Archive: Jan 2016

SWSAre you attending the 2016 SWS Winter Meetings this coming week in Memphis? If so, some of the Feminist Reflections Team will be presenting the following workshop/panel!

Encouraging Justice, Feminisms, & Diverse Voices

Through Feminist Public Sociology: 

A panel/workshop on blogging as public sociology

Are you interested in blogging as public sociology? How can sociologists use blogging to promote justice, feminisms and diverse voices?

Come join us on Friday, 4-5:30 in Louis XVI!

Panel Description:  In Feminist Reflections, we draw upon our personal experiences, linking them to our research and current social justice topics. In this panel, we will delve into the challenges of doing feminist public sociology to encourage justice and recognition of different feminist voices. We will share our experiences in order to encourage others to engage in feminist public sociology, especially the voices often left out.

The panel will consist of a short introduction by the editors and then discussion with participants about how to “do” public feminist sociology that draws our attention to feminisms, diverse voices, and the relationship between public feminist sociology and social justice. Panelists include Kristen Barber, Gail Wallace, Mindy Fried, Trina Smith and Tristan Bridges.

Hope to see you in Memphis!


1498787_10202083647508448_647008496_oThe 2016 Oscar nominations were just announced.  This is the second year in a row that all 20 acting nominees are white–prompting the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.  Matthew Hughey wrote on this issue last year as well.  The announcement got me thinking about inequality in film.  The nominees are selected by just over 7,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences–so they are elected by a panel of peers.  But members of the AMPAS are not automatically voting members.  You have to apply, and your application has to be sponsored by existing member of the branch of the Academy for which you would like to be considered (here).  So, while the Oscars are awarded by a panel of peers, who make up the list of people who qualify as “peers” in the first place is a political matter.  And just like anywhere else, knowing someone who knows someone likely plays a role in gaining access.

Sociologists who study networks are often interested in how social networks provide access to various things people might want to acquire (wealth, status, access, “success” more generally, etc.).  This is why we have a concept for just how networked you are: “social capital.”  And certainly lots of people are complaining about the fact that Hollywood is an old, white, boy’s club and attempting to change this.  Indeed, Genna Davis founded an institute to study gender in the media.  April Reign (an editor at Broadway Black and NU Tribe Magazine) founded the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite after the all-white slate of nominees were announced last year.  And Maureen Dowd of The New York Times wrote an extensive article last year on the entrenched sexism that keeps women from occupying central roles in Hollywood.  Jessica Piven, one of directors quoted in the article, said:

“I feel that there is something going on underneath all of this which is the idea that women aren’t quite as interesting as men. That men have heroic lives, do heroic things, are these kind of warriors in the world, and that women have a certain set of rooms that they have to operate in.”

This belief system results in a network saturated with men and with precious few opportunities for women–and even fewer for women of color.  And as Effie Brown’s interaction with Matt Damon in “Project Greenlight” brought up, conversations about challenging the lack of diversity in Hollywood (similar to challenging the lack of diversity elsewhere) are often met with the presumption that diversity means compromising on ability, talent and creativity.  Entrenched sexism and inequality is a struggle to challenge in any institution because… well, because it’s entrenched.  So, it’s easy to feel like the most qualified guy who just happens to also be white without fully appreciating the fact that being a white guy might have been a big part of what gave you a foot in the door in the first place.

To think about this empirically, consider the party game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. The idea plays on the theory of “six degrees of separation”—part of a sociological puzzle called the “small world problem” asking just how connected everyone in the world is to everyone else.  The theory suggests that we are no more than six connections away from anyone in the world. In the early 1990s, some students at Albright University came up with the idea for the game: pick any actor and see if you can connect that actor with Kevin Bacon through shared movie appearances with other actors as the connections. Take Angela Bassett for example. Angela Bassett was in Sunshine State (2002) with Charlayne Woodard who was in He Said, She Said (1991) with… Kevin Bacon. So, Angela Bassett has a Bacon number of 2.Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 4.18.58 PM

Later, a group of computer science students at the University of Virginia produced the network of actors to see how “central” Kevin Bacon actually is using (you can play around with the network on their site, And, as it turns out, Kevin Bacon is a central actor—he’s been in films with over 3,000 other actors and more than 99% of all of the almost 2 million actors listed on can be connected with Kevin Bacon in 5 connections or less. But, he’s not the most central actor. He’s actually the 411th most centrally connected actor (you can see the top 1,000 most “central” actors here). But, Kevin Bacon does share some things in common with the most central actor (Eric Roberts): they’re both white, they’re both men, and they were both born within two years of each other.  Coincidence?

