Posts tagged SociologyInFocus

Men & Clothes Age, but Women Stay Forever Young

this post was originally published at Sociology In Focus on September 9, 2013.

In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores how aging is portrayed in a fashion magazine to explore the norms of aging in popular culture. 

I picked up a copy of the August issue of Vogue at the newstand. This particular issue is “The Age Issue.” The cover proclaims: “Fall Looks for Everyone.”

I saw advertisements with Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, and Jennifer Aniston completely wrinkle-free. No surprise here, but disappointing, considering the issue’s theme is aging. I’m younger than all these women, yet I have more wrinkles than them. Of course, I have never found myself accurately reflected in the a fashion magazine.

Very quickly, I realized this issue of Vogue is not about growing old gracefully or even looking good at any age. The magazine was chock-full of advertising promising “younger looking skin in 15 minutes” or “fighting 7 signs of aging.” One advertisement was for some sort of serum that has “complete age control concentrate” on the packaging. Age control in a bottle. What? What does that even mean? The message I got from all of this is that the appearance of age can be controlled.

Shortly before reaching the mid-point of the magazine is an advertisement for cigarettes. Absent from the ad was any indication that smoking cigarettes causes wrinkles. For an editorial message completely bent on “controlling” aging, one would think that accepting advertising for a product that accelerates the appearance of aging would have been refused.

I read on (let’s be real, I skimmed). The writers of Vogue ask the tough questions:

  • “Can you wear grunge when your kids are wearing it” (p. 106)?
  • “Is traditional [plastic] surgery passé” (p. 120)?
  • “Is height loss inevitable as we age” (p. 134)?

That last question deserves a bit more attention. Importantly, one risk factor associated with stunted height, loss of bone density, and osteoporisis is smoking cigarettes. The cigarette company R.J. Reynolds has three full-page ads in this issue. While Vogue does mention the link between cigarettes and osteoporisis, it is hidden under the subheading of “Skip the Soda.” I’m sure this underemphasis on cigarette smoking is just an oversight on the part of Vogue’s editors and has nothing to do with the advertisers or the lack of medical credentials on the part of the writer, Jancee Dunn. Dunn is a former MTV2 VJ/host, without any medical or health background.

The most interesting feature in this “age” issue (note, “age” not “aging”) is the “All-Ages Show” fashion spread. The magazine labeled each spread for the age-appropriateness of the outfit: 20-something, 30-something, 40-something, 50-something, and 60-something.Vogue, however uses the same model for each layout! The only difference is the clothing. The 60-something is nearly covered from head to toe, while the 20-something wears significantly less clothing.

Looking one’s age is about the clothing one wears, not the biological processes of aging. Vogue consistently denies the biological facts of aging. In this world, women do not shrink, gray, or wrinkle as they age. Only the clothing changes.

Vogue reinforces the mainstream American value of youth over age. In fact, while the cover proclaims, “Fall Looks for Everyone,” the reality is that no one over a certain age can be found in this issue. And then, when older people are portrayed, they are made invisible through the substitution of a younger body (e.g., a young model dressed as a 60-something) or are only written about but not photographed (e.g., “Points of Pride,” which is about 50-year-old former hand model, Nancy Hass). Upon further investigation, the young model in the photo spread is barely 21-year-old, Karlie Kloss–just old enough to portray a 20-something.1 Though it might be tempting to brush this off as typical of a fashion magazine, a similar phenomenon exists in Hollywood. Kyle Buchanan at Vulture finds,leading men age, yet their love interests don’t.

Women, then, are not supposed to age beyond the clothing they wear. Men, on the otherhand, are free to gray and wrinkle.

Dig Deeper:

  1. Visit this link. View the slideshow of the “All-Ages Show.” There are ten photos. Specify which photo is illustrating clothing for a 20-something, 30-something, 40-something, 50-something, and a 60-something. I’ll give you a hint: three are 20-something, one is 30-something, three are 40-something, two are 50-something, and one is 60-something. Be prepared to provide a rationale for each categorization.
  2. Vogue uses the same model for each age category. What does this communicate about how age is valued in the United States? Do you agree with the author that youthfulness is valued over aging? Why or why not?
  3. Watch 30 minutes of TV (e.g., a sitcom, the local news, a reality show). Note the age of everyone portrayed in the show and also in the commercials that air during the show. How does the portrayal of age on TV vary compared to that described by the author? In class, work with 2-3 other students and discuss what you watched. How are your findings similar and different from one another? Why?
  4. There is a discipline that studies aging, called gerontology. Visit The Geronotological Society of America website to learn what geronotologists do. Summarize what a gerontologist does in 3-4 sentences.

