Originally Posted at TSP Discoveries

Photo by oddharmonic, Flickr CC

In the United States we tend to think children develop sexuality in adolescence, but new research by Heidi Gansen shows that children learn the rules and beliefs associated with romantic relationships and sexuality much earlier.

Gansen spent over 400 hours in nine different classrooms in three Michigan preschools. She observed behavior from teachers and students during daytime classroom hours and concluded that children learn — via teachers’ practices — that heterosexual relationships are normal and that boys and girls have very different roles to play in them.

In some classrooms, teachers actively encouraged “crushes” and kissing between boys and girls. Teachers assumed that any form of affection between opposite gender children was romantically-motivated and these teachers talked about the children as if they were in a romantic relationship, calling them “boyfriend/girlfriend.” On the other hand, the same teachers interpreted affection between children of the same gender as friendly, but not romantic. Children reproduced these beliefs when they played “house” in these classrooms. Rarely did children ever suggest that girls played the role of “dad” or boys played the role of “mom.” If they did, other children would propose a character they deemed more gender-appropriate like a sibling or a cousin.

Preschoolers also learned that boys have power over girls’ bodies in the classroom. In one case, teachers witnessed a boy kiss a girl on the cheek without permission. While teachers in some schools enforced what the author calls “kissing consent” rules, the teachers in this school interpreted the kiss as “sweet” and as the result of a harmless crush. Teachers also did not police boys’ sexual behaviors as actively as girls’ behaviors. For instance, when girls pulled their pants down teachers disciplined them, while teachers often ignored the same behavior from boys. Thus, children learned that rules for romance also differ by gender.

Allison Nobles is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota and Graduate Editor at The Society Pages. Her research primarily focuses on sexuality and gender, and their intersections with race, immigration, and law.

My gut reaction was that nobody is actually eating the freaking Tide Pods.

Despite the explosion of jokes—yes, mostly just jokes—about eating detergent packets, sociologists have long known about media-fueled cultural panics about problems that aren’t actually problems. Joel Best’s groundbreaking research on these cases is a classic example. Check out these short video interviews with Best on kids not really being poisoned by Halloween candy and the panic over “sex bracelets.”

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In a tainted Halloween candy study, Best and Horiuchi followed up on media accounts to confirm cases of actual poisoning or serious injury, and they found many cases couldn’t be confirmed or were greatly exaggerated. So, I followed the data on detergent digestion.

It turns out, there is a small trend. According to a report from the American Association of Poison Control Centers,

…in 2016 and 2017, poison control centers handled thirty-nine and fifty-three cases of intentional exposures, respectively, among thirteen to nineteen year olds. In the first fifteen days of 2018 alone, centers have already handled thirty-nine such intentional cases among the same age demographic.

That said, this trend is only relative to previous years and cannot predict future incidents. The life cycle of internet jokes is fairly short, rotating quickly with an eye toward the attention economy. It wouldn’t be too surprising if people moved on from the pods long before the panic dies out.

Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.

The rise of craft beer in the United States gives us more options than ever at happy hour. Choices in beer are closely tied to social class, and the market often veers into the world of pointlessly gendered products. Classic work in sociology has long studied how people use different cultural tastes to signal social status, but where once very particular tastes showed membership in the upper class—like a preference for fine wine and classical music—a world with more options offers status to people who consume a little bit of everything.

Photo Credit: Brian Gonzalez (Flickr CC)

But who gets to be an omnivore in the beer world? New research published in Social Currents by Helana Darwin shows how the new culture of craft beer still leans on old assumptions about gender and social status. In 2014, Darwin collected posts using gendered language from fifty beer blogs. She then visited four craft beer bars around New York City, surveying 93 patrons about the kinds of beer they would expect men and women to consume. Together, the results confirmed that customers tend to define “feminine” beer as light and fruity and “masculine” beer as strong, heavy, and darker.

Two interesting findings about what people do with these assumptions stand out. First, patrons admired women who drank masculine beer, but looked down on those who stuck to the feminine choices. Men, however, could have it both ways. Patrons described their choice to drink feminine beer as open-mindedness—the mark of a beer geek who could enjoy everything. Gender determined who got “credit” for having a broad range of taste.

Second, just like other exclusive markers of social status, the India Pale Ale held a hallowed place in craft brew culture to signify a select group of drinkers. Just like fancy wine, Darwin writes,

IPA constitutes an elite preference precisely because it is an acquired taste…inaccessible to those who lack the time, money, and desire to cultivate an appreciation for the taste.

Sociology can get a bad rap for being a buzzkill, and, if you’re going to partake, you should drink whatever you like. But this research provides an important look at how we build big assumptions about people into judgments about the smallest choices.

Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.

