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Last week, on the heels of Obama’s announcement that he supports gay marriage, NPR interviewed the President of the Pew Research Center, Andrew Kohut, about trends in American support for the issue.  Kohut explained that American opinion has changed dramatically, and unusually, in a very short time.  In 1996, for example, 27% of people supported gay marriage (65% opposed).  This “really didn’t change very much” for a while.  In 2004, when Republicans mobilized the issue to get conservatives to the polls, 60% still opposed it.  But today, in the space of less than a decade, we have more people supporting gay marriage than opposing it.  Some polls show the majority of Americans believe that we should have the right to marry someone of the same sex.

This trend is driven, in part, by young people replacing the old, but focusing on this overshadows the fact that essentially all Americans — of every stripe — show higher support for gay marriage than they did a decade ago.  Both men and women and people of all races, political affiliations, religions, and ages are showing increased support for gay marriage.  This is a real, remarkable, and rare shift in opinion:

Opinion by age:
Opinion by religion:
Opinion by political party:
Opinion by political orientation:
Opinion by race:
Opinion by gender:
Via Montclair SocioBlog.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The splashy introduction of the new LEGO friends line earlier this year stirred up a lot of controversy. My goal with this set of posts is to provide some historical perspective for the valid concerns raised in this heated debate. 

1932-1977: The Brick Era

The LEGO Group started as a family business with the motto “only the best is good enough.” The company produced primarily wooden toys for the first two decades of its existence. It wasn’t until 1958 that the iconic LEGO brick was patented as we know it today. LEGO bricks were originally marketed as toys for both boys and girls. The 60s saw the introduction of new elements to the LEGO system like wheels, windows and hinges. Marketing images from this era tend to feature boys and girls equally.

In the 70s we encounter the first LEGO theme marketed specifically at girls: Homemaker. The sets aren’t very different from the rest of the products offered at that time (there’s some bricks and you build stuff), but the pictures of smiling girls playing with the sets clearly mark them as “girls only.” Homemaker sets are clearly meant to be furniture for dolls.

Dolls are popular toys, so finding ways to integrate the LEGO experience into this existing model of play was a shrewd business strategy for TLG, but one that nevertheless perpetuated stereotypes.

The 70s also saw TLG experimenting with different types of human-like figures. The first figures (sometimes called maxifigs to contrast with their later mini brethren) were built from regular LEGO bricks and new head pieces. These appeared in a line of sets with the uninspired name “LEGO Building Sets with People.” These line as a whole was marketed at both boys and girls, but some sets were more targeted. Co-existing for a brief period with the maxifig was a proto-minifigure. The minifig we all know and love today was next.

1978-1988: The Golden Era

In 1978 the minifigure first appeared as we know it today and, after an awkward period of co-existence with the maxifigs, the “minifig” became the standard for tiny plastic people. The minifig is now as iconic as the LEGO brick and equally important in defining the LEGO brand, over the years has tried to introduce other types of figures, but none of them have the staying power of the minifig.For the next decade LEGO minifigs existed in a gender neutral utopia. One can argue that the hairstyles are slightly gendered, but keep in mind that unisex hairstyles were all the rage at the time. When people talk about wanting to get back to the “good old days” of LEGO, this is generally the decade they are referring to.

In response to the LEGO Friends launch a lot of people have been passing around these images from an early 80s ad campaign:Even at this time, however, LEGO was promoting gendered play.  The short-lived Scala Jewelry theme, for example was a major deviation from the core LEGO product line. There is virtually no building in these sets, they are completely superficial — a triumph of style over substance.

Contrast this with Technic, which is all substance and no style. These complicated sets (originally called Expert builder sets) are clearly for boys. Boys also seem to have taken over LEGO trains. It’s great that TLG provides a range of products for builders of all skill levels, but why is it that the products for girls are always on the low-skill side of the spectrum and the high-skill side always reserved for boys?

