Google, Tell Me. Is My Dad Gay?

I saw Seth Stephens-Davidowitz speak at my university this fall. He talked about his new book, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, in which he analyzes trends in Google search data to explore topics that might be hard to explore without these data. Seth writes for the New York Times and publishes interesting data-driven analyses of what we can learn by looking at patterns in what people type into Google. In 2014, he published a story entitled “Google, Tell Me. Is My Son a Genius?” in which he wrote about the different things parents ask Google when it comes to their children. And, as Seth found, parents ask Google different things depending upon whether they’re asking about their sons or their daughters. On average, for instance, parents turn to Google to ask about the intelligence of their sons and the appearance of their daughters. It’s not a pretty picture.

Later, I wrote a post asking how commonly parents used Google to ask about their children’s sexualities relative to the searches Seth included in his analysis. And I found that they ask about Google about their kids’ sexuality a lot more than they ask about other qualities–specifically their sons’ sexualities.  I found Google searches for “Is my son gay?” to be about twenty-eight times more common than searches for “Is my son gifted?” And I found searches about whether or not sons are gay were almost five times more common than searches for “Is my daughter gay?”

After I wrote the post, I received a collection of emails from people claiming that I had used the incorrect comparison search for daughters. I should have used searches for “Is my daughter lesbian?” or “Is my daughter a lesbian?” I had initially included these searches, but they turned up so many fewer searches than “Is my daughter gay?” that I opted not to include them (though, I should have explained why in the post).

Later, sociologists Emma Mishel and Mónica L. Caudillo built on that in a post at Contexts work to consider how searches might have differed for daughters and sons. But they also showed that the finding regarding a greater volume of searches for queries about boys’ and men’s sexuality relative to similar searches for girls and women. Mishel and Caudillo found, for instance, that “Is my husband gay?” was about 3 times more common than combined search results for “Is my wife gay?,” “Is my wife lesbian?” and “Is my wife a lesbian?”

Okay… so that’s the backstory. After reading Mishel and Caudillo’s smart analysis, I kept thinking about whether and how children might ask Google about their parents’ sexuality. Short answer… they do. And these search data are consistent with my and Mishel and Caudillo’s other findings, showing a great concern with boys’/men’s sexuality relative to girls/women (see below). Below are relative search data for Google searches for “Is my dad gay?” alongside combined search results for “Is my mom gay?,” “Is my mom lesbian?” and “Is my mom a lesbian?” I also looked for searches using the terms “father” and “mother” rather than “dad” and “mom.” But the former are not commonly used on Google for these queries and do not alter the results if included.

Figure 1

In my initial post, I suggested that interpreting Google trend data is akin to reading tea leaves. While it’s not completely subjective, it’s certainly open to interpretation. Google search data show a greater patterned concern with boys’ and men’s sexualities relative to girls’/women’s sexualities. This pattern holds for searches regarding children, spouses, and parents too. It could be one of the ways women’s same-sex oriented sexualities are rendered less visible than men’s. It could be that boys and men arouse more suspicion or are deemed less sexually legible than are girls/women.

I agree with Mishel and Caudillo’s interpretation. They argued that these search data combined result from twin factors: the social devaluation of anything and everything deemed “feminine” in androcentric societies alongside the notion that same-sex sex and sexualities are often presented as (or assumed to be) gender transgressive. These two facts combined, Mishel and Caudillo argued, create a context in which same-sex sexualities and sexual behavior will be understood as more consequential for the status of boys and men than for girls and women. One way that might register in the big data world of Google searches is patterned queries showing greater concern for boys’ and men’s sexualities relative to girls and women.

Note: In this post, I followed Mishel and Caudillo in restricting the results to 2007 forward as it was at that point that Google controlled at least half of the search engine market in the United States. I also restricted the data such that only U.S. searches are included. Searches incorporating the words I used for this post were most common in the U.S. and in the U.K. But, there was not enough data to show any search volume for searches for mother’s sexuality unless I examined search data from the entire world.


