What Can Testicles tell us about Dads?


Cross-posted at Girl W/ Pengwptwittericon2

Screen shot 2013-09-11 at 11.32.26 AMSo… I’m going to go ahead and say that this is the wrong question to be asking. This question proceeds from a belief that testicles CAN tell us something about dads. A new study is making the rounds in the news that addresses the relationship between testicle size and parenting behavior among men (well… 70 men… not randomly sampled…). The paper is entitled “Testicular Volume is Inversely Correlated with Nurturing-Related Brain Activity in Human Fathers” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. I can think of more than a few titles that might have been catchier (and clearly, journalists reporting on the research had a similar idea).

In fairness, I don’t have access to the complete study (though I’ve requested it). But the problem is also in how this study gains attention in the media. It’s a great example of how a correlation combined with cultural stereotypes and assumptions can run wild. When correlations combine with popular stereotypes concerning a particular topic (like, say, the relationship between testosterone and any number of socially undesirable behaviors), questions about the science sometimes get lost because it looks like something was “scientifically proven” that we already wanted to believe anyway.

So, here’s the relationship the researchers found: men with smaller testicles tested more positively for nurturance-related responses in their brains when shown pictures of their children. The study reports that men with smaller testicles had roughly three times the level of brain activity in the area of the brain associated with nurturing. These men (with smaller testicles) were also men with lower levels of testosterone—something that has previously been shown to be associated with nurturing behavior among men.*

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Architecturally Isolating “Feminine” Emotional Displays

I recently moved to upstate New York.  So, there’s a lot more Victorian-style architecture in my neighborhood.  I’ve posted on the interesting ways that Victorian architecture gender segregates activity within the domestic space before (here and here).  photo 1(1)One room I’ve been interested in lately is a room with a few different names and a history that’s not entirely known.  It’s sometimes referred to as a “roofwalk.”  But, it’s more commonly called either a “widow’s walk,” “widow’s perch,” or a “widow’s watch.”  When I first learned about it, it was written about as a widow’s watch.  And there’s a bit of cultural mythology that surrounds these rooms in homes.  Here are two houses in my neighborhood with the room (right and left).photo 2(1)

The story that I’ve always heard about this room is that it was designed for the wives of sailors to watch and wait for their husbands to return.  Women whose husbands died at sea–so I was told–would sit in these rooms, pining for their long-lost lovers.  As it happens, there’s not a great deal of evidence that this was, in fact, the original purpose of the room, nor that this is how these rooms were actually used.  They did initially appear during the period when the sailing industry produced international trade on a level previously unimaginable and during which naval warfare dominated (~1500’s through the mid 1800s).  But the rooms could have equally been intended for (and used by) mariners themselves (rather than their wives) to look out for ships due back in port.  Indeed, in some communities, these rooms are referred to as “captain’s walks.”

And it’s also true that a great deal of these rooms were initially built around the chimneys of homes to provide quick and easy access to the chimney both in case it needed repair, and for a quick way to put out chimney fires–a constant dilemma in early American architecture.  This was the reason people had their chimneys “swept” every so often.  victorian style chimney sweep, a child chimney sweep,  hulton piThe accumulated ash and soot, if not regularly removed, could ignite.  Sweeping chimneys was serious–and extremely dangerous–business.  Children were often used because of their size, but it was a job often given to orphaned children.  It’s also a powerful illustration of historical understandings of children and childhood.  Despite being illegal, it would be unthinkable to ask a child to do something this dangerous today.  Chimney fires were serious business.  So, having quick access to pour sand down might have saved your home.

Yet many of these rooms today are not around chimneys, and if they were intended for either men or women, they were a room gendered by design.  And if intended for women, then they continued a tradition within Victorian architecture of designing rooms specifically intended to segregate (and/or isolate) certain emotional displays of women, keeping them out of sight.