1Kloss turned 21 on August 3, which means she was at most 20-years-old in the photographs!

Learning Demography with the Guess Who? Board Game

This post was originally published at Sociology in Focus on August 14, 2013. 

What can a board game teach us about demography and the U.S. population? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how the board game Guess Who? fails to accurately reflect the U.S. population.

I realize that board games are supposed to be “fun” (at least that is what non-sociologists say), but as a sociologist, I feel the need to ruin everything.

My child was super-excited to find Guess Who? at the thrift shop last week. I recall this game existed when I was child, but I don’t recall ever playing it. So when we got home, my daughter immediately showed me how to play. My first observation about the game was that while it does a  semi-acceptable job of portraying racial diversity, it does an especially poor job at portarying gender or age as it actually exists in the United States.

As I examined the people on the board, I began thinking about how representative this board game is of America. While my daughter asked me if any of my people had “eyeballs looking to the side,” I was busy doing a census of the demographics portrayed on the board.

Here’s how race, gender and age demographics (or characteristics) are represented in the game:

  • White = 19 (79.17%)
  • Black = 5 (20.83%)
  • Men = 19 (79.17%)
  • Women = 5 (20.83%)
  • Elderly (or those who have gray hair) = 5 (20.83%)
  • Children = 0
  • Adults (18-65) =19 (79.17%)

Based on this board game, the typical American is a white man aged 18-65. Hmmm….sounds a lot like Hollywood. So how far off is Guess Who? from the American population?Let’s look at the actual percentages from the U.S. Census:

  • White = 77.9%
  • Black = 13.1%
  • Men = 49.2%
  • Women = 50.8%
  • Elderly (or those 65 or older) = 13.7%
  • Children = 23.5%
  • Adults (18-65) =62.8%


Black men and women are overrepresented on the board game. White people are slightly overrepresented on the board game compared to their numbers in the U.S. population overall. The overrepresentation of black people on the board game is a result of the lack of other types of racial diversity. None of the people appear to be Asian American, Latino, Native American, or multiracial. Two of the spaces should be filled with these other groups.

Of the black people on the board, four are men and one is a woman. None are over age 65.

The same gender pattern found among black people on the board holds true regarding age. Four of those over age 65 are men and one is a woman. The Scientific American reports

  • Women outlive men by about five to six years. By age 85 there are roughly six women to every four men. At age 100 the ratio is more than two to one.

A more realistic portrayal would mean that three of the older Americans are women and two are men.

Speaking of gender, Guess Who? does an appalling job of representing men and women as they actually exist within the U.S.  To be representative on gender, the manufacturer would need to replace 7 men with women. Women are portrayed as a numerical minority, which they are not.

Dig Deeper:

  1. In your own words, explain what is meant by the term demography.
  2. A board game is just a board game, right? Why might a sociologist argue that board games do matter in how representative they are of the actual population?
  3. Now it’s your turn to ruin something. View a television show or movie, read a magazine, or play a different board game than I did. Find something with people in it and start counting. Create a table with the number of people in the item and make note of race, age, and gender. Compare your results to the U.S. Census. How close does your item come to being representative of the U.S. population?
  4. Visit the U.S. Census website. To the left and middle of the page, you will find QuickFacts. Select your state. How does your state’s demographics on age, race, and gender compare to the U.S. population? Does your state “look like” the nation? If not, how does it differ?

Watch Out NYC!: The Sociologists are Coming (to Share Research)

This post was originally published at Sociology in Focus on August 5, 2013. 

Sociologists are about to descend upon New York City for their annual professional conferences. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains that this ritual is just a step in the research process, that of sharing research. 

Remember back in junior high when you did a science fair project? You selected a topic, developed a hypothesis, did the experiment, prepared a poster, and presented your research to a small audience. Well, this week thousands of sociologists will visit New York City to do our version of a science fair: the annual sociology conferences, where we share our research.

