Archive: Nov 2014

"Traditional" Vision of the First Thanksgiving
“Traditional” Vision of the First Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday we as children learned to celebrate as “the founding of America.” Our story books described a time when the Pilgrims became friends with the Natives and they all shared a feast together. Many of us, including sociologists, know that Thanksgiving could just as easily be considered a “white-washed” and Americanized re-telling of this moment in history. Like Columbus Day where celebration of the founding of the country is cast in patriotic terms, most people ignore, forget, or never knew about the oppressive history of this country’s founding.

So, today is Thanksgiving:

Traditional Thanksgiving Food
Traditional Thanksgiving Food

A day many of us eat turkey and pumpkin pie, and watch football.

A day of gendered roles and norms.

A day of rituals.

A day for family.

A day to be thankful.

A day ripe for feminist sociological analysis.

How do we hold a critical view of our nation’s history, acknowledge myths about family and gendered norms, and among other things, make sense of the partial truths that surround this holiday? How do we use a feminist sociological lens to see a more nuanced picture of a day many of us hold dear, understand the importance of rituals, and acknowledge our gratitude as human beings and feminist sociologists?

As contributing editors and guest bloggers of Feminist Reflections, we believe we do have much to be thankful for. So on this day — while acknowledging the cultural appropriation of the Thanksgiving holiday — we share why we are thankful for feminism, family rituals, gender transgressions, and stories that reveal resistance to cultural appropriation in its many forms.


Oh the reasons to be thankful…

1)I am thankful for feminist mentors I have who understand the need for both support and sometimes a gentle nudge (or not so gentle) to move you forward. We are dispersed across the country (and world), but you are a phone call or email away and usually giving me advice in my head! Times are never going to be “easy”, but without you, I do not think I would have made this far in my own conceptualization of success.

2) I especially thankful for this wonderful group of bloggers at Feminist Reflections who have taught me about writing, blogging, support, you all, and myself. Your support and mentoring is priceless.

3) I am thankful to our feminist fore-mothers,who fought for so many rights, from the right to vote, reproductive choice, to the ability to attend college and graduate school.

4) I am privileged and thankful to have found my “soul-mate” of a friend in my short time in my new place. A friend who supports feminism, who supports social justice, and supports those around her. A friend I can talk to about the “mommy myths” and the reality of parenthood along with all the other stress of adulthood. A friend who all her WGS professors still remember! You are one of a kind and I am so thankful for you!

5)  And in speaking of feminism and thankfulness, I can’t leave out my family, from my “family of origin”, extended family, in-laws, and most importantly, to my spouse and children. My departed grandmothers were role models for their feminist granddaughter- working non-traditional jobs, marrying and having kids “late”, and being assertive, among other things. My parents, who never said I couldn’t be smart, a professor, or whatever I wanted to be because I was a girl. My spouse, who is my co-parent and made sacrifices so I could obtain my dream job. And who does the majority of the cooking, is not afraid to do our daughter’s hair, teaches our kids computer programming and how to cook, and who is a fantastic parent. And to my young children, in which I have watched you as a young “boy” and “girl” face gender socialization and questioning of our family’s social justice beliefs by some of your peers.  Thank you for standing up for social justice for all those who are oppressed and for not being afraid to “bend” gender or use gender neutral language, even though the other kids may not get it.  And for letting me teach you the truth of about some of the holidays often celebrated without attention to the hidden truths.

6) And I am thankful for my job, in which I get to work some of the most fantastic students and colleagues.

I wish all our Feminist Reflections readers an enjoyable holiday. I will not be cooking the turkey (which would be a disaster), but will be starting new rituals with my own family in a new place. And I hope on this day, we all can reflect and be thankful and supportive of those who have helped put food on our tables (farm workers), our family and friends, but also be cognizant of both the structural oppression many still face and hidden histories of this holiday, in order to join forces to advocate for social justice.


Last New Year’s Eve, I declared that 2014 would be my “Year of Gratitude.” I would express gratitude each day with a brief post on Facebook, reflecting on what I was grateful for that day.

It was a marvelous experiment for a while. At first, it came with all of the intended consequences. It felt good thinking about what makes life wonderful. It felt good to recognize just how many supportive, cool, fun, hilarious, smart, and amazing people I have in my life. It felt good to take the time – every day – to reflect on something positive. My Facebook friends told me how much they appreciated the posts; that the posts encouraged them reflect on feeling gratitude, too. It felt good knowing gratitude was contagious.

