Photo by tableatny, Flickr CC.
Photo by tableatny, Flickr CC.

Competing in sports where “people don’t look at us like women. They don’t look at us as being girly or feminine” can take a toll on many women athletes with larger physiques. Women athletes face additional pressures in the limelight because the public often pays as much – if not more – attention to their dress and body types than their athletic performance on the field. However, in a recent LA Times article, Olympians such as weightlifter Sarah Robles and shot put star Michelle Carter are challenging traditional standards of feminine beauty by encouraging girls of all body types to embrace their physiques. Sociologist Abigail Saguay believes that athletes fighting back against the stigma of larger and muscular body types is a firm step in the right direction toward promoting positive body image. Saguay explains,

“The Olympians are using the podium to promote a positive message. They are making an important point that health comes at all sizes, and we should be embracing diversity of body sizes rather than assume there’s one good body type.”

Though breaking past historical ideals about body ideals is an uphill struggle, these athletes are challenging conventions in a big way.

Photo by miriampastor, Flickr CC
Photo by miriampastor, Flickr CC

More and more women are becoming the primary income earner for their families. Conservative commentators have been quick to claim that women working and earning more than their male partners has negative effects on marriages, children, and the home. But new research shows that both men and women are happier when the woman is the primary breadwinner.

As described in a Washington Post article, sociologist Christin Munsch found that men who bring in a larger share of household income are more likely to have low psychological and physical well-being scores. However, when women bring in a larger share of household income, both men and women reported higher scores. Though this finding seems to defy conventional wisdom, it is driven by gender norms, as Munch explains.

“Gendered expectations often pull people into making different career decisions … Men are more likely to blindly take on responsibilities with work because they’re associated with more income. Women are more likely to ask: Do I like this? Do I want to do this?”

In other words, women are more likely to take a high-paying job because they’re interested in the work. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to feel that they have to take a stressful, high-income job because that’s their role. These new findings show that changing long-held gendered expectations surrounding work and earnings is in everyone’s best interest.  

Photo by WOCinTech Chat, Flickr CC
Photo by WOCinTech Chat, Flickr CC

A lot of things go into making your appearance – fashion, accessories, grooming … and race? As described in an article on Vox, research by Duke sociologist Robert L. Reece shows that black people are seen as more attractive if they tell others that they’re mixed-race. A research team conducted over 3,200 interviews with black people and ranked their attractiveness on a scale of 1-5. Those who said they were mixed-race received a higher score. Reese concluded that these findings are not a result of physical attributes or colorism; rather, they are about perceived racial identity. Vox reports,

“[Reece said] results could be partially explained by the fact that people think ‘being exotic is a compelling idea.’ But, he added, ‘It’s also partially just racism — the notion that black people are less attractive, so being partially not-black makes you more attractive.'”

This is not the first research to address this troubling dynamic; numerous studies have shown that resumes with white names are more likely to receive callbacks than those with black names. Other research has shown similar results for college applicants, those seeking health care, and people looking for mortgages or loans. This new research, however, shows that the effects of race go beyond the above-described settings, and that who’s considered “good-looking” is itself a product of racial hierarchies. 

Photo by Henry Burrows, Flickr CC
Photo by Henry Burrows, Flickr CC

A masked figure enters the bank, pulls out a gun and screams, “Everyone on the ground!” The tellers frantically scoop cash into a sack as the robber holds them at gunpoint, roaring instructions through a black ski mask while sirens blare in the distance. This is a scene most of us know well, as it is depicted in almost every cheesy heist flick ever made.

Now, here’s a question: as you played out this scene in your head, was the bank robber a man or a woman?

Chances are, you were thinking of a male bank robber. But this popular stereotype might be changing. An article in The Orlando Sentinel reports that the latest FBI Statistics show a surge in bank robberies committed by females. In 2005, about 6% of bank robberies were committed by women, but by 2015 that number had risen to 7.5%, representing a quarter increase in the number of female bank robbers. In the article, sociologists Darrell Steffensmeier and Rosemary Erickson explain how changes in strategy and motivation might contribute to the increased participation of women in bank robberies. 

Today’s bank robbers don’t always run in and cause a spectacle; they often blend in with other customers at the bank, standing in line or filing paperwork. The infamous “gun-slinger” bank robbery is becoming less common, and instead of using a firearm, more and more bank robbers quietly pass a note to a teller with their demands. Erickson explains this shift in strategy is in large part to the increased number of women committing these crimes, as women are less likely to commit violent crimes than are men.