Review Symposium on Mark Regnerus’s “Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy”

As book review editor with Men and Masculinities, I’m often having books reviewed outside my area of expertise. My goal has always been to make sure I’m reviewing books that represent the field, incorporating work by a diverse group of scholars, making sure to review the work done by women in the field, and including reviews from graduate students and faculty both in the U.S. and abroad. This year, the sociologist Mark Regnerus published a new book on masculinity and sexualityCheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy. It received a great deal of publicity, and quickly.

Just to consider the scale of publicity of the book, it was covered in New York Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post (twice, once an op-ed by Regnerus himself), The Atlantic, Harper’s Bazaar, The Globe and Mail, the Chicago Sun-Times, in addition to more conservative venues like Fox News and the National Review (again, twice, and once by Regnerus himself). This is, quite literally, just a very few of the public venues that reported on this research. As a public sociologist interested in more sociological research reaching public audiences, I was completely blown away. It’s rare to receive a single story in some of these outlets reporting on important sociological work, let alone this kind of massive national attention and sustained dialogue. Even more interesting because, while the book includes a massive collection of new data and analysis, the argument he’s pursuing in the book has been pursued before (more on this in a bit).

The reviews of the book are mixed in the public outlets. Some simply summarize his argument and suggest that he proved it while others are critical of the argument and study to varying degrees. Either way, very quickly, the book became a piece of a national conversation about men, masculinity, and sex. Those blurbing the work were all celebratory in their comments (as book blurbs often are). Perhaps most impressive were social theorist Anthony Giddens‘ comments, who referred to the book as “a magisterial study of the changing sexual landscape today,” and predicted that it would “become a standard work of reference in the field.” High praise!

I decided the book merited a conversation in the field. So, with the editor’s blessings, I invited a collection of scholars to review different elements of the book as a part of a review symposium at Men and Masculinities. I’ve read just about every issue of the journal and I think we’ve done something novel here. Distinct from some symposiums like this at other journals, this one ended up being less congratulatory. In some ways, it’s an odd thing to publish. But, in other ways, I felt the book was part of a larger issue in the field. It pursues an argument we’ve encountered before–leaning on a biologically deterministic position regarding men’s alleged insatiable desire for sex, albeit with new data and a new take.

Regnerus’s argument is that women have started to demand less from men in exchange for sex and this has produced a world historical shift and crisis for gender, sexuality, monogamy, and marriage more generally. He borrows an economic theory (“exchange theory”) to propose this, and leans on a variety of claims from biologically deterministic positions and evolutionary psychology to support his position as well. And he also marshals an incredible amount of evidence from nationally representative surveys and a sample of interviews he collected. There’s a lot to this book. So, I wanted a collection of people capable of reading it from these different perspectives to help readers of Men and Masculinities make sense of the argument.

I’m sharing it here because i hope people read and share the reviews. Sociologist Paula England (a supporter of exchange theory within sociology) assesses his use of this framework and reviews the applicability of exchange theory to his discussion of sex. I invited the anthropologist and NPR blogger Barbara J. King to evaluate his use of biological and evolutionary theories and frameworks that he relies on to support some of the larger claims in the book. And I asked the sociologist Philip N. Cohen to review the data and analysis critically. All three are public scholars par excellence. And I hope they produced a symposium that can be a touchstone as we encounter work subject to some of the critiques of this book.

We’ve published it ahead of print and online at SocArXiv here: (for those of you outside of academia, this means it’s not yet published, but will be in a forthcoming issue). I hope you will read it and share it with friends and colleagues. When arguments like this reach outside of academia, critiques from their peers should follow that reach and be a part of that conversation as well. That’s how we use science to make the world a better place. It’s part of the process and project.