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The Sad Demise, Glorious Triumph, and Mysterious Disappearance of the Gayborhood?*

Cross-posted at Social (In)Queery

This post is part of a series of posts I’ve written on sexuality and space, specifically addressing issues of where LGBT populations live and why.  See “Can Living in the City Make you Gay?” and “Why More Lesbians (Might) Live in Rural Communities than Gay Men” for the first two in the series.

the CastroThe gayborhood is a relatively new cultural phenomenon.  While groups of gay men and lesbians have sought living spaces organized around sexual identity for a long time, neighborhoods actively recognized as “gayborhoods” by others is something arguably more recent.  Indeed, as Amin Ghaziani writes, “It’s quixotic to think that gay neighborhoods have always been around and will never change” (here).  Sociological research on gayborhoods asks a few different kinds of questions: How and why do gay neighborhoods emerge?  What kinds of factors shape their growth and endurance?  What kinds of processes and forces threaten their existence?

A variety of social forces account for the emergence of gayborhoods.  Ghaziani discusses the pivotal role that World War II played in their emergence.  As men and women came home–some after being dishonorably discharged from service (as a result of their sexuality)–they settled in port cities like San Francisco.  But, gayborhoods were also emerging prior to WWII as well.  Yet, these early, largely urban, gay enclaves were distinguished by their unpublicized nature.  They were spaces to which people with same-sex desires could go to locate one another.  Ghaziani remarks, however, that the post-WWII U.S. was marked by a shift toward the development of increasingly formalized urban gay districts in some of the larger U.S. cities.

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“Are You Man Enough to Be a Nurse?” Campaign Posters

By: Tristan Bridges and Sarah Mosseri

Cross-posted at The Fifth Floor

Beliefs about inherent differences between men and women are pervasive.  Thinking about men and women in opposition to one another is a belief system, and one in which our culture puts a great deal of stock.  Gender differences are promoted by popular culture and are subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) reproduced through our basic institutions such as the family, education, and the military. So-called “natural differences” are also called upon to justify and reinforce gendered divisions of labor by suggesting that women and men are somehow naturally suited to different kinds of work.

As with most socially constructed distinctions, the notion of “separate but equal” does not apply here.  The prototypical “feminine” work is care work (e.g., teacher, nurse, social worker, flight attendant), and professions organized around “care” account for a huge proportion of women’s paid work.  Barbara Reskin and Patricia Roos (here) report that roughly one third of the 66,000,000 women in the formal labor force in the early 2000’s could be accounted for by only 10 (of the 503) occupations listed on the U.S. Census!  Not much has changed in more recent history either.

Now recognized as “occupational ghettos”, these female-dominated care professions are associated with a great deal of work, lower levels of cultural status and prestige, and often less pay as well.  As a phenomenon, occupational segregation may well account for the majority of the gender wage gap.  According to Maria Charles and David Grusky (here), occupational segregation persists less because we think of men as better and more deserving of the higher status and higher paying jobs and more because of our collective investment in the idea that men and women are simply naturally suited to different sorts of work.

Nursing is one example of this.  An area of care work, nursing is a female-dominated occupation that has suffered from the effects of gendered devaluation—an issue that has made it difficult to recruit men into the field. As Paula England argues, “Because the devaluation of activities done by women has changed little, women have had strong incentive to enter male jobs, but men have little incentive to take on female activities or jobs” (here).

Intending to challenge the femininity of nursing and to directly target men for recruitment into the field, the Oregon Center for Nursing (OCN) launched the “Are You Man Enough To Be A Nurse” campaign.


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Never Gender a Book by its Cover

Book covers are gendered spaces.  Not only authors names (one reason I’ve always been fond of using first initials rather than first names), but the colors, designs, scripts, and more are deeply gendered symbols.  Author Maureen Johnson tweeted about getting a lot of comments from men saying that they’d love to read her books, but require a “non-girly cover” to do so.  Johnson’s book covers have some pretty characteristic “feminine” features, from the women depicted on them, to the script used for the titles, to the colors, and more (see below for a sample).

