Much Ado About “Sex Roles”

Originally posted at Feminist Reflections.

sex rolesThe journal, Sex Roles, is among the most highly ranked and influential journals publishing research on gender in the world.  I recently joined the editorial board and am really honored to evaluate research considered for publication there.  This isn’t a  post about the content of the journal, though; it’s a post about the title.  I want to suggest that we change it.  I recognize what a logistical nightmare this would be for the publisher, Springer, and how much work would need to be done to re-brand the journal.  But, I also think that some of the most cutting edge scholarship going on in gender might never see the journal as an appropriate venue with a dated title that relies on a concept and pays homage to a theory gender sociologists moved away from over three decades ago.

Sex role theory was the first systematic attempt to theorize gender when sociology was dominated by the paradigm of structural functionalism.  But, when we teach undergraduate and graduate students about sex role theory today, we often address the various failings of the theory (and to be clear, there are many).  Sex role theory was really the first systematic attempt to tie the structure of gender identities and what others called personality or “sex temperament” to the structure of society.  This might sound like a small feat today, because it is so taken for granted as a basic assumption behind so much scholarship motivated by this simple premise.  Put another way, sex role theory helped to label something “social” that lacked status as something to be studied by sociologists, at least in the ways sex role theory invited.

Like structural functionalist theory more generally, however, sex role theory was subject to a variety of critiques.  In C.J. Pascoe and my introduction in Exploring Masculinities, we summarize four prevalent critiques of sex role theory.  The theory is tautological, teleological, ahistorical, and fails to account for gender diversity or inequality–damning critiques, to be sure.  I won’t belabor the point.  Rather, I’ll put it this way.  The first time I submitted something to Gender & Society there was a brief caveat in the manuscript submission guidelines that explicitly stated that work relying on sex role theory was not appropriate for publication in the journal.  It’s since been removed–and I’d imagine this was probably done because people no longer submit articles that attempt to use the theory to explain their findings.  But it speaks to the level of agreement about the demise of the framework.

The current editor of Sex Roles, Janice Yoder, is fantastic.  She wrote a really insightful and inspiring essay in her new role as editor in December of 2015–“Sex Roles: An Up-To-Date Gender Journal With An Outdated Name.”  I won’t reiterate all of the great points Yoder addresses there (but you should read them).  What I will say is that she addresses the origins of the journal in the 1970s, as an publication desiring to publish scholarship focusing on “sex roles” as opposed to “biological, dimorphic sex”–an important project.  At the time, sex role theory was in vogue, and it was a concept and theory that had purchase in a variety of disciplines, likely helping initial editors justify the need for a journal in a still-emerging field of study.  The first issue was published in 1975.  Other journals emerged around this time as well, like Feminist Studies (1972) and Signs (1975) for instance.

But a separate collections of journals arrived a bit later like Gender & Society (1987), the Journal of Gender Studies (1991), and a whole collection of journals around the world and in different fields of study.  Sex Roles has consistently been ranked a top 10 journal publishing gender studies research.  Below, I want to compare the journal to the top ranked journal publishing research on gender–currently Gender & Society–to illustrate the impact of Sex Roles.  This is helpful to sociologists, I think, because Gender & Society is the gender journal many use to evaluate other gender journals in this field.  Gender & Society and Sex Roles are both hugely influential in the field (Figure 1).  Both journals have climbed in the rankings recently and have seen their impact grow.  Gender & Society is also a journal with a high citation per article count, and articles published in Sex Roles are not far behind (Figure 2).

Figure 1

Figure 2

Sex Roles, however, has also been published over a longer period of time and publishes more articles over the course of a year.  So, while the average article published in Gender & Society receives more citations than the average article published in Sex Roles, the total number of citations that articles published in Sex Roles receive is roughly 2-3 times the number received by Gender & Society (Figure 3).

Figure 3

All this is to say that there are certainly lots of ways to measure influence.  And by all measures, Sex Roles has a lot.  It matters–and the research published in Sex Roles ends up in a whole lot more reference sections of books and articles than does the work published in Gender & Society.

