Here are the slides and handouts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following the recent mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17th, 2015–a racially motivated act of domestic terrorism–President Barack Obama delivered a sobering address to the American people. With a heavy heart, President Obama spoke the day following the attack, stating:

At some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing that politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge. (here)

President Obama was primarily referring to gun control in the portion of his speech addressing the cause of attacks like this. Not all mass shootings are racially motivated, and not all qualify as “terrorist” attacks—though Charleston certainly qualifies.  And the mass shooting that occurred a just a month later in Chattanooga, Tennessee by a Kuwati-born American citizen was quickly labeled an act of domestic terrorism. But, President Obama makes an important point here: mass shootings are a distinctly American problem. This type of rampage violence happens more in the United States of America than anywhere else (see here for a thorough analysis of international comparisons). And gun control is a significant part of the problem. But, gun control is only a partial explanation for mass shootings in the United States. Mass shootings are also almost universally committed by men.  So, this is not just an American problem; it’s a problem related to American masculinity and to the ways American men use guns.  But asking whether “guns” or “masculinity” is more of the problem misses the central point that separating the two might not be as simple as it sounds.  And, as Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen, and Deanna Pan note in the Mother Jones Guide to Mass Shootings in America, the problem is getting worse.

We recently wrote a chapter summarizing the research on masculinity and mass shootings for Mindy Stombler and Amanda Jungels’ forthcoming volume, Focus on Social Problems: A Contemporary Reader (forthcoming, Oxford University Press). And we subsequently learned of a new dataset on mass shootings in the U.S. produced by the Stanford Geospatial Center. Their Mass Shootings in America database defines a “mass shooting” as an incident during which an active shooter shoots three or more people in a single episode. Some databases define mass shootings as involving 4 shootings in a single episode. And part of this reveals that the number is, in some ways, arbitrary. What is significant is that we can definitively say that mass shootings in the U.S. are on the rise, however they are defined. The Mother Jones database has shown that mass shootings have become more frequent over the past three decades.  And, using the Stanford Mass Shootings in America database, we can see this trend here (below) by relying on data that stretches back a bit further.

Mass Shootings FrequencyAdditionally, we know that the number of victims of mass shootings is also at an historic high (below).Victims of Mass ShootingsWe also produced a time-lapse map of mass shootings in the United States illustrating both where and when mass shootings have occurred using the Stanford Geospatial Center’s database to illustrate this trend over time (see below).

Our map charts mass shootings with 3 or more victims over roughly 5 decades, since 1966. The dataset takes us through the Chattanooga, Tennessee shooting, which brought 2015 to 42 mass shootings (as of July).* The dataset is composed of 216 separate incidents only 5 of which were committed by lone woman shooters. Below we produced an interactive map depicting all of the mass shootings in the dataset with brief descriptions of the shootings.

In our chapter in Stombler and Jungels’ forthcoming book, we cull existing research to answer two questions about mass shootings: (1) Why is it men who commit mass shootings? and (2) Why do American men commit mass shootings so much more than men anywhere else?  Based on sociological research, we argue that there are two separate explanations–a social psychological explanation and a cultural explanation (see the book for much more detail on each).

A Social Psychological Explanation–Research shows that when an identity someone cares about is called into question, they are likely to react by over-demonstrating qualities associated with that identity.  As this relates to gender, some sociologists call this “masculinity threat.”  And while mass shootings are not common, research suggests that mass shooters experience masculinity threats from their peers and, sometimes, simply from an inability to live up to societal expectations associated with masculinity (like holding down a steady job, being able to obtain sexual access to women’s bodies, etc.)–some certainly more toxic than others.  The research on this topic is primarily experimental.  Men who are brought into labs and have their masculinity experimentally “threatened” (see here for more details) react in patterned ways: they are more supportive of violence, less likely to identify sexual coercion, more likely to support statements about the inherent superiority of males, and more.  This research provides important evidence of what men perceive as masculine in the first place (resources they rely on in a crisis) and a new kind evidence regarding the relationship of masculinity and violence.  The research does not suggest that men are somehow inherently more violent than women.  Rather, it suggests that men are likely to turn to violence when they perceive themselves to be otherwise unable to stake a claim to a masculine gender identity.

A Cultural Explanation–But certainly boys and men experience all manner of gender identity threat in other societies.  Why are American boys and men more likely to react with such extreme displays?  To answer this question, we need an explanation that articulates the role that American culture plays in influencing boys and young men to turn to this kind of violence at rates higher than anywhere else in the world.  This means we need to turn our attention away from the individual characteristics of the shooters themselves and to more carefully investigate the sociocultural contexts in which violent masculinities are produced and valorized.  Men have historically benefited from a great deal of privilege–white, educated, middle and upper class, able-bodied, heterosexual men in particular.  Social movements of all kinds have slowly chipped away at some of these privileges.  So, while inequality is alive and well, men have also seen a gradual erosion of privileges that flowed more seamlessly to previous generations of men (white, heterosexual, class-privileged men in particular).  Michael Kimmel suggests that these changes have produced a uniquely American gendered sentiment that he calls “aggrieved entitlement.”  Of course, being pissed off about an inability to cash in on privileges previous generations of men received without question doesn’t always lead to mass shootings.  But, from this cultural perspective, mass shootings can be understood as an extremely violent example of a more general issue regarding changes in relations between men and women and historical transformations in gender, race, and class inequality.

