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Six years ago today we posted our very first images: a re-touched magazine cover featuring Faith Hill and two almost identical Skyy Vodka ads that appeared in Maxim and Cosmo (hint: it’s in the nipples).

While people often congratulate Gwen and I for coming up with the idea for the blog, we never actually intended the public to read it.  We initially started the site as a place for the two of us to share images that we used in teaching.  The rest is history.

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Thanks to everyone who has visited over the last six years!  Almost 5,000 posts later, you’ve changed our lives and careers in unexpected and delightful ways!

Here are some highlights from the year! All deserving exclamation points!

Here’s to you and here’s to another great year!

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.

Originally posted in 2010. Re-posted in honor of the holiday.

This morning I heard an interesting story on NPR about the celebration of Valentine’s Day in Japan.

In the U.S., Valentine’s Day is pretty much for women. While women do give Valentine’s gifts to male partners, the emphasis among adults is on men giving items to women: flowers, candy, cards, taking them out to dinner, and so on. In many cases women aren’t expected to reciprocate, or can give a less expensive/significant present, and I doubt many give flowers or chocolate in heart-shaped boxes.

In Japan, however, the roles are reversed: women give chocolates to men, as well as often buying gifts and providing meals. It apparently isn’t entirely clear how this tradition emerged.

There are two types of chocolates that women give men. Giri-choco, or “obligation chocolate,” is relatively cheap and is what you give to coworkers and the like. Honmei-choco is higher-quality chocolate reserved for men a woman is close to–partners or perhaps a family member. Some women choose to make their own honmei.

Men aren’t off the hook, however. A month later, on March 14th, is White Day, a day when men give candy and other gifts to women. According to wikipedia, these gifts are supposed to be more expensive than what the men received on Valentine’s Day.

A lot of websites say that White Day was invented by a marshmallow company in the ’60s as a way to increase sales, but I can’t find any reliable source for this explanation.

It’s a good example of the social construction of holidays and food. In the U.S., chocolate is highly feminized–we think of it as a food that women particularly like, and ads about chocolate, especially fancy chocolates, are usually aimed at women (or men buying for them). Valentine’s Day and big heart-shaped boxes with large bows on them are likewise feminized. Valentine’s Day is, primarily, a day when men are expected to show their affection for women through the purchase of these things (and, as a side note, the chocolate that comes in those heart-shaped boxes is often pretty unappealing). Insofar as women reciprocate with gifts for men, they’re unlikely to come in a similar heart-shaped box. When I brought up this possibility to my students, they said that would be really unusual and the male recipient would probably feel strange about it.

In Japan, clearly chocolates for Valentine’s Day (even expensive, fancy chocolate), heart-shaped boxes, and big bows are considered appropriate gifts for men. It makes it clear how our association of chocolate with women is culturally specific.

Of course, the fact that on White Day men are supposed to give women more expensive gifts than they received indicates that, while Valentine’s Day specifically is for men, the expectation is that overall, the balance of gift-giving requires men to show more affection-via-spending, similar to U.S. expectations surrounding the holiday.

Other posts: the social construction of chocolate and marketing chocolate to men.

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

Cross-posted at Chris Uggen’s Blog.

I’ve been reluctant to write about the terrible events at Sandy Hook Elementary School because the wounds are still too fresh for any kind of dispassionate analysis. As a social scientist, however, I’m disappointed by the fear-mongering and selective presentations of the research evidence I’ve read in reports and op-eds about Friday’s awful killing.

Such events could help move us toward constructive actions that will result in a safer and more just world — or they could push us toward counter-productive and costly actions that simply respond to the particulars of the last horrific event. I will make the case that a narrow focus on stopping mass shootings is less likely to produce beneficial changes than a broader-based effort to reduce homicide and other violence. We can and should take steps to prevent mass shootings, of course, but these rare and terrible crimes are like rare and terrible diseases — and a strategy to address them is best considered within the context of more common and deadlier threats to population health. Five points:

