The barbershop holds a special place in American culture. With its red, white, and blue striped poles, dark naugahyde chairs, and straight razor shaves, the barbershop has been a place where men congregate to shore-up their stubble and get a handle on their hair. From a sociological perspective, the barbershop is an interesting place because of its historically homosocial character, where men spend time with other men. In the absence of women, men create close relationships with each other. Some might come daily to talk with their barbers, discuss the news, or play chess. Men create community in these places, and community is important to people’s health and well-being.

But is the barbershop disappearing? If so, is anything taking its place?

In my study of high-service men’s salons—dedicated to the primping and preening of an all male clientele—hair stylists described the “old school” barbershop as a vanishing place. They explained that men are seeking out a pampered grooming experience that the bare-bones barbershop with its corner dusty tube television doesn’t offer. The licensed barbers I interviewed saw these newer men’s salons as a “resurgence” of “a men-only place” that provides more “care” to clients than the “dirty little barbershop.” And those barbershops that are sticking around, said Roxy, one barber, are “trying to be a little more upscale.” She encourages barbers to “repaint and add flat-screen TVs.”

Tony's Barber Shop.
Tony’s Barber Shop.

When I asked clients of one men’s salon, The Executive, if they ever had their hair cut at a barbershop, they explained that they did not fit the demographic. Barbershops, they said, are for old men with little hair to worry about or young boys who don’t have anyone to impress. As professional white-collar men, they see themselves as having outgrown the barbershop. A salon, with its focus on detailed haircuts and various services, including manicures, pedicures, hair coloring, and body waxing, help these mostly white men to obtain what they consider to be a “professional” appearance. “Professional men… they know that if they look successful, that will create connotations to their clients or customers or others that they work with—that they are smart, that they know what they’re doing,” said Gill, a client of the salon and vice-president in software, who reasoned why men go to the salon.

Indeed the numbers support the claim that barbershops are dwindling, and it may indeed be due to white well-to-do men’s shifting attitudes about what a barbershop is, what it can offer, and who goes there. (In my earlier research on a small women’s salon [see here], one male client told me the barbershop is a place for the mechanic, or “grease-monkey,” who doesn’t care how he looks, and for “machismo” men who prefer a pile of Playboy magazines rather than the finery of a salon). According to Census data, there is a fairly steady decline in the number of barbershops over twenty years. From 1992-2012, we saw a 22.5% decrease in barbershops in the United Stated, with a slight uptick in 2013.

U.S. Census Bureau, Statistics of U.S. Businesses,
U.S. Census Bureau, Statistics of U.S. Businesses,

But these attitudes about the barbershop as a place of ol’, as a fading institution that provides outdated fades, is both a classed and raced attitude. With all the nostalgia for the barbershop in American culture, there is surprisingly little academic writing about it. It is telling, though, that research considering the importance of the barbershop in men’s lives focuses on black barbershops. The corner barbershop is alive and well in black communities and it serves an important role in the lives of black men. In her book, Barbershops, Bibles, and BET, Political Scientist and TV host, Melissa Harris-Perry, wrote about everyday barbershop talk as important for understanding collective efforts to frame black political thought. Scholars also find the black barbershop remains an important site for building communities and economies in black neighborhoods and for socializing young black boys (see here, here, and here).

And so asking if the barbershop is vanishing is the wrong question. Rather, we should be asking: Where and for whom is the barbershop vanishing? And where barbershops continue as staples of a community, what purpose do they serve? Where they are disappearing, what is replacing them and what are the social relations underpinning the emergence of these new places?

In some white hipster neighborhoods, the barbershop is actually making a comeback. In his article, What the Barbershop Renaissance Says about Men, journalist and popular masculinities commentator, Thomas Page McBee, writes that these places provide sensory pleasures whereby men can channel a masculinity that existed unfettered in the “good old days.” The smell of talcum powder and the presence of shaving mugs help men to grapple with what it means to be a man at a time when masculinity is up for debate. But in a barbershop that charges $45 for a haircut, some men are left out. And so, in a place that engages tensions between ideas of nostalgic masculinity and a new sort of progressive man, we may very well see opportunities for real change fall by the wayside. The hipster phenomenon, after all, is a largely white one that appropriates symbols of white working-class masculinity: think white tank tops with tattoos or the plaid shirts of lumbersexuals. (See Tristan Bridges’ posts on hipster masculinity and the borrowing of working-class masculine aesthetics, and his post with D’Lane Compton on the lumbersexual).