Confederate Monuments in the U.S. and Cultural Inequality

Monuments are the sort of thing that don’t always demand our attention. Sometimes, they fade away and become part of the scenery. But at one point, someone or some group of people spent a lot of time thinking about what to put there, what it said about “us”, and more. Sometimes, people vote on them and occasionally there’s a controversy surrounding them after they’re officially unveiled or when they’re being proposed. But after they’re all set up, most of what they do is just sit there. Monuments are, most days, most of the time, sort of mundane objects in our lives–symbols of who we are (or who we were) the litter our paths through parks and on city sidewalks. And while we sometimes walk by them without taking notice, they are not symbols devoid of meaning, or power.

the lion of atlantaImagine a young black child in elementary school living in Atlanta, GA driving to school down Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr., past Oakland cemetery.  There’s a beautiful statue in the cemetery of a lion sprawled atop a stone clutching a confederate flag. The lion was originally commissioned by the Ladies Memorial Association (groups of, predominantly, wealthy white women than popped up throughout the South after the Civil War to commemorate Confederate soldiers and produce monuments honoring them). The lion of Atlanta was commemorated on April 26, 1894, dedicated to “UNKNOWN CONFEDERATE DEAD.” And there he sits today.  There’s a monument to a Confederate general in that cemetery as well. And it’s not all that far from Joseph E. Brown middle school–a school named for the governor of Georgia from 1857-1865 (eventually a U.S. senator as well), a leading secessionist in his day among those leading the state of Georgia to join the Confederacy. Today, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Joseph E. Brown middle school educates a student body that is more than 98 percent black!

It is unconscionably ignorant to suspect that these symbols that litter our environments have no appreciable impact on people–particularly those of us to whom these symbols do violence. Slavery may be abolished by the law of the land, but young black children can still walk by monuments presenting those who fought for slavery as heroes, mighty beasts mourning those who died to keep others enslaved.

I’m not teaching the introductory class in sociology this semester.  But when I do teach intro and I’m explaining what culture and cultural inequality are to students, I like to rely on concrete examples to illustrate the issues.  The Confederate flag is an important cultural symbol to be discussed right now with this lens, as are Confederate monuments.

Michael Kimmel, Amy Aronson, and I collected the data from the Southern Poverty Law Center on Confederate sites in the U.S. for an interactive visualization. It’s in the Culture chapter as a way for students to consider the relationship between culture and inequality. Below, you can see a map of Confederate monuments still standing in the U.S.

And below here, you can see schools still standing named for Confederate leaders. It’s not the only way racial inequality continues to persist. But it’s an important way this happens, and it’s one that seems an obvious choice if we want to think about what we can do to challenge racial inequality.

Lots of visualizations have been circulating relying on data from the Southern Poverty Law Center to visualize Confederate monuments, hate groups and more. It’s an important issue. And I hope we continue to challenge this legacy.

What Can Baby Names Tell us about #MeToo?

By: Tristan Bridges and Philip N. Cohen

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.pngMeasured 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.pngThe 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.pngThe 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.pngConsider 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.pngOnce 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.pngWhat 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.



A Year in Review and Best of 2017 – Inequality by (Interior) Design Edition

Well, Inequality by (Interior) Design turns six this year. Like 2016, I haven’t been as regular of a blogger as I’d like to be. But I was able to write more than 2016. And I’m happy with that. Each year, I like to take stock. Initially, I started taking stock of the blog posts. But a couple years ago, I used it as an opportunity to take stock of research and writing too. The big news is that I’m now at a new institution. I moved to the sociology department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It’s been a big change, but it’s a wonderful and supportive department that specializes in gender and sexualities (among other things).

