Helsingborg Waterfront, Sweden. Photo by tsaiproject, Flickr CC

Sweden has a long tradition of supporting its citizens with protective regulations and social services, including 480 days of paid parental leave, universal health care, and free higher education.  But now, a new proposal has come forward in the Swedish town of Overtonea: to give municipal employees a paid hour break during the week to go home and have sex.  A recent article in the New York Times explains that the policy, a brainchild of councilman Per-Erik Muskos, could help with the decreasing population in Overtonea, improve marriages, and improve employee satisfaction. 

Muskos’ idea has garnered as much praise as criticism. Many believe that it will encourage single workers to go on dates that will take longer than the one hour. And many wonder how such something like this could be enforced. Others believe that it is an excellent idea, as it will help with work-life balance. Lotta Dellve, sociologist from the University of Gothenburg, believes that her research supports Muskos’ plan. Her findings show that short bursts of physical activity during office hours are correlated with work satisfaction and productivity. Dellve believes that sex can fulfill these needed bursts, but noted that a lot of people might struggle to find the motivation to come back to work. 

Photo by Tina Franklin, Flickr CC

Though “hookup culture” is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days, an article in the Washington Post describes a recent report that finds Americans are having less sex. Published in Archives of Sexual Behaviorthe study authors find that Americans of all races, religions, and education levels are having less sex than in the past. While in the 1990’s people were having sex about 60 times a year on average, that number dropped by 53 times on average by 2014.

Apart from other factors, such as the rise in depression and declining rates of marriage and cohabitation, the tightening wallets of two-income-families may also be a factor driving this change. As explained by sociologist Pepper Schwartz of University of Washington, a product of the 2008 recession is that both people in partnered couples are more likely to be working. The resulting stress from these economic concerns could be behind the overall drop in sexual activity. Schwartz explains,

“You have many more women and men working to create a two-income family to stay middle class or above … People’s minds are occupied with things other than the physical connection, and that has increased in modern life, and especially from the ’80s and ’90s and forward.”

Photo by Mariana Amaro, Flickr CC

Chants and songs are common in sports, but where do these chants and songs come from? A recent article in the New York Times explores how an African-American spiritual that illustrates the evils of slavery became a sports anthem for the English Rugby Team.

The song in question is “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” which has become a sporting, drinking anthem that unites the English in the world of rugby.  The song can be traced back to a famous comeback victory against Ireland in 1988 where the fans joyfully sang the song to celebrate the performance of Chris Oti, the first black rugby player to represent England in almost a century.

Scholars in African-American studies have mixed feelings about this appropriation. For example, Josephine Wright, a professor at College of Wooster in Ohio, believes that there is a complete lack of understanding regarding the complex history of “Swing Low.” In England, there are a fair amount of writers who have discussed putting an end to singing the song in rugby contexts. Wright explains,

“Such cross-cultural appropriations of U.S. slave songs betray a total lack of understanding of the historical context in which those songs were created by the American slave.”

However, John M. Williams, the director of the center for the Sociology of Sport at the University of Leicester, doesn’t think that telling people the song is American will change very many minds. He explains,

“The typical crowd that goes to watch the English national rugby team is not likely to be an audience that’s going to think hard about these types of questions or spend much time worrying about political correctness.”

James W. Cook, a historian at University of Michigan, noted that the United States has a long history of this kind of cultural exportation. He argued that it is often accompanied by a “historical amnesia” in which the history or cultural contexts of a song are forgotten. And while he thinks more education around “Swing Low” would be great, he admits that it may not change any minds. He states,

“When there’s any kind of boundary policing, that’s not a realistic understanding of how these cultural products move and adapt and morph as they move from place to place.”

Photo by Alisdare Hickson, Flickr CC

Following the election of Barack Obama, there was an uptick in right-wing political movements, especially with the development of the Tea Party. Obama himself recently claimed to be the “father of the Tea Party.”  Much like his predecessor, President Trump is inspiring a new wave of political activism, but this time from both the left and the right. In a recent piece from NPR, sociologists Dana Fisher and Sara Sobieraj explain this recent rise in political activism.

Fisher and Sobieraj explain that unprecedented numbers of people on the left are mobilizing, which brings many newcomers to the political scene. Recently, Fisher conducted a survey of 500 participants at the Women’s March on Washington and found that a third had never protested before. Progressives are driven by an array of different issues, but they are all rallying around their dislike of Trump. Fisher says,

“Everybody’s pissed off, and they’re pissed off for different reasons. Trump is helping everybody to find common ground.”

