Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College

Departmental News Archive

  • Miranda's Great Adventure

    As an ESL teacher living in Korea I have a particular skill set. I’m a pro with band-aids. I can fix anything with twine and glue.

    Miranda Joy in class

    Miranda Joy in class

    As an ESL teacher living in Korea I have a particular skill set. I’m a pro with band-aids. I can fix anything with twine and glue. I can break out into song and dance about any topic based on the daily lesson, be it weather, counting, clothes, household rooms, or colors. My charades skills have no equal. If you think a crying child is impossible to handle, you have simply not applied enough stickers. An average day for me involves blood, tears, and loose teeth.

    The ability to teach anything involves the ability to plan, schedule, coordinate large groups of people, and above all, maintain a level head in the face of madness. A teacher must be aware of themselves at all times within the classroom. A teacher can hold the attention of a classroom full of children while working their way through triathlon of structured activities and lessons. In a day I run a marathon. I can tell you exactly what I will be doing in five-minute increments while at work. I have back up lessons for each class and one completely alternate lesson for absolutely crazy days.

    Miranda in class

    Miranda in class

    But where does the sociological aspect come in to play? Teaching in a foreign country demands you learn the culture, the language, the diet, the walk, and the dress of that country before you can even begin to teach. Korean children cannot be understood without first understanding their parents. Korean parents cannot be understood without understanding their parents.

    Korea’s crazy push into a high-tech and modern world of cheap soju and crazy love motels has everything to do with how one should approach teaching in Korea. I’m in charge of socializing children on both Korean behavior and American behavior. I must choose what words my kids learn, the slang they should pick up, and the attitude they assume within my classroom. I’m not allowed the luxury of simply asking “what” of Korea, I must always ask “why” as well.

    Teaching English allows me to really examine the role of language as both a barrier between societies, as well as a dynamic and fluid structure within societies. I must constantly explain why I say ‘knock it off’ when I don’t want them to remove things from their desk, or why English speakers say ‘hang up’ the phone when children have only known cell phones can put a lot into perspective. Tell a child they are eating gummies instead of jellies in Korea and -- surprise! -- you have just told them they are eating spiders. Jokes simply do not translate between languages and puns are doomed from the start.

    Coming to Korea allowed me to step into a complete unknown and structure myself. I go to the gym, volunteer at a homeless shelter twice a week, participate in several writing based groups in Seoul. I keep a detailed schedule of my weeks and I hold myself to those commitments. I don’t flinch at Korea’s more creative meals, and I can navigate the Seoul metro in my sleep. I visit museums, I still go on tourist tours of Korea, and I travel to surrounding countries whenever possible.

    So much of my time in Korea has been spent working to simply understand Korea. I have come to love the idea of ‘couples attire’ and ajumma and ajushi privilege. I will forever crave kimchi with my meals. I know the lyrics to several kpop songs, and when I visit the doctor it costs less than my morning coffee.

    This is my last year teaching. This is also my last year in ROK. I will miss everything about my time here, but I also acknowledge that I am ready to move on. Traveling for me is all about learning to fall in love with uncomfortable bedfellows. It means reevaluating what I know to be correct. I went to the Philippines last year for vacation and wound up staying in Manila and volunteering in a program for feeding and clothing homeless children in the streets. I spent Christmas cooking a meal for over 200 people. Life is funny and fickle and sometimes you wind up eating silkworm pupa and finding it tastes pretty darn good.

    Miranda Joy graduated from Wheaton College in 2012 with a degree in sociology. She participated in the Bhutan program where she worked with the city municipalities as well as the UN in trash collection and coordination. She has been an ESL instructor in Korea since 2012, and – guess what? -- you can find out the meanings of unfamiliar terms by some online exploring.

  • Photo of Chris Kelley smiling, in a red shirt Putting Sociology Skills to Work

    Chris Kelley ‘96 finds sociology is a natural fit for market research and consulting

    Since graduating from Wheaton with a degree in Sociology I have built a 15+ year career in market research. Across my career, I have guided leaders at global companies, universities, and government agencies on their product and marketing strategies based on research that I designed, conducted, analyzed, and presented. I currently work at Forrester Research in Cambridge as a Senior Data Engagement Director. Basically, I work with consumer technology companies (Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Google, etc.) helping them better understand consumer attitudes, adoption, and usage of technology.