This has been a bit of a whirlwind of a year. It started with me agreeing to take over as editor of one of my favorite sociology blogs of all time – Sociological Images. The now former editor, Lisa Wade, was touring around the U.S. giving talks on her new book (American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus) and asked if I’d manage the site for a few months. So, I did that January – March 2017. And it was intense. I only had to write one post a week, collect a guest post or cross-post from someone else on the web and share an old post on Fridays. But it was enough of a taste to realize that I am not cut out for that work in the long run and for me to truly appreciate just how amazing of a sociologist, blogger, writer, and person Lisa Wade is. I can’t believe she did that (alongside so much else) for over a decade! Three months, and I was exhausted. But I learned a lot about blogging and trusting myself to come up with ideas.

cover.jpgLike last year, many of the posts I wrote were associated with the introductory textbook in sociology that I was writing with Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson. And the really big news this year is that that book will be out soon – Sociology NOW, third edition by Michael Kimmel, Amy Aronson, and Tristan Bridges. I’m really so thrilled to have been a part of this project and still sort of can’t believe my name’s on the cover. And I learned more about the field than I ever thought I would (particularly for chapters that were farther outside my areas of expertise). And it was a LOT more work than I could have ever imagined. But it was really rewarding and I was excited to help us highlight the work of the next generation of sociologists in this edition, highlighting loads of cutting edge work by scholars who represent some of the diversity that make up our field. The book comes out digitally and in print – and the digital version is where a lot of the really fun stuff is. We made a host of interactive maps, graphs, and figures throughout the book to give students the ability to play with figures. My hope is that students gain a bit of data and visualization literacy through interacting with the text.

And new to this edition is a new framework for teaching the field that we call “iSoc.” So many textbooks continue to teach sociology with the “3 frames” approach (functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interaction). These theoretical paradigms are important and we still include them in the text. But they don’t organize the field, and I’m not completely sure they ever did. iSoc replaces this narrative about what the field is, what sociologists actually do, and what makes the sociological perspective so unique.

Michael recorded introductory videos for each of the chapters. And Amy and I recorded audio for a series of animation videos in each chapter too. Those were a lot of fun and I’m hoping they’ll be fun for students learning about sociology for the first time. In the Sex and Gender chapter, we produced a short animation about Agnes, a transgender woman who met with the sociologist Harold Garfinkel and helped him change the way we thought about and studied gender. Here’s a screen shot from that video (thanks to Kristen Schilt and Chase Joynt for feedback on the appearance of Agnes and for information about how to represent the recording device Garfinkel used). I recorded this one and I’m so excited for students to hear a message thanking Agnes for how sociologists think about gender.

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Another I really liked was in the research methods chapter. We produced a short animation of Janice McCabe’s research on college student friendship networks in Connecting in College: How Friendship Networks Matter for Academic and Social Success to talk about network analysis as a research method. Amy recorded this animation and it’s a great one (screenshot of McCabe talking with a college student about his friendship network below). It’s a fascinating book if you haven’t read it, and a really wonderful illustration of research of what social networks can tell us that people can’t. That chapter in the textbook has not only summaries of each research method, but short examples of really interesting research like McCabe’s that show students what the methods are capable of doing and discovering!

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The posts I wrote at Sociological Images often drew from materials I’d been putting together for bits of the textbook, like my post on the curious alignment and stall associated with gender gaps across a variety of different measures, my post visualizing new data on shifts in the size and composition of the LGBT population in the U.S., or my post visualizing how racial and educational segregation overlap in the U.S.

The other fun thing that happened while blogging this year is that a few of my posts turned into publications. I was really honored to have the tribute post I wrote with James Messerschmidt about Joan Acker’s work and theory included in a forthcoming symposium on her work and influence in Gender, Work, and Organization (here). James and I also wrote a short post on President Trump fluid performances of masculinity and how they contribute to the kinds of inequalities he has upheld at Democratic Socialists for America (here). And that piece will be a part of the next edition of Michael Kimmel and Michael Messner’s wonderful anthology, Men’s Lives (about to be in its 10th!!!!! edition if you can believe that). C.J. Pascoe and I wrote a short post on Trump and gender inequality in a symposium of sociologists responding to his election in our association newsletter (here). Tara Tober and I were invited to write a short piece at on mass shootings and masculinity. Quartz_shooting (1)And part of that work involved getting to work with their data visualization team a bit to develop a figure. They ended up wanting more bells and whistles than we had in our figure. But I always learn something new when I get to interact with people who think outside of the box when if comes to graphs. And, finally, I’m really excited about a short post I wrote on the racial and gender dynamics associated with shifts in the LGB population once the new 2016 GSS data became available this past year. Mignon Moore and I collaborated on a trends essay that will be coming out in the next issue of Contexts.