Then I started worrying I’d forget to post. Then I actually did forget to post – more than once. Then I started getting anxious every night before bed. If I hadn’t yet thought of something to be grateful for that day, I’d have to do it before I could get any sleep. I thought about the friends I’d be letting down if I couldn’t come up with something… Every.Single.Day.

This went on for months. One day I cried to a friend, “My gratitude is bringing me down!” I told her how I worried I’d be letting people down if I stopped posting. How the worry over my posts was exhausting me but I didn’t want to disappoint my friends. She laughed, noting the irony. My intention had been simply to express – and feel – gratitude. Somehow I’d wound up in the position of feeling responsible for helping others experience the joys of gratitude. By September, I decided to let myself off the hook. I continued to reflect on and feel gratitude but I stopped feeling responsible for posting about it every darn day.

What a wonderful thing a daily, public expression of gratitude can be. But the reality, for me at least, didn’t reflect the idealized vision I’d constructed when I’d made the commitment months earlier. Adding yet another “must do” to an already jam-packed list of must-do’s didn’t have the effect I’d hoped for.

Finding balance and letting myself off the hook when things don’t go according to plan have been themes (and challenges!) for me this year. Having Feminist Reflections, a community of smart and inspiring feminist colleagues, has helped. It’s been such a joy to be reminded of the importance of thoughtful, critical reflection and discussion. And to share the load.

Feminism has helped in other ways, too. Feminism has given me the courage to say no when that’s what’s needed. And to change the plan when changing the plan is what’s needed. Feminism has helped me see that I’m not alone in the struggle to find balance. It has helped me understand that I am worthy of balance; I am worthy of self-care when that’s what’s needed.

I’m reminded of the words of Audre Lorde, from her 1988 collection A Burst of Light. Lorde wrote about self-care in a much different context but her statement rings true, I think, for anyone struggling to be kind to themselves and banish guilt over not doing enough. I’ll leave you with those words. I certainly am grateful for them.

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” -Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light (1988)


I am thankful for my aging. Yes, I said it!

As I age, I realize that “aging well” is not about botox, eye serums and face lifts, although our consumerist economy would like us to believe that. It’s about eating well, exercising, staying intellectually engaged, and open to new people and ideas.

We live in a youth-oriented culture where even young women are getting botox as a preventative measure!  It’s time to reclaim our graying hair, our wrinkles and our sagging body parts. To love ourselves as we are…

Yes, I am thankful for my aging. Thankful indeed.

–Excerpted from “The Eye Serum Saga: A wrinkle in time is ultimately fine…” on Mindy’s Muses


When Trina first mentioned writing about feminism and gratitude, a specific set of words came rushing into my mind. They were lyrics written by one of my personal she-roes Ani Difranco in the song “Grand Canyon.”

i love my country
by which i mean
i am indebted joyfully
to all the people throughout its history
who have fought the government to make right
where so many cunning sons and daughters
our foremothers and forefathers
came singing through slaughter
came through hell and high water 
so that we could stand here
and behold breathlessly the sight
how a raging river of tears
cut a grand canyon of light
i mean
why can't all decent men and women
call themselves feminists?
out of respect 
for those who fought for this 
i mean, look around 
we have this

On this day of thanksgiving, I’m grateful to Ani D. for speaking so many of my truths. Every day, I am indebted joyfully to all the people who continue to fight the status quo in all of its peculiarities for the sheer purpose of making things right. And to all you decent men and women who call yourselves feminists… thank you for staking your claim to the greatest F-word ever!


I wanted to express gratitude today to this incredible community of feminist scholars of which I feel fortunate to be a part.  It began as a round table conversation at a Sociologists for Women in Society meeting.  And slowly, that idea turned into a new blog.  It’s still taking shape, but the collection of scholars who write here have enriched my life and my work and it’s a great honor to be involved.

I wanted to share a quote that I think about a great deal in writing for this blog.  It comes from Steven Whitehead’s Men and Masculinities: Key Themes and New Directions (2002).

The private lives of men and women are political. There is no aspect of our lives that is not caught up by the political. How we spend and negotiate our time in relationships is political. How we exercise our power at work and home is political. How we exercise our sexuality is political. How we educate is political. How we contribute to the myths of gender is political. The very language we use is political. To be gendered is to be political. It is not necessary to be a feminist or a member of the Christian promise-keepers to engage in this political condition. Such associations are simply a more direct expression of what goes on across all societies between all men and women in all cultures—daily. (Whitehead 2002: 148)

There is no aspect of our lives that is not caught up by the political.


