Flashback Friday.

In a humorous article, Gloria Steinem asked, “What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?” Men, she asserted, would re-frame menstruation as a “enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event” about which they would brag (“about how long and how much”).  She writes:

Street guys would brag (“I’m a three pad man”) or answer praise from a buddy (“Man, you lookin’ good!”) by giving fives and saying, “Yeah, man, I’m on the rag!”

Military men, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation (“men-struation”) as proof that only men could serve in the Army (“you have to give blood to take blood”), occupy political office (“can women be aggressive without that steadfast cycle governed by the planet Mars?”), be priest and ministers (“how could a woman give her blood for our sins?”) or rabbis (“without the monthly loss of impurities, women remain unclean”).

Of course, male intellectuals would offer the most moral and logical arguments. How could a woman master any discipline that demanded a sense of time, space, mathematics, or measurement, for instance, without that in-built gift for measuring the cycles of the moon and planets – and thus for measuring anything at all?

Perhaps in homage to this article, the artist Käthe Ivansich developed an installation titled “Menstruation Skateboards” for the Secession Museum in Austria. Drawing on the same sort of re-framing, the exhibition was marketed with ads with bruised and bloody women and tag lines like “I heart blood sports” and “some girls bleed more than once a month.”  See examples at Ivansich’s website.

The exhibition included skateboards that generally mocked sexist language and re-claimed the blood of menstruation. This blood, the message is, makes me hardcore. The art project nicely makes Steinem’s point, showing how things like menstruation can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the social status of the person with whom it is associated.

Originally posted in September, 2010.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Flashback Friday.

Bewildered by Nazi soldiers’ willingness to perpetuate the horrors of World War II, Stanley Milgram set out to test the extent to which average people would do harm if instructed by an authority figure. In what would end up being one of the most famous studies in the history of social psychology, the experimenter would instruct study subjects to submit a heard, but unseen stranger (who was reputed to have a heart condition) to a series of increasingly strong electric shocks. The unseen stranger (actually a tape recording) would yelp and cry and scream and beg… and eventually be silent. If the study subject expressed a desire to quit administering the shocks, the experimenter would prod four times:

1. Please continue.
2. The experiment requires that you continue.
3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
4. You have no other choice, you must go on.

If, after four prods, the subject still refused to administer the shock, the experiment was over.

In his initial study, though all participants at some point required prodding, 65 percent of people (26 out of 40) continued to submit the stranger to electric shocks all the way up to (a fake) 450-volts, a dose that was identified as fatal and was administered after the screaming turned to silence. You can watch a BBC replication of the studies.

Originally posted in August 2010.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Flashback Friday.

Monica C. sent along images of a pamphlet, from 1920, warning soldiers of the dangers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In the lower right hand corner (close up below), the text warns that “most” “prostitutes (whores) and easy women” “are diseased.” In contrast, in the upper left corner, we see imagery of the pure woman that a man’s good behavior is designed to protect (also below).  “For the sake of your family,” it reads, “learn the truth about venereal diseases.”

The contrast, between those women who give men STIs (prostitutes and easy women) and those who receive them from men (wives) is a reproduction of the virgin/whore dichotomy (women come in only two kinds: good, pure, and worthy of respect and bad, dirty, and deserving of abuse).  It also does a great job of making invisible the fact that women with an STI likely got it from a man and women who have an STI, regardless of how they got one, can give it away.  The men’s role in all this, that is, is erased in favor of demonizing “bad” girls.

See also these great examples of the demonization of the “good time Charlotte” during World War II (skull faces and all) and follow this post to a 1917 film urging Canadian soldiers to refrain from sex with prostitutes (no antibiotics back then, you know).

This post was originally shared in August 2010.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Flashback Friday.

A Google image search for the phrase “evolution” returns many versions of the iconic image of human development over time. The whiteness of these images — the fact that, unless they are silhouettes or sketches, the individuals pictured have light skin associated with white people — often goes unnoticed. For our purposes, I would like us to notice:

The whiteness in these images is just one example of a long history of discourse relating whiteness and humanity, an association that has its roots in racial science and ethical justifications of colonialism, slavery, and genocide. It matters in this context, above and beyond the the general vast overrepresentation of whites in the media and as allegedly race-neutral “humans,” because the context here is one explicitly about defining what is human, what separates humans from animals, and about evolution as a civilizing process.