I published a few other things you can read about on my website if you’re interested. On to the top posts of 2017. All of the blogs I follow have a post (or collection of posts) at the end of each year celebrating some of their biggest and best posts of the year. And I’ve done it each year. I still write for different sites, but I continue to share all of that work here as a sort of central hub for anyone interested (okay… mostly this is for my parents).  Below are my top five most popular posts of the year along with an assortment of my personal favorites.

Top 5 Most Popular Posts from 2017

  1. Why People Are So Averse to Facts
  2. Possibly the Most Exhaustive Study of “Manspreading” Ever Conducted
  3. Just How Big Was the 2017 Women’s March? (with Tara Leigh Tober)
  4. Shifts in the U.S. LGBT Population
  5. Visualizing Gender Inequality in a Feminist Bookstore

My Personal Favorites from 2017

Some of these posts didn’t generate much interest at all. But they all helped me think through something, prepare for a course, summarize an idea for the textbook, research, or just something I felt compelled or excited to share.

I’ll conclude with the words I wrote last year at this time: Blogging is one way that we can reach audiences not possible with scholarly writing – attempting to have an impact on the forms of inequality we study and to help other people connect with sociological knowledge, research, and theory. Increasing the number of feminist sociological imaginations in the world can only make for a better place. Looking forward to 2018. As always, thanks for reading!

Help UCSB Sociologist Sarah Thébaud

The Thomas fire in California recently burned the home of my colleague, Sarah Thébaud. She evacuated in time and she, her partner, their daughter, and dog are all safe. But they are in need. A friend of theirs established a donation page on YouCaring.

I know this is an unconventional post on Inequality by (Interior) Design. But, if you’re able and interested, a sociologist is in need if you can send help.

Thanks, Tristan

Masculinity & Violence, and the Violence of Masculinity*

By Tristan Bridges and Tara Leigh Tober

Mass shootings have become a regular part of our news cycle. Research shows that there are more of them and that they have become more deadly over time. They’re horrifically senseless tragedies, and the aftermath follows what has become a well-worn path. We come together to mourn the loss of life, we collectively grieve for the victims, families, and communities, we get the generic “thoughts and prayers” statement from political leaders, and we all try to make sense of why it happened. We learn a lot about the killers, less about the killed, and the most clicked stories are those that attempt to make an argument about motive.

This month, the most recent mass shooting (as of November 15th, 2017) was committed in Northern California by Kevin Neal. He killed his wife before going on a multi-site shooting spree, killing people seemingly at random. Less than a week prior, Devin Kelley walked into a small Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas wearing black tactical clothing. He had on a ballistic vest, and armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle he opened fire. He killed 26 people, among them an 18-month old child. And he did it with a gun that he’d used as his Facebook profile image. Just one month prior, in October of 2017, Stephen Paddock blew out the window of his high-rise hotel room on the Las Vegas Strip and opened—fire with a collection of similar weapons—on thousands of people attending a music concert, killing 59 people and injuring over 500 others.

In the meantime, we learned of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults that span generations of women in Hollywood. We learned about the great lengths he went to keep his victims silent and of the collusion necessary to pull this off. The Weinstein scandal fell on the heels of news of the serial sexual assaults committed by Bill Cosby. And as survivors came forward to tell their stories, other high-power men across all manner of political, economic, and cultural life have been identified as serially and criminally abusive. And all of this is happening in the United States, a society who elected as president a man with a long history of sexual harassment and assault.

