# intersectionality

Lots of time and care consideration goes into the production of new superheroes and the revision of time-honored heroes. Subtle features of outfits aren’t changed by accident and don’t go unnoticed. Skin color also merits careful consideration to ensure that the racial depiction of characters is consistent with their back stories alongside other considerations. A colleague of mine recently shared an interesting analysis of racial depictions by a comic artist, Ronald Wimberly—“Lighten Up.”

“Lighten Up” is a cartoon essay that addresses some of the issues Wimberly struggled with in drawing for a major comic book publisher. NPR ran a story on the essay as well. In short, Wimberly was asked by his editor to “lighten” a characters’ skin tone — a character who is supposed to have a Mexican father and an African American mother.  The essay is about Wimberly’s struggle with the request and his attempt to make sense of how the potentially innocuous-seeming request might be connected with racial inequality.

In one panel of the cartoon, you can see Wimberly’s original color swatch for the character alongside the swatch he was instructed to use for the character.

Digitally, colors are handled by what computer programmers refer to as hexadecimal IDs. Every color has a hexademical “color code.” It’s an alphanumeric string of 6 letters and/or numbers preceded by the pound symbol (#).  For example, computers are able to understand the color white with the color code #FFFFFF and the color black with #000000. Hexadecimal IDs are based on binary digits—they’re basically a way of turning colors into code so that computers can understand them. Artists might tell you that there are an infinite number of possibilities for different colors. But on a computer, color combinations are not infinite: there are exactly 16,777,216 possible color combinations. Hexadecimal IDs are an interesting bit of data and I’m not familiar with many social scientists making use of them (but see).

There’s probably more than one way of using color codes as data. But one thought I had was that they could be an interesting way of identifying racialized depictions of comic book characters in a reproducible manner—borrowing from Wimberly’s idea in “Lighten Up.” Some questions might be:

• Are white characters depicted with the same hexadecimal variation as non-white characters?
• Or, are women depicted with more or less hexadecimal variation than men?
• Perhaps white characters are more likely to be depicted in more dramatic and dynamic lighting, causing their skin to be depicted with more variation than non-white characters.

If any of this is true, it might also make an interesting data-based argument to suggest that white characters are featured in more dynamic ways in comic books than are non-white characters. The same could be true of men compared with women.

Just to give this a try, I downloaded a free eye-dropper plug-in that identifies hexadecimal IDs. I used the top 16 images in a Google Image search for Batman (white man), Amazing-man (black man), and Wonder Woman (white woman). Because many images alter skin tone with shadows and light, I tried to use the eye-dropper to select the pixel that appeared most representative of the skin tone of the face of each character depicted.

Here are the images for Batman with a clean swatch of the hexadecimal IDs for the skin tone associated with each image below:

Below are the images for Amazing-man with swatches of the skin tone color codes beneath:

Finally, here are the images for Wonder Woman with pure samples of the color codes associated with her skin tone for each image below:

Now, perhaps it was unfair to use Batman as a comparison as his character is more often depicted at night than is Wonder Woman—a fact which might mean he is more often depicted in dynamic lighting than she is. But it’s an interesting thought experiment.  Based on this sample, two things that seem immediately apparent:

• Amazing-man is depicted much darker when his character is drawn angry.
• And Wonder Woman exhibits the least color variation of the three.

Whether this is representative is beyond the scope of the post.  But, it’s an interesting question.  While we know that there are dramatically fewer women in comic books than men, inequality is not only a matter of numbers.  Portrayal matters a great deal as well, and color codes might be one way of considering getting at this issue in a new and systematic way.

While the hexadecimal ID of an individual pixel of an image is an objective measure of color, it’s also true that color is in the eye of the beholder and we perceive colors differently when they are situated alongside different colors. So, obviously, color alone tells us little about individual perception, and even less about the social and cultural meaning systems tied to different hexadecimal hues. Yet, as Wimberly writes,

In art, this is very important. Art is where associations are made. Art is where we form the narratives of our identity.

Beyond this, art is a powerful cultural arena in which we form narratives about the identities of others.

At any rate, it’s an interesting idea. And I hope someone smarter than me does something with it (or tells me that it’s already been done and I simply wasn’t aware).

Originally posted at Feminist Reflections and Inequality by Interior Design. Cross-posted at Pacific Standard. H/t to Andrea Herrera.

Tristan Bridges is a sociologist of gender and sexuality at the College at Brockport (SUNY).  Dr. Bridges blogs about some of this research and more at Inequality by (Interior) Design.  You can follow him on twitter @tristanbphd.

