Tag Archives: Sociology of Gender

The gendered burden of development in Nicaragua

Pamela Neumann courtesy of the Gender and Society Blog
click on link above for full post


Flora’s experiences are part of a wider trend in how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governments are attempting to incorporate women into social and economic development. Many international policymakers have argued that women’s participation in development programs has the potential to alleviate poverty and advance women’s equality. Yet how do these strategies affect the everyday lives of poor women? To answer that question, I conducted participant observation and in-depth interviews with women who have been involved in various NGO and state-led development programs in a village I call Loma Verde in northwest Nicaragua. Women’s tasks within these programs typically involve some combination of village clean-ups, child care, and/or health education and training.

Feeling the Body: Embodying Sociology at the CWGS Conference

Recently, the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies hosted a productive and stimulating academic conference entitled “The Feeling Body.”  With the emerging attention the body and affect are receiving in research, this was a great chance for graduate students across disciplines to generate new conversations around the ways in which the body shapes knowledge.  Below we offer brief abstracts of the eight sociology imagesstudents who presented work at the conference.  Congratulations to the students, and congratulations to CWGS for another enriching and informative conference!

Caitlyn Collins:  “Some Girls, They Rape So Easy”: Conservative Discourses on Abortion and Rape in the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election

The United States has a sordid history of controlling women’s reproductive rights – ranging from forced sterilization to regulations on abortion. Most recently, the debate over abortion in the context of rape took center stage during the 2012 Presidential election. Republican politicians polarized voters by voicing their support for mandatory ultrasound laws, which would require women to have an ultrasound prior to obtaining an abortion, often vaginally using a probe – even for victims of incest or rape. Based on these lawmakers’ comments, what do the American people learn about conservatives’ opinions on women and their bodies? What are we taught to believe about women? And how might women feel in hearing these comments? I employ a feminist sociological perspective to examine Republican politicians’ comments during this past election in order to understand larger conservative discourses on abortion and rape. I examine six dominant themes in their rhetoric: pregnancy from rape is rare; sometimes women ask to be raped; sometimes women don’t know what rape is; some women lie about rape; legitimate rape can’t produce a pregnancy; and some rape is intentional because the product is a gift. I argue that these claims and larger discourses (a) are instruments of patriarchal social control over women’s bodies, (b) are forms of sexual violence and sexual terrorism, and (c) contribute to rape culture in the United States.

Juan Portillo: “You Better Not Get Pregnant!”: Epistemic violence and the regulation of Chicana students’ integration to higher education

In this paper, I center the brown, female bodies of six Mexican American students at The University of Texas at Austin as the site where social structures and ideologies are contested as they navigate a privileged space that has been imagined without them in mind (Puwar, 2004). I uncover the racial, gender, and class bias that members of the university take for granted by looking at the students’ identity formation and meaning making practices. I pay attention to their identity construction practices because these: (a) reveal the different strategies and cultural resources the students must use to overcome the racial, gender, and class barriers of the institution; and (b) reveal the racial, gender, and class microaggressions that students and professors perpetrate on the students to discipline and position them as subordinate. Concurrently, I look at the students’ experiences through a Chicana feminist lens, particularly Gloria Anzaldua’s (1987) concept of mestiza consciousness, in order to better understand their ambivalent and liminal social position. In addition, Chicana feminisms allow me to see the body as a site of potential theorizing (Cruz, 2001) and understand subjective personal experience as useful knowledge. As Paula Moya writes: “Since identities are indexical – since they refer outward to social structures and embody social relations – they are potentially rich sources of information about the world we share” (Moya, 2002, p. 131).