Sharing our research is an important part of the research process. We share our research in a variety of ways, but the typical way of sharing research is through presenting our research at a professional conference, publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, or ideally both.

I first attended the American Sociological Association in 2002 as part of the Undergraduate Honors Program. It was beyond overwhelming! I attended by myself as an undergraduate and got my first experience of actually presenting research to other people interested in sociology. I presented my mediocre paper at the Undergraduate Honors Program Roundtables. I had no idea what a roundtable was! This certainly was not like the science fair I did in junior high, nor was it like anything I had even done in college. There were no posters. I did not have to stand up in front of the room. Instead I got to sit during my presentation. At a roundtable, papers are typically grouped by topic with 3-4 other papers. Each person takes a few minutes to present their research to the other presenters at her or his table and sometimes an occasional audience member. This was the first time I was able to share my “research” outside of the classroom.

I  also learned that this was the conference where many of the presentations would eventually find their way into peer-reviewed journals as articles. A conference presentation is an early stage of the peer-review process. The researcher presents his or her research to an audience (which could range to a packed room, to just a couple of people). The audience has a chance to ask the researcher questions to which the researcher can respond. This enables the researcher to go back and answer some of these questions before submitting the paper to a peer-reviewed journal.

So what is peer review? 

Peer review means that other scholars that are experts in the specialty area that your paper fits in review your paper to determine whether it is worth publishing or not. The reason other experts on your subject review your paper is because they know the literature on the topic. This means that they can assess whether you really are making an original contribution to the literature. They review your research to make sure it follows appropriate research methods.

These peer reviewers recommend to the editor of the journal whether the article should be published. One of the first things I learned in graduate school, was the the acronymn R&R. R&R does not mean “rest and relaxation.” We learned that you wanted an R&R, which stands for “revise and resubmit” (actually, you want acceptance the first time you submit your article, but those very rare). The realization that sharing your research is a process that takes time is reaffirmed with the knowledge of R&R.

A couple of years later, I had finished my master’s in sociology and began working on publishing a peer reviewed article based on my master’s thesis. I was fortunate to go through a Writing for Publication course while completing my doctorate and began learning what it really took to get something published in a peer reviewed journal. I exchanged papers with classmates and our professor for several revisions. At the end of the semester, my paper was ready to be submitted.

I aimed high. See, peer reviewed journals are also ranked in that some publications “count” more than others. (Despite studying stratification as part of our job, sociologists like to also reinforce hierarchies.) My paper was rejected. I did not get an R&R. It was upsetting, but even with a rejection, you still get feedback on your paper from experts. This feedback can be used to improve your paper. I took their feedback and revised my paper again and a few months later, it was submitted to a different, less prestigious journal. Instead of receiving an R&R, I received a conditional acceptance. A conditional acceptance meant I needed to go back and fix a couple of things and then it would be accepted for publication!

Have you kept up with my timeline thus far? I began my thesis research in 2003. My article was published in 2007. So, it took four years from the time the research project began to getting it published in a peer reviewed journal. The point is that research takes time. Doing the research project takes time, but sharing the research may take just as long or even longer. In the case of my MA thesis, it took longer to share my research than actual do the research, which begs the question as to why bother sharing your research at all?

Sharing research is in some ways, the most important part of the research process.  It allows you to become part of the larger conversation on your research area. Your research might change the way people think about a given topic or even how public policy is implemented around your topic. So the next time, your instructor asks you to present your own research project in front of class, realize that you are being asked to bring the research project full circle by sharing your results.

There are dozens of professional sociology associations. These are a few that are meeting this week and next in New York City.

And to all the sociologists who will be at any of these conferences, please look beyond someone’s name tag. You might be encountering a scared undergraduate who is overwhelmed, but thinks they want to do what you do when they eventually grow up.

Dig Deeper:

  1. How do sociologist share their research? Why do they share their research?
  2. Click onto one of the above links for the different professional sociology associations. What does the organization do? How long have they existed? Why did they form?
  3. What is your major? What is your intended career? Does that major or career have a professional organization (or several)? Find a website of a professional organization in your field to learn about what the organization does and report back to your class.
  4. What is peer review? Ask one of your professors about their personal experience with the peer review process. (Tell your professor that I said to be kind when answering you.)