They can't take it away!

I wrote this post during the beginning of my second year in a Masters in Social Work (MSW) program (2012-13 academic year). Reading it now, I think I must have written it before I had interviewed and accepted my current job as an assistant professor, both of which happened in November 2012. I started my new job in fall 2013. The position I was hired for sought someone with a PhD in Sociology and a MSW, which I achieved, but not by taking a “normal” path.

I share my story here on Feminist Reflections to empathize with the struggles of graduate students and post-PhD adjuncts who are trying to find a job, most likely on an academic tenure track. Know that it took me two degrees and five years post-PhD in Sociology to find my fit in an academic institution. I also share this writing because I believe that in our academic field we tend to tie “success” to obtaining the much-coveted tenure track position. In reality, should this be a scholar’s only “measure” of success? Can we support and encourage a feminist sociological perspective beyond the traditional academic job?

August 2008 I become Dr. Smith
August 2008 I become Dr. Smith

I am a feminist sociologist, post-PhD, who is an instructor and a student.

I stared a draft of this article in a much better state of mind than when I first wrote it. Initially I wanted to make a proclamation that feminist sociologists should look back to our history with social work and to the people, such as Jane Addams, that both fields lay claim to. Yet my mood is buffered. I have experienced the difficulty of having a PhD tied to my name, and going back to school, and understanding the historical roots of the professionalization of social work into the clinical field it has become, a competitive endeavor. Alas, my point of this writing has changed from acknowledging the attributes of social work to public feminist sociology, to a more complex one of how we as feminist scholars can support each others’ professionalization in a time of insecurity in higher education and in applied work.

As a feminist scholar, I feel that I should be proud that I have earned a PhD. Anyone with a PhD is part of a very small fraction of the population.

Graduate Commencement December 2008
Graduate Commencement December 2008

Despite this exclusivity, graduate school socialization tells me that I still haven’t “made it.” I didn’t land that tenure track job I was supposed to get. For the past 3 1/2 years, I traveled from visiting scholar / assistant professor to unemployed, to contract market researcher, to applied work in a business school, to adjunct instructor at a community college. The latter remains my primary work. But my stint in business school along with the still troubled economy, poor academic job market, need for stability in my life, and desire to be a positive role model to my children fueled my decision to go back to graduate school to obtain a MSW.

What’s life like as a MSW student with a PhD?

Difficult. I hear that I am doing things backwards. Apparently, the trend is to get a MSW, work in the field, burn out, and then get a PhD. I also feel stuck between in how I talk about my education and advanced degree. To omit my PhD on a resume would make it look I was quite unproductive for eight years of graduate school. But to list my PhD opens me up to unseemly questions about why the change, or being overqualified, or about why I should instead be placed into internships where my PhD would be an asset. But these options would not provide the learning opportunities to gain what I need in the field.

And there are times, understandably so, when it is not appropriate for me to claim my “title.” But let me back up and explain.

A MSW program is qualitatively different than a PhD program in sociology (or even Master’s degree in Sociology, unless it is applied). First, it has two years of coursework, starting with foundational areas from the history of the welfare state, policy/macro social work, human behavior and the social environment, research methods, and social work methods with individuals, groups, and families. Then one moves on to focus either on community or direct practice. But with each year, an internship is required (taking 16-20 hours a week). The internship for the second year is supposed to be the most important for career placement. But yet in a large metro area with at least three schools with MSW programs, things get very competitive.

Second, a new curriculum change means that one now does not just pick direct practice but chooses among the options of clinical mental health, children and families, and disabilities, health, and aging, with the other option of community practice. While as a young college student, I never knew a MSW could lead to working as a therapist. As with my Bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology, I thought one must go on to a post-secondary degree in psychology to work as a therapist. In my heart and based on personal experience, I believe MSW’s who obtain the licensure of Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker make great therapists. They start where the client is at, examine the personal and environmental contexts, and advocate for a person’s self-determination and also social justice, while bounded by the ethics of the National Association of Social Workers.

