Source: Media Education Foundation

After the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, many people have asked, “how do we prevent this from happening again?” We have heard propositions for increased gun control and for better mental health care in the United States. These are both important goals, but neither of these policy initiatives completely addresses the problems around the cultural construction of violent masculinity, problems which are central to understanding mass shootings in the United States.

Two weeks before the Newtown tragedy, my sociology of gender class watched the Media Education Foundation film, Tough Guise. At the time, I did not realize that I was arming them with a framework through which to understand a very current event. After the events in Newtown, students started emailing me and referencing this film, reminding me how important it is to talk about the violence that characterizes masculinity in the United States.

In the film, the narrator, Jackson Katz, explains the link between masculinity and violence, positing that as women gain more power in public and social spheres, men’s bodies and their guns get bigger and more dangerous. Boys and men need to prove their masculinity, policing themselves and others with homophobic epithets (an observation also made by C.J. Pascoe in Dude, You’re a Fag) and through violence (or at least the threat of violence). Katz reminds us that the school shootings in the 90s were not gender or race neutral; the perpetrators are mostly white young men. If we want to prevent mass shootings, we need to start addressing the violence that seems to be central to the cultural construction of masculinity and, in particular, white masculinity.

How do we do this? The idea of changing a cultural construction does not easily lend itself to clear policy initiatives. Katz suggests that we need better role models that allow more room for emotional expression and disavow violent tendencies. In particular, he points to Mohammad Ali and Mark McGuire, sports figures that are strong and tough, but also are sensitive and caring. In the year 2012, who would fill the public role of this alternative model of masculinity?

I would like to open up a dialogue about how to go about transforming our notions and definitions of masculinity. In addition to having better role models, what else can be done? Are there policy initiatives that can help redefine what it means to be a man? What can parents do to raise boys who refrain from violence? What should be the role of schools? And, though I am not an advocate of censorship, should the media be held to higher standards when it comes to marketing and displaying violence targeted at young men?

Changing a cultural idea is a hard task, but one that we should be committed to undertaking. Now is the time to address the tough issues and questions that do not have easy answers.


Suggested readings:

Katz, Jackson and Sut Jhally. 1999. “The National Conversation in the Wake of Littleton is Missing the MarkThe Boston Globe, Focus Section, E1.

Waldron, Linda M. 2009. “Cultural Approaches to Understanding School Violence.” Sociology Compass 3(4): 595-619.


Crime is a global phenomenon. From the most highly developed states to the least developed ones, crime represents a significant threat to social well-being. And because of its ubiquity, unsavoriness, and harmful qualities, criminal activity has the distinction of being a social event that is often blamed on the individuals who live on the fringes of a society. For immigrants, this tendency to place the blame of crime on the less well-off members of a society is particularly dangerous since they often find themselves occupying some of the lowest rungs on a nation’s social ladder. Unsurprisingly, the consequences of criminal allegations against immigrants are likely to be severe; such allegations are also likely to reinforce the strong and enduring belief found in many countries that immigrants bring with them high criminal propensities (Citrin and Sides 2008; Ousey and Kubrin 2009). more...

File:Classroom.JPGThere can be little doubt that schools across the nation have experience notable budget cuts since the recent economic fallout. Without protection from larger economic trails, educational systems have had to manage substantial budget cuts and reductions in available resources. Across different media platforms, new articles are peppered with headlines concerning the myriad of challenges schools are now facing. Despite financial tightening and limited avenues for support, it is clear that school performance has not escaped popular attention. With initiatives like “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top”, schools must meet higher expectations within a highly competitive atmosphere – although some schools hit harder than others by adverse economic conditions. more...

Source: Wikimedia

In the past month, I have posted about the feminization of the Gardasil, the vaccine that prevents 70% of Human Papillomavirus (HPV)-related cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. I started with the historical development and approval of the vaccine and continued with an examination of the research guiding girls-only vaccination strategies. In this post, I will conclude my discussion of Gardasil with some observations about the marketing and advertising of the vaccine, the continued focus on girls and women (despite approval for boys and men), and the messages aimed at women through these advertisements.