The segregation of LEGO into feminine and masculine sets would escalate in the next 15 yrs, however, and I’ll cover that development in the next installment.

Read Part II of A Historical Perspective on the LEGO Gender Gap.


David Pickett is a social media marketer by day and a LEGO animator by night.  He is fanatical about LEGO and proud to be a nerd. Read more from David at Thinking Brickly.

Earlier this year we uncritically posted a spoken word poetry performance about prejudice against short men.  Geoffrey Arnold, who uses his blog, The Social Complex, to highlight heightism, had this to say about our tacit approval…


I’ve gotten some e-mails and criticism lately for an entry on this blog which was recently featured on the Sociological Images website.  In this entry, I posted a video of a Def Poetry Slam entitled “Death From Below” and asked the rhetorical question whether the video depicted “Short guys making fools of themselves?  Or poetry with a message, delivered through humor?”  I should have elaborated further, but I neglected to at the time.

The problem with Dan Sully & Tim Staffor’s poetry slam about being short is that it does not clearly convey the message that heightism is wrong.  In fact, as one commenter put it, the pair seem only to perpetuate numerous false stereotypes about short men.  Quite simply, the commentary which may underline their performance is too subtle for a general audience.  Instead of standing up for those who are the targets of height bigotry, it seems to me that these two are basically playing the role of the short male buffoon.  They are humiliating themselves and their bodies for the entertainment of others.  Any point which they are trying to make (and I’m not so sure that there is a point here) is lost in their performance.  Additionally, beyond their performance itself, some of their comments actually have the effect of supporting heightism instead of undermining it (“little man complex” as motivation for being healthy and “can’t date girls in heels people”).

Just the fact that they attempted to deliver their message through comedy is troubling when one considers that other groups rarely engage in this sort of behavior.  There is already a stigma against short men as people who are not to be taken seriously and so it doesn’t help when a short man publicly presents his body as a target for ridicule.


Geoffrey Arnold is an associate with a mid-sized corporate law firm’s Business Litigation Practice Group.  When Geoffrey isn’t chasing Billable Hours in the defense of white-collar criminals, he is most likely writing about social justice with a special emphasis on height discrimination at his blog: The Social Complex.  See also Geoffrey’s guest post introducing the concept of heightism as a gendered prejudice.

On the heels of our guest post describing the surprising rise in hypersexually-objectified women on the cover of Rolling Stone, comes troubling research out of cognitive neuroscience, sent in by Dolores R.

Mina Cikara and colleagues did a series of experiments — using Implicit Association and fMRI — to test whether sexist and non-sexist men’s cognition varied when looking at sexualized versus non-sexualized images of women. In fact, when men who tested high on a scale of sexism were shown images of sexualized women, they associated them more easily with words that implied an objectified “thing” than a thinking “person.” This was reflected in the fMRI study.

The take home message? When sexist men are exposed to strongly sexualized messages, they are inclined to dehumanize women, to see them as things.  Seeing someone as a thing is the first step towards treating her like her desires, thoughts, and preferences do not exist (because objects don’t think).  In other words, it facilitates sexual assault.

So… hmmmm… who to pick on here.  How about American Apparel…

American Apparel, this is brain poison (after the jump; NSFW):


Cross-posted at Caroline Heldman’s Blog.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” the third installment in this $1.5 billion franchise that just set a new record for a Fourth of July weekend opening, follows what has become a Hollywood action movie tradition of virtually erasing women, despite the fact that women buy 55% of movie tickets and market research shows that films with female protagonists or prominent female characters in ensemble casts garner similar box office numbers to movies featuring men.

Only two featured characters in the large ensemble Transformers cast are women, and none of the Transformers (alien robots, for the uninitiated) are female. And the two female humans consist of an unmitigated sexual object and a caricatured mockery of female leadership.