We’ve highlighted the really interesting research coming out of the dating site OK Cupid before. It’s great stuff and worth exploring:

All of those posts offer neat lessons about research methods, too. And so does the video below of co-founder Christian Rudder talking about how they’ve collected and used the data. It might be fun to show in research methods classes because it raises some interesting questions like: What are different kinds of social science data? How can/should we manipulate respondents to get it? What does it look like? How can it be used to answer questions? Or, how can we understand the important difference between having the data and doing an interpretation of it? That is, the data-don’t-speak-for-themselves issue.

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.

For every man that earns a college degree, nearly two women will. Women have been outperforming men in college since they started attending in the 1920s, but thanks to widening opportunities, an economy that draws women in the workforce, and simple female ambition, women now outnumber men, too.

New research suggests, however, that the opposite is true for sexual minority men and women. Education researcher Leigh Fine asked whether the college graduation rates of gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women reflected what we see in general. His respondents were 30 years old, on average — that is, old enough to have passed the age where most Americans complete their education — and they self-identified as non-heterosexual.

He found that the pattern we see in which women are more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree is reversed among sexual minorities. Gay and bisexual men are more likely to report graduating than lesbian and bisexual women. In fact, they’re more likely to report graduating than heterosexual men and women as well.

In contrast, sexual minority women were the least likely of all four groups to report graduating.

Running some fancy numbers — it was pretty tricky because of the low numbers of sexual minority respondents — Fine concludes that what we are seeing is a pattern among sexual minority women that is statistically similar to heterosexual men and a pattern among sexual minority men that is statistically similar to heterosexual women.

This is another great example of the importance of doing intersectional research. Sociologists use the term intersectionality to draw attention to the way that our identities — our race, gender, class, sexual orientation, immigration status, etc — never influence our lives in isolation from one another. They’re in cahoots. So, being female is one thing, but being a woman who sleeps with women is an entirely different thing, and being such a woman who lives in the country, carries a disability, or is a transnational migrant is entirely another. We’ve got a pretty interesting set of over 300 related posts at our intersectionality tag. Enjoy!

H/t to Education and Society. Cross-posted at Gender and Society.

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.

At the end of this month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments as to whether the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex marriages and to recognize same-sex marriages allowed in other states. In the arguments heard in the lower courts and the record-setting number of amici filed for this case, debate has often veered from whether same-sex couples should be able to marry and waded into the question of how they parent children. Social science research has been front and center in this debate, with a variety of studies examining whether families with two parents of a different sex provide better environments for raising children than two parents of the same sex.

No differences? In general, these studies have examined differences in children’s developmental outcomes to make inferences about differences in what is happening in the home, conflating how children do with the ways that people parent in same-sex and different-sex couples. The “no differences” conclusion refers to the fact that few studies have revealed significant differences in these outcomes between children raised by different-sex parents and same-sex parents. This conclusion about parenting based on data on children, however, may be biased in both directions. For example, same-sex couples are more likely to adopt “hard-to-place” children from the foster care system. They are also more likely to have children who have experienced family instability because they transitioned into new family settings after being in families headed by ‘straight’ couples. Both of these factors are known to affect children’s wellbeing, but they are not as strongly tied to parenting.

New study clarifies. In our new study in the June issue of Demography, we directly address the arguments being made about differences in parenting in two-parent families by examining parents’ actual behaviors. Using the nationally representative American Time Use Survey, we examine how much time parents in same-sex and different-sex couples spend in child-focused activities during a 24-hour period, controlling for a wide range of factors that are also associated with parenting, such as income, education, time spent at work, and the number and age of children in the family. By ‘child-focused’ time, we mean time spent engaged with children in activities that support their physical and cognitive development, like reading to them, playing with them, or helping them with their homework.

Supporting a no differences conclusion, our study finds that women and men in same-sex relationships and women in different-sex relationships do not differ in the amount of time they spend in child-focused activities (about 100 minutes a day). We did find one difference, however, as men in different-sex relationships spend only half as much child-focused time as the other three types of parents. Averaging across mothers and fathers, we determined that children with same-sex parents received an hour more of child-focused parent time a day (3.5 hours) than children in different-sex families (2.5 hours).

A key implication of our study is that the focus on whether same-sex parents provide depreciably different family contexts for healthy child development is misplaced. If anything, the results show that same-sex couples are more likely to invest time in the types of parenting behaviors that support child development. In line with a recent study that has continued to highlight that poverty — more so than family structure — is the greatest detriment to parenting practices, it’s hard not to see how delegitimizing same-sex families in ways that create both social and economic costs for them, pose a greater source of disadvantage for children.