When we return to neighborhoods where barbershops are indeed disappearing, and being replaced with high-service men’s salons like those in my forthcoming book, Styling Masculinityit is important to put these shifts into context. They are not signs of a disintegrating by-gone culture of manhood. Rather, they are part of a transformation of white, well-to-do masculinity that reflects an enduring investment in distinguishing men along the lines of race and class according to where they have their hair cut. And these men are still creating intimate relationships; but instead of immersing themselves in communities of men, they are often building confidential relationships with women hair stylists.


*Thank you to Trisha Crashaw, graduate student at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, for her work on the included graph. few years ago, I was on the treadmill at the gym, trying to undo a day of sitting and staring at my computer, when a casual “gym friend” joined me on an adjacent treadmill. She noticed that I hadn’t been there much lately, and wanted to know why. I didn’t know her well and could have manufactured some quick story, but she had always been so warm and friendly, so I decided to tell her the truth: my 97-year-old father had passed away. Her response was immediate and kind, as she empathized with how hard it is to lose a parent. Then she looked up to the ceiling of the gym, and as I followed her gaze wondering what had stolen her attention, she said in a reassuring voice that “he is in heaven now,” and then looked back at me with a smile. Not knowing how to respond, I smiled back wanly and increased the incline on the treadmill. I wish I could believe my dad was in heaven and, as my partner says, I hope to be happily surprised…

She then asked about the funeral, and I explained that we had it right away because I’m Jewish and that’s what we do. Apparently distracted by the realization that I was a Jew, she paused, and then told me that she had many arguments with her Catholic friends who believe “the Jews killed Christ.” (Wait a minute – where did that lovely empathy go?!) Just as I was thinking about an exit strategy, she came back to earth and said, “It’s crazy that people of all faiths don’t get along.” And as I was mentally excusing her for that detour, she added, “except for the Muslims.” With those words, I was hooked again. I looked back at her and must have appeared surprised because she smiled uncomfortably…and then told me she worried that Muslims – presumably all Muslims – were terrorists. Wasn’t it time for me to leave the cardio area and work on my abs or something? But no, I couldn’t leave now because I saw this as a “teachable moment.”

Her comments really irked me. Here was a kind-hearted, well-meaning person who lacked real knowledge about Muslims, and seemed to be swallowing whole the Fox News/right wing extremist narrative. It upset me that people like her – presumably good people – can be so vulnerable to wrong thinking. Moreover, the current array of bigoted GOP candidates – fueled by and reinforced by right-wing media outlets – are able to reinforce people’s fears into a frightening political direction. his analysis of why Donald Trump is gaining traction in this presidential race, scholar and activist Noam Chomsky says that Trump is “evidently appealing to deep feelings of anger, fear, frustration, hopelessness, probably among sectors like those that are seeing an increase in mortality, something unheard of apart from war and catastrophe.”  Trump supporters, he argues, “are sinking into hopelessness, despair and anger”.  Instead of directing these feelings against the structures and institutions that are “the agents of the dissolution of their lives and worlds”, Trump incites people to blame “those who are even more harshly victimized,” including Muslims.  Add to this the fact that Trump is an entertainer! He cushions his message of hatred of “the other” with the bombast of a reality TV delivery. Chomsky warns us that these “signs are familiar,” as they “evoke some memories of the rise of European fascism.” hearken back to the consistent message I heard throughout my life from my political activist father – that we must stand up for our beliefs. In the 1940s and 1950s, he was a very effective union organizer, fighting for better wages and working conditions for working men and women. But in 1954, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to answer the now-infamous question, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party (CP) of the United States?” After much emotional wrangling, he decided to challenge the committee’s legality. As a result, he was “blacklisted” from employment in the U.S. and could only find work selling life insurance for 15 years through a Canadian firm. Again in 1965, he was subpoenaed to testify before the Committee. By that time, he had become a prolific playwright, writing about his experiences within the labor movement in an attempt to give voice to working people. His life choices affected his family. We lost friends and were rejected by family members. And yet I have internalized – without a doubt – the importance of challenging injustices.