    One of the most gratifying aspects of my career is that the skills I use every day are directly related to the skills I developed in my Sociology studies at Wheaton. These skills include those learned in my classes, in the ample one-on-one time I spent with my professors, and the time that I spent researching, writing and defending my Senior Honor Thesis. These experiences taught me how to design and conduct research, analyze data, translate that data into an easily-understood story, and speak in front of an – often intimidating – audience of professionals.

    When I work with my clients they often ask me where I got my MBA. I always enjoy responding - gently correcting them - that my academic background is in Sociology, not Business. I then explain how Sociology is a natural fit for market research and consulting because of what you learn about the research process from design to presentation. I then go on to say how Wheaton’s academic environment and committed Sociology Department faculty were ideal for developing these skills.

    Chris Kelley ‘96

  • Chris Wellin reviews "Mission Hill and the Miracle of Boston" and other films

    Read the review


  • Saving the Children

    By John Grady
    The dramatic decline in infant mortality has lifted a burden of sorrow.

    Real Photo Postcard of Mother with Dead Infant, ca. 1909. Courtesy of Luc Sante

    Real Photo Postcard of Mother with Dead Infant, ca. 1909. Courtesy of Luc Sante


    By John Grady

    Pictures of a dead child or other family member were common in the late nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries. It was a way of remembering someone who had never been photographed when they were alive. The pictures seem strangely morbid to us today due in part to the obvious efforts made to make the corpse look alive – eyes propped open, sitting, or even standing. Usually, the live people in the photograph dress formally and are emotionally composed.

    This photograph of a grieving working class mother and her dead child is quite different. We feel her desolation. We see her exhaustion in the slump of her shoulders, her body, and the left arm and hand dangling helplessly at her side. She has a blank stare, but her eyes are alive with sorrow. Her jaw is clenched. The woman standing directly behind the mother looks at her steadily with a gaze that is both tender and sad. This photograph is not a formal moment fixed in amber, but rather an instance of misery. The woman to the left has just turned toward the scene. The blurred motion is distinct enough to create a double exposure that makes the scene come alive and takes us back to a day in 1909 when, next to a plank house on a rough wooden porch, and somewhere in America, a mother grieved as her baby was being prepared for burial.

    When life expectancy improved from forty years to eighty over the course of the twentieth century, it didn’t mean that everyone on average just added another forty years to their lives. There were then, as now, many people who lived well beyond the average life expectancy. Many of us know people in their late eighties and nineties and many did back then. What improved life expectancy really meant was an enormous reduction in child mortality. It was babies and kids getting beyond the hurdles of childhood diseases and infections – and not dying -- that made it possible for many more people to live at all, and in time for a growing number to live quite long lives in good health. In 1900, the infant mortality rate (the number of deaths per one thousand live births for children one and under) was 162 per thousand. As of 2011, it is down to 6 per thousand. In other words, the odds were one out of 6 that a child born in 1900 would not live into a second year. Today, the odds are only one out of 167.

    When we factor in the fertility rate (the total number of children on average that women bear during their lifetimes), we summon up an even bleaker tableau. The fertility rate in 1900 was 6 children per woman. Multiply that by the infant mortality rate (162/1000 times 6) and you have 972/1000 or nearly a statistical certainty that in 1900 a women would lose a child under one year of age at some point during her child bearing years. Today women have a fertility rate of 2. Doing the numbers – 6/1000 times 2 – yields 12/1000, which means that the odds of a woman losing a child in 2013 is roughly one out of eighty.

    Today, young women -- like young men -- are exhorted to be all that they can be and strive to realize their dreams. What could possibly be wrong with wanting to “have it all”: material rewards, a challenging career, supportive relationships and a loving family with children. But, at the turn of the century mothers and grandmothers would never tell their daughters such a thing and instead reminded them that it was women’s lot to suffer. They weren’t being cruel. It was just that knew that it was certain that someday their daughters would be sitting in a chair like the woman in the photograph, holding a dead child, and drowning in sorrow.

    It still happens and when it does the grief is just as deep as it was for this woman whose name we do not know. But the dramatic decline in infant mortality not only ensures that human life is abundant, but also that much of the burden of sorrow for men, and especially women, has been lifted.

