What Can Baby Names Tell us about #MeToo?

By: Tristan Bridges and Philip N. Cohen

Cross-posted with permission from Inequality By Interior Design

As the list of “great” men revealed as having committed serial acts of sexual harassment and assault continues to grow, the conversation about the collusion, complicity, and tolerance necessary for each of them to have avoided consequence for so long is important. Many of these men occupied roles as gatekeepers in their various careers—indeed, men are disproportionately in gatekeeping roles. And people in these roles sometimes enjoy power with little oversight. So, institutions are set up in ways that may not feel like they actively promote sexual harassment and assault, but do little to stop it.

Another way of looking at this problem, though, is to consider the role we all play in systems of social inequality that give rise to abuses of power. Like mass shooters and people who commit “stick-ups”, sexual harassers in the workplace are almost all men. But they’re not just any men; these are powerful men, men whose faces we recognize, who we might feel like we “know” because of their popularity, and, importantly, they’re men whose names we all know: Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Bill Clinton, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, George H.W. Bush, Roy Moore…

One way of thinking about how societies feel on a collective level is to look at aggregate behaviors. How do we act collectively and what can we learn about “us” and our society from collective action? Consider baby names. In sociologist Stanley Lieberson’s book, A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Culture Change, he was interested in the social forces and factors that help certain names become more or less popular.

Consider the name Harvey. Harvey might strike you as a dated name. And it is. Its popularity as a name for boys in the U.S. peaked in the first half of the 20th century. Then the name fell out of favor. A gradual decline in popularity is typical for names. Over the course of about 50 years, the name stopped being popular. Perhaps as those early Harveys started to grow up, the name acquired the cultural patina of the elderly (like Mildred or Herman today) and felt less like a name people ought to give to babies. Harvey ceased to even be among the top 1,000 names selected for baby boys in the U.S. in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But then, from 2011-2016, “Harvey” enjoyed a second surge in popularity. It jumped from the 857th most popular boys’ name to the 412th in just 6 years. As name popularity goes, this is steep rise.Harvey 1.png

Measured another way, we can look at the number of boys given the name “Harvey” per 1,000 boys born in the U.S., as popular names are a whole lot less popular today than they were a century ago. Still here, however, we see a very recent surge in popularity for Harvey as a name given to boys in the U.S.Harvey2.png

The play Harvey, about a man who claims to have an invisible friend who is an anthropomorphized version of a rabbit more than 6 feet tall (“Harvey” is the invisible rabbit friend) hit Broadway in 1944, written by Mary Chase. This is a plausible partial explanation for the beginning of the decline in popularity for Harvey. Who wants to name their child after a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit, right? The name may have been “contaminated” as a boy’s name. But the second surge in popularity presents us with a sort of natural experiment about the American public. The name Harvey appears to be on the way to becoming more popular. Will the Harvey’s of 2017 contaminate this name for the American public? Between Harvey Weinstein and Hurricane Harvey, the name’s had an awful year. But will people continue to give the name Harvey to their children? (Too bad, from the point of view of a clean experiment, that the scandal and the hurricane happened in the same year.)

This question got us thinking about what happens to the names of people implicated in or associated with high profile sex scandals or cases of sexual harassment and/or assault. It might be a really small indication of how invested we are, as a society, in not holding men accountable for sexual indiscretions, harassment, and assault. It’s one small way that we are all actually invested (and investing) in some of the very same forms of social inequality that helped give rise to the Harvey Weinsteins of the world in the first place.

Philip posted a few years ago on a collection of names that illustrate contamination. He used Ellen (following DeGeneres’s coming out), Forrest (following the release of Forrest Gump in theatres) and Monica (following the sex scandal involving Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton). The name “Monica” was contaminated after her involvement with the president. She didn’t claim to have been sexually assaulted, but her participation in this high-profile scandal appears to have played a role in contaminating the name—people stopped naming their daughters “Monica” in as great of numbers following the event (see below). Bill Clinton had a more popular name (“William”) among boys than Monica did among girls. But, we wondered, was his name contaminated too? Not many parents name their children “Bill” alone. Since 1994, “Bill” hasn’t been among the top 1,000 names given to boys in the U.S. William, however, has been a top 20 name for over 100 years in the U.S.