Let’s start with “the object,” Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), the one-dimensional, highly sexualized damsel-in-distress girlfriend of protagonist Sam Wikwiki (Shia LaBouef). Carly wears stiletto heels, even when running from murderous machines (except when the filmmakers slip up and her flats are visible), and she is pristine in her white jacket after an hour-long battle that leaves the men filthy.

The movie opens with a tight shot of Carly’s nearly bare ass as she walks up the stairs:


In a later scene, Carly is reduced to an object as her boss (Patrick Demsey) compares her to an automobile in a conversation with Sam:


And in case the audience doesn’t know to leer at Carly, they get constant instruction from a duo of small robots that look up her skirt and Sam’s boss (John Malkovich) who cocks his head to stare at her ass:


Sam’s “friend,” Agent Simmons (John Turturro), also ogles Carly and suggests she be frisked against her will:

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In a disturbing scene of sexualized violence, Carly’s (robot) car sprouts “arms” and threatens to violate her:


Normalization of female objectification causes girls/women to think of themselves as objects, which has been linked to higher rates of depression and eating disorders, compromised cognitive and sexual function, decreased self-esteem, and decreased personal and political efficacy. Ubiquitous female sexual objectification also harms men by increasing men’s body consciousness, and causes both men and women to be less concerned about pain experienced by sex objects.

Transformers 3 is pitched as a “family movie” and the film studio carefully disguises it as such with misleading movie trailers showing a story about kid’s toys. (Okay, I still have an Optimus Prime robot…) Young kids were abundant at both screenings I attended, taking in the images with little ability to filter the message.


It would have been easy for Michael Bay to positively present the second female character, Director of National Intelligence Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand). Instead, she is a tool to openly mock female leadership and promote female competition.

McDormand does her best to breathe some realism into Director Mearing, but the script calls for a caricature with “masculine” leadership traits – arrogance, assertiveness, stubborness, etc. – who is ultimately “put in her place” at the end of the movie with a forced kiss. Women continue to be vastly under-represented in positions of corporate and political leadership, partially due to the double-bind of women’s leadership where, in order to be considered acceptable leaders, women have to project a “masculine” image for which they are then criticized.

Director Mearing’s authority is challenged by virtually everyone she encounters in a way that simply wouldn’t make sense for a male character in her position. Sam openly challenges her in this scene:


Director Mearing’s authority evaporates when Agent Simmons comments, “moving up in the world, and your booty looks excellent”:


Director Mearing is even challenged by a transformer. [SPOILER ALERT: Director Mearing is the only one to challenge this transformer’s intentions, and she gets no credit when it turns out she was right.]


This Transformer again puts her in her place with the dual meaning of “I am a prime. I do not take orders from you”:

[wpvideo EDGYfp2T]

Director Mearing also has a running theme of not wanting to be called “ma’am.”


The “ma’am” theme doesn’t readily make sense since Director Mearing isn’t young and doesn’t appear to be trying to look young. But it does make sense when viewed through the lens of director Michael Bay intentionally mocking women’s leadership. Remember the flap when Senator Barbara Boxer at a hearing requested that a general use her professional title instead of “ma’am”?:


The “ma’am” theme resurfaces in a particularly troubling scene where Director Mearing meets with Sam and Carly, who, in good double-bind fashion, challenges whether she is even a woman:


Bay does include a few minor female characters with lines – Sam’s mother, the nagging mother/wife; Director Mearing’s subservient Asian assistant; a scene with both the “Olga” and “Petra” Russian woman stereotypes; and a Latina with a bare midriff who has a “Latin meltdown”:

[wpvideo pLgrLBNm]

If Michael Bay can buy off the most accomplished actors and even musician/social activist Bono to participate in such harmful media, what hope is there in the war that pits girls/women (the Autobots) against unrepentantly sexist movies makers (the Deceptacons)?

