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!).


  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.


  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.”


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


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


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.


Mindy Fried:  “New Chapters”…

Francesca Ramsey, De-Coded
Francesca Ramsey, De-Coded

This is the second year that Feminist Reflection editors have tried to write something about Thanksgiving. I say “tried” because for something that seems simple, we have found that it’s not an easy charge. Here is a holiday that calls upon people to feel thankful for what we have, but we can’t ignore the fact that the holiday is framed around a distortion of American history that is, in actuality, about genocide. So I will start out by saying that I’m grateful for a very funny, but informative, web video, De-Coded, created by actress/comedian Francesca Ramsey, where she sets her family straight about Thanksgiving.

As guests admire a child’s drawing showing Native Americans and Pilgrims sharing a meal, one person reads the picture’s text: “After the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims survive their first winter in America, the Puritans invited them to share the first Thanksgiving dinner.” Guests pass the child’s drawing around the table, with approving oohs and ahh’s until it gets to Francesca, who holds up the child’s picture and says slowly, “These are adorably…WRONG!” She rips the drawing in two, to their shock, and then provides her family with the real history lesson about the genocide of the Native Americans by the Pilgrims, using humor as her weapon. By the time she has deconstructed the real meaning of the holiday, family members start questioning the meaning of everything, even the cranberry sauce! Lesson learned; humor prevails.

crazy worldWhen we at FR think about what to write, we’re initially up against our despair, not only about the lies about this holiday, but about what a mess our world is in:  rampant Islamaphobia following the Paris attacks, pervasive racism throughout our communities and on our college campuses, the all-out attack on women’s reproductive rights and so much more…  At the same time, we feel lucky that we can enjoy the pleasure of our families, our friends, our teaching and research, and our communities. That’s a privilege that not everyone has…

So we write this Thanksgiving post with the understanding that so much is wrong with the world, but that we have an opportunity to notice what is good; to put down our cell phones and (momentarily) walk away from our computers and maybe even other technology, to enjoy a minute, an hour, a day where we can be grateful for what we have. Because regardless of the holiday’s history, it is important in these difficult times to appreciate one another and our loved ones, to appreciate the food we share, to be joyful, to sing and dance in ways that move our hearts, to take joy in the people around us, including young and old, to recognize our accomplishments along with our struggles, to feel our connectedness along with our isolation. And certainly, to recognize the opportunity we have to make this world a better place, in whatever way we can.

Athieno Band; Photo Credit: Olivia Deng
Athieno Band; Photo Credit: Olivia Deng

What am I grateful for this year? Over the past two years, I have taken a leap and started producing music and art festivals with a dear friend. It began with the organizing of Jamaica Plain Porchfest, a decentralized music/arts festival in which people perform on porches throughout the community. Previously, my work kept me tethered to my computer, a meeting room, and sometimes a classroom. This work has grown into producing other community-based events throughout the City of Boston where I live. I am deeply grateful to be living this new chapter in my life, one that allows me to work with artists, other producers, and inspiring community activists who also see the value in using the arts to grow social movements.

And now on to my wonderful colleagues, for whom I am very grateful!

Kristen Barber: “Motherhood”

These days I am more thankful than ever. Having welcomed our daughter into our lives, my spouse and I now find the mundane more thrilling (albeit more exhausting). I am also reminded of my privilege more often than before. When I feed Bea a bottle of formula, change her soiled diaper, or buy her a new winter coat, I think of those parents who cannot afford to do the same for their children.

Other women who are not as privileged as I am remind me that I can feed my child without having to bear the evaluative eye of a state service worker rationing out formula and that I am buying premium formula. Moreover, I don’t have to scrape the waste from Bea’s diaper in an effort to make it last longer, I can feed her every time she cries in hunger, and I can pay my heating bill to keep her warm.

Below are some child welfare organizations helping to provide needy families with those items—like food, diapers, and coats—that babies and children need to stay healthy and warm year round. Go ahead and click on the below links for more information and, in the spirit of thanksgiving, consider supporting these organizations (and by extension struggling parents and their children), if you can.

