Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Target hopes to change norms

This post was contributed by introductory sociology student, Sanah Jivani. 

Target store managers have been ordered to remove the "boys" and "girls" signs in the bedroom and toy sections. They will also change the symbolic pink and blue background colors to enhance gender neutrality. While in the past, girls played with Barbies and boys played with action figures, Target is hoping to remove these labels and defeat such stereotypes.

Certainly in the not-to-distant past, boys who played with dolls were commonly assumed to be either sexually confused at best, or outright homosexual at worst. Homosexuality constituted a moral violation entailing severe social and legal sanctions, and often psychiatric intervention. According to a BBC News article, " the 1950s and 1960s, behavioral therapy was used to try to "cure" gays. Men convicted of homosexual acts were routinely given electric shock treatment, hallucinogenic drugs, and subjected to brainwashing techniques." ( Homosexuality constituted a cultural taboo, and the simple act of boys playing with dolls was repulsive to many. 

However, normative definitions can be dynamic. They may change, but usually not without serious social conflict. Certainly, American attitudes towards all kinds of sexual expression have become more liberal in recent decades (see, e.g., Despite continuing controversy about the legal status of gay marriage, the fact of appearing effeminate, much less being homosexual, no longer suggests a serious moral breach to many Americans, particularly millennials (

Will Target's decision to change how toys are displayed influence normative behavior? Perhaps--but it may be a case of "too little, too late." While parents who allowed sons to bend gender in the past may have been negatively sanctioned, today it's become another matter: parents who do NOT allow their boys to play with girl toys are out-of-line. Increasingly, the evolving culture suggests that upholding traditional gender definitions is indicative of sexism, perhaps now justifying moral crusades against it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Latoya Ruby Frazier/ the notion of family

LaToya Ruby Frazier ’s body of work “The Notion of Family” examines the impact of the steel industry and health care system on the community of Braddock, PA. See the project at

Latoya was named a MacArthur Fellow recently.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

does it pay to go to law school?

Business Insider just published this video by comedian Sara Silverstein and Alex Kuzoian which describes how meaningful employment, as well as income returns, vary greatly among recent law school graduates. The chances of actually working as a lawyer soon after graduation are directly related to the ranking of the law school attended, e.g., while virtually all graduates from the highest rated schools are working as lawyers, only 50 percent of those from non-rated schools are doing so. High incomes also appear to be largely limited to only those graduating from a handful of elite schools. Mean income for lawyers is around $80,000 per year, but most lawyers actually make far less than that, clustering in the $40,000 to $60,000 range. Those making big money--$150,000 and up--generally are limited to those employed in prestigious law firms and corporations. However, as this earlier BI article by Erin Fuchs suggests, graduating from an elite school doesn't necessarily ensure a decent job.

Monday, September 7, 2015

happy labor day! where did it come from? where has it gone?

Today is the first Monday in September, which is celebrated as Labor Day in the U.S. and Canada. Watch this video (part of the TED-Ed series) and read this brief article by Carter for an overview of its origins. While the holiday arose over a century ago at a time of rising union militancy in reaction to labor exploitation and government repression, Carter's closing remarks seem most appropriate:
These snapshots from Chicago’s first Labor Day suggest a crucial difference between the Gilded Age of the late-nineteenth century and the one we find ourselves in today. Even as contemporary disparities between rich and poor approach historic proportions, Americans today are not nearly as engaged in the kinds of freewheeling debates over the morality of capitalism that consumed many of those who lived through industrialization’s peak decades. In their world, devastating recessions elicited fundamental questions about the shape of the nation’s economic life. In their world, concerns about the experiences of the workers and the fate of the working classes saturated public conversation. It is a world removed from our own and yet one that – on Labor Day, no less – is well worth revisiting.