Archive: Dec 2015

father with child

  1. Paid parental leave

Enough is enough! It is way past time to pass a paid parental leave law in the US. Nearly every other country in the world has this policy, including countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Bill Clinton approved the passage of an UNPAID parental leave law in 1993, called the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), after then-President Bush had vetoed an unpaid leave bill a couple of times. The business community went bonkers about the FMLA, claiming that it would cut into profit and slow down business, but guess what? Life went on with no serious consequences. The only problem is that nearly half of the work force isn’t eligible to use the policy (e.g., workers in small businesses). And while the policy was designed to be gender-neutral – meaning that women and men could take time off from paid work to care for a young child – women are the primary users. There are a few reasons why:

  • Women generally earn less than men (pay inequity), and so when a family, even one that seeks shared parenting, is making a decision about who will be primary parent, it makes economic sense for women to be the prime policy users.
  • Women are still considered more nurturing and therefore more deserving of taking time off from paid work to care for a young child.
  • There is still a stigma against men who prioritize carrying for a young child. Talk to male workers in Sweden – a country where men take an average of four months paid leave – and they’ll tell you that it is valued in their culture, and great to be equal partners in caring for young ones. The myth that men lack the capacity to be nurturing is blown by Swedish dads (and more and more US dads, including Ann-Marie Slaughter’s husband, and many more dads throughout the world!).

play

  1. Universal early education and care

When I first moved to Boston in 1980, I worked for a Massachusetts Senator named Jack Backman, who filed a universal child care bill. People laughed at him because the notion of “universal child care for all” seemed pie-in-the-sky. “There goes Jack”, was the banter at the time. But he was a radical visionary for his time, and believed that all children deserved the option of early education and care. At the time, I worked with a band of child care teachers/activists who supported Jack’s bill. The then-Governor, Ed King, called child care a “Cadillac service”, in other words, something superfluous – because women were expected to be primary caregivers for their children. But even then, 35 years ago, this view was way out of sync with the reality of women in the labor force, and especially the rise of mothers – about ½ of all mothers with infants and around ¾ of mothers with children under 5 – who continued to work for pay after their babies were born.

Fast forward a few decades and we are STILL in a quagmire about providing universal pre-kindergarten services. The problem is not in the research. There are enough studies to prove the point to a toddler.

Alas, all the research about the benefits of early education and care falls on deaf ears in many states and localities. In my own state of Massachusetts, low income families are eligible for pre-kindergarten (or pre-k) subsidies from the state, but there aren’t enough “slots” to go around. Over 16,000 kids are on the state’s waiting list. Governor Charlie Baker supports a “targeted investment” on early childhood education programs, focusing on low-income communities.

universal child careBut he misses the point of universal programs – that when everyone is eligible, there is broad support for a program. When only poor people are eligible, support is more limited. Instead of supporting pre-k, Baker, who sits on the board of the Phoenix Charter Academy Network, wants to prioritize funding more charter schools, which some argue undercuts funding for public schools and doesn’t result in “better performing” students anyway. But pitting early childhood education funding against K-12 funding is getting away from the point! High quality early childhood education has proven benefits for kids, and it allows parents to work, so it’s good for the economy.

flex

  1. Flexible work policies

These policies include flexibility WHEN we work and WHERE we work. They range from part-time work to flextime to telecommuting to job-sharing. Parents coming back from leave-time often appreciate being able to phase back into a full-time schedule (or even come back to part-time work), and workers with elder parents appreciate flexibility in scheduling, allowing them to juggle their care with work demands so that they can maintain their work productivity while attending to personal demands. But flexible work arrangements benefit all workers, regardless of caregiving responsibilities. While a number of companies have flexible work policies, they are not universally offered benefits. When a workplace doesn’t offer flexible work policies, the act of requesting to work flexibly is framed as a personal need and up to the discretion of a manager. In a study I directed at Boston College Center for Work & Family on flexible work policies, we learned that they increase employee satisfaction, and they have a positive effect on worker productivity. We need policies at the federal and local levels that encourage flexibility in the workplace.

pay 2

  1. Pay equity

In 2014, U.S. women working full time in the paid labor force were paid on average 79 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 21 percent. For people of color, the wage gap is even worse: African-American women earn 69 cents for every dollar paid men, and Latinas earn just 58 cents on the dollar compared to Latino men. The disparity grows wider when these women are compared to non-Hispanic white men.