  • Charting Life

    by John Grady
    Life expectancy as a chronicle of civilization.

    US Life Expectancy for Men and Women, 1900--Present


    Life Expectancy for Men and Women in the United States, 1900 to the Present.

    Life Expectancy for Men and Women in the United States, 1900 to the Present.




    by John Grady

    This is a simple line chart and easy to read. The vertical axis scales one type of information -- in this case, how many years someone born in the US might expect to live -- while the horizontal axis lists when people were born. A point on either line is an estimate based on projecting the death rates prevailing at that date into the future. Projecting a trend in this fashion, however, does not account for what the actual future might bring. Life expectancy in real time could be lowered by war, disease, famine, or a cataclysmic natural event. Conversely, our lives could extend beyond what was predicted at birth by improvements in living standards, medical care, and healthier lifestyles. For Americans, the big take away story from this chart is that the good far outweighs the bad.

    Throughout human history, average life expectancy was anywhere from 30 to 40 years at best. Around 250 years ago in Western Europe and the United States, things slowly began to change. There was more food available; public health measures were taken; medical science improved, and housing became more secure and comfortable. By 1900, life expectancy was almost 50 years. What happened during the next century was without precedent in human history. By 2000 life expectancy had nearly doubled and men and women on average lived into their late 70s and early 80s.

    Line charts are one of the best ways of visualizing a trend. They show direction: is it going up or down; is it even or uneven; curvilinear or cyclic? They show whether the rate of change is fast, slow, or non-existent. They also can be designed to include more than one line – in this case trends for men and women – and these can be easily compared. With these observations in mind, what does this chart tell us?
    • While the growth of life expectancy is a steadily progressive trend over the course of the century, it tends to slow down from the early 1950s on for both men and women;
    • Women tend to live longer than men and this discrepancy has generally widened since the beginnings of World War II. There is some evidence of a narrowing of the gender gap during the 1990s, which is probably due to men beginning to quit smoking in the 1960s in significant numbers, while women were just embracing the habit. There is a lag in outcomes for men and women because it takes about 30 years for the negative health effects of smoking to begin to take their toll – and for the positive effects of not smoking to have an impact.
    • Before 1945 changes in life expectancy were very volatile. They go up and down by one or two years of life expectancy from year to year. This volatility is most likely due to outbreaks of various infectious diseases. After World War II, mass vaccination and expanded health care probably accounts for how steady the trend becomes for both men and women.

    Because of the way that life expectancy is measured, it is very susceptible to being influenced by a dramatic increase in the death rate, even if that jump is limited to a very short period of time. The influenza epidemic of 1919 is considered the most lethal worldwide epidemic in history and killed more than 20 million people, 500,000 of them in the United States alone. This singular event was so massive that the slaughter it records leaves a distinct graphic trace on the chart as a plunging spike.

    Charts are one of the best ways of examining social indicators. When done well, they provide us with clear measures of patterns that we might not otherwise be aware. Nevertheless, the care we take in viewing them is only as good as the care that must be taken in their preparation as well as observing and collecting the original information. The data that went into making this chart on life expectancy is reliable for just these reasons, and -- because we can imagine what it measures – these simple lines speak volumes about what American civilization accomplished for its people over the last century.

  • Member of "Serve the City" in Brussels Dressing the Hair of a Homeless Woman What Can You Do? Service Sociology and Social Problems

    By A. Javier Trevino  

    A new type of sociology is devoted to the practical amelioration of social problems.

    By A. Javier Trevino

    Studying sociology usually means that you will be dealing with many issues that are troubling, harmful, and just plain distressing. As such, it is understandable that you may feel that “it’s all bad news,” that something needs to be done, that things need to change. But how?

    If sociology is the discipline that studies social problems—like crime; poverty; inequalities based on social class, race, and gender; epidemics; environmental problems, and so on—you may want to know what “solutions” it has to offer. Indeed, you may be interested in finding out what you can do to make a difference.

