Last Friday—in another chapter of a tragic pattern—22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and wounded more in Isla Vista, California. Rodger also left a manifesto on YouTube in which he laid out his plan to take revenge on women who “shunned him.” The video sparked national conversation over the weekend, including the twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen to share stories of daily gendered and sexual harassment women face. Mass shootings are rare, but the culture that creates them is not. Researchers find strong elements of masculine gender performance in many of these acts—with young men attempting to assert power through violence.

The kind of attack carried out by Rodger closely matches researchers’ profile of other shooters—a clear, sustained pattern of challenges to their masculine identities. They do not just “snap,” but are shaped over time by the way our society polices gender.
Feelings that lost masculinity can only be reclaimed through violence are tied to a broader pattern of threats against women. While there have been declines in violence against women and other crime over the past generation, violence against women remains an enormous problem in the United States and around the world.

For more on the sociology of mass violence, check out this TSP Roundtable.

There have been a spate of new books lately advising women how to turn inward, change their behavior, and remake themselves to be more successful and ‘leap over’ gender barriers in the workplace. If a woman is not paid what she is worth, passed over for promotion, or even harassed, the solution, it seems, is to lean in – because eventually (soon, in fact) everyone will realize that women really should rule the world. The latest is a book by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Confidence Code, in which the authors argue that the primary barrier to women’s success is not sexism but rather women’s own lack of confidence. And in one way, they are right. Confidence is gendered. Women are less confident than men (and men tend to be over- confident relative to their abilities). Of course confidence matters. But trying to solve a problem of structural sexism with a good night’s sleep, a self-help book, and a smile is a losing proposition.

In their focus on the therapeutic and their emphasis on self-help, these books foster the kind of high-cost, alienating emotional labor sociologists have been writing about since the early 1980s.
These books either completely ignore or actively downplay the structural causes of the confidence gap, including the way that primary schools teach girls that their opinions aren’t as valuable as boys’ opinions.
They also turn a blind eye to the fact that rational actors engage in behavior that is rewarded. Women who show the kind of confidence that men show, and who “negotiate like a man,” are often punished, not rewarded, in America’s workplaces.
Thus, authors like Kay and Schipman are encouraging women to fight with the weapons of the weak instead of helping us all to tackle the more difficult task of breaking down the structural barriers to women’s real and durable success.

Penny Edgell is a Professor in the Sociology department at the University of Minnesota. She studies culture, religion, gender, family, symbolic boundaries, and inequality. 

Pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks.

Recently, CollegeHumor released a video clip illustrating the symptoms of being a basic bitch, which they define as “an extra regular female.” Other references to this term within popular culture are plenty: many cite loanthony’s youtube video for popularizing the whispered insult “you’re basic,” and additional uses throughout the past several years. How can we sociologically understand this phenomenon? Is it okay for the term bitches to be used casually within popular culture? What’s the harm?

A term derogatory to all women can be difficult to “reclaim” or use ironically. Instead, when women use “bitch” to refer to themselves or their friends (as in, “what’s up my bitches”) they are experiencing false power. They may feel included by using popular terminology, but they’re actually reinforcing gender essentialism and inequality by doing so.
Categorizing women as different forms of bitches—the bad bitch, dope bitch or boss bitch—creates a typography of all women as bitches, just different kinds. Symbolic interactionists note that the language and phrasing that we use to describe things can dramatically change our ways interacting with them.

For example, scientists working on nuclear weapons use benign terminology—the “exchange” of warheads with enemy countries or the “footprint” for an area of the “delivered” explosion—which allows them to distance themselves from the reality of their work. Using terms like basic bitch to describe a regular woman may allow us to do the same.

However, not all sociological analyses of language find that contemporary use of terminology previously viewed as derogatory is problematic.

Within social movements, collective identities such as “queer” can be seen as functional in drawing a variety of communities together and uniting around a cause.

Emily M. Boyd is an Associate Professor in the Sociology and Corrections department at Minnesota State University-Mankato. She studies gender, social interaction and popular culture.

This week’s Supreme Court decision to uphold Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in college and university admissions stirred up a lot of legal controversy, and will likely lead to more court cases about these policies in other states. In the wake of conversations about constitutionality, however, it is often easy to miss the problems that affirmative action is meant to be correcting.

Racial inequality, especially in the workplace, is very real. Employers regularly make decisions based on race which clash with existing civil rights law.
Most Americans tend to think of diversity in very general, open and optimistic terms, but this “happy talk” often makes it difficult to directly address underlying racial attitudes—and the inequalities they produce—with policy changes.

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Heartbleed was a real heartbreaker for the world of online security this past week. The software vulnerability in OpenSSL—a security protocol used by a wide range of popular websites—has everyone wondering what can be done to protect their data. While tech experts (and cartoonists!) do a great job of explaining how Heartbleed happened, we can turn to the social science to ask why people take advantage of these software bugs and what we might do to change their minds.

