Archive: Aug 2015

As sociologists and feminists we are quick to critique, which does have merit. We tend to look structurally and think individuals are for the psychologists. While we can offer needed critiques on society, it seems our limitation is in proposing solutions that look at both structure and agency, including an understanding of the daily lives of people, especially those who are marginalized in society and have less agency.

I started thinking of this post this the summer when numerous articles posted on the internet reported how a teen with Down Syndrome started modeling. While the articles were positive, I happened to see a comment on Facebook on a feminist group about this young woman modeling. Again, while most of the comments were positive, one person stated how this teen with Down Syndrome should not be modeling or aspiring to be a model because in so many words it reinforced gender subordination. It made me stop and think.

MODELING INDUSTRYYes, the modeling industry is not always an ideal industry. Airbrushed images have pushed women (and men) into eating disorders and unrealistic expectations of body image. Yet, do we critique the industry or the teen? A teen who has lived her life with Down Syndrome in a society that is not always friendly to different abilities? Can we change our lens to see this as someone changing the face or nature of the industry? The comment in ways could be read as critiquing the person, not the industry. How can we critique structures while also remembering how people may have limited options or want to feel included or normal. Can we think of how agency can change the structure? disability inclusion

While we study social problems and issues from a structural view and advocate what we think changes should be, we cannot forget the people who we as a society have not given agency to, such as those with differing abilities. Can we have a focus of inclusion, which sees these individuals as having agency as something that does change the structure for the better?

The first model with Down Syndrome
The first model with Down Syndrome

We can say “embrace your differences” all day long or “normal is boring”, yet it seems part of human nature to want to be included and to feel normal. Or at the least, not just treated with only sympathy and woe, but seen as a person who has something to contribute to society. This does not mean that structural change does not need to happen.

For the teen with Down Syndrome who is modeling, I say go for it! In alignment with a New York Post piece on these issues,, you are changing the industry, how we view (dis)abilities, and are a role model to others!  Here are some fabulous pictures of this inspiring teen!

ASA Bowties 2015 jpegSpot a bow tie, meet a sex and gender scholar (or someone lucky enough to have donned a bow tie on our day)! The Sex & Gender Section of the American Sociological Association will celebrate its members, increase the visibility of sex and gender researchers at the summer meeting, and support conversation and networking with a “wear-a-bow tie” campaign. The Section’s Membership Committee encourages all members to wear a bow tie on Saturday, August 22nd, Sex & Gender’s designated section day.

Members can wear their own bow ties, pick up one of the free 500 bow tie pins at the Section Business Meeting on Saturday (from 9:30-10:10am), or get creative with jewelry, broaches, bow tie print apparel and other displays. The bow tie is fun way to boost our Section visibility with a trendy gendered style accessory. You can find bow ties clip art and designs in all sorts of places including on phone cases, mugs, socks, various forms of jewelry, emoji, photo editing apps, and, or course, actual bow ties. I personally watch the same YouTube video each time I’ve tied one. And, if you choose to brave one you need to tie yourself, I’ll just highlight the most important piece of information distilled in this How-To video: “Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect bow tie.”

To discuss the campaign in more detail, I asked Kristen Schilt, chair of the Sex and Gender Membership Committee, and section member D’Lane Compton to join us in a brief digital interview.

Tristan: How was the bow tie decided upon for the campaign?

Kristen: Sex & Gender is one of the largest sections at ASA – in fact, this year, we surpassed all of the other sections with over 1200 members! With such a big section, however, it can be difficult for newer members to find a way in and to meet people. Our idea with this visibility campaign was to come up with a common symbol for all members to display on “sex and gender” day at ASA. Our hope was for it to be an ice-breaker for newer members and a way to show the general ASA what an important part of the discipline the field of sex and gender has become. We asked for suggestions for possible images and the bow tie came out as the winner among the section council. We felt that it was visible – seeing a large group of ASA members in bow ties would raise conversation. The bow tie also has a history of gender transgression in fashion, from Marlene Dietrich to butch subcultures in the 1950s. We recognized that not all members would be excited about the bow tie, but, we also felt no symbol would have full consensus in such a large and diverse section. We decided to move forward with this visibility campaign so we would be taking action on increasing the sense of community among newer and more established members. We imagine that if this campaign is a success that the Sex & Gender section will solicit member suggestions for a new symbol. We look forward to seeing what people come up with!

Tristan: What if members don’t want to wear a bow tie but do want to participate?