The wage gap varies from state to state, with women in Louisiana, Utah and Wyoming experiencing the widest gap (65, 67 and 69% respectively, in relation to men’s wages), and women in D.C., New York and Hawai’i experiencing a smaller gap (90, 87, 86 respectively, in relation to men’s wages). The gap between women’s and men’s wages has narrowed since the 1970s, due largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation and to men’s wages rising at a slower rate.

working motherSeventy percent of mothers with children under 18 of age are in the paid labor force. Becoming a parent often has different outcomes for women and men. Taking time away from the workforce or working fewer hours, both of which are more common for mothers than fathers, hurts earnings. A report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), called Behind the Pay Gap, found that 10 years after college graduation, “23 percent of mothers were out of the workforce, and 17 percent worked part time. Among fathers, only 1 percent were out of the workforce, and only 2 percent worked part time”. While many mothers who leave the paid labor force do return full-time, they may encounter a “motherhood penalty”, in which they are perceived as less competent; and they are offered a lower salary compared to women without children. In contrast, fathers rarely take parental leave time; if they do, it’s roughly two weeks, and they do not suffer a penalty compared with other men. In fact, some research demonstrates that fathers actually receive a wage premium after having a child! While being a mother in the paid labor force doesn’t fully explain the gendered wage gap, it does have a measurable impact.

So in a sense, pay equity and paid parental leave are inherently connected. Even if taking time for parenting were the norm for women and men, it still makes more economic sense for the “lesser” earner to take advantage of an unpaid parental leave policy. If we had paid leave AND pay equity, the decision to take a parental leave wouldn’t be driven by economics.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009, states that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new paycheck affected by that discriminatory action, which creates more opportunity for employees who experience gendered wage discrimination to file lawsuits. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act has made a difference in “keeping the courthouse doors open so victims of discrimination have the opportunity to challenge unfair pay.”

lilly

But in recent years, progress has stalled, and it is clear that the pay gap will not disappear without policy intervention. The National Women’s Law Center says that the laws are weakened by a number of factors, including “a series of other court decisions that have opened loopholes in the law and by insufficient federal tools to detect and combat pay discrimination.”

Moreover, “too often wage disparities go undetected because employers maintain policies that punish employees who voluntarily share salary information with their coworkers. Efforts to ensure that workers really can address and remedy pay discrimination are far from complete”.

The Center says Congress needs to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to end pay discrimination “once and for all”.

rep rights

  1. Reproductive rights, or more broadly, the right to sexual and reproductive health

Why are reproductive rights a work and family issue? The right to regulate if, when and where one has a child is critical to women’s financial and emotional independence and, it can be argued, in some cases, for women’s survival. The decision to have a child is a major life change for any family, one that has major ramifications, both emotionally and financially. The decision to not have a child must be a woman’s prerogative. If women are to achieve equality in all facets of life (borrowing from the World Health Organization’s language on sexual and reproductive health), we must have contraceptive choice and safety and infertility services; improved maternal and new born health; reduced sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and other reproductive morbidities; the elimination of unsafe abortion and the provision of post-abortion care; and the promotion of healthy sexuality, including adolescent health, and reducing harmful practices.

Taken together, these policies would make a real difference in moving forward a feminist work and family agenda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my mother’s favorite holiday songs is “The Little Drummer Boy.” The “original version”:

 

While we have numerous recordings of this on various holiday records, the one I know best is the Bing Crosby and David Bowie version, “The Little Drummer Boy: Peace on Earth”, which is a different song than the original.