  • National Diaper Bank Network: Directory to find a diaper bank that distributes diapers to families in your area. Disposable diapers cost $70 to $80 per month per baby and 1 in 3 American families report experiencing diaper need.
  • Feeding America: Largest nationwide network of food banks providing struggling families with healthy foods.
  • No Kid Hungry: Helps to close the food need gap given that the average monthly SNAP benefit is only $1.46 per meal.
  • Operation Warm: Provides new winter coats to children of families in need.
  • United Nations Children Fund: 90% of every dollar spent goes directly to help children around the world by providing food, clean water, and healthcare, including vaccines.

Trina Smith: “Social Justice & Compassion ”

In this world we current live in:

  • There are “cultural wars” based on visions of morality and often tied into religion.
  • We deal with terrorism and often react with fear as a citizens of a country rather than global citizens.
  • Racism is still prevalent, people fear for their lives, and young men of color of being killed.
  • Racing to the top is more and being the “best” trumps mentoring and compassion for others.
  • Folks who identify as LGBTQ, and particularly trans, experience hate, bullying, and death.

And the list could go on.

Sometimes, it’s hard to be grateful when you see this. When you witness this. When people live through it. But on this day, that has admittedly has its own “colonizing” history, I will be thankful.

I am thankful for:

  • People who take a stand for social justice.
  • For those willing to engage in civic dialogue about the issues.
  • To those are willing to talk to and teach their children, our next generation, about what the hate, violence, misunderstandings mean, including deadly consequences.
  • My students who persevere though hard times.
  • For the idea of compassion.

We all do not have believe the same thing to love or have compassion.

I hope we can continue to have civil dialogues, call attention the matters, and care for humanity based on compassion and not fear and hate.

Tristan Bridges: “Teaching values about sharing through warthogs…”

In our house, we read a short children’s book to my children by David Ezra Stein entitled The Nice Book. It’s a short rhyming book that teaches children about rhymes, and the basics of what it means to be kind and to interact with others in ways you’d like to be interacted with. So, there are lessons about recognizing your own limits, not hitting, talking through our feelings, not staring at others, taking care of those in need, and the like. And each page is accompanied by a cute painting of a pair of animals acting out the kind behavior. On one page is a warthog with a huge ice cream sundae. On the next page the warthog is sharing the sundae with a mouse. It’s accompanied by the text, “If you have more than you need, SHARE.” It’s a basic lesson. And it’s one we expect our children to learn at an early age. Both of mine are still struggling with this particular lesson. And if I’m being honest, it’s one I’m still working on, too. But, like most of the lessons in The Nice Book, they’re not just for kids—these are ideals toward which we can all work harder to achieve. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Many nights this week I felt choked up and emotional. Beyond the global issues we are currently facing- the attacks in Paris and many states refusing Syrian refugees- many of us are witnessing racism on our campuses. One of the students on my campus posted some provocative words on social media that resulted in strong emotional responses from both students and faculty.


Teaching Students of Color as a White Woman

Two years ago in my Sociology of Health Care class most of the students were women of color. When we studied health disparities and the impact of racism, the students were not surprised by what they read, specifically about the impact of racism on birth outcomes and mental health. I remember the day I showed a video on how racism affects birth outcomes, and the meaningful class discussion we had afterwards. As a white woman (and one in the South with credentials behind her name), I didn’t want to be “that” professor who talks about inequality based only on on data, with students assuming I am the expert, or that I might be trying to marginalize their experience and put it into categories, or that I knew what it felt like to be a person of color. Instead I told them I could share the sociological research and evidence, but as a white woman I was not going to pretend I had shared their experience, and that their voices were critically important in this discussion.

