A Tribute to Susan Archer Mann, 1950-2016

susanmann2015This past year I lost a number of lights in my life. It seems 2016 was a tough year for many. For me, I have been working on just taking each day at a time and doing what often feels like the best I can. On some days it feels like I am even “faking it til I make it!”  This has never been so true as this semester. This was my first full semester without Susan. I have known for a while how much I loved her and learned from her and that she was one of my best friends and colleagues. However, I was not truly aware of the impact she had on my daily AND academic life.

Susan was always first in. She literally and figuratively lit the hallways when she came in. She warmed up the copier and taught all of her classes before I ever arrived. Even though I typically teach at night, I always came in early so we could overlap office hours and have our chats. I miss talking with my friend most. She loved to talk about everything from the latest episode of Revenge, to football rivalries, to our academic work or aspirations. She was a great mentor to my work and my parenting skills–and the balancing of it all. I can’t thank her enough for this and for  all of the wisdom I still gain from knowing her. So often I still talk to her and I know what she would say back…and it helps. I wont go on too much more. Ill just sign this off with saying I really hate being the first to turn on the lights each day I walk into work.

Here is our formal Tribute:

Susan Archer Mann, beloved mentor, dear friend, and Professor of Sociology at University of New Orleans, died on April 8th, 2016, after several years’ struggle with breast cancer.

Susan received her B.A. in Sociology from the University of Maryland in 1972, her M.A. in Sociology from American University in 1975, and her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Toronto in 1982. She spent more than three decades actively writing, teaching, and mentoring at the University of New Orleans, a place she came to love, doing the work that so engaged her passions and intellect even as she suffered from her illness.

peasantpovertyIn her early work, Susan attempted to explain the uneven conversion of agricultural production to a capitalist wage-labor system. She and James Dickinson laid out the arguments that became known as the Mann-Dickinson Thesis, positing that intrinsic features of agricultural production made it relatively risky and unattractive to capital. Susan later applied this theory to explain U.S. farm labor in her 1990 book Agrarian Capitalism in Theory and Practice (University of North Carolina Press, 1990). Her final book, Peasant Poverty and Persistence in the 21st Century: Theories, Debates, Realities, and Policies, co-edited with Julio Boltvinik (Zed Books, 2016), offers new theoretical and historical perspectives on the continued existence of peasant agriculture and its links to global poverty.

Susan extended her theoretical insights to domestic labor and its ramifications on family life and the social position of women in a chapter, co-authored with Emily Blumenfeld, in Hidden in the Household: Women’s Domestic Labour under Capitalism (Women’s Education Press, 1980, edited by Bonnie Fox). Her Marxist-based theoretical contributions to our understanding of production (in agriculture) and reproduction (of labor power through the family) complemented one another and laid the foundation for her later feminist theory work.

doingfeministtheorySusan found her political groundings and activist interests in Marxist feminisms of the 1970s and feminist theories of the so-called second wave, but she never ceased to be fascinated and energized by the schools of thought that emerged subsequent to her own training. She immersed herself in theories of the third wave, intersectionality, queer theory, postmodernist and poststructuralist feminisms, and transnational feminisms, publishing on the connections and innovations in theory across decades in Science and Society, Sociological Inquiry, Journal of Feminist Scholarship, and a co-authored special issue of Race, Gender, and Class. Her 2012 book, Doing Feminist Theory: From Modernity to Postmodernity (Oxford University Press), constitutes an exhaustive yet digestible compilation of feminist theories, criticisms, and counter-criticisms, innovatively (and helpfully) positioning them within modernist and postmodernist epistemologies. In 2015, Susan published Reading Feminist Theory, a companion reader co-edited with Ashly Suzanne Patterson (Oxford University Press).

Susan mentored several generations of Marxist and feminist students, providing gentle but formidable critiques. She was one of the “founding mothers” of the UNO Women’s Studies Program and the UNO Women’s Center. She also served as Interim Director of the UNO Women’s and Gender Studies Minor; Associate Chair and Chair of the Department of Sociology; and Chair of the American Sociological Association’s Race, Gender, and Class section.


Just one day after hearing the news, students set up this scene in front of her office. Yellow Roses, favorite quotes, and notes of love…

Susan was highly regarded as an excellent teacher and mentor for both students and colleagues at the University of New Orleans. For her colleagues and the department she was a leader who not only brought treats to meetings and offered to help solve the most recent predicament (personal or academic), but also shared her deep analytical thinking and strong theory construction to improve others’ work. Regarding her students, Susan was an agent of social change and innovation. She received the campus-wide Seraphia Leyda teaching award and the teaching award bestowed by the College of Liberal Arts; in fact, she won every teaching award offered at UNO. Since her passing, hundreds of students have given testimonials of how her theory and gender classes were “life-changing”; those who knew Susan best know she would be happiest about this impact.

