For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012.

Today in the U.S., one of the major rules of masculinity is that men must avoid physical intimacy with each other unless they want to have their sexuality called into question. The guy horrified by the potential implications of a casual physical touch is a common trope in our pop culture.

But this wasn’t always the case. For physical closeness and even casual expressions of intimacy to become threats to masculinity, homosexuality had to enter the public consciousness as a stigmatized identity. That is, a man being gay had to be a possibility in observers’ minds when interpreting their behavior, and men had to be eager to avoid any such assumptions.

Over at the Art of Manliness, Brett and Kate McKay have posted a fantastic collection of old photos showing men posing in ways that show a high level of comfort with physical contact between men. Many of them show men posed in ways that would be unacceptable among straight men today. Here are just a few; I highly recommend looking at their entire post:

The McKays point out that sitting for a portrait required men to go to public businesses and openly pose for a photographer. These poses were quite common for men at the time and wouldn’t have been read through the lens of potential gayness that viewers today would likely apply.

Once personal cameras became popular, formal studio photos waned, but early snapshots showed similar poses. Though snapshots eliminated the need to go to a public place of business and pose, film still had to be developed by a professional, who would look at each image (and, even when I was a kid, developers would occasionally refuse to develop photos due to content, and occasionally you heard of a developer calling the police about photos they believed revealed illegal activities). The fact that physical touching is so common among men in early snapshots indicates that there was nothing scandalous or threatening bout such poses. Only as the performance of masculinity became increasingly focused on an obsessive avoidance of any perception of gayness or femininity did such touching become taboo.

Seriously, though — -check out their entire post. It’s awesome!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012.

In “Rock in a Hard Place: Grassroots Cultural Production in the Post-Elvis Era,” William Bielby discusses the emergence of the amateur teen rock band. The experience of teens getting together with their friends to form a band and practice in their parents’ garage is iconic in our culture now; recalling their first band or their first live show is a standard element of interviews with successful rock musicians. Bielby traces the history of this cultural form, which appeared in the 1950s. In particular, he argues that social structures largely excluded young women from full participation in the teen band phenomenon.

Though young women were involved in many other types of musical performance, the pop charts featured many successful female artists in the 1950s, and girls listened to music more than boys, rock bands emerged as a male-dominated (and predominantly White) musical form. One important reason was parents’ concern about the rock subculture and the lack of supervision. Parents might be willing to let their sons get together with friends and play loud music and travel around town or even to other cities to play in front of a crowd, but they were much less likely to let their daughters do so. Gendered parenting, and the closer regulation of girls than boys, meant that girls were less likely to be given the chance to join a band. So while boys were learning to take on the role of active producers of rock music, girls didn’t have the same opportunities.

Yunnan C. sent us photos she took of two shirts at an H&M store in Toronto that made me think about Bielby’s argument:

As Yunnan points out,

This, as fashion, enforces this idea that being in a band and playing music are for guys, limiting women to being the passive consumers and supporters of it, rather than the producers.

The shirts don’t just cast women in the role of fans; they specifically frame them as potential groupies, whose fandom is filtered through a romantic/sexual attraction to individual members of a band. Communications scholar Melissa Click argues that female fans are often dismissed because there is a “persistent cultural assumption that male-targeted texts are authentic and interesting, while female-targeted texts are schlocky and mindless—and further that men and boys are active users of media while girls are passive consumers.” While the image of the groupie is as well-known as that of the band, the groupie is usually viewed skeptically, seen as someone with a superficial, inauthentic appreciation of the music, “a particular kind of female fan assumed to be more interested in sex with rock stars than in their music.”

So the H&M shirts reflect gendered notions about who makes music (there were no shirts saying “I am the drummer”) as well as the idea that women’s appreciation for music and other forms of pop culture should be expressed through affection for a specific person, a form of fanhood that ultimately stigmatizes those who express it as superficial and inauthentic.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012.

