gender: prejudice/discrimination

All hell broke loose online in Pakistan this winter after their first Oscar winner, Sharmeen Obaid, tweeted a complaint against a doctor who sent an unsolicited friendship request on Facebook to her sister following an E.R. visit. Sharmeen’s tweet provoked a firestorm of debate amongst Pakistani social media users, who shared a picture of Sharmeen posing with American film producer Harvey Weinstein “as proof” of Sharmeen’s double standards on sexual harassment.

Sharmeen Obaid, World Economic Forum (via Wikimedia Commons)

Sharmeen is not the first Pakistani to incite calls to violence by going public about abuse. Member of Parliament Ayesha Gulalai received severe and terrifying censure from social media trolls for her public accusations of sexual harassment against former-cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. Similar critiques have also been used against Malala Yusufzai, Pakistan’s only woman Nobel laureate, when social media users suggested that photographs of her at Oxford University wearing a bomber jacket and jeans, under a modest headscarf, looked just like porn actress Mia Khalifa.

These issues are not limited to Pakistan alone, of course. Digital harassment has been a prominent issue in the United States as well, and the tactics trolls use to challenge women who speak out about harassment are strikingly similar in both countries. Trolls in both contexts deploy words like “feminazi,” or “man-hater,” accusing women of “exaggerating,” “attention-seeking,” or of “trivializing” “real” cases of abuse to further their own taste for drama. They create fake Facebook or Twitter accounts in the name of a woman (or other abused person) going public, using these accounts to post humiliating status updates or embarrassing personal details about the survivor. Women in both cases are quickly accused of being traitors, airing their dirty laundry on a global stage with implications for the reputation of their social groups or organizations.

Comparing American and Pakistani harassment cases highlights how geographically distant and culturally different locations draw on similar vocabularies of silencing, giving rise to global patterns of sex-based subjection. They also show how assumptions about gender and power work to screen men perpetrating abuse against women and others.

Malala Yousafzai (via Claude Truong-Ngoc/Wikimedia Commons)

In the Pakistani setting, social media backlash against women who speak out about abuse taps into longer-running anxieties around women, publicity and the West. Seeing women who go public about abuse as excessively westernized, these anxieties suggest such women are exaggerating local problems before foreign audiences in order to win accolades from an unspecified “west” willing to pay “traitorous” women in visas, prizes, and scholarships for help in defaming Pakistan and Islam. While a cultural logic of purdah, (literally “screen,” a logic of gendered segregation) technically separates men who abuse women; these same logics don’t protect women against men’s invasion of their privacy once women have entered public domains. Wearing jeans, studying at Oxford, going to a hospital, or having a Facebook account or a cell phone all become avenues for men to take non-intimate, public interactions into the private zone, seeking an unsolicited and unwelcome intimacy, or hiding behind the cloak of online anonymity to create humiliating memes about these women.

While gender arrangements in the US don’t operate according to purdah norms, the Harvey Weinstein case, including the doubt and shaming of women who participated in the #metoo campaign afterwards, highlights the repertoires men can use to screen their abuse of vulnerable colleagues. Bullying, browbeating, pay offs, and threats of job loss or legal action act as a kind of purdah to silence women. Similarly, American women complain about receiving unsolicited “dick pics” over various digital formats from men they barely know. Indeed, the prevalence of digital forms of harassment across both geographical settings renders online anger against people who come out about abuse inexplicable.

If there is any virtue at all to the recent firestorm, it is that Pakistanis and Americans have begun to ask: what constitutes abuse? How should people respond? Are micro-harassments, such as pictures and friendship requests still inconsequential if they are widespread and relentless? These cases invite us to dwell more deeply on connections between geographically distant cases of sex-based oppression. Mobile feminists, moving back and forth between different contexts, can reflect more deeply on the ways that various binaries, West/Islam, Public/Private, and offline/online complicate discussions about sexual identity, abuse and power in both locations. Highlighting how different geographic locations and cultural contexts share these problems in common can developing a common vocabulary for talking about sex-based subjection.