A number of researchers suggest that the marketing and advertising of Gardasil has been aimed at girls and women. The “One Less” campaign from the makers of Gardasil originally asked parents (well, really mothers) to help their daughters protect themselves against cervical cancer; their daughters would be “one less” to be affected by this disease. The makers of Gardasil now reach out the parents of sons, too, telling them they can help prevent HPV diseases in their sons. Still, scholars suggest that the marketing of Gardasil remains mostly targeted at girls and women. My own google image search confirms these findings. Of the first twenty one photos that appear using the search terms, “gardasil ads,” only two include or reference boys and men.

What I found most interesting about my own google image search was not the lack of advertising for boys and men. Clearly, the makers of Gardasil believe that girls and women are their target demographic and thus aim their advertising accordingly. Instead, I think the strategies and messages in the advertising aimed at girls and women are the more interesting observation.

There were two different types of ads that appeared in my search. The first type of ad focused around the protection of young girls. The makers of Gardasil imply that being a good parent means vaccinating your daughter and therefore protecting her from cervical cancer (an observation also made by Sociological Images). For example, one advertisement read, “How do you help your daughter become one less life affected by cervical cancer?” Another advertisement had a similar sentiment, stating “Your daughter can’t possibly know the importance of the cervical cancer vaccine, but thankfully, she has her mother.” This narrative of protectionism is not surprising. In other contexts, like sex education debates, the discourse about adolescent sexuality, and in particular, girls’ sexuality, reveals a desire to protect their “innocence.”

The other type of ad moves away from the narrative of protectionism and focuses on empowerment and choice. One ad stated, “I chose to get vaccinated after my doctor to me the facts” (emphasis in original). Another ad read, “I chose to get vaccinated because my dreams don’t include cervical cancer.” Instead of focusing on the ways in which girls and women can be protected, the ads suggest that girls and women need to protect themselves. It seems like the advertising department at Merck (the makers of Gardasil) recognize that they needed another strategy if they wanted to appeal to young women who feel empowered about their sex lives.

These two strategies are opposed to one another. One strategy suggests that girls and women need to be protected, while the other strategy relies on the ability of girls and women to be active and educated decision makers. Merck is tapping into two gendered narratives in order to sell to as many people as possible. This is, of course, the way that advertising works. But it does reveal the different, and sometimes contradictory, cultural ideas about women’s sexuality, ideas that advertisers will draw on in order to make a profit.

Suggested Readings:

Habel, Melissa A., Nicole Liddon, and Jo E. Stryker. 2009. “The HPV Vaccine: A Content Analysis of Online News Stories.” Journal of Women’s Health 18(3): 401-407.

Lorber, Judith. 1997. Gender and the Social Construction of Illness. Thousand Oaks: Sage.



Source: iStockphoto

There appears to be a link between neoliberalism, individualism, and violence. In reference to the association between neoliberalism and individualism, consider neoliberalism’s insistence that we do not need society since we are all solely responsible for our personal well-being (Peters 2001; Brown 2003). From a criminological standpoint, it is not hard to understand how this focus on the individual can lead to violence. According to Hirschi’s (1969) social control theory, for instance, broken or weak social bonds free a person to engage in deviancy. Since, according to this theory, individuals are naturally self-interested, they can use the opportunity of individualization to overcome the restraining powers of society. Bearing in mind neoliberalism’s tendency to value the individual over society, it could be argued that this ideology is hazardous as it acts to tear apart important social bonds and to thereby contribute to the occurrence of ego-driven crimes, including violent interpersonal crimes. Such a thought suggests that as neoliberalism becomes more prominent in a country, it can be expected that individualism and, as a result, interpersonal violence within that country will increase. more...