Alli, YetAnotherGirl, Molly W., and Laurence D. all sent in links (via The Mary Sue and Feminist Law Professors) to a post at The Achilles Effect on gendered language in children’s toy commercials. Crystal Smith created word clouds based on 658 words in 27 TV commercials generally aimed at boys (products included “Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Kung Zhu, Nerf, Transformers, Beyblades, and Bakugan”) and 432 words from 32 TV commercials generally aimed at girls (products: “Zhu Zhu Pets, Zhu Zhu Babies, Bratz Dolls, Barbie, Moxie Girls, Easy Bake Ovens, Monster High Dolls, My Little Pony, Littlest Pet Shop, Polly Pocket, and FURREAL Friends”).

This clearly isn’t a random sample of all toy commercials on all TV channels to all age groups; as Smith points out, it ignores toy companies that can’t afford TV ads, and it’s not a huge sample. However, given that these are popular toys that were being marketed during shows (such as cartoons) that are aimed at children, the word clouds provide a basic overview of gendered language in toy ads.

The word cloud for the boys’ list shows the emphasis on action and violence, with others depicted as opponents, a nemesis, or enemies:

For girls, the words are much more about appearance/fashion, relationships (friends, friendship, etc.), and playing mommy:

You can see larger versions at Wordle (girls and boys) and Smith says she has a reference list of all the commercials she a reference list of all the commercials available, which I requested. I’ll update the post with the list when I get it.

UPDATE: In response to my email, Crystal Smith cautioned, “This is a very small sample of brands that tend to appear frequently during kids’ cartoon blocks on TV. They are highly gendered toys, which explains the incredible contrast between the two lists.” She sent along the references; the girls’ list is available here, the boys’ list here.

On the heels of our post on food desertsFamily Inequality‘s Philip Cohen posted about “care vacuums.”  In this case the research is referring to the shrinking number of nursing homes in the U.S., leaving people farther and farther away from the nearest nursing home.

Zhanlian Feng and colleagues found that between 1999 and 2008 we lost about 5% of all nursing home beds and these losses were disproportionately in neighborhoods populated by Blacks and Latinos. The maps below overlays the racial composition of neighborhoods (darker = higher percent minority) with open nursing homes (in black) and nursing home closures (in red). Both seem to be disproportionately in minority neighborhoods, but Feng et al. showed that the closures are even more so.

Here’s Chicago as an example:


Just as food deserts make it more difficult for people without access to personal, reliable transportation to get fresh, affordable food, care vacuums make it more difficult for those same people — disproportionately Black and Latino, and disproportionately poor — to visit loved ones in nursing homes.  Ironically, this is despite the fact that use of nursing homes by minorities is rising and, among whites, falling.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Eloriane sent in a photo shoot for V Magazine (September 2009) that is both fascinating and confounding.  I noticed two things:

First, while the women are more or less fully-clothed, the men are naked.  Really naked.  Well, about as naked as they could be.  But the effect is really eerie, with one model looking like some combination of distressed, surprised, and high in most of her shots.  It’s nothing like our previous post featuring a photo shoot with clothed women and naked men, where the women appear gleeful about the situation.  To be honest, I’m not sure what to make of it, but my instinct is that, for some reason, this is not reversing the gendered power dynamic we typically see.

Coincidentally, Elle P. sent in a Dolce & Gabbana ad to similar effect.  You can see it below as well.

Second, the photo spread is titled “Wild Things” and subtitled “Adopt a Neo-Hippie, Anything Goes Approach to Dressing with Furs, Fringe, and Everything Animal Print.”  Then the photo titles refer to American Indians (“Warrior Princess,” “Navajo Sun,” and maybe “Indigo Girl”), Asians (“Eastern Promises”), Gypsies (“Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves”), and Africans (“Tribal Council”) alongside animals (“Animal Instincts,” and “Wild Things,” of course), and Bohemians (“Boho in Paradise”; more akin to “neo-hippies”?).  So, again, we have the association of people of color with animals and human primitivity (here, here, and here)… even as no actual people of color show up in the photo shoot.

Images after the jump because WAY not safe for work: