A new study tackles the media landscape building up to the election. The lead investigator, Rob Faris, runs a center at Harvard that specializes in the internet and society. He and his co-authors asked what role partisanship and disinformation might have played in the 2016 U.S. election. The study looked at links between internet news sites and also the behavior of Twitter and Facebook users, so it paints a picture of how news and opinion is being produced by media conglomerates and also how individuals are using and sharing this information.

They found severe ideological polarization, something we’ve known for some time, but also asymmetry in how media production and consumption works on either side. That is, journalists and readers on the left are behaving differently from those on the right.

The right is more insular and more partisan than the left: conservatives consume less neutral and “other side” news than liberals do and their outlets are more aggressively partisan. Breitbart News now sits neatly at the center. Measured by inlinks, it’s as influential as FOX News and, on social media, substantially more. Here’s the  network map for Twitter:

Breitbart’s centrality on the right is a symptom of how extreme the Republican base has become. Breitbart’s Executive Chairman, Steve Bannon — former White House Chief Strategist — calls it “home of the alt-right,” a group that shows “extreme” bias against racial minorities and other out-groups. 

The insularity and lack of interest in balanced reporting made right-leaning readers susceptible to fake stories. Faris and his colleagues write:

The more insulated right-wing media ecosystem was susceptible to sustained network propaganda and disinformation, particularly misleading negative claims about Hillary Clinton. Traditional media accountability mechanisms — for example, fact-checking sites, media watchdog groups, and cross-media criticism — appear to have wielded little influence on the insular conservative media sphere.

There is insularity and partisanship on the left as well, but it is mediated by commitments to traditional journalistic norms — e.g., covering “both sides” — and so, on the whole, the left got more balance in their media diet and less “fake news” because they were more friendly to fact checkers.

The interest in balance, however, perhaps wasn’t entirely good. Faris and his co-authors found that the right exploited the left’s journalistic principles, pushing left-leaning and neutral media outlets to cover negative stories about Clinton by claiming that not doing so was biased. Centrist media outlets responded with coverage, but didn’t ask the same of the right (it is possible this shaming tactic wouldn’t have worked the other way).

The take home message is: During the 2016 election season, right-leaning media consumers got rabid, un-fact checked, and sometimes false anti-Clinton and pro-Trump material and little else, while left-leaning media consumers got relatively balanced coverage of Clinton: both good stories and bad ones, but more bad ones than they would have gotten (for better or worse) if the right hadn’t been yanking their chain about being “fair.”

We should be worried about how polarization, “fake news,” horse-race journalism, and infotainment are influencing the ability of voters to gather meaningful information with which to make voting decisions, but the asymmetry between the left and the right media sphere — particularly how it makes the right vulnerable to propagandists and the left vulnerable to ideological bullying by the right — should leave us even more worried. These are powerful forces, held up both by the institutions and the individuals, that are dramatically skewing election coverage, undermining democracy, and throwing elections, and governance itself, to the right.

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.

Dear readers,

This summer marks Sociological Images’ ten year anniversary. I founded the website with Gwen Sharp and have been at its helm ever since. With the support of the University of Minnesota (whose servers we used to crash); Doug Hartmann and Chris Uggen at The Society Pages (who have built an incredible site for SocImages to live on); Jon Smadja’s technical expertise (keeping it all humming); hundreds of insightful guest bloggers; and regular contributors like Jay Livingston, Philip Cohen, Martin Hart-Landsberg, and Tristan Bridges (who also did a grueling three month stint as Guest Editor), the site grew to a size that I never imagined possible. It reached at its peak over a half million visitors a month, boasts an archive of over 5,000 posts, and enjoys 162,000 social media followers. I am beyond grateful to my community of professional sociologists and to the sociology majors and sociology-curious out there in the world, without whom none of this could have happened.

When the site was new, and through 2012, I sat on panels at the American Sociological Association meetings that were titled something to the effect of “Will blogging ruin your career.” It did not. In 2015, Gwen Sharp and I were given the Distinguished Contributions to Teaching Award, the sixth of seven awards we would win for our shepherding of the site. Things changed, and fast. More and more sociologists came online, nearly a thousand of us joined Twitter, and sociology-themed blogs proliferated. Even fancy folk in the discipline started blogging, writing for high-profile news and opinion outlets, and building social media followers. This year a sociologist won a Pulitzer Prize for a book aimed at a — wait for it — general audience.