Susan’s soft-spoken voice and affable personality belied her ability to offer pointed and cogent intellectual critiques but made her a favorite mentor to students for her approachability and warm encouragement. Though she enjoyed sailing, good food, and a strong drink, Susan loved nothing more than sharing an intellectual conversation with colleagues of all ages. She will be remembered for the contributions she made to her family, friends, students, colleagues, and to the larger academy.

With special thanks to Sara Crawley, Gwen Sharp, Mike Grimes, Rachel Luft, and James Dickinson for bringing this tribute together.

Working through #Orlando and The Symbolic Importance of Gay Bars











Yesterday, I woke up to the news “that someone had shot up a gay club in Orlando and there were many injured and killed.” I then went about my morning getting ready to go to a gay family picnic celebration. There would be snowballs, a jumping castle, and lots of games and fun stations set-up for kids to play.  The news hadn’t sunk in yet, and I didn’t look for details. There was some slight talk at the event and I had at least two interactions with folks that they were glad this celebration was taking place at a (and this is my description) “gated” park and reservation were previously made to attend. I like to think the reservations were so those organizing the event would know how many to plan for…but now I wonder. Dont get me wrong these reservations were made weeks ago…but here NOLA we still have closed family FB groups, and operate by rules some of y’all might think are from the days in which social tolerance was much lower.

My initial thoughts regarding Orlando were that this was some serious hate and I was sure it was planned and planned for Pride. The social psychologist in me guessed some perceived threat had likely led to this event. It was only after I had returned home that I started to learn the details and the death toll was rising.

There are so many angles and lessons to learn from this event, but for me I felt compelled to share my opinions on the symbolic importance of the gay bar to myself and the gay community to my FB friends and family. No doubt there would be a back lash coming that would judge the gay bar and blaming the victims–based on sexual orientation, lifestyle, and even just being at a bar.  The post lead to many responses to me personally via messages, texts, and also shares and from friends I haven’t spoken to in years. As such, I thought maybe I should share it here too with a few minor edits:

My post was spurred by these two tweets from Jeramey Kraatz:





I don’t usually write this sort of thing..esp on FB but…I feel compelled to comment today.

I tried to find a link to the gay night club mass shooting that wasn’t linked with terrorism but in any case, I really just wanted to make note of a couple sentiments that I think make this particularly impactful for the lgbt community including but not limited to the fact that this took place during Pride month and at a bar.

For many gay bars were and are, even though we love to make fun of them or dismiss them within the community or rarely go to them, the most accessible safe spaces for us. They have academically been compared to churches for the LGBT community–and just knowing they are there is powerful. Having access to safe spaces, and then not, or to now to be scared, because something has happened in your “house”…and during your holiday or time of celebration. I have gone years not really celebrating Pride, but on a day like this you realize why it is there and why we do it and why it is important.

Growing up a sexual minority means you were most likely raised by the majority script this means you likely weren’t taught the skills, or coping mechanisms to deal with your sexuality and most definitely homophobia while you were growing up or from your family. And, living in fear that those you love the most may not understand. Moreover, you go from one day being what you thought of as “typical” and having unrecognized privileges to coming out and in the next moments many of those things are wiped away. To then have to re-frame expectations for yourself and what you can do and what is possible..now…just because of a few words you said out loud. And, I am not even going to get into dealing with changes in relationships–friends, family, coworkers, whatever.

I had an amazing coming out and was so lucky that I didn’t lose those I cared about, but til this day I can say I also never came out to 2 people that I loved deeply because of that fear. Maybe I will tell my friend now since I am sure she knows as we are Facebook friends although we never speak of it. The other was my grandmother who is no longer with us…but I am pretty sure she knows.

Mural at Mary's


Some recommended reads and viewing:

The Long, Tragic History of Violence at LGBTQ Bars and Clubs in America

The Upstairs Lounge Fire: The Little Known Story of the Largest Killing of Gays in US History

Documentary: Small Town Gay Bar (2006)

Documentary: Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria (2005)

Documentary: Stonewall Upraising (2010)

A Feel Good Movie for Pride: Pride (2014)





If Two Women Work Together, Does the Work Exist?

OnTheShouldersofGiantsI’ve been thinking a lot about that recent economics study regarding women as co-authors not fairing as well as their male counterpart co-authors and single authorship… and the huge catch I’m having is that even if you have two female co-authors the inference then becomes that no one did any work which is completely unsensical, but in context…if say looking at an application of one woman’s work you discredit it, and in another application process or evaluation of the other woman/co-author’s work is then discredited too… it’s like the article/work isn’t even real and didn’t happen. Yet it is there, and did.  ‪#‎iftwowomenworktogetherdoestheworkexist‬?

