war/military

Human beings are prone to a cognitive bias called the Law of the Instrument. It’s the tendency to see everything as being malleable according to whatever tool you’re used to using. In other words, if you have a hammer, suddenly all the world’s problems look like nails to you.

Objects humans encounter, then, aren’t simply useful to them, or instrumental; they are transformative: they change our view of the world. Hammers do. And so do guns. “You are different with a gun in your hand,” wrote the philosopher Bruno Latour, “the gun is different with you holding it. You are another subject because you hold the gun; the gun is another object because it has entered into a relationship with you.”

In that case, what is the effect of transferring military grade equipment to police officers?

In 1996, the federal government passed a law giving the military permission to donate excess equipment to local police departments. Starting in 1998, millions of dollars worth of equipment was transferred each year. Then, after 9/11, there was a huge increase in transfers. In 2014, they amounted to the equivalent of 796.8 million dollars.

Image via The Washington Post:

Those concerned about police violence worried that police officers in possession of military equipment would be more likely to use violence against civilians, and new research suggests that they’re right.

Political scientist Casey Delehanty and his colleagues compared the number of civilians killed by police with the monetary value of transferred military equipment across 455 counties in four states. Controlling for other factors (e.g., race, poverty, drug use), they found that killings rose along with increasing transfers. In the case of the county that received the largest transfer of military equipment, killings more than doubled.

But maybe they got it wrong? High levels of military equipment transfers could be going to counties with rising levels of violence, such that it was increasingly violent confrontations that caused the transfers, not the transfers causing the confrontations.

Delehanty and his colleagues controlled for the possibility that they were pointing the causal arrow the wrong way by looking at the killings of dogs by police. Police forces wouldn’t receive military equipment transfers in response to an increase in violence by dogs, but if the police were becoming more violent as a response to having military equipment, we might expect more dogs to die. And they did.

Combined with research showing that police who use military equipment are more likely to be attacked themselves, literally everyone will be safer if we reduce transfers and remove military equipment from the police arsenal.

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.

When we see individuals holding cardboard signs and asking for spare change wearing camouflage, homelessness among veterans can seem like an epidemic. Recently, however, government efforts to reduce veteran homelessness have had great success. In response to a federal strategy known as Opening Doors, since 2010 veteran homelessness has declined by almost 50%. And in that time period some cities, such as New Orleans, have reported veteran homelessness at functional zero. 

You would never know it from social media. As the world has grappled with the Syrian civil war, political memes have emerged in the U.S. that make the case that we should prioritize homeless veterans over Syrian refugees. These memes foreground a competition between homeless veterans and Syrian refugees in order to make a misleading, emotionally-appealing argument against the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

Deliberately or not, the online images are similar to propaganda. Actors create emotionally-charged illustrations with biased and one-sided evidence to encourage a political point. The memes push a narrative of homeless veterans as overlooked by the government, while this goes against the facts. They also suggest a fallacious argument that the Department of Veterans Affairs will lose funds because of the refugee resettlement program. This is not the case.

At the same time the memes appeal to our sentiments. Features writer for Mashable, Rebecca Ruiz, contends that memes like these pose the emotional question, “If people in the U.S. are suffering, why are we helping refugees?” What if veterans are those slighted? This is a powerful idea because Americans revere veterans.

In Coming Home: Attitudes toward U.S. Veterans Returning from Iraq, sociologists Alair MacLean and Meredith Kleykamp argue that male veterans involved in recent military-related combat are still supported by the general public, even in light of the idea that those exposed to combat have mental health issues and substance abuse problems. They add that veterans are privileged by symbolic capital, or prestige related to their service. A meme that presents veterans as treated unfairly is likely to produce an emotional reaction, something that is known to simplify our thinking and decision-making.

While the digital messages premised on helping veterans are compelling, they are false and a strategic exploitation of our feelings, one with xenophobic, white nationalist, and anti-immigrant goals. They urge us to advocate against Syrian resettlement to solve an unrelated problem that is already diminishing.

Ian Nahan has a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in both sociology and social work. He plans on working with veterans once he obtains a master’s degree in social work at the University of Pennsylvania.

Flashback Friday.