 

While listening to the song this week, as I was trying to get into the Holiday mood, the lyrics “peace on earth” kept coming to mind. In doing a bit of research about this somewhat odd duo of Bing Crosby and David Bowie, I discovered that the initial lyrics of the song didn’t include the phrase “peace on earth” (http://www.41051.com/xmaslyrics/drummer.html). My curiosity was peaked, and I continued to google (I mean research!) how the performance of these two music legends came to be.  While I can’t testify to the accuracy and validity of my sources, I read that David Bowie did not want to sing “The Little Drummer Boy” for Crosby’s Holiday special in 1977, and people wondered if Bing Crosby even knew who David Bowie was. However, it appears that at the time Bowie decided to be on this special TV show as a way to appear “normalized”. The story goes that the tune and lyrics for “Peace on Earth” were re-written by David Bowie, Ian Fraser, Larry Grossman, and Alan Kohan, just for this recording. If you listen closely, you can hear Crosby sing more of the traditional “Little Drummer Boy”, while Bowie brings in the phrase “Peace on Earth.” (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_on_Earth/Little_Drummer_Boy)

Though I’m not old enough to be part of Bowie’s “glory days” of glam rock, my older second cousins exposed me to this artist when I was a youngster, and I still have clear memories of seeing Labyrinth in the theater (i.e. staring David Bowie). Whether we attribute the meaning and lyrics of “Peace on Earth” to Bowie and his co-writers, I believe it is a beautiful song- one that still has meaning in a world not is still not peaceful, or for that matter, tolerant. See the powerful lyrics below, in which I bold the “Peace on Earth” message.

Peace on Earth, can it be?

(A newborn King to see, pa-ram-pam-pam-pam)

Years from now, perhaps we’ll see

(Our finest gifts we bring, pa-ram-pam-pam-pam)

See the day of glory

(See the fine King, pa-ram-pam-pam-pam, ra-pam-pam-pam)

See the day when men of good will

(Ra-pam-pam-pam)

Live in peace, live in peace again

(So newborn king, pa-ram-pam-pam-pam)

Peace on Earth

Can it be?

(Can we come?)

Every child must be made aware

Every child must be made to care

Care enough for his fellow man

To give all the love that he can

(Little baby, pa-ram-pam-pam-pam)

I pray my wish will come true

(I see the child, pa-ram-pam-pam-pam)

For my child and your child too

(I’ll take my trumpet, pa-ram-pam-pam-pam)

He’ll see the day of glory

(I’ll play my best for Him, pa-ram-pam-pam-pam, ra-pam-pam-pam)

See the day when men of good will

(Ra-pam-pam-pam)

Live in peace, live in peace again

(And he smiled at me, pa-ram-pam-pam-pam)

Peace on Earth

(Me and my drum)

Can it be?

Source:: http://www.songlyrics.com/bing-crosby-david-bowie/peace-on-earthlittle-drummer-boy-lyrics/)

So you can see that David Bowie wanted to strengthen the message of this song. Yes, the lyrics he wrote used gendered language, but perhaps we can forgive him because this was 1977, on the Bing Crosby show, when he was trying to appear “normal,” and normal was gendered at that time. But if you know David Bowie’s work you know he was not about dichotomous gender roles. Think of “Rebel, Rebel”, one  of my favorite songs by him.

Thus, dear Feminist Reflection readers, I leave you with this to reflect upon. This recording of The Little Drummer Boy was from 1977. It is now 2015. Where are we now? Do we have peace on earth?  No. We still live with bigotry, prejudices, and fear. Racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and related oppressions still exist. Gains have been made, such as the legalization of same sex-marriage by SOCUTUS and students and others willing to stand up for Black Lives Matters. Yet, you can still be fired for being gay in some states, though you can be legally married. Young black men are shot. We deny sanctuary to refuges, although our government policies contributed to this global battle that resulted in a refugee crisis. We use our “beliefs” based on fear instead of compassion and tolerance.