1. The focus on mass shootings obscures over 99 percent of homicide victims and offenders in the United States.

The numbers should not matter to parents who must bury their children, but they are important if policy makers are truly committed to reducing violent deaths. There are typically about 25 mass shootings and 100 victims each year in the United States (and, despite headlines to the contrary, mass shootings have not increased over the past twenty years). These are high numbers by international standards, but they pale relative to the total number of killings – about 14,612 victims and 14,548 offenders in 2011. In recent years, the mass shooters have represented less than two-tenths of 1 percent of the total offenders, while the victims have represented less than one percent of the total homicide victims in any given year. We are understandably moved by the innocence of the Sandy Hook children, but we should also be moved by scores of other victims who are no less innocent. There were 646 murder victims aged 12 or younger  in the United States in 2011 alone — far more than all the adults and children that died as a result of mass shootings.

2. The focus on mass shootings leads to unproductive arguments about whether imposing sensible gun controls would have deterred the undeterrable. 

As gun advocates are quick to point out, many of the perpetrators in mass shootings had no “disqualifying” history of crime or mental disorder that would have prevented them from obtaining weapons. And, the most highly motivated offenders are often able to secure weapons illegally. Even if such actions do little to stop mass shootings, however, implementing common-sense controls such as “turning off the faucet” on high capacity assault weapons, tightening up background checks, and closely monitoring sales at gun shows are prudent public policy. But the vast majority of firearms used in murders are simple handguns. I would expect the no-brainer controls mentioned above to have a modest but meaningful effect, but we will need to go farther to have anything more than an incremental effect on mass shootings and gun violence more generally.

3. The focus on mass shootings obscures the real progress made in reducing the high rates of violence in the United States. 

I heard one commentator suggest that America had finally “hit bottom” regarding violence. Well, this is true in a sense — we actually hit bottom twenty years ago. The United States remains a violent nation, but we are far less violent today than we were in the early 1990s. Homicide rates have dropped by 60 percent and the percentage of children annually exposed to violence in their households has fallen by 69 percent since 1993:

We can and should do better, of course, but these are not the worst of times.

4. The focus on mass shootings exaggerates the relatively modest correlation between mental illness and violence. 

Those who plan and execute mass shootings may indeed have severe mental health problems, though it is difficult to say much more with certainty or specificity because of the small number of cases in which a shooter survives to be examined. We do know, however, that the correlation between severe mental illness and more common forms of violence is much lower — and that many types of mental health problems are not associated with violence at all.

5. The focus on mass shootings leads to high-security solutions of questionable efficacy. 

Any parent who has attempted to drop off a kid’s backpack knows that security measures are well in place in many schools. Rates of school crime continue to fall, such that schools are today among the safest places for children to spend so many of their waking hours. In 2008-2009, for example, only 17 of the 1,579 homicides of youth ages 5-18 occurred when students were at school, on the way to school, or at school-associated events. Of course we want to eliminate any possibility of children being hurt or killed at school, but even a 2 percent reduction in child homicide victimization outside of schools would save more lives than a 90 percent reduction in school-associated child homicide victimization. While every school must plan for terrible disasters in hopes that such plans will never be implemented, outsized investments in security personnel and technology are unlikely to serve our schools or our kids.

In the aftermath of so many deaths I am neither so cynical as to suggest that nothing will change nor so idealistic as to suggest that radical reform is imminent. I’m just hoping that the policy moves we make will address our all-too-common horrors as well as the rare and terrible events of the past week.

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Chris Uggen is a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota and the author of  Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy, with Jeff Manza. You can follow him at his blog and on twitter.

Cross-posted at CNN.

For the past few days, Americans have been weeping together and wringing our hands once again at the senseless tragedy of a mass murder inside a school. The horrific scene in Newtown, Connecticut, is now seared permanently in our collective conscience, as we search for answers. We’ll look at the photograph of Adam Lanza and ask over and over again how he could have come to such a deadly crossroads.

We still know nothing about his motives, only the devastating carnage he wrought. And yet we’ve already heard from experts who talk about mental illness, Asperger’s syndrome, depression, and autism. The chorus of gun boosters has defensively chimed in about how gun control would not have prevented this.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee offered the theory that since “we have systematically removed God from our schools, should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?” (As if those heathen children deserved it?)