Monica C. sent along images of a pamphlet, from 1920, warning soldiers of the dangers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In the lower right hand corner (close up below), the text warns that “most” “prostitutes (whores) and easy women” “are diseased.” In contrast, in the upper left corner, we see imagery of the pure woman that a man’s good behavior is designed to protect (also below).  “For the sake of your family,” it reads, “learn the truth about venereal diseases.”

The contrast, between those women who give men STIs (prostitutes and easy women) and those who receive them from men (wives) is a reproduction of the virgin/whore dichotomy (women come in only two kinds: good, pure, and worthy of respect and bad, dirty, and deserving of abuse).  It also does a great job of making invisible the fact that women with an STI likely got it from a man and women who have an STI, regardless of how they got one, can give it away.  The men’s role in all this, that is, is erased in favor of demonizing “bad” girls.

See also these great examples of the demonization of the “good time Charlotte” during World War II (skull faces and all) and follow this post to a 1917 film urging Canadian soldiers to refrain from sex with prostitutes (no antibiotics back then, you know).

This post was originally shared in August 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.

NPR recently aired a story about female lawmaker’s representation state by state. According to the story, Colorado has the most women; female lawmakers make up 42% of that total. Wyoming had the least, with women only representing 13% of state lawmakers.

NPR’s experts suggested that term limits in Colorado and a female-friendly party leadership were behind their high number of female legislators, whereas a change in Wyoming from multi-member to single-member district in the 1990s was unfavorable to women (because voters have to pick only one and tend to lean toward men when they have to make hard choices). The story also mentioned voting rules and the difficulty of balancing home, work, and lawmaking responsibilities.

In fact, sociologists have been studying this issue in depth for some time and a few years ago Deborah Carr summarized the reigning wisdom on why women are less likely to be politicians. She highlighted six factors to explain the gender gap in the US Congress:

  1. Women have to face sexism (e.g., glass ceiling – Nancy Pelosi used the term marble ceiling in her inaugural speech as Speaker in 2007), especially voters’ sex role stereotyping “what women can and should be.”
  1. Women are not in the “pipeline,” suggesting that not enough women are in careers that have historically led to political office.
  1. Because of gendered wealth and income inequality, women don’t as often have enough money to run multi-dollar campaigns, nor access to social networks full of big donors.
  1. Women have different interests, focusing on “issues related to family and social welfare, rather than national defense and international relations.”
  1. Women are less likely to be risk-takers than their male counterparts, perhaps explaining why women must be asked several times before they seriously consider launching campaigns.
  1. Women opt out of politics because of family responsibilities.

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To improve female participation in politics, we should promote more gender-neural political environments. Political parties should take further steps to recruit and support female candidates, as Colorado seems to be doing. We should repeatedly encourage women to run for office since they take a lot of encouragement before they seriously consider launching candidacies. More importantly, we need to seed the pipeline by encouraging young girls to get involved in student government and see governing as compatible with their interests and abilities.

Sangyoub Park, PhD is a professor of sociology at Washburn University. His research interests include social capital, demographic trends, and post-Generation Y.  

So, Star Wars is out with a new movie and instead of pretending female fans don’t exist, Disney has decided to license the Star Wars brand to Covergirl. A reader named David, intrigued, sent in a two-page ad from Cosmopolitan for analysis.

What I find interesting about this ad campaign — or, more accurately — boring, is its invitation to women to choose whether they are good or bad. “Light side or dark side. Which side are you on?” it asks. Your makeup purchases, apparently, follow.

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This is the old — and by “old” I mean ooooooooold — tradition of dividing women into good and bad. The Madonna and the whore. The woman on the pedestal and her fallen counterpart. Except Covergirl, like many cosmetics companies before that have used exactly the same gimmick, is offering women the opportunity to choose which she wants to be. Is this some sort of feminist twist? Now we get to choose whether men want to marry us or just fuck us? Great.

But that part’s just boring. What’s obnoxious about the ad campaign is the idea that, for women, what really matters about the ultimate battle between good and evil is whether it goes with her complexion. It affirms the stereotype that women are deeply trivial, shallow, and vapid. What interests us about Star Wars? Why, makeup, of course!