Mass shootings are a pressing issue in the United States.  And gun control is an important part of this problem.  But, when we focus only on the guns, we sometimes gloss over an important fact: mass shootings are also enactments of masculinity.  And they will continue to occur when this fact is combined with a sense among some men that male privilege is a birthright–and one that many feel unjustly denied.


*The mass shootings in Charleston, South Carolina in June of 2015 and Chattanooga, Tennessee in July of 2015 were not in the dataset when we received it.  The data ran through May of 2015.  So, we’ve added the Charleston and Chattanooga shootings into the dataset for the graphs and maps on this post.

Graphic arts engage readers in a way text cannot. Told with sequences of pictures, along with narration and dialogue (often in the form of speech bubbles), graphic arts have become increasingly popular media for education and communication as well as social commentary. From disaster preparedness to questioning high-tech medical advancements, comics and other forms of graphic art are effective in sharing information and insight. For some, they are a more accessible format as they encourage readers to develop critical thinking, cultural literacy, and a motivation to engage in individual and social change.

Communication and Education

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed a free downloadable comic book, Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, as a way to help prepare the public for general emergencies.

zombie SlideThe 40-page graphic novella tells the story of a young couple and their dog during an escalating zombie apocalypse who manage to stay safe with the help of the CDC’s disaster preparedness instructions. The vivid images focus the reader’s attention, and the story line is clear and compelling.

As the impending disaster approaches the characters receive frightening information from official channels. Julie hears a voice on the radio:

“Stay in your homes. Do not go outside. If you or your family begin showing symptoms such as slowed movement, slurred speech, or violent behaviors, quarantine them to a secure area of the house. Stay tuned for more information on where to go…Stay in your…”

The images and text are geared toward a range of literacy levels and cognitive abilities and together promote recognition and recall. Yes, we’ll stay right here and wait for instructions! The graphic tale conveys this specific information as it creates an emotional connection with readers to motivate behavior.

The CDC’s story is likely to be nonthreatening to most people (unless they believe in zombies), thereby encouraging open-mindedness toward the message. Man scratches chin and says:

“I’ve been thinking…we should really make an emergency kit in case something happened. What if we were stuck in the house or had to evacuate? We need to have a plan!”… “Ok, but I’m serious…I think we need to make an emergency kit.”

“I hear ya!”
Message sent, and received. People learn in different ways and for some, visualizing a message is more compelling than seeing words on a page.

Comics for Social Commentary

In a culture bombarded by images, we are increasingly conditioned to learn through visual entertainment. Graphic arts take the form of this “entertainment” to inform and engage, and to incite action. “Notification! You’ve Got Cancer” is a comic strip by Adam Bessie and Josh Neufeld that provokes critical inquiry into an important social issue, the rise in medical technology and biomedical surveillance.

The short comic strip suggests that advances in high-tech cancer detection might get so invasive that someone could potentially receive a text message about some new diagnosis via smart device. The narrative does not go into detail about the practical or emotional implications of such advancements. It merely suggests that biomedical surveillance has become so increasingly routine, with patents on new technologies emerging at record speed, that the technology of cancer detection is likely here to stay whether we’re prepared for it or not.

Bessie-You've Got cancer

Adam received his brain cancer diagnosis from a doctor. Imagine getting news of your cancer diagnosis on your watch while shopping for fruit! This take on technology’s reach is not far fetched. The comic strip makes mention of recent developments such as GOOGLE’s newly patented cancer detecting pill and the iT bra that supposedly detects breast cancer using a smart phone and cloud-based analysis.

A flippant sequence featuring the author moves the reader’s attention beyond the shock of impersonal, inopportune diagnosis toward another serious flaw: personalized detection technology outpaces successful treatment.

Bessie2-You've Got cancer

In pointing out this problem, Notification! raises a crucial question about the technological imperative, or the inevitability and necessity of new technologies. Namely, is it necessarily for the greater good?

The authors suggest that there may be little to gain in live-streaming one’s tumor and waiting to be saved. What’s more, the matter illuminates the uncertainty that inherently exists in technology and biomedicine.

Biomedical uncertainty refers to the ways in which knowledge is limited about how to prevent, diagnose, and treat a varied range of diseases and conditions. This shouldn’t be news. Talcott Parsons argued in 1951 in The Social System that the incessant advancement of science and medicine increases biomedical uncertainty as doctors rely more fully on scientific advancements and specialized technology to consult with patients and construct diagnostic and treatment protocols. Yet technological advancements march along while indeterminate diagnostics, controversial medical evidence, and ambiguous treatment outcomes are often a stark and surprising reality for the diagnosed.

