Photo by sashikag, Flickr CC
Photo by sashikag, Flickr CC

Based on the social media reactions to the final presidential debate, it’s safe to assume that most Americans are ready for this election to end. Yet, as we move towards November 8th, it is important to try to understand how Americans ended up with Donald Trump on the ticket of a major party.

Trump reminds many, such as Trevor Noah, of African authoritarian regimes. His love of authoritarian leaders and military generals echoes those of the late Qaddafi and Idi Amin, and his dislike of immigrants sounds eerily like South Africa’s Jacob Zuma. In a recent article in the Pacific Standard, research by Harvard Sociologist Bart Bonikowski and Princeton Sociologist Paul DiMaggio explain why the current state of American politics is not an aberration.

Bonikowski and DiMaggio argue that Americans can be divided into four nationalist camps, each with its own differing levels of patriotism and dislike of the “other”: Ardent Nationalists, Creedal Nationalist, Restrictive Nationalists, and The Disengaged. Trump disproportionately draws his support from the “restrictive nationalists.”

Even after taking into account their partisan affiliations, “ardent” and “restrictive” nationalists are both significantly more likely than other Americans to believe immigrants cause crime and take jobs away from Americans. Trump has exploited these beliefs, even as his anti-Muslim (and implicitly anti-semitic) statements have solidified his support with people who equate Americanness with Christianity. The researchers write,

“Trump’s campaign has used a particular vision of the nation that emphasizes the superiority of the American people, the moral corruption of elites, and dire threats posed by immigrants and ethnic, racial, and religious minorities.”

Trump’s rise is a result of his campaign tapping into a vision of nationalism that embraces white, heterosexual Americans’ manifest destiny and presupposed excellence. 

Photo by Devon Buchanan, Flickr CC
Photo by Devon Buchanan, Flickr CC

The now infamous conversation between Donald Trump and Billy Bush became a major talking point of this election cycle, as the former can be heard describing how he uses his stardom to grope women without consent. Since the tape surfaced, there has been a series of sexual assault allegations against the Republican presidential candidate. Trump himself has claimed that these accounts are fabrications planted by the Clinton campaign, and some of his supporters have dismissed these claims as false. In fact, many people coming to Trump’s defense assert that since these allegations (some of which date back decades) are only coming out now, they are likely false.

According to an article in New York Magazine, however, the opposite is the case. With a little help from Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan (who cites research by University of Texas sociologist Ari Adut), author Jesse Singal described the impact of collective knowledge in situations like this. Moral scandals and “collective and focused action” take root after an offense becomes well-known. As the article explains,

“There had been stories floating around about his treatment of women forever, many of them publicly reported. But the image of Trump as a predator didn’t fully stick until the release of that Access Hollywood video.”

Now that Trump is caught on tape, these women may feel more confident that people will listen to their allegations, or that they are more obligated to come forward because people are aware of Trump’s behavior. Considering the difficulties people face when reporting sexual assault in general, these women may feel more likely to be believed now that people see Trump in a different light. 

Photo by Sudanshu Goyal, Flickr CC
Photo by Sudanshu Goyal, Flickr CC

While the gender gap in time spent on household chores is slowly declining, ideas about women as the primary caretaker of the home and caregiver for the children is still very present. These ideas in turn influence how men and women feel about parenting. A recent Huffington Post article features a new study that found mothers report more stress and fatigue than fathers. The researchers attribute this to the division of parenting tasks — married mothers are more likely to mange basic childcare tasks and are more likely to be alone with children, while married fathers are more often in charge of children’s play and leisure activities. Moreover, even when moms have leisure time, they are more likely to be interrupted or to report multitasking during this time.

According to sociologist Ann Meier,

“Having data systematically collected from thousands of parents allows us to confirm what parents have known for years — that parenting is meaningful but also stressful and tiring. Many mothers will recognize their experiences of interrupted sleep and daily feeding and bathing. Hopefully, many dads will see that their partners will likely be happier if they trade some of their leisure time with kids for more of the ‘work’ of parenting.”

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.
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.