If David — who also noted the inclusion of a single Asian model as part of the Dark Side — hadn’t asked me to write about this, I probably wouldn’t have. It feels like low hanging fruit because it’s just makeup advertising and who cares. But this constant message that women are genuinely excited at the idea of getting to choose which color packet to use as some sort of idiotic contribution to a battle of good versus evil is corrosive.

Moreover, the constant reiteration of the idea that we are thrilled to paint our faces actually obscures the fact that we are essentially required to do so if we want to be taken seriously as professionals, potential partners or, really, valuable human beings. So, not only does this kind of message teach us not to take women seriously at all, it hides the very serious way in which we are actively forced to capitulate to the male gaze — every. damn. day. — and feed capitalism while we’re at it.

This ad isn’t asking us if we want to be on the dark side or the light side. It’s asking us if we want to wear makeup or wear makeup. It’s not a choice at all. But it sure does make subordination seem fun.

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.

Joan Jacob Brumberg’s fantastic book, Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa, is an excellent example of the benefits of sociologically-inspired history.  Brumberg begins by explaining that girls who starved themselves have been recorded in many historical epochs, but the way in which societies have made sense of that starvation has varied.

Today we medicalize self-starvation; we call it a mental illness and we name it “anorexia nervosa.”

In Medieval Europe, fasting girls were labeled with the term “anorexia mirabilis”; these girls were seen as miracles, able to survive on spiritual devotion alone. During the Victorian Era, people would pilgrimage to these fasting girls and leave offerings.  A famous fasting girl could be a financial boon to a struggling family.

Fasting Girl Mollie Fancher in 1887:

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During the nineteenth century, medical doctors and psychiatrists (who generally saw religion as a threat to their nascent authority) argued that the fasting girls were impossibilities, that no one could survive without food. The competition between medicine and religion became so intense that doctors became intent on proving that these fasting girls were not surviving on holiness, but were sneaking food. In several cases, doctors staked out fasting girls, watching her to make sure that she did not eat, and these girls, relentless in the illusion, sometimes died.

In any case, I thought of Brumberg’s book when I came across a story about Prahlad Jani, an Indian man who claims that he has not had any food or drink for 70 years, surviving on “spiritual life force” instead.

In 2003 and 2010, Jani’s claims were tested by physicians. In the latest round, Indian military scientists held him in a hospital, watching him to ensure he did not eat or drink.  Unlike the doctors in the Victorian era, however, who wanted the girls to fail, these doctors think Jani might hold a secret that will be useful for the military and they’re hoping that, by watching, they will be able to discover it.

They released him after 15 days. As they did in 2003, they said that his tests came back normal despite complete abstinence from food and water.

Originally posted in 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.

In 2010, Hasbro launched the fourth generation of the long lived My Little Pony© TV programs and toys.  What would happen in the next five years shocked not only Hasbro, but the world.  A new type of fan emerged: Bronies, originally dedicated men aged 16 to 25, but now both men and women from 14 to 35, primarily. Members of all branches of the military love My Little Pony, but there is a perception among them that Marines are the majority.

I’ve been analyzing social media and observing presentations on Military Bronies at Brony conventions in an attempt to understand how they experience and negotiate their fandom within the military.

You don’t have to go very far on the net to find them.  This is no trolling of middle aged men in the dark basements from the blackhole of the net. These are proud men and women in the service, coming together on pages like FOBEquestria.com or Military Bronies on Facebook (with over 10,000 members).

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They have created not only their own niche in the fandom, but their own art, music, and even military paraphernalia. Here’s an example of fan art by Sir-Croco:

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Interestingly, they have had an influence in the progression of the show. It is believed, for example, that the development of the show’s Wonderbolts Academy and characters was a response to military fans. The show’s creators acknowledge that they mirror the Navy and Air Force flight demonstration teams.  And a former US Navy fan became so “horse famous” (the act of gaining notoriety as a fan icon), that he has now joined the cast.

Military Bronies are quick to defend their love for My Little Pony and point out the positive lessons taught by the show. For instance, the US Army’s Values statement includes the following: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage, while the elements of Harmony in My Little Pony are Loyalty, Honesty, Generosity, Laughter, Kindness, and Magic. With a bit of creativity, one can easily see similarity between the two.