On the Menu: Fried Cicadas, Hummus, and Guacamole

This post was originally published at Sociology In Focus on July 8, 2013.

Bugs. They’re what’s for dinner? The foods we eat are a product of our culture and as our world becomes more interconnected we have seen the delicacies of one culture spill over into another. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath defines this process as cultural diffusion and explains why she just might serve fried cicadas at her next dinner party.

A feature of culture is that it varies across time and space. Think about it. The clothing that you wear as a young adult probably looks a bit different than what your grandparents wore as a young adult. Food, like clothing, is a cultural artifact and what counts as food varies across time and space. Along with your clothing, the food you eat probably differs from the food people in other cultures eat and perhaps deviates from what your grandparents ate when they were your age. For example, I never ate guacamole until I was an adult and have since introduced it to my 90-something-year-old grandmother.

Today, guacamole is quite commonplace and no longer “exotic.” Hummus, is another example of a once “exocitc” food for Americans, yet is increasingly popular. Hummus originates in the Middle East and its popularity has spread to the United States. The process of cultural products (e.g. foods, clothing, music, etc) gaining popularity in one region and then spreading around the world is known as cultural diffusion. As foods and other cultural products diffuse into a new region they can quickly go from being “exotic” to being “ho-hum”.

Let’s consider eating bugs for dinner. 

Though I like to think of myself as foodie and a semi-adventurous eater, I have only knowingly eaten a bug once. I ate chocolate covered ants (tasted exactly like a Crunch bar) in my sociology of food class (yes, that is a real class and it was awesome!). They were good. This barely counts as eating bugs, as there was maybe one entire ant in the large piece of chocolate. I probably unknowingly ate more bugs with my breakfast cereal.

Bugs are a legitimate and already consumed food source by humans. “The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization recently released a report touting the nutritional and environment benefits of eating our many-legged friends (or pests)” (Hill 2013). Moreover, as cicadas emerged in the Northeast, the blogosphere lit up with posts of recipes for cicadas.

Will American culture change to include bugs as both an acceptable and normative food source? Cicada recipes emerged alongside the emergence of the cicadas. Taken together, sharing cicada recipes and the promotion of bugs as food by the UN, suggests insects as a food sources is not as deviant as Americans tend to think. Bugs are already a common food in many regions of the world.

Regardless, I think I just might serve fried cicadas alongside hummus and guacamole at my next dinner party.

Dig Deeper:

  1. Can you think of any examples of food Americans eat that outsiders might view as deviant? What is it and why did you select it?
  2. Ask an older relative about the food they ate when they were your age. Do they eat the same foods today? Why or why not?
  3. With 2-3 classmates, do research presenting either an argument for or against eating bugs. Be prepared to discuss your argument in class.
  4. Try a new food. What new-to-you food did you try? Why did you select this food item? What was your reaction to the food? Will you incorporate this food into your regular diet? Why or why not? Share your experience with your class.


Hill, Kyle. 2013. “I Hate to Break it to You, but You Already Eat Bugs.” Scientific American Retrieved June 12, 2013 (

Putting the McDonald’s Back into McDonaldization

This post was originally published at Sociology in Focus on June 17, 2013. 

McDonald’s restaurant once served as a model of rationality; customers would come in and be feed ina smooth, precise, and efficient standardized process. Today, its bloated menu (with oodles of choices and combinations) threatens its reputation as the standard for rationality. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how McDonald’s is putting the McDonald’s back into McDonaldization.

George Ritzer coined the termMcDonaldization to describe how McDonald’s restaurant provided an archetype of rationality, which served as a model for other bureaucracies. Rationality refers to how bureaucracies come to operate under formal rules and procedures. A bureaucracy is characterized by a hierarchy of authority, a division of labor, reliance on written rules, and impersonality of positions. For example, your college is an example of a bureaucracy. Let’s get back to McDonald’s.

Ritzer chose McDonald’s because of its pervasiveness throughout not only the United States (where you are never more than 107 miles from one in the lower 48), but throughout the world (they serve 1% of the world every day). McDonald’s is seen as a powerful business success and a symbol of America.

Principles of McDonalidzation include:

  • Efficiency
  • Predictability
  • Calculability
  • Control

How do these principles exist within McDonald’s?