Today, most people in the U.S. see childhood as a stage distinct from adulthood, and even from adolescence. We think children are more vulnerable and innocent than adults and should be protected from many of the burdens and responsibilities that adult life requires. But as Sidney Mintz explains in Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood, “…childhood is not an unchanging biological stage of life but is, rather, a social and cultural construct…Nor is childhood an uncontested concept” (p. viii). Indeed,

We cling to a fantasy that once upon a time childhood and youth were years of carefree adventure…The notion of a long childhood, devoted to education and free from adult responsibilities, is a very recent invention, and one that became a reality for a majority of children only after World War II. (p. 2)

Our ideas about what is appropriate for children to do has changed radically over time, often as a result of political and cultural battles between groups with different ideas about the best way to treat children. Most of us would be shocked by the level of adult responsibilities children were routinely expected to shoulder a century ago.

Reader RunTraveler let us know that the Library of Congress has posted a collection of photos by Lewis Hine, all depicting child labor in the early 1900s in the U.S. The photos are a great illustration of our changing ideas about childhood, showing the range of jobs, many requiring very long hours in often dangerous or extremely unpleasant conditions, that children did. I picked out a few (with some of Hine’s comments on each one below each photo), but I suggest looking through the full Flikr set or the full collection of over 5,000 photos of child laborers from the National Child Labor Committee:

“John Howell, an Indianapolis newsboy, makes $.75 some days. Begins at 6 a.m., Sundays.” 1908. Source.

Interior of tobacco shed, Hawthorn Farm. Girls in foreground are 8, 9, and 10 years old. The 10 yr. old makes 50 cents a day. 12 workers on this farm are 8 to 14 years old, and about 15 are over 15 yrs. (LOC)“Interior of tobacco shed, Hawthorn Farm. Girls in foreground are 8, 9, and 10 years old. The 10 yr. old makes 50 cents a day.” 1917. Source.

Eagle and Phoenix Mill. "Dinner-toters" waiting for the gate to open. This is carried on more in Columbus than in any other city I know, and by smaller children... (LOC)“Eagle and Phoenix Mill. ‘Dinner-toters’ waiting for the gate to open.” 1913. Source.

Vance, a Trapper Boy, 15 years old. Has trapped for several years in a West Va. Coal mine. $.75 a day for 10 hours work...(LOC)“Vance, a Trapper Boy, 15 years old. Has trapped for several years in a West Va. Coal mine. $.75 a day for 10 hours work. All he does is to open and shut this door: most of the time he sits here idle, waiting for the cars to come. On account of the intense darkness in the mine, the hieroglyphics on the door were not visible until plate was developed.” 1908. Source.

“Rose Biodo…10 years old. Working 3 summers. Minds baby and carries berries, two pecks at a time. Whites Bog, Brown Mills, N.J. This is the fourth week of school and the people here expect to remain two weeks more.” 1910. Source.

Hine’s photos make it clear how common child labor was, but their very existence also documents the cultural battle over the meaning of childhood taking place in the 1900s. Hine worked for the National Child Labor Committee, and his photos and especially his accompanying commentary express concern that children were doing work that was dangerous, difficult, poorly-paid, and that interfered with their school attendance.

In fact, the NCLC’s efforts contributed to the passage of the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act in 1916, the first law to regulate the use of child workers (limiting hours and forbidding interstate commerce in items produced by children under various ages, depending on the product). The law was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1918. This resulted in an extended battle between supporters and opponents of child labor laws, as another law was passed and then struck down by the courts, followed by successful efforts to stall any more legislation in the 1920s based on states-rights and anti-Communist arguments. Only in 1938, with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act as part of the New Deal, did child workers receive specific protections.

Even then, we had loopholes. While children working in factories or mines was redefined as inappropriate and even exploitative and cruel, a child babysitting or delivering newspapers for money was often interpreted as character-building. Today, the cultural battle over the use of children as workers continues. This year, the Labor Department retracted suggested changes that would restrict the type of farmwork children could be hired to do after it received significant push-back from farmers and legislators afraid it would apply to kids working on their own family’s farms.