My beloved copy of Patricia Hill Collins book Black Feminist Thought is no longer on my bookshelf. I gave it to a student, a woman of color, who through tears, told me about the racism and discrimination she has faced in her life and on campus. Another student, a queer woman of color, waited a week during a break to come talk to me about a painful experience, where the intersections of race, gender, and sexual identities collide. I feel honored that these students trusted me and shared their painful stories. In saying this, I am not asking for an award for being an ally that my students trust. Instead, I am advocating that we let our students know we support them as allies. In doing so, we must listen to their experiences. Racism and social justice are issues we should all be working on and not just on the backs of those who already oppressed.

Free Speech? Social Media, Racism, and Threatening Language

Monday evening after arriving home from an event with my daughter, a post by a student I do not know at our institution made its rounds on Face Book (FB). The post critiqued the Black Lives Matter movement and associated protests in Missouri. This student didn’t just express their disdain for these protests; they made what some perceived as threatening claims about what would result if this happened on our campus. To add fuel to the fire, this student also expressed their severe dislike for those who are Muslim or Islamic, in response to the tragedy in Paris.

hateTo their credit, our administration responded through Facebook, as well as with a letter from our current president, acknowledging the importance of free speech as a constitutional right, and also saying that threatening comments violate our student code of conduct. The original post by the student has since been taken down. Unfortunately, too many people had taken screen shots of the post for it to be truly deleted.

As I was reading various responses via comments to the different Facebook posts about the incident and what students, alumni, and parents were writing, I was upset, angry, and sad. One set of comments ran the gamut, from the expression that God loves everyone, to the belief people were over-reacting, and that we can’t control free speech. Other comments pointed out the threats, the racism, historical legacies of racism, and emotions such as anger and fear. I felt a mixture of emotions as I read about how students of color feel on campus – many of them students I know personally. How do we advocate for social justice and ending oppression of our students while enabling free speech?

Our administration did respond, as I noted above, and I believe the incident is being taken seriously. Our NAACP chapter and minority students on campus also spoke out in regards to the incident. (Here is one story.)

I decided that this was an opportunity for my students to discuss these real life issues in one of my classes, where all but one of my students is a person of color. We discussed the Facebook messages, both in regard to racism on campus and also in relation to the Syrian refugee issues (as we live in state in which our Governor and leaders stated we would not allow them due “security” issues).

Students’ Voices on the Issues

I told my students this blog would be about these issues and they gave me permission to share with you part of our discussion. To preface this, I told them it was their time to talk. I wanted to know how they felt, what racism they have seen or experienced, and what solutions they thought might help. Not all the students agreed on solutions, but it was a fruitful discussion, and I wanted to share some of its highlights.

I admit it is difficult to put this in writing, as I do not want to misrepresent what students said nor just put their words into categories. To present important components of this conversation, here are summaries and a few quotes from the students, which is not in any particular order:

Whites are afraid of African Americans and when we (African Americans) speak it’s seen as riot comparable to the KKK.

Look around at us… 1 in 4 of us (as black) will end up in jail.

If a black student posted something with this hatred and threats they would be in jail.

Specific events have happened in the past on campus involving symbols of racism and slavery, which caused fear among students of color.

Children are socialized to be racist.

Greek residences on campus resemble plantations. Students of color feel uncomfortable with the whiteness in this space.

Things are not going to change until the system changes. We have to start with children and teach them what matters.

The Black Lives Matter movement can be seen in different ways in terms of it is going to work. “We are fed up” and “our people are dying” were stated.

Why are there mandatory classes on drinking and sexual assault on campus, but not about diversity issues relating to people of color? Why are we required to take math, but not a class on dealing with diversity? Even if classes are intended to be about diversity for incoming students, they may not really deal with the issues.

A student of color talked about a class she took on race issues, in which there were only two white students. One of these students was honest in the class and noted she wanted to learn more about diversity issues, but was afraid to ask questions as she might be labeled as racist in doing so.

Why is there a lack of diversity, more specifically people of color, as faculty and administrators on campus?

