Videos for Class

A couple of months back I shared directions for a project that gave students the opportunity to create a video, website, or anything really that raised awareness of bullying & homophobia in their community (You can read it here).

I am delighted to tell you that the projects were a smashing success. Not very many of my ~200 students took the option, but the few that did delivered outstanding results. One of the best student submissions came from my student Sarah Farmer (who graciously gave me permission to share her project and name with you here).

Sarah interviewed people in her community who were touched by violence and homophobia. One of the films most shocking moments is the discussion with Adam, who lost his front teeth after a racially tinged assault. But the films most poignant moment was when we meet John a gay man who discusses the pain of his family’s reaction to his coming out, conversion therapy, and ultimately being given up for adoption by his parents because of his sexuality.

When I showed this film in class everyone was blown away. I am so proud of Sarah’s work and so honored that the men and women in the film were willing to share their experiences. I feel that films and projects like this can transform a sociology class into a platform for opening channels for dialogue and creating social change.

It’s 7:45am. Driving to campus. I’m listening to the radio and my two year old daughter. Male voice streams into consciousness, “If she ____ing tries to leave again, I’m going to tie her to the bed and set the house on fire.” What? What did the radio just say? Female voice follows, “just going to stand there and watch me burn, thats okay because I like the way it hurts.” These are the lyrics to the number seven song on iTunes- Love The Way You Lie by Eminem Featuring Rihanna. It was the number one song in the United States from July 31st to September 4th. I shut off the radio and start signing Row Row Row Your Boat with my daughter.

I am certainly not the first to say that music and other cultural symbols prescribe gender roles and contribute to or justify, rationalize, or normalize misogyny/patriarchy. So if this isn’t breaking news in your world, I understand. However, I have a clever way of teaching this to students. Have your students deconstruct the gendered messages in the top ten best selling songs on iTunes for that day. Students love this activity because it is current, relevant to their lives, and they typically have a better understanding of pop culture than I do. The best part of this activity is that unless something dramatically changes in pop music, you can rest assured that there always will be explicit gendered messages regardless of when you do it. I have done this for years and the songs/lyrics have never let me down… or they’ve always let me down, so to speak.

To start the activity I typically play the songs as students are coming into the classroom. When class starts I pass out a packet of all the songs lyrics and ask my students to, “think like a conflict theorist”. “Listen to these songs, look at their lyrics, and tell me how they portray women/femininity and men/masculinity.” I typically have the entire class work together to breakdown the first song and then let them work together on the rest.

Don’t do all the work. You’re sure to miss some things anyway.

Try as I might, I will certainly miss one aspect of a song that reinforces stereotypical gender roles. It is also a given, that I won’t get some innuendo or some pop culture reference. The beauty of this activity is that you empower your students to do the deconstruction work. They are certain to see something you didn’t and expose even more gendered messages. Students love that they are able to “do sociology” in a way that even their teacher can’t. I find it’s best to start the ball rolling and get out of their way.

Don’t be a fuddy duddy.

You should be careful when you do this activity with your students. If presented poorly they will think you are just a stereotypical older person who is out of touch with their reality (maybe there is an activity on ageism here). I find the best way of doing this activity is to provide them with the sociological tools and let them provide the critique. If your students think the take home message is “kids these days” or that people who like this music are bad people you will create a barrier and push your students away. If you let them do it themselves they will almost certainly make the same critiques you would make and you can strengthen the connection you have with each of them.

Analysis of this week’s top ten:

I wanted to provide you with a quick analysis of the top ten songs on iTunes as of Friday Sep. 10, 2010 to give you an example of what you could do in your classes. Below are the aspects of this weeks top ten that I would be sure to bring up in class. This is by no means an exhaustive list. I am sure that you and your students will find far more examples of gendered messages.