Fauzia Husain is an AAUW International Doctoral Fellow and a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia, Department of Sociology. Her current research examines how Pakistani women security workers experience their work, contend with the stigma of breaching purdah (gender segregation), and enact agency at the interstices of state, gender, work and globalization.

In an era of body positivity, more people are noting the way American culture stigmatizes obesity and discriminates by weight. One challenge for studying this inequality is that a common measure for obesity—Body Mass Index (BMI), a ratio of height to weight—has been criticized for ignoring important variation in healthy bodies. Plus, the basis for weight discrimination is what other people see as “too fat,” and that’s a standard with a lot of variation.

Recent research in Sociological Science from Vida Maralani and Douglas McKee gives us a picture of how the relationship between obesity and inequality changes with social context. Using data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth (NLSY), Maralani and McKee measure BMI in two cohorts, one in 1981 and one in 2003. They then look at social outcomes seven years later, including wages, the probability of a person being married, and total family income.

The figure below shows their findings for BMI and 2010 wages for each group in the study. The dotted lines show the same relationships from 1988 for comparison.

For White and Black men, wages actually go up as their BMI increases from the “Underweight” to “Normal” ranges, then levels off and slowly decline as they cross into the “Obese” range. This pattern is fairly similar to 1988, but check out the “White Women” graph in the lower left quadrant. In 1988, the authors find a sharp “obesity penalty” in which women over a BMI of 30 reported a steady decline in wages. By 2010, this has largely leveled off, but wage inequality didn’t go away. Instead, that spike near the beginning of the graph suggests people perceived as skinny started earning more. The authors write:

The results suggest that perceptions of body size may have changed across cohorts differently by race and gender in ways that are consistent with a normalizing of corpulence for black men and women, a reinforcement of thin beauty ideals for white women, and a status quo of a midrange body size that is neither too thin nor too large for white men (pgs. 305-306).

This research brings back an important lesson about what sociologists mean when they say something is “socially constructed”—patterns in inequality can change and adapt over time as people change the way they interpret the world around them.

Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.

Originally posted at Gender & Society

Last summer, Donald Trump shared how he hoped his daughter Ivanka might respond should she be sexually harassed at work. He said“I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case.” President Trump’s advice reflects what many American women feel forced to do when they’re harassed at work: quit their jobs. In our recent Gender & Society article, we examine how sexual harassment, and the job disruption that often accompanies it, affects women’s careers.

How many women quit and why?  Our study shows how sexual harassment affects women at the early stages of their careers. Eighty percent of the women in our survey sample who reported either unwanted touching or a combination of other forms of harassment changed jobs within two years. Among women who were not harassed, only about half changed jobs over the same period. In our statistical models, women who were harassed were 6.5 times more likely than those who were not to change jobs. This was true after accounting for other factors – such as the birth of a child – that sometimes lead to job change. In addition to job change, industry change and reduced work hours were common after harassing experiences.

Percent of Working Women Who Change Jobs (2003–2005)

In interviews with some of these survey participants, we learned more about how sexual harassment affects employees. While some women quit work to avoid their harassers, others quit because of dissatisfaction with how employers responded to their reports of harassment.

Rachel, who worked at a fast food restaurant, told us that she was “just totally disgusted and I quit” after her employer failed to take action until they found out she had consulted an attorney. Many women who were harassed told us that leaving their positions felt like the only way to escape a toxic workplace climate. As advertising agency employee Hannah explained, “It wouldn’t be worth me trying to spend all my energy to change that culture.”

The Implications of Sexual Harassment for Women’s Careers  Critics of Donald Trump’s remarks point out that many women who are harassed cannot afford to quit their jobs. Yet some feel they have no other option. Lisa, a project manager who was harassed at work, told us she decided, “That’s it, I’m outta here. I’ll eat rice and live in the dark if I have to.

Our survey data show that women who were harassed at work report significantly greater financial stress two years later. The effect of sexual harassment was comparable to the strain caused by other negative life events, such as a serious injury or illness, incarceration, or assault. About 35 percent of this effect could be attributed to the job change that occurred after harassment.

