. They are something else–something beyond “perfect”, beyond marriage, and beyond traditional gender arrangements. Rather than representing bad character or immorality, Claire’s increasingly intimate relationship with Tom and Frank’s enthusiastic acceptance of it (the very definition of polyamory) punctuates and solidifies the strength of their marriage as one between equals.

Equal Pay Day is marked around the world as the day on which women have officially made as much as their male peers did in the previous year. This year's was April 12, 2016 in the U.S. Photo by metropolica.org, flickr.com
Equal Pay Day is marked around the world. It shows how far into the next year women must work to make as much as their male peers did in the previous calendar year. This year’s was April 12, 2016 in the U.S. Photo by metropolico.org, flickr.com

Recently, I reviewed research showing that women in leadership roles may contribute to decreasing gender segregation at lower positions in the same firm. I also noted that gender segregation is a large contributor to the wage gap between men and women. Unfortunately, while a small number of women moving into top positions may help those below, when large numbers of women enter traditionally male-dominated fields, the results are not so rosy. Why? Women’s work simply isn’t valued as highly as men’s.

The Washington Post recently featured a study by sociologists Paula England and Asaf Levanon demonstrating this trend. When occupations employing mostly men shifted to employing most women, these jobs started to pay employees considerably less, even when the researchers took employees’ education, work experience, skills, race, and geography into account. For instance, wages for a ticket agent dropped 43 percentage points after the position shifted from mainly male to female. Stereotypically “female” jobs that involve caregiving pay less, regardless of whether men or women hold those jobs:

[T]here was substantial evidence that employers placed a lower value on work done by women. “It’s not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill and importance,” Ms. England said. “It’s just that the employers are deciding to pay it less.”

Taller men get the taller stacks. TaxCredits.net.
Taller men get the taller stacks. TaxCredits.net.

According to British researchers, tall men and thin women are most likely to make the big bucks. Meanwhile, they found evidence to suggest overweight workers, especially women, are likely to get paid less. Still, sociologist Amy Blackstone says companies probably aren’t intentionally penalizing employees based on height and weight.  

In an interview with Broadly, Blackstone points to gender biases that extend beyond the workplace. Culturally, Americans associate thinness with beauty and self-discipline in women and tallness with authority for men. “For women, being thin means taking up less space, something that is expected of women both literally and symbolically,” Blackstone says. Thus, it’s no surprise that pay reflects societal views about gender, power, and the body. Nor is it a surprise that other gender inequalities make their way into work spaces, like limitations on contraception coverage in employer provided health care and a lack of paid maternity leave. As contributing editor Diana Tourjee points out, “paying certain men and women less in relation to the way they look is obviously disturbing, but worse is the realization that this data is part of a broader system of oppression that structures the lived experiences of us all.”

Turin's Olympic Village in 2005, before the athletes arrived. Marco Scala, Flickr CC. https://flic.kr/p/aiymh
Turin’s Olympic Village in 2005, before the athletes arrived. Marco Scala, Flickr CC.

Ever wonder what happens to Olympic villages once the athletes and spectators leave? Some thrive, and some end up as ghost towns.

Turin, Italy’s village has taken an interesting turn. The city tried to make an international name for itself with the 2006 Olympic Winter Games. Sociologist Sergio Scamuzzi, a member of an academic Games-monitoring group called the Olympics and Mega Events Research Observatory, told the Guardian that the Olympics “gave an opportunity to the inhabitants to be proud of the city, of its capacity for innovation, its capacity to organise such a big event.” Soon after the games ended, however, the area was almost abandoned.

Today, Turin’s Olympic village hosts more than 1,000 refugees from over 30 countries. Many of these occupiers were migrant workers from African countries who found themselves out on the streets in 2013, when Italy’s Emergency North African program ended abruptly, and some still survive on seasonal labor farm jobs. The village now features a weekly pop-up medical clinic, common spaces for office and legal advice drop-ins, language classes, barber shops, restaurants, and stores. However, many of the buildings are overcrowded and falling apart. Plans to redevelop the area have been made, and eviction orders have been issued by the government.

The actual eviction of so many seems almost impossible, and residents continue their daily lives despite the threat. According to a resident formerly from Senegal, “For now it’s just words, no one knows what will happen.” In the meantime, an international community lives on in the dormitories and cafeterias that once hosted international athletics’ elite.

The poster for "global warning" film "An Inconvenient Truth."
The poster for “global warning” film “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Beliefs about climate change are not so much about social demographics, but about what else you believe in–your values, worldviews, and political affiliations. The Washington Post recently featured a new analysis reviewing all existing literature on climate change beliefs. They found that people who vote for more liberal political parties are more likely to believe in climate change. In addition, those who are more concerned with the environment–measured by something called the New Ecological Paradigm (NEP)–were also more likely to believe in global warming. Finally, the trustworthiness of scientists was also a strong predictor in individuals’ beliefs in climate change.