Love The Way You Lie by Eminem and Rihanna

I would dedicate the most time discussing this Eminem song because it is by far the most explicit in it’s gender stereotyping. The song tells the story of an abusive seemingly codependent relationship that graphically describes scenes of domestic violence. Be sure to watch the music video as it is highly graphic and surely controversial. Here is the video (apologies for the forced commercial):

Note: This video is extremely disturbing and will undoubtedly offend or upset some students. You should preface any public viewing with a warning to your students. I have seen this video on MTV at 8am in the morning, but we must be aware that for some of our students this isn’t just a video. This may be a scene they have lived.

Now you’re getting f___ing sick

Of looking at ’em

You swore you’ve never hit ’em

Never do nothing to hurt ’em

Now you’re in each other’s face

Spewing venom

And these words

When you spit ’em

You push pull each other’s hair

Scratch, claw, bit ’em

Throw ’em down

Pin ’em

So lost in the moments

When you’re in ’em

It’s the rage that took over

It controls you both

The video clearly sexualizes domestic violence. Pleasure and violence were presented as though they are inextricably linked. Most disturbing is the a part of the video that seemed to depict a rape scene. See the still image below:

I imagine my class would be divided on whether or not the song was sympathetic or not toward men who commit domestic battery. One interpretation of the song could be as a long apology to a victimized partner, while others may see the song as a half hearted apology given that Eminem frequently follows his apologies with lyrics describing further abuse. The quote below is by far the most damning evidence to the latter:

Next time I’m pissed

I’ll aim my fist

At the dry wall

Next time

There will be no next time

I apologize

Even though I know it’s lies

I’m tired of the games

I just want her back

I know I’m a liar

If she ever tries to f___ing leave again

I’mma tie her to the bed

And set the house on fire

Rihanna’s chorus where she says she, “likes the way it hurts” and, “loves the way you lie” is controversial to say the least. She is perpetuating the submissive woman archetype and presents the female figure in the song as complicit to the domestic abuse. I would be sure to ask my students to imagine that they are an abusive partner. How would they hear these lyrics? Would it justify their violent behavior or assuage any guilty feelings they have? I would also ask what a pre-teen heterosexual girl would think about these messages?

An interesting sub-plot to this song is that Rihanna is herself a survivor of partner violence. Famously, R&B singer Chris Brown beat and strangled Rihanna. I would share this with your class, who will probably be already aware of the incident, and ask them how this changes their impression of the song. I would also come prepared with some statistics on partner abuse to give the problem scope.

Now for the rest of the songs:

Conflicting Messages:

Be prepared that your students will find messages that seem on the surface to be pro-women or anti-gender binary. For instance look at the #1 song on iTunes Just The Way You Are by Bruno Mars. The song is all about how wonderful and beautiful the singers partner is. But if you read just below the surface it’s plain to see that the song 1) focuses on the aesthetic aspects of the partner and 2) perpetuates the stereotype that women always hate the way they look and rely on their partners to define their value. Here is a sample of the lyrics:

Oh her eyes, her eyes
Make the stars look like they’re not shining
Her hair, her hair
Falls perfectly without her trying
She’s so beautiful
And I tell her every day

Yeah I know, I know
When I compliment her
She wont believe me
And its so, its so
Sad to think she don’t see what I see

But every time she asks me do I look okay I say

When I see your face
There’s not a thing that I would change
Cause you’re amazing
Just the way you are
And when you smile,
The whole world stops and stares for awhile
Cause girl you’re amazing
Just the way you are

Women are not complete without a man

Listening to Teenage Dream by Katy Perry we hear the familiar romance theme of a woman being incomplete until she finds herself a man.

