The suburban housing model was — and, for the most part, still is — based on several main principles, most significantly, the uniformity of housing sizes (usually large) and the separation of residential and commercial uses. Both larger lots and the separation of uses create longer distances between any two points, requiring a greater effort to go between home, work, and the grocery store.
These longer distances between daily destinations made walking impractical and the lower population densities made public transit financially unsustainable. The only solution was the private automobile, which, coincidentally, benefited from massive government subsidies in the form of highway building and a subsidized oil infrastructure and industry.
Neighborhoods designed after World War II are designed for cars, not pedestrians; the opposite is true for neighborhoods designed before 1940. Whether or not one owns a car, and how far one drives if they do, then, is dependent on the type of city, not personal characteristics like environmental friendliness. Ezra Klein puts it nicely:
In practice, this doesn’t feel like a decision imposed by the cold realities of infrastructure. We get attached to our cars. We get attached to our bikes. We name our subway systems. We brag about our short walks to work. People attach stories to their lives. But at the end of the day, they orient their lives around pretty practical judgments about how best to live. If you need a car to get where you’re going, you’re likely to own one. If you rarely use your car, have to move it a couple of times a week to avoid street cleaning, can barely find parking and have trouble avoiding tickets, you’re going to think hard about giving it up. It’s not about good or bad or red or blue. It’s about infrastructure.
Neither Ezra nor Left for LeDroit, however, point out that every city, whether it was built for pedestrians or cars, is full of people without cars. In the case of car-dependent cities, this is mostly people who can’t afford to buy or own a car. And these people, in these cities, are royally screwed. Los Angeles, for example, is the most expensive place in the U.S. to own a car and residents are highly car-dependent; lower income people who can’t afford a car must spend extraordinary amounts of time using our mediocre public transportation system, such that carlessness contributes significantly to unemployment.
Americans, and even the sociologists among us, tend to think about crime as a problem related to people and their economic characteristics. Crime, we theorize, is caused by poverty or relative poverty (larger differences between the haves and have nots), joblessness, more lucrative underground occupations, or an insufficient safety net.
Other scholars have examined non-economic correlates of crime. One study of serial killing, for example, found that these crimes were more common in big cities with higher percentages of single-person households. The anonymity of a bustling metropolis, plus the likelihood of finding people all alone in their apartment, may attract killers, tempt people who otherwise wouldn’t kill, or both. Reducing people’s isolation might be protective.
Another interesting non-economic factor that has gotten recent attention is lighting. When early lighting companies began lobbying cities to install the first street lights at the end of the 1800s, they argued that bright lights would certainly deter crime. Historian Ernest Freeberg, in his book The Age of Edison, writes that:
…lighting companies marketed their product as noting less than a police force on a pole. After nightfall, urban parks became notorious danger zones, a haven for the city’s dregs and an infernal playground of indecency. Now all that could end, not by converting sinners or reforming criminals, but by harnessing light’s power of exposure.
City leaders were swayed and artificial nighttime lighting in parks and streets eventually became an expected and routine part of city-building.
But does it work? The consensus appears to be maybe a little and no. The no comes from a new study, a natural experiment published in 2015. Since 2000, cities in England and Wales have reduced street lighting to save money and reduce carbon emissions. The study, led by social and environmental health researcher Rebecca Steinbach, found no clear correlation between turning the lights down and a rise in crime (or car crashes, for that matter).
I’m excited by this research on the relationship between crime and non-economic characteristics of cities, whether the hypotheses bear out or not. It gives us creative ideas about how we might reduce crime — above and beyond the all-important economic issues — and may also show us where we might be wasting our resources.
“[A]n analysis of traffic can enrich sociological theory.” (Schmidt-Relenberg, 1968: 121)
Almost everywhere we go is a “gendered space.” Although men and women both go to grocery stores, different days of the week and times of the day are associated with different gender compositions of shoppers. Most of our jobs are gendered spaces. In fact, Census data show that roughly 30% of the 66,000,000 women in the U.S. labor force occupy only 10 of the 503 listed occupations on the U.S. Census. You’d probably be able to guess what some of these jobs are just as easily as you might be able to guess some of the very few Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs. Sociologists refer to this phenomenon as occupational segregation, and it’s nothing new. Recently, I did read about a gender segregated space that is new (at least to me): traffic.
When I picture traffic in my head, I think of grumpy men driving to jobs they hate, but this is misleading. Women actually make up the vast majority of congestion on the roads. One way of looking at this is to argue that women are causing more congestion on our roads. But another way to talk about this issue (and the way to talk about this issue that is consistent with actual research) is to say that women endure more congestion on the roads.