As the biomedical enterprise colonizes greater expanses of health and illness domains, it must move ethical and practical considerations such as those discussed in this comic strip to the heart of its research and development. Otherwise Adam’s future stressed out descendants might find themselves live-streaming their tumors on their fit bits while recording their gradual demise on their Snapchat Spectacles.

dragSouthern drag kings are interrupting the gender binary and making the South a safer place for queer people. Yes, drag kings do exist in the South, even the rural South. In our recent study (coauthored with Kimberly Kelly), we examine 27 South Carolina drag kings’ ideas about and experiences with drag in the South. The goal of this project is to make queer life in the South more visible and to explore how it differs from larger metropolitan areas that are more often the subject of academic research. Drag culture in the South is thriving and we wanted to know more about its impact.

Our findings suggest that Southern drag kings do not share intentions with drag kings in larger cities. Southern drag kings do not wish to overtly challenge the gender status quo. Unlike drag kings in other areas, they do not think of their performance as political. In contrast, Southern drag kings understand drag as a safe and fun outlet for expressing a female masculinity not respected in their everyday lives. As one king explains, “From all the experiences I’ve had, it’s just about fun and escape.”

drag 1The majority of drag kings in the South entered drag to express their long-term identification with masculinity. Many use drag as a testing ground for gender transition. Southern drag kings often described difficulty finding spaces where their masculine, or otherwise queer, identities were accepted. Performing drag was one place where many kings felt accepted and received positive messages about queer culture and transgender identities. Through drag they were able to receive information about gender identity and sexuality that many perceived unavailable outside these venues in the South. One drag king explains that drag is a place where transgender people can feel more comfortable. He says, “I guess more people are naturally drawn to that if they don’t feel comfortable in their skin because it’s like the first arena where you’re accepted as your new persona.”

Although their intentions are largely individualistic, for entertainment or gender transition, we argue the performance of drag in the South still has the effect of challenging the gender order and leads others to push for change in our society. Intentionality is not necessary for political impact. drag 4By performing as men, drag kings question the innateness of masculinity and show its performative nature. That Southern drag kings do not overtly state these challenges to the gender order does not eliminate the power of their performances.

Though the South may not be ready for an overt challenge to the gender hierarchy, drag provides a safe space for those who wish to step outside the gender binary. Southern drag kings understand the conservative nature of the South, and rather than challenge it directly, seek to remove themselves from it, if only for one show. Although change may be slower in the South than other areas of the country, drag provides a glimmer of hope for overcoming the gender hierarchy, especially in a context where the gender binary is so rarely interrupted.


baker (2)Ashley A. Baker recently completed her PhD in Sociology at Mississippi State University and begins a position as an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Work at Simpson College in the Fall of 2015. Her coauthor, Kimberly Kelly, is an Associate Professor of Sociology and the Director of Gender Studies at Mississippi State University.
Their article “Live Like a King, Y’all: Gender Negotiation and the Performance of Masculinity among Southern Drag Kings” will be released for OnlineFirst publication at Sexualities soon.

Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair

In April 2015, Olympic athlete and reality television star Bruce Jenner sat down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer to reveal his gender identity. Born male, Bruce declared that he always felt female and was going through the process of becoming a woman. In June, an image of Jenner dressed in a cream-colored bustier was the cover of Vanity Fair magazine, captioned by the pronouncement, “Call me Caitlyn.”

Those of us born in the last forty years have had little choice but to be affected by waves of cultural change. Every generation has this, of course, but generations who have been branded like cattle with the letters “x” and “y” have been placed in the unique position of both benefiting from the feminist and queer activism of those who came before us while also participating in a massive technological, Internet-based, and over-exposed celebrity culture which saturates our socialization. For feminist pop culture scholars like myself this is thrilling, especially considering the impact pop culture can have on society.

My generation was pushed into the “We are the World” phenomenon, the 1985 song whose proceeds benefited USA for Africa. We saw Magic Johnson announce his HIV status, forever cementing a childhood hero’s vulnerability and shattering ideas about ‘who gets AIDS.’ We were young and impressionable when Madonna came on the scene, her music and images pushing against gender roles.

In the decades that followed, we have witnessed our country’s shift in gay and lesbian rights, through comediennes like Ellen DeGeneres, pop stars and actors such as Lance Bass and Neil Patrick Harris as well as countless others who came out and then continued to have thriving careers.

My generation has watched as pop culture shined a light on issues such as violence against women, in part, because of the work of people like musician Tori Amos who co-founded RAINN, Angelina Jolie’s status as a U.N. goodwill ambassador and even men like WWE legend Mick Foley who regularly raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the work of RAINN and volunteer for the hotline.

Yet, these examples are of people acting intentionally and using their time and talent to better the world. Which is why it is surprising that a reality show, whose premise is to follow a wealthy family’s quest for stardom, is becoming part of social change.

