Do conservatives only praise sociology when it fits their arguments?

Conservatives may generally dislike sociology but you can find cases where they are more than willing to accept the imprimatur of sociology if it fits their perspectives. Two recent examples:

1. Discussing a MSNBC exchange about Paul Ryan’s comments about the inner-city where one commentator suggested Ryan was echoing the arguments of Charles Murray, a Daily Caller writer defends Murray:

Murray is a prominent and widely-respected sociologist who penned the 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” which in one chapter posits certain racial differences in intelligence and suggests some of this may be due to genetics.

The book’s measured and well-researched take on a highly controversial issue failed to halt an immediate left-wing backlash. Murray was branded a racist pseudo-scientist, with the Southern Poverty Law Center filing his name under “White Nationalist” and falsely suggesting he maintains ties with neo-Nazi groups.

David Weigel, a left-leaning libertarian journalist writing for Slate, wrote that even after reams of well-received research since 1994, “[‘The Bell Curve’] wrecked Murray’s reputation with some people, and it won’t get un-wrecked.”

“But the conservatives of 2014 don’t cite Murray for his race work,” Weigel continued, noting that the fascinating work Murray presented in his later works “Losing Ground” and “Coming Apart” are much more likely to be referenced by opponents of the welfare state.

As I asked in February 2012, is Murray really a sociologist and how many sociologists would claim he is doing good sociological research?

2. Here is an interesting example from the Family Research Council of combining a temporarily favorable view of Hollywood actresses and sociology:

I know virtually nothing about contemporary stars and starlets, other than having consistently to turn away from the images of the substantially disrobed young “entertainers” displayed on the jumbotron across from my office in advertisements for their latest performances. Pornography, by any other name, ain’t art…

Now, however, Ms. Dunst is much in the news for having the audacity to say what she thinks of gender roles, to wit:

“I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued … We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother, cooking – it’s a valuable thing my mum created. And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armour. I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s why relationships work”.

Wow – how revolutionary! The idea that gender is not a social construct but actually has to do with biology, neurology, morphology, physiology, etc. is an affront to the received orthodoxy of the feminist left, many of whom have piled-on with a predictable combination of derision, illogic, non-sequitur reasoning, and obscenity…

So, men and women are different, and being a stay-at-home mother who cares for her children is something to be honored, not scorned: For affirming these self-evident truths, Ms. Dunst is being labeled “dumb” and ‘insufferable,” among the more printable adjectives.

Kirsten Dunst is now the good sociologist for agreeing with the organization’s perspectives on gender roles. No research required.

Conservatives aren’t alone in this behavior in cherry-picking studies and data they think supports their ideologies. Many groups are on the lookout for prominent studies and research to support their cause, sometimes leading to odd battles of “my three studies say this” and “your two studies say this.” But, given the complaints conservatives typically make about liberal ideas and research in sociology, how helpful is it to sometimes suggest conservatives should take sociology seriously?

More women now sole breadwinner (23%) or earn more of two working spouses (28%)

USA Today takes a look at recent Census data and finds women’s status as breadwinner continues to grow:

A USA TODAY analysis of Census Bureau data reveals a revolution in the traditional roles of men and women that extends from college campuses to the workplace to the neighborhoods across this nation. Today, when one spouse works full-time and the other stays home, it’s the wife who is the sole breadwinner in a record 23% of families, the analysis finds. When the Census started tracking this in 1976, the number was 6%.

Just as telling, wives outearn their husbands 28% of the time when both work, up from 16% 25 years ago. This means the wife is bringing home the bacon — or at least more bacon than her husband — in more than 12 million American families.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg (author of Lean In, which explores workplace biases) and Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer (who limited the company’s telecommuting policy) have stirred debate about the complex choices occurring as women push themselves higher and higher up the economic ladder. The earning superiority of women over men isn’t the rule, but it is increasingly common.

This is a consequential shift.

I do think the rest of the article illustrates the difference between journalism and sociology. The article goes on to give 12 brief overviews of couples where the woman is the primary breadwinner. They try to break down a few patterns. However, after seeing these statistics, I want to see more data (12 cases doesn’t cut out) and a more rigorous analysis (more statistics over time, more social forces that these changes affect).