I think the journal should change the title.  And I realize that I’m not centrally involved in the work that would be required to undertake this task.  But, I’d wager that most of the scholars publishing research in that journal would support the critiques leveled against sex role theory in the 1980s by scholars like Barrie Thorne, Judith Stacey, and Raewyn Connell.  And I think a larger group of scholars would consider Sex Roles as an outlet for their research with a different title.  I realize that the logistics of this are much more complex than simply changing the cover and masthead.  It would involve a campaign on the part of Springer, current and former editors, as well as interdisciplinary collaboration among gender researchers.

After considering the change possible, the very first step would likely be to figure out what the new title of the journal might be.  My vote would be for “Gender Relations,” a concept that comes out of Raewyn Connell’s theory of gender.  Embedded in this concept was a critique of sex role theory and the biological reductionism that Yoder discusses in the essay I mentioned earlier.  On top of this, when we look at the mentions of the concept of “sex roles” in Google ngrams, you can see the decline of use over the years from a high point right around 1980.  Since then, the concept has fallen out of favor–a shift that coincides neatly with the increasing prevalence of “gender relations” (see below).

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As I’ve become more familiar with the journal over the past couple years and enjoy the research published there.  I realize that I have little influence and that this blog post is unlikely to initiate this change.  But when I’ve discussed this with other sociologists who study gender, I have yet to get into a conversation with someone who doesn’t have a problem with the title.  Maybe we can do something about it.

Joan Acker and the Shift from Patriarchy to Gender

by: Tristan Bridges and James W. Messerschmidt

We’ve read some of the tributes to the feminist sociological genius of Joan Acker.  And much of that work has celebrated one specific application of her work.  For instance, Tristan posted last week on Acker’s most cited article—“Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations” (1990)—which examined the ways that gender is so embedded in the structure of organizations that we often fail to appreciate just how much it shapes our lives, experiences, and opportunities.  But, this specific piece of her scholarship was actually her applied work. It was an application of a theoretical turn she was suggesting all sociologists of gender follow.  And we did.  Acker was involved in an incredibly important theoretical debate that helped shape the feminist sociology we practice today.

“Patriarchy” is a concept that is less used today in feminist social science than it was in the late-1970s and 1980s.  The term has a slippery and imprecise feel, but this wasn’t always the case. There were incredibly nuanced debates about patriarchy as a social structure or as one part of “dual systems” (capitalism + patriarchy) and exactly what this meant and involved theoretically. Today, we examine “gender.”  Indeed, the chief sociological publication is entitled Gender & Society, not Patriarchy & SocietyAcker - The Problem with PatriarchyBut in the 1970s and 1980s, patriarchy was employed theoretically much more often.  Feminist scholars identified patriarchy to focus the critique of existing theoretical work that offered problematic explanations of the subordination of women.  As Acker put it in “The Problem with Patriarchy,” a short article published in Sociology in 1989: “Existing theory attributed women’s domination by men either to nature or social necessity rather than to social structural processes, unequal power, or exploitation” (1989a: 235). The concept of patriarchy offered a focus for this critique.

Joan Acker was among a group of scholars concerned about the limitations of this focus; in particular, patriarchy was criticized for being a universal, trans-historical, and trans-cultural phenomenon—“women were everywhere oppressed by men in more or less the same ways” (1989a: 235).  Concluding that patriarchy could not be turned into a generally useful analytical concept, Acker proposed that feminist social science move in a different direction—a route that was eventually largely accepted and taken up.  It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Acker was among a small group of feminist scholars who shifted the conversation in an entire field.  We’ve been relying on their suggestion ever since.