Bill and Monica1.png

The popularity of the name “Monica” among girls dropped immediately following the news of the scandal in January of 1998. While only subtly, the name William moved up the rankings of names given to boys. Many president’s first names influence the popularity of a name. In fact, it’s arguably a small measure of what the public thinks of the president. Was he a man worthy of emulating with a name? Bill Clinton appears to have passed the test. So, the sex scandal involving Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton contaminated her name, but not his. This is an important way we (at least collectively) are all implicated here. Below, you can see a more fine-grained way to measure shifts in name popularity. Rather than visualizing names by rank, this measure attaches names to population denominators so that name popularity is expressed in births per thousand boys and girls and scaled such that 100=the scandal year (of comparison). Again, the name “Monica” appears seriously contaminated following the scandal, while William does not.

Bill and Monica2.png

Consider another example from a bit earlier—Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings for The Supreme Court. Hill described being consistently subjected to sexual harassment by Thomas in a supervisory role over her at both the Department of Education and the EEOC. Hill testified in 1991. At that time, the baby names “Anita” and “Clarence” were both declining in popularity (so, the names present a different scenario). But right around 1991, Anita started to drop in the rankings faster than Clarence. It appears that having been sexually harassed may have contaminated the name “Anita” among parents, but sexually harassing did not have the same contaminating effect on “Clarence.”

Anita and Clarence1.png

Once again, women’s involvement in a high-profile heterosexual sex scandal may have contaminated her name, but seems to have failed to meaningfully impact his. Yet, when we measure name popularity by births per thousand boys and girls, scaling them to the year Hill testified against Thomas, the allegations don’t appear to have a noticeable impact on either “Anita” (for girls) or “Clarence” (for boys). So this case is not as clear.

Anita and Clarence2.png

What we can look at is the effect of high-profile sex scandals and cases of sexual harassment and assault to see if they ever affect name popularity for boys’ names. Stanley Lieberson, Susan Dumais, and Shyon Baumann looked at something similar in their article on the “instability of androgynous names.” They were interested in what happens to androgynous names (names given to roughly equal numbers of boys and girls—like Taylor, Jesse, Hayden, Charlie, or Emerson) over time. Androgynous names are, they discovered, unstable. They rarely persist and remain androgynous and they follow a social pattern. Androgynous names that become popular become girl names—we stop giving the names to boys when they become popular. The association with femininity (for boys) is more stigmatizing (or “contaminating” in name lingo) than the association with masculinity (for girls). We’re all implicated in that finding in one way or another.

The two scandals discussed above, though, are distinct in that they have one man and one woman associated with them. So, we can look at how the same event shaped subsequent fashions in baby names for boys and girls in different ways. In both scandals, the effect was the same. But many of the sex scandals in the news today have large collections of women harassed and abused by one man (like Harvey Weinstein). So, for many of these cases, we lack the gendered comparison visible on the previous two figures. What we can look at is the effect of high-profile sex scandals to see if they ever effect name popularity for boys’ names. Clearly, they do sometimes for girls’ names. In this way, what happens to the popularity of the name “Harvey” might tell us something important about us.

 

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The Cost of Being a Girl

By Yasemin Besen-Cassino

Molly has been working as a babysitter for some time. She has been doing a great job and you hear nothing but good things about Molly from your child. After working for you for six months, she asks for a raise. What happens when she asks for a raise? Would you give her more money? What would she need to do to deserve the raise?

These are some of the questions I discuss in my new book, Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap.

Yasemin

 

“Pricing the Priceless Child (care)”

Taking care of children is a very important job, also one that is physically demanding and challenging, yet the pay does not reflect the emotional importance or the degree difficulty. The National Average for babysitters is $15.20 an hour.

In an experiment I designed, I present participants with vignettes of Molly and Jake, a female and male babysitter (yes they exist and are a new trend especially for babysitting boys) who work for you for some time and your child is very happy with. What happens when they ask for a raise when you can afford it? Who is more likely to get the raise? Even when they go over and beyond to show that they care about the child and show emotional attachment?

When Molly asks for a raise, she is less likely to get the raise. When she does not show an emotional connection to the child, she is cold and unlikeable. When she does show care, she is accused of being manipulative. When she is detached and does not care, she is not seen as loving and nurturing. When she is caring and nurturing, these traits are seen in conflict with monetary gain, so asking for money after showing care makes her manipulative and unlikable. Either way, Molly suffers in the workplace.