11011222_785267271571761_4706088863506098956_nKristen: Sex & Gender has commissioned 500 bow tie buttons that members without bow ties can wear on Saturday, August 22nd. We will give out these buttons at the Sex & Gender business meeting at 9:30 am. Any remaining buttons will be available at Sex & Gender sessions throughout the day. Just look for Jessica Fields, chair of the section, Kristen Schilt, head of Membership, or members D’Lane Compton and Tristan Bridges, who helped promote the winning bow tie idea.

D’Lane: Beyond the free buttons the section will be handing out, there are other ways you can get creative. For example, while I will be sporting a bow tie on Saturday, I also plan to draw a bow tie on my coffee cups that day. I will likely have a sharpie on hand if folks want to borrow it. I have also heard of some folks who were talking about bow tie-themed socks and various pieces of jewelry including earrings, broaches, hair combs, and necklaces. I will also be playing “I spy…” looking for those folks.

Tristan: What do you like about the campaign?

D’Lane: Beyond the visibility and promotion of the section, what I like most about the campaign is that I am certain it will generate a great deal of interaction whether it be online or on the streets, so to speak. I think it will also offer up different avenues in which we can learn new things about our colleagues and friends and of course just be a simple icebreaker for making new connections. It also gives us something to talk about other than work and may allow some insights into our tastes, likes, and dislikes.

Maybe it’s in my roots growing up under the Friday night lights of Texas stadiums, but I love spirit and “spirit days”. Wearing mismatched clothes on Wacky Wednesday, Thursday was tie day, and of course school colors on Friday. I remember having tie day in high school and loving the fact I had an “appropriate” reason to wear a tie and wouldn’t catch slack for wearing menswear that day. For some wearing a bow tie may feel like drag for the first time, irrespective of sex. Could be professional drag, or dandy drag, some combination, or other types of drag.

Despite all critiques, spirit days made for increased engagement and social bonding. It gave us something new to try, a place to play with who we are; and it was fun. You could also be really annoyed by it and opt out…which still allowed you to engage with others and bond over how ridiculous joiners are or the particular activity was and how over it all you were. It is with this mind set I approach my enthusiasm over the campaign.

Tristan: How are you considering participating?

D’Lane: I plan to wear a bow tie, and, assuming they are down with it, I will take as many pictures as I can of other bow ties and bow tie representing folks to share online. I know people who will not be in attendance plan to show their support by wearing a bow tie Saturday and tweeting it. I have also already changed some of my profile pictures to represent the section. And maybe I will instigate a #ASABowTieScavengerHunt hashtag searching for a collection of the ingenuity of members finding clever ways to participate!

10432120_794886257276529_5923158181651371396_nTristan: Thanks so much for telling us more about it. It sounds like a fun event. The new logo for the section even found a bow tie for the event, thanks to logo designer Eli Alston-Stepnitz. (See the July newsletter for an essay by Eli, Tristan, and Jessica Fields on the process of producing the new logo.) I’ll be wearing a bow tie on Saturday to participate. I chose one from a “conversation starter” line online.

Make sure you participate using the #ASABowties2015 hashtag on social media. And tag @asanews in your posts. In addition to making a show of the size and enthusiasm of our section at ASA, we’re also hoping that this sparks us to make some digital noise this year.

We hope section members will help live tweet the sessions they attend. In addition to flagging posts with session numbers, consider using #ASAGender15 in your tweets during presentations. The Sex & Gender twitter account (@asasexandgender) promoted the hashtag. We are an extremely vibrant section on social media. I’m excited to see whether we can connect our social media energy with this suggestion.

Thanks to Kristen Schilt and D’Lane Compton for the campaign and the interview. We’re all excited to see everyone this weekend. See you soon and safe travels!

Here are the slides and handouts.

On August 22, I’ll be facilitating a workshop at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in Chicago on a topic close to my heart: turning your dissertation research into a book. If only I’d had such information 15 years ago! At that point I was wading through my dissertation on breast cancer and wondering how I would ever get my research to those who could use it most.

Nonetheless I completed my dissertation, wrote several scholarly articles, and eventually learned enough about my topic to transform it into a cross-over book (Pink Ribbon Blues) that did make its way to people who could use it — researchers, graduate and undergraduate students, health practitioners, science writers, breast cancer survivors and advocates, and educated public audiences interested in the social and cultural forces affecting illness, or the war on cancer in general. It was a long road. I learned a lot in the process.

