All social movements try to frame issues in ways that benefit their cause. Controlling the discourse is an important step towards getting the outcome they want.  Previously, we’ve posted about the way that activists against the genetic modification of food have nicknamed these foods, “frankenfoods.” Recently, Steven Foster, a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, sent us a pair of images questioning this rhetoric by comparing the imagery with the animals in question.

Frankenfish cartoon:

Images of genetically- and non-genetically-modified salmon:

While we don’t know whether anti-“frankenfood” activists are right about their concerns and it’s certainly true that these animals are genetically modified; it’s also clear that the visuals distort the facts (that is, the modified animals are not nearly as distorted as the cartoon implies).  Thinking through how the tactics by which social movement actors try to influence discourse is a fun and useful application of the sociological imagination.

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.

Dr. Grumpy re-tells the fascinating story of the importation of camels to North America for use as beasts of burden.  He begins:

Following the Mexican-American war, the United States found itself in control of a large desert, covering what’s now New Mexico & Arizona, and parts of Texas, California, and several other states. The U.S. Army needed to establish bases and supply lines in the area, both for the border with Mexico and the continuing wars with Indian tribes.

The railroad system was in it’s infancy, and there were no tracks through the area… The only way across was to use horses. But horses, like humans, are heavily dependent on water. This made the area difficult to cross, and vulnerable to attacking Apaches.

And so in 1855 Jefferson Davis, then U.S. Secretary of War (later to become President of the Confederacy during the Civil War), put into action an idea proposed by several officers: buy camels to serve in the desert. Congress appropriated $30,000 for the endeavor, and officials were sent to Turkey to do just that.

The next year they imported somewhere between 62 and 73 camels and, with them, 8 camel drivers all led by a man named Hadji Ali. Enter the U.S. Army Camel Corps.

Camels at an Army Fort:


Illustration of camels in camp:


Camels on the go (1850s):


Says Dr. Grumpy:

They led supply trains all over, from Texas to California…

But there were problems. The Americans had envisioned combined forces of camels and horses, each making up for the deficiencies of the other. But horses and donkeys are frightened of camels, making joint convoys difficult and requiring separate corrals. The army was also unprepared for their intrinsically difficult personalities- camels bite, spit, kick, and are short-tempered. Horses are comparatively easy to handle.

Then came the start of the American Civil War, which focused military attention to the east. With troops pulled out of the American desert, and horses better suited to the eastern terrain, the camels were abandoned.   Though Weird CA suggests that they were used in the war, Dr. Grumpy reports that most simply escaped into the desert.  For a time, there was a wild camel population in the U.S.

Meanwhile, a former-solider and Canadian gold prospector, Frank Laumeister, figured that camels would be great pack animals for his new line of work. He bought a herd in 1862, but they didn’t work out so well in the rockier terrain. Plus:

The Canadians, like the Americans, discovered they weren’t easy to handle. The same problems of difficult disposition and spooking horses came up. In addition, they found camels would eat anything they found. Hats. Shoes. Clothes that were out drying. Even soap. And so, after a few years, the Canadians gave up on the experiment, too.

Laumeister on one of his camels:

Our original head camel driver, Hadji Ali, eventually got out of the camel business, but he never left America. He became a citizen in 1880, married a woman named Gertrudis Serna and had two children. He died in Arizona in 1902, having spent 51 years of his life in the U.S. You’ll find his tombstone in Quartzsite, Arizona labeled with the name “Hi Jolly,” the Americanized pronunciation of his full name.


The last sighting of a wild camel in North America was in 1941 near Douglas, Texas (source).

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.

Cross-posted at Ms. and Jezebel.

Bug lovers will recall that the female praying mantis cannibalizes the head of her sexual partner upon mating. Wrote Leland Ossian Howard in Science (1886):

Placing them in the same jar, the male, in alarm, endeavoured to escape. In a few minutes the female succeeded in grasping him. She first bit off his front tarsus, and consumed the tibia and femur.  Next she gnawed out his left eye… it seems to be only by accident that a male ever escapes alive from the embraces of his partner.

The idea that the female mantis is a femme fatale has resonated in U.S. culture, a culture that loves to recount how human women kill the spirits of their male mates; a culture that, as Twisty Faster puts it, “…will unfairly characterize females as villains whenever possible.”