Acker’s short 6-page article was published in the same journal that had published Raewyn Connell’s article, “Theorizing Gender” (1985), which spelled out her initial delineation of the problems with sex role theory and what she labeled “categoricalism.” Connell was also concerned with how feminist theories of patriarchy failed to differentiate among the categories of “women” and “men”—that is, femininities and masculinities. Judith Stacey and Barrie Thorne’s “The Missing Feminist Revolution in Sociology” (in Social Problems) was published that year as well (1985), specifically criticizing sociology for solely including gender as a variable but not as a theoretical construct. Acker (1989a) explained why feminist social scientists ought to follow this trend and shift their focus from patriarchy to gender relations and the construction of gender in social life.  As Acker wrote, “From asking about how the subordination of women is produced, maintained, and changed we move to questions about how gender is involved in processes and structures that previously have been conceived as having nothing to do with gender” (1989a: 238).  And in another piece published in the same year—“Making Gender Visible” (1989b) in the anthology, Feminism and Sociological Theory—Acker argued for a paradigm shift that would place gender more centrally in understanding social relations as a whole. Acker suggested a feminist theoretical framework that was able to conceptualize how all social relations are gendered—how “gender shapes and is implicated in all kinds of social phenomena” (1989b: 77). Today, this might read as a subtle shift.  But it was monumental when Acker proposed it and it helped open the door too much of what we recognize as feminist sociology today.

Acker published what became her most well-known article—“Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies”—in Gender & Society (1990) as an illustration of what the type of work she was proposing would look like.  She was concerned with attempts that simply tacked patriarchy onto existing theories which had been casually treated as though they were gender-neutral.  She explained in detail how this assumption is problematic and limits our ability to understand “how deeply patriarchal modes are embedded in our theorizing” (1989: 239).  And Acker illustrated this potential in her theorizing about gender in organizations.  But her suggestion went far beyond organizational life.

And by all measures, we took up Acker’s suggestion:  “Gender,” “gender relations,” and “gender inequality” are now the central foci of sociological theory and research on gender.  But Acker also concluded her short 1989 article with a warning.  She wrote,

[T]here is a danger in abandoning the project of patriarchy.  In the move to gender, the connections between urgent political issues and theoretical analysis, which made the development of feminist thought possible, may be weakened.  Gender lacks the critical-political sharpness of patriarchy and may be more easily assimilated and coopted than patriarchy. (1989a: 239-240)

Certainly, Acker’s concern leads us to honestly ask: Will shifting the theoretical conversation from patriarchy to gender eventually result in simply a cursory consideration of gendered structured inequality? Will the shift to gender actually loosen our connections with conceptualizations of gendered power? We don’t think so but one way to commemorate the legacy of Joan Acker is to both celebrate gender diversity while simultaneously visualizing and practicing gender equality.  This means continuing to recognize that inequality is perpetuated by the very organization of society, the structure of social institutions, and the historical contexts which give rise to each.

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References
Acker, Joan. 1989a. “The Problem with Patriarchy.” Sociology 23(2): 235-240.
Acker, Joan. 1989b. “Making Gender Visible.” Pp. 65-81 in Wallace, P.A., Ed., Sociological Theory and Feminism. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Acker, Joan. 1990. “Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations.” Gender & Society 4(2): 139-158.
Connell, Raewyn. 1985. “Theorising Gender.” Sociology 19(2): 260-272.
Stacey, Judith and Barrie Thorne. 1985. “The Missing Feminist Revolution in Sociology.” Social Problems 32(4): 301-316.

Google, Tell Me. Is My Son Gay?

Originally posted at Feminist Reflections.

Screen-Shot-2016-06-01-at-3.40.39-PM-300x290In 2014, a story in The New York Times by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz went viral using Google Trend data to address gender bias in parental assessments of their children—“Google, Tell Me. Is My Son a Genius?”  People ask Google whether sons are “gifted” at a rate 2.5x higher than they do for daughters.  When asking about sons on Google, people are also more likely to inquire about genius, intelligence, stupidity, happiness, and leadership than they are about daughters.  When asking about daughters on Google, people are much more likely to inquire about beauty, ugliness, body weight, and just marginally more likely to ask about depression.  It’s a pretty powerful way of showing that we judge girls based on appearance and boys based on abilities.  It doesn’t mean that parents are necessarily consciously attempting to reproduce gender inequality.  But it might mean that they are simply much more likely to take note of and celebrate different elements of who their children are depending on whether those children are girls or boys.