I am among those who have benefited from this public turn in sociology, the one that Michael Burawoy championed in 2004. It gave me the opportunity to speak to wider audiences, become visible to my peers, be recognized for thoughtful (and sometimes not-so-thoughtful) analyses, and a public reputation that led to a general audience book of my own. As the gatekeeper to Sociological Images and its social media, I also held in my hands the power to help other sociologists publicize their work, one that I tried to use liberally. This has been one of the most gratifying parts of being the site’s editor, and also one that I think has attracted much good will. Sociological Images has been, in short, an incredible boon to my career.

At this time, then, with my own career well-launched, it seems greedy to hold onto the reins. So, with this post I announce an editorial change and a new era for Sociological Images. I am so pleased and excited to introduce Evan Stewart as the new Editor and Principal Author. Evan is a late-stage PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota. After years as a board member and now Graduate Editor of The Society Pages, he brings many years of practice under the careful guidance of Chris Uggen and Doug Hartmann, sociologists who bring great wisdom to the practice of public sociology. I am thrilled that Evan is on board and confident that, under his leadership, the site will continue will be enjoyed by sociology-lovers and a resource for all sociologists who want to reach a broader public.

It is bittersweet to go. I will remain on as an occasional contributor (if Evan thinks my guest posts are of high enough quality to merit publication, of course) and share with him the keys to the social media accounts. I have new projects in the works that I am very excited about — many of which, in various ways, were made possible by SocImages — so you haven’t seen the last of me yet. And I will always be grateful to all of you for your part in the incredible journey the last decade has brought.

With that, please welcome Evan Stewart!

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Hello everyone!

I am honored to be taking up the torch at Sociological Images, and grateful to Lisa for the opportunity. Lisa has built a remarkable legacy with this blog, and I am looking forward to carrying it on into the future.

Sociological Images is the reason I got hooked on public sociology. I found the site late in my undergraduate career at Michigan State University. Lisa and Gwen were kind enough to publish, and later repost, a guest contribution I wrote for a visual sociology class—one that would eventually turn into a chapter for a book from UC Press.

When I started my graduate work in political and cultural sociology at the University of Minnesota, I jumped at the chance to do more public scholarship with The Society Pages. Thanks to Doug Hartmann and Chris Uggen, grad students on the TSP board learn to assess cutting-edge research from all over our field. Bringing this work to the public makes us better writers and scholars. With their support over four years at TSP, I founded and piloted two blogs: There’s Research on That!, which brings social science to the news of the day, and Social Studies Minnesotawhich covers UMN research in political science, psychology, mass communication, and beyond.

Doing great research and sharing great research with people go hand in hand. My research at the American Mosaic Project tackles big questions about how people think about who belongs in society—questions that matter to people! This is due in no small part to my wonderful academic advisor, Penny Edgell (who also blogs!), and graduate colleagues like Jacqui Frost and Jack Delehanty,

Now, I am excited to bring my experience to Sociological Images. The site has been a home for honing the sociological imagination for a decade, and I aim to keep it that way. You can expect to see a lot of familiar names as I continue to bring you top-notch blogging about the social world from SocImages’ old friends. I’ll also be producing original content and cross-posting material by the The Society Pages’ graduate editorial board. Look for some new folks from Minnesota in the by-lines, as well as future calls for guest submissions.

There will be more to come in the next few months, but for now say hi on Twitter and stay tuned for the first new posts coming this week!

Monday is Labor Day in the U.S. Though to many it is a last long weekend for recreation and shopping before the symbolic end of summer, the federal holiday, officially established in 1894, celebrates the contributions of labor.

Here are a few dozen SocImages posts on a range of issues related to workers, from the history of the labor movement, to current workplace conditions, to the impacts of the changing economy on workers’ pay:

The Social Construction of Work

Work in Popular Culture

Unemployment, Underemployment, and the “Class War”

Unions and Unionization

Economic Change, Globalization, and the Great Recession

Work and race, ethnicity, religion, and immigration

Gender and Work

The U.S. in International Perspective

Academia

Just for Fun

Bonus!

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 Gender & Society.

Photo by JCDecaux Creative Solutions flickr creative commons.