Like most people, I know that beings called Kardashians and Jenners exist. The reality television show Keeping Up with the Kardashian’s has run regularly since 2008, featuring the blended family of Kris Kardashian and Bruce Jenner. The family’s popularity has had huge monetary gains and spurred a list of products too long to mention (here is a link to most of them), while simultaneously being critiqued for the “reality” created by the show’s producers.

It is because of the widespread impact of the show that leads me to think that the transition of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner may be one of the single most important moments in pop culture for multiple generations. Whether we think of Caitlyn as an Olympic athlete, father or reality TV star, her transition from man to woman in such a public and well-orchestrated way is inescapable. Very few Americans can now say they do not know of someone who is transgender.

Caitlyn’s public revelation will undoubtedly help people who are struggling with transgender issues, being able to see ourselves and identify with another person is part of social development. It will also feed the masses of skeptical or cynical people who reject the power of celebrity. This is the beauty and brutality of popular culture.

Incredibly, watching the way Jenner has chronicled her life-long struggle with gender has placed terms like “gender identity” and “sex vs. gender” into media culture. The social construction of gender is becoming part of a national conversation, and gender studies scholarship is leaping into daily coverage of Jenner’s transition. Terms like ‘intersectionality’ are entering discussions about age (Jenner is 65), social class (she can afford the best surgical procedures) and privilege (unlimited resources aid her ability to transition and pass as a woman). Currently, gender studies is a focus of national media, something that was evident in the Keeping Up with the Kardashian’s special, “About Bruce” when Kim bluntly asked her step-father, “So if you’re a ‘woman’ and you used to have sex with my mom, does that mean you’re a lesbian?” In that moment, queer theory entered the Kardashian household. Millions of people were challenged to think about the spectrum of sexuality. Now, frank conversations about gender roles are popping up at dinner tables and coffee shops around the country.

Of course, Jenner’s experience does not speak for all transgender people. (How could it?)

As coverage of the Vanity Fair cover unfolded, comments about Caitlyn’s appearance were abundant. Being able to “pass” as male/female allows a certain amount of privilege for transgender people, their image conforms to set gender norms. There is comfort in men and women resembling our socially constructed ideas of male/female. Additionally, transitioning the way Caitlyn did was costly, the multiple surgeries and cosmetic procedures are not available for all. Further, as Jon Stewart noted, the media’s appetite for breaking down women’s looks is insatiable, as they did when the Vanity Fair image was released.

Vanity Fair Interview

For transgender people there is already a high level of scrutiny about their bodies and, for transgender women, her cultural capital is based on her beauty. Jenner is lucky, she met these social expectations, CNN even declared her to be “stunning.” Passing is not as easy for many transgender people. There are limited resources for most to have a perfect coming out.

Regardless, the spotlight Caitlyn has elected to shine on herself is going to change lives. Gender, in all its inceptions, needs to be a part of the national conversation and Caitlyn Jenner is doing just that. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Adrienne PicAdrienne Trier-Bieniek PhD is a gender and pop culture sociologist. She is the author of Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos (Scarecrow Press, 2013) and co-editor of Gender and Pop Culture: A Text-Reader (Sense, 2014). Her writing has appeared in various academic journals as well as xoJane, The Mary Sue, Gender & Society Blog, Feministing, and Girl w/Pen, and she runs the Facebook page Pop Culture Feminism. Adrienne Trier-Bieniek is a professor of sociology at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida.

adjunct 1Adjunct:  “a thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part”.

I’ve been teaching Sociology as an “adjunct” for nearly 20 years.  I never liked this descriptor, but I learned early on that most students don’t know or seem to care about my title or my status, and for me, that’s the bottom line. I have found that students are oblivious to stratification within academia – the cascade of titles and honors that starts with part-timers at the bottom, and then officially begins with Assistant Professor, the tenuous first step which initiates the gradual and arduous climb up and up, until – if lucky – one reaches Associate, Full and eventually, at the far end of the career spectrum, Emeritus, the end of the line, after decades of classes taught, research conducted, peer-reviewed articles and books published, talks given and dissertations advised.

Chichén Itzá Pyramid
Chichén Itzá Pyramid

When prospective parents and students tromp around campus, asking all the right questions, they are rarely prompted to ask one of the most relevant questions:  “Will my professors be part-time (low-paid) labor?” No, if they ask anything related to the status of teachers, they want to know if the professors have doctorates, and often the answer is “yes”, avoiding the issue of labor stratification altogether.

That said, most students just assume that their teacher is the professor, unless that teacher is still a graduate student. In fact, in every undergraduate class I have taught, students insist on calling me “Professor”, even when I tell them to call me by my first name. I generally stop short of telling them about my status in the academic chain; I also don’t tell them that they may never see me again because I’m not sure if I’ll be re-hired. I have had some teaching jobs where students are shocked when, at the end of the semester, they hear I might not be back the following year.  Sometimes, that opens up the conversation about stratification within the academic labor market. After all, this is Sociology, where issues of class, gender and race are paramount. Why not insert one’s own “social location” into the mix?

