Originally posted at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

One of my favorite sociologists is Bill Watterson. He’s not read in most sociology classrooms, but he has a sociological eye and a great talent for laying bare the structure of the world around us and the ways that we as individuals must navigate that structure—some with fewer obstacles than others. Unlike most sociologists, Watterson does this without inventing new jargon (or much new jargon), or relying on overly dense theoretical claims. He doesn’t call our attention to demographic trends (often) or seek to find and explain low p values.

Rather, Watterson presents the world from the perspective of a young boy who is both tremendously influenced by–and desires to have a tremendous influence on–the world around him. The boy’s name is Calvin, and I put a picture of him (often in the company of his stuffed tiger, Hobbes) on almost every syllabus I write. Watterson is the artist behind the iconic comic strip, “Calvin and Hobbes,” and he firmly believed in his art form. I’m convinced that if you can’t find a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon to put on your syllabus for a sociology course, there’s a good chance you’re not teaching sociology.

The questions and perspectives of children are significant to sociologists because children offer us an amazing presentation of how much is learned, and how we come to take what we’ve learned for granted. In many ways, this is at the heart of the ethnographic project: to uncover both what is taken for granted and why this might matter. Using the charm and wit of a megalomaniacal young boy, Watterson challenges us on issues of gender inequality, sexual socialization, religious identity and ideology, racism, classism, ageism, deviance, the logic of capitalism, globalization, education, academic inquiry, philosophy, postmodernism, family forms and functions, the social construction of childhood, environmentalism, and more.

Watterson depicts the world from Calvin’s perspective. He manages to illustrate both how odd this perspective appears to others around him (his parents, teachers, peers, even Hobbes) as well as the tenacity with which Calvin clings to his unique view of the world despite the fact that it often fails to accord with reality. Indeed, Calvin ritualistically comes into conflict with his social obligations as a child (school, chores, social etiquette, and norms of deference and respect, etc.) and the diverse roles he plays as a social actor (both real and imaginary). Calvin is a wonderful example of the human capacity to play with social “roles” and within the social institutions that frame and structure our lives.

Quite simply, Calvin often simply refuses to play the social roles assigned to him, or, somewhat more mildly, he refuses to play those roles in precisely the way they were designed to be played. And in that way, Calvin helps to illustrate just how social our behavior is.  Social behavior is based on a series of structured negotiations with the world around us. This doesn’t have to mean that we can act however we please—Calvin is continually bumping into social sanctions for his antics. But neither does it mean that we only act in ways that were structurally predetermined. The world around us is a collective project, one in which we have a stake. We play a role in both social reproduction and change.

Understanding the ways in which our experiences, identities, opportunities, and more are structured by the world around us is a central feature of sociological learning. Calvin is one way I ask students to consider these ideas. Kai Erikson put it this way in an essay on sociological writing:

Most sociologists think of their discipline as an approach as well as a subject matter, a perspective as well as a body of knowledge. What distinguishes us from other observers of the human scene is the manner in which we look out at the world—the way our eyes are focused, the way our minds are tuned, the way our intellectual reflexes are set. Sociologists peer out at the same landscapes as historians or poets or philosophers, but we select different details out of those scenes to attend closely, and we sort those details in different ways. So it is not only what sociologists see but the way they look that gives the field its special distinction. (here)

Calvin is a great example of the significance of “breaching” social norms. Breaches tell us something important about what we take for granted, and if your sociological imagination is well-oiled, you can often learn something about the “how” and the “why” as well. A great deal of the social organization goes into the production of our experiences, identities, and opportunities is subtly disguised by these “whys” (or what are sometimes called “accounts”). Calvin’s incessant questioning of authority and social norms illuminates the social forces that guide our accounts surrounding a great deal of social life–subtly, but unmistakably, asking us to consider what we taken for granted, how we manage to do so, as well as why. This is a feature of some of the best sociological work—a feature that is dramatized in childhood.