Shantel Buggs: “Your Momma is Day Glow White”: Questioning the Politics of Racial Identity, Loyalty and Obligation

Mixed race individuals in the U.S. consistently must negotiate their racial identities in relation to changing social contexts; the ability to shift and “perform” different racial identities has the potential to not only challenge hierarchical racial orders, but can cause strife within the individual’s family and friend groups.  As Azoulay describes in Black, Jewish and Interracial, passing or identifying more so with one racial group can be considered a “rejection” of other racial ancestry. This project utilizes an autoethnographic approach to explore the impact of larger racial/ethnic categorization on the experiences of mixed race individuals in terms of individual identity and familial/cultural group obligation(s), focusing on an incidence of public policing through a popular social networking platform and the invocation of racial obligation by white friends and family members. I analyze how racism manifests within the interracial family, how racial loyalty and obligation are used as means of regulating mixed race identity performance and how these negotiations affect the mixed race individual.

Kate Averett: The Family as Assemblage: Toward a Queer Approach to Family Studies

Changes in family structure in the U.S. over the last several decades, including an increase in single-parent families and the increasing visibility of families headed by LGBTQ parents, have resulted in increased attention among researchers to the definition of family. This paper is considers the implications for theoretical understandings of the family for social scientific methodologies of family studies. Drawing on queer theory, particularly the work of Sara Ahmed, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Jasbir Puar, I propose that in order to better understand the multiplicity of experiences of the family, social scientists would benefit from an understanding of family as an assemblage of embodied relationships. I argue that this approach to studying the family allows for a more intersectional approach to the study of families, one which takes into account the variety of embodied experiences that exist within families along axes of race, class, gender, sexuality, and age. In particular, I argue that such an approach allows more fully for an accounting of the experiences and contributions of children to family life.

Kristine Kilanski: When women “gain,” men lose?: An analysis of reader responses to news reports on the changing gender compositions of the workforce

In 2009, news reports were released announcing that women were about to outnumber men on nonfarm payrolls for the first time in U.S. history. In this presentation, I provide a brief overview of the push and pull factors that contributed to women’s increased labor force participation in the 20th century, and contextualize what this announcement said about the economic, historical, cultural and sociological moment in which it occurred. Then, I analyze reader responses to news articles announcing the changing gender composition of the U.S. workforce. The reader responses provide insight into the backlash women face when they are perceived to be making “gains,” and reveal longstanding stereotypes and cultural expectations of men and women’s “roles.” However, the comments also reveal alternative narratives about women and work, and that people are engaging critically with capitalism itself and the consequences of so-called economic “progress.” I argue that some of the media reports on changes to the gender composition of the workforce contributed to the false notion that the U.S. is a post-gender society, one no longer in need of feminism.

Anima Adjepong: What do you call a white woman with one black eye? Alternate readings of bruises on women rugby players

Conventionally, women, especially middle class white women, are expected to fit within a paradigm of heterosexual femininity that renders them meek and mild mannered. Bruises are a visible mark of a departure from norms of white heterosexual femininity. This paper explores the ways that bruises are legible on different women’s bodies. Using data from in-depth interviews with women’s rugby players, I ask players about their bruises and how they experience these bruises outside of a sports context. How do they interact with strangers and intimates who see their bruises? When players display their bruises, depending on how they fit into the discourse of passive heterosexual white femininity, they simultaneously challenge the idea that women’s injuries are a result of domestic violence and reproduce the idea that white women’s injuries are the result of violence perpetrated against them. The different ways bruises are legible on women’s bodies are imbued with racial and class stereotypes about the women who sport bruises. I employ an intersectional analysis to examine how white women who play rugby reproduce and challenge ideas about violence and femininity, and allow for a rethinking of the functions of white privilege

Letisha Brown: Through the Looking Glass: Sexual Violence, Body Image and Eating Behaviors in Black Women

This essay critically assess the research related to sexual violence, distorted body image, and disordered eating behaviors among Black women. While sociological research dedicated to the linkages between sexual abuse and eating behaviors among women is limited in general, it is especially sparse in regards to Black women.  Using a Black feminist approach that utilized fictional representations—Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye—as well as autobiographies—Stephanie Covington’s Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat—in conjunction with scholarly research this essay makes the case that there is a growing need for research that pays close attention to these processes among Black women. A 2009 study conducted by Goree and colleagues revealed that African American, and low-income women, both Black and White, were at a higher risk to the development of and persistence in bulimic behaviors. This quantitative study, as well as the literature reviewed in this essay point to a need for qualitative research that focuses on mechanisms that lead Black women to bulimia including experiences of sexual violence, racism and discrimination.