During a year marked by social and political turmoil, the media has found itself under scrutiny from politicians, academics, the general public, and increasingly self-reflexive journalists and editors. Fake news has entered our lexicon both as a form of political meddling from foreign powers and a dismissive insult directed towards any less-than-complimentary news coverage of the current administration.

Paying attention to where people are getting their news and what that news is telling them is an important step to understanding our increasingly polarized society and our seeming inability to talk across political divides. The insight can also help us get at those important and oh-too common questions of “how could they think that?!?” or “how could they support that politician?!?”

My interest in this topic was sparked a few months ago when I began paying attention to the top four stories and single video that magically appear whenever I swipe left on my iPhone. The stories compiled by the Apple News App provide a snapshot of what the dominant media sources consider the newsworthy happenings of the day. After paying an almost obsessive attention to my newsfeed for a few weeks—and increasingly annoying my friends and colleagues by telling them about the compelling patterns I was seeing—I started to take screenshots of the suggested news stories on a daily or twice daily basis. The images below were gathered over the past two months.

It is worth noting that the Apple News App adapts to a user’s interests to ensure that it provides “the stories you really care about.” To minimize this complicating factor I avoided clicking on any of the suggested stories and would occasionally verify that my news feed had remained neutral through comparing the stories with other iPhone users whenever possible.

Some of the differences were to be expected—People simply cannot get enough of celebrity pregnancies and royal weddings. The Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNN frequently feature stories that are critical of the current administration, and Fox News is generally supportive of President Trump and antagonistic towards enemies of the Republican Party.

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However, there are two trends that I would like to highlight:

1) A significant number of Fox News headlines offer direct critiques of other media sites and their coverage of key news stories. Rather than offering an alternative reading of an event or counter-coverage, the feature story undercuts the journalistic work of other news sources through highlighting errors and making accusations of partisanship motivations. In some cases, this even takes the form of attacking left-leaning celebrities as proxy to a larger movement or idea. Neither of these tactics were employed by any of the other news sources during my observation period.

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2) Fox News often featured coverage of vile, treacherous, or criminal acts committed by individuals as well as horrifying accidents. This type of story stood out both due to the high frequency and the juxtaposition to coverage of important political events of the time—murderous pigs next to Senate resignations and sexually predatory high school teachers next to massively destructive California wildfires. In a sense, Fox News is effectively cultivating an “asociological” imagination by shifting attention to the individual rather than larger political processes and structural changes. In addition, the repetitious coverage of the evil and devious certainly contributes to a fear-based society and confirms the general loss of morality and decline of conservative values.

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It is worth noting that this move away from the big stories of the day also occurs through a surprising amount of celebrity coverage.

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From the screen captures I have gathered over the past two months, it seems apparent that we are not just consuming different interpretations of the same event, but rather we are hearing different stories altogether. This effectively makes the conversation across political affiliation (or more importantly, news source affiliation) that much more difficult if not impossible.

I recommend taking time to look through the images that I have provided on your own. There are a number of patterns I did not discuss in this piece for the sake of brevity and even more to be discovered. And, for those of us who spend our time in the front of the classroom, the screenshot approach could provide the basis for a great teaching activity where the class collectively takes part in both the gathering of data and conducting the analysis. 

Kyle Green is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Utica College. He is a proud TSP alumnus and the co-author /co-host of Give Methods a Chance.

Over the last few weeks, commentary about alleged sexual predator Roy Moore’s failure to secure a seat in the U.S. Senate has flooded our news and social media feeds, shining a spotlight on the critical role of Black women in the election. About 98% of Black women, comprising 17% of total voters, cast their ballots for Moore’s opponent Doug Jones, ensuring Jones’s victory. At the same time, commentators questioned the role of White women in supporting Moore. Sources estimate that 63% of White women voted for Moore, including the majority of college-educated White women.

Vogue proclaimed, “Doug Jones Won, but White Women Lost.” U.S. News and World Reports asked, “Why do so many White women vote for misogynists?” Feminist blog Jezebel announced succinctly: “White women keep fucking us over.” Fair enough. But we have to ask, “What about Black and White men?” The fact that 48% of Alabama’s voting population is absent from these conversations is not accidental. It’s part of an incomplete narrative that focuses solely on the impact of women voters and continues the false narrative that fixing inequality is solely their burden.

Let’s focus first on Black men. Exit poll data indicate that 93% of Black men voted for Jones, and they accounted for 11% of the total vote. Bluntly put, Jones could not have secured his razor-thin victory without their votes. Yet, media commentary about their specific role in the election is typically obscured. Several articles note the general turnout of Black voters without explicitly highlighting the contribution of Black men. Other articles focus on the role of Black women exclusively. In a Newsweek article proclaiming Black women “Saved America,” Black men receive not a single mention. In addition to erasing a key contribution, this incomplete account of Jones’s victory masks concerns about minority voter suppression and the Democratic party taking Black votes for granted.