So what did I say to my treadmill partner when she brought up her fear of radicalized Muslims? I told her that the media would like us to believe that all Muslims are terrorists, but most Muslims are peaceful people. Didn’t the “Koran incite Muslims to commit terrorist acts?” she asked. I replied that I knew that was completely false, drawing upon knowledge I have gained over the years.

Did I say enough to challenge her thinking? I’m not sure. There is that moment when we may ask ourselves, “Am I going to challenge this person? How do I do it respectfully? Am I risking their wrath? Will I feel uncomfortable? While it might be a conversation with just one person, I have no doubt that these interactions can make a difference in changing people’s minds. Maybe they will be more thoughtful or less reactive. But I believe that if we remain silent, we are – in a way – complicit.

There are many ways to fight misinformation and to work for a better, more equitable world. We can organize, write, teach, and, sometimes, just talk with a friend, colleague, or acquaintance. And we shouldn’t be afraid to do so.

In my introduction to Sociology class, I use trends in baby names to introduce students to sociological research and inquiry. It’s a fun way to show students just how much we can learn from what might feel like idiosyncratic details of our lives. I start by showing students the top 10 boy and girl names from the most recent year of data available (along with their relative frequencies). After this, I show them the most popular names and their relative frequencies from 100 years earlier. There are some names on both lists; but for the most part, the names on the latter list sound “old” to students. Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 12.37.09 PM

When I ask students to characterize the types of names they see on the older list of names, someone usually says the names sound more “traditional.” I tell them that in 100 years, someone will probably say that about the most recent list of names they’re looking at: these future students will have a different idea of what makes a name “traditional.”

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If you’re interested, someone produced these two GIF files that depict the most popular names by state between 1960 and 2012. I like to show one of these while I’m talking with students about what what names can help us learn. I ask students to raise their hand when they see their own name or the name of their best friend. As we get into the 80’s and 90’s, lots of hands start going up. But the GIFs are also interesting because they are a powerful visualization of the spread of cultural norms. Popular names move through a population in a way that appears to be similar to infectious diseases.

This is a fun way to show students that deciding what to name a child might feel like a personal decision, it’s actually a decision that is shaped by social forces. Names and name trends are great examples of what sociology can reveal because, as Stanley Lieberson points out so simply, while taste in most elements of culture is not a requirement, everyone has tastes in names. And, as it turns out, we can learn a lot about a society just by looking at patterns in which names we select for our children (and equally important are the types of names different groups tend to avoid).

SIDENOTE: I like to highlight a great finding by Stanley Lieberson, Susan Dumais, and Shyon Baumann from their article on trends in androgynous names (here). Androgynous names are names that are given to both boys and girls–think Taylor, Cameron, or Casey for current examples. Lieberson, Dumais, and Baumann found that androgynous names follow an incredibly common pattern once they achieve a critical level of popularity: they become girl names and become dramatically less common names for boys–a powerful example of the stigma associated with femininity for boys.

When I first started using the exercise, I was fascinated with the relative frequencies much more than the names on each list. But it’s an amazing shift. More than 1 in 20 girls born in 1914 was named Mary (the most popular name that year – and many other years too if you’re interested). By 2014, just over 1 in 100 girls born were given the most popular name that year, “Emma.” This is part of a larger trend in naming practices–popular names just aren’t as popular as they used to be. Stanley Lieberson refers to this as the “modernization theory” of name trends. The theory suggests that as institutional pressures associated with names decline (e.g., extended family rituals, religious rules), we see the proliferation of more diverse names. But there’s a twist. The phenomenon is also gendered: popular boy names have always been more popular (in aggregate) that popular girl names. Below, I’ve charted the proportion of boys and girls born in the U.S. with top 10 names from 1880-2014. Boys given top ten names in 1880, for instance, accounted for more than 40% of all boys born. And the most popular boy names have always accounted for a larger share of all boys born than the most popular girl names for girls born. It’s not a new fact and I’m not the first to notice it. (Though, as you can see below, the lines have just recently met, and they could conceivably cross paths any year now. And that will be something that has never happened.)

Baby Name Frequencies

In 1965, Alice Rossi suggested that part of what accounts for the discrepancy is related to gender inequality. As she put it, “Men are the symbolic carriers of the temporal continuity of the family” (here). Lieberson and Eleanor Bell later discovered that girls are more likely to have unique names as well (here). It’s an interesting example of something that many people teach in courses on men and masculinities. While men are, as a group, systematically advantaged, they may be held accountable to a more narrow range of gender performances than are women. And while men’s rights groups might frame this as an illustration of women being the group to benefit from gender inequality, it’s much better understood as what Michael Messner refers to as a “cost of privilege.”