The increase in employment of part-time, adjunct faculty in academia has become an “issue” for some university systems, especially when union contracts or state laws limit the number of part-time faculty. Despite bloated administrative budgets and the building of new athletic centers and sports arenas designed (in some places) to make an institution more “competitive”, the teaching staff is where pennies are pinched.

Adjunct teaching an add-on rather than central

Teaching as an adjunct is not my “full-time work”; it truly is an adjunct to my career, in which I co-run a small social science consulting group called Arbor Consulting Partners ( In other words, thankfully, I don’t depend on this income as my “bread and butter”. Teaching is my passion but it’s really hard to make a living teaching as an adjunct.

I have been lucky to not be at the bottom end of the adjunct pay scale – which can be as low as $2,000 per course, but the wages generally hover around $5,000-6,000 at many research universities, unless you’re teaching at one of the “prestige” institutions. Many adjuncts piece together a string of teaching gigs, sometimes as many as 6 classes per semester and sometimes in different institutions, just to pay the bills. They/we receive no benefits, and while they are teaching a full load, they often don’t have an office – or if they do, they share it with all the other part-timers, so it’s hard to use for meetings with students or to get any work done. Adjuncts can work their butts off and still be poor and disenfranchised.

Adjunct 7 teach for foodGenerally, an adjunct functions outside of the system. We’re not paid to go to meetings or advise students. This is fair, given that we’re only paid to teach. But for those who would like to be more involved – and even be considered for a tenure track position – this status can be a liability. New hires in academia are judged for their ability to teach and advise students, and in research universities, they are judged by their academic scholarship.  Adjuncts rarely have time to pursue their own research, and if they do, it’s on their own dime, unless they have sought and received a grant, which is harder to do without an institutional base. Some universities even disallow part-timers from receiving university grants.

Having the capacity to teach many different courses is central to any adjunct’s survival. I have taught a variety of Sociology courses in a range of academic institutions, including courses on aging, sex and gender, feminist theory, work and family policy, gender and leadership, and most recently, a course on Evaluation Research, which is the work I do as a consultant. For some of those jobs, I had a one-year contract, but mostly, I have been teaching by the course and by the semester, with the possibilities of returning, which I have now happily done in three of the institutions where I have taught. Generally, I have either replaced a professor who is on-leave, taught a course that full-time faculty didn’t have time to teach, or more recently, I have taught courses that no one else has the expertise to teach.

One thing that I love about teaching at the university level is the freedom to design a syllabus, regardless of whether a course has been taught by another professor. Not all adjuncts get to do this. Over the years, I have experimented with incorporating the arts into my teaching, and invariably, other professors (those on the ladder) tell me they think it’s really cool. I have been lucky that, for me, teaching as an adjunct is a choice. I have also had some incredible colleagues, supportive and inclusive. But many adjuncts do not feel they are treated as equals relative to full-time faculty.

Unionizing the adjunct labor force

Adjunct Teacher, Otis College of Art and Design, LA
Adjunct Teacher, Otis College of Art and Design, LA

There is a growing movement to unionize this low-paid contingent labor force, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation (AFT) of Teachers are two of the major unions now leading the charge nationally. A dozen new union locals have been established, including one at Tufts University, where I got a one-year contract right after I completed my doctorate, and another at Lesley University, where one of my friends, a fully tenured faculty member, played a key role. Both were organized by SEIU.

So where do I stand? I strongly believe that it is in the interests of all parties within academia for Part-time Faculty to be paid well and have good working conditions, including consistency in the courses they teach and multi-year contracts, as this contributes to the overall quality of education at the institution. At the same time, Universities should not rely so heavily on part-time labor. The slow creep of an unstable labor force comprised of part-time contracted workers is a disservice to students, their parents and the institution overall.

Tufts University Adjuncts
Tufts University Adjuncts

At Tufts, part-time faculty members successfully negotiated a contract that included 22% pay raises over a 3-year period, longer-term contracts, and the right to be interviewed for full-time positions in one’s department. In addition, their contract stipulates that adjuncts who teach three or more courses over the academic year will have access to health, retirement, tuition reimbursement, and other employee benefits. This is a major victory for part-timers and the University, overall.

Historically, it has always been challenging to organize “professional” workers, given the notion that labor unions are associated with blue-collar workers, not teachers or nurses or social workers, who are falsely considered “above that”. But frankly, this notion is just a way to hold back the collective strength of workers from having more power. The move to organize adjunct labor – just like the move to organize all workers who are underpaid and undervalued – is critical not just to the individuals who directly gain from union representation; it is also critical for the broader society and economy.

