The Walk a Mile in her shoes program is a domestic violence awareness program. Photo by David Rizzico, Flickr CC

Generally, domestic violence is something we think of as linked to, and limited by, the boundaries of the home. The recent tragedy in San Bernardino, however, makes us rethink such notions, as the attacker shot his wife — an elementary school special-education teacher — at the school, killing an 8-year old student in the process. Incidents like this highlight the ways that domestic violence not only affects the domestic sphere, but also the community at large.

In an article on Angelus, sociologist Silva Santos of the Social Security Institute in Uruguay discusses how, out of all the homicides that occur among people who know each other in the United Nations, 79 percent of the victims are women. This phenomenon is reflective of a general social trend wherein women are already treated unequally in public spaces. As Santos describes,

Domestic abuse is based on gender violence, as well as in other types of violence that society chooses to ignore. For example, street bullying, or within the work environment are behaviors that society overlooks, but they who bully grow accustomed to seeing women as their property or as objects with which they can do whatever they wish.”

In essence, the gender discrimination and harassment women face on a routine basis forms the foundation from which domestic abuse is enacted, a platform wherein women are already treated like second-class citizen in the general community. This is mirrored by incidents such as the shooting in San Bernardino, where domestic violence spills out of the home and affects the community at large. Moving forward, it will be important to consider how issues of gender violence and domestic abuse are interconnected.  

Photo by Christian Schnettelker, Flickr CC

The recent media attention surrounding Fox News and accusations of sexual harassment are high-profile examples of the everyday experiences that many victims of sexual harassment face in the workplace. An article in the New York Times explores research on the factors that discourage people from reporting harassment, citing work from University of Illinois sociologist Anna-Maria Marshall and others.

Sexual harassment often goes under-reported, especially in male-dominated settings with rigid hierarchies like the military and large corporate companies. Sometimes victims are uncertain of what qualifies as illegal harassment — one meta-analysis by Remus Ilies and colleagues found that reports doubled when asked about specific behaviors rather than just using the term “sexual harassment.” Many women also fear retaliation for pursuing formal action, or at the very least disbelief or inaction from their employers. These fears appear to be well placed, however, and one study found that two-thirds of workers reported retaliation from their employers after reporting mistreatment.  

While many startup companies do not have human resource departments to handle sexual harassment issues, Marshall’s research demonstrates that even organizations with official harassment policies and procedures create hurdles that keep legal action from being taken. Marshall finds that policies on paper are much different in practice, and that managers often interpret policies to protect the interests of their organization, and not the employee. Marshall explains,

“Companies put [policies and procedures] into place as mini litigation defense centers … The way employers deal with it is to prepare to show a court or jury that they did everything they could, rather than to protect women in the workplace.”

Photo by Jonty Fisher, Flickr CC

Policies around parental leave have received a lot of attention recently, both in the U.S. and abroad. Conversations about paternity leave often focus on the lack of support for new fathers who want to stay home with their newborn, but a recent article in The Guardian looks at why fathers who are given the option of paternity leave in the U.K. often don’t take it.

According to the article, only one in 100 men requested parental leave in the year after a U.K. policy was instituted that allowed shared parental leave. Even when shared leave is available, only 2-8% of men are likely to take it, and unless the leave is specifically for the father, a mother will be far more likely to take the shared parental leave. One reason for fathers not taking advantage of the policy is that they fear damaging their careers or their family’s income by asking for leave. Women have long been viewed as the primary caretakers for children, and fathers reported that they faced discrimination in the workplace if they asked for parental leave, including remarks by their coworkers and management that they were not taking their jobs as seriously.

Sociologist Tina Miller believes that the solution to this low uptake in paternity leave could be to allocate separate leave that is just for fathers and is nontransferable to the mother. She says,

“If we are serious about men being involved, it’s the only way. Mothers and fathers don’t take decisions about who takes leave from a level playing field – it’s gendered, it’s historically unequal.”

Photo by CDA, Flickr CC

Support for gender equality in the work place — such as equal pay and equal chance of promotion — has continued to grow.  However, a recent article in Time suggests that young people today are less supportive of gender equality than they were 20 years ago when it comes to household norms and roles.

Joanna Pepin, a sociology doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, finds that millennials are supportive of gender equality in the workplace but still prefer standard gendered roles at home, a stark contrast to previous expectations based on other generations’ dispositions towards the matter.  In 1994, only 42% of high school seniors agreed that men should be the primary breadwinners and women should manage domestic life and raising of the family.  Now 58% of high school seniors believe that these traditional gender norms are best.