Before you met me
I was a wreck
But things were kinda heavy
You brought me to life

I finally found you
My missing puzzle piece
I’m complete

Some Other Overarching Messages:

  • Heterosexuality rules the day. None of the songs mentioned the LGTBQ community at all.
  • Both men and women spend a lot of time, “in the club”.
  • Almost half the songs spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the male gaze.
  • Men enjoy cheating on their partners. See this line from –I Like It by Enrique Iglesias featureing Pit Bull:

    “Tiger Woods times Jesse James equals Pit Bull all night long”


Messages about women:

Women as sex objects

I’ma get your heart racing/
In my skin-tight jeans/
Be your teenage dream tonight/
Let you put your hands on me/
In my skin-tight jeans/
Be your teenage dream tonight/

Female empowerment is gained through being sexual.
Women are obsessed with their appearance and their value as a human being is directly associated with their physical appearance.–>

Discussing economic inequality can be tough for a couple of reasons. First its depressing. Second it’s hard to express with words/statistics. I created a couple of slides and a video to teach economic inequality visually. My students actually laughed out loud at the video. This is still a work in progress, but I wanted to share with you what I have at the moment. Enjoy.

If you like this, check out the website that inspired me

Here is the YouTube video:

Here are the slides

Download Slides

Teaching sociology students to see beyond the individual and toward the social is challenging, but crucial. For the last few semesters I have started this conversation by talking about the economy. I have my students come up with a list of qualities we assume a person has if they are unemployed. “Lazy!”, one student chimes out. “They want to live off of the system,” another says. “It’s their fault,” another student inevitably says. Every class is a little different, but the list of personal qualities almost always paints the unemployed as lazy individuals who either made bad choices (e.g. failing a drug test) or were not good workers (e.g. habitually being late to work).

This week I showed my classes this map of unemployment in the United States from January 2007 to May of this year:

As the map becomes consumed with the dark shade of unemployment I ask them, “Is laziness contagious? Is making bad choices or being a lousy employee contagious?” After a few chuckles from the students I say, “Of course not, so something bigger than the individual is happening. Something social is occurring that individuals can’t escape.” I then ask the class to break up into small groups and answer this question, “How have you or a loved one been affected by the downturn in the economy?”

This question is a sociological question. For students to answer it they have to think about how their individual lives have been affected by social conditions. When students start sharing some of the hurts that they have experienced in this economy it helps the entire class break free of a solely individualistic world view. It also lays the ground work for creating a classroom environment where sharing how you have been affected by society is acceptable. I have yet to have a student be anything but supportive for their fellow classmates.

How do White parents and Parents of Color teach their children about race? This is the primary question I ask my students for one week during my Race & Nationality courses. To help answer this I have the students read a chapter called “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race” out of the “pop sociology”* book NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.

According to Bronson and Merryman’s Nurtureshock White parents don’t talk to their children about racism, but rather believe that children are naturally colorblind. Many of the studies done on how White parents talk to their children have found that White parents believe that talking to their kids about racism would actually make them racist. After reading all of the studies in the chapter that showed that White children, like all children, were able to identify physical differences in others and they believed that those who looked most like them were inherently better than those who did not. This is a great opportunity to talk about essentialism and ask if some adults still believe in essentialism. Some of my students took this to mean that racism is natural and subsequently okay. However, I try to draw a parallel between how children naturally do not want to share, but rather they have to be taught to share. We talk about how being selfish is shortsighted and anti-social, just like being a essentialist, and that parents who want their children to be good citizens teach their children to abandon these ideologies.

Bronson and Merryman go on to discuss how parents of color talk openly about race with their children as a means to prepare them for racism, prejudice, and discrimination that they will face. They provide research that shows teaching children of color cultural pride increases many pyscho-social variables (e.g. self-esteem, self-efficacy). This research is more than timely considering Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies programs. They also provide data to show that most White children inherently know that the White race has more social power than people of color, so teaching white pride to children is “abhorrent” and “redundant”.

Another aspect of race socialization challenged in Nutureshock is what Bronson and Merryman call this the diverse environment theory. This is the idea that if we put children of a races and ethnicities in a environment they will automatically internalize that all people are equal. Bronson and Merryman provide a number of recent studies that show that in many cases as the diversity of a school increases so to does the likelihood that a student “will stick with their own.” The authors present this not to discourage or discredit integration, but to make the point that simply putting students of various cultures in a room does not give them the skills to overcome essentialism and be accepting and understanding. Bronson and Merryman argue for frank and open education that acknowledges the uniqueness of each student and promotes social integration

My students loved this reading. The found it interesting, challenging, and they found the writting approachable. Where many texts leave intro students behind by using jargon or technical language, this text goes to extreme lengths to explain the complex simply.