In Erikson’s treatise on sociological writing, he concludes with a wonderful description of an interaction between Mark Twain and a “wily old riverboat pilot.” Researching life on the Mississippi, Twain noticed that the riverboat pilot deftly swerves and changes course down the river, dodging unseen objects below the water’s surface in an attempt to move smoothly down the river. Twain asks the pilot what he’s noticing on the water’s surface to make these decisions and adjustments. The riverboat pilot is unable to explain, offering a sort of “I know it when I see it” explanation (interviewers know this explanation well). The pilot’s eyes had become so skilled in this navigation that he didn’t need to concern himself with how he knew what he knew. But both he and Twain were confident that he knew it. Over the course of their interactions, Twain gradually comes to learn more about what exactly the riverboat pilot is able to see and how he uses it to move through the water unhindered. This, explains Erikson, is the project of good sociology—“to combine the eyes of a river pilot with the voice of Mark Twain.”

Through Calvin, Watterson accomplishes just this. Calvin offers us a glimpse of wonderful array of sociological ideas and perspectives in an accessible way. Watterson has a way of seamlessly calling our attention to the taken for granted throughout social life and his images and ideas are a great introduction to sociological thinking. I like to think that Calvin’s life, perspectives, antics, and waywardness help students call the systems of social inequality and the world around them into question, learning to see sociologically. Calvin is a great tool to help students recognize that they can question the unquestionable, to learn to problematize issues that might lack the formal status of “problems” in the first place. Watterson used Calvin to help all of us learn to see the ordinary as extraordinary–a worthy task for any sociology course.

Tristan Bridges, PhD is a professor at The College at Brockport, SUNY. He is the co-editor of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Inequality, and Change with C.J. Pascoe and studies gender and sexual identity and inequality. You can follow him on Twitter here. Tristan also blogs regularly at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

Where you grow up is consequential. It plays a critical role in shaping who you are likely to become. Where you live affects your future earnings, how much education you’re likely to receive, how long you live, and much more.

Sociologists who study this are interested in the concentrated accumulations of specific types and qualities of capital (economic, cultural, social) found in abundance in certain locations, less in more, and virtually absent in some. And, as inequalities intersect with one another, marginalization tends to pile up. For instance, those areas of the U.S. that are disproportionately Black and Latino are also areas struggling economically (see Dustin A. Cable’s racial dot map of the U.S.). Similarly, those areas of the country with the least upward mobility are also areas with some of the highest proportions of households of people of color. And, perhaps not shockingly (although it should be), schools in these areas receive fewer resources and have lower outcomes for students.

How much education you receive is, in part, a result of where you grow up. Think about it: you’re be more likely to end up with at least a bachelor’s degree if you grow up in an area where almost everyone is at least college educated. It’s not a requirement, but it’s more likely. And, if you do and go on to live in a similar community and have children, your kids will benefit from you carrying on that cycle as well. Of course, this system of advantages works in reverse for communities with lower levels of educational attainment.

Recently, a geography professor, Kyle Walker, mapped educational attainment in the U.S. Inspired by Cable’s map of racial segregation, Walker visualizes educational inequality in the U.S. from a bird’s eye view. And when we compare Walker’s map of educational attainment to Cable’s map of racial segregation, you can see how inequalities tend to accumulate.

Below, I’ve displayed paired images of a selection of U.S. cities using both maps. In each image, the top map illustrates educational attainment and the bottom visualizes race.

  • On Walker’s map of educational attainment (top images in each pair), the colors indicate: less than high schoolhigh schoolsome collegebachelor’s degree, and graduate degree.
  • On Cable’s map of racial segregation (bottom images in each pair), the colors indicate: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Other Race/Native American/Multi-Racial

So, one way of comparing the images below is to look at how the blue areas compare on each map of the same region.  