“We thought that as women entered the workplace, as they gained more access to income and their days started to look more like men’s, that that would translate to more equality in the home … but that’s really not what these attitudes trends are showing.”

Pepin and her co-authors argue that a new cultural ideology of “equal, but different” has taken hold. However, Daniel Carlson, a sociologist at University of Utah, points to obstacles that working families face as the primary reason for reduced gender egalitarianism in the home. Carlson argues,

“As couples struggled with inflexible workplaces and public policies that didn’t support working families, they’ve ‘reverted to conventional gender arrangements and traditional beliefs, transmitting their attitudes to their teenage children.'”

Either way, these new trends highlight the complexity of gender attitudes and the various social forces that shape them.

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 Dean Hochman, Flickr CC

Prospective college students consider a wide variety of factors when deciding on a university. While academics and career opportunities are often high on the list, colleges known as top party schools have a special appeal. Everyone loves a good time, but as Occidental College sociologist Lisa Wade describes in her new book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, this idea of college as “fun” is a fairly recent trend some troubling consequences.

In a feature with Time Magazine, Dr. Wade explains how American universities changed from predominantly strict, formal institutions to environments known for casual hookups and wild parties. Whereas in colonial America, colleges were highly regulated places, as the student body underwent a shift, so did campus culture. Wade explains,

“They [colonial college students] were generally obedient, but as the eighteenth century came to a close, colleges were increasingly filled with wealthy sons of elite families. These young men weren’t as interested in higher education as they were in a diploma that would ratify their families’ hoarding of wealth and power. Predictably, they had a much lower tolerance for submission.”

This rebellious attitude led to widespread expulsions across many elite universities, as well as the early foundations of Greek life. Fraternities became hubs for parties, alcohol, and casual sex, a legacy that still holds strong on many college campuses across the United States. And while the party scene can be tempting for many, American Hookup highlights how this emphasis on noncommittal and unemotional sex also sets the stage for widespread rape and sexual assault.

“Thanks to the last few hundred years, most colleges now offer a very specific kind of nightlife, controlled in part by the same set of privileged students that brought partying to higher education in the first place, and designed to promote, as much as possible, the ‘big four-year org’ that students both desire and dread.”

Photo by Mike Liu, Flickr CC

Everyone knows that having kids is expensive, and the dollars really start adding up when you consider lost wages or salary which comes with having to be a stay-at-home parent. Furthermore, even if you enroll in a daycare, the best facilities are often quite expensive and highly selective. What are parents to do? Though it rubs against the grain of conventional American wisdom, Germany offers an interesting model. Recently, as described in the Atlantic, a German court ruled that parents can sue for lost wages if they are unable to find a daycare facility for their children.

In the U.S., where families are considered a more private matter, this seems like a big move for the government to make. Remember, however, that Germany is one of many countries where the state is more involved in such matters; in fact, Germany has taken steps to ensure universal, low-cost daycare. Here in the U.S., where families looking for child care providers have to turn to a market with very little regulation, cheaper options are often imperfect solutions. The cheaper option — home daycare — can be risky. Research by sociologists Julia Wrigley and Joanna Dreby shows that the mortality rate for infants is seven times higher in home day cares versus daycare facilities.

Though the German model of daycare as a public interest seems removed from American norms, the day care system in the U.S. seems ripe for renovation.

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.

Photo by Nate Croft, Flickr CC
Photo by Nate Croft, Flickr CC

In the weeks following Trump’s election and the growing visibility of white nationalism, people of color have received a barrage of unsolicited Tweets and emails asking them to weigh in. These inquiries often come from white people who, in their attempts to be good allies, seek people of colors’ perspectives and analyses regarding tough issues. Such action is often well-intentioned, but it can be taxing on those constantly being asked their take, and it can leave some people feeling cornered into playing a “race ambassador role.  In a candid conversation with Slate, sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom describes the emotional labor that these interactions demand from people of color. She said,

“Black people have one primary job: to manage white people’s emotions. Their emotions are high right now and we’re being overtaxed with it. And our various levels of individual privilege circumscribe how much we can push back on managing their emotions.”

Many of the inquiries she and other black women receive come from liberal white women reeling in disbelief over the high proportion of white female voters who supported Trump. Being put in this situation by white friends is a common occurrence for many people of color, and for black women especially. As Cottom describes,

“The emails I get from people are epic. It has the extra gendered dynamic of expecting black women to midwife white women in crisis.”