In this year’s professional development workshop, I share some of the lessons I learned along with information and resources to help others who are considering the dissertation-to-book path. Having presented this material in workshop and webinar form multiple times with different colleagues, it now reflects the insights of seven of us who wrote a dissertation-based book: Astrid Eich-Krohm (German Professionals in the United States), Meika Loe (The Rise of Viagra), Adina Nack (Damaged Goods), Wendy Cadge (Heartwood), and this year’s presenters Dawn Norris (Job Loss, Identity, and Mental Health) and Tristan Bridges (manuscript in progress on ‘contemporary transformations in masculinities’).

Slide01The From Dissertation to Book Workshop outlines: (1) the differences between the dissertation and the book manuscript; (2) the intermediate stages in transforming dissertation research into a full-length manuscript; (3) common barriers and strategies to overcome them; (4) elements of a book prospectus; (5) audience Q&A and breakout discussion with hands-on work. Dawn participated in the workshop in 2012 and has since developed her book manuscript and secured a contract. Tristan is in the early stages of book development. My book has been on the market a few years. Together, we present varied stages of the book process and tips from past presenters, too.

Gayle Sulik
Gayle Sulik
Dawn Norris
Dawn Norris
Tristan Bridges
Tristan Bridges

If you’re in Chicago for ASA this summer, come by on Saturday, August 22 from 4:30 to 6:10 pm. The location will be announced in the program.

If you’re a graduate student, the ASA Student Forum is pleased to offer a Professional Development Certificate (PDC) for its members who attend six approved sessions, meetings, or workshops. Click here for more information about the certificate program, the signature forms, and the list of recommended sessions (which includes ours)!

Bad Boss _hellWe’ve all had them, and maybe some of us are them! (No, not us!) As a sociologist who has spent many years studying workplaces, I am indebted to a number of bad bosses. Although some of them made my life miserable, they inspired me to understand why. So in the spirit of acknowledgment, I must first say thank you to the boss who told me I was destroying my life by leaving the job to pursue another direction. (Destroying whose life?) And thank you, too, to the psychotic boss who knew that I supported a particular political cause, and out of nowhere screamed at me, “Don’t ever let me see you on television with a sign in your hands supporting that Communist (crap).” Whoa! It hadn’t occurred to me, but now that you mention it…And thank you to the newly appointed manager who, in her first month on the job, falsely accused me of serious financial improprieties. (One month, and many sleepless nights later, I was vindicated.)

Bad Boss_analysis
Given these experiences, it has been therapeutic to study the American workplace and to dissect some of the problems that contribute to “bad-bossism”. Despite having been “stung” by a few bad bosses, I still believe that people – including some bosses – are basically good!
So what is it that leads some people in management positions to “behave badly?” Well for a start, the workplace is a microcosm of our larger culture and society. Societal problems that exist outside the office are likely to surface within it as well, playing out via power dynamics between and among employees, based on their occupational status, their gender, and their racial and ethnic backgrounds.


Political economist and philosopher, Karl Marx, laid the groundwork for understanding the intrinsic tension between labor and management (or, as he would say, capital), in which a capitalist system favors profit over people. In this system, he argued, management would necessarily exploit workers with long hours and poor working conditions, in order to get more productivity out of workers, which in turn would maximize profit. With the advent of laws that limit working hours in manufacturing settings, and the regulation of working conditions, Marx’s critique and analysis continues to provide a useful framework, even though it’s probably more relevant to manufacturing work in Third World countries, where many multinational corporations have moved their operations in search of cheaper labor.

Bad Boss_women factoryIn the U.S., our current economy has increasingly shifted to knowledge-based work and services, and the lines that are drawn between workers and managers are often painted as more subtle. Nonetheless, stratification of the labor force ripples through multiple levels of professional and managerial workers. How do these dynamics affect the contemporary workplace?

Studies suggest that a number of factors shaping workplace environments contribute to the “bad boss” phenomenon:

1. Male model of the ideal worker
In this model, the “normal” trajectory of the worker is based on a “male model” of the ideal worker, a person who can work throughout his (her?) career in a continuous and uninterrupted manner, taking no time for non-work (e.g., personal, family) activities. Sociologist Erin Kelly, et al calls it a “masculinist work culture”, commenting,

“Working long hours is a sign that employees are readily available and eager to meet others’ needs; it further reinforces the ideal worker as someone – most often a man – who does not have, or does not attend to, other pressing commitments outside of work.”