I recently took in a poignant guest lecture on hookup culture by Lisa Wade. During the talk, Wade detailed the link between rape culture and hookup culture. While hooking up encourages women to behave “like men,” it simultaneously creates an environment that rejects feminine traits (kindness, care, empathy). Since then I’ve continuously noticed how we celebrate women who display traditionally masculine characteristics (be aggressive! lean in!). But, we often do so in ways that devalue feminine attributes. It is with this framework in mind that I went to see Wonder Woman.

Donning my “feminist mama” sweatshirt, I expected to be underwhelmed given the mediocre reviews describing the film as just another boilerplate superhero movie. With my critical 3D glasses on, I understood why many were frustrated. Steven Trevor always has a protecting arm over Diana, even after she demonstrates that she’s indestructible. The persistence of the male gaze was also disappointing. I recognize the need to reflect Marston’s 1940’s creation, but expecting Diana to run through forests, scale mountains, and beat down villains in a sensible wedge was as laughable as Steven Trevor’s ridiculous assurance to the audience that his genitalia was “above average.” It is no coincidence that Wonder Woman’s strong but “sexy” image was the one chosen by Douglas to represent her concept of enlightened sexism nearly a decade ago.

At the same time, I think it is important to recognize the film’s strengths. The women cast as Amazonians are athletes in real life with muscular bodies that challenge anglocentric beauty ideals. Diana is a unique combination of sex appeal, acumen, and wit. She is fierce but nurturing, emboldened to take down Ares but driven by her desire to protect children. Her outfit choices are elegant but practical and she even managed to stash a sword in her stolen evening gown. Diana asserted confidence and ability while her male sidekicks over-promised and under-delivered. In short, Wonder Woman seems to encapsulate the kind of feminism Wade described as lost: embracing aggression and kindness, strength and beauty.

Given Diana’s character complexity, I find language lauding the film for its ability to break the “curse of Catwoman” particularly offensive. Perhaps if Hollywood had chosen to produce Joss Whedon’s version of Wonder Woman, where Diana’s uses a “sexy dance” to thwart the villain, it might warrant a film comparison. After all, the Catwoman “plot” was a lurid focus on Halle Berry in a tight-fitting costume, a hypersexualized (de)evolution of a female protagonist. It tanked in the box office because, like most female characters in superhero films, Patience Phillips was a two-dimensional stereotype of femininity – meek, fickle, a tease. She had to “overcome” her feminine traits to succeed and used sex appeal as a weapon. Comparing the films conflates the presence of a female lead with the notion that both films were made for women. It’s like those who questioned if Clinton supporters might vote for McCain in 2008 because he put Palin on the ticket. Having a woman lead doesn’t mean women’s interests are being considered.

Despite these attempts at male wish fulfillment, Wonder Woman’s success was not due to men aged 15-25. Unlike other superhero flicks, Wonder Woman’s audience was roughly 52% women, and women and older audience viewers continue to build its momentum. When the Alamo Drafthouse risked litigation to host an all-female screening it sold out so quickly it added more women-only events to respond to the demand. Nevertheless, the comparison to Catwoman persists as does the dominant narrative that films outside of the Captain America framework are a “gamble.”  Ignoring the success of films like Wonder Woman (Arrival or Get Out or Moonlight) allows executives to deflect the fact that most “flops” were made with an exclusively white, heterosexual, male audience in mind (I’m looking at you Cowboys & Aliens).  Yet celebrating Wonder Woman as a “triumph,” allows us to pretend that similar female protagonists dominate the screen instead of calling more attention to the fact that women still only accounted for 32% of all speaking roles in 2015 or that non-white actors are continuously overlooked at the Oscars.

Diana showcases a physical resilience seldom credited to women – let’s celebrate that. She encapsulates a kind of feminism that Wade rightfully notes is nearly nonexistent. Diana is a warrior who is agentic, driven, nurturing, protective, and merciful. She exhibits masculine strength without having to cast aside her feminine traits.  She voices concern for those who cannot protect themselves but she is a trained killer. By labeling Wonder Woman not feminist enough we overlook the crux of the problem: Wonder Woman’s empowerment narrative was likely tempered because Hollywood doesn’t really care about appealing to women. Highlighting the importance of Diana’s feminist dichotomy challenges Hollywood to build on that momentum and make a sequel without pandering to young, heterosexual, male audiences. In doing so, my hope is that in the future we have so many superheroes like Diana (strong because of their femininity, not strong despite it) that critics will have ample — and equivalent — characters for comparison.

