This weekend was the first time I heard Meghan Trainor's new song "Dear Future Husband." Wow -- the lyrics of this song present a lot to analyze about changing attitudes on gender roles and marriage. There's a nod to some feminist attitudes, such as the presumption of women's employment and the assertion of the wife not doing all the cooking, but it's mostly a song that draws on feminine stereotypes and sexualized imagery. In many ways, the lyrics are a good example of egalitarian essentialism, a new cultural ideology which blends feminist attitudes and traditional gender roles.
Thinking maybe the song was satirical, I checked out the video. Unfortunately, this didn't resolve my confusion, as the video contains kitschy 1950s-era imagery and I wasn't certain it was, in fact, meant as a parody. Meghan Trainor has responded to the controversy regarding the song's sexist message; however, her response left a lot to be desired.
"Everyone's going to say something. I don't think it's sexist. I just wrote a song for my particular future husband out there, wherever he is. I'm just preparing him. Letting him know what's up."
The song itself provides much to analyze, but its reception is also interesting. The React Channel produced a video of young people analyzing the song lyrics. Their reactions to each of the lines offers insights into what young men and women are thinking about gender roles and marriage.
The young men initially seem to take stereotypical pronouncements about relationship dynamics as normal and acceptable, but the young women seem a bit more skeptical (lyrics are bolded in red):
Take me on a date; I deserve it, babe; And don't forget the flowers every anniversary
Young Man: "She probably works hard in the house...doing wife things. She totally deserves it."
You got that 9 to 5; but, baby, so do I; So don't be thinking I'll be home and baking apple pies
Young Man: "This lyric kind of throws me off. Because she says she'll be the perfect wife but if you want some apple pie than you just.....what? Go to McDonalds and get it?"
Young Woman: "I feel like that was the old-school view of a wife. They would just sit at home and bake and cook and clean."
You gotta know how to treat me like a lady; Even when I'm acting crazy; Tell me everything's alright
Young Man: "Women do get a little bonkers sometimes. And I think she's admitting that here."
Young Woman: "That's kind of messed up. That's not how a relationship should function."
Young Man: "That's a contradiction. 'I'm not going to be the stereotypical woman.' But now, 'I want you to treat me like the stereotype.'"
The young men sound conflicted about these stereotypical gender roles, but the young women are generally appalled. Notably, one young women exclaims that marriage is just not worth it if it involves these stereotypical gendered divisions of labor.
'Cause if you'll treat me right, I'll be the perfect wife; Buying groceries, Buy-buying what you need
Young Man: "Everyone has their own definition of a perfect wife."
Young Man: "I'll do servantry kinds of things is what it sounds like."
Young Woman: "That sounds so stereotypical. You know what, babe -- you do the groceries.....if that's what being a wife means, then f*** marriage!"
Yet, they all seem to react negatively to the wife holding more power in the relationship:
Make time for me; Don't leave me lonely; And know we'll never see your family more than mine
Young Man: "She's trying to wear all the pants in the relationship. This dude is not going to wear any pairs of pants."
Young Man: "If my significant other told me this, it would be over."
Young Woman: "This kind of shit pisses me off so bad."
In the end, most seemed to think this was not the kind of relationship for them:
Young Woman: "Dear Meghan Trainor. That is not the kind of love that is in any way shape or form, right."
As a sociologist studying romantic relationships and inequality, I find this cultural artifact incredibly fascinating. I'm currently working on a research project exploring race and gender differences in trends of young people's marital aspirations and preferred divisions of labor. I use data from Monitoring the Future, an annual survey given to a nationally representative group of American 12th grade students since 1976. I'm analyzing four indicators of marital attitudes, and a vignette measuring attitudes about potential work and family arrangements. If you're going to be at the Population Association of America's annual conference this week, come by Poster Session 1 (Thursday, April 30 / 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM) and see my poster. I'd love to discuss my findings with you and talk more about the sociology of this song!
Happy Election Day! There's been so much talk about Millennials this election season, I couldn't resit taking a quick look at trends in youth attitudes using data from Monitoring the Future, an annual survey of high school seniors' values, attitudes, and behaviors. I mean, the data was just sitting there on my laptop, taunting me.
There were two generalized questions on voting questions I identified:
Surprisingly (to me) less than 70% of high school seniors think voting has a major impact on this country. Over time, agreement rose in the early 1980s and then has declined and remained steady. Despite the seniors' skepticism, over 80% of twelfth graders plan to vote in an election. Although, the proportion of youth who plan to vote has also been trending downwards.
Just out of further curiosity, I took a quick look at differences by race and gender. The graphs are messy and would need some more work to really make sense of it, but they are included below if you are interested.
Canadian band Magic! received international accolades for their song "Rude." The premise of the song is about a man asking his girlfriend's father for permission to marry her.
I was surprised to hear a new song about a ritual that seems so out of date given the modern times of normative cohabitation before marriage, rising egalitarian ideology, and increasing delay in marriage (meaning more people are well into adulthood before considering marriage). In the song, the singer refers to his potential father-in-law as an "old-fashioned" man. This echoes research findings that couples often enact gendered engagement roles and frame them positively as traditional and old-fashioned. This same study also found that most couples plan their engagement together, rendering the request a performance for his father-in-law and girlfriend, who often viewed it as romantic.