With this model, work comes first. When managers perceive that’s not the case for one or more employees, it’s viewed as an affront to the company, a deviation from employee loyalty. Managers who “buy into” a “masculinist work culture” are likely to be critical of workers who challenge this norm. In a study I conducted on parental leave policy in a large financial services company, the norm was so powerful that men chose not to use the company’s generous parental leave policy, and women who used the policy took very short leaves, even though legally, all employees were entitled to longer leaves.

2. Structural issues that create a culture of competition
in our current American workplace, where the bottom line rules, there are economic pressures to produce. In line with the prevailing capitalist ethic, a culture of competition is viewed by many managers as necessary to foster productivity, with long hours as the norm. In order to sustain productivity, managers feel pressure from above to push employees to produce more, even when they realize that it’s not humanly possible. In a number of the workplace studies I’ve conducted, I’ve learned that being in a middle managerial position is often isolating. This makes these managers depressed and grumpy. Most have little support to figure out a better way, and they realize quickly that too much empathy for their “subordinates” takes too much time. Ergo, they may “act badly.”

3. Poor economic times makes managers even more grumpy
In our crisis economy, the financial pressure is even more intense, and some managers may exhibit more controlling behavior towards their employees. Managers are being more closely monitored on financial performance, and they may be even less likely to take the time to attend to employees’ feelings or needs under these conditions.4. “Deal with it; I did!”
Some managers worked hard to get where they are, and along the way, they experienced a lot of pain themselves. When they get to the top (or close to it), some pass on what is familiar. While many of the managers I’ve interviewed worked very hard to respond to the needs of those under their supervision, some were less than understanding.5. Lack of management training
Some managers who are good workers are rewarded by being moved up to management positions. While some organizations prepare their workers for this type of promotion, others fail to prepare them for the pressures they encounter once they are in charge. Without adequate management training, some bosses make mistakes, even lots of mistakes. Sometimes they find themselves in positions of power and it feels uncomfortable. They’re being asked to do things with and to workers that they wouldn’t have liked themselves. They know that. But they don’t know how to challenge or work with the system without jeopardizing their reputation or losing their jobs. This can make for frustration and grumpiness.

6. Personality problems
Some managers just shouldn’t be managing people. Their “management style” may look good to upper-level managers because it fits in with a culture of competition and drive. But they may be making the people who work for them miserable. Because of an “us” and “them” dichotomy, other managers may even side with them.

Perhaps we all have a story about the crazy or mean or incompetent boss. Are all managers bad bosses? No, of course not. But the problem is clearly pervasive: Google “bad boss” and you’ll find over 7 million citations, with countless workers publicly venting about their negative experiences, and experts offering advice on how to deal with that mean and disrespectful supervisor.

What is a good boss? There’s plenty written about good bosses as well. Google “good boss” and you’ll find over 14 million citations! Hopefully we’ve also had them (and maybe even are them!).
Bad boss_yay boss retiringHere’s an excerpt (slightly tweaked) from a 10/10/10 article in the Chicago Tribute by Mary Schmich about what makes a “good boss.”
* A good boss understands that all power is fleeting and borrowed, and doesn’t take advantage of this moment.
* A good boss realizes that her/his real power comes not from those above him, but from the rank-and-file.
* A good boss listens, and can see a problem before it turns into a crisis. If it does turn into a crisis, the good boss works with an employee to resolve the situation.
* A good boss understands that your time is important too.
* A good boss is a good communicator, responding to your concerns and questions in person and via electronic communications.
* A good boss treats employees with respect. S/he does not treat people differently based on their occupational status, gender, race or sexual orientation.
* A good boss tries to make everyone feel special and included.
* A good boss is self-aware and tries to understand how his/her behavior affects others.
* A good boss has the courage to deal with problem employees, and does it professionally.
* A good boss tells you when you screwed up and forgives you.
* A good boss does not take credit for your ideas, nor does s/he demand credit when s/he gives you an idea.
* A good boss is not afraid of people as smart as s/he is.
* A good boss sees what you do best, matches your job to your talents, and gives you room to bloom.
* A good boss remembers how s/he felt about bosses before s/he was one.
* A good boss reveals just enough about her/his personal life to remind you that bosses are people too.
* A good boss doesn’t take bonuses when the workers can’t get a raise.
* A good boss knows how to apologize and how to laugh, sometimes at him/herself.
* And a good boss understands how much we all yearn for a good boss.
Bad boss_leadership