By presenting whites as the quintessential humans who possess the bodies and behaviors taken to be deeply meaningful human traits, whites justified, and continue to justify, white supremacy. This is what white privilege looks lik: being constantly told by experts that you and people like you represent the height of evolution and everything that it means to be that incredible piece of work that is man (irony fully intended).

Originally posted in 2010.

Benjamin Eleanor Adam is a graduate student at the CUNY Graduate Center, where he studies the American history of gender and sexuality.

Originally posted at Everyday Sociology.

When new students move into their residence halls to start their first year of college, they become a part of an institution. In many ways, it is a “total institution” in the tradition of the sociologist Erving Goffman: an organization that collects large numbers of like individuals, cuts them off from the wider society, and provides for all their needs. Prisons, mental hospitals, army barracks, and nursing homes are total institutions. So are cruise ships, cults, convents, and summer camps. Behemoths of order, they swallow up their constituents and structure their lives.

Many colleges are total institutions, too. Being a part of the institution means that students’ educational options are dictated, of course, but colleges also have a substantial amount of control over when students eat, where they sleep, how they exercise, with whom they socialize and, pertinent to our topic today, whether and under what conditions they have sex.

Thumbnail_Press - American Hookup_with frame_978-0-393-28509-3In my newly released book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, I show that hookup culture is now at the center of the institution of higher education. It’s thick, palpable, the air students breathe; and we find it on almost every residential campus in America: large and small, private and public, elite and middling, secular and religious, Greek- and sports-heavy and otherwise.My own research involves 101 students at two institutions who wrote weekly journals, tracing their trials and tribulations through a semester of their first year, but quantitative and comparative research alike supports hookup culture’s ubiquity. Anecdotally, too, students insist that it is so. “[Hookups are] part of our collegiate culture,” writes a student at the University of Florida. Up north at Connecticut College, a female student describes it as the “be-all and end-all” of social life. Oh, sure,” says a guy 2,500 miles away at Arizona State, “you go to parties on the prowl.” Further up north, at Whitman in Walla Walla, Washington, a female student calls hookup culture “an established norm.”

These comments reveal hookup culture’s pervasiveness, but these students are almost certainly overestimating the frequency of hookups on their campuses. According to the Online College Social Life Survey, a study of over 24,000 students at over 20 institutions, the average graduating senior has hooked up just eight times in four years; a third won’t hook up at all. In fact, today’s students boast no more sexual partners than their parents did at their age. But students can be forgiven for their misimpressions. Hookup culture is a powerful force, leading them to overestimate their peers’ sexual behavior by orders of magnitude.

The topic of my book, then, isn’t just hooking up; it’s hookup culture. Like other cultures, hooking up is a social reality that operates on several levels: it’s a set of widely-endorsed ideas, reflected in rules for interaction and the organization of the institution. Accordingly, hookup culture is the idea that casual sexual encounters are the best or only way to engage sexually in college, a set of practices that facilitate casual sexual encounters, and an organizational structure that supports them.

Students can and do opt out of hooking up, but few can escape hookup culture. Many of the students in American Hookup said so often and explicitly: Partying and hooking up, insisted one, “is the only way to make friends.” “Hookup culture = social life,” another concluded, simply making an equation. “If you do not have sex,” a third wrote forcefully, “you are not in the community.”

Being a part of the community means playing by the rules of hookup culture. It means bringing a certain kind of energy (up, drunken, and sexually available) to certain kinds of parties (dark, loud, and sexually charged). It means being willing to be careless about sexual contact and trying to care less about the person you hook up with than they care about you. It means following a hookup script that privileges male orgasm and a stereotypically male approach to sexuality. It means engaging in competitive sexual exploits: women against women, men against men, and men against women. And it means being stripped of the right to insist upon interpersonal accountability, enabling everything from discourtesy to sexual misconduct.