Harvard University Widener Library
Harvard University Widener Library

A recent article in the Harvard Crimson describes the working conditions for its “non-ladder” faculty, or put in more plebeian terms, adjunct faculty. Harvard can call these workers what they want, but they are still contingent labor. Adjuncts at Harvard and other Ivy’s get paid sometimes twice or three times what adjuncts at less prestigious institutions get paid.  But unlike tenure track faculty, they are subject to short contracts, far lower wages than their colleagues, and lower status than their colleagues. An exception to this is when the Ivy’s hire former politicians or entrepreneurs who command high wages to teach a course because of the prestige they bring to the institution. For the “average” non-ladder employee at Harvard, the institution affords a status akin to a post-doc, a coveted year following the completion of one’s doctorate which may be devoted to research. This is because teaching at Harvard, even as a “non-ladder” employee, carries the imprimatur of a fancy-labeled institution. Surely, one would think, if that institution is hiring this person to teach their students, they must be smart by association.

Core Faculty, Lesley University
Angelica Pinna Perez, Dalia Llera and Jason Pramas, Core Faculty supporting the union vote, Lesley University

Bigger questions must be raised about whether universities are going to depend more fully on lower-waged contracted workers. The system of tenure, where faculty members are essentially hired for life, has been subject to debate for many years, posting the question: Is the tenure system critical to protecting intellectual inquiry, and/or is it a system that rewards decreasing productivity? But this thinking avoids the real issues. The tenure system is not to blame for the rise in part-time contracted labor in academia. We must, instead, look at bloated administrative budgets and the trend to create amenities to attract students, particularly those paying full-freight.

David Kociemba, President of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at Emerson College, where he teaches in the Department of Visual and Media Arts, is quoted as saying the adjunct movement is “four decades in the making”, but he was able to finish the union drive at Emerson College in only two months. This just demonstrates how ready some part-time faculty members are to get organized, given the opportunity.

So far, I have not been at an institution during a union drive for adjunct labor. That is perhaps another casualty of life as a “sometimes adjunct”, or any adjunct for that matter, given that these part-time workers aren’t tethered to the institutions where they teach. But I imagine that if I do continue to teach courses here and there, I will eventually sit in the eye of the storm, and instead of supporting the movement from the sidelines, writing blog posts and signing petitions, I will add my voice to the collective. While I don’t count on my adjunct jobs to pay the bills, I wouldn’t mind…

While I had already planned and drafted another post for this week, that topic, which would have been important and interesting to me on any other day, suddenly seemed trivial. One of my family members is in critical condition and on life support. By the time this post goes live, he will have passed. In the spirit of Feminist Reflections and talking about everyday life, this week I talk about grief and death. During this emotional time for our family, I have attempted to write this post with clarity. But I have a lot on my mind. I write with a heavy heart as my family experiences grief, and I ponder the meaning of death.mourning-360500_640

How do we mourn and comfort others who are grieving? How do we grieve differently when people die at different ages, or unexpectedly? Can we believe in something that will help us through our grief? How are our spiritual beliefs connected to, or guided by, our scientific training?

Sociologists attempt to use our scientific tools to understand the world, to give meaning and order to things. But as much as we can understand death as a physiological or biological event, the emotional and spiritual experience of someone’s death is often hard to make sense of with social scientific theories (at least, in my opinion). Still, I believe, as do many others, that emotional and “rational” thinking helps to make sense of the death of a loved one.

Thinking Back

As an only child, both of my biological grandfathers died before I was born. My maternal grandmother died when I was five. My paternal grandmother remarried the year that my parents got married, and my “step-grandpa” (but in all honesty, my grandfather) died when I was in graduate school. My grandma lived on her own for a few years until her death.

Grandma died seven years ago on Memorial Day weekend. At the time, I was living about five hours from my hometown in Iowa. She had lived independently in her own house for a few years. When it became clear that she could not live on her own, my family decided to move her into an assisted living environment. She lived there only a short time before ending up in the hospital, for reasons I cannot remember, and then into hospice. Ironically, the hospice was located in the same nursing home where she lived before her death.

My grandma was in hospice for longer than the usual time. Dementia had taken over. She stopped eating. She muttered phrases. No one was clear of their meaning. My mom did not want me to see my grandma in this condition. But I was incredibly close to her. My friends loved her. As many of them said, “she had a lot of spunk.” When I moved away for college and graduate school, I called her weekly; that is, until she went to hospice and could no longer carry on a telephone conversation. Still, I needed closure. I needed to say goodbye.

My spouse, our daughter (age two at the time), and I went to visit my grandma that Memorial Day weekend. Grandma, who lay there in a fragile, non-coherent state, reached out and held my daughter’s — her great granddaughter’s — hand with a strong grip. grandmaThe next day, she finally said goodbye.

I can believe my grandma wanted to see her great granddaughter and me before she died. Is this what was going on? There is no empirical way to prove it. Yet science and spirituality guided me in this belief.

Grandma lived longer than usual in hospice. My family has many questions about why she would not ‘let go’. She would say in her non-lucid state she was sorry, and mutter other phrases too. Since she was a former Catholic, we thought she was sorry for leaving the church and had her last rites read. Beyond this, every family member and friend spoke to her on the phone before she died. But she did not let go until the day after we visited her, and she held my daughter’s hand.