Informal Ties help find jobs, but also make girls less likely to ask for a raise or leave

Based on my in-depth interviews with babysitters, I find that many girls get into babysitting because it is available and accessible especially for younger teens and tweens. While personal networks are instrumental in getting babysitting jobs, many babysitters stay much longer, months and years longer than they intended because of their informal networks. These weak ties also make it more difficult for girls to ask for a raise. Overall, the job description is vaguer for girls, including light house work, cooking, cleaning, running errands and many unpaid hours of conversations before and after sessions with parents. Whereas for boys, the job description is clearer, rarely includes other housework or chores and there are no unpaid conversations or last minute changes. From an early age, girls’ time is valued less and involves more unpaid hours and more out-of-pocket expenses.

World of Part-time Retail: Difficult Customers, Credit Card Debt and Harassment

It is not much different for young girls in retail either. Many are placed in more intensive and customer service oriented positions that are not managerial positions nor positions that they handle money. “You are so good with people” is a common sentiment they hear often. In addition to being asked to deal with challenging customers, the aesthetic demands of retail and service sector jobs is more intense for young women. In order to get and keep retail and service sector jobs, young women are asked to purchase the products that they are selling. This push to look the part results in large amounts of credit card debt. In addition, many report having experienced sexual harassment, racial inequality, but very few report these problems because many say “it is not my real job.”

Part-time Teen Jobs are the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap

These early part-time jobs are especially important because they point to the origins of the gender wage gap. Using NLSY97 dataset, I find that 12 and 13-year-olds make the same amount of money, however, by the time they reach 14 and 15-years of age, we see the emergence of the gender wage gap, which widens with age. Statistical modelling shows that controlling for all background factors, the cost of being a girl remains higher than being a boy when it comes to wages. While some individual characteristics such as race and age exacerbate the wage gap, the important factor in explaining the early wage gap is in the concentration of the girls in freelance jobs (such as babysitting) and the concentration of boys in more employee-type jobs. As soon as employee-type jobs are available, boys move into those jobs, while girls remain in the lower paying freelance jobs. Even within freelance type jobs, girls are placed in different positions, often in customer service and not management or controlling money.

Unintended (Gendered) Consequences of Part-time Work

Many teenagers work part-time while still in school- it has economic benefits, socializes teenagers and has social benefits and teaches young people about discipline. Yet an unintended consequence of these early jobs is it socializes young workers into the gendered expectations and problems of the workforce. While teens are given positive messages at home and at school, these messages have little impact as they experience the problems of the workforce first-hand.

 

Yasemin Besen-Cassino is a Professor of Sociology at Montclair State University and is currently serving as the Book Review Editor of Gender&Society. Her new book Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap just came out from Temple University Press in December 2017.

Queering the Familiar: Genealogy of a Book and its Cover

By Carla A. Pfeffer

Do you ever wonder how an author decided to write a book or how a book cover came to be? I often find these to be fascinating parts of the book creation process, but areas that many authors don’t say much about. In this post, I’m going to offer some of this background story on my book, Queering Families: The Postmodern Partnerships of Cisgender Women and Transgender Men.

fa·mil·iar

fəˈmilyər/

adjective

well known from long or close association.

noun

a demon supposedly attending and obeying a witch, often said to assume the form of an

animal.

Cultural Response to “Unfamiliar” Families

One of the first moments of awareness that I needed to write Queering Families occurred one afternoon while I was working on my dissertation with the television on for background noise. Oprah Winfrey appeared, announcing that she had partnered exclusively with People magazine for an interview with Thomas Beatie, who the press was dubbing, “the world’s first pregnant man.” At that time, I’d been studying a group of fifty cisgender women partners of transgender men over the past three years and was excited to see one segment of the trans community covered on a forum that would, quite literally, reach millions of people. Over the next hour, Winfrey interviewed Thomas Beatie and his then-wife, Nancy. Winfrey followed the Beaties to Thomas’ obstetrical appointments, peeked into his body through ultrasound images, and offered video vignettes of the Beaties’ neighbors and life together in a suburban community in Bend, Oregon.

What I found most remarkable about this hour of television was not so much Thomas Beatie, his pregnancy, his wife Nancy, or even the details of their day-to-day family life. In many ways, their story actually seemed quite mundane. My focus, instead, was drawn to Oprah and her audience. Over the course of the hour, cameras panned and focused for close-ups upon viewers who appeared shocked and bewildered; in many instances, their mouths quite literally agape, slack-jawed, as they stared at Thomas and Nancy and then turned to one another. Their faces mirrored confusion and disbelief.

shocked-audience

After the show aired, Internet chat rooms were abuzz with thousands of comments; their tones ranged from supportive to curious to overtly disgusted and irate. Simply put, many individuals were confused and shocked by these postmodern queer family forms about which they knew and understood very little.