For some of the women we interviewed, sexual harassment had other lasting effects that knocked them off-course during the formative early years of their career. Pam, for example, was less trusting after her harassment, and began a new job, for less pay, where she “wasn’t out in the public eye.” Other women were pushed toward less lucrative careers in fields where they believed sexual harassment and other sexist or discriminatory practices would be less likely to occur.

For those who stayed, challenging toxic workplace cultures also had costs. Even for women who were not harassed directly, standing up against harmful work environments resulted in ostracism, and career stagnation. By ignoring women’s concerns and pushing them out, organizational cultures that give rise to harassment remain unchallenged.

Rather than expecting women who are harassed to leave work, employers should consider the costs of maintaining workplace cultures that allow harassment to continue. Retaining good employees will reduce the high cost of turnover and allow all workers to thrive—which benefits employers and workers alike.

Heather McLaughlin is an assistant professor in Sociology at Oklahoma State University. Her research examines how gender norms are constructed and policed within various institutional contexts, including work, sport, and law, with a particular emphasis on adolescence and young adulthood. Christopher Uggen is Regents Professor and Martindale chair in Sociology and Law at the University of Minnesota. He studies crime, law, and social inequality, firm in the belief that good science can light the way to a more just and peaceful world. Amy Blackstone is a professor in Sociology and the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine. She studies childlessness and the childfree choice, workplace harassment, and civic engagement. 

The average man thinks he’s smarter than the average woman. And women generally agree.

It starts early. At the age of five, most girls and boys think that their own sex is the smartest, a finding consistent with the idea that people tend to think more highly of people like themselves. Around age six, though, right when gender stereotypes tend to take hold among children, girls start reporting that they think boys are smarter, while boys continue to favor themselves and their male peers.

They may have learned this from their parents. Both mothers and fathers tend to think that their sons are smarter than their daughters. They’re more likely to ask Google if their son is a “genius” (though also whether they’re “stupid”). Regarding their daughters, they’re more likely to inquire about attractiveness.

Image via New York Times.

Once in college, the trend continues. Male students overestimate the extent to which their males peers have “mastered” biology, for example, and underestimate their female peers’ mastery, even when grades and outspokenness were accounted for.  To put a number on it, male students with a 3.00 G.P.A. were evaluated as equally smart as female students with a 3.75 G.P.A.

When young scholars go professional, the bias persists. More so than women, men go into and succeed in fields that are believed to require raw, innate brilliance, while women more so than men go into and succeed in fields that are believed to require only hard work.

Once in a field, if brilliance can be attributed to a man instead of a woman, it often will be. Within the field of economics, for example, solo-authored work increases a woman’s likelihood of getting tenure, a paper co-authored with a woman has an effect as well, but a paper co-authored with a man has zero effect. Male authors are given credit in all cases.

In negotiations over raises and promotions at work, women are more likely to be lied to, on the assumption that they’re not smart enough to figure out that they’re being given false information.

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Overall, and across countries, men rate themselves as higher in analytical intelligence than women, and often women agree. Women are often rated as more verbally and emotionally intelligent, but the analytical types of intelligence (such as mathematical and spatial) are more strongly valued. When intelligence is not socially constructed as male, it’s constructed as masculine. Hypothetical figures presented as intelligent are judged as more masculine than less intelligent ones.

All this matters.

By age 6, some girls have already started opting out of playing games that they’re told are for “really, really smart” children. The same internalized sexism may lead young women to avoid academic disciplines that are believed to require raw intelligence. And, over the life course, women may be less likely than men to take advantage of career opportunities that they believe demand analytical thinking.

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.

Photo by Ted Eytan; flickr creative commons.

President Trump recently declared that Obamacare is “essentially dead” after the House of Representatives passed legislation to replace existing health care policy. While members of the Senate are uncertain about the future of the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA) — which could ultimately result in as many as 24 million people losing their health insurance and those with pre-existing conditions facing increasing health coverage costs — a growing number of Americans, especially women, are sure that the legislation will be bad for their health, if enacted.

On the same day that the House passed the Republican-backed plan, for example, a friend of mine revealed on social media that she had gotten her yearly mammogram and physical examination. She posted that the preventative care did not cost anything under her current employer benefit plan, but would have been prohibitively expensive without insurance coverage, a problem faced by many women across the United States. For instance, the American Cancer Society reports that in 2013 38% of uninsured women had a mammogram in the last two years, while 70% of those with insurance did the same. These disparities are certainly alarming, but the problem is likely to worsen under the proposed AHCA.