As we approach the new year – in the midst of this Holiday season – I ask, how can we accomplish peace on earth? And how can we carry this message forward beyond “the Holidays” where giving seems to be cherished and praised more? How can we make structural changes that will bring about peace? How do we teach children and each other tolerance? How do we give peace to our own selves in a chaotic world?

Whatever you believe or do not believe in, I say, in trying to the be the most inclusive I can, “Happy Holidays”, but please keep in mind how we can create peace on earth.

 

 

 

 

How many mass shootings occurred in the United States in 2015? It seems like a relatively simple question; it sounds like just a matter of counting them. Yet, it is challenging to answer for two separate reasons: one is related to how we define mass shootings and the other to reliable sources of data on mass shootings.  And neither of these challenges have easy solutions.

As scholars and teachers, we need to think about the kinds of events we should and should not include when we make claims about mass shootings.  Earlier this year, we posted a gendered analysis of the rise of mass shootings in the U.S. relying the Mass Shootings in America database produced by the Stanford Geospatial Center. That dataset shows an incredible increase in mass shootings in 2015. Through June of 2015, we showed that there were 43 mass shootings in the U.S. The next closest year in terms of number of mass shootings was 2014, which had 16 (see graph below).  That particular dataset relies heavily on mass shootings that achieve a good deal of media attention.  So, it’s possible that the increase is due to an increase in reporting on mass shootings, rather than an increase in the actual number of mass shootings that occurred.  Though, if and which mass shootings are receiving more media attention are certainly valid questions as well.

Mass Shootings (Stanford) 1If you’ve been following the news on mass shootings, you may have noticed that the Washington Post has repeatedly reported that there have been more mass shootings than days in 2015. That claim relies on a different dataset produced by ShootingTracker.com. And both the Stanford Geospatial Center dataset and ShootingTracker.com data differ from the report on mass shootings regularly updated by Mother Jones.* For instance, below are the figures from ShootingTracker.com for the years 2013-2015.

Mass Shootings, 2013-2015 (ShootingTracker.com)1For a detailed day-by-day visualization of the mass shootings collected in the ShootingTracker.com dataset between 2013 and 2015, see below (click each graph to enlarge).

Mass Shootings 2013

Mass Shootings 2014

Mass Shootings 2015

 

 

 

 

The reason for this discrepancy has to do with definition in addition to data collection.  The dataset produced by the Stanford Geospatial Center is not necessarily exhaustive.  But they also rely on different definitions to decide what qualifies as a “mass shooting” in the first place.

The Stanford Geospatial Center’s Mass Shootings in America database defines mass shootings as shooting incidents that are not identifiably gang- or drug-related with 3 or more shooting victims (not necessarily fatalities) not including the shooter.  The dramatic spike apparent in this dataset in 2015 is likely exaggerated due to online media and increased reporting on mass shootings in recent years.  ShootingTracker.com claims to ensure a more exhaustive sample (if over a shorter period of time).  These data include any incidents in which four or more people are shot and/or killed at the same general time and location.  Thus, some data do not include drug and gang related shootings or cases of domestic violence, while others do.  What is important to note is that neither dataset requires that a certain number of people is actually killed.  And this differs in important ways from how the FBI has counted these events.

Neither ShootingTracker.com nor the Stanford Geospatial Center dataset rely on the definition of mass shootings used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Supplementary Homicide Reporting (SHR) program which tracks the number of mass shooting incidents involving at least four fatalities (not including the shooter). The table below indicates how different types of gun-related homicides are labeled by the FBI.

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 2.05.18 PMOften, the media report on events that involve a lot of shooting, but fail to qualify as “mass murders” or “spree killings” by the FBI’s definition.  Some scholarship has suggested that we stick with the objective definition supplied by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  And when we do that, whether mass shootings are on the rise or not becomes less easy to say.  Some scholars suggest that they are not on the rise, while others suggest that they are.  And both of these perspectives, in addition to others, influence the media.