Stories about gender bias such as the one mentioned above When Teamwork Doesnt work for Women, There’s no XY (shouldnt this be XX?) in Team, and others like Female Scientists Told to Add A Male Author to Their Study further support fears and career concerns of women, and of myself.

I’ve never cared about who’s name comes first in authorship of equal contributions…but as of late I have been wondering if this was a mistake. Perhaps, I should have requested reverse alphabet more or not have let others in front since they were going up for tenure or on the job market…in many cases it was even my idea–wanting to be a good colleague and friend, or being in a higher status position. I do ideally believe all the good work would be recognized and those who matter would know.  Over the last year or so I have spent a decent amount of time wondering if this has hurt me career-wise… according to this it hasn’t in my equal collaborations with females (which is most of my collabs) so that is something…rather it has just hurt us both possibly… but we do know if you are never sole author it definitely seems to have consequences for women. And what does this mean for first or lead authors? Can there be a lead author if two women work together? #nextstudy

While I think we have always known sole authorship is of course weighed most heavily,  I do not think we realized this biased disadvantage in partnering-up. I love collaborating. I will continue to collaborate as I think it spurs microcreativity, can be efficient (particularly when you have a high teaching load and few resources), and above all, we all [stand] on the shoulders of giants.





Finals Tips for Warrior Week

By Tristen Kade

BraceFinalsMemeIt’s that time of the year again! You just got back from Thanksgiving break and suddenly realized that there are only a couple of weeks left in the semester. Upon your return to campus, you may find your self freaking out and wondering where all of those “tomorrows” went while you procrastinated. We end up kicking ourselves because if we would have *only* started that literature review or final project instead of *just* watching one more Netflix Original season, we wouldn’t be hyperventilating and continuously pacing the library in search of relevant citations right now. But fear not, even though we put off these projects or only worked on them sporadically throughout the semester, we can still finish strong… ish. Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with the magic secret of getting stuff done in a short amount of time. Yet, what I can do is give you some advice on maintaining self-care during the anxiety-driven warrior week.

Over the years my advisor has provided me with self-care tips to avoid sleep deprivation crashing and how to not expose your immune system to the stress induced from warrior week. As a second year graduate student who has experienced this week at least 10 times, I can safely say that these tips are helpful. Without further procrastination, here are the tips:

Dr. C's Self-Care Boot Camp For those of us who are not fully ready to get back to work, fear not. I have two more list to show you. This next list has applications of self-care from a social psychological perspective, along with random suggestions of what my advisor would tell me to do (or not to do). I suggest doing a few things on this list once you have completed a task.

Soc Psyc Self Care JazzIt is important for us to acknowledge the completion of our small tasks that lay the foundation for the overall bigger task to take place (aka the final paper and/or project). Show yourself appreciation for each task you have finished, whether it be something small (such as an amazing sentence or coming up with a witty title) or the larger tasks(like turning in the 25 page term paper).

Immediate Anxiety Reduction

Lastly, I want to provide you with a list that will help reduce the anxiety you may experience during warrior week.

Alright, I have procrastinated too much now — but doing something fun and productive — as such I must get back to write. I hope these tips will be handy for you during crunch time. The important message is that we are more efficient when we take care of ourselves. In doing so, we will perform our best during the pressures of warrior week.

A Graduate School Supply List

It’s back-to-school time, my favorite time of year! And, with this time of year comes lots of advice and talk regarding everything from how to make the most of your education to where shop for school supplies. Recently, a number of posts and advertisements have come across my screen related to school supplies. There have even been hashtags for Twitter and Instagram for “school supply porn” and Tumblr and Pinterest have pages and boards dedicated to school supplies and educational aesthetics and workspaces year round. Some of our favorites include Tumblr’s #studyblr and #pencilporn.

In lieu of this, the GA’s (the amazing Tristen Kade and incredible Izzy Notter) and I decided to offer our contribution with a Graduate School Supply List. Of course, each person is different and should feel free to edit or add to this list as they feel necessary. It is not an exhaustive list by any means. However, we would strongly encourage you to give extra consideration to anything on our list that causes the following reactions: any lol-ing, “wtf”s, or “what is that?”

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 2.15.56 PM

Other suggested supplies for added luxury include:

  • StarbucksCard$500 Starbucks card
  • 25$ I-tunes gift card Spotify app and yearly subscription
  • Laptop keyboard cover
  • Costco “Gold Star” Membership
  • Artisanal Pencil Sharpening Plan
  • Vintage Coffee Mug
  • Meditative Coloring Book
  • Knitwear Beanie, sweaters, and fingerless gloves-to-mittens

On a tad more serious note, what is it about school supplies that people love even as we age? Perhaps, there is an over-representation of people who like school, or the culture of learning, that like the aesthetics of supplies. On more practical points, school supplies are necessary for our work. We need resources to educate, and to learn. Further our resources–the amount and type–play a significant role in the amount of energy and potential we are capable of achieving—from types of questions we can answer to our own personal health.