In summary, the conversation had many directions and I don’t think any of what my students said will surprise many people. Some of the conversation was hard as some students felt hopeless and angry. Others were more positive about change occurring and much of this was about kids and education. So, is presenting what the students said going to change things? I hope that it can lead to more conversations, but this is only a starting point. I feel that what I can do is listen, reinforce that their voices matter, and encourage them to talk to faculty and administrators on campus who do care. I take their words seriously and continue to think about through my role as an educator.

Understanding & Compassion vs. Violence & Fear

As I told my students, their voices are important, but it is not just their job to have these discussions on our campus (and all campuses) or in society. We can’t put the burden only on students of color and those who are oppressed, to do all the work. As part of systematic racism and oppression, we are all part of the problem and solutions. As sociologists who study and know that racism in all forms still exists, we can listen to our students and let them know their voices and concerns are legitimate.

ListenWe are not allies unless we are willing to listen. And in my eyes, this requires empathy and compassion. It’s also about acknowledging that for some of us, we benefit from and contribute to these systems of oppression, because of our own privileges. We need to have humility to take a step back. Even though we might be “experts” as professors and researchers, we need to listen. In doing so, we need to let our students, colleagues, and friends know our empathy is not just, “I’m sorry for how you feel”, but it’s also, “Please tell me how you feel and how do we work together to solve this.”

Black lives matter. My students’ lives matter. Let’s be there for them by standing up for social justice, enabling conversations to happen, voices to be heard, and recognizing our own parts in systems of oppression. I thank my former and current students for having these discussions.

In our society, within our local environments, within our country, and globally, it is evident we all do not all agree with each other or even understand each other. Because the root of many of these issues are structural, we are not going to solve all our social problems immediately. However, I believe we can try to understand with compassion, not fear or hate. In terms of all the current issues we are facing in society, with historical components, compassion and empathy is going to get us farther than threats of violence or actions based on fear.


Robin-Thicke-Blurred-LinesRobin Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines,” achieved international recognition in 2013. But the lyrics were also heavily criticized as promoting sexual violence by celebrating “blurred lines” around sexual consent. Indeed, the song and video prompted an online photo essay in which women and men are depicted holding up signs with words they heard from their own rapists—some of which were almost direct quotes from Thicke’s song. The song received a great deal of negative and positive press all at the same time. The media attention seemed to prove the media adage that any coverage is good coverage if Thicke’s continued celebrity is any measure.

It’s not a new argument to suggest that many elements of what feminist scholars refer to as “rape culture” are embedded in seemingly pleasurable elements of pop culture, like songs, movies, television shows etc. And Robin Thicke’s song served as an example to many of how we not only tolerate rape culture—but how we celebrate it and render it “sexy.” Recently, Rebecca Traister discussed just how much rape culture even informs what we think of as “good sex” in her piece “The Game is Rigged: Why Consensual Sex Can Still be Bad.” In it, Traister challenges the notion that all consensual sex is good and shows just how messy the debate about what qualifies as “consensual” really is. In many ways, our national discussion around sexual assault and consent is taking up themes raised by feminists in the 1980s about what actually qualifies as consent in a society in which violence against women is considered sexy.

Compared with “Blurred Lines,” Justin Bieber’s newly released hit single, “What Do You Mean?” has been subject to less critique. The notion that women do not actually know what they want and that they are notoriously bad and communicating their desires (sexual and otherwise) is pervasive. In the song, Bieber asks the woman with whom he’s interacting, “What do you mean? / Ohh ohh ohh/ When you nod your head yes / But you wanna say no / What do you mean?” The lack of clear consent isn’t just present in the song; it is what provides the sexual tension. It’s part of what is intended to make the song “sexy.”

Sexualizing women’s sexual indecision is an important part of the way rape culture works. It is one way that conversations about consent often over-simplify a process that is and should be much more complex. The song itself presents Bieber nagging the woman to whom he’s singing to make a decision about their relationship. But there are many elements suggesting that the decision she’s being asked to make is more immediate as well—not only about the larger relationship, but about a sexual interaction in the near future. Throughout the song, the click of a stopwatch can be heard as a beat against which Bieber presses the woman to make a decision while berating her for the mixed signals she has been sending him.