Below, you can see San Francisco, Berkeley, and San Jose, California in the same frame using Walker’s map of educational attainment (top) over Cable’s racial dot map (bottom).See how people are segregated by educational attainment (top image) and race (bottom image) in Chicago, Illinois:
Los Angeles, California:
New York City:
Detroit, Michigan:
Houston, Texas:
Compare regions of the U.S. examining Walker’s map with Cable’s racial dot map, you can see how racial and educational inequality intersect. While I only visualized cities above for comparison on both maps, if you examine Walker’s map of educational attainment, two broad trends with respect to segregation by educational attainment are easily visible:

  • Urban/rural divide–people with bachelors and graduate degrees tend to be clustered in cities and metropolitan areas.
  • Racial and economic inequalities–within metropolitan areas, you can see educational achievement segregation that both reflects and reinforces racial and economic segregation within the area (this is what you see above).

And, as research has shown, the levels of parents’ educational attainment within an area impacts the educational performances of the children living in that area as well. That’s how social reproduction happens. Sociologists are interested in how inequalities are passed on to subsequent generations. And it is sometimes hard to notice in your daily life because, as you can see above, we’re segregated from one another (by race, education, class, and more). And this segregation is one way interlocking inequalities persist.

Tristan Bridges, PhD is a professor at The College at Brockport, SUNY. He is the co-editor of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Inequality, and Change with C.J. Pascoe and studies gender and sexual identity and inequality. You can follow him on Twitter here. Tristan also blogs regularly at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

Flashback Friday.

Add to the list of new books to read Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, by Cordelia Fine. Feeding my interest in the issue of sexual dimorphism in humans — which we work so hard to teach to children — the book is described like this:

Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and psychology, Cordelia Fine debunks the myth of hardwired differences between men’s and women’s brains, unraveling the evidence behind such claims as men’s brains aren’t wired for empathy and women’s brains aren’t made to fix cars.

Good reviews here and here report that Fine tackles an often-cited study of newborn infants’ sex difference in preferences for staring at things, by Jennifer Connellan and colleagues in 2000. They reported:

…we have demonstrated that at 1 day old, human neonates demonstrate sexual dimorphism in both social and mechanical perception. Male infants show a stronger interest in mechanical objects, while female infants show a stronger interest in the face.

And this led to the conclusion: “The results of this research clearly demonstrate that sex differences are in part biological in origin.” They reached this conclusion by alternately placing Connellan herself or a dangling mobile in front of tiny babies, and timing how long they stared. There is a very nice summary of problems with the study here, which seriously undermine its conclusion.

However, even if the methods were good, this is a powerful example of how a tendency toward difference between males and females is turned into a categorical opposition between the sexes — as in, the “real differences between boys and girls.”

To illustrate this, here’s a graphic look at the results in the article, which were reported in this table:

They didn’t report the whole distribution of boys’ and girls’ gaze-times, but it’s obvious that there is a huge overlap in the distributions, despite a difference in the means. In the mobile-gaze-time, for example, the difference in averages is 9.7 seconds, while the standard deviations are more than 20 seconds. If I turn to my handy normal curve spreadsheet template, and fit it with these numbers, you can see what the pattern might look like (I truncate these at 0 seconds and 70 seconds, as they did in the study):

Source: My simulation assuming normal distributions from the data in the table above.

All I’m trying to say is that the sexes aren’t opposites, even if they have some differences that precede socialization.

If you could show me that the 1-day-olds who stare at the mobiles for 52 seconds are more likely to be engineers when they grow up than the ones who stare at them for 41 seconds (regardless of their gender) then I would be impressed. But absent that, if you just want to use such amorphous differences at birth to explain actual segregation among real adults, then I would not be impressed.

Originally posted in September, 2010.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. He writes the blog Family Inequality and is the author of The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Originally posted at Feminist Reflections.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 3.40.39 PMIn 2014, a story in The New York Times by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz went viral using Google Trend data to address gender bias in parental assessments of their children—“Google, Tell Me. Is My Son a Genius?”  People ask Google whether sons are “gifted” at a rate 2.5x higher than they do for daughters.  When asking about sons on Google, people are also more likely to inquire about genius, intelligence, stupidity, happiness, and leadership than they are about daughters.  When asking about daughters on Google, people are much more likely to inquire about beauty, ugliness, body weight, and just marginally more likely to ask about depression.  It’s a pretty powerful way of showing that we judge girls based on appearance and boys based on abilities.  It doesn’t mean that parents are necessarily consciously attempting to reproduce gender inequality.  But it might mean that they are simply much more likely to take note of and celebrate different elements of who their children are depending on whether those children are girls or boys.