    Member of "Serve the City" in Brussels Dressing the Hair of a Homeless Woman

    Member of "Serve the City" in Brussels Dressing the Hair of a Homeless Woman

    Concern with the problems of urban life and their alleviation goes back to the early days of American sociology at the turn of the twentieth century. As sociology was becoming more and more popular in colleges and universities around the country, it basically took two forms: the study of sociological theory and the practice of ameliorative reform and service. At that time, most people thought of sociology as a form of philanthropy and courses such as Methods of Social Amelioration, Charities and Corrections, and Preventive Philanthropy were common. Undergraduate sociology programs were even more focused on training in charity and social service work.

    After its founding in 1892, the University of Chicago established the first full-fledged department of sociology in the United States. At least initially, sociologists there were diligently engaged with applied social reform and philanthropy. Indeed, the founder of the department, Albion W. Small, pointed out that sociology “is good for nothing unless it can enrich average life; our primary task is to work out correct statements of social problems and valid methods of solving them.”

    Along with the development of sociology at Chicago, between 1885 and 1930, a unique, active, and engaged sociology was being implemented in many of the “settlement houses,” or neighborhood centers that provided services to poor immigrants, that had been founded in major cities throughout the United States. Settlement sociologists, like Jane Addams, who in 1889 cofounded the most famous of the settlement houses, Hull House, in one Chicago’s desperately poor neighborhoods, considered the settlement as an experimental effort in the solution of the social problems of the modern city. Addams, and others like her, sought empirical data on various social problems through detailed descriptions of the conditions of groups living in poverty. In addition, Hull House provided a wide variety of community services, including securing support for deserted women, conducting a kindergarten and day nursery, implementing various enterprises for neighborhood improvement, and establishing a relief station.

    A new type of sociology that is devoted to the practical amelioration of social problems and that has its heritage in the early American sociology of relief and reform is now emerging. Service sociology is a socially responsible and mission-oriented soci¬ology of action and alleviation. Motivated by care and compassion, service sociology is concerned with helping people meet their pressing social needs. The sociology of service believes that the personal needs of one individual are not so different from the collective needs of others in similar life circumstances. This belief is why service sociology treats individuals as people in community with each other. The main goal of service sociology is to help people by meeting their essential needs and concerns through service. The various types of service activities for helping others is vast and they include: community counseling, coaching, mentoring, tutoring, conflict resolution, community gardening, friendly visiting, community cleanup, block activities, giving circles, crime prevention, community organizing, advocacy, voter registration, participatory action research, service learning, and mediation. And you can probably think of other similar service activities.

    Indeed, the time is now ripe for service sociology and for student involvement in it. Consider that in the past few years there has been a renewed public interest in volunteering and social service—a so-called “compassion boom”—particularly among the Millennial generation. Today, over one-quarter of all Americans take part in some form of community service with over 64 million volunteers serving. In 2011 these volunteers dedicated nearly 8 billion hours to volunteer service, and the economic value of this service was $171 billion. And across the country, millions of volunteers are involved in a range of critical areas, including tutoring and teaching; participating in fund-raising activities or selling items to raise money for an organization; collect¬ing, preparing, distributing, or serving food; and contributing general labor or providing transportation. What is more, no less than 26% of college students volunteered in 2010, and over 3 million of them dedicated over 300 million hours of service to communities across the country, primarily in activities involving youth mentoring, fundraising, and teaching and tutoring.

    In addition to community service, many citizens across the country are engaged civically. Indeed, between 2008 and 2010, 8.4 % of American adults worked with neighbors to fix a community problem; 49.6 % donated money, assets, or property with a combined value of more than $25 to charitable or reli¬gious organizations; and in 2010, 41.8 % of residents voted in the 2010 national election.

    In recent years we have also seen the emergence of several high-profile national service initiatives, such as President Obama’s United We Serve campaign, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, the annual Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service, and the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance. This service work is being done by many ordinary people who are picking up the slack for a city, a state, a nation unwilling or unable to attend to many critical matters that directly affect thousands, even millions, of people. We have now entered an era in this country characterized by a culture of service—involving various forms of civic engagement, community service, and volunteerism—that allows people, as citizens, to work together to ease or mitigate the predicaments and uncertainties created by poverty, hunger, racism, sexism, epidemics, calamities, and so on. It is precisely in this current culture of service, with its numerous pressing needs and concerns, that we can consider the emergence of a sociology of social problems based on service.