Francesca Tripodi, PhD is a sociologist who studies how participatory media perpetuates systems of inequality. This year she is researching how partisan groups interact with media and the role community plays in legitimating what constitutes news and information as a postdoctoral scholar at Data & Society. Francesca would like to thank Caroline Jack and Tristan Bridges for their helpful feedback on this piece.

I have never taken a gender studies course or a course on feminism. Up until recently I have never looked into these subjects or even really had a conversation about them. When I thought of feminists and gender studies majors an image of a woman with a short haircut yelling about how horrible men are would pop into my head. Where did this image come from? I’m not sure exactly, possibly something on television or a meme. Whatever the origin was, it was an image that stuck in my head and caused me to dismiss and ignore anything coming from someone who said they considered themselves a feminist.

Then recent events changed my perception, highlighting a couple things. The first being the importance of approaching new ideas in an open-minded way and working past potential negative initial reactions to come to an objective conclusion. The second is that when trying to open someone up to a new idea one must be non-judgmental and undeniably on the side of the person they are trying to help. Both of these things were of the utmost importance in helping me to open up to ideas I had been closed off to for most of my life and it all started with an article on ball kicking.

I came across an article by Lisa Wade, PhD called “Why don’t men kick each other in the balls.” My initial response was to get defensive. It hit on a nerve and not in a comfortable way. My second thought was to email Lisa and tell her how I felt about what she wrote. I told her things that I would never say in person and I did it under an anonymous email account because I was worried how she would react. To my surprise she thanked me for my email and assured me that other men had been emailing her saying they had a lot of the same feelings. She even asked to use my email in a follow-up article.

From there we continued to email back and forth. I told her about my insecurities about never being strong enough and how it bothered me when people where stronger than me in any way, especially if they were women. This was hard to admit to her. And to myself, too. And I asked for advice on how to overcome this. One of the things she suggested was that I do some reading on masculinity and she told me that feminists had been working on these issues for awhile. Her email read that “feminists have spent a lot of time writing about how hard it is to be a man in a world that tells men that they’re supposed to be dominant.”  The titles she mentioned after didn’t sound like anything I would normally even consider looking into.

Though she never said it specifically, it was obvious at this point that Lisa was a feminist. Usually I would have considered this a red flag but here is the thing. She didn’t fit the stereotypical image that had been ingrained in my mind. First of all, based on her profile picture, she didn’t have short hair. Second, and far more important, was that there wasn’t a single point in time where I felt judged by her. She never called me a misogynist or made me feel bad that I had these thoughts. She was consistently helpful and reassuring. So, feeling good about our interactions I decided to take her advice and do some reading about what some feminists had to say about masculinity.

A couple of the first terms that I came across were “toxic masculinity” and “fragile masculinity.” My reaction to both terms at first was “yep I knew it”: this was just going to be a bunch of blaming men for everything and saying we are weak. I had also read articles in the past that interpreted these terms this way. I decided to continue reading, though, if only to confirm my original beliefs.

Once again I was surprised. I began to realize they weren’t attacking men but simply pointing out how some of our beliefs about masculinity could lead to negative consequences. As I thought about it, I could think of multiple examples of how the term toxic masculinity could apply to my life, times I have hurt myself trying to prove to myself or others that I was strong, tough, and fearless. Is this because I am a man and grew up in a culture that teaches that men are supposed to be strong, tough, and fearless? I think it’s at least a factor.

The term fragile masculinity explained why the original article I read bothered me. She said that allowing hits below the belt in fight “would add up to less time looking powerful and more time looking pitiful.” The word pitiful especially stuck in my head. It also explained why I had a problem with the term “fragile masculinity” in the first place. The idea that someone could combine the word fragile with anything to do with men was certainly unacceptable, right? What I realized though is that these terms weren’t meant to hurt or insult men, but to help them become aware of what may cause some of the unwanted feelings and behaviors that men like me have so that they can be addressed. Maybe by realizing this it could help me recognize I don’t have to be invincible and then maybe I wouldn’t be bothered as much when it was pointed out that I am not invincible or when my invincibility is challenged.

What became obvious to me through my experience thus far is that these people who call themselves “feminist” are trying to help women as well as men, including me. The negative image in my mind was not the norm and while it may exist somewhere it certainly isn’t representative of all feminists. Like so many other groups or ideas that get a bad reputation, it’s a result of the most extreme versions getting the most attention and the negative stereotypes that are pushed.

