The presidential debates have raised some interesting and important questions about gender inequality in the U.S. Specifically, the second debate (transcript) brought up the issue of fair pay and equal wages for American women. While Governor Romney’s response—which involved “binders full of women”—rightfully took a lot of heat, both candidates could have benefitted from a brief lesson in the sociology of gender discrimination. Perhaps their aides will pass this on.Gov. Romney’s answer focused on increasing women’s participation in the workforce by creating flexible jobs to account for women’s household responsibilities. President Obama positioned women’s labor as a family issue too, but added that we also need to address educational opportunities. I’d like to start with the issue of education, and then address the question of work-family balance.

Education is a key factor for increasing one’s income and class position. But, education doesn’t pay out equitably for everyone. Women’s low representation in high paying jobs is not necessarily a result of their low representation in higher education. In fact, there has been much uproar in the past five or more years about a crisis in boys’ education—some even insist that society has declared a kind of “war on boys”—but there just is no evidence to support this notion. Although women are earning slightly more college degrees than men, men are suffering very few consequences. In fact, women must advance their educational attainment significantly in order to earn equal pay—for example, on average, men with a BA will earn about the same as a woman with a PhD (see some very revealing charts here). And the gap in earnings is made worse when we consider women’s struggles in particularly high paying fields like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM fields). Increasing women’s presence in these fields could make a serious dent in the gender wage gap because these jobs are among the highest paying, and they have some of the lowest occupational wage gaps of any career (see Gwen Sharp’s analysis here). And yet, even as women pursue advanced degrees in these fields, they remain much less likely than men to get these jobs. Yes, women face barriers in education, especially in STEM fields (a lack of role models and mentors, for example), and these need to be addressed. But women’s equality and equal pay depend on much more than increasing their access to higher education.

If it isn’t about education, then what else contributes to women’s unequal earnings? In fact, a big part of the problem are precisely what Gov. Romney wants to encourage—the burden of women’s household and childcare responsibilities. The normative expectation that women be the primary caretakers of children and elderly or sick family members contributes significantly to women’s workplace discrimination. In his answer, President Obama mentioned the sociological phenomenon known as the “glass ceiling”—an invisible barrier that prevents women from advancing past a certain rank, regardless of training or education. But what kinds of things contribute to the glass ceiling? At least in part, stereotypes about women’s parental and household duties and desires. Oftentimes, employers blame women’s career stagnation on women’s “choices”: choosing to have kids; choosing not to work overtime, weekends or holidays; choosing not to relocate for promotions. But these are not necessarily choices; they are the result of demands made on women by the conventional heterosexual family structure.

If women are children’s primary caretakers, then it is women who must pick them up from school, stay home when they are sick, and be available for parent-teacher conferences. While Gov. Romney wants to ensure women’s flexible work schedules so they are free to make dinner, this is precisely the kind of discourse that produces the glass ceiling. Employers want unencumbered workers (read: men), not workers who need to get home to cook. Men are unencumbered workers because they have wives who will pick up this second shift. This is a contributing factor in the wage gap between mothers and childless women; childless women remain unencumbered, at least in the eyes of employers.

Families with children are forced to make difficult decisions about childcare. With rising childcare costs, the obvious financial choice is often for women to stay home. If their jobs pay less, then families lose less if women quit working. Yet again, this “choice” reflects women’s structural disadvantage.

While it seems to me that President Obama’s plans tend to be better for both women and their families, I think both candidates need to be better informed on the complex factors that produce workplace inequality. I’ve managed to list just a few, but there are many more. And I’ve only described the generic, predominantly white, middle-class woman’s experience and haven’t even touched on the impact of race/ethnicity, class, and sexuality discrimination that complicate the picture exponentially. I hope that women’s interests are reflected in the policies of the next four years.


Further Reading

Oliker, Stacey. 2011. Sociology and Studies of Gender, Caregiving, and Inequality. Sociology Compass 5(11): 968-983.

Wharton, Amy S. 2012. Work and Family in the 21st Century: Four Research Domains. Sociology Compass 6(3): 219-235.

Source: Wikimedia

This week, the journal, Pediatrics, published an article on the relationship between rates of sexual activity-related outcomes and the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination. Specifically, the researchers set out to determine if HPV vaccination leads to increased sexual activity in young girls. Since the vaccine’s inception, some parents, medical officials, religious organizations and others have suggested that giving girls this protection from HPV will promote them to engage in sexual activity; the vaccination is essentially an endorsement for sex in the teenage years. This study puts some of those fears to rest: the injection of the vaccine is not associated with significantly elevated rates of sexual activity-related outcomes in young girls, specifically pregnancy, contraceptive counseling, and sexually transmitted infection testing and diagnosis.

