Flashback Friday.

In the U.S. men’s and women’s bikes are built differently, with women’s bikes lacking the bar that goes from the handlebar to just below the seat. The bar is a matter of tradition.  According to Andrea at Bike City Recyclery, when women began riding bikes in the 1800s, they were required to wear heavy skirts.  The low bar allowed them to mount the bikes “modestly” and was a space for their skirts to go.  Back then, bikes also had “clothes-guards” that would keep women’s skirts from being caught up in the mechanics of the bike.  This picture is from the 1890s:

Today most women riding a bike do not wear heavy skirts and clothes-guards are rare, but the low bar persists.  This ad from 1971 assures parents that  “girl bikes” can be converted to “boy bikes” and vice versa. The upper bar is purely “decorative,” but boys apparently must have it.

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A popular 16-inch beginner’s bike. Top bar removes easily to convert it from a boy’s to a girl’s bike in minutes… The perfect first bike that’s built to last from child to child.

This goes to show how strongly we invest in purely symbolic gender differentiation.  There is no need for a high bar and there is no need to differentiate bikes by gender in this way. We could do away with the bar distinction in the same way that we did away with the clothes-guard. But the bar is a highly visible signal that we are committed to a gender binary (men and women are “opposite” sexes). It is some men and the defenders of masculinity who are most opposed to this because collapsing the gender differentiation means collapsing a devalued category into a valued category. For individuals who embrace the valued category, this is a disaster. A male-coded bike frame is just one small way to preserve both the distinction and the hierarchy.

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.

Cultural appropriation generally refers to the adoption of traditional practices, objects, or images by a person or group that is not part of the originating culture. Cultural appropriation can become problematic when it is done without permission, serves to benefit the dominant group, and erases or further marginalizes the oppressed group. In this way, cultural appropriation can recreate larger structures of inequality.

On a recent stroll through a duty-free shop, I was introduced to one of these problematic examples in the form of a new Canadian product named “Totem Vodka,” packaged in a bottle resembling a totem pole. Totem Vodka is not a product of Indigenous entrepreneurship. Instead it is a form of problematic cultural appropriation. Here’s why:

First Nations Erasure

Totem poles are important symbolic creations of some First Nations families in Canada’s Pacific Northwest. They are symbols of family lineage that serve to document stories or histories of people, communities or clans. The Totem Vodka bottle and marketing images erases these families, while appropriating their symbols.


The bottle stopper is shaped like a Thunderbird, a supernatural bird who causes thunder and lightning according to First Nations mythology. The Thunderbird crest is traditionally carved on the totem poles of people from the Thunderbird clan of the Kwakwaka’wakw nations (on Vancouver Island). The origin of the Thunderbird (and totem poles) within Pacific Northwest First Nations communities is absent from the company’s description of the bottle’s design and construction. Instead, the bottle is superficially connected to a wide-array of global references; the bottle was “designed on the West Coast of Canada, moulded by French glassmakers and topped with an Italian-made custom stopper.”

Significantly, the individuals featured in pictures on the company’s Twitter account include few or no indigenous people.

First Nations Exploitation

The owner of Totem Distilleries is a wealthy white entrepreneur and proceeds from the vodka help support a wildlife rescue association without any First Nations connection.

Settler societies have, paradoxically, both outlawed the sacred work of totem pole carving by indigenous peoples and exploited it for their own profit. In this case, the totem pole is used as an aesthetic tool to distinguish the vodka as authentically “Canadian,” while reproducing an abstracted, exotified, and ultimately false vision of indigeneity. First Nations people in Canada have rarely been either credited or compensated for the use of their cultural symbol.

The example of Totem vodka fits within a larger pattern of racism and colonial exploitation of indigenous people. We can look to the historical effects of colonization in Canada to see how attempts to erase Indigenous culture, while simultaneously exploiting it for the benefit of colonizers, has led to systemic discrimination, exclusionary policies and neglect that continue into the present day. Using a totem pole as a vodka bottle symbolizes this larger, patterned systems of inequality.