To get the figures, Stephens-Davidowitz relied on data from Google Trends. The tool does not give you a sense of the total number of searches utilizing specific search terms; it presents the relative popularity of search terms compared with one another on a scale from 0 to 100, and over time (since 2004).  For instance, it allows people selling used car parts to see whether people searching for used car parts are more likely to search for “used car parts,” “used auto parts,” or something else entirely before they decide how to list their merchandise online.  I recently looked over the data the author relied on for the piece.  Stephens-Davidowitz charted searches for “is my son gifted” against searches for “is my daughter gifted” and then replaced that last word in the search with: smart, beautiful, overweight, etc.

And while people are more likely to turn to Google to ask about their son’s intelligence than whether or not their daughters are overweight, people are much more likely to ask Google about children’s sexualities than any other quality mentioned in the article.  And to be even more precise, parents on Google are primarily concerned with boys’ sexuality.  Below, I’ve charted the relative popularity of searches for “is my son gay” alongside searches for “is my daughter gay,” “is my child gay,” and “is my son gifted.”  I included “child” to illustrate that Google searches here are more commonly gender-specific.  And I include “gifted” to illustrate how much more common searches for son’s sexuality is compared with searches for son’s giftedness (which was among the more common searches in Stephens-Davidowitz’s article).

Picture1

The general trend of the graph is toward increasing popularity.  People are more likely to ask Google about their children’s sexuality since 2004 (and slightly less likely to ask Google about their children’s “giftedness” over that same time period).  But they are much more likely to inquire about son’s sexuality.  At two points, the graph hits the ceiling.  The first, in November of 2010, corresponds with the release of the movie “Oy Vey! My Son is Gay” about a Jewish family coming to terms with a son coming out as gay and dating a non-Jewish young man.  The second high point, in September of 2011, occurred during a great deal of press surrounding Apple’s recently released “Is my son gay?” app, which was later taken off the market after a great deal of protest.  And certainly, some residual popularity in searches may be associated with increased relative search volume since.  But, the increase in relative searches for “is my son gay” happens earlier than either of these events.

Relative Search PopularityIndeed, over the period of time illustrated here, people were 28x more likely to search for “is my son gay” than they were for “is my son gifted.”  And searches for “is my son gay” were 4.7x more common than searches for “is my daughter gay.”

Reading Google Trends is a bit like reading tea leaves in that it’s certainly open to interpretation.  For instance, this could mean that parents are increasingly open to sexual diversity and are increasingly attempting to help their children navigate coming to terms with their sexual identities (whatever those identities happen to be).  Though, were this the case, it’s interesting that parents are apparently more interested in helping their sons navigate any presumed challenges than their daughters.  It could mean that as performances of masculinity shift and take on new forms, sons are simply much more likely to engage with gender in ways that cause their parents to question their (hetero)sexuality than they used to.  Or it could mean that parents are more scared that their sons might be gay.  It is likely all of these things.

I’m not necessarily sold on the idea that the trend can only be seen as a sign of the endurance of gender and sexual inequality.  But one measure of that might be to check back in with Google Trends to see if people start asking Google whether their sons and daughters are straight.  At present, both searches are uncommon enough that Google Trends won’t even display their relative popularity.

Tristan Bridges, PhD is a professor at The College at Brockport, SUNY. He is the co-editor of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Inequality, and Change with C.J. Pascoe and studies gender and sexual identity and inequality. You can follow him on Twitter here. Tristan also blogs regularly at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

Originally posted at the Gender & Society blog.

