Enjoy our collection of Halloween posts from years past:

Race and Ethnicity


The intersection of Race, Class, and Gender

Halloween and Politics

And, for no conceivable reason…

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 often find myself bemused at our insistence on using sex (i.e., male or female) as the defining thing that describes our sexual orientation.  We are homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, right?  These words supposedly mean that we are sexually attracted to the same sex, the other sex, or both.  Right?

No! Not by a long shot! Essentially no one is attracted to men, for example, no matter what their sexual orientation.  I’m straight and female, but I am attracted to a very, very, very small subset of men. I’m generally only attracted to men within a certain age range, with kind faces (I find the chiseled look a bit intimidating); also, I prefer them to be relatively clean.  If I can add non-physical characteristics, then being aggressive with buddies or rude to waitstaff or prone to jealousy are all turn-offs, as are certain politics.  I’ll stop here.  Suffice to say, suggesting that I’m attracted to men is a vast overstatement.  Sexual orientation, as we think of it, simply doesn’t describe my proclivities. I suppose this is true for most of us.

I was reminded of this idea when I came across an OK Cupid post.  Christian Rudder drew on the profiles of over 250,000 heterosexual users, discovering that a large percentage of them had (positive) sexual experiences with people of the same sex, or wanted to (source).

Thirteen percent of self-identified straight men have had a sexual encounter with another man.  Seven percent of them enjoyed it.  Another 5% haven’t had the pleasure, but they would like to.

Significantly more self-identified straight women, 33%,  have had a sexual encounter with another woman.  Twenty-six percent of them enjoyed it.  Another 18% haven’t, but they would like to.  Less than half reported that they hadn’t and figured they never would.

Reported sexual orientation, then, simply doesn’t map perfectly onto desires or behaviors, in addition to failing to capture the full complexity of our sexualities.

For more of OK Cupid’s data, see our posts on the racial politics of datingwhat women wanthow attractiveness mattersage, gender, and the shape of the dating poololder women want more sex, and the lies love-seekers tell.

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.

Gay men and bisexual men still represent a disproportionate number of HIV cases in the United States (CDC).  In addition, African-American and Latino men are significantly more likely than white men to be diagnosed with HIV and die from AIDS-related illnesses.  Numerous HIV prevention campaigns are thus aimed at these populations.

It’s important to try to reduce the HIV among these populations, but we also need to think critically about how prevention strategies reinforce stigmatization.

For example, this ad from a western Massachusetts clinic uses the phrase “man up, get tested” — taking care of yourself by getting tested for HIV is linked to your masculinity.  What’s interesting is that by including only men of color in the photo, the ad suggests that black and Latino men are particularly obsessed with their masculinity, more so, perhaps, than white men.  It also potentially reinforces stereotypes about black men as hyper-sexualized and Latino men as machismo.

Second, a New York City campaign released in late 2010 uses fear to reach young gay men who are often thought to be complacent about the consequences of HIV disease now that life-saving medications are widely available in the U.S. and people can live with the virus for decades.  Gay and bisexual men are encouraged to use condoms through a commercial that reminds viewers “it’s never just HIV” by featuring a close-up photo of anal cancer among other (potential) HIV/AIDS related illnesses.  The video was applauded for its frank depiction of risk in the face of public apathy about the dangers of HIV/AIDS while simultaneously condemned for sensationalizing and stigmatizing gay sex:

In the face of stark HIV/AIDS inequalities among gay men and people of color, it’s clear that new prevention strategies are needed.  At the same, however, we also need to think about how we reinforce damaging and stigmatizing ideas about race, gender, and sexuality.


Christie Barcelos is a doctoral student in Public Health/Community Health Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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There are few social facts that spread themselves out evenly across social class. Most everything — how healthy we are, what we do for leisure, how we dress, etc — is correlated with income.  Twitter, I learned today, is an exception.   According to a Pew study, internet users across a wide array of income brackets are using Twitter at about the same rate.

Income and % of internet users who use Twitter:

When we look at variables that correlate with income, however, such as race and education, we see an uneven distribution.

Race and % of internet users who use Twitter:

Education and % of internet users who use Twitter:

So people with more education are more likely to use Twitter, but Whites (who, on average, get more education than Blacks and Hispanics) are less likely.  There’s something really interesting going on here.  Any idea what?

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.

Let’s analyze this one to death, shall we?  Comments are open…

It’s after the jump because you can see a woman naked from the waist up.


Cross-posted, in Portuguese, at Petiscos de Sociologia.