This is great news. This study has the potential to calm the nerves of parents and other individuals invested in preventing adolescent sexual desire and activity, alleviating any anxieties that might prevent girls from getting this preventative medicine. The benefits to the HPV vaccinations are obvious. The vaccine, Cervarix, protects against HPV types 16 and 18, which cause cervical cancer. The other vaccine, Gardasil, immunizes against types 16 and 18, as well as types 6 and 11, which cause cervical warts. These medical advancements stand to have a real and positive impact on women’s health.

While Cervarix is approved for use only in women, Gardasil is approved for use in both men and women. Despite the approval of Gardasil for both genders, some researchers have noted the persistent association of the HPV vaccination with women (see suggested reading below). At least part of this association emerges from the history of the development and government approval of the vaccination. In 2006, after years of pharmaceutical research and development, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Gardasil. Soon after, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) made a formal recommendation that this vaccine should be given to girls, age 13-18. The agency reasoned that this age group could be protected from HPV before they even became sexually active. The benefits to women’s sexual and reproductive health were obvious and so the CDC thought the vaccine important enough to make a strong recommendation—it should be part of a girl’s vaccination schedule.

Yet, Merck, the pharmaceutical company behind Gardasil, had another population in mind: men. Perhaps motivated by profits, Merck began clinical trials of Gardasil in the male population, and by 2009, the FDA was satisfied that the vaccine was safe for men, too. Yet, the CDC wasn’t convinced that this vaccine was as necessary for boys, age 13-18, as it was for girls. And so, the CDC decided that the vaccine may be given to boys, rather than recommending that it should be part of a normal male vaccination schedule. The CDC reasoned that the vaccination of girls and women would be enough; over time, the virus would be eliminated from the population, as vaccinated women would prevent the transmission from one sexual partner to another. The CDC’s decision was backed by medical research, which showed that the costs of vaccinating boys far outweighed the benefits to the entire population. Vaccinating both boys and girls would not only be redundant, but would also drive health care costs up, a particularly undesirable outcome given the falling economic climate and the troubled state of health care in the U.S.

In 2011, the CDC added Gardasil to the normal vaccination schedule for boys, thereby making the requirements equal for both genders. Still, as the research published by Pediatrics reveals, it is not boys’ bodies and sexualities that are at the heart of the concerns over the vaccine. The association of this vaccine to girls and women persists. In my next post, I will consider some of the gendered issues and assumptions that maintain this link. In the meantime, I suggest reading this Sociology Compass article by Sarah E.H. Moore.

Another suggested reading:

Defenbaugh, Nicole and Kimberly N. Kline. 2012. “Gendered Construction of HPV: A Post-Structuralist Critique of Gardasil.” In Challenging Images of Women in the Media: Reinventing Women’s Lives, edited by Theresa Carilli and Jane Campbell, pages 65-76. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.

Source: Royalty-Free/Corbis

In the U.S., whites are the dominant ethno-racial group. Interestingly, however, Doane (1997) and Nayak (2007) point out that this group has often been ignored in the race and ethnicity literature. As a result, Doane argues that the study of the dominant ethnic group in the United States has been underdeveloped, the ethnic hierarchy has not been adequately researched, the strategic use of the dominant role has lacked attention, and the evolution of this group has not been fully examined. As the group which has the most power to create, to maintain, and to influence the economic, political, and institutional structures, it is surprising that whites have tended to be overlooked when it comes to race and ethnicity. Yet, despite not receiving sufficient scholarly consideration, it is clear that this group has had their ethno-racial identities constructed over the years. That is, an examination of the ethno-racial identity formation process of white Americans helps to illustrate the significance of causal influences, the positive and negative consequences of this identity, and the contemporary importance of their ethno-racial identity. more...

I found the following quote from one of Obama’s speeches on his campaign website:

“We are greater together than we are on our own. I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules.”

After reading this quote, I wondered if the discourse of “a fair shot” is a useful way to put forth a political agenda.  On one hand, this is a standard political line designed to offend no one.  After all, virtually no one is against a fair shot.  Voters can also read this as support for whatever definition of fairness they adhere to and apply it to any topic they desire.  On the other hand, the malleability of such statements leaves the public without much concrete information about a politician’s positions or their values.  Beyond vagueness, however, I find the framework often reduces our understanding of opportunity to possibility rather than likelihood. more...

There is something curious happening this election season, and it has nothing to do with 47% or Obamacare. Voters in three states – Washington, Oregon, and Colorado – will be casting ballots on whether or not to legalize cannabis. Whether or not these measures ultimately pass, they amount to the most direct challenge to the legitimacy of US drug policy since the War on Drugs began over 40 years ago. Of particular interest here are the similarities between the proposed measures and the varying degrees of their success thus far.