Two songs that seemed like they were on the radio every time I tuned into a pop station last summer were Omi’s single, “Cheerleader” (originally released in 2015) and Andy Grammar’s song, “Honey, I’m good” (originally released in 2014). They’re both songs written for mass consumption. Between 2014 and 2015, “Cheerleader” topped the charts in over 20 countries around the world. And, while “Honey, I’m Good” had less mass appeal, it similarly found its way onto top hit lists around the world.

They’re different genres of music. But they both fall under the increasingly meaningless category of “pop.”  And, because they both gained popularity around the same time, it was possible to hear them back to back on radio stations across the U.S.  Both songs are about the same issue: each are ballads sung by men celebrating themselves for being faithful in their heterosexual relationships.  Below is Omi’s “Cheerleader.” Here is the chorus:

“All these other girls are tempting / But I’m empty when you’re gone / And they say / Do you need me? / Do you think I’m pretty? / Do I make you feel like cheating? / And I’m like no, not really cause / Oh I think that I found myself a cheerleader / She is always right there when I need her / Oh I think that I found myself a cheerleader / She is always right there when I need her”

In Omi’s song, he situates himself as uninterested in cheating because he’s found a woman who believes in him more than he does. And this, he suggests, is worth his fidelity. Though, he does admit to being tempted, which also works to situate him as laudable because he “has options.”

Andy Grammar’s song is a different genre. And like Omi’s song, it’s catchy (though, apparently less catchy if pop charts are a good measure). Grammar’s video is dramatically different as well. It’s full of couples lip syncing his song while claiming amounts of time they’ve been faithful to one another. Again, and for comparison, below is the chorus:

“Nah nah, honey I’m good / I could have another but I probably should not / I’ve got somebody at home, and if I stay I might not leave alone / No, honey I’m good, I could have another but I probably should not / I’ve gotta bid you adieu and to another I will stay true”

Unlike Omi’s song, Grammar’s single is a song about a man at a bar without his significant other. He’s turning down drinks from a woman (or women), claiming that he doesn’t trust himself to be faithful if he gives into the drink. Instead, he opts to leave the bar to ensure he doesn’t give in to this temptation.

Both songs are written in the same spirit. They’re songs that appear to be about women, but are actually anthems about what amazing men these guys are because… well, because they don’t cheat, but could.

I was struck by the common message, a message at least partially to blame for why we all heard them so much. And the message is that, for men in heterosexual relationships, resisting the temptation to be unfaithful is hard work. And this message helps to highlight key ingredients of contemporary hegemonic masculinities: heterosexuality and promiscuity. Both men are identifying as heterosexual throughout each song. But, you might think, they’re not identifying as promiscuous. So, how are they supporting this cultural ideal if they appear to be challenging it? The answer to that is all in the delivery.

Amy C. Wilkins studied the ways that a group of college Christian men navigated what she terms the “masculinity dilemma” of demonstrating themselves to be heterosexual and heterosexually active when they were in a group committed to abstinence. Wilkins discovered that they navigated this dilemma by enacting what she refers to as “collective processes of temptation” whereby they crafted a discourse about just how masculine they were by resisting the temptation to be heterosexually active. They ritualistically discussed the problem of heterosexual temptation. And, in so doing, Wilkins argues that the men she studied, “perform their heterosexuality collectively, aligning themselves with conventional assumptions about masculinity through the ritual invocation of temptation” (here: 353). It’s hard to craft an identity based on not doing something. But if you’re going to, Wilkins argues that temptation is key.

Similarly, Sarah Diefendorf found that young evangelical Christian men navigate their gender identities alongside pledges of sexual abstinence until marriage. Men in Diefendorf’s study used one another as “accountability partners” to make sure they didn’t cheat on their pledges if they were in relationships, but even with things like pornography or masturbation. As Diefendorf writes, “These confessions… enable these men to demonstrate a connection with hegemonic masculinity through claims of desire for future heterosexual practices” (here: 658-659). In C.J. Pascoe’s study of high school boys navigating tenuous gender and sexual identities, she refers to this process more generally as “compulsive heterosexuality.”