Cross-posted at Families as They Really Are and Pacific Standard.

Kate Prickett is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology and the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin; Alexa Martin-Storey is a developmental psychologist and Assistant Professor at the Université de Sherbrooke, in Sherbrooke, Quebec. You can find their new study (with Robert Crosnoe) here.

Sociologists are quite familiar with the combination of marginalized identities that can lead to oppression, inequalities, and “double disadvantages.” But can negative stereotypes actually have positive consequences?

Financial Juneteenth recently highlighted a study showing that gay black men may have better odds of landing a job and higher salaries than their straight, black, male colleagues. Led by sociologist David Pedulla, the data comes from resumes and a job description evaluated by 231 white individuals selected in a national probability sample. The experiment asked them to suggest starting salaries for the position and answer questions about the fictional prospective employee. To suggest race and sexual orientation, resumes included typically raced names (either “Brad Miller” and “Darnell Jackson”) and listed participation in “Gay Student Advisory Council” half the time.

Pedulla found that straight Black men were more likely to be perceived as threatening, measured with answers as to whether the respondent thought the applicant was likely to “break workplace rules,” make “female co-workers feel uncomfortable,’’ or “steal from the workplace.” In contrast, gay Black men were considered by far the least threatening. Gay black men were also judged to be the most feminine, followed by gay white men.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the combination of being gay, Black, and male attracted the highest salaries. Gay Black men were considered the most valuable employee overall. Straight white men were offered slightly lower salaries and gay white men and straight black men were offered lowered salaries still.

Pedulla’s findings have sparked a conversation among scholars and journalists about the complexity of stereotypes surrounding black masculinities and sexualities. Organizational behavior researcher and Huffington Post contributor Jon Fitzgerald Gates also weighed in on the findings, arguing that the effeminate stereotypes of homosexuality may be counteracting the traditional stereotypes of a dangerous and threatening black heterosexual masculinity.

Cross-posted at Citings and Sightings.

Caty Taborda is a graduate student in sociology at the University of Minnesota, where she’s on the Grad Editorial Board for The Society Pages. Her research concerns the intersection of gender, race, health, and the body. You can follow her on twitter.

Flashback Friday.

Having a criminal record negatively affects the likelihood of being considered for a job. Devah Pager conducted a matched-pair experiment in which she had male testers apply for the same entry-level jobs advertised in Milwaukee newspapers. She gave the assistants fake credentials that make them equivalent in terms of education, job experience, and so on. Half were Black and half White.

One tester from each pair was instructed to indicate that they had a past non-violent drug possession offense. Pager then collected data on how many of the applicants were called back for an interview after submitting their fake applications.

The results indicate that getting a job with a criminal record is difficult. Having even a non-violent drug offense had a significant impact on rates of callbacks:

What was surprising was that race actually turned out to be more significant than a criminal background. Notice that employers were more likely to call Whites with a criminal record (17% were offered an interview) than Blacks without a criminal record (14%). And while having a criminal background hurt all applicants’ chances of getting an interview, African Americans with a non-violent offense faced particularly dismal employment prospects. Imagine if the fake criminal offense had been for a property or violent crime?

In addition, according to Pager, employers seemed to expect that Black applicants might have a criminal record:

When people think of Black men they think of a criminal. It affects the way Black men are treated in the labor market. In fact, Black testers in our study were likely to be asked up front if they have a criminal record, while whites were rarely asked…

African American men face a double barrier:  higher rates of incarceration and racial discrimination.

Originally posted in 2009.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Well done, Joy Regullano, well done:

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.

At Everyday Sociology, sociologist Karen Sternheimer made a nice observation about the problem of teen drinking. It’s not our biggest alcohol problem.

According to the CDC, the age group most likely to die from binge drinking is people 35-64 years old. In fact, three out of every four alcohol poisoning deaths are in this age group — 4.5 out of a total of 6 a day — and 76% of them are men, especially ones who earn over \$70,000 a year.

So why all the PSAs aimed at teens?

Sternheimer argues that the focus on teens has to do with who what groups are identified as problematic populations. In the 1800s and early 1900s, she points out, laws were passed in several states making it illegal for African Americans and Native Americans to drink alcohol. Immigrants were also targeted.

Young people weren’t targeted until the student rebellions of the 1960s and ’70s. Like the “protest psychosis” attributed to black Civil Rights activists, the anti-establishment activism of young people was partly blamed on drug and alcohol use.

Today, she observes, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism focuses its attention on young people, minorities, women, and people with HIV.