I cannot know, really, if my grandma needed to see us before passing on. But I believe that she did. This is one way I have dealt with my grief.

Seven years later, we have lost others. As much as I miss my grandma, I can accept her death as normative. She was in her mid-eighties. But my father-in-law died from cancer when he was only sixty-three, and the time from diagnosis to death was a short four months (after predictions of a year). The third anniversary of his death just passed. Although I can see my father-in-law, with his positive attitude and shining smile standing from his place above and telling us to live life to the fullest, he left us too early. I can talk sociologically about the factors that might have influenced his health, which helps me understand his death at an younger age. But this does not make my grief easier. And now, another family member leaves us too early, and unexpectedly.

While death is part of life, we often imagine it will happen in old age, near the end of the life course for most people. When it does not, when it is unexpected, it is harder to understand and to know how to comfort others or ourselves. Saying it was someone’s ‘time’ seems callous and lacks empathy, especially when the person was not in pain, was young, or the death was unexpected. Friends and colleagues have lost children at younger ages, and I cannot imagine the pain or the grief they experienced.

I do not study aging, death, dying, or grief. But as a sociologist I want to make sense out of the social world. Death and mourning, especially when we do not expect it, are hard to make sense of. There is no correct thing to say to those in mourning. Grief strikes. We can support our loved ones and acknowledge that there are different ways of grieving. We deal with it in our own ways.



While your death was untimely and we will miss you, we will never forget the memories and your positive spirit. You had a huge impact on your family and this world that will not be forgotten. May you rest in peace.

Originally posted at Inequality by (Interior) Design

photo 1(1)I recently moved to upstate New York.  So, there’s a lot more Victorian-style architecture in my neighborhood.  I’ve posted on the interesting ways that Victorian architecture gender segregates activity within the domestic space before (here and here).  One room I’ve been interested in lately is a room with a few different names and a history that’s not entirely known.  It’s sometimes referred to as a “roofwalk.”  But, it’s more commonly called either a “widow’s walk,” “widow’s perch,” or a “widow’s watch.”  When I first learned about it, it was written about as a widow’s watch.  And there’s a bit of cultural mythology that surrounds these rooms in homes.  Here are two houses in my neighborhood with the room (right and left).

photo 2(1)The story that I’ve always heard about this room is that it was designed for the wives of sailors to watch and wait for their husbands to return.  Women whose husbands died at sea–so I was told–would sit in these rooms, pining for their long-lost lovers.  As it happens, there’s not a great deal of evidence that this was, in fact, the original purpose of the room, nor that this is how these rooms were actually used.  They did initially appear during the period when the sailing industry produced international trade on a level previously unimaginable and during which naval warfare dominated (~1500’s through the mid 1800s).  But the rooms could have equally been intended for (and used by) mariners themselves (rather than their wives) to look out for ships due back in port.  Indeed, in some communities, these rooms are referred to as “captain’s walks.”

And it’s also true that a great deal of these rooms were initially built around the chimneys of homes to provide quick and easy access to the chimney both in case it needed repair, and for a quick way to put out chimney fires–a constant dilemma in early American architecture.  This was the reason people had their chimneys “swept” every so often.  The accumulated ash and soot, if not regularly removed, could ignite.  Sweeping chimneys was serious–and extremely dangerous–business.  victorian style chimney sweep, a child chimney sweep,  hulton piChildren were often used because of their size, but it was a job often given to orphaned children.  It’s also a powerful illustration of historical understandings of children and childhood.  Despite being illegal, it would be unthinkable to ask a child to do something this dangerous today.  Chimney fires were serious business.  So, having quick access to pour sand down might have saved your home.

Yet many of these rooms today are not around chimneys, and if they were intended for either men or women, they were a room gendered by design.  And if intended for women, then they continued a tradition within Victorian architecture of designing rooms specifically intended to segregate (and/or isolate) certain emotional displays of women, keeping them out of sight.

Boudoirs and fainting rooms are similar examples.  Boudoirs, I think, are popularly thought of as rather large closets for women, in which wealthy Victorian women would bathe, dress, sit gazing at themselves in mirrors and brushing their hair (at least this is how they’re sometimes depicted on film).  It was also a private space in which women could carry out hobbies (like reading and embroidery) or entertain lovers away from various others in the house.   Interestingly, men’s private chambers were referred to as their “cabinet” (a term also used in American politics referring to the small group of people who advise and assist the president).  Boudoir is not as commonly used today.  It actually translates to something like “sulking room.”  And, boudoirs were also designed as spaces to which women might flee to avoid having socially “inappropriate” emotional displays in front of others.

Fainting rooms served similar purposes.  Typically on the main level of the house, fainting rooms were typically equipped with fainting couches.  How these rooms were actually used is the subject of some debate among historians.  Some have assumed that women were fainting because of the pain and various bodily restrictions caused by regularly wearing corsets.  Others suggest that these rooms and couches were used in some of the treatments prescribed for hysteria.  In either case, fainting rooms were designed to isolate women during periods of intense duress.

