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Archive for December, 2013

As you may have noticed, the entire internet is required to compile a best-of list (or two, or ten) at the end of the year. Since I am lazy, my best-of list this year consists of one blog: Conditionally Accepted. Since grad school I have read a lot of blogs but none of the blogs I regularly read have done as much to remind me of the importance of practicing what we preach as Conditionally Accepted. To borrow a sports cliche, Conditionally Accepted reminds me of a young FemaleScienceProfessor, in that it regularly highlights the problems that it is easy for those (like me) in the white, male academic majority to overlook while letting people outside of the majority know that they are not alone. And it has only been five months!

Congratulations, Conditionally Accepted, and keep up the good work!

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Snow from The Oatmeal

Sociologists talk a lot about things being “socially constructed.” We often talk about the social construction of race and gender, highlighting the fact that our ideas about these things arise largely out of social interactions that are only loosely based on any biological differences. Women have babies, for example, but this does not mean that only women are capable of things like making meals or doing laundry that may be seen as part of caring for children. The past few weeks have highlighted the ways that weather is also socially constructed.

Just like biological notions gender and race, I wouldn’t argue that there is no difference between the weather in different locations, only that the way we assign meaning to the weather depends on social interaction. For example, people all over the country think that their weather is unique. Google the phrase “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” and you will see that it is attributed to nearly everywhere, yet if you travel you will often hear people in different parts of the country say this as if they are providing some wise advice that you have never been exposed to (as you attempt not to roll your eyes…).

This social construction carries over to the way that we talk about other parts of the country having weather that we are accustomed to in our own part of the country (as the above cartoon from The Oatmeal demonstrates). When an ice storm hits Texas, people who live in places where snow and ice are more common laugh at how Southern cities shut everything down because of a little winter weather. This is an extreme example, but we can see the same sorts of comparisons even between areas where snow is more common, as the following image demonstrates:

Doug Bigelow - Nemo vs. Monday

Just like social constructions of race or gender, though, we can also see the sorts of errors that people make when they rely on social constructions of weather. The implication in the above image, or in statements about Southerners getting snow, is that the people in areas that don’t get this type of weather just don’t know how to deal with it. When an inch of snow shuts down Atlanta, Northerners laugh at the inability of Southerners to drive in snow while ignoring the lack of infrastructure that makes driving on Northern roads possible in the winter. Cities in Georgia or Texas don’t have snow plows or large stockpiles of salt that can be used to clear and treat the roads. The most effective way to deal with snow and ice on the roads in many Southern cities is to wait for it to melt when temperatures return to normal in a day or two.

Remember this the next time you hear about weather that is commonplace for you causing problems for people in another part of the country. Women are not the only people capable of making meals or doing laundry and a lifetime of driving in winter conditions cannot give your car traction on untreated roads, as this recent video from Wisconsin (where they know a bit about driving in snow and ice) demonstrates:

If this video was from Dallas we would be laughing at the inability of Southerners to handle a bit of snow. Because it is from Wisconsin, though, we focus on how bad the road conditions were. Social construction at work. Drive carefully.

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The fact that semesters are ending at colleges and universities all around the country makes it a perfect time for this message:

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Penguin Claus by Mark Stamaty

Fox News reports on an article by Aisha Harris at Slate suggesting that Santa should be depicted as a penguin, managing to combine white privilege (“Just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change”), Santa, and a blatantly false statement about the skin color of a Middle Eastern man named Jesus.

Harris responds to Fox News here, writing:

Changing Santa does not mean we’re being “politically correct.” It means we’re expanding our perceptions of the “norm.” The argument that Santa must be white spills over into conversations about other, equally fictional characters. Can James Bond or Spider-Man be played by people of color? Why not? And yet some people will tell you—believe me—that they have to be white. Of course, some people also believe that characters who were written as people of color are not actually people of color. Which goes to show how deeply rooted the idea of “whiteness” as the default really is. And that presumption carries over into our everyday lives as well, sometimes with sad results.

For the record, I fully support Penguin Claus. If you’re looking for a new song to add to the Christmas canon (radio stations need something to play instead of “The Christmas Shoes“!), writing one about Penguin Claus is a good place to start!

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Watching college basketball recently, I saw a shorter version of the commercial below roughly 97 times. Of the five named athletes (okay, the Duck Dynasty guy probably doesn’t count as an athlete) in the commercial, there are four men and one woman. Can you guess which one’s stomach is featured in a close up?

I can imagine the ad agency saying: “Can we show the little girl’s stomach? No? Damn it! I guess that it is okay to show a girl without sexualizing her, but add a few more male kids to balance out the threatening non-sexualized female!”

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McAdams and Time Travelers

In the recently released About Time, Rachel McAdams plays the love interest, and eventual wife, of the main character, who has the ability to travel through time. In Midnight in Paris, Rachel McAdams plays the fiancee of the main character, who has the ability to travel through time. In The Time Traveler’s Wife, Rachel McAdams plays the love interest, and eventual wife, of the main character, who has the ability to travel through time. I haven’t seen Midnight in Paris, but in the other two movies her characters are also the fairly passive recipients of the affections of the main (male) characters.

The love interest of time travelers seems like a fairly extreme form of typecasting. Is it too much to ask that somebody make a movie (or three) in which Rachel McAdams plays a time traveler?

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Because I’m a sociologist with lots of Facebook friends who are also sociologists, my Facebook news feed can be a pretty depressing place. Facebook tends to be my source for stories like that of Shannon Gibney, who was accused of racial discrimination by three white students (Nathan Palmer has a nice discussion of the reasons that white men are much less likely to be accused of these sorts of things). For this reason, it was nice to see a post by Eric Grollman at Conditionally Accepted discussing the positive ways that academic allies have affected his career and calling for academic communities to share the responsibility for support. I have to admit that I have been conditioned by the constant information about terrible people in the world to expect the worst as Grollman set up each scenario, which made it particularly heartening to read about the responses he received. These sorts of responses may not make headlines but they can make a difference in the lives of our students, friends, and colleagues.

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