Efficiency refers to “the optimum method for getting from one point to another” (Ritzer 2006:15). Think about the assembly line method of food production in a McDonald’s restaurant. Instead of one person making your complete meal, the task is split up into its basic components along a hamburger assembly line. This means your meal gets to you more quickly.

Predictability means “that products and services will be the same over time and in all locales” (Ritzer 2006:16). Predictability is ensured through the use of scripts. Many years ago I worked at McDonald’s. These were the days of super-sizing meals. We were expected to ask every customer if they would like to super-size her or his meal. Consider, too, how the McDonald’s menu looks pretty much the same around the country and even world. There might be some regional variation. For example, Hawaiian McDonald’s serve spamand the McRib was never a seasonal treat, but a permanent feature of the Midwestern McDonald’s where I worked. Despite this variability, you can always get a happy meal and order your meal by number rather than name. This predictability.

Calculability is “an emphasis on the quantitative aspects of products sold (portion size, cost) and services offered (the time it takes to get the product)” (Ritzer 2006:15). Think about it. When I worked at McDonald’s in the late 1990s, the cashiers made the customer’s drinks. The soda machine had three buttons for each drink: small, medium, and large. The machine poured out enough to fill the appropriate cup with the standard amount of ice. Yes, standard amount of ice. For most sized drinks, this was one scoop of ice. Though customers make their own drinks today (efficiency), customers are limited on the number of condiments for things like McNuggets. You are only allowed a set number of barbecue sauces before you are charged extra. This is calculability.

Control exists specifically through nonhuman technology. Control “is exerted over the people who enter the world of McDonald’s” (Ritzer 2006:17). There are certain expectations on the customer and the employee. McDonald’s historically has had purposefully uncomfortable seating, lighting, and color scheme to get customers in and out quickly. They have since added TVs, softer lighting, wi-fi, more snacking options, and more comfortable seating but they still encourage people to get out quickly. For example, I attempted to work at a McDonald’s like I do my local coffee shop, but struggled to find an outlet for my laptop.

Putting the McDonald’s Back into McDonaldization

Today, McDonald’s includes 145 menu items (a 70% increase since 2007). The menu is too complex challenging the very aspects of McDonaldization of which the restaurant once was the standard. The sheer size of the menu decreases the efficiency of the workers. The number of choices on the menu limits McDonald’s ability to predict consumer behavior. If McDonald’s has dificulty predicting consumer behavior, then this alsochallenges calcuability. If I can’t predict what customers are likely to buy, then I have difficulty knowing what to order from my supplier. These factors then limit the restaurant’s ability to control both workers and customers. Too many choices makes it more difficult to break down each task to its simplist parts for workers making it more likely for employees to work “off script.” Customers are given more power as their number of choices increase, too. It is more difficult to develop technology to replace more complex behaviors.

Recently McDonald’s announced it is putting the McDonald’s back into McDonaldization byshrinking its menu.

Dig Deeper:

  1. What is rationality? Why did Ritzer use McDonald’s to apply the concept of rationality?
  2. Where else do we see the ideas of efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control dominating how we interact with one another in a business setting?
  3. What is lost when we become a highly rationalized society? You’re answer can’t be “nothing”, because every change causes us to gain somethings and lose/give up something else.
  4. Apply the four principles of McDonaldization to another social phenomenon (e.g., movie-viewing, dating, or higher education).



Ritzer, George. 2006. “An Introduction to McDonaldization.” Pp. 4-24 in McDonaldization: The Reader. 2nd ed., edited by G. Ritzer. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Environmentally Friendly Socialization at Soc in Focus

Here is my latest post at Sociology in Focus: Environmentally Friendly Socialization.

Race and Baseball: My Latest at Soc in Focus

My latest post is up over at Sociology in Focus: Sociology at a Baseball Game: Part I. In this post I talk about racial stratification at a baseball game.

Learning about Stereotypes from Facebook and Internet Memes

Read more at SociologyInFocus: Everything I Learned About Stereotypes I Learned on Facebook

New Post at Sociology In Focus

Go check out my latest post at Sociology In Focus: How Adorable! Cultural Appropriation in the Scrapbook Industry.

New Post at SociologyInFocus

Check out my latest post at SociologyInFocus:

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