When I encountered the list, I noticed that there weren’t many women. There are only 3 in the top 100 most central actors.  And all three are white.  So, I wrote a script to data mine some basic information on the top 1,000 to see who they are using data from (birth year) as well as (which lists race and gender).*  The list, perhaps unsurprisingly, is dominated by men (81.75%) and by white people (87.8%). Below is the breakdown for proportions of actors among the top 1,000 most central actor by gender and race.IMDB - Gender and RaceIt’s a powerful way of saying that Hollywood continues to be a (white) boy’s club. But they’re also an old white boy’s club as well. I also collected data on birth year. And while the 50’s were the best decade to be born in if you want to be among the 1,000 most “central” actors today, the data for the men skews a bit older.** This lends support to the claim that men do not struggle to find roles as much as women do as they age–which may also support the claim that there are more complex roles available to men (as a group) than women.IMDB Birth Year - MenIMDB Birth Year - WomenThe other things I noticed quickly were that: (1) Hispanic and Asian men among the top 1,000 actors list are extremely likely to be typecast as racial stereotypes, and (2) there are more multiracial women among the top 1,000 actors than either Hispanic or Asian women.

Part of what this tells us is that we like to watch movies about white people and men… white men mostly.  But part of why we like these movies is that these are the movies in which people are investing and that get produced.  As a result of this, there are a critical mass of super-connected white men in Hollywood.  So, it shouldn’t surprise us that white actors dominate the Oscar nominations. They’ve been hoarding social capital in the industry since it began.  #OscarsSoWhite


* To get the data, I wrote a Python script using the Unofficial IMDb API and the’s API. The results were able to read data for gender for all 1,000 people on the list but only gender, birth year, and race for 959 of the 1,000 people in the dataset. The other 41 had incomplete information on both sites. And I didn’t bother to clean the data up any more.

**Part of becoming a more central actor in the network of all actors has to do with having been a part of a mass of filmed projects with a variety of different actors.  The most central actor – Eric Roberts – has worked on projects with more than 8,000 other actors over the course of his career.  And being alive longer (perhaps obviously) helps.  But, it’s not all older actors.  And you don’t have to be living to be on this list.  But, actors born in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s aren’t as central (as decade-based groups).  So, some of this is also having been in your 20’s, 30’s and 40’s between 1970 and 1990 which was a big period of growth for Hollywood.

Originally posted at Inequality by (Interior) Design

“…it’s a perfect example of how a seemingly inconsequential—or half-destructive act—like writing on the wall can actually promote social change… [simply by] making their gender visible on the wall.” —Jessica Pabón

I love graffiti art.  And I’m not talking about the sexist and racist tags you see in men’s bathroom stalls.  I’m talking about the artwork decorating urban spaces that graffiti artists refer to as “pieces.”  Graffiti is an interesting art form because the artists are–as Richard Lachmann put it–“involved simultaneously in an art world and a deviant subculture” (here: 230).

When walking past a particularly involved piece, I often find myself wondering lots of things.  “Who took the time to paint this?”  “Was it free hand or did the artist have a plan before starting?”  “What does it say?”  Or when I can read the writing, “What does it mean?”  “When did the artist do this?–In the middle of the night?”  “How did they get away with it?”  These are fleeting thoughts, but I’m always struck by the reclamation of public space.  It’s such a powerful, public statement, claiming and labeling social space.  As Jessica Pabón puts it:

Graffiti is a form of writing and writing is fundamentally a form of communicating.  So these writers are reclaiming public space.  They’re asserting their presence.  They’re saying, “I was here!… and here, and here, and here.” (here)

Rather than considering it a deviant act aimed at defacing property, sociologists have found that graffiti artists are drawn by twin processes of appreciating its aesthetic appeal in addition to considering graffiti a practice through which they can make friends and form and solidify communities (here).Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 2.53.05 PMIn Elijah Anderson‘s Code of the Street, he addresses the ways that boys and young men navigate public space and engage in performances of self that garner “respect”–a resource providing status and safety.  While the book is primarily about boys and men, masculinity is not a dominant topic of analysis for Anderson.  Yet, his analysis of “the street” treats it as a masculine space–a space in which masculine identities and reputations are formed, validated, “put on,” challenged, and “on the line.”  Graffiti might be understood as part of Anderson’s code.  Graffiti has a very “masculine” feel to it, and–like Anderson’s work–scholarship on graffiti often implicitly assumes that it’s boys and men writing, drawing, and painting on walls.  Why men are doing this, and what graffiti means is the subject of the majority of research attention.  Less attention is given to analyzing why (or possibly if) girls and women might engage in graffiti too.  Jessica Pabón (above) articulates some of the ways women have been able to accomplish this within the masculinized subcultural arena of graffiti art.