*I use the term “pop sociology” here not to discredit the Bronson and Merryman’s work, but rather to acknowledge that this book is a collection of peer reviewed studies. Many of the overarching conclusions the book makes are made taking the findings from one sample and drawing a causal connection to a study done on another sample. This isn’t a best practice in social research and the findings should be considered within this context. However, the three main ideas I discuss here all came from individual studies, so they do not suffer from this methodological weakness. Alright, enough disclaimer 🙂

Discussion Questions for Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race (Word Version)
Discussion Questions for Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race (.pdf Version)

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
That’s Tariffic
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

One of the central tenets of Conflict Theory is that those in power are able to control or manipulate the media and the public at large so that they can escape criticism. Subsequently those in power can do or say things that if a less powerful person exhibted the same behavior they would be ridiculed or possibly be committing a crime (As you can see there is some overlap with Labeling Theory here as well).

To illustrate this I ask my students what the difference is between a social policy or program that affects the poor versus a similar program/policy that affects the rich. So for example, many students are critical of “government handouts” in the form of welfare, but the same students are off put when I ask if welfare is akin to the tax write offs home owners receive. Aren’t these both government handouts? Some students will say that homeownership stimulates the economy, but I counter that food stamps, WIC, and many other welfare programs stimulate the economies of the communities where these monies are spent.

This last tax season Jon Stewart demonstrated this tenant of conflict theory by lampooning the network coverage of the finding that 47% of American households didn’t pay anything in taxes or even made a profit. Many of those who were in an uproar over this finding suggested that something was wrong with our tax system or, as Glenn Beck suggested, they should be forced to serve in the military if they were not going to contribute in some other way. None of the critics suggested that growing economic inequality was the cause, but rather blamed the poor for taking advantage of the system.

At the same time this story was running, only one US network covered the fact that Exxon Mobile, who made $35 billion in profits, didn’t pay a cent in taxes to the US government. To compound this, Exxon Mobile did pay $15 billion in taxes to other nations around the world. Instead of being critical of their tax evasion, US news networks celebrated Exxon’s profits.

I have shown this video in my classes and Stewart explains this aspect of Conflict theory better than I ever could in only 6 minutes. My students loved this video and were laughing out loud, but I do have to caution you that at one moment ( 3:26 into the video) Stewarts comedy is a tad inappropriate. I always ask my students if they are okay with a little blue humor before I show this clip.


Approximately 95% of all cases resulting in felony convictions never go to a jury trial. Students are floored by this fact. We live in a Law and Order world where everyone gets a jury’s verdict within 60 minutes. Plea bargaining is a great topic for any sociology course because it clearly illustrates how social systems, like the criminal justice system, affects individuals.

The video tells the story of 5 defendants lives. Through all of these stories we learn about how plea bargaining can be abused by local governments, how judges can legally coerce defendants into taking a plea, and how the defendants guilt or innocence is largely irrelevant in the current process.

The video can be watched online for free and there is a word-for-word transcript that my students loved to review when they were writing their papers. Below you can find the directions to the reaction paper I had my students write. Also, their is another excellent movie called American Violet which is a dramatization of the events surrounding the first vignette.

Reaction Paper Directions (Word Compatible)
Reaction Paper Directions (pdf Version)

A Girl Like Me is a video that explores beauty standards for African American women. The candid conversations with African American women about the pressures they face makes this film interesting and accessible. The video also recreates the Doll Test Experiment originally conducted by Dr. Kenneth Clark. In the experiment African American children are presented with two similarly dressed dolls; one white and one black. The children are then asked which doll is the good doll and which is the bad doll. It is heart wrenching to watch some of the African American children pick the White doll when asked to identify the nice doll.

This video is beyond compelling and I can’t recommend it enough for any sociology class