Alexandra Rodney is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. She teaches Cultural Sociology and researches in the areas of food, gender and health. You can read more of Alexandra’s work on her website or follow her on Twitter

A special thank-you to Josée Johnston and Samantha Maskwa for their feedback on this post. Samantha is of Cree, Ojibway and Celtic ancestry. Her family is from the Rice Lake area and the southern part of Turtle Island and she is Bear clan. In addition to her midwifery degree, she is also completing a minor in Sociology and an Aboriginal Knowledges and Experiences certificate at Ryerson University in Toronto.

The great Louisiana Floods of 2016 have led to the closure of at least 22 of the state’s 70 public school districts, with additional districts calling off classes as a precaution given the immense devastation. This means that as many as one-third of the state’s public school students were out of school last week ,and potentially for many weeks to come. That equates to more than 241,000 children who are not in classrooms where they belong; and these figures do not even account for the many thousands of private and charter school students also out of school across the water-logged state.

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Almost exactly 11 years ago, Hurricane Katrina disrupted some 370,000 school-age children. For our book, Children of Katrina, we spent nearly a decade examining how their lives unfolded in the years after the catastrophe. We focused on education as a key “sphere” of children’s lives. It is a special sphere in that it is unique to children and youth and it has specific time parameters: when the window for schooling is gone, children cannot get it back. Missing school means missing critical stages in cognitive and social development and likely suffering irreparable harm in terms of their intellectual growth, development, and future educational goals.

The school sphere, as with the other spheres of children’s lives, is marked by inequality, with some students having access to greater advantages than others. Some school districts, often segregated by race and class, have more resources and support than others; some families have the ability to enroll children in private schools that require tuition or arrange to be in a high-quality school district, while other families do not have those options.

Keeping this in mind, and recognizing the importance of education during displacement and recovery, there are many things that can and should be done, to support disaster affected children and youth and their educational process. These include:

  • Reopening schools (including childcare centers and pre-schools) as quickly as possible after a disaster; this means allocating proper resources to repair, rebuild, and/or revive schools in disaster zones;
  • In receiving communities that receive large numbers of displaced children and youth, providing pathways for their rapid enrollment;
  • Offering emotional support through optional peer-oriented and/or peer-led support groups as well as licensed professional counselors, social workers, and school therapists;
  • Training all school staff—from upper-level administrators, to teachers, to custodians—how to be supportive of children and youth who have been affected by disaster as well as those who are in receiving communities who are now welcoming disaster-affected youth into their classrooms;
  • Designing and implementing disaster preparedness, response, and recovery curriculum within classrooms;
  • Providing opportunities for children to help their schools’ and classmates’ recovery; this could, for example, come in the form of service learning, fundraising, mentoring programs, or community action activities;
  • Offering immediate and long-term support for teachers, who are often recovering from disaster themselves; this may include financial, professional, and emotional support;
  • Intervening against bullying and stigma that may be attached to “disaster survivor” status for youth; reminding these professionals that bullying may be exacerbated based on region of origin, gender, age, race, or other characteristics;
  • Integrating displaced children in classrooms with familiar faces if possible;
  • Making school days as predictable as possible and re-establishing routines within classrooms and schools;
  • Allowing children and youth the opportunity to work on projects that help them process their disaster experience;
  • Funding school programs in arts, music, drama, and creative writing to encourage expression and foster healing.

Alice Fothergill, PhD is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Vermont. She is a member of the Social Science Research Council Research Network on Persons Displaced by Katrina. Fothergill’s book, Heads Above Water: Gender, Class, and Family in the Grand Forks Flood, examines women’s experiences in the 1997 flood in North Dakota. She is also co-editor of Social Vulnerability to Disasters.

Lori Peek, PhD is an associate professor of sociology and Co-Director of the Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis at Colorado State University. She also serves as the Associate Chair for the SSRC Task Force on Hurricane Katrina and Rebuilding the Gulf Coast and is a member of the SSRC Research Network on Persons Displaced by Katrina. Peek is the author of the award-winning book Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans after 9/11 and co-editor of the volume Displaced: Life in the Katrina Diaspora.