As Mintz said, childhood is a contested concept, and the struggle to decide what kind of work, if any, is appropriate for any child to do continues.

For more examples, see Lisa’s 2009 post about child labor.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012. Originally cross-posted at Ms.

Larry H., Shayna A.-S., and Laura F. sent in a recently released study, “Science Faculty’s Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students,” that shows compelling evidence for unconscious gender bias among faculty, specifically in some natural and biological science fields. The researchers asked a national sample of 127 biology, physics, and chemistry professors to evaluate the application materials of an undergrad science student who applied for a lab manager position, a job they saw as a gateway to other opportunities. Everyone was given the same materials (excerpts here), but half the applicants were given the first name Jennifer and half were called John. The participants were told the student would be given feedback based on their evaluations.

The results are sobering. There was a significant difference in the average competence, hireability, and mentoring ratings by gender. Professors who thought they were evaluating a female applicant saw a less qualified candidate than professors who were evaluating the identical application materials but thought it was from a man:

So not only was there a gap in perceived competence and fit for the position, but professors were less willing to engage in the type of mentoring that can help students gain both skills and confidence in their abilities — which can be especially important for under-represented groups.

And despite what you might expect, female professors were just as likely to do this as male professors were. Just thinking an applicant was female seems to have touched off an unconscious bias that led them to see female candidates negatively and to be less willing to spend time mentoring them. Professors’ age, tenure status, and discipline didn’t make a difference, either.

The professors were also asked to recommend a starting salary. Again, there was a significant difference. The average suggested beginning salary for the male candidate was $30,238, while for the female student it was $26,507:

The authors point out that these findings are especially noteworthy because, unlike many studies of gender bias that use college students or people who have never had to make the type of hiring or mentoring decisions they’re being asked to engage in for the study, this sample was made up of scientists who are active in their fields, regularly working with students.

Interestingly, when asked how much they liked the candidate, those evaluating the female student gave a higher score than those assigned the male student. But this didn’t translate into seeing the female candidate as competent. The study authors argue that this is strong evidence for subtle gender bias. The professors didn’t express dislike or hostility toward a female candidate. In fact, they tended to actively like her. But as the researchers explained,

…despite expressing warmth toward emerging female scientists, faculty members of both genders appear to be affected by enduring cultural stereotypes about women’s lack of science competence that translate into biases in student evaluation and mentoring. (p. 4)

This study implies that women in the natural and biological sciences (and yes, surely other fields too) still face prejudices that can impact the opportunities they are given to work closely with professors to gain important experiences and skills, as well as limiting their access to jobs and starting them out at a lower salary. These factors can snowball over time, creating larger and larger gaps in career achievements and income as men capitalize on opportunities while women find it impossible to catch up.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012.

In Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family, released last month, authors Brian Powell, Catherine Bolzendahl, Claudia Geist, and Lala Carr Steelman look at how Americans conceptualize “the family” — that is, not what they think about their own families, but what they think counts as a family. Which groups or living arrangements do they include in the definition of “family,” and who is excluded?

Based on surveys conducted in 2003 and 2006, Americans still hold the stereotypical nuclear family (husband, wife, kids) as the gold standard — virtually everyone agrees that such a group counts as a family. Being legally married, or the presence of children, generally leads to acceptance of a grouping as a family — the overwhelming majority believed single parents and their children count as families, as do married heterosexual couples without kids, and even unmarried heterosexual couples who have children. But when couples are same-sex, or don’t have kids, Americans are much less certain that they can qualify as a family. In 2006, the percent of respondents believing gay or lesbian couples with kids are families was notably smaller than for those agreeing that single parents or straight couples count, though it had increased since 2003:

And notice the importance of children to definitions of family — only a minority of respondents thought that gay, lesbian, or straight couples without kids are a family.