To get the figures, Stephens-Davidowitz relied on data from Google Trends. The tool does not give you a sense of the total number of searches utilizing specific search terms; it presents the relative popularity of search terms compared with one another on a scale from 0 to 100, and over time (since 2004).  For instance, it allows people selling used car parts to see whether people searching for used car parts are more likely to search for “used car parts,” “used auto parts,” or something else entirely before they decide how to list their merchandise online.  I recently looked over the data the author relied on for the piece.  Stephens-Davidowitz charted searches for “is my son gifted” against searches for “is my daughter gifted” and then replaced that last word in the search with: smart, beautiful, overweight, etc.

And while people are more likely to turn to Google to ask about their son’s intelligence than whether or not their daughters are overweight, people are much more likely to ask Google about children’s sexualities than any other quality mentioned in the article.  And to be even more precise, parents on Google are primarily concerned with boy’s sexuality.  Below, I’ve charted the relative popularity of searches for “is my son gay” alongside searches for “is my daughter gay,” “is my child gay,” and “is my son gifted.”  I included “child” to illustrate that Google searches here are more commonly gender-specific.  And I include “gifted” to illustrate how much more common searches for son’s sexuality is compared with searches for son’s giftedness (which was among the more common searches in Stephens-Davidowitz’s article).Picture1The general trend of the graph is toward increasing popularity.  People are more likely to ask Google about their children’s sexuality since 2004 (and slightly less likely to ask Google about their children’s “giftedness” over that same time period).  But they are much more likely to inquire about son’s sexuality.  At two points, the graph hits the ceiling.  The first, in November of 2010, corresponds with the release of the movie “Oy Vey! My Son is Gay” about a Jewish family coming to terms with a son coming out as gay and dating a non-Jewish young man.  The second high point, in September of 2011, occurred during a great deal of press surrounding Apple’s recently released “Is my son gay?” app, which was later taken off the market after a great deal of protest.  And certainly, some residual popularity in searches may be associated with increased relative search volume since.  But, the increase in relative searches for “is my son gay” happens earlier than either of these events.

Relative Search Popularity

Indeed, over the period of time illustrated here, people were 28x more likely to search for “is my son gay” than they were for “is my son gifted.”  And searches for “is my son gay” were 4.7x more common than searches for “is my daughter gay.”

Reading Google Trends is a bit like reading tea leaves in that it’s certainly open to interpretation.  For instance, this could mean that parents are increasingly open to sexual diversity and are increasingly attempting to help their children navigate coming to terms with their sexual identities (whatever those identities happen to be).  Though, were this the case, it’s interesting that parents are apparently more interested in helping their sons navigate any presumed challenges than their daughters.  It could mean that as performances of masculinity shift and take on new forms, sons are simply much more likely to engage with gender in ways that cause their parents to question their (hetero)sexuality than they used to.  Or it could mean that parents are more scared that their sons might be gay.  It is likely all of these things.

I’m not necessarily sold on the idea that the trend can only be seen as a sign of the endurance of gender and sexual inequality.  But one measure of that might be to check back in with Google Trends to see if people start asking Google whether their sons and daughters are straight.  At present, both searches are uncommon enough that Google Trends won’t even display their relative popularity.