School supplies also make us feel productive and possibly a little in control. Just having them all laid out as a ritual to begin our work gets the productivity wheel rolling and makes it a little harder to walk away. Purchasing supplies at the beginning of the year (and throughout) allows us to feel that we have accomplished at least one task that day, and it was not all that unpleasant—ideally. In fact, we were likely to be excited about the task and are now off to a good start. We may even be more excited after the task feeling ready to take on the world.

Lastly, supplies may have a latent function as cultural markers for us to display and recognize allowing us to feel part of a greater community that is typically quite individualistic and involves a great deal of solitude. In any case, for academics supplies are essential and can be fun. And who doesn’t need a little fun in our high stress atmosphere?

Blogging in Review


So this past year, I did very little blogging…that is until the end of the year. It was a huge work year for me and I did work to stay true to my resolutions for 2014. These included more family time and being kinder to myself,  doing a pull-up, head stands in yoga, and learning to play “Timber” on the harmonica. While I feel completely short on learning to play “Timber.” I did at one point master the headstand–then quitting yoga and my pull-up is sooooo close–it will surely be mastered this year).  I think I was overall more kind to myself and definitely worked less hours.  I probably shouldn’t own up to that but I think it is important to distinguish working less hours and by learning to become more efficient–to which I think I did.

Balancing family-work-self is no small task.  I did however get more comfortable with writing in shorter lengths of time–my typical 3-4 hours sessions reduced to 2 hours or less. However, my “start-up” time is still about 20-30 minutes.  This is the amount of time it takes me to get in the mind set to write and includes my morning writing ritual. I suppose I could cut this in half, however I clearly do not want to and consider this a part of my “me time.”

Two things had to give this year for me to stay true to my family-work-self goals. The first is my running decreased immensely. In 2013, I ran weekly if not more often, this past year I dropped to monthly. Also, my 2012 goal to blog more fell away. I just didn’t have the time in balancing my other obligations. In thinking about 2013 and this year, I feel like I did pretty good and made good decisions for myself and my family. I can deal with running less and regarding the blogging, the real goal was to put my self out there more.

toblogSo while I did in fact blog less, I do feel I still put myself out there. In fact, very little blogging occurred on this site and took place in other venues. To catch everyone up, here is a quick review of my blogs from this year that did not take place here. I believe they offer sociological substance and ideally quality over quantity.


LumberDPower, Pomp, and Plaid: Lumbersexuals and White Heteromasculine Pageantry   with Tristan Bridges

Professional Football: A Queer/Masculine Paradox

Sociological Images Christmas Film Review: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

What I learned this year about blogging, is that I prefer to sociologically blog for more established sites more than on my own site. As such, it is very likely this blog will become more about my various other interests primarily regarding academia, productivity, my own research, along with my own adventures with blogging and social media.

Lastly, I am particularly grateful to Tristan Bridges, Lisa Wade, and CJ Pascoe in supporting, guiding, and stimulating my interests in public sociology.




Album Review: Tay Tay 1989


I’m ready to report back on the new Tay Tay album: Basically it is definitely more of a dance album than country. It most reminds me of Tegan and Sarah’s most recent Heartthrob album, with hints and tones of a synthesized Jaymay, Americanized Robyn, La Roux, and Enya/Bastille chants?…but not at all. Think some of Justice’s dance too.

Of course tay tay herself is extremely prevalent in voice especially, but overall it feels like an update of all those drive songs in the 80s and 90s and more like a group than a single voice.

GAs* also add: “It kinda reminds me of the 80s, but I guess that is what the title 1989 is about, the end of an era.” “I hear Enya.” Tiffany has been mentioned along with beats of 3 doors down, Iggy Azalea, Icona Pop and Neon Trees. “Savage Garden!” jk I think but cant tell if they mean that one.

No one has guessed it was Tay Tay and one was upset she liked it.