Beliefs, though, do not always translate into action. The researchers found that even those who believe in climate change sometimes do not support policies to remedy it. This occurs more as the policies asked about get more specific. According to sociologist Aaron McCright, this disconnect may simply reflect how people feels about those policies regardless of how they help the environment. He says, “even people who are pretty environmental don’t like taxes still.”

So how do these findings help fight climate change? Sociologist Riley Dunlap suggests that since it may not be possible to change people’s minds, activists should focus their resources on mobilizing voter support for politicians who recognize the importance of climate change. Additionally, McCright suggests that conservative leaders who believe in climate change should be more outspoken about their positions. Psychology professor Matthew Hornsey add that the key, to his mind, is making messages about climate change fit with the worldviews of people who generally do not support climate change. Painting environmentalism as patriotic, for instance, may spur support for mitigation policies.

Image via Flickr CC, David Trawin.
Image via Flickr CC, David Trawin. Please, oh please, click through for the description.

There’s a new generation of parents on block. They’re not the “cool” moms and dads who let their kids run wild, nor are they disciplinarians who shut down any mention of sex, drugs, or alcohol with a morality tale of dire consequences. Instead, these parents are simply trying to communicate.

According to an article by Maclean’s, “rather than telling their kids not to drink or do drugs or have sex, many of today’s parents, it seems, are choosing to educate them in how to drink, do drugs or have sex more safely.” For some parents this simply means not freaking out when their kids tell them about their experiences partying or having sex. One mother in the piece puts out a bowl of condoms for her 13-year-old son, and another buys her son pot candies so he won’t smoke the drug. As sociologist Frank Furedi told the Guardian of a British finding that a third of parents were unconcerned about their kids trying marijuana, “the old-fashioned parent is fast becoming a cultural minority.”

Research by sociologist Amy Schalet shows how parents in the Netherlands communicate with their children about sex by talking about using caution as well as contraceptives and staying true to their own sense of “readiness.” Many Dutch parents told Schalet they allow teenagers to have sleepovers with intimate partners to avoid secrecy.

As some lament the loss of old-fashioned parenting or believe new, more communicative parenting is irresponsible—a free pass creating out-of-control kids—it seems many believe shutting down the conversation is the worst thing any parent can do. Plus, as we learned in a previous “Clipping” on the research of Joel Best and Kathleen Bogle, kids these days are hardly as deviant as their parents were.

"Proto-Professor," by Liz Lawley, Flickr CC.
“Proto-Professor,” by Liz Lawley, Flickr CC.

Parenting is hard, whether you’re an academic or not. But when you’re a professor, there is one surefire way to help stay in the field, get tenure, and even score a pay bump. Be a man.

The message is clear: women with children in academia are at a disadvantage compared to both men with children and women without them. A recent article in Jezebel compiled findings from several studies to demonstrate this. According to sociologist Michelle Budig, high-income men get the biggest pay bump from having children in any job category, and low-income women lose the most.

A US News article, likewise reports that male professors with young children are more than three times as likely as women with young children to get tenure-track positions. Notably, women without children come in a close second: they are just under three times as likely as women with children to get tenure.

Along the same lines, women who have a baby as a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow are more than twice as likely as men who have children during this time to leave academic research. When it comes to having children in academia, women pay a harsh “baby penalty.”

A couple in Tehran. Photo by Kamyar Adl, Flickr CC.
A couple in Tehran. Photo by Kamyar Adl, Flickr CC.

Some Iranian officials are increasingly worried about what they call “white marriage” or sometimes “black coupling.” These terms refer to cohabitation between unmarried men and women. Officials deem the trend “worrisome” and “a serious blow to the family,” and some insinuate that women who cohabitate will become prostitutes when they are no longer viewed as beautiful by their partners. The Iranian news outlet Payvand recently featured a sociologist who spoke anonymously to the International Campaign for Human Rights about why cohabitation, despite the disparagement, seems to be on the rise.

One reason to engage in “white marriage” is that it allows couples to avoid the bureaucracy and gender inequalities that come with legal marriage in Iran. The sociologist notes that marriage contracts overwhelmingly favor men. For instance, men can control their wives’ travel, decide where the couple lives, and have more rights in divorce.

An earlier BBC article noted that cohabitation is also a result of the loosening of some traditional morals in Iranian society:

“Of course cohabitation is not accepted by the more religious parts of society,” says sociologist Mehrdad Darvishpour, who is now based in Sweden. “But just like in the rest of the world, the middle class in Iran is starting to prefer this type of life to traditional marriage. Sex before marriage isn’t taboo anymore.”

While it seems progressive, however, the unnamed sociologist in Payvand also highlighted potential negative consequences for a woman in a “white marriage”:

“If a woman is attacked by her male partner, she would have no legal protection,” the sociologist told the Campaign. “Instead she would be asked by the police and judicial authorities about her marital status and if she is not legally married, she will be in a lot of trouble.”

Since most cohabitation is hidden from the woman’s parents, she may lose the support of her family should she experience and try to escape emotional or physical abuse. Couples also risk accusations of adultery—an offense punishable by death—since Iranian Sharia Law requires all marital unions be registered.

For more on cohabitation in the U.S., check out this post from the Council on Contemporary Families.