The Enduring Feminist Sociology of Joan Acker

Joan Acker recently passed away.  I read the news on Twitter—someone in my news feed shared, “The world lost a giant.”  It’s true.  Her scholarship was titanic.  Acker quite literally altered the way we understand gender and provided a framework for understanding the ways gender becomes embedded in social structures and institutions that we have all been relying on ever since.  Joan Acker is my favorite kind of sociologist—she questioned something the rest of us had been under the assumption was unquestionable.  As the sociologist Jurgen Habermas wrote, “It takes an earthquake to make us aware that we had regarded the ground on which we stand everyday as unshakable.”  Joan Acker shook the very ground upon which sociologists of gender stood in this sense.  She questioned the unquestionable in the best of all ways.  She lay bare a theory and method of understanding gender inequality that helped us better understand just how pernicious it is.

Acker’s theory never gained the same kind of popularity associated with West and Zimmerman’s interactional theory of gender.  But we all rely on Acker.  When we refer to formal and informal collections of jobs, people, and organizations as “gendered,” we’re relying on her work.  Society is organized in ways that cause some people to experience a more seamless “fit” in some positions than others.  Stay-at-home fathers have a unique set of struggles associated with lacking a clear “fit” in similar ways to women who occupy jobs in the upper echelons of organizations dominated by men.  Society is organized in ways that cause us to experience this.Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 2.31.13 PM

Acker labeled this and theorized a language to study it and shine some much-needed light and attention on the ways that gender difference and inequality are part of the very structure of society at a fundamental level. Acker’s most cited and celebrated publication was published in Gender & Society in 1990: “Jobs, Hierarchies, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations.”  In it she begins:

“Most of us spend most of our days in work organizations that are almost always dominated by men.  The most powerful organizational positions are almost entirely occupied my men, with the exception of the occasional biological female who acts as a social man.  Power at the national and world level is located in all-male enclaves at the pinnacle of large state and economic organizations.  These facts are not news, although sociologists paid no attention to them until feminism came along to point out the problematic nature of the obvious.  Writers on organizations and organizational theory now include some consideration of women and gender, but their treatment is usually cursory, and male domination is, on the whole, not analyzed and not explained.”

Building on many other feminist scholars (including Heidi Hartmann, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Dorothy Smith, and more), Acker helped to show how gender differences in organizational behavior and outcomes were best explained by structural and organizational characteristics.  Gender difference was/is embedded in organizational structure, and Acker designed a language and theory for examining just what it means to consider gender inequality as “institutionalized.”

Within the logic of organizations, jobs are technically open to anyone; and they are stratified by complexity and responsibility.  This is how we create workplace hierarchies.  And they feel gender neutral.  Acker questioned this assumption.  Abstract jobs have the appearance of gender neutrality until we try to take a concrete example which necessitates something else—an ideal worker.

“Such a hypothetical worker cannot have other imperatives of existence that impinge upon the job…  Too many obligations outside the boundaries of the job would make a worker unsuited for the position.  The closet the disembodied worker doing the abstract job comes to a real worker is the male worker whose life centers on his full-time, life-long job, while his wife or another woman takes care of his personal needs and his children…  The concept of ‘a job’ is thus implicitly a gendered concept, even though organizational logic presents it as gender neutral.”

These are, today, routine assumptions from which scholars of gender from a range of disciplines proceed to study gender and inequality.  But they weren’t when Joan Acker was studying.  Acker’s theorization of institutionalized forms of inequality is a dominant theoretical perspective in the sociology of gender today.  At the conclusion of her article, she theorizes what it would take to dissolve the institutionalized forms of inequality in organizations.

“Such a transformation would be radical in practice because it would probably require the end of organizations as they exist today, along with a redefinition of work and work relations.  The rhythm and timing of work would be adapted to the rhythms of life outside of work.  Caring work would be just as important and well rewarded as any other; having a baby or taking care of a sick mother would be as valued as making an automobile or designing computer software.  Hierarchy would be abolished, and workers would run things themselves.  Of course, women and men would share equally in different kinds of work.  Perhaps there would be some communal or collective form of organization where work and intimate relations are closely related, children learn in places close to working adults, and workmates, lovers, and friends are all part of the same group.”