Breast care screenings are currently protected under the Affordable Care Act’s Essential Health Benefits, which also covers birth control, as well as pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care. The proposed legislation supported by House Republicans and Donald Trump would allow individual states to eliminate or significantly reduce essential benefits for individuals seeking to purchase health insurance on the open market.

Furthermore, the current version of the AHCA would enable individual states to seek waivers, permitting insurance companies to charge higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions, when they purchase policies on the open market. Making health insurance exorbitantly expensive could have devastating results for women, like those with a past breast cancer diagnosis, who are at risk of facing recurrence. Over 40,000 women already die each year from breast cancer in our country, with African-American women being disproportionately represented among these deaths.

Such disparities draw attention to the connection between inequality and health, patterns long documented by sociologists. Recent work by David R. Williams and his colleagues, for instance, examines how racism and class inequality help to explain why the breast cancer mortality rate in 2012 was 42% higher for Black women than for white women. Limiting affordable access to health care — which the AHCA would most surely do — would exacerbate these inequalities, and further jeopardize the health and lives of the most socially and economically vulnerable among us.

Certainly, everyone who must purchase insurance in the private market, particularly those with pre-existing conditions stand to lose under the AHCA. But women are especially at risk. Their voices have been largely excluded from discussion regarding health care reform, as demonstrated by the photograph of Donald Trump, surrounded by eight male staff members in January, signing the “global gag order,” which restricted women’s reproductive rights worldwide. Or as illustrated by the photo tweeted  by Vice-President Pence in March, showing him and the President, with over twenty male politicians, discussing possible changes to Essential Health Benefits, changes which could restrict birth control coverage, in addition to pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care. And now, as all 13 Senators slated to work on revisions to the AHCA are men.

Women cannot afford to be silent about this legislation. None of us can. The AHCA is bad for our health and lives.

Jacqueline Clark, PhD is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Ripon College. Her research interests include inequalities, the sociology of health and illness, and the sociology of jobs, work, and organizations.

Sometimes you have to take the long view.

This week Bill O’Reilly — arguably the most powerful political commentator in America — was let go from his position at Fox News. The dismissal came grudgingly. News broke that he and Fox had paid out $13 million dollars to women claiming O’Reilly sexually harassed them; Fox didn’t budge. They renewed his contract. There was outcry and protests. The company yawned. But when advertisers started dropping The O’Reilly Factor, they caved. O’Reilly is gone.

Fox clearly didn’t care about women — not “women” in the abstract, nor the women who worked at their company — but they did care about their bottom line. And so did the companies buying advertising space, who decided that it was bad PR to prop up a known sexual harasser. Perhaps the decision-makers at those companies also thought it was the right thing to do. Who knows.

Is this progress?

Donald Trump is on record gleefully explaining that being a celebrity gives him the ability to get away with sexual battery. That’s a crime, defined as unwanted contact with an “intimate part of the body” that is done to sexually arouse, gratify, or abuse. He’s president anyway.

And O’Reilly? He walked away with $25 million in severance, twice what all of his victims together have received in hush money. Fox gaves Roger Ailes much more to go away: $40 million. Also ousted after multiple allegations of sexual harassment, his going away present was also twice what the women he had harassed received.

Man, sexism really does pay.

But they’re gone. Ailes and O’Reilly are gone. Trump is President but Billy Bush, the Today host who cackled when Trump said “grab ’em by the pussy,” was fired, too.  Bill Cosby finally had some comeuppance after decades of sexual abuse and rape. At the very least, his reputation is destroyed. Maybe these “victories” — for women, for feminists, for equality, for human decency — were driven purely by greed. And arguably, for all intents and purposes, the men are getting away with it. Trump, Ailes, O’Reilly, Bush, and Cosby are all doing fine. Nobody’s in jail; everybody’s rich beyond belief.

But we know what they did.