All of these events transpired when the full story of Tim Piazza’s death during a fraternity hazing ritual at Penn State in February of 2017 was reported. Footage shows Tim’s desperate battle for life, surrounded by a collection of young men—his new “brothers”—who either ignored or further injured Tim while he was dying. Had they simply taken Tim to a hospital, doctors testified, he very well could have lived. A grand jury report recommended over 1,000 separate criminal charges against the 18 fraternity brothers and the social organization itself.

Monstrous men, it appears, are everywhere.

The sheer number of moral crises that men are producing is tough to keep up with. If you care about these issues, you have to continually shift your focus from sexual assault, to fraternity hazing, to mass shootings, and on and on and on. Lately, it feels as if we have to consider a new moral outrage almost daily. And in the tumult, it can appear as though these crimes are unrelated. But they’re not.

Sociologist Lisa Wade (2016) drew a connection between the high profile sexual assault by Brock Turner and Omar Mateen’s mass shooting at Pulse night club, and she came to a similar conclusion. These are disparate events and we’re not suggesting they are the same crime or have had equivalent impacts or consequences. But sociologists identify patterns; it’s what we do. And the pattern here is the same as Wade suggested last year. The people committing these acts exist across our society, but they share something in common—they’re men heavily invested in a really toxic idea: masculinity. “The problem,” as Wade (2016) put it, “is men’s investment in masculinity itself.”

Masculinity, as it is currently constructed, relies on a sense of superiority and enactments of dominance. Political scientist Cynthia Enloe (2017) argues that men continue to abuse power and people (women in particular) because of what she calls the “sustainability of patriarchy.” And as Tristan and C.J. Pascoe (forthcoming) argue, systems of inequality as durable and adaptive as gender inequality are so pernicious precisely because of this quality—this “sustainability.” Men’s collective investment in masculinity, that is, is a social problem.

Men heavily invested in demonstrating masculinity commit the gross majority of violence across our society and around the world. In Wade’s (2017) more recent essay on masculinity in the era of Donald Trump, she suggests that part of how we ended up with a president wreaking havoc across the globe is that “we have been too delicate in our treatment of dangerous ideas.” “The problem,” Wade argues, “is not toxic masculinity; it’s that masculinity is toxic… It’s simply not compatible with liberty and justice for all.”

Perhaps we gender sociologists should consider being a bit more indelicate. We need to stop trying to redefine what men turn to when they feel the need to “man up.” There’s something deeply male-supremacist about the whole discourse surrounding “real men,” “manning up,” and the like no matter how it’s deployed. There’s a divide among scholars studying masculinity as to whether there are elements worth salvaging or not. How we can help men achieve “healthy masculinities” is the focus of a great deal of social scientific research, social work, and social justice activism. It’s time now to find ways of asking men to “man down.”

Donald Trump, Stephen Paddock, Devin Kelley, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, the fraternity brothers of Tim Piazza, Omar Mateen, Louis C.K., Brock Turner, Mike Oreskes, Dylann Roof, Clarence Thomas, Elliot Rodger, Seung-Hui Cho, Roy Moore… The list goes on and on and on. It’s not that we are failing to identify these men as part the worst humanity has to offer. It’s that we seem to continue to collectively fail to identify them as part of something larger than any of these men individually. Each of these perpetrators is most often framed as a bad individual, rather than identifying them as the worst parts of a toxic system. But masculinity isn’t just a part of this system; it is this system.

Sociologists of gender don’t need reminding that the horrific enactments of violence discussed here are the work of men. Whether masculinity is something we should consider salvageable or bankrupt ought to inform our scholarship and our politics. And on these issues, we’re with Wade. Masculinity is the malignant tissue connecting these seemingly disparate events. It’s time to man down.

*This essay originally appeared in the ASA Sex and Gender Section (November 2017) newsletter.