Well, it turns out that our perfect icon of the man-killer was partly an artifact of bad research design.  Faster, who blogs at I Blame the Patriarchy, reports that the study that established that female mantises decapitate their mates used starving females.  A new study has documented an entirely different mating ritual:

Out of thirty matings, we didn’t record one instance of cannibalism, and instead we saw an elaborate courtship display, with both sexes performing a ritual dance, stroking each other with their antennae before finally mating. It really was a lovely display.

Well, except:

There is one species…. the Mantis religiosa, in which it is necessary that the head be removed for the mating to take effect properly.  [In general, though, s]exual cannibalism occurs most often if the female is hungry. But eating the head does causes the body to ejaculate faster.

One species, okay, but there are over 2,000 species of praying mantis.  (You learn something every day.)  In any case, everyone loves a good bad-woman story and I suppose that one was just too good to pass up.

I have to admit, though, they are still bad motherf—ers.  This mantis boxed my cat into a corner:

Also in projecting human relations onto animals: winners and losers of flatworm sex.

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.

an average looking washroom sign where the men's and women's  washrooms are indicated with stick figures

Women’s and men’s washrooms: we encounter them nearly every time we venture into public space. To many people the separation of the two, and the signs used to distinguish them, may seem innocuous and necessary. Trans people know that this is not the case, and that public battles have been waged over who is allowed to use which washroom. The segregation of public washrooms is one of the most basic ways that the male-female binary is upheld and reinforced.

As such, washroom signs are very telling of the way societies construct gender. They identify the male as the universal and the female as the variation. They express expectations of gender performance. And they conflate gender with sex.

I present here for your perusal, a typology and analysis of various washroom signs.

[Editor: After the jump because there are dozens of them… which is why Marissa’s post is so awesome…]


Nicole S. sent us screenshots of two sets of books she saw for sale online at Barnes & Noble. They provide us with some very important information about how men and women differ, as well as the types of things/activities/emotions that have been masculinized or feminized. Not sure if you’re speaking to a man or a woman? Check to see what pet they have with them:

And don’t be fooled into thinking parents are interchangeable. They serve very different roles. Dads are for playing with. Moms need to stay in the house and bake while you’re out playing catch with Dad, and then console you when you get hit in the face with the baseball:

I would provide some more sociological analysis here, but I’m distressed to realize I’m not fitting into appropriate gender roles, so I need to run to the animal shelter and trade in my dogs for a couple more cats to go with the one I ended up with when an ex-boyfriend abandoned her, which he must have done after realizing owning her was feminizing him.

As for understanding me through my cat, the other day I was ignoring her while I read a book so she came up and bit me on the nose hard enough to draw blood, so apparently I’m either a masochist or an aggressive self-involved brat, depending on whether you judge me by my cat, or by what I put up with from her.

This 40-second commercial for HSBC bank, sent in by Michelle F., is an excellent example of the way that non-white and non-Western people are often portrayed as more deeply cultural, connected to the past, and closer to nature than their white, Western counterparts.  Sometimes this is done in order to demonize a culture as “barbaric,” other times it is used to infantilize them as “primitive.” In this case, it romanticizes.

Running on both English and Chinese language channels, the commercial contrasts the wise Chinese man with the young, white man.  The music, the boats, their clothing and hats, and their fishing methods all suggest that the Chinese are more connected to their own long-standing  (ancient?) cultural traditions, ones that offered them an intimate and cooperative relationship to nature. Simultaneously, it erases Chinese modernity, fixing China somewhere back in time.

Other posts on the modernity/traditional binary:

Caveman Courtship

The White Woman’s Burden
De-Racializing the Modernity/Tradition Binary

Africans as Props for White Femininity
Women’s Bodies and the Modernity/Tradition Binary

Which Images Represent India?
The Unseen Middle East

The Primitive and the Modern in Kanye’s Love Lockdown
Our review of Avatar, the Movie
Porn Producer with a Heart of Gold

What Counts as Indian Art?
Whites can Reconquer the America’s with Kahlua

Primitive Child Offers Cures for Modern Ills

Or browse our tag on the false modern/primitive binary.

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.

Anna M., Naomi B., Amanda C., Ben Z., and SpeZek sent in a new PETA ad campaign, the latest in a twisted story of objectification metaphor.