Yet, this appears to be one costs of privilege that has decreased. In 1880, the top 10 boy names accounted for 41.26% of all boys born that year; the top 10 girl names accounted for 22.98%. There was more than an 18% gap. While boys’ popular names are still more popular than girls’ popular names, the gap shrunk to 0.27% by 2014. That’s a monumental shift. And I’m sure the modernization theory of name trends accounts for the lion’s share of the more general shift toward more secular names and a general decrease in name continuity between fathers and sons. But there is more than one way to read this shift. We might also say that this is a really simple illustration of one way that patriarchal family traditions have been chipped away over the past 100 years. Lots of data would support this conclusion.  We might account for it alongside, for instance, data showing the prevalence of women taking men’s surnames after marriage as a percentage of all marriages in a given year or opinions about surname change.  But it’s also an illustration of the ways that this process has meant changes for boys and men as well.

Masculinity has, quite literally, opened up. It’s something that has happened more for some racial and class groups than others. And whether this transformation–this “opening up”–is a sign of gender inequality being successfully challenged or reproduced in new and less easily recognizable ways is the subject of my favorite corner of the field.

Did the title of this post make you uneasy? My guess is that you seldom received that advice from mentors, family members, or friends; and if you teach, you would most likely never give that advice to your own students. From a very young age I learned to be giving of my time and money. Sharing and helping others were desirable qualities—selfishness was not. As I re-read this last sentence, I can’t help but still agree with that statement. I try to instill these same values in my own ten-year-old daughter. However, I constantly find myself encouraging students to be selfish! As a Latina professor at a large research university, I constantly battle with this moral paradox when it comes to advising my Latina/o students.

I have the honor of mentoring students of color, predominately Latino students. These students seek me out because I am often the only Latina professor in the department and some of them are able to identify with me because I teach courses on Latinos and immigration. I am bilingual, the first in my family to graduate from college, and I come from a working class family. I also enjoy getting to know my students. I ask them about their families and they feel comfortable talking with me about their personal and educational backgrounds, as well as their academic aspirations.Advise2

I have discovered that when I ask my undergraduate Latino students about their future academic aspirations, they usually reply in the same way: “I don’t know,” they say, “I just want to be able to help people.” Then they list professions such as social work, teaching, law, and even sociology. As I hear their responses, I think of my own college years, when I felt the same way. This type of response used to give me a warm sensation and hope in humanity. After all, it is great when students want to pursue a career that helps others. Today, I don’t feel as optimistic by this altruistic response. It now worries me that Latino students are being limited to “helping” professions that are not always as financially rewarding and socially transformative as they imagine.


Underprivileged students who face social inequalities in their communities and schools often turn to careers that allow them to support both their families and other racial and ethnic minorities. According to sociologist Jody Agius Vallejo, middle class Latinos from working class backgrounds are more likely to “give back” to kin and co-ethnics (see her book, Barrios to Burbs). In her work on racialized tokens, for example, sociologist Glenda Flores found that Latina primary school teachers are tracked into teaching and, once there, develop a missionary zeal and actively advocated for their Latino students. Similarly, Maya A. Baesley and Mary J. Fischer’s research shows that talented black college students “opt out” of high-paying and high-status careers for fear of discrimination in particular fields such as science, engineering, information technology, and finance (see here). After graduation, some of these students then choose jobs that, although low-paying, enable them to help the black community. In these studies, discrimination experienced by communities of color shapes the educational trajectory of young men and women.

In my own research with Mexican child street vendors in Los Angeles (see here and here), I found that these youth had two main career aspirations that would empower them to help their communities and their own street vending parents—law and law enforcement. Their decisions to choose these careers were rooted in their everyday street vending struggles. For example, one parent told me: “I have always said to my son, like I have seen many injustices with the police here in my community, and in reality we do need legal representation. … At first he told me that he wanted to be a lawyer and then he said ‘No, I don’t just want to be a lawyer, I want to be a judge.’” Similarly, thirteen-year-old Arturo said his parents wanted him to be “something in life. Like a Lawyer or a hero.” When I asked him to clarify, he said “Like a lawyer, a police officer because they save people… Someone that is considered a hero.” Many of my respondents wanted to become heroes to the struggling people in their lives.