While still popular, there is some evidence that this ritual is up for debate. A Slate article this year asked, "Is it seemly or sexist to ask your future in-laws for their daughter’s hand in marriage?" Notably, the lyrics to "Rude" reference seeking the father's blessing, rather than permission. While permission invokes imagery of women as property, blessing implies the request is symbolic of respect rather than objectification.
In the song, the girlfriend's father says no to the request to marry his daughter. The boyfriend labels him rude and insists he's going to marry her anyway. Responding, Benji Cowart parodied the song to tell the "dad's side of the story."
While it's telling that he refers to his daughter as a princess and threatens violence if his daughter elopes, what stands out the most was why the dad found the boyfriend un-marriageable. In the late 1980s, William Julius Wilson called attention to the association between joblessness and rates of female-headed families, referred to as the male marriageable pool index. Recently, the Pew Research Center released survey data that found men's steady employment is important to women in choosing a partner. This parallels research findings that Professor Philip Cohen and I are working on (previewed here).
At last, another parody video was created with the "daughter's side of the story." She rejects outright the premise that either man in her life should make decisions for her. After pointing out how outdated the concept is, that women are not possessions, and that these are controlling actions, she asks, "How about what I say?"
Although couples are increasingly deciding together to get engaged, proposals continue to be performed, largely by men for women. A 2012 study found that 2/3 of college undergraduates "definitely" want a man to propose, often citing gender roles, tradition, and romance. An exception to this cultural ideology appears during Leap Years in some countries when superstition allows for women to propose to men. For example, in Scotland and Ireland, on February 29th, women propose to men. They made a movie about it, so it must be true.
The lackluster response to National Football League (NFL) player Ray Rice assaulting his fiance spotlighted the problem of pro football players perpetrating domestic violence. Although Rice's actions received widespread attention (chiefly attributable to a graphic video of him dragging his unconscious fiance from an elevator), he is only one of many NFL players in the headlines for committing violence against their female partners. Although football players are arrested at lower rates than the public at large, relative to the national average they are arrested at higher rates for domestic violence.
In response, the NFL recently announced more severe sanctions against players who perpetrate domestic violence. They will now face a 6-game suspension for a first-time offense and a lifetime ban for a second offence (although this could be appealed after a 1-year suspension). Given the complexities of domestic violence, I was curious how an "offense" is defined. According to ESPN, the definition is as follows:
A league source told ESPN's Andrew Brandt that discipline would be triggered by adjudication of a player's case, such as a conviction or plea agreement....To be counted as an "offense," a player would not necessarily have to be convicted in a court of law, but each incident will be judged on its own merits.
Many domestic violence charges are eventually dropped, making the broad definition of "offense" critical to taking a meaningful stance against perpetrators of abuse. Unfortunately, an unintended side effect of the NFL sanctions may be more pressure on victims to recant their allegations in order to protect the perpetrator from these penalties (similar consequences resulted with the implementation of mandatory arrest laws when victims call 911). It is also quite common for domestic violence incidents not to be reported to law enforcement at all and thus some perpetrators will continue to evade accountability, but this is a great start.
By taking violence against women seriously, the NFL has a real opportunity to bring public awareness to the issue of domestic violence. For instance, the graph below shows Google search trends for the term NFL compared to the phrase domestic violence. Domestic violence is dwarfed by interest in the NFL, so much that domestic violence barely registers on the graph.
To get an even clearer picture, I looked at Google searches for domestic violence, Peyton Manning (the number one quarterback in football, my family members in Colorado informed me), and the Seattle Seahawks (last year's SuperBowl winners). As shown, in the last couple of years, Peyton Manning and the Seahawks garner substantially more web searches than domestic violence.
Of course, it could be argued that a larger proportion of the population are football fans than are experiencing domestic violence, which would account for the disproportionate interest. However, given that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, most everyone knows a survivor of abuse and could theoretically be speaking out, seeking resources, finding organizations to volunteer at or donate to, or simply educating themselves.
Although the new attention to domestic violence by the NFL is a great first step, we have a long way to go. One need to look no further than the top two comments on the ESPN article announcing the NFL's revised sanctions for perpetrating domestic violence:
I applaud the NFL's efforts to lead on this front, but it will take more than this one institution to change the culture of violence against women (as evidenced by the comments above). All men who abuse women need to be held accountable for their violence. The high visibility of NFL players' violence may rest on racist imagery of Black men as criminals, rather than a widespread cultural shift in action to combat domestic violence. Calls for sanctions for other public figures who commit violence against their partners is noticeably quiet.
