Photo by verkeorg, Flickr CC
Photo by verkeorg, Flickr CC

We tend to think of the world wide web as a place of equal opportunity, granted everyone has access to it. But NYU’s At A Glance recently covered Charlton McIlwain’s new study that reveals how systemic racial inequality forms and operates on the internet. The study looks beyond lone bigots who make racist comments and analyzes how site traffic steers users to certain kinds of pages. People who visit non-racial sites tend to visit other non-racial sites, more than just by chance, while those who browse pages with race-specific content find themselves jumping to other race-specific sites. McIlwain says,

“The evidence suggests a tendency toward racially segregated site navigation. Web producers seem to build pathways providing equitable access to sites, without concern for the racial nature of the site.”

While segregation may not be the intention of site builders, user’s personal preferences and search engines intervene to influence how web surfers get from point A to point B.  

“These results, along with disparities in website traffic rankings, show how a race-based hierarchy might systematically emerge on the web in ways that exemplify disparate forms of value, influence, and power that exist within the web environment.”

Photo from the 2013 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, DC, by Ryan Somma via flickr.com
Photo from the 2013 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, DC, by Ryan Somma via flickr.com

Over the course of the primary season and the beginnings of the general election, there has been a lot of inflammatory rhetoric surrounding Islam in America, mostly propelled by politicians on the political Right such as Donald Trump. Such shifts in political discussion can often have a ripple effect, and as described in an article by Vox, even the narratives and language used by politicians on the left begin moving in this direction. With help from sociology professors of Erik Love of Dickinson College, Charles Kurzman of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Neda Maghbouleh of University of Toronto, we get an inside look at how discussion surrounding American Muslims takes on problematic features.

As Islamophobic arguments move through the airways, it changes the dominant ideas about judging the “line” in political discussions. For example, alongside more extreme comments made by politicians like Newt Gingrich, Hillary Clinton’s discussion of “peace-loving Muslims” becomes a more acceptable norm. However, these narratives still function at the core by suggesting that Muslim and American identity are incompatible, or that American Muslims are unduly obligated to earn their right to respect and safety. Consider research described in the article below:

“[F]ocus groups with Muslim American communities show that Clinton’s comments also “resonate poorly,” Charles Kurzman, a University of North Carolina sociology professor, said.

“When [Clinton] frames the choices this way, it means that for Muslims to be ‘good’ and worthy cultural and political citizens of America, they have to pledge fealty to the same law enforcement, media, and politicians that have been surveilling, jailing, and abusing them based on their names, their faith, and their physical appearances.”

The Vox article is quick to point out that Hillary Clinton hasn’t always made problematic statements regarding Islam, nor is this shift in rhetoric limited to her or to this presidential race. Rather, it seems likely that as inflammatory rhetoric targeted at Muslims continues, it simply normalizes problematic, unfair characterizations and opens the door to exclusionary attitudes.

Photo by Michael_swan via flickr.com CC
Photo by Michael_swan via flickr.com CC

The “traditional family,” many would have us believe, is imperiled by everything from women in the workplace and same-sex couples in the bedroom. What these “traditionalists” fail to name among the various threats is income inequality. As described in research published in the American Sociological Review and discussed on Fortune.com, observed increases in the rate of couples having children before marriage can be explained by changing social landscapes.

It’s no surprise to anyone that the middle-class is shrinking or that finding a job can be a tough gig. Andrew Cherlin, David C. Ribar, and Suzumi Yasutake’s research shows people are more likely to postpone marriage, but not parenting, if they can’t get a job. So, with a distinct shortage of available living-wage jobs and growing income inequality, more and more American families are comprised of unmarried couples with children. As the class system becomes even more polarized, it seems marriage boosters might want to consider a different means to their favored end: reducing inequality.

Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com
Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com

Some believe Asian-Americans face a “gentler” sort of racism than other minority groups—that they are even treated with admiration as a “model minority” group. That said, the “model minority” stereotype doesn’t have negative consequences. In an Atlantic article, sociologist Adia Harvey Wingfield discusses the multiple ways Asian identities are subject to subtle but impactful experiences in everyday life.

For example, consider the “model minority” stereotype, especially as it pertains to how Asians are supposed to excel at school. What this can mean, however, is that Asian-American high school students can feel deterred from seeking help when they need it, which can lead to peer isolation, among other problems, as in research by UW Madison’s Stacy Lee. Furthermore, Asian Americans are more likely to downplay racism that they face due to the implicit understanding that Asians are stereotyped in “good ways”, as descried by the Georgia State University sociologist Rosalind Chou.

That second dynamic is a part of The Racial Middle by Eileen O’Brien of Saint Leo University, a book that tackles some arguments that non-white, non-black racial identities will be subsumed into black and white, though these groups, like Latinos and Asians, are made up of sub-groups with unique histories and challenges. Consider that Asian Americans do not have a long history of organized struggle or civic action, which may reinforce the caricature of Asian groups as passive and well behaved. Collective action may raise racial consciousness in more ways than one.

To read more about Asian Americans and the Model Minority myth, see Jennifer Lee’s TSP special features “From Unassimilable to Exceptional” and “Asian American Exceptionalism and “Stereotype Promise.‘”

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.”

Photo by The Great 8, Flickr CC.
Photo by The Great 8, Flickr CC.

Income inequality is a hot topic this election, and the Panama Papers have added fuel to the fire. Indeed, it seems that there’s no end to the data that shows the discrepancy between the 1% and the rest of us. What will it to start seeking solutions to extreme income disparities?

New research by TSP contributor Kevin Leicht of Urbana Champaign (available in an article in The Sociological Quarterly) points us in the right direction. As he explains in an interview with The Atlantic’s Gillian B. White, the way social scientists and others conceptualize inequality is too tied to trying to increase diversity at the top rather than studying the economy as a whole. Furthermore, while we’ve been very interested in inequality by race, we don’t do enough to consider gender inequalities, particularly as they exist within racial groups. The popular narrative is that hard work can jettison anyone to the top, but research like Leicht’s shows how outdated this notion is.

To read more of Leicht’s work, see his TSP papers, “Has Borrowing Replaced Earning?”, “Economic Decline and the American Dream,” and “Old Narratives and New Realities,” or check out our volume on the new sociology of debt, Owned.

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.

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.

 

The Live Below the Line campaign helped people in many countries express solidarity with fellow citizens working to make ends meet.
The 2015 Live Below the Line campaign helped people in many countries express solidarity with fellow citizens working to make ends meet.

The U.S. presidential election is beginning to take on issues of poverty and class. Such conversations often look at “the poor” from a careful remove, but work by Thomas Hirschl of Cornell and Mark Rank of Washington University says that outsider angle is a comfortable farce. As explained by an article in Salon, the unpleasant fact is that over fifty percent of Americans will experience poverty during our lifetimes. Impoverishment and “the poor”—and the politics and policies that affect them—are actually very close to home.

Of course, demographic factors are a big part of predicting one’s likelihood of experiencing poverty. (If you’re interested in calculating your own odds, check out Hirschl and Rank’s poverty calculator!) Education is one big factor, as is race: white people are half as likely as non-white people to fall into poverty. And married people are less likely to become poor than singles. Still, as candidates and voters debate nature of class and poverty in America, we would do well to remember that they affect us all. To pretend like anyone’s above poverty would be a poor show.