Like much of the structural theory of gender—particularly that work being published in the late 80s and early 90s—Acker proceeds from an unapologetically Marxist orientation.  And while we continue to study gender inequality from Acker’s vantage point, less has been done toward her vision of social transformation than she might have imagined would be when she published this a quarter century ago.  It still sounds so radical listed out above.  But is it really so radical a notion?  She concluded that article with a simple point.  We can organize society differently, in ways that continue to ensure that what needs doing gets done without all of the dominance, control, and subordination currently connected with these tasks.  The battles will always be fought over what actually comprises the “what needs doing.”  But Acker’s proposal for what needs doing is beautiful in its simplicity: “producing goods, caring for people, disposing of the garbage.”  Why any of the three of those should be considered more important than the rest is something we should continue to question.

The Architecture of Gentrification; Or, The Dining Rooms are Coming

By: Lisa Wade
Originally posted at Sociological Images.

The dining rooms are coming. It’s how I know my neighborhood is becoming aspirationally middle class.

My neighborhood is filled with “shotgun” houses. Probably from West Africa, they are designed for a hot, humid climate. The homes consist of several rooms in a row. There are no hallways (and no privacy). High ceilings collect the heat and the doorways are placed in a row to encourage a breeze to blow all the way through.

Around here, more often than not, they have been built as duplexes: two long skinny houses that share a middle wall. The kitchen is usually in the back leading to an addition that houses a small bathroom. Here’s my sketch:

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As the neighborhood has been gentrifying, flippers have set their sights on these double shotguns. Instead of simply refurbishing them, though, they’ve been merging them. Duplexes are becoming larger single family homes with hallways (which substantially changes the dynamic among its residents) and makes space for dining rooms. Check out the new dining room on this flip (yikes):

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At NPR, Mackensie Griffin offered a quick history of dining rooms, arguing that they were unusual in the US before the late 1700s. Families didn’t generally have enough room to set one aside strictly for dining. “Rooms and tables had multiple uses,” Griffin wrote, “and families would eat in shifts, if necessary.”

Thomas Jefferson would be one of the first Americans to have a dining room table. Monticello was built in 1772, dining room included. Wealthy families followed suit and eventually the trend trickled down to the middle classes. Correspondingly, the idea that the whole family should eat dinner together became a middle class value, a hallmark of good parenting, and one that was structurally — that is, architecturally — elusive to the poor and working class.

The shotgun house we find throughout the South is an example of just how elusive. Built before closets, all the rooms in a traditional shotgun are technically multi-purpose: they can be used as living rooms, bedrooms, offices, dining rooms, storage, or whatever. In practice, though, medium to large and sometimes extended families live in these homes. Many residents would be lucky to have a dedicated living room; a dining room would be a luxury indeed.

But they’re coming anyway. The rejection of the traditional floor plan in these remodels — for being too small, insufficiently private, and un-dining-roomed — hints at a turn toward a richer sort of resident, one that demands a lifestyle modeled by Jefferson and made sacred by the American middle class.

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Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Follow Dr. Wade on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.  She also blogs at Sociological Images, where this post originally appeared.

Masculinity and Son Preference among Heterosexual Men

Originally posted at Feminist Reflections.

I studied a group of fathers’ rights activists and men undergoing divorce, separation, and custody battles for a little over a year.  Fathers’ rights organizations were, for me, an interesting place to study anti-feminist gender politics because they are, in many ways, one of the most successful arms of the men’s rights movement more generally.  Fathers’ rights activists and advocates are asking for things feminists have long sought from men: a greater investment in their children, a move toward a model of parenting that moves beyond the “provider” model.  And all of these things make fathers’ rights groups the most politically palatable and mainstream of the virulent misogyny that characterizes the men’s rights movement more generally.

At the weekly meetings I attended, I regularly heard men pushing back against this stereotype, wanting to be “more than a paycheck” in their kids’ lives.  And in my experience, the men who gave up on their custody battles the most quickly, those who lost contact with their children, or failed to show up at the times designated by the court had one thing in common: most of them had daughters.  In the group I studied, men with sons stuck with and struggled through really challenging custody arrangements and incredibly tense relationships with the mothers of their children. My study did not involve a sample from which I can generalize about this idea.  But there is a host of interesting scholarship on how fathers in straight couples engage with their children contingent upon the gender of their children.