All the while, we continue to miss other crucial variables — even though they are staring right back at us when we look at that photograph. Adam Lanza was a middle class white guy.

If the shooter were black and the school urban, we’d hear about the culture of poverty; about how inner-city life breeds crime and violence; perhaps even some theories about a purported tendency among blacks towards violence.

As we’ve seen in the past week, it’s not only those living on the fringes of society who express anger through gun violence.

Yet the obvious fact that Lanza — and nearly all the recent mass murderers who targeted non-work settings — were middle class white boys seems to barely register. Look again at the pictures of Jared Lee Loughner (Tucson), James Eagan Holmes (Aurora) and Wade Michael Page (Oak Creek) — a few of the mass killers of the past couple of years. (Yes, the case of Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrator at Virginia Tech, the worst school shooting in our history, stands out as the exception. And worth discussing.)

Why are angry young men setting out to kill entire crowds of strangers?

Motivations are hard to pin down, but gender is the single most obvious and intractable variable when it comes to violence in America. Men and boys are responsible for 95% of all violent crimes in this country. “Male criminal participation in serious crimes at any age greatly exceeds that of females, regardless of source of data, crime type, level of involvement, or measure of participation” is how the National Academy of Sciences summed up the extant research.

How does masculinity figure into this? From an early age, boys learn that violence is not only an acceptable form of conflict resolution, but one that is admired. However the belief that violence is an inherently male characteristic is a fallacy. Most boys don’t carry weapons, and almost all don’t kill: are they not boys? Boys learn it.

They learn it from their fathers. They learn it from a media that glorifies it, from sports heroes who commit felonies and get big contracts, from a culture saturated in images of heroic and redemptive violence. They learn it from each other.

In talking to more than 400 young men for my book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, I heard over and over again what they learn about violence. They learn that if they are crossed, they have the manly obligation to fight back. They learn that they are entitled to feel like a real man, and that they have the right to annihilate anyone who challenges that sense of entitlement.

This sense of entitlement is part of the package deal of American manhood — the culture that doesn’t start the fight, as Margaret Mead pointed out in her analysis of American military history, but retaliates far out of proportion to the initial grievance. They learn that “aggrieved entitlement” is a legitimate justification for violent explosion.

The easy availability of guns is another crucial variable. After the terrible school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996, Great Britain enacted several laws that effectively made owning handguns illegal in that country. The murder rate in the U.S. is more than three times higher than Britain.

And yes, boys have resorted to violence for a long time, but sticks and fists and even the occasional switchblade do not create the bloodbaths of the past few years. In 2011, more than 80% of all homicides among boys aged 15 to 19 were firearm related.

We need a conversation about gun control laws. And far more sweeping — and necessary — is a national meditation on how our ideals of manhood became so entangled with violence.

It’s also worth discussing why so many of these young mass murderers are white. Surely boys of color have that same need to prove their masculinity, and a similar sense of entitlement to annihilate those who threaten it. Perhaps the only difference is that it seems to be nearly the exclusive province of white boys to so dramatically expand the range of their revenge and seek to destroy the entire world, not simply the person or group that committed the supposed offense. Perhaps. It’s a conversation worth having.

I am not for a moment suggesting we substitute race or gender for the other proximate causes of this tragedy: lax gun laws, mental illness. I am arguing only that we can never fully understand it, unless we also add these elements to our equation. Without them, the story is entirely about him, the shooter. But the bigger story is also about us.

In the coming weeks, we’ll learn more about Adam Lanza, his motives, his particular madness. We’ll hear how he “snapped” or that he was seriously mentally ill. We’ll try to explain it by setting him apart, by distancing him from the rest of us.

And we’ll continue to miss the point. Not only are those children at Sandy Hook Elementary School our children. Adam Lanza is our child also. Of course, he was mad — as were Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and Seung-Hui Cho, Jared Lee Loughner, James Eagan Holmes, and Wade Michael Page — and the ever-longer list of boys and young men who have exploded in a paroxysm of vengeful violence in recent years. In a sense, they weren’t deviants, but over-conformists to norms of masculinity that prescribe violence as a solution. Like real men, they didn’t just get mad, they got even. Until we transform that definition of manhood, this terrible equation of masculinity and violence will continue to produce such horrific sums.

