dating

For 100 years Valentine’s Day was not only associated with sweet sentiments, but was an occasion to send a cruel and biting message to someone you didn’t like.  These cards — called “vinegar valentines” — were popular from 1840 to 1940 in both America and the U.K.

1Annebella Pollen, an art and design historian who talks about the valentine’s at Collector’s Weekly, explains that there was a valentine for many types of people and occasions:

 You could send them to your neighbors, friends, or enemies. You could send them to your schoolteacher, your boss, or people whose advances you wanted to dismiss. You could send them to people you thought were too ugly or fat, who drank too much, or people acting above their station. There was a card for pretty much every social ailment.

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Pollen insists that people did send them to one another, albeit anonymously, and they were not meant to be jokes. Instead, they were meant to say: “Your behavior is unacceptable.”  For much of the 1800s there was no such thing as a pre-paid stamp, so the person who got the mail paid for it, so often they were forced to buy their own insults, a twist of the knife from the sender.

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Many, many more vinegar valentine’s at Collector’s Weekly, where I also stole this great title.  Via BoingBoing.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Evolutionary psychologists argue that when we find certain traits sexually attractive in others it may be because they signal reproductive fitness.  It goes something like this: People who have been sexually attracted to traits that tell the “truth” about genetic superiority have been more likely to choose mates with superior genetics and, therefore, have been more likely to produce healthy offspring that live to an age where they, in turn, can reproduce themselves.  Accordingly, nature has selected for individuals attracted to people who display signs of genetic excellence.

Culture throws a wrench in this theory because human can create their own systems of meaning, collectively convincing each other that certain traits are desirable regardless of the relationship between the trait and reproductive fitness.  The thinness ideal for women is an excellent example.  Judging by pop culture, heterosexual men have a strong preference for very thin women.  In fact, however, the weight idealized in mass media is not conducive to reproductive fitness; women won’t ovulate or menstruate below a certain weight because their body recognizes that it can’t support a pregnancy.

A new study — by Leigh Simmons, Marianne Peters, and Gillian Rhodes — offers another tantalizing piece of information regarding the relationship between attractiveness and reproductive fitness.  Pre-existing research shows that men with lower voices are judged more sexually attractive, so the authors decided to measure one indicator of their reproductive fitness, sperm count.

The results? Voice attractiveness is related  to sperm count, but in the opposite direction expected.  Men with higher voices, in fact, have higher sperm concentration, not lower.

The jury is still out about what this means, but it’s an intriguing addition to the ongoing conversation that social and biological scientists are having about how culture and nature interact to shape human experience.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the pleasure of giving public lectures on hook up culture at several colleges and universities.  I draw on my research in these talks, but I also always give a shout out to Paula England, a sociologist who has collected tens of thousands of surveys from students at dozens of schools.   My talk would be a shadow of itself if I couldn’t draw on her excellent work.  Accordingly, I’m pleased to be able to feature England giving a presentation about what she has discovered about hook up culture.  I suspect that you’ll be surprised, no matter who you are:

For more on hook up culture, see my 3-minute appearance on MTV Canada or my 40-minute talk at Franklin & Marshall College (slideshow and transcript if you’d rather read).

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Re-posted in honor of Love Your Body Day.

In “Yearning for Lightness: Transnational Circuits in the Marketing and Consumption of Skin Lighteners,” Evelyn Nakano Glenn* argues that in many areas of the world, light skin tone is a form of symbolic capital; research indicates that individuals with lighter skin are interpreted as being smarter and more attractive than those with darker skin. Glenn suggests that this symbolic capital is especially important for women:

The relation between skin color and judgments about attractiveness affect women most acutely, since women’s worth is judged heavily on the basis of appearance…men and women may attempt to acquire light-skinned privilege. Sometimes this search takes the form of seeking light-skinned marital partners to raise one’s status and to achieve intergenerational mobility by increasing the likelihood of having light-skinned children. (p. 282)

I thought of Glenn’s article when we received an email from Fatima B. about personals ads in Islamic Horizons, a magazine distributed by the Islamic Society of North America. Fatima says the ads for women often contain references to skin tone, where the women are described as “fair.”

The January/February 2011 personal ads section contains this example:

Looking through the past year’s matrimonial ads, I found several others, such as these:

Sunni Muslim parents seeking correspondence from professionals for their Canadian born/raised daughter, BA honors, fair, attractive, 289, 5’4”, with good Islamic values.

Sunni Muslim parents of Indian origin seeking professional match for their daughter 30, 5’1”, attractive, slim, fair, good family values, engineering graduate, working in Management Consulting. Inviting correspondence from residents of Toronto only

Sunni parents Urdu speaking of India origin seek correspondence for their daughter US citizen, 25, 5’4”, pretty fair, religious (non-Hijab) MD from prestigious institution second year resident.

As you’d expect, the ads placed by (or on behalf of) men didn’t stress their looks as much as the ads placed by women did. I only found one example in which they made clear the man was light-skinned:

Muslim parents of US born son, 3rd year medical student, 24, 6’2”, slim, fair seek Pakistani/Indian girl, 18-22, very beautiful, fair, tall, slim, religious and from a good educated family

Of course, to the degree the ads emphasized looks, they aren’t particularly different than personals ads anywhere else except that they emphasize skin tone openly. I am sort of fascinated by how often the word “lively” is used in the ads describing women, though. It appeared in a number of different ads in the “seeking husband” section, but I’m not sure exactly what “lively” might be code for (in the language of personals ads, that is, where you try to convey lots of info with very few words).