Image from Bloomingdale’s 2015 holiday catalog.

Bieber is presented as the “good guy” throughout the song by attempting to really decipher what the woman actually means. Indeed, this is another element of rape culture: the way in which we are encouraged to see average, everyday guys as “not-rapists,” because rapists are the bad guys who attack women from bushes (at worst) or simply get them drunk at a party (at best).*  The controversy over the ad in Bloomingdale’s recent 2015 holiday catalog urging readers to “spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking” shows that this kind of rape culture is also casually promoted in popular culture as well.  But, the larger discourse that Bieber’s song plays a role in promoting is the notion that women do not know what they mean or want. Bieber plays the role of someone simultaneously pressuring her for sexual advance (“Said we’re running out of time”), helping her work through her feelings (“What do you mean?”), and demanding results (“Better make up your mind”). And, like the Bloomingdale’s advertisement, this is not sexy.

Indeed, the music video (above) takes this a step further. Bieber is shown at the beginning paying John Leguizamo on a street corner and asking him to make sure “she doesn’t get hurt.” We later find out that John was paid to orchestrate a kidnapping of both Justin and the woman whom he meets in a hotel room. Both are taken by men in masks, driven to a warehouse in the trunk of a car, and tied up. Justin is able to free them, but they are still in a room with their kidnappers. They back up to a door that leads outside the building and see that they are one of the top floors. Justin turns to the woman, holds out his hand and asks, “Do you trust me?” She takes his hand and they both jump out of the building. They jump and fall to the ground, landing on a parachute pillow only to discover that the whole thing was a trick. The kidnapping was actually orchestrated ruse to bring her to a party that they entered by leaping from the building away from the men who’d taken them. The men in masks all reveal themselves to be smiling beneath. She smiles at Justin, recognizing that it was all a trick, grabs his face, kisses him and they dance the night away in the underground club.

Even though the song is about feeling like a woman really can’t make up her mind about Justin, their relationship, and sexual intimacy, the woman in the video is not depicted this way at all. She appears sexually interested in Justin from the moment the two meet in the video and not bothered by his questions and demands at all. Though it is worth mentioning that he is terrorizing her in the name of romance, indeed the terror itself is a sign of how much he loves her—also a part of rape culture. This visual display alongside the lyrics works in ways that obscure the content of the lyrics, content that works against much of what we are shown visually.

justin-bieber-what-do-you-mean-cover-413x413Part of what makes rape culture so insidious is that violence against women is rendered pleasurable and even desirable. Thicke and Bieber’s songs are catchy, fun, and beg to be danced to. The women in Thicke’s video also appear to be having fun strutting around nude while the men sing. The woman in Bieber’s video is being kidnapped and terrified for sport, sure, but it’s because he wants to show his love for her. She’s shown realizing and appreciating this at the conclusion of the video. Rape culture hides the ways that sexual violence is enacted upon women’s bodies every day. It obscures the ways that men work to minimize women’s control over their own bodies. It conceals the ways that sexual violence stems not just from dangerous, deviant others, but the normal everydayness of heterosexual interactions. And all of this works to make sexualized power arrangements more challenging to identify as problematic, which is precisely what makes confronting rape culture so challenging.


*See C.J. Pascoe and Jocelyn Hollander’s forthcoming work in Gender & Society“Good Guys Don’t Rape: Gender, Domination, and Mobilizing Rape”—for more on what this discourse looks like and how it works.

As our department and numerous others think about ways to increase majors, I left our last faculty meeting thinking “Why Sociology?”. Not just for students, but why we – as faculty – studied, are teaching, or are using sociology in our research or work. I thought about not only personal statements I had to write for the job market, discussing my parent’s influence on my sociological perspective, but also jobs (pre- and post-PhD), volunteer experiences, and in general, my life in terms of why sociology or how I use sociology and continue to learn.