White men comprised 35% of total voters in this election, and 72% of them voted for Moore. But detailed commentary on their overwhelming support for Moore – a man who said that Muslims shouldn’t serve in Congress, that America was “great” during the time of slavery, and was accused of harassing and/or assaulting at least nine women in their teens while in his thirties – is frankly rare. The scant mentions in popular media may best be summed up as: “We expect nothing more from White men.”

As social scientists, we know that expectations matter. A large body of work indicates that negative stereotypes of Black boys and men are linked to deleterious outcomes in education, crime, and health. Within our academic communities we sagely nod our heads and agree we should change our expectations of Black boys and men to ensure better outcomes. But this logic of high expectations is rarely applied to White men. The work of Jackson Katz is an important exception. He, and a handful of others have, for years, pointed out that gender-blind conversations about violence perpetrated by men, primarily against women – in families, in romantic relationships, and on college campuses – serve only to perpetuate this violence by making its prevention a woman’s problem.

The parallels to politics in this case are too great to ignore. It’s not enough for the media to note that voting trends for the Alabama senate election were inherently racist and sexist. Pointing out that Black women were critically important in determining election outcomes, and that most White women continued to engage in the “patriarchal bargain” by voting for Moore is a good start, but not sufficient. Accurate coverage would offer thorough examinations of the responsibility of all key players – in this case the positive contributions of Black men, and the negative contributions of White men. Otherwise, coverage risks downplaying White men’s role in supporting public officials who are openly or covertly racist or sexist. This perpetuates a social structure that privileges White men above all others and then consistently fails to hold them responsible for their actions. We can, and must, do better.

Mairead Eastin Moloney is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Kentucky. 
Photo Credit: Meagan Fisher, Flickr CC

2017 was a big year for conversations about representation in popular media—what it means to tell stories that speak to people across race, gender, sexuality, ability, and more. Between the hits and the misses, there is clearly much more work to do. Representation is not just about who shows up on screen, but also about what kinds of stories get told and who gets to make them happen.

For example, many people are now familiar with “The Bechdel Test” as a pithy shortcut to check for women’s representation in movies. Now, proposals for a new Bechdel Test cover everything from the gender composition of a film’s crew to specific plot points.

These conversations are especially important for the stories we make for kids, because children pick up many assumptions about gender and race at a very young age. Now, new research published in Sociological Forum helps us better understand what kinds of stories we are telling when we seek out a diverse range of children’s books.

Krista Maywalt Aronson, Brenna D. Callahan, and Anne Sibley O’Brien wanted to look at the most common themes in children’s stories with characters from underrepresented racial and cultural groups. Using a special collection of picture books for grades K-3 from the Ladd Library at Bates College, the authors gathered a data set of 1,037 books published between 2008 and 2015 (see their full database here). They coded themes from the books to see which story arcs occurred most often, and what groups of characters were most represented in each theme.

The most common theme, occurring in 38% of these books, was what they called “beautiful life”—positive depictions of the everyday lives of the characters. Next up was the “every child” theme in which main characters came from different racial or ethnic backgrounds, but those backgrounds were not central to the plot. Along with biographies and folklore, these themes occurred more often than stories of oppression or cross-cultural interaction.

These themes tackle a specific kind of representation: putting characters from different racial and ethnic groups at the center of the story. This is a great start, but it also means that these books are more likely to display diversity, rather than showing it in action. For example, the authors write:

Latinx characters were overwhelmingly found in culturally particular books. This sets Latinx people apart as defined by a language and a culture distinct from mainstream America, and sometimes by connection to home countries.

They also note that the majority of these books are still created by white authors and illustrators, showing that there’s even more work to do behind the scenes. Representation matters, and this research shows us how more inclusive popular media can start young!

Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo via Oli (Flickr CC)

Whether you’re taking a long flight, taking some time on the treadmill, or just taking a break over the holidays, ’tis the season to catch up on podcasts. Between long-running hits and some strong newcomers this year, there has never been a better time to dive into the world of social science podcasts. While we bring the sociological images, do your ears a favor and check these out.

Also, this list is far from comprehensive. If you have tips for podcasts I missed, drop a note in the comments!

New in 2017

If you’re new to sociology, or want a more “SOC 101” flavor, The Social Breakdown is perfect for you. Hosts Penn, Ellen, and Omar take a core sociological concept in each episode and break it down, offering great examples both old and new (and plenty of sass). Check out “Buddha Heads and Crosses” for a primer on cultural appropriation from Bourdieu to Notorious B.I.G.

Want to dive deeper? The Annex is at the cutting edge of sociology podcasting. Professors Joseph Cohen, Leslie Hinkson, and Gabriel Rossman banter about the news of the day and bring you interviews and commentary on big ideas in sociology. Check out the episode on Conspiracy Theories and Dover’s Greek Homosexuality for—I kid you not—a really entertaining look at research methods.