The students that come to my office express a similar sentiment. They have experienced and witnessed many injustices in their communities and wish to major in fields that will allow them to enact change. I too come from a generation of Latino students who saw education as a way out of poverty and a promise to create positive social change. But this is a heavy burden to carry. I opt to encourage students to pursue careers they love and to focus on themselves—to be selfish! Students are usually surprised that I give this advice. Their reactions, however, are not as cutting as those I get from other Latino professionals, some who are close friends. Among other things, I have been told that I am too “Americanized.” Some express surprise and then gesture in disagreement while trying to change the conversation.

I hope to see a day when my own daughter and Latino students who come to my office me me medon’t feel constrained by their mission to help, but rather are moved to choose jobs based on their individual intellectual curiosities. I am confident that if giving back is in their heart, then they will find a way to help people by becoming social workers, teachers, attorneys, doctors, engineers, chemists, or graphic designers. So, my dear students, be selfish. And while you are at it, do your best in whatever field you choose. I’m sure you will positively impact a life or two or more along the way.

Emir Estrada is Assistant Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University.

This is my sixth post for Feminist Reflections, and I am starting to settle into my new role as a (more) public sociologist. Since I started blogging, my work has been reposted on other academic blogs, popped-up on Tumblr, and made it to Sociological Images’ top posts of 2015. It is exciting to see my ideas weave their way through the online world. It makes me feel less armchair-y, and it allows me to write in ways that break the academic mold.

But I wasn’t prepared for the backlash of putting sociological analyses of different phenomenon out into the public world. In the classroom, I occupy a status of authority, and I suppose that I figured as an expert in sociology and gender studies, people who read my posts would consider what I had to say. This is, after all, the courtesy I am afforded in the classroom. What I have found, though, is that blogging means making myself vulnerable in new ways; it means deciding to engage or avoid people who vehemently (to put it mildly) reject my online work; and it means thinking more about what exactly can be accomplished by blogging.

By definition, sociologists study and engage public issues. They are trained to analyze the mechanisms by which social ideologies, interactions, and structures shape everything from fashion choices to the global political economy; and so this work is often political in nature and strikes many as judgmental of their own behavior. To some, sociologists seem to make Halloween costumes and the comeback of plaid and beards for men unnecessarily political. From a sociological perspective, though, this work reveals the already existing but often taken-for-granted inequalities of everyday life.

It’s interesting to see what work gets the most public backlash. Of my own blogs, Man Buns as Cultural Appropriation was widely “liked” and much despised. Perhaps I could have been clearer that I was not saying white men who gather their hair behind their ears should feel racial guilt; but I stand by my argument that the bun does not transform all men into hipsters. Some men are negatively targeted because of the racial, ethnic, or religious associations of their buns. And when style sites encourage men attempting the bun to “Think more Indian Sikh than Kardashian at the gym” or to mimic the Samurai top knot, they help us understand that the man bun is about more than just style.

Other scholars who ask us to consider white, male, and/or heterosexual privilege also see a lot of backlash; and some have received hate mail calling them whores and death threats on social media. And some academics are getting into trouble with their universities for making public not only their personal opinions, but their interpretations of phenomenon in ways that are actually congruent with their training; be it political science, sociology, queer studies, or any number of fields.

Book-The Public Professor

M. V. Lee Badgett’s new book, The Public Professor: How to Use Your Research to Change the World, unpacks strategies for going public with academic research and encourages scholars to consider the practical effects of these different strategies. Citing academic bloggers John Sides and Lisa Wade, for example, she lays out valuable outcomes of blogging, including: providing content for courses, becoming a public expert and generalist in a field, and helping to encourage “appreciative thinking” outside the classroom. They also note that blogging can be fun! The title of the book is thus a bit of a misnomer, as Badgett encourages scholars to go public but keep their expectations in check. You might not change the world with one post or even one hundred posts. Nonetheless, you just might find yourself feeling empowered to engage new audiences outside of your classroom, discovering new communities of colleagues, and learning how to respond to challenges to your work you never received from academic colleagues. I’m still navigating what “going public” means for me, but I’m interested to see where this digital road leads.