I have spent much time talking about the requirements of the program, but again, like when I finished my PhD in sociology, fear about future job stability grips me and I retreat to a state of fear. To alleviate this fear, I remember that as a “non-traditional” student, my time is limited to find my dreams and a stable job to support my family while doing something I enjoy. Where does one fit sociology into this? How do I reconcile my structural understandings of the world with working with people in their everyday situations? Why don’t I just decide to work for a non-profit with my MSW and pretend I don’t have a PhD in sociology and eight years of teaching experience? Because, as a feminist, I also have to be true to myself and my own desires. I am 34 years old, and I need a career that supports a family, not just me.

A time of calm with my children during a difficult time.
A time of calm with my children during a difficult time during my MSW program & family crisis.

I searched for a mentor, but this has not been easy. I think to myself, “I can’t be the only one who took this path!” I know I am not. I know one other person, but she chose not to speak about her degree and moved out of state to attend school. I talked to my previous sociology professors, who support me. I feel like their colleague. But I have few professors in the Social Work program who believe in me. The irony of a MSW program in a PhD granting R1 institution is that professors do not have much time for mentoring as they work on their publications. And as a MSW student, I feel less important because the time spent with me is not contributing to their tenure portfolios. I reach out to fellow students, the ones with children and jobs who understand the stress of parenting, working, and studying. It is not enough. It just is.

Throughout this process, I learned that I have to believe in myself and make use of the skills I have. I am a passionate instructor. I am a trained sociologist. I am an excellent student. I am an empathetic person. I am not a young 22-year-old student in graduate school for the first time. I don’t have the time to wander and find myself. I need a career. I need some sort of stability. I have to fight the insecurities that became ingrained in me during my first graduate school experience and the pains of the job market after I graduated when I found myself feeling inadequate and realizing that my desire to learn was not enough. I embrace who I am and accept these challenges as growth points. But like others, sometimes I wish the path had been smoother. I have to learn to forgive myself; seek a mentor and support.

I leave you with a question: How can we as feminist sociologists support each other in holding onto our sociological selves, while also searching, and learning about new possibilities, while perhaps even changing careers and trying to manage the real-world effects of a recession? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

woman scientist
Image via Flickr Creative Commons

At a time when 26 percent of women scientists report being sexually assaulted in the field, the authors of a new study boldly claim that “times have changed” and women’s “claims of mistreatment” in academic science are “largely anecdotal.”

As much as I’d like for this to be true, the claim is founded more on the authors’ fundamental misunderstanding of sex discrimination and oversimplification of gender than on any version of reality.

The authors of “Women in Academic Science: A Changing Landscape”, published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, examine the career trajectories of women and men in math-intensive fields, finding that women fare as well as men when it comes to invitations to interview for tenure-track faculty positions, job offers, and promotions.

They interpret these findings as follows:

“We conclude by suggesting that although in the past, gender discrimination was an important cause of women’s underrepresentation in scientific academic careers, this claim has continued to be invoked after it has ceased being a valid cause of women’s underrepresentation in math-intensive fields.”

Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci, two of the study’s authors, wrote about their findings in an October 31st New York Times op-ed. The response on Twitter was swift and skeptical. Critiques of the study have rightly focused on the author’s “wide-sweeping statements” and “self-contradictory observations and internal inconsistencies.”

Sex, Discrimination, and Oversimplification

Adding to these critiques, the authors’ claims that sex-based discrimination is a thing of the past reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of sex discrimination in the United States and an oversimplified understanding of gender.

Under the law, sex discrimination is not just about hiring and promotion; it includes sexual harassment, a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Research shows that workplace sexual harassment of women scientists is an ongoing and fundamental problem. Yet Ceci and colleagues completely ignore this reality and its consequences for the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women scientists.

Another problem is the Psychological Science in the Public Interest study’s confounding of sex with gender. While Ceci and colleagues cite male and females’ comparable rates of hiring and promotion to support their assertion that sexism in science is a thing of the past, they don’t seem to understand that gender is a fundamental dimension of power that shapes all social interactions. If women scientists are being harassed in the workplace because they are women, and we know that they are, then science surely has a sexism problem.gender quoteAs sociologist Zulyeka Zevallos notes in her cogent critique of the study, “An analysis of sexism in academia needs to seriously address gender as a social system, not simply document superficial differences between men and women.”

Understanding gender as a social system means recognizing sexual harassment as a gendered expression of power that privileges a singular version of masculinity above all forms of femininity and above alternative forms of masculinity. All women, particularly those who challenge the gender hierarchy, and any men who do not adhere to the privileged version of masculinity may be at risk for becoming targets of harassment simply by virtue of their placement in the hierarchical gender system.