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[These are publicly-posted comments to internet chat rooms following Oprah’s Beatie episode]

Family Trees and Judging a Book by its Cover

As I wrote the book, I continued to ponder the faces and reactions of those engaging with an unfamiliar family form. This focus continued throughout, and even after I finished the book and began to think about potential book cover designs. The book cover image my editor at Oxford University Press first sent to me for consideration lit a fire under me. I immediately knew it was exactly something I did not want for the cover of this book. It had all the requisite components you might expect—a family tree, full with leaves and rainbow-colored boxes. It felt derivative, like it couldn’t possibly do justice to the complex stories and experiences with which I had been entrusted by my participants.

Tree_1

 [Image available via Getty Images]

So I began searching through thousands of images to find something that felt more fitting. I recognized it immediately when I finally found it.

Tree_2

 [Image available via Getty Images]

The image was recognizable yet ambiguous, inverted—or was it? Were those barren branches or life-giving roots? Is that verdant and lush greenness foliage or moss-covered ground? Are those blue clouds floating in the sky or a water source toward which the roots are stretching? In the branches/roots, where some might see barrenness, Halloween, death, others might see something more arterial—a pathway for vital sustenance and growth. The bold starkness of the colors of the image seemed almost surreal, particularly juxtaposed against the often saccharine, nostalgic renderings of many family trees. In this image, there was no singular originary structure—a trunk; rather, it had an almost rhizomatic quality to it. The image felt a bit like a confrontation, something you had to think about rather than assume. It was an image that left you a bit unsettled even as it drew you in for a closer look. And it was also beautiful, simultaneously strong and fragile, in transition—perhaps from season to season, from life to death, or death to life.

I was thrilled when the design team also liked the image I’d so obviously fallen in love with, but less thrilled when I saw the mock-up of the cover. They had placed a green overlay atop the image.

Tree_3

Originally, this irked me to no end. I felt it minimized the distinctiveness and surreal quality of the colors in the original image, blending them into a more uniform and bland palate. Over time, it grew on me. I came to see it as the color of the sky in the middle of a tornado—a warning that this is a sky not to be messed with or taken lightly. It was a color that simultaneously symbolizes queasiness, newness, growth, good fortune, perhaps even envy.

Familiar or Unfamiliar?

What I love most about the cover image is that it tends to move the observer and their perceptions from background irrelevance to front and center. Unlike more normative or predictable images symbolizing families, the image is not so easily assimilated; rather, the viewer’s interpretation becomes requisite. It challenges you to step out of passive inattention and into wondering, asking, talking. And, in that moment, it is you and your perceptions that may be called into question, becoming the subject.

The image is, in many ways, symbolic of the lives and families of the cis women I interviewed for the book project. Their relationships have been described by some as highly normative—reflecting a mirror image of 1950s housewifery in the twenty-first century. Yet others understand their relationships as a complete inversion or even perversion of families and family life. In the book, I explore the possibility that queer relationships and families bear no more and no less responsibility than any other types of relationships to socially conform or to subvert normativity. The book’s title is meant to beg the question: Just who or what is doing the queering here? Do we understand cis women and their trans men partners and the families they create as the ones queering families? Ultimately, I argue that is incumbent upon all of us to consider how our perceptions, our interpretations, and our assumptions around families (and who and what gets to “count” as a family or family issues) hold the greatest potential to queer and transform these very concepts and institutions.

Dr. Carla Pfeffer  is Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina and Chair-Elect of the Sexualities Section of the American Sociological Association. Pfeffer’s research on cisgender women’s partnerships with transgender men has been published in the American Journal of Sociology, Gender & Society, Journal of Marriage and Family, and the Journal of Lesbian Studies. Her book, Queering Families: The Postmodern Partnerships of Cisgender Women and Transgender Men, was published by Oxford University Press (2017). Pfeffer’s research has been recognized through funding and awards from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, National Council on Family Relations, and the sections on Sexualities and Sex and Gender of the American Sociological Association. In a new collaborative and international project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Pfeffer and colleagues will study transgender men’s practices and experiences around reproduction and reproductive healthcare.

G&S in the Classroom Guide for Syllabi on Gender & Children and Youth

Gender & Society in the Classroom is curated by scholars in the field and is a listing of articles that would be relevant in certain classrooms. These lists are not exhaustive but contain a small section of important articles that can begin to start classroom discussion on a variety of topics.

Dow, Dawn. (2016). The Deadly Challenges of Raising African American Boys: Navigating the Controlling Image of the ‘Thug.’ Gender & Society, 30 (2): pp. 161-188.