theatre1I am not an actor or a playwright, although, full disclosure, I have been surrounded by artists throughout my life. My father was a playwright and an actor; my mother was a painter; and my partner is also a playwright. My sister and I were both plunked into dance classes and piano lessons at an early age. Dance was what “stuck” for me, a necessary outlet in a household too full of struggle.  By the time I was 13, I was in a college performing troupe, and in my 20s, I was performing regularly, teaching dance classes and working as a dance therapist. I was taught by my father to find a “real job” where I could make a living, that the arts were something to do “on the side”. And anyway, he told me, artists needed “material” to inspire our creativity. I could write this entire blog just on that topic and how artists in this country are NOT supported, but that’s not where I’m headed. Instead, I write about the value in bringing the arts – specifically theatre – into the sociology classroom.

Getting started in connecting teaching with the arts

When I began working as an applied sociologist about twenty years ago, my focus was on work and family research. As I explored new areas of research, I yearned to figure out a way to incorporate the arts into my work once again. One day, while riding a subway car, I happened to overhear a conversation between a seasoned professional and a younger woman. The professional was an incredible guide, listening well to the younger woman talk about some work they were doing together, and then re-framing it in a helpful and respectful way. vsaI leaned over to her and commented that she was a great mentor. This brief encounter turned into a four-year working relationship, starting with acting as a coach and support to my new friend who worked for the national organization, VSA arts, an international organization* that focuses on arts and disability. My initial role as coach broadened into helping the organization with strategic planning and eventually studying the impact of a VSA arts’ artist-in-residence program which was taking place in “inclusive” classrooms, classrooms including children of all abilities. Later, I became a trainer for VSA arts, travelling to a number of their state affiliate organizations around the country and teaching evaluation research, as well as how to build strategic partnerships. The training we did always incorporated arts activities, and I could see that teaching “in and through” the arts was a powerful medium.

atingWhen I started teaching sociology courses, I wanted to build on what I had learned doing training for VSA arts. I started experimenting with using theatre as a tool to teach gender theory in a feminist theory class. While there are, no doubt, many activities one can do with theatre, including taking students on field trips to a local playhouse or supporting their research on plays that deal with gender issues, I have chosen a more hands-on method. When I have used theatre in the classroom, students take on acting out several scenes of a play and use their understanding of the characters as a means to apply gender theory.

In this post, I describe a few of the plays and methods I have used.  While my teaching goal is to help students develop a deeper understanding of gender theories, I have also used this technique in a Sociology of Aging class, which was very effective, and I believe that many areas of analyses can be explored through the use of theatre.

Teaching gender theory through the arts

glassI first considered the idea of using theatre as a means to teach gender theory when I was teaching Sociology of Sex and Gender.  Having taught feminist theory in a fairly traditional way, I wanted to experiment with finding a way to make gender theory come alive. I called my dad and asked him what plays he thought would work, and he immediately suggested “The Glass Menagerie,” by Tennessee Williams.  As you may know, this play focuses on the frail character of Laura who collects glass objects (her “menagerie”). Her mother, driven by fears that her Laura will become a spinster, pressures her son to bring home a coworker as a possible suitor. With an exaggerated Southern etiquette, the mother welcomes this “gentleman caller,” hoping that he will woo Laura and save her from a life of loneliness. The visitor is very kind and somewhat pitying, but finds Laura’s quirky obsession with glass objects intriguing. There is plenty of gender food for thought in this play, and it is truly a classic.

The second play that I have used is “Gut Girls,” a contemporary play written by British author, Sarah Daniels. I used this play for a course called “Gender, Work and Public Policy.” In this case, I wanted a play that centered on the experience of work, and which also had a lot to say about gender and class. The gut girls in Daniels’ play are slaughterhouse workers in late 19th century England. They are feisty, funny and irreverent working-class women who, in their own ways, understand their oppression and exploitation. We meet these women in their messy workplace, and find out how “gutsy” they are, as they exchange banter while doing their jobs. The “plot thickens” when an upper-class woman visits the gut girls at their workplace, deigning to enter their world of blood and entrails. She is appalled at their working conditions, and also takes pity on them, and decides to sets up a social club to teach them manners.

gutUltimately, we discover that the upper-class woman’s motives are twisted, as she gets them to work as domestics, considered more “refined” work, or more appropriate for women. Among the gut girls is a woman trying to unionize the group, another who lives in a home for wayward girls, and so on. Students take on the various roles of these gut girls with great gusto! They love to struggle with the working class British accents, and swear and cajole one another about offal (or guts). It is, at the very least, a heck of an icebreaker for any class.