Women were actually the first market for household automobiles in the U.S. Men generally traveled to work by public transportation. Cars sold to households were marketed to women for daily errands. This is why, for instance, early automobiles had fancy radiator caps with things like wings, angels and goddesses on them. These were thought to appeal to women’s more fanciful desires.
Traffic increased a great deal when women moved into the labor force. But this is not exactly what accounts for the gender gap. In the 1950s, car trips that were work-related accounted for about 40% of all car use. Today that number is less than 16%. The vast majority of car trips are made for various errands: taking children to school, picking up groceries, eating out, going to or from day care, shopping, and more shopping. And it’s women who are making most of these trips. It’s a less acknowledged portion of the “second shift” which typically highlights women’s disproportionate contribution to the division of labor inside the household even when they are working outside of the household as well.
Traffic research has shown that women are more than two timesmore likely than men to be taking someone else where they need to go when driving. Men are more likely to be driving themselves somewhere. Women are also much more likely to string other errands onto the trips in which they are driving themselves somewhere (like stopping at the grocery store on the drive home, going to day care on the way to work, etc.). Traffic experts call this “trip chaining,” but the rest of us call it multi-tasking. What’s more, we also know that women, on average, leave just a bit later than men do for work, and as a result, are much more likely to be making those longer (and more involved) trips right in the middle of peak hours for traffic.
Who knew? It’s an under-acknowledged gendered space that deserves more attention (at least from sociologists). Traffic is awful, and if we count up all that extra time and add it to the second shift calculations made by Arlie Hochschild, I think we have a new form of inequality to complain about.
Toban B. sent in some photographs and a discussion of how energy drinks are gendered.
Energy drinks are already gendered to begin with in a couple of different ways at least: (1) they are marketed as hydration for athletes and sports is a masculine arena and (2) women aren’t usually encouraged to consume “extra” calories. But, in addition to being seen as somehow for men, Toban shows how a particularly violent and aggressive kind of masculinity is reproduced in the marketing, even across different companies.
Monster energy drinks include slashes on the packaging that look like a vicious scratch and what appears to be a crosshair and bullet holes (bad aim?):
Notice that the “flavor” in the picture above is “Sniper.” Toban notes that “Assault” and “M-80” are also flavors:
The can for the Assault-flavored drink also features a camouflage design, invoking militarism.
They call their “shooters” “Hitman”:
Both Monster and Guru link their product directly to (extreme) sports:
Full Throttle and Amp (“Overdrive”) go for a connection to aggressive driving:
Full Throttle energy drinks make it explicit with the tagline, “Let Your Man Out.”
Toban notes that it’s ironic that a lot of these products are marketed as health drinks when, in fact, internalizing an aggressive form of masculinity is associated with taking health risks (e.g., refusing to wear seat belts or hard hats, drinking hard). “In any case,” Toban concludes, “this marketing normalizes and makes light of a lot of aggression and danger that we should be opposing.” And which, I will add, isn’t good for men or women.
In her now-classic books The Sexual Politics of Meat and The Pornography of Meat, Carol Adams analyzes similarities in the presentation of meat products (or the animals they come from) and women’s bodies.
She particularly draws attention to sexualized fragmentation — the presentation of body parts of animals in ways similar to sexualized poses of women — and what she terms “anthropornography,” or connecting the eating of animals to the sex industry. For an example of anthropornography, Adams presents this “turkey hooker” cooking utensil:
Adams also discusses the conflation of meat/animals and women–while women are often treated as “pieces of meat,” meat products are often posed in sexualized ways or in clothing associated with women. The next eleven images come from Adams’s website:
For a more in-depth, theoretical discussion of the connections between patriarchy, gender inequality, and literal consumption of meat and symbolic consumption of women, we highly encourage you to check out Adams’s website.
This type of imagery has by no means disappeared, so we’ve amassed quite a collection of our own here at Sociological Images.
Blanca pointed us to Skinny Cow ice cream, which uses this sexualized image of a cow (who also has a measuring tape around her waist to emphasize that she’s skinny):
Amanda C. sent in this sign seen at Taste of Chicago:
Dmitiriy T.M. sent us this perplexing Hardee’s French Dip “commercial.” It’s basically three minutes of models pretending like dressing up as French maids for Hardees and pouting at the camera while holding a sandwich is a good gig:
Dmitriy also sent us this photo of Sweet Taters in New Orleans:
Jacqueline R. sent in this commercial for Birds Eye salmon fish sticks:
Crystal J. pointed out that a Vegas restaurant is using these images from the 1968 No More Miss America protest in advertisements currently running in the UNLV campus newspaper, the Rebel Yell. Here’s a photo from the protest:
I don’t yet have a copy of Matt Richtel’s new book, A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention. Based on his Pulitzer-prize winning reporting for the New York Times, however, I’m afraid it’s unlikely to do justice to the complexity of the relationship between mobile phones and motor vehicle accidents. Worse, I fear it distracts attention from the most important cause of traffic fatalities: driving.