Michelle Mott: Pain in Pleasure: Reading Racialized and Gendered Representation and Agency in Rihanna’s “S&M”

In this paper, I suggest that Rihanna’s song and video performance “S&M” is a playful acknowledgement and critique of the ways in which her sexuality gets taken up and portrayed in the processes of commodification of her as a black female pop-star. Using Black feminist theory and critical race theory, I argue that Rihanna’s performance can be read as an attempt to push back against the confines of the racist and misogynistic tropes that render black female sexuality as always and already degenerative and deviant and the historical practices of resistance that some have argued renders black female sexuality nonexistent.

Chicken & Soda: Power and Stereotypes in Advertisements

Recently, Burger King has been under fire due to a leaked commercial starring hip-hop singer Mary J. Blige promoting their new crispy chicken wraps.  In the commercial, a customer asks a Burger King cashier what’s in the new crispy chicken wrap, and before she can answer, Blige appears in the dining room and rhapsodizes about “crispy chicken, fresh lettuce, three cheeses, ranch dressing wrapped up in a tasty flour tortilla.”  During the performance, Blige’s vocals are backed by a hip-hop beat and the Burger King slowly transforms from a fast food eatery to a hazy night club, replete with flashing multi-colored lights and patrons getting their groove on.

The ad was quickly picked up as a topic of conversation by our ravenous cyberculture.  Unsurprisingly, most of the attention was focused on the ways in which the ad invokes and promotes black stereotypes in the service of appealing to a black demographic.  As a blogger on Madam Noire put it, “Having a black woman sing about chicken was no mistake. They’re trying to reach the “urban” (aka black) demographic. And God knows black folk, won’t buy anything unless there’s a song, and preferably a dance, attached to it.”  Even Forbes magazine contributed a piece showing how the ad has significantly decreased the standing of Burger King in the African-American population.

In the Burger King ad, racial stereotypes – black people love fried chicken and hip-hop! -are used to try and sell a product to a specific demographic.  By employing these stereotypes, Burger King left itself open to the critique that their representation of the black consumer is essentialist and offensive.  Yet this advertising strategy is not new, and in fact has been successfully employed as recently as last year:

In the ads run by Dr. Pepper in 2011, their new diet drink Dr. Pepper 10 was sold with the tagline “it’s not for women,” and used a variety of masculine stereotypes – Yay action, guns explosions!  Boo romantic comedies and “lady drinks”! – to pitch their product to a specific demographic: men.  In essence – and leaving aside the deeply problematic ways in which the commercial denigrates femininity – this advertisement was just as essentialist and offensive as the Burger King ad, only it drew on stereotypes of masculinity instead of black people.  And while this advertising campaign indeed did hurt Dr. Pepper’s standing in the eyes of consumers,  the commercials continue to run and you can still like Dr. Pepper 10 on Facebook for access to Dr. Pepper 10’s “Ten Manaments.”  So what’s going on here?  If both of these advertising campaigns are using stereotypes to sell products, why has the backlash against the Burger King ads caused such an uproar while the Dr. Pepper 10 campaign continues?