Of course, I should have realized this from the beginning. After all, according to a quick Google search feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” Of course this sounds very reasonable and I knew this before but I still would never have accepted the title of “feminist.” I think this is for a couple reasons. One, I think I was worried that by calling myself a feminist it would mean I was more feminine or would be seen as more feminine (fragile masculinity at play, methinks). Second, I felt like it was a strict set of beliefs and that I had to agree with everything feminists say, including the negative stereotypical one I had in my head. According to another piece of writing by Lisa Wade:

Feminism is not just a social movement, it’s a cultural idea. Like any cultural idea, what it really is is contested by different interest groups in society who put forward their own interpretation and try to undermine the interpretations of others.

What this says is that feminism isn’t a strict set of beliefs that all feminists have to agree on. Of course feminists can and do disagree with each other on various issues. At the end of the day, the core value, from what I can tell, is “equality.”

So, my hope is that maybe someone who reads this and has a negative image in their head of what a feminist is will take a second to look into what they have to say and try to see how, even if you don’t agree with what they are saying, their intentions are likely to be helpful. Also, if you’re trying to open someone up to a new idea or belief, I’d suggest not judging and instead being understanding. After all, I think most people already believe equality is awesome even if they don’t consider themselves feminists. All they have to do is be convinced that equality is all feminism is about. If feminists are all about equality and equality is awesome then based on the transitive property the only conclusion left to come to is that Feminists are Awesome!

This week FOX commentator Melissa Francis was brought to tears while trying to defend Trump’s assertion that “many sides” were to blame for the fatal violence in Charlottesville, VA during a white supremacist, anti-Semitic, pro-Confederacy demonstration and counter-demonstration. She was challenged by two of her fellow panelists who argued that Trump was drawing a false equivalence to suggest that each side was responsible. Oddly, Francis took their comments on Trump personally, began to cry, and said this:

I am so uncomfortable having this conversation… because I know what’s in my heart and I know that I don’t think that anyone is different, better, or worse based on the color of their skin. But  I feel like there is nothing any of us can say right without without being judged!

At this point, a fellow FOX commentator, Harris Faulkner, who is African American, interrupted to console her:

You know Melissa, there have been a lot of tears… It’s a difficult place where we are… [but] we can do this. We can have this conversation. Oh yes, we can. And it’s okay if we cry having it.

But is it okay for white people to cry in the midst of conversations about racism?

Education scholar Frances V. Rains has argued that it is not okay. In her essay, Is the Benign Really Harmless?, Rains discusses several types of reactions white people frequently have to difficult conversations about race, ones that undermine meaningful progress. In one, she talks about white people’s tears.

When a white person cries in response to frank discussions of racism, Rains explains, it derails the conversation, refocuses the attention on the white person, and holds anti-racist speakers accountable for attending to his or her feelings. The most important thing in the room, in other words, becomes a privileged person’s hurt feelings, not generations of systematic racial oppression, exploitation, and violence.

This is exactly what happened in the clip above.

  1. The panelists were debating whether Trump’s comments amounted to a false equivalence that was supportive of racism and anti-Semitism.
  2. A white woman rejects the notion that Trump’s comments endorsed bigotry.
  3. When some disagree, she cries and begins discussing what it feels like for her personally to be having this conversation.
  4. The conversation turns away from racism, anti-Semitism, and the possibility that the President of the United States is a Nazi sympathizer, and toward the white woman and her feelings.
  5. Her discomfort become the problem to be resolved.
  6. A member of the disadvantaged group steps in to comfort her.

This is just as Rains would have predicted.

Amazingly, an earnest conversation about oppression turns into an opportunity to give solace to the oppressor… and it’s a member of the oppressed who must do the comforting.

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.

ALERT: I am currently recruiting men to consent to a confidential interview study about what it feels like to be vulnerable to pain as a result of accidental or purposeful blows to the testicles. If you are over the age of 18 and would be willing to be interviewed, I want to hear your story. Please email Dr. Lisa Wade at lwade@oxy.edu.

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In 2015 I wrote an essay in which I speculated about why we don’t see men kicking each other in the balls more often. We leave no stones unturned here at SocImages, folks.

I argued that men don’t kick each other in the balls because it would reveal to everyone an inherent and undeniable biological weakness in every man, not just the man getting kicked.  In other words, it’s a secret pact to protect the myth of masculine superiority.