Rooms dedicated to socially “inappropriate” emotional displays from men are absent in Victorian architecture, perhaps because “real men” were presumed not to ever have need of them.  It’s an interesting case in which architecture plays a critical role in our interactions, either segregating or suppressing certain displays.

Lots of time and care consideration goes into the production of new superheroes and the revision of time-honored heroes. Subtle features of outfits aren’t changed by accident and don’t go unnoticed. Skin color also merits careful consideration to ensure that the racial depiction of characters is consistent with their back stories alongside other considerations. A colleague of mine recently shared an interesting analysis of racial depictions by a comic artist, Ronald Wimberly—“Lighten Up.”*  “Lighten Up” is a cartoon essay that addresses some of the issues Wimberly struggled with in drawing for a major comic book publisher. NPR ran a story on the essay as well. In short, Wimberly was asked by his editor to “lighten” a characters’ skin tone—a character who is supposed to have a Mexican father and an African American mother.  The essay is about Wimberly’s struggle with the request and his attempt to make sense of how the potentially innocuous-seeming request might be connected with racial inequality. Skin ToneIn the panel of the cartoon reproduced here, you can see Wimberly’s original color swatch for the character alongside the swatch he was instructed to use for the character.

Digitally, colors are handled by what computer programmers refer to as hexadecimal IDs. Every color has a hexademical “color code.” It’s an alphanumeric string of 6 letters and/or numbers preceded by the pound symbol (#).  For example, computers are able to understand the color white with the color code #FFFFFF and the color black with #000000. Hexadecimal IDs are based on binary digits—they’re basically a way of turning colors into code so that computers can understand them. Artists might tell you that there are an infinite number of possibilities for different colors. But on a computer, color combinations are not infinite: there are exactly 16,777,216 possible color combinations. Hexadecimal IDs are an interesting bit of data and I’m not familiar with many social scientists making use of them.**

There’s probably more than one way of using color codes as data. But one thought I had was that they could be an interesting way of identifying racialized depictions of comic book characters in a reproducible manner—borrowing from Wimberly’s idea in “Lighten Up.” Some questions might be: Are white characters depicted with the same hexadecimal variation as non-white characters? Or, are women depicted with more or less hexadecimal variation than men? Perhaps white characters are more likely to be depicted in more dramatic and dynamic lighting, causing their skin to be depicted with more variation than non-white characters. If that’s true, it might also make an interesting data-based argument to suggest that white characters are featured in more dynamic ways in comic books than are non-white characters. The same could be true of men compared with women.

Just to give this a try, I downloaded a free eye-dropper plug-in that identifies hexadecimal IDs. I used the top 16 images in a Google Image search for Batman (white man), Amazing-man (black man), and Wonder Woman (white woman). Because many images alter skin tone with shadows and light, I tried to use the eye-dropper to select the pixel that appeared most representative of the skin tone of the face of each character depicted.

Here are the images for Batman with a clean swatch of the hexadecimal IDs for the skin tone associated with each image below:


Batman Hex Codes

Below are the images for Amazing-man with swatches of the skin tone color codes beneath:Amazing-Man

Amazing-Man Hex Codes

Finally, here are the images for Wonder Woman with pure samples of the color codes associated with her skin tone for each image below:

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman Hex CodesNow, perhaps it was unfair to use Batman as a comparison as his character is more often depicted at night than is Wonder Woman—a fact which might mean he is more often depicted in dynamic lighting than she is. But it’s an interesting thought experiment.  Based on this sample, two things that seem immediately apparent. Amazing-man is depicted much darker when his character is drawn angry. And Wonder Woman exhibits the least color variation of the three.  Whether this is representative is beyond the scope of the post.  But, it’s an interesting question.  While we know that there are dramatically fewer women in comic books than men, inequality is not only a matter of numbers.  Portrayal matters a great deal as well, and color codes might be one way of considering getting at this issue in a new and systematic way.

While the hexadecimal ID of an individual pixel of an image is an objective measure of color, it’s also true that color is in the eye of the beholder and we perceive colors differently when they are situated alongside different colors. So, obviously, color alone tells us little about individual perception, and even less about the social and cultural meaning systems tied to different hexadecimal hues. Yet, as Wimberly writes, “In art, this is very important. Art is where associations are made. Art is where we form the narratives of our identity.”  Beyond this, art is a powerful cultural arena in which we form narratives about the identities of others.

At any rate, it’s an interesting idea. And I hope someone smarter than me does something with it (or tells me that it’s already been done and I simply wasn’t aware).


*Thanks to Andrea Herrera for posting Ronald Wimberly’s cartoon essay, “Lighten Up.”

**In writing this post, I was reminded that Philip Cohen wrote a short post suggesting that we might do more research on gender and color by using color codes to analyze children’s clothing. The post is here if you’re interested. After re-reading his post, I used the same site to collect pure samples of each hex code and I copied his display of the swatches.  Thanks Philip!