Some students thrive. About a quarter of the students in my sample truly enjoy hookup culture. Most do not. A third of my students opted out of sex altogether, deciding that they’d rather have none of it than follow hookup culture’s rules. Close to half participate ambivalently, dabbling with mixed results. More students decreased their participation over the course of the semester than increased it.

Almost to the last one, though, students were earnest, thoughtful, and good-humored. Few escaped hookup culture’s grasp, but they never failed to impress me with their insight and resilience. Hearing them tell their stories, it was hard not to feel optimistic, even when the stories did not lend themselves to optimism. I finished the book feeling hopeful. Today’s young people are open, permissive, genuine, and welcoming of diversity. They’re well-positioned to usher in a new new sexual culture.

But students need their institutions to change, too. Institutions of higher education need to put substantial resources and time into shifting cultural norms: they need to establish an ethic of care for casual sexual encounters and they need to diversify the kind of sexual encounters that are seen as possible and good. They also need to change the institutional structures that entrench the worst features of hookup culture, including those that give disproportionate power to the students on campus who most support, participate in, and benefit from it: white, class-privileged, masculine-identified, heterosexual men.

The neat thing about cultures, though, it that they exist only with our consent. We can change them simply by changing our minds. And because residential colleges are total institutions, ones that are bounded and insular, they are particularly responsive to reformation. The new sexual culture on America’s campuses can be improved—made safer, healthier, kinder, more authentic, more pleasurable, and more truly conducive to self-exploration—and faster than we might suspect. I hope that the voices in American Hookup help empower both students and administrators to do just that.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Flashback Friday.

In August of 2010, NPR reported on a scale developed by a forensic psychologist, Michael Stone, on which murderers could be placed according to how evil they are (from slightly evil to really, really really evil).  To illustrate the scale, NPR developed this graphic:

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the artists designing this graphic did not purposefully associate darker skin-like colors with more evil and lighter skin-like colors with less evil.  I think this is a fair assumption, though I don’t know for sure that this is true.  But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

If they didn’t do this on purpose, then race never consciously entered their minds.  Once you notice that the colors are skin-like colors, and if you are a member of a society that discriminates against darker-skinned people, you immediately see that this graphic reproduces those stereotypes… AND YOU CHANGE THE COLORS.   Any color, going from light to dark, will illustrate intensity.  How about red?  In Western societies, red is associated with anger.   If you insist on using black because black signifies evil in our culture, how about using a true black (that is very rarely if ever seen on people) and a gray scale?  How about any color other than brown?

I think this is likely a case in which the producers of the image did not think.  And not thinking is one of the most insidious ways that racism and other bigotries get reproduced.  People who don’t think about race are the most likely to endorse racial stereotypes.  When people who think about race are distracted — with another task, or loud music, or some other intervening stimulus — they are more likely to think stereotypically than when they are not distracted.  We can’t be colorblind.  Our unconscious is steeped in racial meanings.  Consciously fighting those associations is the only way to be less racist.

Not thinking about race is a cousin to thinking racist thoughts.  Only thinking hard about race helps alleviate racism.  And this graphic is an excellent example of why.

Originally posted in 2010.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

If there’s one thing Americans can agree upon, it might be that people shouldn’t be indiscriminately firing guns crowds, no matter how angry they are. The shooting in the Ft. Lauderdale airport is just the latest example. Mass shootings are on the rise and I’m fearful that what we are seeing isn’t just an increase in violence, but the rise of a new habit, a behavior that is widely recognized as a way to express an objection to the way things are.

To register an objection to something about the world, a person or group needs to engage in an action that other people recognize as a form of protest. We know, in other words, what protest looks like. It’s a strike, a rally, a march, a sit-in, a boycott. These are all recognizable ways in which individuals and groups can stake a political claim, whereas other group activities — a picnic, a group bike ride, singing together — are not obviously so. To describe this set of protest-related tools, the sociologist Charles Tilly coined the phrase “repertoire of contention.” Activists have a stock of actions to draw from when they want to make a statement that others will understand.