Together, Fothergill and Peek are the authors of the award-winning book, Children of Katrina, the longest-term ethnographic study of children in disaster.

Flashback Friday.

Is it true that Spanish-speaking immigrants to the United States resist assimilation?

Not if you judge by language acquisition and compare them to earlier European immigrants. The sociologist Claude S. Fischer, at Made in America, offers this data:

The bottom line represents the percentage of English-speakers among the wave of immigrants counted in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 census. It shows that less than half of those who had been in the country five years or less could speak English. This jumped to almost 75% by the time they were here six to ten years and the numbers keep rising slowly after that.

Fast forward 80 years. Immigrants counted in the 1980, 1990, and 2000 Census (the top line) outpaced earlier immigrants by more than 25 percentage points. Among those who have just arrived, almost as many can speak English as earlier immigrants who’d been here between 11 and 15 years.

If you look just at Spanish speakers (the middle line), you’ll see that the numbers are slightly lower than all recent immigrants, but still significantly better than the previous wave. Remember that some of the other immigrants are coming from English-speaking countries.

Fischer suggests that the ethnic enclave is one of the reasons that the wave of immigrants at the turn of the 20th century learned English more slowly:

When we think back to that earlier wave of immigration, we picture neighborhoods like Little Italy, Greektown, the Lower East Side, and Little Warsaw – neighborhoods where as late as 1940, immigrants could lead their lives speaking only the language of the old country.

Today, however, immigrants learn to speak with those outside of their own group more quickly, suggesting that all of the flag waving to the contrary is missing the big picture.

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.

Originally posted at Scatterplot.

Olympic fever has hit! As we all marvel at the power, precision, and grace of the athletes, a more disturbing commentary has also emerged, one that diminishes women athletes’ accomplishments, defines them by the men around them, places them in tired tropes of sex objects, or infantilizes them as “girls.” Some journalists, in combination with a robust social media discussion, are calling this bad behavior out. But should we be so surprised?

According to past research, no. In our work, we see this as a more pervasive issue, and women’s collegiate coaching is a prime example. When Title IX was enacted in 1972 approximately 90% of women’s teams were coached by women; in 2014 that number dropped to 43%. Women comprise only 23% of head coaching positions. Why are women coaches – especially of women’s teams – being left out? We talked to 9 female and 12 male coaches of women’s and men’s teams and many of their own explanations suggest a view of fundamental and “natural” differences between men and women.

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Talking to Coaches… Gender Matters

In general, the qualities of sport – competition, confidence, physical strength, aggression – are seen as masculine, while characteristics of cooperation, passivity, and dependency are coded feminine, raising suspicions about women’s capacity to excel. Masculine dominance has helped to define the parameters of what it means to be a coach.

Interestingly, coaching may be seen as an example of conflicting masculine roles. Given the low pay and high time commitment, coaching undermines the traditional male family role as breadwinner. As this male head women’s tennis coach explains,

I’ve been kind of lucky… I didn’t feel like I had to make a certain amount of money, X amount of dollars to be happy. So I was ok with where I was at salary wise… I think that the key to that is having a wife that also works, and that we can still make it happen, and sort of live the way we want to live and be happy.

Many of the men echoed the idea that without a spouse’s support, a coaching career would be difficult. Although respondents all felt women opt out of coaching due to family pressures, none felt that men needed to opt out to support their families. Arguably, the relationship between masculinity and athletics provides men with the social compensation necessary to remain in coaching in a way that does not operate for women.

Especially when asked why women don’t coach men, many of the respondents did not think women would have the strength, athleticism, authority, and leadership abilities to be effective men’s coaches. As a male head men’s soccer coach expresses:

I think the game is slightly different. The understanding of the nuances of the men’s game versus the women’s game… for a female to go into a men’s athletic team and command respect from those guys, it’s difficult. A female wouldn’t be able to step in and play seven versus seven and be able to play at the same level. Not technically, not tactically, I mean simply physically…just the strength factor.