One way of looking at this issue is asking, “Who’s right?”  Which of these various ways of measuring mass shootings, in other words, is the most accurate?  This is, we think, the wrong question to be asking.  What is more likely true is that we’ll gather different kinds of information with different definitions – and that is an important realization, and one that ought to be taken more seriously.  For instance, does the racial and ethnic breakdown of shooters look similar or different with different definitions?  No matter which definition you use, men between the ages of 20 and 40 are almost the entire dataset.  We also know less than we should about the profiles of the victims (those injured and killed).  And we know even less about how those profiles might change as we adopt different definitions of the problem we’re measuring.

There is some recognition of this fact as, in 2013, President Obama signed the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act into law, granting the attorney general authority to study mass killings and attempted mass killings.  The result was the production of an FBI study of “active shooting incidents” between 2000 and 2013 in the U.S.  The study defines active shooting incidents as:

“an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” Implicit in this definition is that the subject’s criminal actions involve the use of firearms. (here: 5)

The study discovered 160 incidents between 2000 and 2013.  And, unlike mass murders (events shown to be relatively stable over the past 40 years), this study showed active shooter incidents to be on the rise.  This study is important as it helps to illustrate that the ways we have operationalized mass shootings in the past are keeping us from understanding all that we might be able to about them.  The graph below charts the numbers of incidents documented by some of the different datasets used to study mass shootings.

Mass Shootings Comparison

Fox and DeLateur suggested that it is a myth that mass shootings are on the rise using data collected by the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report.  We added a trendline to that particular dataset on the graph to illustrate that even with what is likely the most narrow definition (in terms of deaths), the absolute number of mass shootings appears to be on the rise. We do not include the ShootingTracker.com data here as those rates are so much higher that it renders much of what we can see on this graph invisible.  What is also less known is what kind of overlap there is between these different sources of data.

All of this is to say that when you hear someone say that mass shootings are on the rise, they are probably right.  But just how right they are is a matter of data and definition.  And we need to be more transparent about the limits of both.

_____________________

*Mother Jones defines mass shootings as single incidents that take place in a public setting focusing on cases in which a lone shooter acted with the apparent goal of committing indiscriminate mass murder and in which at least four people were killed (other than the shooter).  Thus, the Mother Jones dataset does not include gang violence, armed robbery, drug violence or domestic violence cases.  Some have suggested that not all of shootings they include are consistent with their definition (like Columbine or San Bernardino, both of which had more than one shooter).

Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, I remained vigilant to my surroundings and viewed feminist consciousness as something natural. I was painfully conscious of racial and socio-economic disparities, and I had a keen eye for the ways in which internal and external social class divisions affected my community, not to mention the daily hassles of gender inequality that surrounded me. I could not fathom as a teenager that people studied this in order to learn it. Upon seeing a course listed, The Sociology of Gender, I thought, “Who needs a textbook to figure this out?” I was living through it on the mean streets of South Central and the neighborhood that bordered this, Compton, California. I volunteered with the Women’s Infant Care (WIC) Program as early as 13 years old as part of a Summer Youth Enrichment Program for low-income inner city youth. And I remained the acutely aware survey-minded sociologist about local community social problems. The dilapidated geriatric neighborhood of Los Angeles – where some people raced through to head toward the 110 Harbor Freeway – was the everyday geographic space that formed my community. I never thought that people would invest time learning how to be a feminist with regards to these issues that women of color face each and every day. I was a natural one, or, in the words of Beyoncé, “I woke up like this.” However, things changed when I entered the Ivory Tower of Academia as an undergraduate.

I started out learning about feminism after reading Patricia Hill Collins’ work and then juxtaposing that to Sandra Harding’s work. I have always been fascinated with how discourses across feminisms worked. It was through this fascination that I developed an understanding that in addition to the production of knowledge, we also need to build relationships and coalitions around shared and different realities we experience as women. It is difficult capturing the particular realities that reproduce economic inequality for women as a unit, and how our binary classifications serve to label and legitimate the disempowerment of women as a group, unless we have discussions about these around the kitchen table. In fact, this is how we initially started building feminist coalitions around our feminist social locations with gender oppression and privilege. I have been reflecting upon sex and gender more and more these days. And I’ve been thinking about ways in which issues that relate to gender also relate to race and class and sexuality.