Through 60 in-depth interviews with African American middle- and upper-middle-class mothers, this article examines how the controlling image of the “thug” influences the concerns these mothers have for their sons and how they parent their sons in light of those concerns. Participants were principally concerned with preventing their sons from being perceived as criminals, protecting their sons’ physical safety, and ensuring they did not enact the “thug,” a form of subordinate masculinity. Although this image is associated with strength and toughness, participants believed it made their sons vulnerable in various social contexts. They used four strategies to navigate the challenges they and their sons confronted related to the thug image. Two of these strategies—experience and environment management—were directed at managing characteristics of their sons’ regular social interactions—and two—image and emotion management—were directed at managing their sons’ appearance. By examining parenting practices, this research illuminates the strategies mothers use to prepare their sons to address gendered racism through managing the expression of their masculinity, racial identity, and class status.

Fjær, Eivind Grip, Willy Pedersen, and Sveinung Sandberg. (2015). “I’m Not One of Those Girls”: Boundary-Work and the Sexual Double Standard in a Liberal Hookup Context”. Gender & Society, 29 (6): pp. 960-981.

Sexual morality is not keeping up with the new sexual practices of young people, even in cultures oriented toward gender equality. The Norwegian high school graduation celebration constitutes an exceptionally liberal context for sexual practices. Many of the 18-year-old participants in this three-week-long celebration engage in “hookup” activities, involving kissing, fondling, and sexual intercourse. Through an analysis of qualitative interviews with 25 women and 16 men, the authors argue that while the young women avoided overt slut-shaming, the morally abject position of the “slut” was still sustained by implication. The young women drew symbolic boundaries against anonymous other women who failed to value safety, hygiene, and self-control. This boundary-work was combined with declarations of tolerance of hookup practices, reflecting a sexually liberal culture geared toward gender equality. That young women who hooked up also drew boundaries against “other” women indicates a lack of alternative gender beliefs that allow young women to positively associate with hooking up. The young men also drew symbolic boundaries in their talk about sex, but enjoyed more freedom in their moral positioning. Although the liberal context was evident, the gendered difference in sexual boundary-work may contribute to the persistence of a sexual double standard among young people.

Coe, Anna-Britt. (2015). “I Am Not Just a Feminist Eight Hours a Day”: Youth Gender Justice Activism in Ecuador and Peru. Gender & Society, 29(6): pp. 888-913.

This article focuses on youth feminist political action in Ecuador and Peru and its relationship to contemporary gender hierarchies. Coe examines how and why youth gender justice activists understand their political action differently from the professionalized adult feminists who mobilize them. Grounded theory was used to collect and analyze interviews with 21 young women and men activists on gender justice. Youth activists seek cultural changes using social advocacy to target the family, household, and intimate partnerships, what I describe as politicizing the sociocultural. They develop new ways of perceiving political action in response to challenges produced by emergent gender hierarchies, which they understand as blurred gender inequalities or processes that simultaneously enable and constrain gender equality.

Whittier, Nancy. (2016). Where Are the Children?: Theorizing the Missing Piece in Gendered Sexual Violence. Gender & Society. 30(1): pp. 95-108.

One of the symposium pieces in the Theorizing Rape issue of the journal in February 2016. Whittier draws on her research on child’s sexual assault movement, in this think piece to argue that age needs to be a component of how we understand intersectional identities within sexual violence.

Kane, Emily W. (2006) “No Way My Boys Are Going to Be Like that!” Parents’ Responses to Children’s Gender Nonconformity. Gender & Society, 20 (2) pp. 149-176.

Drawing on qualitative interviews with parents of preschool children, the author addresses parental responses to children’s gender nonconformity. The author’s analyses indicate that parents welcome what they perceive as gender nonconformity among their young daughters, while their responses in relation to sons are more complex. Many parents across racial and class backgrounds accept or encourage some tendencies they consider atypical for boys. But this acceptance is balanced by efforts to approximate hegemonic ideals of masculinity. The author considers these patterns in the context of gender as an interactional accomplishment, demonstrating that parents are often consciously aware of their own role in accomplishing gender with and for their sons. Heterosexual fathers are especially likely to be motivated in that accomplishment work by their own personal endorsement of hegemonic masculinity, while heterosexual mothers and gay parents are more likely to be motivated by accountability to others in relation to those ideals.

Martin, Karin A. (2005). “William wants a doll. Can he have one? Feminists, child care advisors, and gender-neutral child rearing.” Gender & Society, 19 (4): 456-479.