Until at least the 1960s, sexual harassment — along with domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and rape — went largely unregulated, unnoticed, and unnamed. There was no language to even talk about what women experienced in the workplace. Certainly no outrage, no ruined reputations, no dismissals, and no severance packages. The phrase “sexual harassment” didn’t exist.

In 1964, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, it became illegal to discriminate against women at work, but only because the politicians who opposed the bill thought adding sex to race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion would certainly tank it. That’s how ridiculous the idea of women’s rights was at the time. But that was then. Today almost no one thinks women shouldn’t have equal rights at work.

What has happened at Fox News, in Bill Cosby’s hotel rooms, in the Access Hollywood bus, and on election day is proof that sexism is alive and well. But it’s not as healthy as it once was. Thanks to hard work by activists, politicians, and citizens, things are getting better. Progress is usually incremental. It requires endurance. Change is slow. Excruciatingly so. And this is what it looks like.

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.

Sexism in American society has been on the decline. Obstacles to female-bodied people excelling in previously male-only occupations and hobbies have lessened. And women have thrived in these spaces, sometimes even overtaking men both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Another kind of bias, though, has gotten worse: the preference for masculinity over femininity. Today we like our men manly, just like we used to, but we like our women just a little bit manly, too. This is true especially when women expect to compete with men in masculine arenas.

A recent study by a team of psychologists, led by Sarah Banchefsky, collected photographs of 40 male and 40 female scientists employed in STEM departments of US universities. 50 respondents were told they were participating in a study of “first impressions” and were asked to rate each person according to how masculine or feminine they appeared. They were not told their occupation. They were then asked to guess as to the likelihood that each person was a scientist, then the likelihood that each was an early childhood educator.

Overall, women were rated as more feminine than men and less likely to be scientists. Within the group of women, however, perceived femininity was also negatively correlated with the estimated likelihood of being a scientist and positively correlated with the likelihood of being an educator. In other words, both having a female body and appearing feminine was imagined to make a woman less inclined to or suited to science. The same results were not found for men.

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Banchefsky and her colleagues conclude that “subtle variations in gendered appearance alter perceptions that a given woman is a scientist” and this has important implications for their careers:

First, naturally feminine-appearing young women and those who choose to emphasize their femininity may not be encouraged or given opportunities to become scientists as a result of adults’ beliefs that feminine women are not well-suited to the occupation.

Second, feminine-appearing women who are already scientists may not be taken as seriously as more masculine-appearing ones. They may have to overperform relative to their male and masculine female peers to be recognized as equally competent. Femininity may, then, cost them job opportunities, promotions, awards, grants, and valuable collaboration.

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.

Flashback Friday.

In a humorous article, Gloria Steinem asked, “What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?” Men, she asserted, would re-frame menstruation as a “enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event” about which they would brag (“about how long and how much”).  She writes:

Street guys would brag (“I’m a three pad man”) or answer praise from a buddy (“Man, you lookin’ good!”) by giving fives and saying, “Yeah, man, I’m on the rag!”

Military men, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation (“men-struation”) as proof that only men could serve in the Army (“you have to give blood to take blood”), occupy political office (“can women be aggressive without that steadfast cycle governed by the planet Mars?”), be priest and ministers (“how could a woman give her blood for our sins?”) or rabbis (“without the monthly loss of impurities, women remain unclean”).

Of course, male intellectuals would offer the most moral and logical arguments. How could a woman master any discipline that demanded a sense of time, space, mathematics, or measurement, for instance, without that in-built gift for measuring the cycles of the moon and planets – and thus for measuring anything at all?

Perhaps in homage to this article, the artist Käthe Ivansich developed an installation titled “Menstruation Skateboards” for the Secession Museum in Austria. Drawing on the same sort of re-framing, the exhibition was marketed with ads with bruised and bloody women and tag lines like “I heart blood sports” and “some girls bleed more than once a month.”  See examples at Ivansich’s website.

The exhibition included skateboards that generally mocked sexist language and re-claimed the blood of menstruation. This blood, the message is, makes me hardcore. The art project nicely makes Steinem’s point, showing how things like menstruation can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the social status of the person with whom it is associated.

Originally posted in September, 2010.

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.