A bad sign
The other day Richtel tweeted a link to this old news article that claims texting causes more fatal accidents for teens than alcohol. The article says some researcher estimates “more than 3,000 annual teen deaths from texting,” but there is no reference to a study or any source for the data used to make the estimate. As I previously noted, that’s not plausible.
In fact, only 2,823 teens teens died in motor vehicle accidents in 2012 (only 2,228 of whom were vehicle occupants). So, I get 7.7 teens per day dying in motor vehicle accidents, regardless of the cause. I’m no Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalist, but I reckon that makes this giant factoid on Richtel’s website wrong, which doesn’t bode well for the book:
In fact, I suspect the 11-per-day meme comes from Mother Jones (or someone they got it from) doing the math wrong on that Newsdaynumber of 3,000 per year and calling it “nearly a dozen” (3,000 is 8.2 per day). And if you Google around looking for this 11-per day statistic, you find sites like textinganddrivingsafety.com, which, like Richtel does in his website video, attributes the statistic to the “Institute for Highway Safety.” I think they mean the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is the source I used for the 2,823 number above. (The fact that he gets the name wrong suggests he got the statistic second-hand.) IIHS has an extensive page of facts on distracted driving, which doesn’t have any fact like this (they actually express skepticism about inflated claims of cellphone effects).
After I contacted him to complain about that 11-teens-per-day statistic, Richtel pointed out that the page I linked to is run by his publisher, not him, and that he had asked them to “deal with that stat.” I now see that the page includes a footnote that says, “Statistic taken from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Fatality Facts.” I don’t think that’s true, however, since the “Fatality Facts” page for teenagers still shows 2,228 teens (passengers and drivers) killed in 2012. Richtel added in his email to me:
As I’ve written in previous writings, the cell phone industry also takes your position that fatality rates have fallen. It’s a fair question. Many safety advocates point to air bags, anti-lock brakes and wider roads — billions spent on safety — driving down accident rates (although accidents per miles driven is more complex). These advocates say that accidents would’ve fallen far faster without mobile phones and texting. And they point out that rates have fallen far faster in other countries (deaths per 100,000 drivers) that have tougher laws. In fact, the U.S. rates, they say, have fallen less far than most other countries. Thank you for your thoughtful commentary on this. I think it’s a worthy issue for conversation.
I appreciate his response. Now I’ll read the book before complaining about him any more.
The shocking truth
I generally oppose scare-mongering manipulations of data that take advantage of common ignorance. The people selling mobile-phone panic don’t dwell on the fact that the roads are getting safer and safer, and just let you go on assuming they’re getting more and more dangerous. I reviewed all that here, showing the increase in mobile phone subscriptions relative to the decline in traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths.
That doesn’t mean texting and driving isn’t dangerous. I’m sure it is. Cell phone bans may be a good idea, although the evidence that they save lives is mixed. But the overall situation is surely more complicated than TEXTING-WHILE-DRIVING EPIDEMIC suggests. The whole story doesn’t seem right — how can phones be so dangerous, and growing more and more pervasive, while accidents and injuries fall? At the very least, a powerful part of the explanation is being left out. (I wonder if phones displace other distractions, like eating and putting on makeup; or if some people drive more cautiously while they’re using their phones, to compensate for their distraction; or if distracted phone users were simply the worst drivers already.)
Beyond the general complaint about misleading people and abusing our ignorance, however, the texting scare distracts us (I know, it’s ironic) from the giant problem staring us in the face: our addiction to private vehicles itself costs thousands of lives a year (not including the environmental effects).
What does predict deaths? Driving. This isn’t a joke. Sometimes the obvious answer is obvious because it’s the answer:
If you’re interested, I also put both of these variables in a regression, along with age and sex composition of the states, and the percentage of employed people who drive to work. Only the miles and drive-to-work rates were correlated with vehicle deaths. Mobile phone subscriptions had no effect at all.
Failing to find a demographic predictor that accounts for any of the variation after that explained by miles driven, I tried one more thing. I calculated each state’s deviation from the line predicted by miles driven (for example Alaska, where they only drive 6.3 thousand miles per person, is predicted to have 4.5 deaths per 100,000 but they actually have 8.1, putting that state 3.6 points above the line). Taking those numbers and pouring them into the Google correlate tool, I asked what people in those states with higher-than-expected death rates are searching for. And the leading answer is large, American pickup trucks. Among the 100 searches most correlated with this variable, 10 were about Chevy, Dodge, or Ford pickup trucks, like “2008 chevy colorado” (r = .68), shown here:
I could think of several reasons why places where people are into pickup trucks have more than their predicted share of fatal accidents.