Professor Pet Peeves and Water Cooler Talk

I recently shared a tweet about Sociological Images’ Professors’ Pet Peeves. The tweet got an unprecedented number of favorites and retweets. I found this quite amusing as it clearly illuminated my twitter audience and offered a moment of professional “in solidarity.” As the pet peeves listed were so true and (stereo)typical. Lisa Wade did a great job with this list.

keepcalmreadsyllabusThe pet peeves listed are very common and always incite commentary among my colleagues. I would even go as far to say that these pet peeves are commonly known and discussed by professors around the globe. However, upon closer consideration, I began to questions the frequency of these offenses in my semester. The one that occurs most often in my world is by far the “unprofessional correspondence” and followed closely by what I would refer to as “stuff that’s on the syllabus.” I realized in thinking about how much I interact with students and the sheer number of students, it is actually fairly rare that more than a couple of theses offenses occurs in any given semester. Meanwhile, my water cooler talk, Facebook, and Twitter do “blow-up” quite frequently with incidences every month. I guess when you have one or two instances a semester across a large group of people it does make the problem seem rampant.

In my case, these incidences may not happen very often but in most cases when they do it is memorable. I would also say that there has been a definite shift in the last few years related to student-professor interactions in which those interactions have felt more casual and students seem bolder. I say this as a mere observation and do not mean to suggest this is either good or bad. I do also have to admit I wonder quite frequently if its me—did I not explain something adequately? Is it a change in student culture, perhaps a cohort effect related to the Millennials?  Or could something else be going on?  At times, it feels very hard to grasp as I, as a student, would never have thought to tell a professor I wasn’t going to be in class or point out that I missed a day. I definitely would not own up to not having read the syllabus, and I rarely went to the professor directly for information outside of the substantive material covered in class.

Perhaps, we have been indoctrinated into an academic culture in such a way that these skills seem so innate to us and when someone doesn’t know them it almost seems like an issue of common sense or this at times is how it is talked about. We think students should know or find it disrespectful if it is ignored or time was not take to learn these skills. After all, most of us spend the entire first day on our expectations, the syllabus, and if you are like me our individual pet peeves, preferences, and so forth. Thus, the annoyance when offenses occur because it is as if we were not heard.

But what if we also consider that not all students get everything covered in every class. In fact, few do.  While I do largely agree that many students do fully utilize their syllabi, I would also suggest that current students come from a culture of available information at the tips of the fingers and they ask questions. Not only do they ask questions, and some even operate by going directly to the source with their questions and concerns—aka the professor. All things I would appreciate/commend if it were about content or substantive coursework material. So why is it so annoying to us when it is about the logistics of the course?

We know how much work we put into our courses and classrooms. We hear how often we say these things, perhaps the annoyance. I often have to explain p-values, for example, a number of times to various students and often times I know I have explained it multiple times to the same student and will likely explain it multiple times more. I rarely get frustrated or consider that the student is being disrespectful or not listening in those cases, merely that they have not grasped the concept yet. Maybe we are creating a hierarchy of what is consider to be easier or harder concepts to grasp. Logistics we may take for granted as concepts to be taught. Also, logistics vary greatly across courses and professors and maybe inconsistently enforced from setting to setting or professor to professor. Nevertheless, we expect to explain multiple times content to our students…shouldn’t we expect to explain the logistics too?

watercoolertalkI don’t have a solution to offer beyond patience and setting clear expectations from day one (and possibly being prepared to reiterate those expectations), but I will say that one great latent function that comes from all of this for the professor and academic culture is the water cooler talk and social bonding.

It’s OK to Slack on Blogging



Blogging is not very impactful toward making tenure…thus I occasionally slack on it.

and, that’s ok.

On Queering Parenting and Gender-Neutrality

by: D’Lane Compton and Tristan Bridges

Cross-posted at Inequality by (Interior) Design and Social (In)Queery

Becoming a parent is fascinating, but becoming a parent who studies gender and sexuality, and—for one of us—identifies as queer… well let’s just say that creates a whole different level of awareness and curiosity.  river formation diagramPrior to becoming parents, we both had a fine-tuned appreciation of the ways that gender and sexuality structure our experiences and opportunities. Anne Fausto-Sterling draws a great metaphor comparing the onset of gender binaries to the process of water erosion.

At first, the erosion (read: gender) may not be visible.  Small watery tributaries begin to form—the arms of future rivers that could, at this stage, easily change route.  Gradually, streams emerge, slowly becoming rivers.  And before long, you end up with something like the Grand Canyon.  Yet, looking at the Grand Canyon disguises all of the crises that the fledgling streams navigated—a watery path whose flow, course, and geography were yet to be determined.  Gender, said Fausto-Sterling, is no different.  It takes time to learn to think of it as permanent and predetermined when it is actually anything but.