Trump supporters, organized by the conservative group Main Street Patriots, held rallies around the country last week in solidarity for the new president. Many in this group appear to be energized newcomers, who are inspired by Trump’s “John Wayne” style of politics. Sobieraj notes that Trump’s brusque rhetoric and “no-prisoners” attitude is what drives both anti-Trump activists and Trump supporters:

“Saying those things and acting that way brought people out because they felt validated by someone who sees the world the way they see it, feeling at last as though someone was really telling the truth without apology. And on the left, that way of speaking was absolutely objectionable and mobilizing, because they were viewed as abhorrent.”

Trump received more support from white men than any other group in the presidential election, but this was expected, at least according to sociologist Michael Kimmel. His research is part of the new but growing field of “masculinity studies,” and in a recent interview with The Guardian, he talks about his book Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. His research specifically looks at how people join, and leave, white-supremacist or neo-Nazi groups, and he states that masculinity is an important part of the process.

Kimmel talks at length about many parts of this picture, including the men’s rights movement on the Internet, the role of testosterone (or the lack thereof) when it comes to men being disproportionately aggressive, and why “men are naturally aggressive” is a poor argument to defend domestic abuse.

In the interview, Kimmel explains how feelings of “aggrieved entitlement,” a sense of a loss for masculine power and tradition, can stimulate feelings of humiliation. In turn, this can drive men to join local neo-Nazi groups. There, the camaraderie and sense of community can validate a neophyte’s masculinity, convincing him to stay. In essence, masculinity is very tied up in how people join and leave hate groups and extremist enclaves. As Kimmel states,

“The camaraderie of the community validates their masculinity, and – even more importantly than that – gives them a sacred mission. That is really powerful for these guys … If you ignore masculinity in understanding how these guys get into these movements, you will not be able to help them get out.”

Photo by Elia Scudiero, Flickr CC

Students hoping to head off to exclusive colleges may do so for a wide variety of reasons, be it a personal challenge, the impressive academic reputation of the university, or a hope to make more money down the road. However, a new study discussed in New York Magazine shows that this potential financial payoff is not equally shared.

The study, which was conducted by Dirk Witteveen and Paul Attewell, reveals that there is an increase in pay for those who attend higher tiered universities, but that women from these elite universities make about 16% less than their male counterparts. The study notes a variety of factors that might contribute to this trend, including different college major choices, but the authors emphasize that “full-time working women graduates earn a lot less than their male counterparts from equivalent colleges.”

The New York Magazine article also references sociologist Lauren Rivera, who came to similar conclusions in her own study. Rivera explains:

“The people doing the hiring at fancy firms (read: old, privileged white guys) assume that accomplished women are really after a husband and some kids, meaning they’re not down to scrape out long hours, meaning they get passed over for a dude whose background better reflects theirs. Privilege is invisible, and it replicates itself.”

The political debate over closing the gender wage gap is far from over; just this week, a Utah Republican argued against equal pay for equal work, reasoning that it prevented mothers from remaining in the home. Though his comments led to widespread outcry and his eventual resignation, this moment is just one of many that shows how both implicit and explicit sexism still play a role in the workforce.

Photo by Masha George, Flickr CC

Donald Trump claims that his highly contested travel ban barring people from seven Muslim nations from entering the U.S. was necessary for national security purposes. But will the ban actually prevent terrorist attacks? An article in the Los Angeles Times points out that attacks within U.S. borders have primarily been carried out by individuals from nations that are not on the ban list. The men responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing were of Chechen decent for example, and most of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, a notable exception from Trump’s executive order. The ban also fails to address extremism within the United States — Omar Mateen and Syed Rizwan Farook, who were perpetrators of the Orlando nightclub shooting and San Bernardino attack, respectively, were American citizens.  

In the article, sociologist Charles Kurzman explains that his research has not identified a single death since the 9/11 attacks caused by extremists from the seven nations that Trump placed on the banned list. Furthermore, only a small number of deaths have been correlated with individuals whose family ancestry are from those seven nations. Kurzman states,

“In general, Islamic extremists have accounted for a minuscule amount of the roughly 240,000 murders since Sept. 11, 2001 … I can only conclude that this is whipping up fear and hostility toward Americans who have family background from these countries.”