A culture’s repertoire of contention is in constant evolution. Each tool has to be invented and conceptually linked to the idea of protest before it can play this role. The sit-in, for example, was invented during the early civil rights movement. When African American activists and their allies occupied white-only restaurants, bringing lunch counters to a halt to bring attention to the exclusion of black people, they introduced a new way of registering an objection to the status quo, one that almost anyone would recognize today.

New ways of protesting are being invented every day: the hashtag, the hacktivist, and shutting down freeways are some newer ones. Some become part of the repertoire. Consider the image below by sociologist Michael Biggs, which shows how suicide as a form of protest “caught on”  in the 1960s:

2

I am afraid that mass murder has become part of the repertoire of contention. This is theoretically tricky – others have fought over what really counts as a social movement action – but it does seem quite clear that mass murder with a gun is a more familiar and more easily conceptualized way of expressing one’s discontent and then it was, say, pre-Columbine. If a person is outraged by some state of affairs, mass killing is a readily available way to express that outrage both technically (thanks to gun regulation) and cognitively (because it is now part of the recognized repertoire).

Dylann Roof wanted to register his discontent with the place of black people in American society, Robert Lewis Dear stormed a Planned Parenthood with a pro-choice message, Elliot Rodgers was angry about women’s freedom to reject him, Omar Matteen killed dozens to express his (internalized) disgust for homosexuality, Gavin Long communicated his sense of rage and helplessness in the face of black death by killing police. At some point each thought, “What can I do to make a difference?” And mass murder came to mind.

In the aftermath of such events, the news media routine contributes to the idea that mass murder is a form of protest by searching for an explanation above and beyond the desire to kill. That explanation often positions the rationale for the murder within the realm of politics, whether we call it terrorism, resistance, or prejudice. This further sends the message that mass murder is political, part of the American repertoire of contention.

The terrifying part is that once protest tools become part of the repertoire, they are diffused across movements and throughout society. It’s no longer just civil rights activists who use the sit-in; any and all activists do. Perhaps that’s why we see such a range of motivations among these mass murderers. It has become an obvious way to express an objection that the discontented can be sure others will understand.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Originally posted at Work in Progress.

Why do people sometimes resist remediation of pollution in their own backyards? Conventional academic wisdom suggests that it is because they are afraid of losing their jobs, but my recent research in La Oroya, Peru, questions this dominant framework.

Photo by Pamela Neumann.

Since 1922, La Oroya has been home to three refineries for processing lead, copper, and zinc, and a lead smelter owned until recently by a company called Doe Run Peru. In the late ’90s, several scientific studies demonstrated dangerously high lead levels among the town’s children.

The findings drew extensive attention from the media, but not the kind that some residents appreciated. Tania, a local schoolteacher told me, “In the media there are these ideas that we are nothing but a bunch of slow, sick, contaminated people, but they don’t pay any attention to how some students are very high performing.” Elena, a 45-year old shop owner, agreed, saying: “Of course there are sick children everywhere, slow children, just like in your country [referring to the United States]. But we have children who are doing well, we have professionals, professors.”

School teachers and principals took pride in the achievements of their students, which they felt were ignored in the rush to paint La Oroya as nothing more than a town full of “mongolicos” (a local term for people who have Down’s syndrome or are disabled). In seeking to defend their town’s identity against a barrage of negative media coverage, some residents denied that the contamination was a problem at all. “Look at all the awards we’ve won,” one principal told me, pointing to a row of trophies on the wall. “We couldn’t have done this if the contamination was really a problem.”

In response to the media portrayals, many residents became reluctant to protest against the pervasive lead contamination because doing so affirmed negative stories about their town’s identity. Residents weren’t protective of their jobs, they were protective of their town and of their own reputation as “normal” and “good,” not a place full of “mongolicos.”

These findings suggest that heavy-handed exposes of polluted cities and towns might do harm as well as good. Environmental activists might be better served to find a balance between condemning pollution and uplifting the places and people who are its victims.

Pamela Neumann, PhD is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University. A longer version of this post can be found at Work in Progress.