Societies may not want women to fight in wars – until they are desparately needed

Here is an interesting piece about women soldiers in history, particularly focusing on their participation in World War II when their countries needed them. Here is part of the argument:

The girls of Stalingrad weren’t the only women to inspire shock and awe in World War II. Great Britain, the United States, and other combatants put hundreds of thousands of females in uniform; the Soviet Union alone recruited roughly a million, sending many into combat as tank commanders, snipers, and pilots. Desperation, not egalitarian ideals, drove these mobilizations; there simply weren’t enough men to fight in history’s largest conflagration…

In many ways, Panetta’s decision is simply a recognition that women are already fighting in combat. The United States has deployed nearly 290,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. More than 140 have died, many killed by insurgents. With the blurry front lines of modern warfare, even women assigned to noncombat roles sometimes wind up in battle. In 2005, assigned to a protection detail for a military convoy, Army National Guard sergeant Leigh Ann Hester landed in a firefight with Afghanistan insurgents. Jumping from her Humvee, she ran to a ditch where several Americans were pinned down and about to be taken hostage. Opening fire with her M-4, she held off the insurgents, killing three and helping to rescue the men. Hester became the first woman to receive a Silver Star for a direct engagement with the enemy.

Still, Panetta’s decision will be fought hard. Citing reports of sexual harassment in the ranks, some officials worry that women will disrupt the cohesion crucial to combat unit. They also argue that females physically can’t handle the duty.

IN THE END, some people will never accept women in battle—at least, that is, until women are needed.

It strikes me that “normal” social roles can change quite a bit under altered circumstances such as war. So how much is this new directive in the United States allowing women in combat is driven by a need at the front lines? Does this tell us more about the larger capabilities of the US military than changing social norms regarding gender?

Sociologists on the “chore wars”

Time magazine’s latest cover story on “chore wars” features two competing explanations from sociologists:

The assumption that working women had become the Clydesdales of contemporary marriage can be traced back to the publication of Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Second Shift in 1989. In the 1970s, Hochschild was a sociologist with two young children who was trying to get tenure at Berkeley, where she saw her male colleagues unencumbered by demands at home and was inspired to write about the working women’s double day. “It came from my own anguish, my own conflict,” she says…

Hochschild came up with that number by averaging data collected in the 1960s, spotlighting what is now clearly the product of a culture in transition, a lag between women’s entry into the workforce and the great domestic shakeout in which working women cut back on housework, often by outsourcing, and men reduced office hours and chipped in more at home. Yet Hochschild’s interpretation of that statistical blip in the 1960s came to define the plight of women in the 1990s and 2000s. The Second Shift was a huge crossover hit and sparked a huge surge of academic writing on the inequalities of the household…

One American sociologist, Suzanne Bianchi, stood on the sidelines of the why-men-aren’t-doing-more debate for many years. From 1978 to 1994, she was a demographer and statistician at the U.S. Census Bureau working with large represtnative samples that shed light on long-term changes at thepopulation level. Bianchi was looking at almost everything but housework – education, earnings, changes in employment – so she became aware of the pitfalls of focusing only on the domestic sphere. “Maybe men really were all jerks and not doing their fair share, or maybe they were allocating their time to other things. By isolating housework from other kinds of work, you lost track of the fact that families need money as well as time,” she says. “I began to get interested in what we really know. We think men don’t do anything, but is that right? Are we systematically missing what they do do?”…

Bianchi and her colleagues analyzed time-diary data from 2003 to ’05 and found that among couples in which both partners work full time, men’s greater hours of paid work counterbalanced women’s greater hours of unpaid work. A second shift, where it still existed, was most evident in dual-earner couples with children under the age of 6, but it was a difference of five hours more of combined paid and unpaid work for women a week, not 15. “That didn’t mean that The Second Shift was completely wrong, just that it was misleading,” says Bianchi, who published her analysis in 2009. “Another thing that got missed was that women shed housework when they’re employed full time, but they hold on to a lot of child care, and that’s a big piece of why The Second Shift resonates so much.”

The article suggests that the gap between the work of men and women has closed and there needs to a more nuanced explanation about the subject. It seems like the larger conversation would also be enhanced with more data rather individuals relying on personal anecdotes. For the forthcoming edition of The Second Shift (January 2011), will Hochschild also include updated/new data?