Just to put this in context, let us provide an example illustrating this issue as well as the sociological imagination of children at work. It involves a trip to the grocery store, a bold 3-year-old girl and her mother.  At the checkout line, the girl trotted up to Tristan’s cart with her mother, pointed at Tristan’s son, and asked her mother, “Is that little baby a boy or a baby girl?”  The mother looked at Tristan.  He smiled, revealing nothing.  “That’s… um… a boy, honey,” the mother responded, with a questioning tone (guarding, I’m assuming for the possibility of having mistaken a him for a her).  “Why?” the little girl asked.  Rolling her eyes at Tristan, the mother looked down and gave that classic parenting response—“Because!” she said.  “Will he always be a boy?” she continued.  The mother awkwardly chuckled, shrugging her shoulders, grinning and shaking her head at Tristan.  “Yes, honey,” she laughed, “He’ll always be a boy.”  And with that, they moved on.

The questions seemed odd to the mother, but the little girl clearly wasn’t joking.  And she learned something significant in the interaction, even if her mother wasn’t actively teaching a lesson.  In fact, some of the most important lessons we teach children are probably not on purpose—showing them what’s worthy of attention, what to ignore, what should be noticed but not discussed, and more.  This little girl learned one of the ways that we think about gender in this culture—as a permanent state of being.  To think otherwise, she learned, is laughable.  This little girl seemed to understand gender as a young stream capable of becoming many different rivers.  Her mother seemed equally sure that the stream had a predetermined path.  And here’s where things get tricky—they’re both right.  It’s likely Tristan’s son will identify as a boy (and later on, as a man).  Most boys do.

GenderBut treating this process as inevitable disguises the fact that… well… it’s not.  This question came out of a 3-year-old because she’s actually in the process of acquiring what psychologists refer to as “gender constancy”—an understanding of gender as a permanent state of being.  She’s not there yet, but interactions like the one discussed above are fast helping her along.  These beliefs are institutionalized throughout our culture in ways that don’t make interactions like these completely predetermined, but make them much more likely.

With the news of a new child, D’Lane feels certain she’s somewhere in the stream, while Tristan is beginning to see the emergence of branches that are beginning to feel more likely than others.  Yet, both of us feel the slow creep of the Grand Canyon.  We have lectured for nearly 10 years on how gendering begins prior to birth. “Do you know the sex yet?” is one of the top two questions asked by most people. As a part of a same-sex couple, D’Lane experiences these questions as even more telling.

boy or girlPrior to birth, we organize names, nurseries, and language to prepare.  One of the biggest reasons folks offer to justify their inquiries about the sex of babies before they’re born (when they do so) is largely gift-related.  And the market for parenting and baby supplies structurally invites the question in more than a few ways and is a powerful force in reproducing our cultural understandings of gender.

“Gender-Neutrality” and the Market for Baby Gear

A great deal of marketing research must have gone into figuring out exactly what parents mean when they say they want “gender-neutral” clothes, toys, diaper bags, and all variety of baby and parenting paraphernalia.  We’d guess that the meanings are pretty straightforward, and we’d imagine if you pressed parents, most would offer a sort of “Not too girly for a boy” response rather than vice versa (which—if true—would be interesting in and of itself). Through this process, colors like yellow and green have become the default “gender-neutral” colors. So, if someone has elected to not find out what their child’s genitals look like in the womb, there’s a line of products people can feel comfortable purchasing without worrying that they might have bought something “gender transgressive.”

And it’s not just colors; just about anything can acquire gendered meaning. Animals are clearly gendered. “Boy” clothes and objects display animals like dogs, lions, bears, dragons, any of the big cats or pachyderms.  Meanwhile, “girl” clothes and objects are littered with kittens, unicorns, horses, butterflies, and dolphins.

Ducks“Gender-neutral” lines that want to use animals end up selecting from an odd assortment of what’s left over—foxes, hedgehogs, owls, turtles, armadillos and an odd assortment of animals that don’t have enough of a cultural reputation for violence that might make them “boyish,” but are simultaneously not “girlie” enough either.  But, the prototypical gender-neutral animal is the duck.  In fact, if you ask for gender-neutral items before a baby shower, prepare yourself for ducks.

Patterns also become gendered. Through personal experience with gendered gifting, it follows that stripes are masculine, as is camouflage (unless it’s pink).  Stars and hearts are feminine, as are rainbows.  Results from a quick Google search show that geometric shapes and lines are considered masculine while polka dots, floral patterns, and scripts are feminine. There’s also a trend in bold colors vs. pastels for boys and girls respectively.

Gender-neutral clothes are easily available for the tiniest babies—presumably for those parents who elect not to “find out.”  Though there’s not a huge selection, and almost all of it is yellow and depicts ducks, most stores in which you can buy for babies 6 months and younger have a selection of objects whose gender is not immediately apparent.  As babies get bigger, however, gender-neutral options shrink—or perhaps more accurately, they migrate.  Toddler-dom, for instance, is a life stage at which it’s increasingly difficult to find much that doesn’t scream “boy” or “girl.”  It’s a niche that some of the more up-scale stores and labels have been keen to occupy.  This is one part of a slow process that those fledgling streams begin to ossify into more predictable paths.