    The motto of the International Sociology Honor Society, Alpha Kappa Delta, is “to investigate humanity for the purpose of service.” See http://www.alphakappadelta.org/Home.php

    To learn more about service sociology you can read the following sources:
    Treviño, A. Javier. 2011.“Teaching and Learning Service Sociology.” Teaching/Learning Matters [News¬letter for the American Sociological Association’s Section on Teaching and Learning in Sociology] 40(1):4–6.
    Treviño, A. Javier. 2012. “The Challenge of Service Sociology.” Social Problems 59(1):2–20.
    Treviño, A. Javier. 2013. “On the Facilitating Actions of Service Sociology.” Journal of Applied Social Science 7(1):95–109.
    Treviño, A. Javier, and Karen M. McCormack. 2014. Service Sociology and Academic Engagement in Social Problems. Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing.

  • The Passion of Mission Hill

    “Mission Hill and the Miracle of Boston” recorded the impact of desegregation and urban renewal. Professor Grady’s 1978 controversial documentary was recently featured at the MIT Urban Planning Film Series.

    Mission Hill and the Miracle of Boston was featured at the MIT Urban Planning Film Series on November 14, 2014. John Grady led a discussion after the film.

    View of Mission Hill from Brigham Circle to the Mission Church

    View of Mission Hill from Brigham Circle to the Mission Church

    Here is how it was introduced by Karilyn Crockett, Martin Luther King Post-doctoral fellow at MIT:
    For anyone who likes Boston or who definitely does not, this film is for you. Boston's recent mayoral election offers a new opportunity to examine some of the city's most enduring problems related to race, place and the postwar economic development of its neighborhoods and downtown. Esteemed documentary filmmakers, Richard Broadman and John Grady conceived "Mission Hill and the Miracle of Boston" (1978) as both snapshot and critique of big business-driven urban renewal. But don't worry this 60-min film is not pumped up policy drivel. First person accounts of residents coupled with raw newsreel reveal the physical and psychological impacts of rapid urban change from the frontline. View this fascinating document of Boston's recent past and learn the backstory of many of the political, economic and racial tensions that continue to inform the city's construction agenda today. It includes in depth consideration of racially segregated public housing developments in the Mission Hill/Heath Street neighborhood as well as the downtown creation of Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market as contested tourist destination, and offers a compelling look at multiple approaches to 20th century U.S. city building.

  • 650_Maya-Ennis_0335-e1370890107252-122x122 Traveling scholars

    Maya Ennis ’14 wins Gilman award to study in Egypt.

  • Figure 1 Still from Camp Gyno ad on YouTube Why We Should Take Advertisements Seriously

    John Grady

    Advertisements are important social and cultural documents. A representative sample often reflects a society’s concerns and values as accurately as well-executed surveys. But how is this possible?

    By John Grady

    Advertisements are important social and cultural documents. A representative sample often reflects a society’s concerns and values as accurately as well-executed surveys do. But how is this possible? How could images designed by people who don’t know, or haven't talked to, us -- and who are completely self-interested to boot – possibly reflect our innermost thoughts and feelings? Figuring out how exercises in persuasion by self-interested advertisers somehow manage to create reliable indicators of public sentiment has puzzled social scientists for a long time. Fortunately, it looks like the new social media may provide a key to solving that puzzle.

    Here’s how the advertising process works. Advertisers hire talented people to promote their products in attractive and engaging ways. After a long design and testing period, they launch their appeals at targeted populations (called demographics) through selected media: print, billboards, television and increasingly, the Internet. At this point, advertisements are pumped through the media into the massive torrent of communications that characterize everyday life.

    It’s not easy to get people’s attention. Advertisers compete not only with other advertisers but also the zillion other communiqués that people receive in a single day. These include pop songs, newspapers, television programming, and the innumerable conversations we have with family, friends, acquaintances and all those others whose paths we cross.

    Over the last century advertisers have been busily devising ways to cajole consumers into not turning off their messages (both literally and figuratively). Today the industry focuses increasingly on producing story telling gems that engage the audience with wit, humor and pathos. In short, a form of public entertainment – art, if you will -- has replaced the hard sales pitch.

