A recent New York Times/CBS News poll finds that nearly 60% of Americans are concerned with income inequality. The overall results may be surprising, given steady economic growth over the past few years. However, sociologist Leslie McCall has an explanation for this post-recession in the New York Times:
People think the returns to economic growth should be going to people like them as much as they should be going to people at the top.
The article highlights McCall’s research on public opinion about income inequality, specifically her analysis of the General Social Survey (GSS), a nationally representative survey conducted every two years by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. She finds that public concern about inequality rises after recession periods, peaking several years after initial economic growth.
Swedish nursery school teachers and LGBT groups have banded together over the addition of a gender-neutral pronoun to the official Swedish language. It all started five years ago. These two groups were among the first to use the gender-neutral hen as an alternative to the female pronoun hon and the male han. Now the common, conversational use of hen has led the Swedish Academy to include it in the newest edition of the country’s official.
First, if the gender is unknown or not relevant (as in: “If anyone needs to smoke, ‘hen’ may do so outside”). Second, it can be used as a pronoun for inter-gender people (as in: “Kim is neither boy or girl, ‘hen’ is inter-gender”).
In other words, the pronoun provides a way to talk about someone and disregard hen’s gender when it doesn’t matter or doesn’t conform to the traditional masculine/feminine binary.
In Sweden, ranked fourth on the World Economic Forum’s 2014 gender equality report, gender-neutral education is in vogue. Nurseries, kindergartens, and preschools have been at the forefront of the movement to help children grow up without feeling the impact of gender biases. At Egalia, a preschool in Stockholm, traditionally gendered toys and games are placed side-by-side to encourage children to choose by preference rather than convention; students are not referred to as male or female; and gender-neutral books line the shelves.
LGBT groups have also embraced the new pronoun as a way to raise awareness. Experts are cautiously optimistic that officially recognizing the word will encourage more people to use it., Lann Hornscheidt, a professor of Scandinavian languages and gender studies, believes hen really will help fight sexism and gender biases. As he told the Post,
The introduction of a pronoun which challenges binary gender norms has been an important step, following a more thorough debate over the construction of gender within the last 10 years.
Today marks the first day that gay couples can legally marry in the states of Rhode Island and Minnesota, the eleventh and thirteenth states respectively to legalize gay marriage. In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Prop 8, many gay and lesbian individuals and allies around the country are celebrating advances in the rights and recognition extended to gay couples on a federal level.
However, in the midst of these celebrations, Rick Settersten points out in a recent LA Times article that same-sex couples, who do not reside in the thirteen states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is legal, continue to be left out by the law. He states,
For those of us trapped elsewhere in the country—even in places we love—the verdict reinforces the fact that the security of our families and our futures rises or falls depending on where we live.
Highlighting the variation and inconsistency by state in legal rights extended to gay and lesbian partnerships, Settersten describes the reality of gay couples that migrate to states with more legal recognition. Settersten, his partner Dan, and their two children moved from Ohio in 2004 when the state banned recognition of any form of same-sex coupling (marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships). At the time, their new home state of Oregon enabled them to co-adopt children and register as a domestic partnership. Although they have been together for almost thirty years, their domestic partnership in Oregon will not be federally recognized under the DOMA decision, forcing them to move yet again if they want to benefit from federal recognition of their union.
On CNN.com, sociologist Michael Kimmel weighs in on the veracity of the latest declaration of a “war on men” by author Suzanne Venker (writing for FoxNews.com).
Rejecting the oh-so-popular tactic Venker employs—“Blame it on feminism!”—Kimmel argues that men still dominate, but attempts at equality may have been disorienting for a group used to a status quo that disproportionately benefits them:
I thought of how painful it is when you are used to having everything to now have only 80%. What a loss! Poor us! Equality sucks when you’ve been on top—and men have been on top for so long that we think it’s a level playing field.
Sass aside, Kimmel writes that equality is what many men want, based on the interviews he did with young men for his book Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. Kimmel refuses to let Venker speak on men’s behalf when she calls for women to “surrender to their nature—their femininity.” Instead, he calls for rethinking what makes forsatisfying gender relations:
Who says we can’t be happy with fully equal female colleagues and coworkers? Who says we can’t enjoy the joys of shared parenthood? Who says that we are biologically programmed to be both rapacious testosterone-driven animals and lazy remote-hogging couch potatoes unable to lift a finger in the kitchen?
Venker paints a most unyieldlingly awful portrait of men, one that is happily belied by actual, real, American men. And we won’t stand for the sort of male-bashing Venker offers. We want it all also —and the only way we can have it all is to halve it all.
In a June 2012 TIME Ideas column online, author Judith Warner reflects on the recent work of sociologist Andrea Doucet (of Ontario’s Brock University). Warner writes that Doucet’s focus on shifting family paradigms, as well as women’s increasing numbers in the ranks of “family breadwinners” (that is, primary earners in heterosexual relationships), has led the researcher to look for a change from “50-50” thinking to a focus on egalitarianism across the board. This leads to “something more like fairness—or like ‘symmetry’.”
Doucet tells Warner:
My overall aim is for gender equality… but it always bothers me when the measures we use are not quick in synch with how people live their lives… Maybe what we need to change then is that larger set of conditions that allow people to make choices that work.
The problem, the author explains, is that, even though many attempts have been made to create greater equality by assuming the gold standard would be “lives of sameness.” Through a series of rhetorical questions, Warner reasons that Doucet’s concept could open up space for families to define egalitarianism based on their own measures of earning power, love of career, and the rewarding (and annoying) aspects of various tasks that keep a family humming along:
It’s something of a “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs” formulation, one that might, for once, just possibly work. Sharing, as opposed to equality.”
The real key here might lie in changing public discussions to reflect the actual lives of families, who are already negotiating, balancing, and flourishing in egalitarian homes. These mothers and fathers, wives and husbands might just need the vocabulary to explain their (gasp!) Marxist micro-communities.
Sociology and sociologists in the news. Read more…