One can read numerous reports by the American Sociological Association on why students major in sociology and their paths after graduation . Most do not go on the “sociological academic” track (i.e. PhD programs in Sociology), but instead if they go to graduate school, they do so in more applied fields such as social work, public health, or the law. Sociology majors with various degrees, from the Bachelors, Masters, to the PhD, also work in a variety of settings. So, why sociology for a major? The skills? The mindset? What can entice students towards this major and what are the “benefits”? I believe if we cannot explain our own sociological perspective and mindset, including the utility to everyday life and careers beyond academia, we may be limiting sociology as a potential major or way of thinking for students. In today’s post, I’ll relate how I “came” to sociology.

My Background: A Sociology Major from the Beginning

I grew up in a family that fostered my educational aspirations by providing the access and financial means to do so. Despite these normative privileges afforded to me, my parents taught me important lesions about society and inequality that has impacted my personal values, work, and scholarship.

Hooded as "PhD"!
Hooded as “PhD”!

Growing up in the Midwest, I watched my parents actively participate in the Elks Club, in which service to others was a defining element of this benevolent organization. Each Holiday season, I helped assemble and deliver food baskets to economically disadvantaged families with my parents. I remember one year when we met a family who could not afford to turn on their heat. The whole family sat in front of the open stove in the kitchen for warmth. When I asked my parents about this, they explained to me the existence of poverty and inequality in our society. This small incident began what has become my lifelong exploration of and work toward ending social injustice. I was shown through example by my parents that social justice was something to strive for and that that our own comfortable middle class status was indeed a privilege.

My childhood and adolescence were also shaped by my mother’s job working as a claims’ administrator at the Social Security Administration (SSA). In an emotionally challenging job, my mother worked with a variety of people, from those with disabilities to those with economic difficulties, who were usually on the lower rung of the social class and status ladder in society. My mother’s duties included determining whether they qualified for Social Security, and the amount of benefits the government would provide. During high school, my mother took an early retirement from SSA. We discussed her job at length and the reasons why she was retiring at younger age, as she articulated a description of structural inequalities in society. My mom existed as the middle person between those in need and the government, and she found the rules and bureaucracy limiting. Emotional strain resulted when she had to work with those in need who did not receive what they needed to survive. This profound sociological insight has had a lasting impact on my views of structural inequality.

My parents in their younger years. My role models.
My parents in their younger years. My role models.

Coming from a background where service to others was important, at the end of high school and in college, I started working with people with  disabilities. My work included program development, life skills training, and community integration. Doing this work, I not only witnessed, first- hand, the discrimination that persons with disabilities face, but also learned life lessons from my clients. They taught me about friendship, understanding, and the importance of appreciating the simple things in life in a society that promotes perfectionism, able-ism, and cultural consumerism to make us happy. This job has had a significant influenced on my life. They were a part of my family. Starting this work while I was in high school, while also taking a sociology class, combined with the influence of my background and influenced my decision to declare sociology as a major in college. I knew that I wanted to make a difference. Working with people with disabilities allowed me to see how society is structured in a way that creates and constructs differences and meanings, and from a “disability” lens, how it is structured for able-bodied persons.

I declared my major as Sociology from the moment I applied to and started college, which I now understand is very rare. Also rare, especially at that time, was my ability to take a Sociology course in high school. But in taking this class, the idea of sociology resonated with my values, how I thought, and especially the lessons my parents taught me, and in particular, in my work with people with disabilities.

Why Sociology? Learning, Living, and Applying the Sociological Imagination

A common critique we hear in the field is that those who are obtaining their PhDs are being trained to be academics and not how to apply or use sociology outside of a professorship in academia. While not all programs are like this and despite the critique, we also understand for the most post, this is how our professors were trained and this is what they know.