Noam sent in a link to a website with a post featuring “beautiful” Chinese women who have been executed.  These women are apparently important not because of their sacrifice, or because of what they say about Chinese politics, but because they’re beautiful.  Non-beautiful women who have been executed apparently draw no interest.

Noam’s submission gave me a fantastic excuse to post a video of our very own Gwen Sharp giving a 4-1/2 minute lecture about a similar phenomenon, the Missing White Woman Syndrome (originally posted at the NSC School of Liberal Arts and Sciences; transcript after the jump).

She covers quite a bit of ground.  After introducing the concept, she discusses data on the disproportionate coverage of crimes against white women, and how this shapes perceptions of risk.  In fact, white women are among the least likely type of person to be victimized.  This graph, coincidentally sent in by Grace S., doesn’t break down the data by gender, but it shows a clear pattern by race.

The constant attention to white women’s vulnerability, even though it’s disproportionate, makes it seem as if they are especially likely to be a victim of violent crime.  The risk that women of color will be victimized, then, is underestimated and not taken as seriously as it should be.  Meanwhile, white women may confine themselves to safer-seeming leisure activities and occupational pursuits.

These patterns affirm the role of racism in news making — with violence against women of color apparently less newsworthy — and also shows that white women, though valorized, may self-curtail their lives out of fear that they are, accordingly, the most likely target of violence.

Follow Gwen on Twitter!


Chiricos, T., S. Eschholz, & M. Gertz. (1997). Crime, news and fear of crime: toward an identification of audience effects. Social Problems 44(3), 342-357.

Lundman, R.J. (2003). The newsworthiness and selection bias in news about murder: comparative and relative effects of novelty and race and gender typifications on newspaper coverage of homicide. Sociological Forum, 18(3), 357-386.

Transcript after the jump:


Attention upper-middle class white women: help save poor Indian women from a life of forced prostitution, all from the comfort of your hammock! Simply purchase some comfy, trendy pants.

(Image from International Princess Project, the organization behind Punjammies)

Aliyah C. wrote to us about a series of photos on a website for a product called Punjammies. The images offer a stark illustration of the racial, classed, and gendered nature of many “development” initiatives.

According to their website, Punjammies claims to offer Indian women who have escaped forced prostitution a chance to rebuild their lives by providing them with the marketable skill of manufacturing clothing.

Images in the Punjammies catalogue make it clear who the target market is: They feature exclusively white women, luxuriously lounging about in Punjammies attire.

Meanwhile, images on the “About” page depict the women purportedly empowered by this operation, conducting manual labour to produce Punjammies products.

Consumerism-driven development initiatives like Punjammies fail to challenge the inherent inequalities at play in a situation where wealthy, white women in the developed world are seen as benevolent and charitable for making a purchase, while women in developing countries manufacturing the products are portrayed as beneficiaries. Furthermore, as Barbara Heron might argue, Punjammies is a prime example of how development initiatives often play into notions of white female subjectivity as compassionate and caring, dependent upon the Othering of women of colour in the south.  In fact, since colonialism, the advantages that accrue to those of us in developed countries have been linked to the disadvantages faced by the rest of the world. Our economies are not separate entities, they are intimately linked.

Reflecting upon images like these should remind us to remain critical of the ways in which “development” is marketed to us, and how it can perpetuate rather than challenge inequalities.


Reference: Heron, B. (2007). Desire for Development: Whiteness, Gender and the Helping Imperative. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press.

Hayley Price has a background in sociology, international development studies, and education. She recently completed her Masters degree in Sociology and Equity Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

In my Sociology of Gender course I talk about how gender conformity isn’t simply a matter of socialization, but often a response to active policing by others.  Single women usually avoid having too many cats, for example, not only because they’ve been taught that too many cats sends the wrong signal, but because they may be called a “cat lady” by their friends (a joke-y slur suggesting that she is or will be a batty old spinster).  Or her best friend, with her best interests in mind, may discourage her from adopting another cat because she knows what people think of “cat ladies.”

People who find community in subcultures that are seen as “alternative” to the “mainstream” often feel like they are freed of such rules.  But these subcultures often simply have different rules that turn out to be equally restrictive and are just as rigidly policed.

A recent submission to PostSecret, a site where people anonymously tell their secrets, reminded me of this.  In it a lesbian confesses that she hates cats.  Because of the stereotype that women love cats, the “cat lady” stigma may be lifted in lesbian communities.  This lesbian, however, doesn’t feel freed by the lifting of this rule, but instead burdened by its opposite: everyone has to like cats.  So she feels compelled to lie and say that she’s allergic.

Related, see our post on a confession, from another lesbian, about suppressing the fact that she’s really quite girly.

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.