Both songs are meant to situate the two singers as great men, men to be admired. But, being able to listen to this message and “get it” means that you can take for granted the premise on which the songs are based—in this case, that men are hard-wired to be sexual scoundrels and that heterosexual women should count themselves lucky if they are fortunate enough to have landed a man committed to not living up to his wiring. Without understanding men as having a natural and apparently insatiable sexual wanderlust, these songs don’t make sense.

Both Omi and Grammar need the discourse of temptation to frame themselves as noble. If we want to challenge men to not cheat, we should be challenge the idea that they’re working against biologically deterministic inclinations to do so. I’m not sure it would make a top 20 hit, but neither would it recuperate forms of gendered inequality through the guise of dismantling them.

________________

*Thanks to Sarah Diefendorf for her edits and smart feedback on this post.

Tristan Bridges, PhD is a professor at The College at Brockport, SUNY. He is the co-editor of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Inequality, and Change with C.J. Pascoe and studies gender and sexual identity and inequality. You can follow him on Twitter here. Tristan also blogs regularly at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

Flashback Friday.

A set of maps from Eric Fischer illustrate racial/ethnic populations in a number of U.S. cities, based on Census 2000 data. They’re great for showing levels of segregation, as well as comparing racial/ethnic diversity and population density in different regions.

On the maps, red = White/Caucasian, blue = African American, green = Asian, orange = Hispanic, and gray = Other. Each dot represents 25 people. At Fischer’s website, if you hover over the images you can identify individual neighborhoods/regions.

Here’s NYC, which not surprisingly has the highest apparent population density of any of the cities mapped and a high level of diversity, though also clearly the racial/ethnic groups are residentially segregated to a large degree:

Vegas still shows the distinctive residential segregation of African Americans that first emerged when they were forced to live in a segregated neighborhood called Westside, physically separated from other parts of town by Boulder Highway (see Las Vegas: The Social Production of an All-American City for a history of its development), and the predominantly-White neighborhoods ringing the Vegas Valley:

Fischer has up 102 different city maps, so there’s lots to play with and compare.

Originally posted in September, 2010.

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

It’s International Women’s Day–a day to celebrate the social, cultural, economic, and political achievements of women. It’s a day we often take stock of gender inequality, look at how far we’ve come and where we still need to go. This is a day people in my corner of the world share posts about the gender wage gap, statistics surrounding the enduring reality of violence against women, information about women’s access to health care, and more. It’s a day that sociologists have the tools to make lots of charts.

In my feed, sociologist Jane Ward shared a post about a feminist bookstore in Cleveland, Ohio that chose to celebrate Women’s History Month in a unique way: they flipped all of the books written by men in the fiction room of the store around on the shelf. The room will be left that way for for two weeks – through March 14, 2017. Take a look at the result!

The Fiction Room – Loganberry Books, Cleveland Ohio

It’s a powerful piece of feminist installation art. And it’s sociological. While a sociologist might have produced a content analysis of the room (or genre) and produced a proportion of books written by women, this feels different. They’ve entitled the exhibit “Illustrating the Fiction Gender Gap” and explain the project with this simple sentence: “We’ve silenced male authors, leaving works of women in view.”

They could have simply counted the books and produced figures made available to the public. That’s what most sociologists I know would have done. But something critical would have been missing when compared with the illustration of the gender gap they produced here. Think about it this way: in 2015, the Census calculated that the poverty rate was 13.5% in the U.S. (that was a drop from the year prior). In actual numbers, there were 43.1 million people in poverty in the U.S. that year. Just to think about the size of that group, that’s a number that is basically the same as the total combined state populations of New York, Florida, and Iowa. Can you imagine everyone in all three states being in poverty. That’s the scale of poverty as a social problem in the U.S.

In a similar way, Loganberry Books, produced a really clever piece of feminist installation art to make a reality about literature more visible. It’s different from telling us the proportion of books written by women in the fiction section. In Loganberry, we get to see what that means. If you went in, you could feel it as you looked around. Works by women who be jumping off the shelves, rather than hidden between piles of books by men.