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Michael Kimmel is a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stonybrook.  He has written or edited over twenty volumes, including Manhood in America: A Cultural History and Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men.  You can visit his website here.

Since the school shooting last Friday, intense attention has focused on gun ownership in the U.S., as well as the likelihood of real changes in gun regulation. Nate Silver posted about characteristics associated with gun ownership.

Not surprisingly, gun ownership is strongly correlated with political party, with Republicans much more likely to own guns than Democrats. As Silver explains,

Whether someone owns a gun is a more powerful predictor of a person’s political party than her gender, whether she identifies as gay or lesbian, whether she is Hispanic, whether she lives in the South or a number of other demographic characteristics.

That gap between the political parties has grown significantly since he early 1990s, as fewer and fewer Democrat and Independent households own guns:

There’s a gender gap in gun ownership, but according to exit polling of 2008 voters, it is largely due to Democrats; Republican women are only slightly less likely to own guns than Republican men:

Gun ownership goes down as educational level increases:

Silver also presents differences by urban/suburban/rural location, income, military service, religious affiliation, and several other characteristics. These demographics matter, but the impact of political party remains clear, even accounting for other differences.

And Silver argues the gap may grow. Younger Democrats are less likely to own guns than older Democrats, but there’s very little difference between Republicans of different age groups:

Thus, as the two political parties consider their responses in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, they face very different realities in terms of their members’ gun ownership and likely personal stake in arguments about possible gun regulations.

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

This photograph is of the Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York, where Hooker Chemical (now Occidental Petroleum Corporation) buried 21,000 tons of toxic, chemical waste:
In 1953, Hooker Chemical sold the land that they had been using for toxic waste disposal to the Niagara Falls School Board for $1. The sale deed contained warnings about the chemical waste and a disclaimer of liability. However, planners hastily built schools and homes on the contaminated land to accommodate the city’s growing postwar population. By the late 1970s, residents were reporting a litany of illnesses and birth defects. Scientists discovered high levels of carcinogens in the soil, groundwater, and air. The community mobilized to bring attention to the situation, and President Carter declared a federal health emergency in the area.
Elizabeth Blum, a professor of history at Troy University, has written about the environmental activism of Love Canal residents. Such activism, called “popular epidemiology,” attempts to link spikes in localized health issues to their origins. Despite such grassroots movements, though, the media tends to show little interest in the causes of cancer and greater interest in finding the cure.

The many “Stand Up to Cancer” ads, for example, urge people to donate money (or just use their credit card for purchases) to help fund the development of cancer treatments:

When media attention is focused on the causes of cancer, it usually takes an individualistic tone. Risk factors (smoking, poor diet, etc.) are blamed for various forms of cancer.

The thing is: there’s no money in prevention.

Mainstream media outlets have a vested interest in not exposing the causes of cancer.  The companies that pay to advertise on their channels, and often their parent companies or subsidiaries, often traffic in known carcinogens. Pharmaceutical companies, likewise, have a perverse incentive. Healthy people make them no money, neither do dead people; sick people though, they’re a goldmine.  Many organizations, including the multi-million dollar Susan G. Komen Foundation, are in the business of raising money “for the cure,” more so than prevention.

The politics of cancer, then suffer from the individualism characteristic of modern American and capitalist imperatives, leaving the causes of the cancer epidemic invisible and, accordingly, the unethical and illegal behavior of companies like Hooker Chemical.

Dan Rose is an assistant professor of sociology at Chattanooga State Community College in Tennessee.  His research focuses on medical sociology and health inequalities in minority neighborhoods.

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.