Using an analysis of child care books and parenting Web sites, Martin asks if second-wave feminism’s vision of gender-neutral child rearing has been incorporated into contemporary advice on child rearing. The data suggest that while feminist understandings of gender have made significant inroads into popular advice, especially with regard to the social construction of gender, something akin to “a stalled revolution” has taken place. Children’s gender nonconformity is still viewed as problematic because it is linked implicitly and explicitly to homosexuality.

Organizer: Hara Bastas, LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York. Updated by: Hara Bastas, LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York and  Jenny Lendrum, Wayne State University.

Does motherhood make women more traditional?

By Muzhi Zhou  

As a PhD scholar working on gender and family issues, and as a woman of childbearing age, I spend a lot of time thinking about the balance between work and family. I have witnessed many of my female friends move away from their promising careers to be a dedicated caregiver and educator for their young children. They shared with me their struggles and conflicting feelings in the change of roles. Those who did go back to work after maternity leave told me their lives had changed irrevocably, and they now felt that, despite what they had previously been led to believe, you could not have it all. If motherhood changes women’s lives so much, does it change their views about the roles of women and men as well? I ask this question in my Gender & Society article.

The conflict between women’s employment and child-rearing responsibilities

I have always been interested in the impact of motherhood on women’s lives and identity. The most striking fact is that in many developed countries, women are outperforming men in education and participating in the labour market at a similar level as men are. However, women’s labour market activity declines substantially once they become mothers. Many leave the labour market, at least temporarily, to fulfill their child-rearing responsibilities. Others are struggling to achieve a balance between work and family.

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In the United Kingdom, where I now live and study, employed mothers can have a maximum 52 weeks (up to 39 weeks are paid) of maternity leave. Formal childcare is extremely costly. The cost for a nursery school is high, starting at £30 (about $39) per day. For many women, it is unrealistic, uneconomic, or not ideal to work and spend most of the earnings on day care. National statistics show that in 2014, 61 percent of women with dependent children aged under five were working, of whom 58 percent were working part time. For many mothers, leaving the labour market to care for children seems to be the only choice, despite their earlier needs, efforts, and desires in career development. Those who maintain a full-time job as mothers are subject to great tension between work and family, especially when women are still expected to prioritize the need of children. In other words, the career of a mother, who has to care one or more young children, is likely to be at stake.

Women’s gender attitudes are related to how they settle the conflict

The substantial conflict between women’s employment and child-rearing responsibilities can be powerful enough to provoke a change in women’s gender attitudes, especially their views about the gendered division of labour. Using a sample of women aged 21 to 45 who were followed up over time in the United Kingdom from 1991 to 2013, I discovered that simply the birth of a child, or the shift from full-time employment to a non-working status is not the direct reason for changes in women’s gender attitudes. Women adjust their attitudes when their motherhood and employment statuses intersect. That is, only mothers become more traditional if they withdraw from the labour market. Among childless women, their gender attitudes remain largely stable regardless of whether they change their employment status. If we compare women’s attitudes before and after the birth of a child, those who remain in the labour market, and keep a full-time job, actually become slightly less traditional in their attitudes after becoming mothers, whereas those who withdraw from the labour market as mothers turn to more traditional attitudes. Therefore, adult women adjust their views about the gendered division of labour in family only when they are trying to settle the conflict between their employment and child-rearing responsibilities.

A call for policies targeting the conflict between women’s employment and child-rearing responsibilities

Gender attitudes are usually assumed to be stable during adulthood and work as an important predictor of women’s labour market performance and fertility behaviour. However, I discovered that women’s lived experience can also influence gender attitudes, which can subsequently affect future decisions to balance work and family. A critical step to further improve gender equality is to have more people practicing and supporting a symmetrical family model with dual earners and caregivers. Better work-care policies and cost-effective childcare services would enable more mothers with young children to maintain employed so that fewer women need to compromise their original gender attitudes to conform the reality of staying at home and caring for children.

Muzhi Zhou is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oxford. She is also affiliated with St Antony’s College. Her areas of interest include gender, family and marriage, and quantitative methodology. Her recent research examines the gendered effect of parenthood and the relationship between gender equality and fertility.

Gender & Society in the Classroom Guide for Syllabi on Gender and Sports

Gender & Society in the Classroom is curated by scholars in the field and is a listing of articles that would be relevant in certain classrooms. These lists are not exhaustive but contain a small section of important articles that can begin to start classroom discussion on a variety of topics.