The owner of the bookstore, Harriet Logan, put it this way: “Pictures are loud communicators.  So we are in essence not just highlighting the disparity but bringing more focus to the women’s books now, because they’re the only ones legible on the shelf” (here). In an interview with Cleveland Scene, she further explained: “To give the floor and attention to women, you need to be able to hear them. And if someone else is talking over them, that just doesn’t happen.”

It’s a small way of asking the question, What would this corner of the world look like if women’s accomplishments had not been systematically, structurally, and historically drowned out by men’s?  What does women’s signal sound like here when we get rid of men’s noise? Books by men are still there. They’re not being banned, removed, or even mentioned as “unworthy” in any way. Men’s books are simply being silenced for two weeks to let women’s work shine. What a powerful, feminist, sociologically imaginative statement.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Tristan Bridges, PhD is a professor at The College at Brockport, SUNY. He is the co-editor of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Inequality, and Change with C.J. Pascoe and studies gender and sexual identity and inequality. You can follow him on Twitter here. Tristan also blogs regularly at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

Democrats and Republicans are deeply divided. By definition, political parties have differences of opinion. But these divisions have widened. Twenty years ago, your opinions on political issues did not line up the way we have come to expect them. Today, when you find you share an opinion with someone about systemic racism, you’re more likely to have like minds about environmental policies, welfare reform, and how they feel about the poor, gay and lesbian people, immigrants and immigration, and much more. In other words, Democrats and Republicans have become more ideologically consistent in recent history.

A recent Pew Report reported that in 1994, 64% of Republicans were more conservative than the median Democrat on a political values scale. By 2014, 92% of Republicans were more conservative than the median Democrat. Democrats have become more consistently liberal in their political values and Republicans have become more consistently conservative. And this has led to increasing political polarization (see HERE and HERE for smart posts on this process by Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharpe). You can see political polarization happening below.

You might think ideological commitments naturally come in groupings. But there are lots of illogical pairings without natural connections. Why, for instance, should how you feel about school vouchers be related to how you feel about global warming, whether police officers use excessive force against Black Americans, or whether displays of military strength are the best method of ensuring peace?  The four issues are completely separate. But, if your Facebook feed looks anything like mine, knowing someone’s opinion about any one of these issues gives you enough information to feel reasonably confident predicting their opinions about the other three. That’s what ideological consistency looks like.

Consider how this process affects understandings of important systems of social inequality that structure American society. Discrimination is an issue that sociologists have studied in great detail. We know that discrimination exists and plays a fundamental role in the reproduction of all manner of social inequalities. But, people have opinions about various forms of discrimination as well—even if they’re unsupported by research or data. And while you might guess that many Americans’ opinions about one form of discrimination will be predictive of their opinions about other forms, there’s not necessarily a logical reason for that to be true. But it is.

The following chart visualizes the proportions of Americans who say there is “a lot of discrimination” against Black people, gay and lesbian people, immigrants, transgender people, as well as the proportions of Americans who oppose laws requiring transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth. And you can see how Americans identifying as Democrat and Republican compare.

The majority of Americans understand that social inequalities exist and that discrimination against socially marginalized groups is still a serious problem. By that, I mean that more than half of Americans believe these things to be true. And data support their beliefs. But look at the differences between Democrats’ and Republicans’ opinions about important forms of discrimination in U.S. society. The gap is huge. While just less than 1 in 3 Republicans feels that there is a lot of discrimination against Black people in the U.S., almost 8 in 10 Democrats support that statement. That’s what political polarization looks like. And Pew found that the trend is even more exaggerated among voters.

Republicans and Democrats are not just divided about whether and what to do about forms of social inequality. They’re divided about whether these inequalities exist. And that is an enormous problem.

Tristan Bridges, PhD is a professor at The College at Brockport, SUNY. He is the co-editor of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Inequality, and Change with C.J. Pascoe and studies gender and sexual identity and inequality. You can follow him on Twitter here. Tristan also blogs regularly at Inequality by (Interior) Design.