Two further issues:

1. The argument in this story works because of a methodological concern: men’s paid work counts in their total. If we look at just the figures for work within the home, there is still a decent gap between men and women. On one hand, we could consider all kinds of work to be equal (and work at a paid job certainly has its own stress and advantages). On the other hand, if an earlier goal was for men and women to equally share work at home, it hasn’t happened.

2. Where do we go with this data? The article suggests the arguments of The Second Shift resonate with newer generations. Will this article convince anyone that men are doing more work (or more equal work) or will it simply reinforce existing divides?

Discussing “princess culture”

The topic of gender stereotypes in American culture tends to provoke interesting conversations. Virginia Postrel writes about “princess culture” and why this has such staying power in a culture and country that has never had real princesses:

Yet among today’s educated urbanites, “princess culture” is the subject of raging debate. What some parents consider innocent make-believe, others deem character-eroding indoctrination. Calling your daughter a princess fosters “a sense of entitlement and undeserved superiority,” declares one mother, commenting on a CafeMom post called, “Is the Princess Fantasy Dangerous?” Others fear that princess stories teach girls to be pretty and helpless, waiting for a prince to rescue them instead of acting on their own behalf. Should liberated women let their daughters play Cinderella? It’s a topic with which mommy blogs never seem to tire…

To play princess is to embrace two promises: “You are special” and “Life can be wonderful.”…

Neither of these need entail narcissistic entitlement or female passivity. Even that old-fashioned children’s classic, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1904 novel “A Little Princess,” portrays an imaginative, individualistic young heroine. Suddenly orphaned and destitute, Sara Crewe imagines herself a princess not only to escape her miserable circumstances but to maintain her good manners and self-control. “If you were a princess,” she reminds herself, “you did not fly into rages.” When unfairly abused, “you can’t sneer back at people like that—if you are a princess.”

For all its Victorian stoicism and sense of duty, this princess dream shares the mixture of openness and elitism that gives princesses their contemporary appeal. Like the superhero, the princess has a special identity and destiny. She is more than an ordinary girl. But her value is not determined by playground hierarchies. You don’t have to be popular to be a princess. You can be an iconoclast, even an outcast, but you must be worthy. You must be good. In this version, as my then-5-year-old niece once wrote me, “Anyone can be a PRINCESS.”

Postrel suggests that princess should be a broader term than referring to a girl who is just pretty or just acts in a dignified manner. Perhaps this is the key to the whole debate: simply change the definition of what a princess looks and acts like. Could we have a brainy princess? Could we have a devious or curious princess rather than just submissive princesses?

Thinking about it from another angle, what powerful alternatives to being a princess are there that would appeal to young girls? Wanting to be a princess seems to be powerfully shaped by being raised in a particular cultural milieu. While I’m sure there are lots of people who would say that there are all sorts of alternatives, are these commonly presented in the media (movies, TV) or in popular culture at large? Do we have and want heroines who kick butt and don’t take no for an answer? And can’t we push for alternatives by buying and consuming different goods?

h/t Instapundit

Considering the portrayal of single women

In the beginning of a film review, a British reviewer highlights a sociological study about how people treat and interact with single women:

Apparently, couples still shun the female singleton, fearful that she’ll wreck their marriages or at least their dinner-party numbers. One survey found that half of its sample never had single women as visitors, and 19% knew no single women at all. Casual disregard for this social group goes unremarked. Our prime minister insists that marriage must be prioritised and rewarded. The last government repeatedly identified “hard-working families” as its abiding concern. WAGs, meanwhile, are celebrated as much as manless Anistons are pitied.

In a world centred on cosily coupled units, leftover women labour under an enduring disadvantage. When they’re not ignored completely, they’re expected to provide tireless but unrecompensed support for people who matter more than them, as babysitters, carers or shoulders to cry on. When a mother is called upon to bunk off work to attend a nativity play, her unpartnered colleague is expected to take up the slack.

Cinema hasn’t done much for the benighted single woman.

The sociological study in question included 48 Australian married people. It is an interesting area of gender roles to consider; the norm in society is still to find a spouse or partner by a certain age. Cultural values and norms plus supportive public policies put pressure on people. This is particularly the case in many churches where singleness is frowned upon.

But hasn’t there been some pushback in the cultural realm on this front? Perhaps not in movies but television shows like “Cougar Town” have taken up this issue. Some of it may depend on the end goal: is the message of such films and TV shows (and books and music) that single women need to find men/husbands to be complete?