image014Pabón’s research led her to realize that graffiti culture is increasingly digital.  “Crews” no longer span only neighborhoods, but are increasingly globalized through the use of technology.  Indeed, digital spaces provide women graffiti artists a community that might not have been able to exist previously.  This transformation in graffiti culture has enabled the emergence of all-women graffiti crews.  Some of the women Pabón studied were also a part of graffiti crews composed primarily of men.  Yet, technological changes in this subculture, relied upon by women artists feeling isolated, enabled the emergence of all-women crews.

[G]raffiti culture [is] moving into a more publicly accessible (yet, still counterpublic) domain as it increasingly exists online; the remarkable increase[s in]… female writers’ access to and presence within the culture; [challenging] the discourse of place itself, now slightly removed from the hyperlocal, reconfigured away from “traditional” notions of authenticity rooted in identity and into those rooted in performance and participation. (Pabón here)

image028All-women crews composed of women around the world challenge and support each other and their art form digitally through the creation of new spaces for visibility, communication, and support.

Interestingly, Pabón found that most of the women graffiti artists she interviewed did not identify as feminists.  Yet Pabón was initially interested in the topic because she understood it as an incredibly feminist act.  And, as she later discovered, it is.  Because graffiti is (arguably) an already-gendered act–by which I mean cultural assumptions lead us to presume graffiti artists are men–women face a unique dilemma: gendering their artwork in ways that “out” them as women.

No matter the words, you’re thinking about this guy [the graffiti artist], not that girl.  So if this girl wants to be recognized, ‘Hey I did that graffiti,’ as a girl who did that, she has to mark it some way in her art. (Pabón, here)

Screen shot 2013-05-02 at 10.29.54 AMThese small gendered “marks” are political; they work to allow women access to this “masculine” subculture and practice in ways that simultaneously (and often subtly) challenge the gender of graffiti art.  Naming their crews the “Stick Up Girlz” and “PMS” is one way they publicly announce their gender.  Some incorporate cultural symbols of femininity in small ways into their pieces, like ribbons, bows and hearts.  Potentially unrecognizable to the casual observer, graffiti artists incorporate elaborate methods of “signing” their artwork, and these are some of the ways that women graffiti artists gender their signatures in ways that might be read as small acts of gender resistance.

The term “grooming,” hairstylists told me, is important in recoding beauty for men. During my research at high-service men’s salons, which focus on creating a pampered, “elevated experience” for their clients, I explored what it takes to make beauty masculinizing for some men. Veronica, the owner of one men’s salon, refers to her business as a “grooming lounge” so that clients invest in the space, services, and products as distinctly masculine. Beauty has been linked to women and femininity; to sell men on the commercial beauty industry, so the thinking goes, it has to be repackaged. This repackaging of beauty as “grooming” has been effective for Veronica, as well as for large cosmetic companies.

Men’s grooming is a growing subsector of the beauty industry, with already established and emerging product lines like Nivea Men, The Lab Series, Dove Men+Care, Jack Black, and Lauder for Men. And salons dedicated solely to shoring-up men’s hair, eyebrows, and nails are popping up across the country. Market research companies announce varying revenue numbers, but they all agree men’s grooming sales are in the billions and growing exponentially. This is cause for intrigue among social scientists like myself as well as journalists like Sabri Ben-Achor, who recently reported for NPR’s Marketplace on “How it became OK for guys to take care of themselves.”

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We are thrilled here at Feminist Reflections that two of our contributing editors were interviewed as academic experts for Ben-Achor’s piece, including Tristan Bridges and myself. Lisa Wade, of our sister blog Sociological Images, is also featured. The article focuses on “why now?” What is it about the current cultural climate in the United States that makes the production, marketing, and sale of men’s grooming so successful, and why didn’t this happen sooner?

Listen to the NPR Marketplace report, here:


*I use pseudonyms to refer to my field sites and research participants, and this data come from my forthcoming book, Styling Masculinity: Gender, Class, and Inequality in the Men’s Grooming Industry.