Course Guide for
SEXUALITY AND SOCIETY
(last updated 01/2012)


Developed by Amanda M. Jungels
Georgia State University

 

Integrating/Interrogating Biological and Social Views of Sexuality

Challenging Evolutionary Perspectives on Sex/Sexuality

Social Construction of (Biological) Sex


Social Construction: Changing Views on Sexuality

 

Sexuality and Social Categories

Social Construction of Gender

Transgender/Third Gender/Gender Queer

Social Construction of Sexual Orientation

 

Learning about Sex/Sex Education           

Sex Education

Abstinence vs. Comprehensive Sex Ed

Sexual Practices

 

The Sexual Body

The Female Body

Menstruation

 

Presenting the Female Body as Unclean: Removing Body Hair

 

Presenting the Female Body as Unclean: Douching

Bodily Modification and Female Genital Cutting

 

Social Construction of the Male Body/Male Sexuality

Presenting the Penis as a Dangerous Weapon

 

Representing Sex

Sexualization of Children’s Products

Sex in the Media

Ejaculation and Phallic Imagery

Sex and Violence

Objectification

Infantilization of Women

Forced/Coerced Sex

Sexual Script

Rape Culture

Use of Alcohol as a Tool for Coercive Sex

Sexual Assault Prevention Campaigns

 

Commercial Sex

Pornography

Contemporary Views on Prostitution

Historical Perspectives on Prostitution

Sex Trafficking

Other Forms of Sex Work

Social Control of Sex Work

 

Reproduction/Abortion

Reproduction

Abortion

 

Sterilization

 

Contemporary GLBT Issues

Gay Rights Movement

GLBT Parenting

Same-Sex Marriage

GLBT-Related Legislation

Katrin sent in a link to a series of ads created by an organization called Stepping Stone Nova Scotia. Their mission is to advocate on behalf of, and offer resources and services to, prostitutes in the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

The ads, as you can see, depict quotes by friends or family members of prostitutes (“I’m proud of my tramp, raising two kids on her own”) which are intended to humanize sex workers; the bottom of each ad reads “Sex workers are brothers/daughters/mothers too.” They’re also intended to shock the reader into really thinking about prostitutes. The juxtaposition of words like “tramp” and “hooker” with the white middle-class faces of the speakers makes the viewer question our culture’s ease with using those terms, and forces us to see the person behind the prostitute.

Stepping Stone’s executive director, Rene Ross, points out that every time a prostitute is killed—sex workers have a mortality rate 40 times higher than the Canadian national average—media accounts emphasize that the victim was a prostitute, but not that she (or he) was also a mother, daughter, friend or, for example, animal lover. By thinking of sex workers only in terms of their stigmatized occupation, we don’t have to care about them as people.

In New Mexico, where I live, the remains of eleven women (and the unborn fetus of one) were found buried on a mesa outside of Albuquerque in 2009. The women had disappeared between 2003 and 2005, and most, according to police, were involved with drugs and/or prostitution. Why did it take the police so long to find the bodies of these women, and why do their murders still remain unsolved? Some observers have suggested that because the women were—or were alleged to be—prostitutes, there was less pressure to find them after they went missing, or to solve their murders once their bodies were found. As long as the victims were sex workers, then the non-sex worker public can feel safe in the knowledge that they are not at risk. We know that prostitution is dangerous, so it’s expected that some of them will die grisly deaths, and be buried like trash on a mesa outside of town.

I love the motivation behind the ads, and they do make me smile. I hope they have the effect that Stepping Stone intends—making people think of prostitutes as people, not trash. But they’re also funny, and I wonder if they won’t also have an unintended effect, of making prostitutes seem like a joke.

This week I watched the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen. During the roast, most of the jokes dealt with his well-known history with drug use and prostitution, and “prostitute,” “hooker” and “whore” were used as punch lines in the majority of the jokes, and each “whore” reference incited additional laughter. Sure, many of the women that Sheen paid to have sex were doubtless “high class” call girls, paid well, and not living on the street. But we also know that at least some of these women, as well as the non-prostitute females in his life, were subject to violence and threats of violence. He is alleged to have beaten, shot, shoved, and thrown to the floor a number of women over the years, but because many of these women were sex workers (or porn stars, which is the next best thing), the women were “asking for it.”

Let’s hope that Stepping Stone’s campaign does some good, making us think about sex workers as people, rather than punch lines and faceless victims.

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Margo DeMello has a PhD in cultural anthropology and teaches anthropology, cultural studies, and sociology at Central New Mexico Community College. Her research areas include body modification and adornment and human-animal studies.

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