    The goal of an advertising campaign, therefore, is to convince consumers to view the commercial as an answer to their inchoate preoccupations: will I -- and mine -- be better off, happier, healthier, more attractive, more popular, more enlightened, with this product or service than without it. Usually, however, the best that an advertiser can hope for is to have an audience enjoy the people and events portrayed in the advertisement and pray that this positive feeling will somehow attach itself to the product being hawked. If advertisement's do engage people’s attention in this fashion then this would exlain why it would be possible for researchers to view advertisements as reliable indicators of what concerns and preoccupies a population. But do we have any evidence that the public is actually engaged by these offerings?

    Figure 1 Still from Camp Gyno ad on YouTube

    Figure 1 Still from Camp Gyno ad on YouTube

    Camp Gyno is a commercial for Helloflo, a service that delivers a kit of tampons, pads and candies to young girls who have reached menarche. CNN’s Kelly Wallace describes the ad:

    “In it, a tween is the first girl to get her period at camp, what she calls her ‘red badge of courage', and proudly sets out to teach her pals about this milestone. ‘For these campers, I was their Joan of Arc,’ she says. ‘It's like I'm Joan, and their vag is the arc.’

    "Did she just say 'vag' in an ad?”

    In the space of a minute and a half our young protagonist rises from the lower ranks of the camp pecking order to the heights of power as the “Camp Gyno” -- channeling the persona of a Marine Corps drill instructor in her quest -- only to fall from grace as packages of Helloflo mysteriously arrive on campers’ cabin doorsteps.

    The high point of the ad is a scene (figure 1) where our heroine demonstrates menstruation to two astonished camp mates using a Dora the Explorer doll and a squeeze bottle of ketchup.

    Kelly Wallace continues:

    "I wasn't setting out with this incredible feminist agenda," said Naama Bloom, the creator of the ad and founder of a company called HelloFlo, which offers women a subscription service for monthly supplies of tampons and pads, and period starter kits for young girls.

    "I just wanted to talk the way women talked and the way I talk and the way I am teaching my daughter to talk," said the mom of two."

    In a personal communication, Blook reported to me that her start-up couldn’t afford an ad campaign on television. Instead, she gambled that on YouTube she could connect with other women – moms and tweens -- about their concerns. And, boy, did she! The commercial went viral and within a week it had more than five million hits and is still climbing.

    Even more interesting than the ad itself -- and the wide media coverage it has received -- has been the response on the web. The “likes” outnumber the “dislikes” by 8 to 1. Camp Gyno has also become fodder for discussion on women’s blogs, mini-documentary treatments and other forums on YouTube and the like. The overwhelming majority of discussants approves of the frank talk about a subject that is often discussed publicly – and invariably advertised – only in euphemisms. Nevertheless, a number of women question whether it is doing girls a disservice by romanticizing having your period and if the product itself -- the Helloflo service -- is all that useful.

    Figure 2 Still from Luv breastfeeding ad

    Figure 2 Still from Luv breastfeeding ad


    Luv’s, which makes diapers and baby wipes, has produced at least four commercials over the last year or so in its FIRST KID… SECOND KID campaign. These are gently amusing television spots that compare the comfortable competence of an experienced mom to her earlier, more anxious, self. Most of them have received around a hundred thousand hits. But only the breastfeeding ad went truly viral (figure 2).

    Two million hits, and a “like” to “dislike” ratio of 20 to 1, this ad has nevertheless triggered off a debate about breastfeeding that is far more contentious than Camp Gyno’s treatment of menstruation. Should women breastfeed in public or only in private? Is it a natural or disgusting act? Those who comment – and there are a great many -- manage to be offended – or offended at someone else’s being offended -- by questions like these.

    For sociologists these comments on the web confirm an impression that we’ve had for some time but didn’t have the data to prove. Advertising’s power is due not so much to what it might be shoveling into each of our brains but more to its ability to spark group awareness and interaction through countless, and until now most often anonymous, conversations. Today, the emergence of the new social media enables us to trace how advertisements actually enter into public discourse.

    Advertisements are not only designed to promote commodities but also constitute moral fables that model what kinds of people we should become and how we should treat each other. Even when these fictions are ironic, advertisers invariably construct an imaginary social order that they hope we will respond to favorably. Because the world is always changing and because advertisers need to make their messages especially noticeable, they often deliberately transgress established moral boundaries by imagining how social mores and cultural styles might be altered in sometimes-unconventional ways. If the content and style of their advertisements stray too far from deeply held beliefs and norms, the public – or at least some very vocal elements in it – will be outraged. Conversely, if advertisers dramatize what many have been feeling for some time but have neither had the imagination or courage to articulate, then the public will respond favorably, and attitudes may change surprisingly quickly.