Feminists in the ’70s protested the objectification of women by metaphorically linking meat and female bodies (e.g., “we should not be treating women like pieces of meat”).  Meat is meat, so the argument went, but women are human beings and should be treated as such.

In mocking response, in 1978 Larry Flynt put a woman being chewed up by a meat grinder on the cover of Hustler magazine. We will treat women like meat if we want, was the message.  And we did, and we do, seemingly endlessly.

Forty years later, Pamela Anderson submits to being symbolically carved up for butchering by PETA in order to metaphorically link meat and female bodies again.  But this time, in an ironic reversal, it’s designed to condemn the way we treat animals, not the way we treat women.

And, forty years later, feminists are still saying “Please, can we not do the women/meat thing?”

So Canada denies PETA a permit for the launching of this new ad campaign.  An official explains: “…it goes against all principles public organizations are fighting for in the everlasting battle of equality between men and women” (source).  What a nice thing to say, feminists think.

But Anderson fights feminism with feminism:

How sad that a woman would be banned from using her own body in a political protest over the suffering of cows and chickens… In some parts of the world, women are forced to cover their whole bodies with burqas—is that next?

Yes, Pamela, I’m sure that’s next.

But I digress.

So PETA and Anderson must think that Canadians super-super-respect women like totally and never-never-objectify them to the degree that saying that animals are like women will suddenly inspire horror at the prospect of using animals for food?  Or is it that they think men will see the image and be like “oooh I’d really like to rub up against that rump” and then suddenly find cows too sexy to eat?  Or they don’t give a shit about women and are willing to use whatever attention-getting tactic they can to save animals from going under the knife (including using the body of a woman that has, um, gone under the knife)?

I submit this for discussion because I just don’t know.

More from PETA: women packaged like meat, and in cages, women who love animals get naked (men wear clothes), the banned superbowl ad, and a collection of various PETA advertising using (mostly women’s) nudity. See also my post on leftist balkanization, or the way that leftist social movements tend to undermine each other.

If you’re interested further, you may want to read Carol Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat and The Pornography of Meat.

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.

Thomas S. sent in this photo of the toy options for kids meals available from Burger King as part of their tie-in with the Marmaduke movie. The dogs are helpfully divided, as in most kids’ meals at fast-food chains, into those for girls and boys:

Notice the gendering of the dogs. Both girls and boys have the option of a Marmaduke figurine, though they are posed in different ways: the girl version is lying down, while the boy version seems posed to run or jump. The other girls’ options are passive in their poses, the descriptive words in their names (cuddly, loungin’, comb ‘n’ style), and what they do:

  • Comb ‘n’ Style Jezebel: you can comb her hair
  • Bone Catchin’ Marmaduke: his tail wags when you move the bone
  • Loungin’ Giuseppe: he just sits on the tassled cushion
  • Cuddly Raisin: he’s soft

On the other hand, the boys’ options are given active descriptive names and different types of actions:

  • Pouncin’ Marmaduke: leaps in the air
  • Darting Lightning: you wind him up and he moves
  • Stick ‘n’ Move Bosco: you attach his leash and he walks
  • Turn ‘n’ roll Mazie: you wind up her tail and she rolls over

So the boys get the option of a doberman (or maybe a Rottweiler?) and what looks like an Australian shepherd, while the girls get a toy dog (a papillon, I think) and a collie, which is also a herding dog but here is presented as something to groom.

Obviously, the breeds and names (Bosco, Giuseppe, etc.) come from the movie, so Burger King didn’t create that part. But in creating the tie-in toys, different dogs from the movie were defined as girls’ or boys’ toys, and were designed accordingly.

It’s a great example of the feminine = passive, masculine = active gender dichotomy and the way children are socialized into it. Toys aimed at girls emphasize posing and appearance/grooming, while boys’ toys are usually more active and rarely involve grooming or dressing up (unless you count changing out the weapons G.I. Joe dolls action figures carry).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that kids and their parents will request the gender-intended toy. My sisters and I didn’t get kids’ meals often, but when we did, my mom almost always requested boys’ toys because they were usually more fun and did something, whereas the girls’ toys often just sat there. I’ve heard similar stories from lots of women. Given that men are discouraged from crossing gender lines more than women are, though, I wonder if parents are as willing to get their sons the girls’ toys if the son asks for it. And if we found the girls’ toys boring and wanted the boys’ versions, it seems likely that boys would generally reject them too.