A well seasoned feminism makes no exceptions. The well seasoned feminist understands that full equality is like a full course well-balanced meal. It is also hearty and filling. It is like fresh baked ziti or gumbo or quiche. Upon reflection of the many different feminisms I have learned about, I always arrive back to the question that led me to these critiques in the first place—questions that interrogate the common core of our “womanism”, “being fully human,” the embracing of that shared part of us that we come to understand through our correspondences at conferences, research/teaching collaborations and informal table talk. To some extent we are like a well-seasoned dish. We have tasted some of the flavor or even have personal knowledge of what it feels like to experience the struggles across a socially unequal landscape and the work we do in our perpetuation and/or reduction of social inequalities.

I am reminded of a cold day in the fall at the University of California Davis while taking Judith Stacey‘s Sociology of Gender course. I was sitting in Olson Hall feeling as if I would never transition through my first semester of undergraduate studies. And in walks another student—a strong brave black woman- who seemed to instantly understand what I was experiencing. She looked at me and said, “You’ll be okay. This is the way first semesters go.” Her voice carried an aura of wisdom about my trepidation with beginning my academic studies at a predominately white college. She was speaking to me; she was speaking to the gendered experience of being a woman in college; she was speaking to the racial experience of being a black woman in college; and she was speaking to the classed experience of being a woman of color from a low income working-class family who was putting a lot of faith in what a college degree from a top-ranked university might provide for her future.

How could I feel comforted by this sense of feminist empowerment that she fostered within me? How was I able to pick up and carry on? I somehow knew that she understood the gendered part of my experience as a woman in an androcentric, masculine thought-based academic setting. Is this not why feminists pressed so hard in the 60s for Women Studies departments? After she said this to me, I regained my academic momentum, and immediately got up, walked to Shields Avenue towards the memorial student union and embraced my new experience. What I later came to realize, however, is that before I even knew about academic feminism or what it meant to take a feminist course from Dr. Judith Stacey, I was embraced by something that was very feminist outside of my neighborhood community in Los Angeles. This realization led me to another discovery: feminism is in many ways very abstract; it is knowing that you are not alone in a world that chooses whether or not to understand your gendered reality.

Taking these lessons and looking back on my life, I see that my life from 13 years old until the present has been rich with musings about all things feminist and the multiple reflections of what a feminist is and could be. This, I found, is what makes me tick. And this is what makes me a stronger feminist. I can appreciate the very struggles that we have across multiple identities. It is a social scientific fact that in some spaces, we as feminists are more privileged over our sisters, and in other spaces, we bear the burden of oppression in relation to our feminist sisters. None of us, however, would deny that there is an eclipsing of worldviews that bring women together under the canopy of shared understandings, narratives and collective biographies. Whether it’s fighting for women’s suffrage and/or trying to get equal pay, our challenges and struggles are collective and require us to fight together. Recognizing that our differences make us stronger is a goal toward which we can work more diligently.  This act of working together is most effective when we collectively share in a social consciousness, collectively identifying as ‘feminists’ toward our common goal of challenging and reducing social inequalities.

imagesMy best understandings of this strong feminist force becomes most apparent when I look at feminisms through the lens of multiple reflections—many feminists, many experiences. These experiences frame a set of points that represent feminist coordinates reflecting diverse feminist standpoints. Together, our feminist standpoints challenge us to change present social and economic conditions among ourselves and within the larger society.