Because My Little Pony is made by Hasbro for young girls and features females as their “mane” characters, some consider it to be deviant for teen and adult men to like the show. As one Brony said, they’re sold on “the pink aisle!” Male Military Bronies at times suffer from the kind of stigma and bullying reserved for feminine men and, because they are also often assumed to be gay, homophobia. One Brony, for example, discussed how his platoon sergeant refuses to inspect his room because it is plastered with My Little Pony paraphernalia that the sergeant does not want to see or be near.

But it’s okay to be gay in the military now, at least policy wise. It may be that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” actually opened up space for Military Bronies. Before the repeal, love of My Little Pony might have been interpreted as a “tell” and punished accordingly, but today there can be no institutional response to soldiers’ sexual orientation, so stigmatization when it occurs seems to remain informal.

Male Military Bronies are a fascinating site of negotiations of masculinity in one of its strongest bastions. Along with their female counterparts they also represent an interesting new form of fan. I hope that my research will teach us a lot about how men negotiate gendered expectations and will check back in as my project develops.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Kevin W. Martin, MA is a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri, specializing in queer theory, identity, and deviance. You can follow him in Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter.

Flashback Friday.

Social and biological scientists agree that race and ethnicity are social constructions, not biological categories.  The US government, nonetheless, has an official position on what categories are “real.”  You can find them on the Census (source):

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These categories, however real they may seem, are actually the product of a long process. Over time, the official US racial categories have changed in response to politics, economics, conflict, and more. Here’s some highlights.

In the year of the first Census, 1790, the race question looked very different than it does today:

Free white males
Free white females
All other free persons (included Native Americans who paid taxes and free blacks)
And slaves

By 1870 slavery is illegal and the government was newly concerned with keeping track of two new kinds of people: “mulattos” (or people with both black and white ancestors) and Indians:

White
Black
Mulatto
Indian (Native Americans)

Between 1850 and 1870 6.5 million Europeans had immigrated and 60,000 Chinese.  Chinese and Japanese were added for the 1880 Census.

By 1890, the U.S. government with obsessed with race-mixing.  The race question looked like this:

White
Black (3/4th or more “black blood”)
Mulatto (3/8th to 5/8th “black blood”)
Quadroons (1/4th “black blood”)
Octoroons (1/8th or any trace of “black blood”)
Indian
Chinese
Japanese

This year was the only year to include such fine-tuned mixed-race categories, however, because it turned out it wasn’t easy to figure out how to categorize people.

In the next 50 years, the government added and deleted racial categories. There were 10 in 1930 (including “Mexican” and “Hindu”) and 11 in 1940 (introducing “Hawaiian” and “Part Hawaiian”).  In 1970, they added the “origin of descent” question that we still see today.  So people are first asked whether they are “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish” and then asked to choose a race.

You might immediately think, “But what do these words even mean?”  And you’d be right to ask.  “Spanish” refers to Spain; “Latino” refers to Latin America; and “Hispanic” is a totally made up word that was originally designed to mean “people who speak Spanish.”

Part of the reason we have the “Hispanic” ethnicity question is because Mexican Americans fought for it.  They thought it would be advantageous to be categorized as “white” and, so, they fought for an ethnicity category instead of a racial one.

Funny story:  The US once included “South American” as a category in the “origin of descent” question.  That year, over a million residents southern U.S. states, like Alabama and Mississippi checked that box.

2000 was the first year that respondents were allowed to choose more than one race. They considered a couple other changes for that year, but decided against them. Native Hawaiians had been agitating to be considered Native Americans in order to get access to the rights and resources that the US government has promised Native Americans on the mainland. The government considered it for 2000, but decided “no.” And whether or not Arab American should be considered a unique race or an ethnicity was also discussed for that year. They decided to continue to instruct such individuals to choose “white.”

The changing categories in the Census show us that racial and ethnic categories are political categories. They are chosen by government officials who are responding not to biological realities, but to immigration, war, prejudice, and social movements.

This post originally appeared in 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.