Grad Students Act out Famous Sociologists
Grad Students Act out Famous Sociologists

However, I want to move beyond the graduate school academic versus applied debate to speak to how we talk and think about sociology, with undergraduates in mind. Why is sociology useful? Why are we not just an “easy” major or one that “confirms” common sense (or “debunking” it). How or why can sociology be useful to our personal lives? To do this, I will tell part of my story, in my next post in a few weeks. Not all will agree with what I have to say, but the beauty of sociology is that it is flexible.

Yes, I am back in the academy and want to be successful, but I also want my students (and potential majors) to know sociology is useful beyond a classroom and beyond teaching. In my next post, I will center on jobs I have had with a degree in Sociology (beyond a tenure track professor job) and the strenuous event of moving across the country from a metro area of the North to a small town in the Deep South, in which thinking about things in sociological manner indeed helped keep me sane.

I leave you with the following questions that are relevant to us “selling” sociology, but also to our own continued learning in the field. This relates back to historical debates about what sociology should be, why it is not social work (though as an MSW, I see the connections), and contemporary discussion on what engaged or applied sociology means.

  • How did you come to sociology as a field?
  • How do you define sociology (beyond a “textbook” definition)?
  • How do you think sociologically and how do you explain this others?
  • How you use sociology in your life?
  • What are core or essential skills of sociology training?
My student wins a social activism award from SWS
My student wins a social activism award from SWS

As a feminist, I recognize power in the structures and symbols that regulate society. I see how intersecting privileges and lack thereof operate to allow some communities more access to opportunities and others less. I know that while power and privilege may be firmly entrenched in ways that systematically marginalize large swaths of society I also know that people have agency. Feminists challenge power imbalances in the spaces we frequent most; in my case, the academy. Mentoring women of color and non-traditional students in their research prevents scholarship and the resultant status from producing it, from remaining the domain of the privileged. I believe that student researchers from marginalized populations challenge the racial/ethnic, class, gendered, and sexualized hierarchies that shape undergraduate research arrangements and thus the academy more broadly.

I teach at the University of Washington Bothell, an institution that greatly values the professor-student relationship. Our student body is very diverse: 42% students of color, 46% first generation college students, and 60% on financial aid. Many of the students I teach have life experiences meant to keep them out of college. For example, one Chicana student shared with me that her high school guidance counselor told the Latinas that there was no need for them to try in high school because they were just going to get pregnant and drop out anyway. This hateful, racist, and sexist message from a woman paid to be a mentor! Feminist mentoring of undergraduate students is a post-intervention, of sorts. Here I want to share the successes of five of my students; all five of whom represent communities of underserved populations.*

In May of this year I saw a CFP (Call For Papers) for an author of an encyclopedia entry about Chicana feminism. I had an idea for three of my undergrad students to work together to research and co-author the entry, with my close mentoring. The editor agreed, I asked the students, who enthusiastically and proudly said yes. I know these three students very well; they were in their third and fourth classes with me, have done research papers in my classes, and worked on group projects together. They are all excellent students but I knew the project was going to take a lot of my time, regardless. And it did: six iterations amidst an already hectic quarter. I knew I wanted these students to have the opportunity to write the essay; an opportunity typically not available to the demographics they all represent.

Donning their Latino/a Student Union shirts, Alejandra Pérez, Elizabeth Huffaker, and Jessica Velasquez
From left to right are co-authors Alejandra Pérez, Elizabeth Huffaker, and Jessica Velasquez. Alejandra and Jessica are seen in their Latinx Student Union shirts.

Alejandra is a Guatemalan born, 1.5 generation, undocumented immigrant and first generation college student. Alejandra, her brother, and mom came to the US in 2006 and were just reunited with her father after 8 years. Her mother works as a nanny and her father a construction worker. Alejandra is financing her education through scholarships and working; additionally, Washington state recently passed SB6523 which makes financial aid available to undocumented students. She does spectacularly in school, on top of her being an activist with a job. If given the chance she will eventually become anything she aspires to be. Or her parents may be picked up by the INS or ICE and deported to Guatemala. Her future is anything but certain.