 

Musto, Michela, Cheryl Cooky and Michael A. Messner. (2017). “From Fizzle to Sizzle!” Televised Sports News and the Production of Gender-Bland Sexism. Gender & Society 31: (5): pp. 573-596.

This article draws upon data collected as part of a 25-year longitudinal analysis of televised coverage of women’s sports to provide a window into how sexism operates during a postfeminist sociohistorical moment. As the gender order has shifted to incorporate girls’ and women’s movement into the masculine realm of sports, coverage of women’s sports has shifted away from overtly denigrating coverage in 1989 to ostensibly respectful but lackluster coverage in 2014. To theorize this shift, we introduce the concept of “gender-bland sexism,” a contemporary gender framework that superficially extends the principles of merit to women in sports. Televised news and highlight shows frame women in uninspired ways, making women’s athletic accomplishments appear lackluster compared to those of men’s. Because this “bland” language normalizes a hierarchy between men’s and women’s sports while simultaneously avoiding charges of overt sexism, this article contributes to gender theory by illuminating how women can be marginalized in male-dominated, male-controlled settings via individualized merit-based assessments of talent.

Kissane Rebecca Joyce and Sarah Winslow. (2016). “You’re Underestimating Me and You Shouldn’t” Women’s Agency in Fantasy Sports. Gender & Society 30: (5): pp. 819-841.

Using qualitative data, this article investigates women’s experiences in fantasy sports, a context that offers the potential for transformations in the gendered order of traditionally masculinized athletic environments by blurring the distinctions between real and virtual, combining active production and passive consumption, and allowing men and women to play side-by-side. We find, however, women often describe fantasy sports as a male/masculine space in which they are highly visible and have their ability to compete like men questioned, largely because of gendered assumptions regarding sports knowledge. Women’s attitudes and behaviors frequently reproduce traditional gender dynamics, although women also engage in behaviors and assert definitions of themselves that are potentially transformative—implicitly and explicitly pushing the boundaries of what females are expected to be and accomplish in sport. Often, however, they simultaneously reproduce and resist men’s dominance and women’s marginalization, exercising (1) “mediated agency” by using men to improve their fantasy sports experience and play or (2) “conflicted agency” by reinforcing or accepting gender stereotypes about women while using those stereotypes to their advantage or positioning themselves as atypical women to whom the stereotypes do not apply.

Gottzén, Lucas and Tamar Kremer-Sadlik. (2012). Fatherhood and Youth Sports: A Balancing Act between Care and Expectations. Gender & Society 26: (4): pp. 639-664.

Youth sports have been recognized as an arena for men to meet increased cultural expectations of being involved in their children’s lives. Indeed, in contrast to other child care practices, many men are eager to take part in their children’s organized sports. Drawing on an ethnographic study of middle-class families in the United States, this study examines how men juggle two contrasting cultural models of masculinity when fathering through sports—a performance-oriented orthodox masculinity that historically has been associated with sports and a caring, inclusive masculinity that promotes the nurturing of one’s children. Through a detailed analysis of how fathers’ sports involvement unfolds on the ground, we show how men, in order to portray themselves as “good” fathers, attempt to strike a balance between pushing their children to excel and supporting them regardless of their performance. We propose that although men may value inclusive masculinity when fathering through youth sports, at the same time they exercise orthodox masculinity in other domestic domains.

Love, Adam and Kimberly Kelly. (2011) Equity or Essentialism? U.S. Courts and the Legitimation of Girls’ Teams in High School Sport. Gender & Society 25: (2): pp. 227-249.

Feminist scholars have critically analyzed the effects of sex segregation in numerous social institutions, yet sex-segregated sport often remains unchallenged. Even critics of sex-segregated sport have tended to accept the merits of women-only teams at face value. In this article, we revisit this issue by examining the underlying assumptions supporting women’s and girls’ teams and explore how they perpetuate gender inequality. Specifically, we analyze the 14 U.S. court cases wherein adolescent boys have sought to play on girls’ teams in their respective high schools. The courts’ decisions reveal taken-for-granted, essentialist assumptions about girls’ innate fragility and athletic inferiority. While the courts, policy makers, and many feminist scholars see maintaining teams for girls and women as a solution to the problem of boys’ and men’s dominance in sport, the logic supporting this form of segregation further entrenches notions of women’s inferiority.