Johnson 1

Johnson challenged her readers to craft masculine covers for books with feminine covers and feminine covers for books with masculine covers.  She called the project “Coverflip,” and it spawned quite a bit of support (check out the #coverflip hashtag for more on the story in Huffington Post here).  Johnson wrote about it in this way:

Imagine that book was written by an author of the OPPOSITE GENDER. Or a genderqueer author. Imagine all the things you think of when you think GIRL book or BOY book or GENDERLESS book (do they EXIST?). And I’m not saying that these categorizations are RIGHT—but make no mistake, they’re there… Now, as a mental exercise, imagine [the author is a different gender]. The book has the same exact topic. Does the cover look like this? (here)

tumblr_mme5n7AKhH1r1tusjo1_500slide_296089_2421810_freeThe call produced a stream of submissions.  To the right and left are two of Johnson’s books flipped.

The fact is, we do judge books by their covers.  Cover art matters.  So too does the gender of the author, the author’s name, the title, and more.  Covers are one way publishers can communicate to potential readers “what kind of book” a particular book is and who the intended audience might be.  I like to imagine people coming across #coverflip and thinking, “Well I’d never read that book… Buuuuutttttt… I’d read it with that cover.” Continue reading

Gendering Children and Children’s Spaces

Jiyeon and Her Pink Things_mJeungMee Yoon’s “The Pink and Blue Project” has garnered quite a bit of attention.  The photographs are visually jarring.  Cole and His Blue Things_mPositioning girls and boys in the midst of the sea of their own pink or blue objects is a powerful statement about gender, consumption, and globalization.  Yoon got interested in the project through her own struggles as a parent.

The Pink and Blue Projects were initiated by my five-year-old daughter, who loves the color pink so much that she wanted to wear only pink clothes and play with only pink toys and objects. I discovered that my daughter’s case was not unusual. In the United States, South Korea and elsewhere, most young girls love pink clothing, accessories and toys. This phenomenon is widespread among children of various ethnic groups regardless of their cultural backgrounds. Perhaps it is the influence of pervasive commercial advertisements aimed at little girls and their parents, such as the universally popular Barbie and Hello Kitty merchandise that has developed into a modern trend. (here)

CAMD-paperbackIndeed, these struggles are the same that led Peggy Orenstein to write Cinderella At My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.  As both Yoon and Orenstein show, pink and blue are about so much more than colors.  These colors structure children’s lives in intricate ways.  D’Lane Compton and I posted on similar issues with respect to children’s clothing and the gendering of parenting products (here).

The objects we fill our children’s rooms with tell us a great deal about our culture and they structure the ways children experience the world around them.  While “princess culture” gets a lot of attention, it’s probably fair to say that the ways boy’s objects and identities are similarly gendered with all variety of “blue” is less discussed.

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On Queering Parenting and Gender-Neutrality

by: D’Lane Compton and Tristan Bridges

–Cross-posted at Social (In)Queery and Your Queer Prof


Becoming a parent is fascinating, but becoming a parent who studies gender and sexuality, and—for one of us—identifies as queer… well let’s just say that creates a whole different level of awareness and curiosity. Prior to becoming parents, we both had a fine-tuned appreciation of the ways that gender and sexuality structure our experiences and opportunities. Anne Fausto-Sterling draws a great metaphor comparing the onset of gender binaries to the process of water erosion. river formation diagramAt first, the erosion (read: gender) may not be visible. Small watery tributaries begin to form—the arms of future rivers that could, at this stage, easily change route. Gradually, streams emerge, slowly becoming rivers. And before long, you end up with something like the Grand Canyon. Yet, looking at the Grand Canyon disguises all of the crises that the fledgling streams navigated—a watery path whose flow, course, and geography were yet to be determined. Gender, said Fausto-Sterling, is no different. It takes time to learn to think of it as permanent and predetermined when it is actually anything but.