W.W. Norton and Company

Some people believe we are in a “post-racial” era, especially following the election of President Obama. A recent article in The Atlantic, however, draws on social science research to explain how attempts to be “post-racial” or “race-neutral” can actually exacerbate racial disparities. Article author Adia Harvey Wingfield draws on research from political scientist Ira Katznelson, as well as work by sociologists Leland Saito and Traci Schlesinger, to describe the ways that seemingly neutral economic and criminal justice policies can and do work to maintain systems of racial inequality. 

Katznelson’s book, When Affirmative Action Was White, demonstrates how federal policies like the G.I. bill, which were meant to help all American veterans returning home from World War II, mainly benefited whites. This racial discrimination occurred because it was administered by states, and Southern states distributed the G.I. bill through systems built on segregation. Even outside of the South, the bill’s job training components and affordable home loans were administered discriminatorily. As Wingfield states,

“The end result of all this is what Katznelson describes as affirmative action for whites. This was not because Congress wrote legislation explicitly intended to disenfranchise veterans of color; rather, the G.I. Bill — like many of the other policies Katznelson describes in his book –was written as race-neutral and specifically stated that all veterans were eligible. As Katznelson shows, the law didn’t fully deliver on its promise because it didn’t devote any special attention to the racial dynamics that undergird employment, homeownership, and education.”

Similarly, Saito’s book, The Politics of Exclusiondemonstrates how “race-blind” economic policies in cities can have serious repercussions for communities of color. And Schlesinger’s research shows that criminal justice policies, such as mandatory minimum sentences, are actually applied with significant racial disparities. Wingfield concludes,

“Overall, the work of Saito, Katznelson, and Schlesinger offers a cautionary note about what can happen when those in charge of making policy abandon identity politics and ignore entrenched inequalities based on race, gender, ethnicity, and other categories.”

Photo by Valentin Ottone, Flickr CC

The release of the video game Resident Evil 7: Biohazard represents a greater renewed interest in horror media. While horror films are the best return on investment in Hollywood, horror video games have also seen a resurgence in more recent years. The popularity of this gaming genre is explored by sociologist Margee Kerr, as she explains to The Observer:

“If we were really running for our life, we’re not thinking critically … It’s really the ability to know that we’re safe while we’re doing this, we can enjoy these reactions. It feels invigorating — like we’re primal. Like we’re in that animal state again. A good scary game can hit that sweet spot where the stress is advantageous to gameplay. We hyperfocus on the game. It can be really rewarding.”

In other words, we like to be scared in horror games; and more importantly, we like to be scared with others. One of the most popular ways of consuming horror games is with other people, and this is often achieved by watching Let’s Play videos on YouTube. The idea behind these videos is that you’re watching a content creator’s gameplay as they played it — often accompanied with a recording of their face for all of their reactions. It essentially allows people to experience these horror games with other people, regardless of their access to gaming consoles or other players. This fulfills an important aspect of horror games — getting through struggles. As Kerr explains: 

“The goal-directed behavior and having a common goal — we bond closely with others when we’re in stressful situations … We feel more united with people we go through tough times with. I’ve heard from a lot of people that playing a game with someone opens them up. They do end up talking to their friends on a deeper level.”

So next time you pop that disc into your game system, go ahead and invite some people over — you might get more out of it if you share your scare with friends. 

Photo by Sɨℓνεя Sɦɨɳε, Flickr CC

February is Black History Month (now African-American History Month), a celebration of black Americans and the ways they have shaped American society. But critics have often posed the question, “Why is there no white history month?” Brown University sociologist Daniel Hirschman explains to Vox that this question ignores the already pervasive white privilege in U.S. society. Hirschman states,

“We celebrate whiteness every day. Calls to celebrate whiteness ignore the institutionalized celebration of whiteness that’s built into the very fabric of our day-to-day lives … such calls imply that, absent such a specified month, we would somehow have a state of equality.”

In other words, calling for “White History Month” implies that whites are on the same footing as other ethnic and racial identities that have a specific “history month.” These calls ignore the fact that the vast majority of American history already focuses on white individuals and faces. Furthermore, demands for a “White History Month” work to normalize the idea that whiteness in America is under siege, or that white people are the new target of institutional racism.

However, Hirschman does not think we should stop talking about whiteness. In fact, he praises a “Whiteness History Month” event at Portland Community College which highlighted how race is a social construction and whiteness is tied to particular forms of historical and contemporary racism. After all, race and racism may only be “social constructions,” but their consequences are real when it comes to people’s lives. Unfortunately, ignoring race won’t make it go away, and this goes for whiteness as well. Instead of a “White History Month,” we should talk openly about the historical power of whiteness and ways we can construct a more racially equitable society today.