Favorite Shows Still Going Strong

In The Society Pages’ network, Office Hours brings you interviews with leading sociologists on new books and groundbreaking research. Check out their favorite episode of 2017: Lisa Wade on American Hookup!

Felling wonky? The Scholars Strategy Network’s No Jargon podcast is a must-listen for the latest public policy talk…without jargon. Check out recent episodes on the political rumor mill and who college affirmative action policies really serve.

I was a latecomer to The Measure of Everyday Life this year, finding it from a tip on No Jargon, but I’m looking forward to catching up on their wide range of fascinating topics. So far, conversations with Kieran Healy on what we should do with nuance and the resurrection of typewriters have been wonderful listens.

And, of course, we can’t forget NPR’s Hidden Brain. Tucked away in their latest episode on fame is a deep dive into inconspicuous consumption and the new, subtle ways of wealth in America.

Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.

National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day is this Friday, December 15th. Perhaps you’ve noticed the recent ascent of the Ugly Christmas Sweater or even been invited to an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party. How do we account for this trend and its call to “don we now our tacky apparel”?

Total search of term “ugly Christmas sweater” relative to other searches over time (c/o Google Trends):

Ugly Christmas Sweater parties purportedly originated in Vancouver, Canada, in 2001. Their appeal might seem to stem from their role as a vehicle for ironic nostalgia, an opportunity to revel in all that is festively cheesy. It also might provide an opportunity to express the collective effervescence of the well-intentioned (but hopelessly tacky) holiday apparel from moms and grandmas.

However, The Atlantic points to a more complex reason why we might enjoy the cheesy simplicity offered by Ugly Christmas Sweaters: “If there is a war on Christmas, then the Ugly Christmas Sweater, awesome in its terribleness, is a blissfully demilitarized zone.” This observation pokes fun at the Fox News-style hysterics regarding the “War on Christmas”; despite being commonly called Ugly Christmas Sweaters, the notion seems to persist that their celebration is an inclusive and “safe” one.

Photo Credit: TheUglySweaterShop, Flickr CC

We might also consider the generally fraught nature of the holidays (which are financially and emotionally taxing for many), suggesting that the Ugly Sweater could offer an escape from individual holiday stress. There is no shortage of sociologists who can speak to the strain of family, consumerism, and mental health issues that plague the holidays, to say nothing of the particular gendered burdens they produce. Perhaps these parties represent an opportunity to shelve those tensions.

But how do we explain the fervent communal desire for simultaneous festive celebration and escape? Fred Davis notes that nostalgia is invoked during periods of discontinuity. This can occur at the individual level when we use nostalgia to “reassure ourselves of past happiness.” It may also function as a collective response – a “nostalgia orgy”- whereby we collaboratively reassure ourselves of shared past happiness through cultural symbols. The Ugly Christmas Sweater becomes a freighted symbol of past misguided, but genuine, familial affection and unselfconscious enthusiasm for the holidays – it doesn’t matter that we have not all really had the actual experience of receiving such a garment.

Jean Baudrillard might call the process of mythologizing the Ugly Christmas Sweater a simulation, a collapsing between reality and representation. And, as George Ritzer points out, simulation can become a ripe target for corporatization as it can be made more spectacular than its authentic counterparts. We need only look at the shift from the “authentic” prerogative to root through one’s closet for an ugly sweater bestowed by grandma (or even to retrieve from the thrift store a sweater imparted by someone else’s grandma) to the cottage-industry that has sprung up to provide ugly sweaters to the masses. There appears to be a need for collective nostalgia that is outstripped by the supply of “actual” Ugly Christmas Sweaters that we have at our disposal.

Colin Campbell states that consumption involves not just purchasing or using a good or service, but also selecting and enhancing it. Accordingly, our consumptive obligation to the Ugly Christmas Sweater becomes more demanding, individualized and, as Ritzer predicts, spectacular. For examples, we can view this intensive guide for DIY ugly sweaters. If DIY isn’t your style, you can indulge your individual (but mass-produced) tastes in NBA-inspired or cultural mash-up Ugly Christmas Sweaters, or these Ugly Christmas Sweaters that aren’t even sweaters at all.

The ironic appeal of the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party is that one can be deemed festive for partaking, while simultaneously ensuring that one is participating in a “safe” celebration – or even a gentle mockery – of holiday saturation and demands. The ascent of the Ugly Christmas Sweater has involved a transition from ironic nostalgia vehicle to a corporatized form of escapism, one that we are induced to participate in as a “safe” form of  festive simulation that becomes increasingly individualized and demanding in expression.

Re-posted at Pacific Standard.

Kerri Scheer is a PhD Student working in law and regulation in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. She thanks her colleague Allison Meads for insights and edits on this post. You can follow Kerri on Twitter.