Gender is a big topic of discussion when people have babies.  It shapes the sorts of names we consider (or don’t).   It shapes the way we set up the nursery, what color we paint the walls, the infant clothes we buy and receive, the things we imagine our child doing one day (or not). And research suggests that, among heterosexual couples, fathers are more invested in gender conformity than mothers. It’s not uncommon to hear that heterosexual men want boys—or are expected to want boys.  Sex selective abortion is a really powerful illustration of son preference.  But son preference can be measured in other ways as well.

I just read a working paper by economist, Laura Giuliano examining the effects of having sons versus daughters on heterosexual marriages.*  The paper was initially published as a working paper in 2007.  So, it’s a little dated.  But the data and argument are really fascinating, if frustrating. Children take a toll on marital happiness for both mothers and fathers (shocking, I know).  Among heterosexual married mothers in Giuliano’s sample, there was no meaningful difference in the level of marital happiness among mothers who had sons compared to those who had daughters.  Among fathers, however, the story is a bit more complex.  Heterosexual married fathers with sons had significantly higher levels of marital happiness than those with daughters (see graph below).

Marital Happines by Child Gender.png

This makes men look like the problem here.  But, Giuliano found that women are invested in this issue as well.  She also discovered, for instance, that couples in which  the fathers had higher levels of marital happiness but the mothers said that they would be as happy or happier NOT married were disproportionately likely to be couples with sons.  This suggests that mothers in heterosexual marriages that make them unhappy are much more likely to remain married if the child happens to be a boy.  One hypothesis for which Giuliano found support is that this discrepancy is produced by a collective perception that sons and daughters have different needs and that fathers are more essential in the raising of boys than girls.  Add to this that fathers of sons in Giuliano’s sample also engaged in different parenting practices.  Fathers with sons were more likely to look after and spend more time with their kids and the wives of fathers with sons held more positive views of them as parents.

There’s a lot of literature out there on how we need to get men engaged in modeling healthy masculinity to the next generation—showing boys that parenting and care work aren’t feminine practices; they’re human practices.  But all of this can’t be accomplished alongside an “androcentric” ideology that holds that boys and men are somehow more important than girls and women, more deserving of our time, attention, and apparently even affection sometimes.  It’s great that men are participating more as parents.  But we have a long way to go if they’re still waiting to see if the child is going to be “Matthew” or “Megan” before deciding whether to ask for a more flexible schedule at work.

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*I learned about this research from Emily Bobrow’s great essay in The Economist, “It’s a Boy Thing” (shared on social media by Philip Cohen).

Visualizing the Sociology of Liana Sayer and Time Use Research

Originally posted at Feminist Reflections.

People are often shockingly wrong about how much time they dedicate to various tasks.  In general, we tend to overestimate how much time it takes to do things we dislike and underestimate how much time we spend on tasks we enjoy.  So, people ritualistically overestimate how much time they spend on laundry, cleaning bathrooms, working out and underestimate how much time they spend watching television, napping, eating, or doing any number of tasks that provide them with joy.

Asking about how people use their time has been a mainstay on surveys dealing with households and family life.  We ask people to assess how much time they spend on all manner of mundane tasks in their lives–everything from shopping, sleeping, watching television, attending to their children, and household labor is divided up into an astonishing number of variables.  The assumption, of course, is that people can provide meaningful information or that their responses are an accurate (or approximately accurate) portrayal of the time they actually spend (see here).  This is why time diary studies came into being–they produce a more accurate picture of how people use their time.  People record their actual time use throughout the day in a diary, marking starting and stopping points of various activities.  And there are a number of different scholars who rely on this method and these data.  But Liana Sayer is among the leading scholars in the field.  When I’ve seen her present, or others present on time use data, the data are almost always visualized in the same way (as stacked column charts).  Personally, I love seeing the data this way.  The changes jump out at me and I feel like I instantly recognize trends and distinctions they discuss. But I have learned in my classroom that students do not always have the same reaction.