The largest difference in these two advertising campaigns is power.  I hope I’m not rocking anyone’s world when I say that men hold more power in our society than black people.  By this I mean to say that in our patriarchal society men, through their demographic weight at advertising firms, movie studios, and television channels, especially in terms of upper management and direction, are well situated structurally to define what a “real” man is.  If the exaggerated masculine identity in the Dr. Pepper 10 ad is a joke, the position of men in creating the ad means the joke is self-deprecating.  By contrast, black people have by and large very little say in the sort of images and identities that circulate depicting blackness and black culture.  If the stereotypical blackness in the Burger King ad is a joke, the joke is on them.  To put this sociologically, we might say that that the powerful position occupied by men in society allows them to choose, or assume the hypermasculine identity displayed in the Dr. Pepper 10 ad, but it also allows them to reject it.  For black people however, the lack of power means that the vision of blackness put forth by Burger King does not come from black people themselves but is imposed, or assigned by the dominant (white) culture.  Because the identity is assigned externally and because the identity lines up with dominant cultural stereotypes, there is no option to accept or reject the association made between themselves and the chicken loving, clubbing version of themselves offered by Burger King.

Another way this power imbalance shows up is in heterogeneity of representation in media.  Dr. Pepper 10 may play into a stereotypical version of masculinity, but there are a myriad of cultural productions that display different performances and embodiments of masculinity than shown in the ad.  We have Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jason Stratham, but we also have Jim Carrey or Adrian Brody.  We have Team Edward, but we also have Team Jacob.  But when it comes to portraying black people, the types of representations offered in popular media are much more stereotypical.  While there has been arguable progress on this point, representations showing black people as angry, violent, criminal, or hypersexual still dominate American movies, television, and advertisements.  In short, the Dr. Pepper 10 ad does not lead the average viewer to the conclusion that all men must be like that, because the idea that there are more diverse ways to “be a man” than those offered in the commercial is patently obvious to them.  In contrast, because the media shows us less ways to “be a black person,” the vision of blackness promoted by the commercial snugly fits into the limited identities popular culture puts forth, thereby helping to reify stereotypes about black people.  Furthermore, and unlike men, there are many places in the United States where the largest exposure people have to black people is through media representation, giving these representations added weight in shaping who black people are or should be in the eyes of the viewer.

Another factor that must be taken into consideration when sociologically thinking about the reasons for these disparate responses is history.  The association between black people and fried chicken has a long history, dating from the days of slavery where blacks ate fried chicken in the form of table scraps from slave owners.  Then in the early days of film, blacks were uniformly portrayed as chicken eating, dancing and jiving buffoons, willing to lie and commit crimes to get their chicken fix.  More recently, we might recall Fuzzy Zoeller’s line to Tiger Woods after winning his first Masters championship asking him not to order fried chicken and collard greens for the Champion Dinner.  The idea that all black people like fried chicken is obviously problematic, as its posits what one likes to eat as somehow derived from biology instead of being a personal predilection.  As Dave Chappelle facetiously put it, “All these years I thought I liked chicken because it was delicious.  It turns out I’m genetically predisposed to liking chicken.”  For black people, having Burger King assume they like fried chicken signals more than just culinary disposition.  It also aligns with a long cultural history which uses such apparently benign stereotypes to buttress more nefarious ones.  If the average white viewer believes that his “black people like fried chicken” view has been validated through the Burger King commercial, the leap to take more negative stereotypes about black people  as fact – criminality or hypersexuality, for example – is a much smaller one.  This process has been touched on by some commentators during the course of discussing the ad when they describe the ways in which they avoid eating foods traditionally associated with the black community in public, afraid that the impression they want to give (“I like this food”) is not the impression people get (“See?  Black people really do like that food!”).  This again points to the workings of power in the difference between assumed and assigned identity.

In conclusion, the disparate reactions to the Burger King and Dr. Pepper 10 commercials demonstrate that you can’t examine how stereotypes operate in society without paying attention to power and history.  As shown in this popular parody of the Mary J. Blige ad, Burger King failed to realize that when you deal in racialized generalizations, you’re bringing a lot more to the table than just a tasty wrap.


Amias Maldonado is a doctoral student at the University of Texas.  His research interests include gender, sexuality, and critical race theory.  He was born and raised in San Antonio and as such, he finds both fried chicken in a tortilla and Dr. Pepper without real sugary goodness completely ridiculous.