    The HelloFlo and Luv’s advertisements address issues about the female body and its functions that have either been taboo in polite society, or treated euphemistically. What the advertisements are saying is that a society that has a hard time accepting frank depictions and conversations about breastfeeding and menstruation is one that demeans the full range of women’s experience (After all, hasn’t each of our lives been announced by a missed period!). Bringing the discussion of these aspects of female biology into the open, therefore, may not only change how women are seen in contemporary society, but also how comfortable women may become in experiencing their bodies. Such a change would build, of course, on the long struggle for women’s rights that has been fought with increasing success over the last half century.

    Increased frankness in advertising’s treatment of women’s concerns and in dramatizing the actual ways that women talk and the ways that some are teaching their daughters to talk are, therefore, markers of social change, and in time more conventional depictions will come to be seen as priggish, silly or worse as these mid-twentieth century ads about  feminine hygiene (figures 3 and 4) strike us today.


    Figure 3. Lysol advertisement (c. 1940) for feminine hygiene

    Figure 3. Lysol advertisement (c. 1940) for feminine hygiene


    Figure 4. Advertisement for unspecified feminine hygiene product.

    Figure 4. Advertisement for unspecified feminine hygiene product.


    Themes in advertising often anticipate emerging shifts in public opinion, which may not yet have been articulated publicly nor noticed by commentators. Can advertising influence the direction of that change? Certainly! But only when large groups of people actively choose to incorporate advertisers' appeals into the ways they make sense of their own lives and relationships. The evidence from YouTube is that this is an extremely dynamic process. Stay tuned!

  • Professor Kersti Yillo, Gabriella Torres A Global First at Wheaton

    The silence surrounding sexual violence in marriage was broken when scholars gathered at Wheaton

    The Sociology and Anthropology Departments recently sponsored an international, interdisciplinary conference on “Global Perspectives on Sexual Violence in Marriage.” Despite the growing international attention to various forms of violence against women, the issue of marital rape has been ignored by scholars, policy makers and practitioners. The silence surrounding sexual violence in marriage was broken when fourteen scholars from around the world gathered at Wheaton this May. The Wheaton Workshop, supported by a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, was the first ever to focus on marital rape as a global problem, a startling fact given the social suffering it causes.

    Professor of Sociology Kersti Yllo and Associate Professor of Anthropology Gabriela Torres were the organizers of the intensive workshop. Their goal was to bring together anthropologists, sociologists, legal scholars and public health and human rights proponents to develop an approach to this very intimate form of violence that is understood very differently in different cultural contexts. Even the very definition of marital rape is highly contested. Marital rape is legal in much of the world and was criminalized in the US and UK only in the last decades of the twentieth century, even as it is significantly implicated in the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

    The three days of discussion were intense but productive as scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds put forth their views. Sociologists, who work primarily within their own societies, don’t hesitate to label this form of violence a “social problem”, whereas anthropologists take a more cultural relativist approach and cautioned against facile applications of Western theoretical explanations. We debated conceptions of the self, body, gender, consent, and intimacy in the context of rapid global changes in the very nature of marriage. Human Rights and Public Health programs that seek to redress women’s suffering were identified as necessary but also suspect in the extension of US/European conceptions of self, body and sexual autonomy. The role of states in supporting intimate partner sexual violence through judicial structures and social services was also an important focus.

    The Wheaton Workshop involved challenging conversations and productive collaborations. The Marital Rape Network , an ongoing scholarly collaboration and listserv, grew out of our meeting and we are already advancing new research on marital rape in several countries. We will be presenting at scholarly conferences as well as collaborating on a book entitled Global Perspectives on Marital Rape. One of the reasons that the conference was so positive and productive was that Wheaton provided a beautiful and relaxing context for our work. The atmosphere, cookouts, lobster dinner, and music by Wheaton’s own Matthew Allen and Julie Searles set the stage for developing a shared commitment to addressing a significant global problem.