I’m interested because I use data visualizations in class a lot.  And in my (admittedly limited) experience, students have an easier time interpreting the story of time use data when it is visualized in some ways over others.

All of the examples here are pretty basic changes in data visualizations.  But, learning these basics are necessary to help students read the more complex data visualizations they may encounter.  Being able to interpret visualizations of temporal data is important; it’s part of what helps social scientists consider, measure, and critique the idea of “feminist change.”  Distinguishing between men’s and women’s time use is only one pocket of this field.  But, it’s the one I’ll focus on here, and on which Liana Sayer is among the foremost experts.  The data I’m visualizing below come from one of Sayer’s most cited articles: “Gender, Time and Inequality: Trends in Women’s and Men’s Paid Work, Unpaid Work, and Free Time” (here – behind a paywall).

It’s fairly common to present time use data with a series of stacked columns (the same way the Census often illustrates shifts in household types).  Below is a visualization of the differences between women’s and men’s minutes per day allocated to paid work, unpaid work, free time, and time dedicated to self care.  It’s all time diary data and we talk about why this is more reliable and a better measure – but also why it is more difficult to collect, etc.  Some students see the story of this graph immediately.  I do too.  Men’s time allocated to paid labor decreased while women’s increased.  And women perform more unpaid work than do men.  Lots of students, however, are stumped. stacked column

But when I present the data differently, students often have an easier time seeing the story the chart is produced to illustrate.  The Pew Research Center visualizes a lot of their data using stacked bar graphs.  And maybe it’s because these are more easily recognized by people with less experience with data visualization.  I have found that more of my students are able to read the chart below than the one above (at least for temporal time use data comparisons).stacked bar

Another way of presenting these data might be to use clustered columns.  I have also found that students are more quick to recognize the trend in these data with the graph below than they are with the initial stacked column chart.cluster column

But, I’ve found that students have the easiest time with line charts for temporal time use data.  On the chart below, I deleted the grid lines because The New York Times sometimes displays time trend data this way (see Philip Cohen’s piece on NYT Opinionater, “How Can We Jump-Start the Struggle for Gender Equality?” for an example).  Students that struggle to recognize the trend in the clustered column chart, are much faster to see the trend here.line

These aren’t an exhaustive set of examples, and all of them are basic visualizations.  For instance, we might use a stacked area chart to show these data (as trends in the racial composition of the U.S. are often depicted), a scatterplot (as data on GDP and fertility rates are often illustrated), a series of pie charts (as men’s and women’s various compositions in different economic sectors are sometimes visualized), or something else entirely. Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 9.59.28 AMIn fact, The New York Times produced a really incredible interactive stream graph visualizing data from The American Time Use Survey that illustrates differences in time use between groups. I sometimes have students explore this graph in my course on the sociology of gender.  But many struggle interpreting it.  This is, I think, in part due to the fact that we often take data visualization literacy for granted.  It’s a skill, and it’s one we should be better at teaching.

I think the point I want to make is that we (or I, at least) need to think more carefully about how we visualize our data and findings to different audiences.  Liana Sayer has an incredible mastery of this (she presents data in all of the ways mentioned in this post and more throughout her work).  One thing that I’m thinking more about as I write and teach about research and findings amenable to data visualization is which visualizations are best suited to which kinds of data (something all scientists are concerned with), but also which visualizations work with which kinds of audiences.  This is new territory to me.

Visualizing feminist change in a single chart is difficult.  And it’s often accompanied by, “Well, this is true, but let me tell you about what these data don’t show…”  But, I’m interested in how we make choices about visualizing feminist research and whether we need to make different kinds of choices when we talk about the findings with different kinds of audiences.