Just to put this in context, let us provide an example illustrating this issue as well as the sociological imagination of children at work. It involves a trip to the grocery store, a bold 3-year-old girl and her mother. At the checkout line, the girl trotted up to Tristan’s cart with her mother, pointed at Tristan’s son, and asked her mother, “Is that little baby a boy or a baby girl?” The mother looked at Tristan. He smiled, revealing nothing. “That’s… um… a boy, honey,” the mother responded, with a questioning tone (guarding, I’m assuming for the possibility of having mistaken a him for a her). “Why?” the little girl asked. Rolling her eyes at Tristan, the mother looked down and gave that classic parenting response—“Because!” she said. “Will he always be a boy?” she continued. The mother awkwardly chuckled, shrugging her shoulders, grinning and shaking her head at Tristan. “Yes, honey,” she laughed, “He’ll always be a boy.” And with that, they moved on.

The questions seemed odd to the mother, but the little girl clearly wasn’t joking. And she learned something significant in the interaction, even if her mother wasn’t actively teaching a lesson. In fact, some of the most important lessons we teach children are probably not on purpose—showing them what’s worthy of attention, what to ignore, what should be noticed but not discussed, and more. This little girl learned one of the ways that we think about gender in this culture—as a permanent state of being. To think otherwise, she learned, is laughable. This little girl seemed to understand gender as a young stream capable of becoming many different rivers. Her mother seemed equally sure that the stream had a predetermined path. And here’s where things get tricky—they’re both right. It’s likely Tristan’s son will identify as a boy (and later on, as a man). Most boys do. GenderBut treating this process as inevitable disguises the fact that… well… it’s not. This question came out of a 3-year-old because she’s actually in the process of acquiring what psychologists refer to as “gender constancy”—an understanding of gender as a permanent state of being. She’s not there yet, but interactions like the one discussed above are fast helping her along. These beliefs are institutionalized throughout our culture in ways that don’t make interactions like these completely predetermined, but make them much more likely.

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The U.S. Gender Gap in Bicycle Traffic

I’ve written on traffic as a gendered space before (here).  Women, as it turns out, make up the vast majority of congestion among automobiles on the road.  And, as I wrote, there are really two ways of looking at this issue: (1) women are either causing more traffic (a popular view until it was challenged by feminist traffic scholars); or that (2) women are enduring more traffic.  The latter of the two is the one that has received empirical support.  For a variety of reasons that stem from inequitable divisions of household labor, care work, and more, women are more likely than men to be driving someone else somewhere they need to go, chaining trips together to complete multiple tasks in a single “trip,” and on top of this, they’re also more likely to leave just a bit later than men, hitting peak hours of bad traffic.

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 10.43.57 AMBut, driving isn’t the only form of traffic, and it’s not the only gendered traffic space.  Many people in cities bike, and biking, as it turns out, is gendered too.  Most estimates suggest that men are about three times as likely as women to be biking in the U.S. (see also: here).  This is significant, because men don’t bike more than women everywhere in the world.  But they do in the United States.  In some European countries (like Germany, the Netherlands, and Demark), biking is undertaken much more evenly between men and women.  The U.S. Department of Transportation found that only about 24% of biking trips were made by women in 2009.  So, not only are more men biking, but they’re biking—on average—more often than the women who bike too.  There are a few explanations for this that have to do with gender and space.

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 10.45.46 AMOne contributing factor may be that bike stores are “masculine” spaces (here).  Though the conclusions from Genevieve Walker’s analysis of bike stores are a bit offensive (e.g., if we want more women to bike, bike stores need: “really good information,” “good clothing options,” and “a hot guy standing behind the counter”), the notion the bike stores are “masculine” is interesting.  It reminds me of Carey Sargent’s analysis of how musical instrument stores are culturally gendered in ways that reproduce our cultural understanding of “rock musician” as masculine.  She explicitly draws the comparison to bike shops, among other kinds of stores that cater to specific consumer “lifestyle choices.”  Continue reading

What’s in a name?—The Controversy Over “Manholes”