And it’s not just our children that get gendered.  As parents, we’re also being re-socialized into new roles (mothers, fathers, and more) that subtly invite/compel us to take up certain gendered behaviors, roles, and gender-marked objects and clothing as well.  Parenting gear is increasingly becoming as gendered as the objects we buy for our children.

Gendering Parenting Paraphernalia

23fbd7d297b226423cea40729ed5ea50Parenting gear has only recently emerged as a more sex-segregated market.  New parenting “stuff” allows parents to consider how a diaper bag really reflects their own gender identity, and whether couples might require separate gear.  There also seems to have been a sudden increase in the diversity of parenting gear available at all.  This could be a byproduct of what feels like an increasing diversification of parenting philosophies.  There have always been different ideas about what’s “right” for babies and what the “right” and “wrong” ways are to raise a child—but it feels like these ideas are becoming more polarized and/or parents of different philosophies are subtly encouraged to be at war with one another.  And it’s significant that this is often referred to as the “Mommy Wars,” a label that casually implies that this is a war men seem to have been largely able to avoid.  This might partially be because, while we assume that women will have one of an increasing diversity of parenting philosophies, we presume that men parent in one way (if we’re lucky enough to have them parenting much at all).

As men have begun playing larger roles in the parenting process—or, at the very least, are culturally expected to—parenting gear for men has emerged as well.  Diaper bags, burp clothes, sippy cups, and more are now made with the consideration that men might have to lug them around too.  Our brief survey of available “Daddy-specific gear” found that it really comes in two varieties (which often overlap): it’s either less practical than the “feminine” gear to which it was created in opposition (which is, somewhat ironically, exactly the opposite of how it is marketed), and/or it’s simply offensive (and not just to feminists, or even women… it ought to offend men as well).

For instance, companies like Diaper Dude market bags specifically to men.  The website for Diaper Dude provides an origin story for the bag—and “movement,” according to the founder:

Diaper Dude, created by Chris Pegula, is a movement that began after the birth of the first of his three children by turning feminine-style diaper bags into ones that dads would want to carry. Pegula noticed that most diaper bags and accessories sold at retail stores were designed with women’s sense of style in mind.  Instead of carrying his baby-stuff around in a gym bag or backpack, Pegula created The Diaper Dude for dads.


While the Diaper Dude appears to be a fairly reasonable option for parents who want colorful options without the “feminine” patterns, it is also a smaller bag. It will be great for those afternoon excursions or quick outings to the store, but appears to not be designed as an “everyday” diaper and childcare bag. Its size highlights a number of cultural assumptions, one of which is that dudes won’t be primary caretakers—at least in larger increments of time that might necessitate bigger bags.

51OgqxESrBL._SL500_SS500_There are other more extreme examples of masculinity in parenting gear. Using the diaper bag as a sort of case study, some of our examples include what we call the “Construction Bag” and the “Combat Daddy Bag.”  There’s more than one bag that fit each of these patterns and most are too expensive to only qualify as gag gifts.  Their existence led us to wonder what is being said through their purchase and use.

Combat Daddy Diaper BagConsider the Combat Daddy Equipment Bag, a product that implicitly draws a connection between childcare and going to war.  Indeed, it’s a cultural trope that’s amassed a small industry.  Vin Diesel’s portrayal of a Navy Seal forced into a his most difficult mission yet (becoming a parent) in Disney’s “The Pacifier” plays on this same cultural narrative.  That Diesel initially finds himself woefully unsuited to the task might superficially appear to honor the hard work that women do by illustrating that even a Navy Seal would struggle with the multitasking and time management required of good parenting.  Yet, the story is not of Diesel becoming a “mom,” but rather, of finding ways of masculinizing parenting so that he can deploy his Seal skills in a new setting.

9780316159951_p0_v1_s260x420Tristan is currently working on a collaborative project analyzing the content and imagery used in the new parenting books written explicitly to dads, and the metaphorical connection between parenting and warfare is a theme that’s emerged among the many new books marketed to men.

The idea that one may not know what they will be dealing with or what “equipment” might be needed, that a man couldn’t solve an issue without a shed of tools, and material on their backs as if they were going camping or to battle in dealing with children is offensive. Neither does this critique even consider the offensiveness toward all the women taking care of children whose men are unavailable due to actual military deployment.

Parenting products like these emerge out of a climate that asks women to “let him do it (t)his way” while subtly telling both men and women that “he” will seemingly inevitably parent differently from (and with less competence than) “her.”  In fact, prior to the emergence of parenting books for men, there was often a section for men in parenting books for women—or a section “about men” for women to read.  Advice in these sections often contains the notion that “he’s going to do things differently,” which may be perfectly true.  Yet, we’d question the notion that he is inevitably going to do things differently because he is a he.