The authors divided respondents into three groups, based on their answers: exclusionists (those with the most restrictive definitions of family), moderates, and inclusionists (those with the most expansive definitions). Looking at the words these groups used as the talked about their characterizations of family, we see clear differences. The words used most frequently by exclusionists highlight the centrality of marriage, as well as an emphasis on what type of people constitute a family (husband, wife, woman, man), and the explicit inclusion of religious-based elements in their ideas of what makes a family:

The language used by inclusionists emphasized emotional attachments rather than the legal institution of marriage as the basis for determining what counts as a family:

Women were more inclusive than men, in general:

The more educated respondents were, the more inclusive their definitions of family tended to be:

The Russell Sage Foundation released these and many other charts and tables from the book, so it’s definitely worth a look if you’re interested in how Americans think about the family. Overall, the authors found that definitions of the family were becoming more inclusive. Presumably this trend has continued and even accelerated since the 2006 survey, given how attitudes have shifted on a number of issues involving gay and lesbian rights in the past few years.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Since the school shooting last Friday, intense attention has focused on gun ownership in the U.S., as well as the likelihood of real changes in gun regulation. Nate Silver posted about characteristics associated with gun ownership.

Not surprisingly, gun ownership is strongly correlated with political party, with Republicans much more likely to own guns than Democrats. As Silver explains,

Whether someone owns a gun is a more powerful predictor of a person’s political party than her gender, whether she identifies as gay or lesbian, whether she is Hispanic, whether she lives in the South or a number of other demographic characteristics.

That gap between the political parties has grown significantly since he early 1990s, as fewer and fewer Democrat and Independent households own guns:

There’s a gender gap in gun ownership, but according to exit polling of 2008 voters, it is largely due to Democrats; Republican women are only slightly less likely to own guns than Republican men:

Gun ownership goes down as educational level increases:

Silver also presents differences by urban/suburban/rural location, income, military service, religious affiliation, and several other characteristics. These demographics matter, but the impact of political party remains clear, even accounting for other differences.

And Silver argues the gap may grow. Younger Democrats are less likely to own guns than older Democrats, but there’s very little difference between Republicans of different age groups:

Thus, as the two political parties consider their responses in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, they face very different realities in terms of their members’ gun ownership and likely personal stake in arguments about possible gun regulations.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Over the past couple of years, the U.S. appears to have finally reached a tipping point regarding attitudes toward same-sex marriage. In polls from a variety of organizations over the last two years, more people supported same-sex marriage than opposed it, and in some polls an outright majority expressed support for marriage equality.

Data from the Pew Research Center poll provide more evidence for this fairly rapid shift in public attitudes:

However, those attitudes vary widely by region. Looking more closely at the Pew data, we see that support is highest in New England, where over 60% of those surveyed in 2012 favored making same-sex marriages legal, but most regions of the U.S. now show more support than opposition. In fact, only in the South Atlantic and South Central states did more respondents oppose marriage equality than support it. The South Central region was least supportive, with 56% of respondents opposing same-sex marriage:

Support for same-sex marriage has grown in ever region over the past 10 years. A decade ago, supporting same-sex marriage was clearly a minority opinion across the U.S.:


As the Pew Center post points out, it’s not that attitudes in the South aren’t changing, but they’re only now approaching where the rest of the country was on the issue a decade ago.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

A couple of months back I posted a video that illustrated the way that our expectations shape our perceptions. In it, Jimmy Kimmel gave people an iPhone 4 but told them it was an iPhone 5. Believing they were holding a neat new Apple product, they identify a range of features that make it clearly superior — often holding it up to their identical iPhone 4s and perceiving significant differences between the two.

Following up on this theme, Kimmel followed up by asking people on the street to try two cups of coffee and tell him which one had the new $7-per-cup premium coffee from Starbucks and which had a cheap brand. Except both cups of coffee were actually full of the same, non-premium, non-Starbucks coffee. Nonetheless, a number of testers immediately identify striking differences in taste between the two options, providing specific differences in quality that they think distinguish the coffees. It’s a fun illustration of a basic aspect of human cognition — that what we expect to see or experience affects how we interpret the sensory information we encounter:

Thanks to Dmitriy T.C. for the tip!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.