I expected a reaction, but I was genuinely surprised at what transpired. In public — in the comments — men debated strategy, arguing that men don’t kick each other in the balls because it’s actually a difficult blow to land or would escalate the fight. But in private — in my email inbox — men sent me hushed messages of you-are-so-right-though.

This is interesting because people rarely bother to go to the trouble of googling me, finding my email address, and writing me a note. The comments thread is right there and there’s a link to my twitter account at the end of the post. Most people criticize or compliment me publicly. Moreover, the emails have never stopped coming. I get one now every couple months — almost two years later — which I think means that ball kicking is something men (and it’s always men) are quietly seeking information about.

So, what do they say in private to me?

The one I received today was characteristic and the guy who wrote it gave me permission to share some of it. I’ll call him “Guy.”

First, Guy agreed that the vulnerability of having testicles is distressing to him specifically because he has been taught that boys and men are supposed to be stronger than girls and women.

Boys usually think of themselves as being tough and we want to be tough and tougher than girls especially. The idea that a girl could hurt a big strong boy like me is ridiculous right. But then I got older and learned about testicles and that girls didnt have them and i was embarrassed that I had a weak spot and they didn’t.

Second, he acknowledged that knowing that other people know about this vulnerability adds to the stress of having it.

I always hate in movies when a guy gets hit in the balls and drops especially if a woman did the kicking and if I am watching it with women. I don’t want anyone to know I have a weak spot or to acknowledge it. I still try to workout and be big and strong but I always feel vulnerable down there. My older sister and i used to play fight and i started getting bigger than her and winning. Then one time she faked a kick to my groin and i jumped back and covered myself. She had this self satisfied smurk on her face like ya dont mess with me and i never did again.

This vulnerability, Guy emphasizes, isn’t just a trivial thing; it’s everything. It affects how he feels about his whole body (“your only as strong as your weakest link”) and it’s psychologically consuming (“I hate knowing this”).

Your only as strong as your weakest link and guys have the weakest link on the body. I hate knowing this and I’m afraid women realize this and I think alot of guys feel the same even if they dont admit it.

“They dont admit it,” Guy writes, which means it’s a secret shame. And, like many of the men who’ve emailed me, he thanks me for putting it out there in public and says that it’s a relief to actually talk about it.

Anyway I think you really hit a nerve with this article and I think its kinda therapeutic to talk about it cause I usually keep it to myself. Keep up the good work and Take Care!

I think this is amazing.

I’m touched, first of all, by the emotional vulnerability that Guy and the other (mostly young) men who’ve emailed me have shown. Behind all of the pretending like they’re a “big strong boy,” these guys are nervous, worried that their front is going to be exposed and everyone is going to see them as a fraud and a failure. Not a Real Man at all.

In fact, they worry that everyone already sees them that way. The sister’s smirk tells Guy, in no uncertain terms, that his front is transparent. “I won’t expose you,” it says. “Not today. But I can and we both know it.” No matter how hard he tries — no matter how big his biceps or bank account, no matter how corner his office is or how hot his wife — he’s got those goddamn testicles and they’re right there.

Guy explains that it makes him want to compensate. He works out to be “big and strong.” But it’ll never be enough. He says, “I always feel vulnerable down there.” He feels vulnerable anyway. There’s really nothing he can do.

This is telling us something profound about what it feels like to be a man in America today. Told to live up to an impossible standard of invulnerability; they inevitably feel like failures. Told specifically to be more invulnerable than (and not vulnerable to) women, by biological accident, they’re not. What a cruel twist of the testicles. It hurts.

And I wonder how much of what men do in their lives is a response to this psychic injury. How many of Donald Trump’s shenanigans, for example, have to do with the fact that he knows, and he knows that everyone knows, that someone could just drop him with a kick to the balls at any time? It sounds absurd to blame the risk of nuclear war on Trump’s testicles, but these young men are telling me that, right around puberty — as they are graduating from boys to men, doubling down on their difference from girls and women, and being told that to earn others’ esteem they have to be bigger and stronger — they have a disturbing revelation that compels them to embark on a lifetime of proving they’re not weak.

Until we all agree to let men be human, they’re going to keep living lives of quiet desperation. And the rest of us have to keep fearing what they will do to avoid being exposed.

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.