Anyway, back to our original topic, these ads clearly illustrate the use of skin tone as a form of symbolic capital, which those who have it (particularly women) may highlight to make themselves more attractive on the romantic marketplace, and which others appear to actively value. Further, by allowing ads to include “fair” as both a characteristic the ad placer has, and as a sought-after quality, the editors of the magazine legitimate the open valuing of light-colored skin over other skin tones.

Fatima was pleased to see this practice called out in an ad placed in the most recent issue:

* Article is from Gender & Society 2008, vol. 22, issue 3, p. 281-302.

Super thanks to Rebecca Pardo for inviting me to be part of a segment on hook up culture for MTV News!  She and her team did such a wonderful job of editing and illustrating the interview.  I’m so tickled to be on MTV and excited to share it here!

The gist? College students are having sex, but not as much as you might think. And most of them are kind of disappointed about the whole thing. All in three minutes!

For a longer and decidedly less MTV-y approach to this topic, feel free to watch a 40-minute version of the talk taped at Franklin and Marshall College (slideshow and transcript if you’d rather read).

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Emma M.H. sent us a commercial for Cougar Life, a dating site that promotes itself as a place to meet older (but still sexy!) women interested in dating younger men. Despite the name, the site actually welcomes women of all ages. When you go to the website, you specify whether you’re looking for a “cub” (women aged 18-35) or a “cougar” (aged 35-65). Similarly, Emma was struck by how young the women in the ad look:

So though the company brands itself as a site about cougars — which would imply an emphasis on middle-aged and older women — here it markets itself almost entirely with women who would fall into no more than into the “cub” category or the very lowest end of 35-65 age range that defines cougars on the site, while the song declares they’re “all cougars.” It’s possible the company thought that women who look older than 40 would be unacceptable even to potential customers of a dating website specifically promising the ability to meet such women. But it also seems like the term “cougar” is being used to apply to a wider array of women than when it first entered pop culture — not just older women who date younger men, but practically any woman past her early 20s who has a voracious sexual appetite. Cougar Life draws on this, assuring us it was recently voted the “wildest dating service in America.” The defining feature may be less age than the idea that a woman is not just sexually available, but almost predatory in her search for sex — that is, that she seeks sex in a way we generally find acceptable only for men.

UPDATE: Reader Anna caught a mistake I made. The “cub” category was for the men seeking women on the site, not for younger women. She explains,

If you look at the site carefully, the “cubs” category means men the ages of 18-35, not women of these ages. Choose “looking for a cub” and the pictures are all male, and that term is often used for the younger male partner of an older women. The only women “available” on the site are 36 years old and over, so the site in effect bans both middle aged men and young-ish women from participating.

Thanks, Anna!

Dmitriy T.M. sent in another example, via Jezebel, of the use of hunting as a metaphor for dating/attaining sex with women.  The metaphor portrays men as predators and women as prey,  suggesting that women are inherently unwilling and men inherently deceitful, coercive, and aggressive.  This sets the stage, discursively, for sexual assault.

Throw in a couple men representing a non-specifically “primitive” culture to remind us that such a relationships is “natural,” and you’ve got this Dos Equis ad:

For more of this metaphor, see Sex and Dating as a Hunt, Beer, Sex, and the Hunt, Taxidermied Girl Parts, and Hunting for Bambi.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

In and around the apartment complex where we live in Nanning, China, there are no less than five coffee shops.  They are part of what make our neighborhood so much, well, like a neighborhood.  Several of them have free wi-fi and they all have finely crafted, good quality kafei (coffee).

But my wife and I have learned the hard way that if we want coffee in the morning, we either have to go to McDonald’s or make it ourselves.  While your average US Starbucks employee arrives at work before the sun peeks its head above the horizon, baristas in China report to work around 10 am.  And while some Starbucks and rare other coffee shops in the US are open until ten or even midnight (at the latest), their Chinese counterparts stay open until two in the morning every night.

Needless to say we found these business hours confounding, and poked around to find out why anyone would want to drink such strong coffee (and, do not doubt, this coffee is stout!) so late at night.

As it turns out, China’s coffee history dates back to the early 19th century, but in all those years, coffee never “caught on.”  And it is not really a mystery as to why.  China’s tea culture has a centuries-long monopoly on China’s liquid ingestion.  Coffee?  Well, its OK, if you like that sort of thing.

But if for 200 years the Chinese have resisted coffee, why now are coffee shops finding enough success that there is room for five in one small neighborhood?  The answer is in the picture of my wife below.   Chinese cafes are dimly-lit, quiet, and “romantic” (or at least that is the goal of the decor) rendezvous points.  A new high school couple might take their xiuxi (afternoon rest – the Chinese version of a siesta), flirting with each other while sipping on lattes.  After a night out on the town, young couples flood the cafes, taking lots of pictures, drinking beer and maybe a couple of iced macchiatos.

The marketing scheme is actually quite impressive.  If you can’t win them over with quality, lovingly brewed, pristinely presented coffee, make the coffee shop a romantic oasis.  Draw them in with the promise of passion and mystery and win them over with brilliantly executed coffee.

The pictures are just a bonus.

Evan Schneider is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. He teaches English at an education college in Nanning, China.  While in China he enjoys learning to cook Chinese food and discovering the differences between the way that Chinese and American people think about food.  He blogs about it at Cooking Chinese.