I close with a multi layered multifaceted quilt of feminist reflections which synthesizes my early teenage years up to the present day. My initial experiences with a natural feminist social consciousness and later learning it through an academic lens has enabled me to connect the importance of building strong feminist coalitions across our differences. We as feminists represent a collective joined by our diverse life experiences, akin to a resilient quilt that is sewn and stitched together from many different pieces of fabric (life experiences). It is through our collective strength that we make each other better in our work to challenge and reduce social inequalities. I am grateful that we are together as one multifaceted, multi layered quilt in this struggle.

__________________________________

WallaceGail Wallace is a Research Fellow at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. She specializes in Urban|Rural Health Policy, Health Disparities across Race, Class and Gender along with the Health of Minority Populations.

“Resort Ready Style,” the subject line reads. Another day another email from the retailer Janie and Jack, a manufacturer of high-end baby and children’s clothing. “Exclusive Debut: Be first to shop coastal looks just right for a sunny escape.” A photo of a small white boy, maybe 4-years old, accompanies this caption. He wears red khaki shorts, a blue shawl neck sweater, lace-up shoes sans socks, and what looks to be a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses. He’s cute, with his blonde hair swept to one side, a toothy grin, and leaning casually against the side of a wooden sailboat.

It’s December, so I’m not sure who is getting away with a sockless coastal vacation in the Northeast. But what I find so interesting about Janie and Jack—and other children’s retailers like it—is its codification of “taste,” association with leisure, and representation of children as small adults. By the time we are adults, we usually understand our taste as something that reflects our personal preferences, our supposed and somehow inborn orientation to style. Examining the marketing and sale of children’s clothing, however, makes it clear that we are acculturated into style; children, after all, are not purchasing their own Fair Isle sweater pants.

 Image Source: www.janieandjack.com
Image Source: www.janieandjack.com

Pierre Bourdieu was a French Sociologist who, in his book on Distinction, developed the concept habitus to describe the social origins of taste. It’s a way to see inequalities in our relationships to cultural artifacts and activities and on our bodies. For example, while the ability to purchase a $119 wool suit blazer in size 3-6 months requires economic privilege, easily imagining and desiring to see one’s baby in it also reflects a long held class location and taken-for-granted world of pleasure and pomp. Importantly, Bourdieu notes, taste leads to distinction, by which we rank people according to “highbrow” vs. “lowbrow” or “classy” vs. “trashy.” Social hierarchies, then, are reflected in and essentialized through the development of taste over our lifetimes.

"First Fancy." Image Source: www.janieandjack.com
“First Fancy.” Image Source: www.janieandjack.com
Faux Fur Collar Cape: $89. Image Source: www.janieandjack.com
Faux Fur Collar Cape: $89. Image Source: www.janieandjack.com

Don’t get me wrong, these kid models are beautiful. And I receive daily emails from Janie and Jack because I popped for a $72 sweater and beret for my daughter before she was born (which we forgot to put her in before she was too big for them!). I figured she could wear the outfit to meet her Great Uncle, who is an antique dealer and interior designer. I almost went for the orange dress with a Hermès print, instead. My ability to recognize Hermès and to buy the sweater and beret say something about my introduction to high-end fashions and financial means. But the feeling that my daughter would better reflect her Uncle’s style in a beret says something about my lack of membership to and attempt to pass in a particularly classed group that demonstrates a fastidious pedigree.

Polo Sweater: $52. Image Source: www.janieandjack.com
Polo Sweater: $52. Image Source: www.janieandjack.com

There is more to say here about the social significance of the children’s clothing market, especially in regards to race and gender, as well as to conceptions of children as small adults or people-in-progress. As we peer through shop windows, relate to fashion models and mannequins, and to others who do and do not share our tastes, Bourdieu’s lesson about ingrained orientations to representations of class are as relevant as ever.

 

 

 

 

For more on style, class, and inequalities, see Barber’s article on The Well-Coiffed Man: Class, Race, and Heterosexual Masculinity in the Hair Salon and chapter on “Styled Masculinity: Men’s Consumption of Salon Hair Care and the Construction of Difference” in Exploring Masculinities, edited by C.J. Pascoe and Tristan Bridges.