Jessica has also overcome odds. She too is a first generation college student. Jessica is a Chicana, born to immigrant parents. She was raised in Eastern Washington (home to most of the state’s agroindustry) where her father works as a laborer and her mother a sorter for a produce company.

The final co-author is Elizabeth; a white mother/grandmother/ great grandmother from the Midwest. Elizabeth returned to college at the age of 65 after a 22-year hiatus when she worked as an accountant and a single-mother of six. Together these three rock stars rejected the social messages that tell them the privileged class in the academy has no room for them and in 2016 their names will appear in a prestigious encyclopedia as co-authors of an essay I will eventually assign in my classes.

shayne hires 2 revises.inddThe next two rock stars worked individually on pieces that now appear in my edited collection Taking Risks: Feminist Activism and Research in the Americas (SUNY 2014). During the revisions my editor asked me to write introductions to each of the three sections of the book. I loved the idea but had no idea where I was going to find the time. I called upon one of my undergraduates, Jessica (a different one) that I have a long history with, starting with her first quarter of college. I asked her if she was interested, she said yes, we found her a small stipend, and I handed over the unpublished manuscript and asked her to make sense of each section. Once she did, she wrote the introductions in a concise way to communicate the overarching themes. Jessica did an amazing job. Her accomplishment was also personally important as her family was not pleased with her choice or majors (not-Business) or her recent coming out as a lesbian. Jessica is a proud mixed Brazilian who has been in the U.S. since 2010. She is pursuing her dream to be an academic and will no doubt serve as a role model and mentor to queer and straight women of color.

Finally, Mahala. I have known Mahala the longest of all of these students. She took a Latin American studies class with me which required a research paper, and then another and unable to stop, eventually a directed study so she could keep researching. Her paper ultimately became a chapter in Taking Risks. Mahala is a white woman in her mid-twenties. She returned to college after a 5 year leave, while raising her 2 and 4 year olds, largely alone. She worked and single-parented full time, and quietly excelled in all of her classes. I saw her brilliance in her first very short paper for me and sought her out. She was always silent in class and was oblivious to her intelligence. I worked hard to get her to present her papers, get fellowships and anything else to make her realize her competence. I eventually asked her to transform her paper into a chapter for my book. Jessica and Mahala didn’t end up in my book because I was doing them a favor; my name is on the book so I needed to feel good about their work and I absolutely do.

From left to right are Shayne's colleague and co-author Kristy Leissle, author Julie Shayne and student authors Mahala and Jessica.
From left to right are Shayne’s colleague and co-author Kristy Leissle, author Julie Shayne and student authors Mahala and Jessica.

The results with these and other students I don’t have space to write about here energizes me to keep pouring my all into my undergrads and mentor them to go out and be confident social justice and feminist advocates in whatever professional sphere they choose. As feminists, especially those of us with status and privilege to mobilize, we need to undermine the power imbalances in the spaces to which we have access and in my mind, working with the aforementioned researchers is a small but important move in that direction.

* The students mentioned in this essay all read and edited it before I sent it to the editors at Feminist Reflections.

Image of Julie ShayneJulie Shayne is author/editor of three books: Taking Risks: Feminist Activism and Research in the Americas (editor), They Used to Call Us Witches: Chilean Exiles, Culture, and Feminism, winner of the Pacific Sociological Association’s 2011 Distinguished Scholarship Award, and The Revolution Question: Feminisms in El Salvador, Chile, and Cuba. She is a Senior Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell and Affiliate Associate Professor of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies & Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Washington Seattle.


My personal webpage http://www.julieshayne.net/

Taking Risks http://www.sunypress.edu/p-5884-taking-risks.aspx

They Used to Call Us Witches https://rowman.com/ISBN/0739118501

The Revolution Question http://rutgerspress.rutgers.edu/product/Revolution-Question,2223.aspx