In a study published in American Sociological Review in 2004, Chris Uggen and I found that women were across the board more likely to experience harassment than men. Women are targeted simply because they are women. We also found a correlation between men’s likelihood of experiencing harassment and the amount of housework they reported doing — one of our measures of egalitarian gender relationships. Our interviews with harassed workers revealed that men who challenge the gender hierarchy are targeted for doing so.

The hostile climate that women in STEM face was most recently documented by Kathryn Clancy and colleagues but their work builds from a long line of research documenting harassment in the academy and other fields and its harmful consequences for employee well-being, mental health, and other health and job-related outcomes.

Further, while Ceci and colleagues may have evidence that some women in STEM are being promoted despite the persistence of a chilly climate, my own collaborative research on the harassment of women in positions of power suggests that as women are promoted, they may be even more likely to face harassment. What better way, after all, to put women who challenge the gender hierarchy “in their place”?

To ignore that hostile workplace climates have a real, significant, and negative impact on women in academic science is not only irresponsible, it is wrong.

The tragedy is that the Psychological Science in the Public Interest study actually does offer some encouraging news: some women in some STEM fields are as likely as men to be interviewed, hired, and promoted. But its message is totally lost in the cacophony of voices rightly objecting to the authors’ claim that “academic science isn’t sexist.”

As much as I wish for them to be right, there’s too much evidence to the contrary to believe it. And they’ve done those who have experienced harassment and who fight every day to achieve gender equality in the workplace a disservice by purporting it.

What are your favorite feminist quotes or quotes about gender and/or feminism? What do they tell us about women, men, our society, misconceptions, and backlash feminism may still face?

Gender SymbolsIn thinking about these questions let’s reflect on the idea of a “feminist perspective” and the stigma that, believe it or not, still exists for many people studying and researching in the field of Women and Gender Studies (WGS)

We share several quotes from years ago that were filed away in a class materials folder from 1996. These were found though a random search using various search engines and pages devoted to the collection of quotes. At this point the sites and URLs are insignificant, but the quotes themselves are still meaningful.

How do the quotes below relate to what we know about gender? What we advocate for when it comes to gender equality? Why Feminism and Women and Gender Studies may be misunderstood and thus stigmatized? Or, as the last quotation suggests, whether this “gender thing” is history?

Defining Gender

“There is no original or primary gender …. gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original.” ~Judith Butler

Gender Socialization

“The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, ‘It’s a girl.'”  ~Shirley Chisholm

“Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.”  ~Lois Wyse

Gender Identity for Women in Male Dominated Fields

“I appreciate the sentiment that I am a popular woman in computer gaming circles; but I prefer being thought of as a computer game designer rather than a woman computer game designer. I don’t put myself into gender mode when designing a game.” ~Roberta Williams

Feminism is not about Hating Men

“You don’t have to be anti-man to be pro-woman.”  ~Jane Galvin Lewis

“Defining men as the perpetrators of all violence is a viciously immoral judgment of an entire gender. And defining women as inherently nonviolent condemns us to the equally restrictive role of sweet, meek, and weak.” ~Katherine Dunn

Does Gender Still Matter?

“But let me tell you, this gender thing is history. You’re looking at a guy who sat down with Margaret Thatcher across the table and talked about serious issues.” ~George H.W. Bush

A Reflection:

Many colleges and universities now offer courses, concentrations, majors, and minors in Women and Gender Studies. These courses may be part of core curricula or cross-listed with other departments. Yet some students interested in these courses have reservations about enrolling in them because of perceived stigma.

Feminist Reflections contributing editor Trina Smith was shocked when she attended a Women and Gender Studies meeting to learn that while many students take core and cross-listed WGS courses at her campus, they do not declare the WGS minor. A student involved in feminist activities told her that some of the students were afraid of what might happen to their career prospects if employers or graduate schools saw Women and Gender Studies on their transcripts.

Are these students’ fears warranted? Are they based on rumor or myth? If such concerns are realistic in a contemporary society in which a former U.S. president called “this gender thing history,” we might ask ourselves why social institutions would view the systematic study of gender as a deficit? Are such sentiments regionally based? Would I want to study or work in such environments?

One thing is certain, if we are still asking these kinds of questions in 2014 this “gender thing” is not yet history.