Other arguments highlight the assumed biological connection between men and leadership. A female assistant women’s soccer coach argued that “the leadership gene is much more apparent in guys, it’s much more inherent in them.” Additionally challenging is the perception that taking orders and guidance from a female threatens masculinity and calls into question male superiority in a male dominated field. A former male head golf coach notes,

A woman coach is going to have to work harder to gain respect from a guy player than a male coach will have to work from a female player. … [Individuals are] raised to say if a guy’s leading, you give them a little benefit of the doubt. A woman has to prove herself, and until she does there’s going to be doubt.

By internalizing and enforcing stereotypes a gender pecking-order can be preserved. As this woman, an assistant women’s soccer coach, suggests, socialization improves men’s leadership ability:

When girls are socialized… it’s share, everyone in groups, be nice to everyone; guys are taught much more of competitiveness… a guy leader comes out in a group much easier… because in a girl’s environment it’s no one should be above anyone else… guys and girls are just different. They’re socialized different.

Stereotypes about men’s competitiveness and women’s need for emotional bonding were prevalent, and if these are carried into hiring decisions it is easy to see why male coaches are favored. Yet, if gender differences are so stark, we would expect to see same-sex coaching across the board, instead of the current disparity. Instead, this difference only legitimated women’s absence and was not used to question men’s presence as coaches of women’s teams. None of the women said they wanted to coach men’s teams and nor were they upset at being denied access to these positions. Respondents were more in favor of increasing women coaching women, but did not question or challenge any of the main gender stereotypes. This man, a former head men’s golf coach said,

I’m a fan of a woman coaching women’s sports, if skill levels are equal, because there are certain intangibles – I don’t understand the woman animal as well on certain things.

Shattering the “Glass Wall”?

Coaches we interviewed recognized the role that resources and opportunities played in incentivizing men into coaching women, but none challenged any aspect of the system. Respondents automatically buy into the “glass wall” such that 50 percent of jobs (those coaching men) are off-limits, thus if women coach approximately 50 percent of women’s teams, it’s “fair.” We see that unquestioned assumptions of gender difference supported perceptions that masculinity and men were superior to femininity and women. Twenty years ago scholars on this topic said it is beliefs in male athletic superiority that justify gender disparities in coaching, and according to these interviews little has changed. So, yes, observers should continue to call out the failures of Olympic commentators to treat women athletes equally, but as we say goodbye to Rio, let’s not forget how these issues are shaping coaches’ and athletes’ experiences every day.

Catherine Bolzendahl is a professor of sociology and the co-author of Counted Out: Same Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family. Vanessa Kauffman is a PhD student.  Both are at the University of California, Irvine. Jessica Broadfoot-(Lee) is an alum and was a member of the women’s tennis team and a two-time Big West Scholar-Athlete..

Which line is longer?

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Most people who grow up in industrialized environments will be at least a little bit tricked by this optical illusion, called the Müller-Lyer illusion. At first look, it may seem as if the line on the left is shorter than the line on the right. In fact, if you look closely and carefully, you can probably see that both lines are the same length.

Some psychologists theorize that susceptibility to this illusion is due to a strongly “carpentered” environment, one built by humans with the help of machines. Such environments are made mostly of straight lines and right angles. If this geometry is all around us all the time, our brains get very good at interpreting these environments.

That advantage, though, is a disadvantage when looking at the Müller-Lyer lines because our brain learns to associate angles like the one on the right with distance and ones like the one on the left with closeness. Then, it alters our perception of their height to adjust for perceived space.

Bear with me.

Consider my drawing of a room and hallway below. You can see that the corner closest to us (A) has lines like the point of an arrow on both ends (like the line on the left above), while the one further away (B) has lines like the rear of an arrow on both sides (like the line on the right). Our brain gets so used to inferring distance when it sees these angles, it assumes that any line with angles like B appears inaccurately short because it’s far away. That’s how the illusion tricks our brain.