“Men’s” parenting products help reproduce a cultural narrative that implicitly works to conceal the actual work that goes into care work by presenting some as naturally having it (women) and others as having to compensate for what are implicitly presented as intrinsic deficiencies with all variety of gadgetry.

Toward a Queer Revolution of Parenting

But what about parents who might not want the typical patterns of the classic “mom” look, but also might not want to be less functional or more kitschy daddy gear? Are there gender-neutral parenting paraphernalia options available? Can Diaper Dude fulfill their desires too?

Gender-neutral baby clothes and toys, just like the recent push toward “daddy” gear, relies on a partial understanding of how gender works.  Objects acquire a gender, but are also gendered in how we use, display, play with, and contest them.  So, calling a onesie “gender-netural” or referring to a diaper bag as a “daddy diaper bag” presents gender as though it resides within the objects themselves.  This calls our attention away from the fact that we reproduce these meanings in how we use and display these objects, and as a result, conceals our ability to challenge the meanings in how they are used as well.

There is a lot to say about how parenting objects and paraphernalia are used in ways that might challenge their meanings.  The construction diaper bag is a great example.  Comments on Amazon concerning the product indicate that items like this might often be a gift that women are buying for men (something that may be the case for a variety of new “men’s” products).  Yet, what would this bag mean if worn by a gay dad (inviting a comparison with the play on masculinity that made the Village People famous)?  What would it mean if worn by a woman?  Does the meaning change?  Is the product suddenly “queered” in how it’s been used?

Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 2.25.21 PMBut even things that are moving away from pink and blue can acquire different meanings when “queered” by the parents making use of them.  For instance, Timbuk 2 sells a diaper messenger bag (the Stork Messenger Bag) that is marketed with images of men and women whose gender displays are marginally transgressive. In fact, when D’Lane first saw it she was stoked that most of the pictures online showed a diversity of gender. She believed it might be something queer and they could even potentially be marketing to queer parents. Like gender-neutral clothing for children, the Stork Messenger Bag is being marketed to a specific group: the ad depicts only white parents and children and the cost implies that it’s being sold to middle and upper-middle class parents.  Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 2.33.07 PMThe video detailing the bag’s specifics, however—like most of the bags marketed to men—focuses more on practicality, including a joke about carrying around a beer for dad (referred to as “daddy’s milk” in the ad) in one of the many compartments. Here, the androgynous non-gendered bag, through language alone, becomes masculinized.

The images and the video are participating in marketing this product in two ways.  In some ways, the Stork Messenger is being marketed no differently than the Diaper Dude, Combat Daddy, or Construction Daddy—it’s being sold to men who might want a diaper bag that doesn’t make them feel emasculated. But, men alone aren’t the only ones who might desire a less feminine bag. Images of parents with more transgressive gender displays market this product more covertly to parents who might desire to create new models of care, working to illustrate that a capacity to engage in care work can come in a variety of different “packages”—or gender performances, if you prefer.  This subtle dual-marketing of the Stork Messenger is an illustration of our capacity to play with the meanings and gender of objects.

Thus, new products “for men” might be read as offensive in one light.  But, the agency of consumers allows for a queer revolution in parenting roles and identities in which these objects provide the raw materials.  Queering parenting is a cultural process that actively considers the ways in which parenting practices and identities can resist heteronormative assumptions that structure predominant parenting forms and relations. There is also an exciting potential embodied within these practices–aspects of which might become somewhat normalized within a  wider parenting culture–to become an agent of change.

In this age of consumerism, it’s hard to disentangle the processes at work, but it is clear that there are more options available giving us more opportunities for gendering, disrupting gender, and gender play.

Considering how this all relates to Anne Fausto-Sterling’s comparison is instructive when thinking about long-term change.  There are many ways in which we—and others—can intervene in the process of the formation of landscapes.  For instance, there are many things we can do to encourage young streams to flow in certain directions and avoid others, but we’re also capable of challenging, re-routing, and even halting massive rivers.  And we’re not alone.  If we’re metaphorically considering rivers as gender, we can also metaphorically consider consumers as beavers. Beavers are capable of dramatically altering the flow, look, use, and geography of rivers and lakes.  It’s what they do best. But it is also a slow and tenuous process. It takes time and incredible collaboration. Consider the largest known beaver damn, located in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park. Numerous families of beavers through several generations have worked on the damn construction since the 1970’s. Most well known for being visible from space, the damn is now approximately 2,800 feet long, more than 5 times the size of what is typically considered a larger beaver damn—and still growing. To quote one Discovery News article, “they’re re-engineering the landscape” and we should be taking notes!