Steffensmeier and Erickson point to the “feminization of poverty” as a major driver of this gender shift in bank robberies. Women have come to represent a disproportionate percentage of the world’s poor, and combined with a rise in single motherhood and homelessness among women, women have started to resort to crimes that were once committed mostly by men as they struggle to make ends meet. If the pattern observed in the data becomes a trend, we might be seeing more women taking charge of robberies and other crimes—and you can take that to the bank.

Photo by Denis Bocquet, Flickr CC
Photo by Denis Bocquet, Flickr CC

Online dating has grown substantially in both acceptability and use in the past few years. But because it is still relatively new, Tinder sociologist Jessica Carbino says the norms regarding online dating interactions are “very much still being negotiated.” What’s at the top of the list for women? Calling out the harassment they experience from many of their male suitors. 

Women are starting to speak out about their experiences of harassment from men on online dating sites. To combat these uncomfortable advances, some women are coming together to publicly shame men who harass them. Fast Company recently featured an article showcasing women’s attempts. One woman created an Instagram account called Bye Felipe; she compiled screenshots of online chats that captured uncomfortable messages women receive from men online. Many of the conversations include unwarranted aggression from men, especially after women ignore or reject their advances. Bye Felipe and similar blogs are not the only responses either. Another response is the creation of woman-friendly dating sites. Whitney Wolfe, former executive at Tinder, co-founded Bumble, which specifically lets women make the first move.

So why do men act this way on online dating? Carbino suggests that men’s aggressive advances and behavior may be connected to broader socializing patterns. “We do know that when individuals are removed from interactions where they’re in the presence of others, they may act differently — sometimes more boldly given the relative lack of social accountability,” says Carbino. However, as she’s quick to point out, the same has always been true in the offline world. Apps like Tinder, she notes, provide people with a way to “have a larger degree of contact” with that world.

See other ways women are calling out online dating harassment here.

https://flic.kr/p/C1sEq2
Al Sharpton speaks outside the Supreme Court as it hears arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas Austin. Photo by Jordan Uhl, Flickr CC.

After a series of decisions and appeals, Abigail Fisher’s infamous case against UT Austin (dating as far back as 2008) concluded with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision that the school’s admission policies were constitutional. Fisher had made the case that her rejected application was due to her race, as minority applicants who were supposedly less deserving had taken spots from her. This case is one in a long line of litigation by white women against affirmative action, as discussed in an article on Vox; ironically, however, white women are among affirmative action’s primary beneficiaries.

As detailed in the article, research shows how affirmative action for women translated into job advances: as benchmarks for gender enrollment are met, representation for white women has increased dramatically in certain sectors. Often, opponents of affirmative action state that race shouldn’t play a factor in application decisions, but research from sociologists Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford shows how this works against Asian-Americans, who are three times less likely than whites to be admitted to selective schools even with the exact same scores. Furthermore, affirmative action has also enabled the existence of legacy application processes, meaning people whose parents went to a certain school are more likely to be accepted there—a system that disproportionally helps whites. It seems affirmative action is safe for the time being, but the details may still need an overhaul.

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.

Virtual reality still sees sexism. Photo by Nan Palmero, Flickr CC.
Virtual reality still sees sexism. Photo by Nan Palmero, Flickr CC.

Star Wars conventions: one place where everyone is equal (if they hate Jar-Jar Binks). Or maybe not. As it turns out, even Star Wars has become a controversial area for discussing the place of feminism and powerful women in society. Work by sociologists CJ Pascoe and Tristan Bridges sheds more light on how sexism has infiltrated nerd culture. Following their recent book release, Pascoe and Bridges were interviewed by Broadly to help explain sexism in an unlikely arena.

Pascoe explains that “nerds” are consistently emasculated in society because they don’t participate in the same types of gendered dominance displays expected of young men. That might make it seem they exist away from expected dichotomies of gender roles. Bridges adds, however, that nerdy activities have become more mainstream due to popular television and media, so now the traditional nerd versus jock relationship is more nuanced.

Bridges said,

Nerds are, as a cultural “type,” emasculated… But it’s also true that there is a lot of toxic masculine behavior in nerd cultures. Think about it: #GamerGate happened among the nerds, not the jocks.

Pascoe agreed, explaining that fandom cultures create a space for men to be dominant even if they do not follow mainstream masculine pressures. The presence of women in these spaces might constitute a threat to the men within them. Still, Pascoe concludes that feminism is still a benefit for nerd culture overall. She says hopefully,

Increasing including and visibility of women, trans folk, and LGBQ folk in fandom communities will result in less damaging gender socialization for everyone—men included—and will help to change the way in which nerds themselves are placed on the bottom rung of some masculinity hierarchy.

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.”