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People who don’t grow up in a carpentered environments, though—hunter gatherers and other groups who spend most of their time in nature and other uncarpentered environments—don’t have brains adjusted to understanding straight lines and angles, so the illusion doesn’t work on them.

The Müller-Lyer illusion, then, is a great example of how our brains get acculturated in ways that shape even simple and straightforward perception tasks.

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.

I heard stories this week about dung beetles and cuttlefish.  Both made me think about the typical stories we hear in the media about evolved human mating strategies.  First, the stories:

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Story #1 :The Dung Beetle

Photo from flickr by Camilo Hdo.
Photo by Camilo Hdo, retrieved from flickr.

A story on Quirks and Quarks discussed the mating strategies of the dung beetle.  The picture above is of a male beetle; only the males have those giant horns.  He uses it to defend the entrance to a tiny burrow in which he keeps a female.  He’ll violently fight off other dung beetles who try to get access to the burrow.

So far this sounds like the typical story of competitive mating that we hear all the time about all kinds of animals, right?

There’s a twist: while only male dung beetles have horns, not all males have horns.  Some are completely hornless.  But if horns help you win the fight, how is hornlessness being passed down genetically?

Well, it turns out that when a big ol’ horned male is fighting with some other big ol’ horned male, little hornless males sneak into burrows and mate with the females.  They get discovered and booted out, of course, and the horned male will re-mate with the female with the hopes of displacing his sperm.

But.

Those little hornless males have giant testicles, way gianter than the horned males.  While the horned males are putting all of their energy into growing horns, the hornless males are making sperm.  So, even though they have limited access to females, they get as much mileage out of their access as they can.

The result: two distinct types of male dung beetles with two distinct mating strategies.

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Story #2: The Giant Australian Cuttlefish

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Photo by Paul Oughton, retrieved from Flickr.

The Naked Scientists podcast featured a story about Giant Australian Cuttlefish.  During mating season the male cuttlefish, much larger than the females, collect “harems” and spend their time mating and defending access.  Other males try to “muscle in,” but the bigger cuttlefish “throws his weight around” to scare him off. The biggest cuttlefish wins.

So far this sounds like the typical story of competitive mating that we hear all the time about all kinds of animals, right?

Well, according The Naked Scientists story, researchers have discovered an alternative mating strategy.  Small males, who are far too small to compete with large males, will pretend to be female, sneak into the defended territory, mate, and leave.

How do they do this?  They change their color pattern and rearrange their tentacles in a more typical female arrangement (they didn’t specify what this was) and, well, pass.  The large male thinks he’s another female. In the video below, the cuttlefish uses his ability to change the pattern on his body. He simultaneously displays a male pattern to the female and a female pattern to the large male on the other side.

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So, can the crossdressing cuttlefish and dodge-y dung beetle tell us anything about evolved human mating strategies?

Probably not.

But I do think it tells us something about how we should think about evolution and the reproduction of genes. If you listen to the media cover evolutionary psychological explanations of human mating, you only hear one story about the strategies that males use to try to get sex. That story sounds a lot like the one told about the horned beetle and the large male cuttlefish.

But these species have demonstrated that there need not be only one mating strategy. In these cases, there are at least two. So, why in Darwin’s name would we assume that human beings, in all of their beautiful and incredible complexity, would only have one? Perhaps we see a diversity in types of human males (different body shapes and sizes, different intellectual gifts, etc) because there are many different ways to attract females. Maybe females see something valuable in many different kinds of males! Maybe not all females are the same!

Let’s set aside the stereotypes about men and women that media reporting on evolutionary psychology tends to reproduce and, instead, consider the possibility that human mating is at least as complex as that of dung beetles and cuttlefish.

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.

Yesterday Donald Trump appeared to suggest that defenders of the 2nd Amendment should assassinate Hillary Clinton if she is elected. Or maybe any judges she appoints to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t very clear.

Supporters rushed to his defense, suggesting he was joking. Here’s what a humor scholar, Jason P. Steed, had to say about that via Twitter:


You can follow Jason P. Steed on Twitter here.