So, to sum up: texting while driving is dangerous and getting more common as driving is getting safer, but driving still kills thousands of Americans every year, making it the umbrella social problem under which texting may be one contributing factor.
I used this analogy before, and the parallel isn’t perfect, but the texting panic reminds me of the 1970s “Crying Indian” ad I used to see when I was watching Saturday morning cartoons. The ad famously pivoted from industrial pollution to littering in the climactic final seconds:
Conclusion: Keep your eye on the ball.
Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
Conspicuous consumption refers to the practice of ostentatiously displaying of high status objects. Think very expensive purses and watches. In the last few decades, as concern for the environment has become increasingly en vogue, it has become a marker of status to care for the earth. Accordingly, people now engage in conspicuous conservation, the ostentatious display of objects that mark a person as eco-friendly.
This is not just a handful of guys. Kulze links to “an entire subculture” on Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. “It’s just fun,” one coal roller says. “Just driving and blowing smoke and having a good time.”
It isn’t just fun, though. It’s a way for these men — mostly white, working class, rural men — to send an intrusive and nasty message to people they don’t like. According to this video, that includes Prius drivers, cops, women, tailgaters, and people in vulnerable positions. “City boys” and “liberals” are also targeted:
Kulze reports that it costs anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000 to modify a pickup to do this, which is why the phenomenon resonates with conspicuous consumption and conservation. It’s an expensive and public way to claim an identity that the owner wants to project.
Several factors were in play in the 1920s for the emergence of what came to be known as flappers, teenagers and young women who flaunted convention and spent their time pursuing fun instead of settling down to raise children in the prime of their lives. Many entered college or the workforce and felt entitled to make their own decisions about how to live their lives.
A lot of young men did not return home from World War I, which left an entire cohort of women without enough husbands to go around. The horror of the war (and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918) also impressed young people with the knowledge that life is short and could end at any moment. Instead of staying home preparing to marry a man who might never come, young women wanted to spend what time they had enjoying all that life had to offer.
Movies popularized the image of the fun-loving and free-thinking woman throughout the US and Europe. The 1920 movie The Flapper introduced the term in the United States. The title character, Ginger, was a wayward girl who flouted the rules of society. Played by Olive Thomas, a former Ziegfeld Girl (left), Ginger had so much fun that a generation of lonely young women wanted to be like her. Another role model was stage and screen actress Louise Brooks (right), who also modeled for artists and fashion designers. She was the inspiration for the flapper comic strip Dixie Dugan.
Clara Bow wasn’t the first flapper on screen, but she was certainly a role model for young women of the era. She didn’t play by the rules, and was tabloid fodder for years for her sexual escapades with the biggest movie stars of the time. Bow’s first film was in 1922 and her career peaked in 1927 with the film It. “It” was defined as the sexual allure some girls have and others don’t. Bow’s fans wanted “it”, so they copied her look and behavior.
The rise of the automobile was another factor in the rise of flapper culture. Cars meant a woman could come and go as she pleased, travel to speakeasys and other entertainment venues, and use the large vehicles of the day for heavy petting or even sex.
These young women had plenty of opportunities for fun. Although Prohibition drove alcohol underground, that only added to its allure. Postwar prosperity allowed for leisure time and the means to spend that time drinking, dancing, and hanging out with free thinkers.
Being a flapper wasn’t all about fashion. It was about rebellion. In this article from 1922, a would-be flapper (but still a “nice girl”) explains her lifestyle choices to her parents. Flappers did what society did not expect from young women. They danced to Jazz Age music, they smoked, they wore makeup, they spoke their own language, and they lived for the moment. Flapper fashion followed the lifestyle. Skirts became shorter to make dancing easier. Corsets were discarded in favor of brassieres that bound their breasts, again to make dancing easier. The straight shapeless dresses were easy to make and blurred the line between the rich and everyone else. The look became fashionable because of the lifestyle. The short hair? That was pure rebellion against the older generation’s veneration of long feminine locks.
The party stopped when the economy crashed and the Great Depression curtailed the night life. Although the flapper lifestyle died along with the Roaring Twenties, the freedoms women tasted in that era weren’t easily given up. They may have gone back to marriage and long hours of toil for little pay, but hemlines stayed above the ankle, and the corset never went back to everyday status. And we’ve been driving cars ever since.
Miss Cellania is a newlywed mother of four, full-time blogger, former radio announcer, and worst of all, a Baby Boomer. In addition to mental_floss, she posts at Neatorama, YesButNoButYes, Geeks Are Sexy, and Miss Cellania. Miss C considers herself an expert on no particular subject at all.
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