These are not the first ballot measures to legalize cannabis; that honor goes California’s Proposition 19, which failed in 2010. This time, however, the measures are currently poised to pass in 2 of the 3 states (though election day is still a few weeks away). They represent concerted and collective effort by activists, and have much in common. But it is the way in which they are framed and promoted that matter the most this election season.


Sexual harassment, assault, and rape are topics that are very difficult to discuss.  American society has taken strides to develop programs, protocols, and legal actions to help victims of these heinous crimes. Despite these efforts, there are still environments where women and men experience this act of violence at disproportionately high rates. In the newly released documentary, The Invisible War, we are exposed to the high incidence of rape in the United States military.

The documentary opens up with a caption that reads: “All statistics are taken from government studies.” The main subjects of the film are a group of individuals who were victims; all were raped while serving in the military. The film makes a remarkable contribution by pinpointing the loopholes in the military’s prosecution system, while making viewers aware of how serious rape in the military is, and how thousands have been able to get away with committing this crime.

According to government statistics, there was a reported 2,039 rape allegations during 2009 and 2010.  This number is not representative of the total cases: There could be hundreds, or even thousands more women and men who did not report incidents. Of those 2,039 rape allegations only 147 resulted in rape or serious sexual assault convictions.

So what happened to the 1892 other allegations? Please refer to the breakdown taken from the documentaries’ website,



When I saw these statistics, I couldn’t believe the number of cases that get dismissed or funneled into different types of actions.

Other than providing statistical evidence of rape in the military, the film comments on power and masculinity in American society.  According to one of the victims, Kori Cioca, she was the only woman among a group of 8 men while serving in the Coast Guard. In a recent interview on national television, Cicoca said that she thinks her supervising officer raped her for “power,” claiming “he hated her and spit on her multiple times.” After Cioca was raped, she reported the incident to a superior, but nothing happened to her perpetrator. According to rape victims, they are often kicked out of the military, while the offender continues to serve with no consequences against their actions.

In all, the film gives awareness to the issue of rape in the military. I highly recommend the film, and feel it is ideal for any course focusing on gender in society.

Suggested Readings:

Lieberman, Rachel. 2011. “Lara Logan, agenda-setting, and the politics of sexual assault coverage in mainstream media. Sociology Lens.

Nuciari, Marina. 2006. “Women in the Military Sociological Arguments for Integration.” in Handbook of the Sociology of the Military. Eds. Giuseppe Caforio. Pp.279-299.

Riley, Robin. 2008. “Women and War: Militirism, Bodies, and Practice of Gender.” Sociology Compass. 2(4): 1192-1208.

Sadler, Anne, et al. 2003. “Factors Associated With Women’s Risk of Rape in the Military Environment.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 43:262-273.


Source: WikiCommons
NYC Mayor Bloomberg
Source: WikiCommons

New York City is a city characterized by its diversity and multiculturalism. Some of the U.S.’s largest populations of racial and ethnic minorities live within the city limits. And yet, in many ways, NYC continues to drop the ball when it comes to truly integrating its diverse population. A recent example illustrates this problem.

The NAACP recently filed a federal civil rights complaint, stating that the city’s elite public schools, like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, have accepted far too few black and Latino/a students (at Stuyvesant, for example, only about 1% of students are black, and just about 2.5% are Latino/a) and that the entrance test required for acceptance is not a reliable measure of success. Students might have gotten straight As every year, have recommendations from teachers, or demonstrated excellence in extracurricular activities, but none of this is considered; only the test score matters. The NAACP would prefer that multiple measures be used to determine entrance to these schools. And what was Mayor Bloomberg’s response to the complaint of this highly respected civil rights group? “Life isn’t always fair.”

According to our Mayor, it is not the city’s responsibility or concern if some students have access to expensive tutoring and enrichment activities that will inevitably improve their entrance exam scores. For Mayor Bloomberg, the concern is whether the test is objective or not, not whether students from various racial/ethnic backgrounds are able to succeed on it. And by his account, the test is objective—“You pass the test, you get the highest score, you get into the school, no matter what your ethnicity, no matter what your economic background is. That’s been the tradition in these schools since they were founded and it’s going to continue to be” (NY Daily News). Mayor Bloomberg fails to see how your race, ethnicity, and economic background might work against you getting the highest score.Mayor Bloomberg’s “life isn’t fair” response is not only insensitive, but also sociologically uninformed. There are many reasons to question whether a single entrance exam can accurately demonstrate a student’s ability. Especially when that student is a racial minority, who very likely comes from a low-income background and may have attended a poorly funded school. Though Mayor Bloomberg claims to care about equality of opportunity (as opposed to equality of outcomes), his recent stance represents a fundamental lack of understanding about racial discrimination and poverty, and about how these might undermine the seemingly “equal opportunity” exam.