Market forces matter for stolen data, but hackers also develop rich subcultures which offer social status when members find new and better ways to break in.
New experimental research shows hackers invest a lot of effort in their work, so it is hard to stop them once they infiltrate a system. However, putting warnings in computer systems might make them leave faster and take less with them.

This season’s deluge of religious films—Noah, Son of God, and Heaven is Realhas us all on the lookout for the next Bible blockbuster and wondering if well-known productions like The Ten Commandments and The Passion of the Christ were just flashes in the pan. While the market doesn’t always sink religious films, they often face controversy while navigating complex social and religious identities.

Consumption of religious movies, television, and books isn’t just consumerism. It is a complex blend of religious identification and economic practice, which can both encourage and discourage consumption.
These films also have to nail down other identities to do well in the market. The portrayal of masculine figures like Jesus and Noah represents a key way society works through gender roles.

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The recent collapse of Mt. Gox—a prominent exchange site for the internet currency Bitcoin—has sparked wide discussion about the future of “virtual” money and the social groups that create it. Some remain cautiously optimistic (though pointing out that Bitcoin may take itself a little too seriously), while others have said the currency amounts to a “Ponzi scheme” with “no store of value.” As a post from our friends at Cyborgology noted last year,

Calling Bitcoins “virtual currency” is nonsensical because all currencies are virtual in that they are “collective hallucinations” about measurement of worth.

Classic sociological theory investigated how society creates value, and came to similar conclusions. Gold and paper money needed a lot of collective social support to become valuable.
What makes one currency more “valuable” than another is institutional support, but this wasn’t always guaranteed for the U.S. dollar, either.

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Controversy continues to rage over the alleged “job-killing” effects of the Affordable Care Act and potential increases in the federal minimum wage. Kathleen Sebelius recently weighed in on the Congressional Budget Office’s report about the ACA, reminding us that the CBO’s “2 million jobs lost by 2017” figure comes from Americans cutting their work hours, not employers cutting their jobs to cover healthcare costs. With a new poll showing Americans think the job market is the number-one problem today, however, why would we see these trends? The ACA and a higher minimum wage may not be a job-killers—instead they remind us that employees can demand better working conditions.

We shouldn’t necessarily think of coverage programs in terms of “jobs lost.” Instead, giving employees affordable health coverage may actually free them from “job lock.” Economic research shows that benefit programs can give low-income workers the security and potential mobility to seek out better jobs.
While benefits can give employees the opportunity to quit, organizational characteristics like group job satisfaction and flexibility in the workplace also affect the likelihood that employees will want to quit.

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This weekend saw a verdict in the trial of Michael Dunn, accused of killing Florida teen Jordan Davis in 2012. The jury found Dunn guilty on three counts of attempted murder, but declared a mistrial on the murder charge for Davis’ death. According to reports from Al Jazeera America, Dunn’s attorney argued that “there were no signs Dunn was planning the shooting, only firing his gun when he saw Davis wielding a weapon from inside the vehicle and felt threatened.” However, Dunn is white and Davis was black and—with echoes of the George Zimmerman trial still fresh in public memory—supporters of the prosecution argue that shooting was racially motivated and premeditated.

In cases like these, the argument often breaks down to whether violence was racially-motivated or a “colorblind” act of self-defense. However, race structures all parts of the criminal justice system.

Self-defense isn’t as colorblind as we think. Research in social psychology shows that race affects the way we perceive and react to threatening situations.
These individual reactions aggregate into big social problems, where race and social class impact how jurors and law enforcement make decisions about policing and punishment.

For a more detailed summary of racial threat experiments, see Sociological Images’ coverage of this work during last year’s Zimmerman trial.

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Love is in the air this week, but not everyone in the music world has been feeling it lately. Macklemore’s performance of “Same Love” at the Grammy’s last month—as well as his win for best hip hop album and subsequent apology to Kendrick Lamar— drew a slew of comments from pop culture bloggers. For some, his music represents everything wrong with the privileged cultural appropriation of hip hop, but others thought the performance was an important illustration of how allies can contribute to movements for social justice.

So where is the proper place for allies in the world of identity politics? Should they spread the love, or stop hogging the spotlight?

When individuals speak from a position of privilege, they don’t risk a lot by advocating for change. Their perspectives may crowd out the voices of marginalized groups, or risk appropriating identities in a way that maintains privilege instead of challenging it.
On the other hand, allies can be an important strategic resource for marginalized groups at the social level, both by contributing material resources and changing the surrounding culture.
Either way, we have to realize that social movements are going to build up and break down identities, and thinking about allies helps us reflect critically on what it means to belong to a movement.


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