Screen shot 2013-02-15 at 9.34.52 AMOccupational gender segregation matters and can be attributed to a number of factors.  But, a significant factor is cultural.  Jobs are gendered.  Often not in any necessarily straight-forward way, but jobs acquire gendered attributes and meanings.  In fact, occupational gender segregation probably plays a key role in producing our understandings of what is “masculine” or “feminine” in the first place.  As Joan Acker famously argued, the “abstract worker” is imagined to be a man (here).  This idea is perpetuated in a variety of ways—through formal and informal workplace policies, through curricular gender segregation as areas of study acquire “gendered” meaning, through the ways we frame the work itself as demanding a “masculine” or “feminine” strengths and/or sensibilities, and often, through things as simple as job titles.

The feminist movement fought long and hard to have firemen referred to as firefighters, policemen as police officers, etc.  The lack of gender-neutral language was a subtle, but symbolic, way through which women were culturally excluded from certain occupations (even in cases where no laws or formal policies necessarily precluded women’s entry).  This is a shift that is–to put it mildly–incomplete.  For instance, many high schools, colleges and universities still refer to incoming cohorts of students as “freshmen,” while others have opted for the more gender-neutral language of “first-years” (though not without the occasional backlash).

Language is important.  It’s a small part of a larger system of power and inequality that helps to organize our lives.  Legal feminist scholars have asked that we rid ourselves of language in laws that reflect gender bias.  I know what you’re thinking, but it’s more complicated that clicking Command+F and either replacing “men” with “people” or “men and women” and adding “/she” to the “he’s” or replacing them with “them/their” instead.  The tricky part has been when we literally lack gender-neutral language for something.  As one journalist put it, “Some gender-specific words just aren’t that easy to replace” (here).  While firefighter, police officer, and first-year might have been interpreted as easy changes, more difficulty surrounded words and positions like: ombudsman, penmanship, servicemen.

Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 3.09.12 PMAnd this brings us to the “manhole.”
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Notes on Gender and Work-Related Death

Occupational sex segregation is really nothing new. As more and more women entered the workforce, they were often headed into different spaces from the men (sometimes entirely different physical locations, and sometimes only subtly differentiated spaces). This might mean different buildings, but even within buildings, occupations can be sex segregated. So, women and men are both working. But this simple statement disguises the fact that they’re not necessarily doing the same work–not precisely. In fact, it’s a smaller proportion of people than you might think who work alongside someone doing the same work, with the same occupational title, on the same shift. Approximately 1 in 10 workers in the U.S. labor force fit this description of a gender-integrated occupation. So, if you’re one of them, take a moment to count yourself lucky and consider just how truly odd you are.

Roughly one third of the 66,000,000 women in the workforce in the early 2000’s could be accounted for by only 10 (of the 503) occupations listed on the U.S. Census. That’s occupational segregation! The “occupational ghettos” that have been feminized are often “rewarded” with more care work, less pay, and lower levels of cultural status and prestige. These are the jobs we sometimes refer to as “pink-collar work.” Some of men’s occupational preserves are rewarded with higher status, more money, and a great deal of power. But this is not true of all of men’s jobs.

Blue-collar work has been in sharp decline in the U.S. for some time. We may “put things together,” but by and large, we don’t build things from the ground up like we used to in the U.S. That said, blue-collar work has not completely disappeared. And blue-collar work is sometimes “rewarded” by ranking among the most life-threatening occupations.

NPR story picNPR’s “Planet Money” blog just ran a story on the jobs with the highest rates of work-related deaths–the “deadliest jobs”. Collecting data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2011, they produced the graph here (right) to illustrate those jobs with some of the highest (and lowest) rates of on-the-job deaths compared with the national average of 3.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time (or equivalent) employed persons.

It’s an interesting image. But in the short post, I was struck that gender was not mentioned once. Looking down the list of jobs with the highest work-related deaths listed, gender seemed to jump out of the figure at me (fishermen, loggers, pilots, farmers and ranchers, police officers, construction workers). These are all jobs that most Americans probably picture a man “doing.”

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