Here are some of the things we know about the experiences of many black and Latino/a students in our country: they are disproportionately from low income backgrounds, and much more likely to live in segregated neighborhoods; they are much more likely to attend predominantly minority schools, schools that have large poor populations, schools that are much more likely to be underfunded; they are more likely to attend large schools, with large classes, low quality materials and buildings, and less qualified teachers; they are less likely to have personal computers or internet access at home; their parents are less likely to be able to provide tutoring services and other enrichment activities. Moreover, they are more likely to be affected by hunger and poor health. For them, Mayor Bloomberg is right—life really isn’t fair. And not only is it unfair, it is unjust.

I hope that the NAACP and its co-council pursue this case to the fullest. I hope that the criteria for admission to these schools expands to include better measures of success, measures that might be more sensitive to the issues facing underprivileged students. But this case is just a small step, and won’t change the many things I’ve listed above. Problems of segregation and racial discrimination are so complex, owing to their long history and deep entrenchment in our society. The real question is how to secure justice for the growing population of poor and minority students across the country.

Additional Readings

Adelman, Robert M. and James Clarke Gocker. 2007. Racial Residential Segregation in Urban America. Sociology Compass 1(1): 404-423

ERASE Racism. A Tale of Two Schools: Race and Education on Long Island. (documentary)

Source: Talking Points Memo

In his 2011 article New Media, Web 2.0 and Surveillance Christian Fuchs argues that our life on the Internet, specifically as embodied in the practices and ideology of Web 2.0, is being expropriated as a “form of personal mass dataveillance.”[1] For Fuchs, social networking sites, such as Facebook, are prime sites to explore this shift. The ‘dataveillance’ of these digital social spaces present us with a complex matrix of motivations, communication logics, and economic interests – represented in individual users and ‘social’ platforms themselves. Driven by notions of ‘friends’, Fuchs sees Facebook as a Foucaultian “panoptic sorting machine.”[2] Of particular interest to him is the notion of economic surveillance; in other words, the ways in which everyday practices of our web lives are being captured as information capital. But what sort or notion of autonomy sits at the heart of this critique? The lingering question is: Are we condemned to social lives of digital exploitation?


Source: Bleacher Report, APPhoto/Mike Romer.

Bad calls leads NFL league and NFLRA to reach an agreement: On Thursday September 27, 2012 the National Football League (NFL) and fans welcomed official referees back to the field with cheers and chants.  If for some reason you didn’t hear that NFL referees were on strike,  you arer either not a football fan, or missed sports fans complaining about “bad calls” this past week. I for one am not a die-hard football fan, but it has been impossible to escape the controversy around NFL referee strike and how it’s impacting the league. Thursday morning media channels announced that the strike was finally over; as one reporter wrote: “It’s time to welcome Ed Hochuli (NFL referee) and the rest of the NFL officials back into your life! More importantly, it’s time to say farewell to the replacement refs.”

For the last week, sport commentators and fans were more preoccupied with concerns over replacement refs than on the labor dispute that caused the NFL referees to go on strike in the first place. Their comments intensified after a Monday night game, when the Green Bay Packers lost due to a controversial last minute touchdown by the Seattle Seahawks. After the ball was caught (in what seemed to be a tricky catch) one referee signaled touchdown, while the other motioned an opposite interpretation. Sports fans went crazy and prompted media reports that focused almost exclusively on the “bad calls” by replacement referees. NFL fans and players alike soon took to social networking to express their frustration with the refs.



In a recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, a group of scholars reported on the continued gender discrimination in the hard sciences. The researchers asked 127 male and female professors in biology, chemistry, and physics to rate male and female job candidates for a position in their labs. The portfolios of the candidates were exactly the same, but half used the name, “Jennifer,” and the other half, “John.” The professors rated the male candidates as more competent and hireable; they also decided on higher starting salaries for the men.

The findings from this study are disturbing, but not so surprising. Decades of research documents higher salaries and more job opportunities for men in most careers and professions. What surprised me most about this study was that, in addition to rating male candidates as more competent and hireable, the professors reported that they would be less willing to mentor the female candidates. Since mentoring often goes hand in hand with job opportunities, achievements, and salaries, perhaps I should not be so shocked. Still, this finding from the study sits uneasily with me.

As a graduate student, I know the importance of a good mentor (fortunately, I have benefited from great mentoring at every step of my graduate and undergraduate career). In her Sociology Compass article, Feminist Mentoring and Female Graduate Student Success: Challenging Gender Inequality in Higher Education, Priya Dua explains the many benefits of good mentoring, especially for women: female students with mentors are more likely to be involved in professional activities and are more productive than those without mentors; the status of female student mentees increases with the encouragement of faculty mentors; female students learn how to balance the expectations of academia and other aspects of life (including family responsibilities) when they have a supportive role model. These are all great reasons why the mentor/mentee relationship between faculty member and student is so important.