Organizer: Joanna Neville, University of Florida. Updated by: Lacey Story, Oakland University

“If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right”: How intensive mothering ideologies motivate women to freeze their eggs

By Kit Myers

Elective egg freezing first caught the public eye in 2002 when a fertility center in Los Angeles began offering “commercial” egg freezing to healthy women who were delaying motherhood into their 30s. Predictions of gender-liberated utopias and eugenicist dystopias abounded in the following years and interest in elective egg freezing hit a fevered pitch in the fall of 2014 when Silicone Valley giants Facebook and Apple announced the addition of egg freezing to their benefits packages in an attempt to attract more women. Hailed by some as a move to give women in tech more control over their fertility, many commentators worried that egg freezing was, at best, a stopgap solution that failed to address systemic issues of work-family conflict in the tech industry and beyond. In lifestyle pieces and opinion columns, women who froze their eggs were alternately depicted as hard charging career women putting motherhood on the back burner or as baby-starved women desperate for a shot at motherhood.

When I began interviewing women who had chosen to freeze their eggs in the summer of 2014, I found neither of these stock characters. Instead I found a cohort of women in their mid-30s to 40s who were deeply ambivalent about motherhood. They were high achieving in education and work, but none of them felt they had made a conscious choice to prioritize their careers over motherhood. Most had expected to pursue the standard script of love, marriage, and baby carriage by their early 30s, but setbacks in their love lives —including broken engagements and divorce—had knocked them off track. They generally felt that these romantic challenges were the primary reason why they froze their eggs, but as I spoke to more and more of these women it became clear that their beliefs about the best way to raise children was a major factor as well.

In my Gender & Society article, I explore the life histories of these women in order to understand the role parenting ideologies play in choices that childless women make about their fertility. Women with electively frozen eggs provide a particularly interesting perspective on fertility decision-making because the technology of egg freezing allows women to prolong indecision. Many of these women explain that—before they froze their eggs—the ticking of the biological clock made them feel as though they had to rush to make up their minds about motherhood. Should they:

A) Settle for the next half-way decent guy to come along?

B) Give up on love and pursue single-motherhood-by-choice?

C) Give up on having kids altogether and cultivate a childfree lifestyle?

For women with frozen eggs the answer was: D) None of the above. They weren’t ready to give up on motherhood but they also weren’t ready to settle or go it alone. What they really wanted was a way to keep their options open until marriage, financial security, and career advancement allowed them to pursue motherhood on their own terms. For the women in this study, egg freezing enabled that option. But how did these women arrive at the point of needing to freeze their eggs in the first place? Demanding careers and complicated love lives played a role, but beliefs about appropriate parenting styles also contributed to their ambivalence.

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Although parenting styles abound—attachment parenting, child-centered parenting, positive parenting, slow parenting, etc.—most current mainstream parenting styles fall under the rubric of intensive motherhood, which is child-centered, labor-intensive, and financially expensive. While we often presume that new mothers get drawn into particular parenting camps during pregnancy or early motherhood, messages about appropriate middle-class parenting are so deeply embedded in mainstream culture that most women already have a sense of how they should parent, long before they ever have children.

As the name implies, intensive motherhood is intense. It demands a lot of mothers and all of the women in my study were aware of those demands. Despite being fully committed to intensive mothering, Angela worried about the toll it would take on her, explaining, “You have to sacrifice your needs for [your kids’] needs. I think if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right. I’m going to put their needs in front of mine … You have to hand your life over to them. It’s hard… It’s emotionally draining. It’s financially draining.” Most of the women I interviewed didn’t feel that they were up to meeting those challenges without first finding supportive partners and workplaces. Yet most of the women had already encountered inflexible workplaces and unsupportive partners and worried that they might never achieve their ideal scenario for raising children. Freezing their eggs gave these women some peace of mind that motherhood would still be an option for them when (and if) they felt ready to pursue it.

My work suggests that growth of elective egg freezing among professional-class women exposes the gaps between these women’s hopes and aspirations and the realities they encounter in their workplaces and love lives. Insecurity at home and at work leaves these women worried that they won’t be able to live up to their own expectations of good motherhood. Faced with the overwhelming demands of intensive motherhood, these women freeze their eggs in the hope of buying themselves time to find the perfect combination of factors that will allow them to be the mothers they want to be. Yet egg freezing is an imperfect fix that places the burden of resolving work-family conflict on individual women, rather than addressing the cultural and structural factors that make motherhood so difficult for these women to accomplish in the first place.

Kit Myers is a doctoral candidate in Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. Their research focuses on the intersection of gender, sexualities, and families with science, medicine, and technology. They are currently working on their dissertation on professional class women’s fertility decision making.