In the 1950s and ’60s, a set of social psychological experiments seemed to show that human beings were easily manipulated by low and moderate amounts of peer pressure, even to the point of violence. It was a stunning research program designed in response to the horrors of the Holocaust, which required the active participation of so many people, and the findings seemed to suggest that what happened there was part of human nature.

What we know now, though, is that this research was undertaken at an unusually conformist time. Mothers were teaching their children to be obedient, loyal, and to have good manners. Conformity was a virtue and people generally sought to blend in with their peers. It wouldn’t last.

At the same time as the conformity experiments were happening, something that would contribute to changing how Americans thought about conformity was being cooked up: the psychedelic drug, LSD.

Lysergic acid diethylamide was first synthesized in 1938 in the routine process of discovering new drugs for medical conditions. The first person to discover it psychedelic properties — its tendency to alter how we see and think — was the scientist who invented it, Albert Hoffmann. He ingested it accidentally, only to discover that it induces a “dreamlike state” in which he “perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.”

By the 1950s , LSD was being administered to unwitting American in a secret, experimental mind control program conducted by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, one that would last 14 years and occur in over 80 locations. Eventually the fact of the secret program would leak out to the public, and so would LSD.

It was the 1960s and America was going through a countercultural revolution. The Civil Rights movement was challenging persistent racial inequality, the women’s and gay liberation movements were staking claims on equality for women and sexual minorities, the sexual revolution said no to social rules surrounding sexuality and, in the second decade of an intractable war with Vietnam, Americans were losing patience with the government. Obedience had gone out of style.

LSD was the perfect drug for the era. For its proponents, there was something about the experience of being on the drug that made the whole concept of conformity seem absurd. A new breed of thinker, the “psychedelic philosopher,” argued that LSD opened one’s mind and immediately revealed the world as it was, not the world as human beings invented it. It revealed, in other words, the social constructedness of culture.

In this sense, wrote the science studies scholar Ido Hartogsohn, LSD was truly “countercultural,” not only “in the sense of being peripheral or opposed to mainstream culture [but in] rejecting the whole concept of culture.” Culture, the philosophers claimed, shut down our imagination and psychedelics were the cure. “Our normal word-conditioned consciousness,” wrote one proponent, “creates a universe of sharp distinctions, black and white, this and that, me and you and it.” But on acid, he explained, all of these rules fell away. We didn’t have to be trapped in a conformist bubble. We could be free.

The cultural influence of the psychedelic experience, in the context of radical social movements, is hard to overstate. It shaped the era’s music, art, and fashion. It gave us tie-dye, The Grateful Dead, and stuff like this:


via GIPHY

The idea that we shouldn’t be held down by cultural constrictions — that we should be able to live life as an individual as we choose — changed America.

By the 1980s, mothers were no longer teaching their children to be obedient, loyal, and to have good manners. Instead, they taught them independence and the importance of finding one’s own way. For decades now, children have been raised with slogans of individuality: “do what makes you happy,” “it doesn’t matter what other people think,” “believe in yourself,” “follow your dreams,” or the more up-to-date “you do you.”

Today, companies choose slogans that celebrate the individual, encouraging us to stand out from the crowd. In 2014, for example, Burger King abandoned its 40-year-old slogan, “Have it your way,” for a plainly individualistic one: “Be your way.” Across the consumer landscape, company slogans promise that buying their products will mark the consumer as special or unique. “Stay extraordinary,” says Coke; “Think different,” says Apple. Brands encourage people to buy their products in order to be themselves: Ray-Ban says “Never hide”; Express says “Express yourself,” and Reebok says “Let U.B.U.”

In surveys, Americans increasingly defend individuality. Millennials are twice as likely as Baby Boomers to agree with statements like “there is no right way to live.” They are half as likely to think that it’s important to teach children to obey, instead arguing that the most important thing a child can do is “think for him or herself.” Millennials are also more likely than any other living generation to consider themselves political independents and be unaffiliated with an organized religion, even if they believe in God. We say we value uniqueness and are critical of those who demand obedience to others’ visions or social norms.

Paradoxically, it’s now conformist to be an individualist and deviant to be conformist. So much so that a subculture emerged to promote blending in. “Normcore,” it makes opting into conformity a virtue. As one commentator described it, “Normcore finds liberation in being nothing special…”

Obviously LSD didn’t do this all by itself, but it was certainly in the right place at the right time. And as a symbol of the radical transition that began in the 1960s, there’s hardly one better.

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.