Some suggestions for how to use theatre in the classroom

Here are some more specifics regarding how I approached getting started and implementing this methodology of using theatre with students.

1. Finding a play

First of all, I select a play that deals with gender issues. (One could argue that all plays could be construed as dealing with gender issues.) Short of having a family member who can act as a resource, there are many ways to research options. For example, a store called Baker’s Plays has a website (, which allows you to search for plays by type or title, and then you can purchase the plays from them at a very reasonable price. Or you could contact a local theatre or even a theatre department in your university/college, for advice. Also, the Drama Book Shop in New York has a website (, with up-to-date information about plays and more. To find “Gut Girls,” I emailed chairs of theatre departments around the country, explaining the kind of play I needed and why, and was pleasantly surprised that they took my request seriously. Interestingly, a number of them suggested this play. I had no problem finding the play on the web, but finding a physical copy was not easy. This is how I discovered Baker’s Plays, and they had the play. (Some plays, including “Gut Girls,” cannot be found in your average bookstore. More popular plays are easier to track down at a chain or independent bookstore.)

2. Finding a scene from the play

So far, I have not used the entire play; rather, I select several scenes that capture the essence of the play and also include the number of characters needed to include students in the “production.” I try to keep the reading to about 30-45 minutes, so doing a rehearsal reading on your own may be useful.

3. Introducing the idea to your class

On the first day of class, part of my introduction to the course involves handing out the script and asking students to volunteer to “play” whatever character they choose. This achieves two purposes:  I find it facilitates student bonding early on in the semester, and it also solicits commitment to the course.

4.  Students prepare for their mini-production

When I use this method in a small class, everyone can have a part in the play. When the class is larger, I get volunteers, who will then “perform” it for their peers. In my experience, being in the play is very exciting (and perhaps preferable), but observing a play reading is still a great experience for students.  In one larger class where I used this method, it turned out that the volunteers were extremely talented drama students and the rest of the class was treated to a professional performance! After students have been introduced to the play and have selected their character (that is, if they have a character), I encourage them to go through their script and highlight their lines before the next class when they do the play reading. The class is also assigned readings on gender theory, which they must also complete by the next class.

5. The production

I find that students take the production very seriously. They come prepared, even if they stumble over some of their lines. When it really clicks, they work at relating to each other as characters, rather than just reading their lines. At the same time, because this isn’t a professional production, I find that students will laugh at a funny part or groan or comment at something particularly sad or difficult. At the end, we applaud! Often students want to continue reading beyond the selected scene, which I figure is a good sign, but I do stop them so we can get on to the analysis.  It’s mainly a time issue.

6. Small group discussion

First, I ask students how they felt to be the characters they played. I also ask them their general observations about the other characters. Then, students break into small groups for 15-20 minutes, and work on applying a theoretical perspective (e.g., biological determinism, gender as social construction) to the characters and their actions. I ask them to focus on one theory, because the task of thinking about the play in the context of doing a theoretical analysis can be fairly complex. While presumably they have done assigned readings on gender theories, I hand out a one-page description of several theories, which they use as a guide.

7. Large group discussion

When small groups have finished talking, they come back to the larger group and a representative from the group presents their group’s analysis. We then open it up for discussion, comparing and contrasting the gender theories, in the context of the play.

Using theatre in this way is fun and productive. I believe that it enhances students’ understanding of the theories they are discussing. In many of the classes I teach, students ultimately learn to apply their analyses of gender issues to their own lives, taking the understanding of the personal to a broader level that often involves an understanding of the intersection of sociology, psychology, economics and political science. Using theatre early on in the semester is one way to provide an opportunity to take students into the realm of human experience – through their characters – as a bridge to better understanding their own lives.

If using theatre in the classroom moves you, but you have some questions about how to make it happen, feel free to ask them in the comments section, and I promise that I’ll respond!

National Theatre, Washington, DC
National Theatre, Washington, DC

*VSA arts is now merged within the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts



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.”

Image from:
Image from:

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.