For now, how the NFL leads on this issue when put to the test is not yet clear. The enforcement of the policy comes with considerable discretion of the commissioner. It appears as if San Francisco 49ers Ray McDonald will be the first to test out the new penalties. Unfortunately, the NFL will likely have many chances to get it right. Some are already expressing skepticism that the new rules are substantial or will be lasting, among them Ian Crouch in The New Yorker:
Yet the N.F.L. world will move on, and sooner than we might think or hope, just as it has moved on from other incidents of off-the-field violence and tragedy. It probably already had, for the most part: fans in Baltimore cheered Rice during his first preseason game, less than two weeks after his suspension was announced. (Forgive, forget, first down!) The pressure will not always be on Goodell to act swiftly and strictly. The new rules also allow him to be selective in the way he pursues such cases and in how he issues punishments.
I am reminded of a rough season in the Seattle Mariners' history. As the first major league baseball team publicly committed to raising awareness of violence against women with its "Refuse To Abuse" campaign, the team traded for a player who was charged with committing rape. In reacting to the fallout, Nan Stoops -- Executive Director of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence -- concluded:
With Refuse To Abuse™, the Mariners agree to be held to a high standard. We applaud that. We expect them to “walk the talk” and we know they will stumble. After all, learning and changing is a slow, painful process.
I also have my doubts, but I am glad the NFL is making a first step. Of course, many questions remain. Do the sanctions shape/reshape the public discourse on domestic violence? If so, how? Who becomes characterized as a criminal/abuser and who is portrayed as making a mistake? Do other sports organizations or other public institutions increase their accountability efforts? Are the penalties effective in reducing domestic violence in the NFL or do fewer victims call for help when they need it and/or recant their allegations to shield their partners from the consequences for their career? Only time will tell.
UPDATE: This piece is now cross-posted with small revisions on Girl w/ Pen! Check it out here.
The Council on Contemporary Families published a report this week suggesting the gender revolution has rebounded. Using data from the General Social Survey (GSS), sociologists Cotter, Hermsen, and Vanneman provided an update on public attitudes about gender. As a rookie sociologist (i.e. lowly graduate student), this seemed like a great opportunity to try my hand at replicating and extending their sociological research by looking at American high school students' attitudes about gender. This is an important population to study because scholars who study adult attitudes may be capturing changes in respondents' post hoc justifications for their behavior as a result of confronting resistant social structures and adulthood realities.
I used data from Monitoring the Future (MTF), a survey given annually to a nationally representative group of American 12th grade students. Three of the four egalitarian attitude variables in the GSS are also available from MTF and are asked in the same manner (FECHLD, FEPRESCH, and FEFAM). Whereas the answers in the GSS included a four-point agreement scale, in MTF, the respondents could answer on a five-point agreement scale: disagree, mostly disagree, neither, mostly agree, and agree. The fourth variable (FEPOL) regarding attitudes about female politicians was worded differently than the GSS on the MTF surveys: Women should be considered as seriously as men for jobs as executives or politicians. In a previous class, I replicated Cotter and colleagues original publication so I feel reasonably confident that methodological differences are not contaminating my results.
I charted the four MTF variables below. Noticeably, the question on women in politics is an outlier and remains consistently high over time. Agreement that working moms have warm relationships with kids was consistently higher than average agreement in the GSS by about 10%. Disagreement that preschoolers suffer when mothers work began at about 30% agreement and has risen to about 65% agreement for both GSS and MTF respondents.
Most interestingly, disagreement with the statement that it's better if a man works and the woman takes care of the home peaked in the 1990s at about 70% and has declined to 60% disagreement by 2012. This pattern is noticeably different than that of the averages for the population in the GSS. Today, 12th graders are less likely to disagree with these stereotypical gender roles than the general population. In 2012, 60% of MTF respondents disagreed with the statement compared to about 70% of GSS takers.
In the updated report by Cotter and colleagues, the scale stalled out through the 1990s and early 2000s but started to pick up again by 2006. However, the youth scale presented below shows a continued stall. From the graph above, we can see that attitudes on women in leadership positions has remained high over time so it's not accounting for any changes. It seems that the increase in agreement that men should work and women should take care of the home is off setting the rise in egalitarian attitudes measured by the other two variables.
Following Cotter and colleagues report, I also graphed the index by sex. Similar to that of the adult population, women persistently show more egalitarian attitudes than men in the MTF data. These differences also are consistent over time, with both stalling in the early 1990s.
I skipped replicating the gender attitudes scale by political ideology because of the large number of respondents who answered "I don't know". In place of replicating the trends by education (as all of the MTF respondents are currently 12th graders), I took a look at the scale by their mother's education. They all increased their gender ideology over time and showed remarkably similar patterns.
Overall, the 12th graders show some different patterns in gender role attitudes than the greater population. Notably, youth do not show a resurgence in disagreement that it's better for men to work and for women to take care of the home. This is especially puzzling given their high agreement that women should be considered for leadership positions. Speculatively, youth express commitment to equality but simultaneously pair these egalitarian attitudes with beliefs about stereotypical gender roles. Thus, women are viewed as peers in entering the work force, but continue to be responsible for labor at home. On the other hand, there does seem to be a persistent increase in youth agreement that working mothers do not harm children.
The Millennial generation is certainly one to watch. As noted by Cotter and colleagues, their egalitarianism is high. However, their egalitarian ideology is not consistently increasing over time. I'm not yet convinced that the stall in the gender revolution is over.