Areas of Interest
Social Psychology, Gender, Sexuality, Social Inequality and Stratification, Family, Work, Violence and Research Methods (proficient in STATA, SAS, SPSS, Atlas.Ti and NVivo)
As reflected in the projects outlined below, my research is not limited to a specific theoretical or empirical method. Instead, I employ the method most appropriate for gaining leverage on a given research question. The uniting feature of my research is a concern with questions about the micro-level processes that contribute to social inequality. Below I briefly discuss my dissertation research, as well as my former and current research projects. Additionally, I have included PDFs of some of my work. For more information about a particular paper or project, feel free to contact me. I love to exchange ideas with people who are interested in similar sociological questions and enjoy considering alternative theoretical and methodological approaches.
My dissertation addresses the puzzle of why young men are disproportionately more likely than young women to engage in a host of adverse behaviors including physical violence, sexual coercion, infidelity, binge drinking and risk-taking. I refer to these behaviors as gendered behaviors. I draw on social identity theory and theories of gendered interaction, to develop an interactional theory of gendered behavior to suggest that receiving information that challenges one’s status as a prototypical man, otherwise known as gender identity threat, leads young, heterosexual men to engage in stereotypically male-typed gendered behavior. Study 1 examines the effect of gender identity threat on sexual infidelity. Using panel data from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, I examine the role of economic dependency, a proxy for gender identity threat, on infidelity in young men. I find that economic dependency increases the odds that married men will engage in extramarital sex. Economic dependency does not increase the odds of cheating for cohabiting men. This finding provides evidence that marriage is a uniquely gendered institution and that cohabitation may allow couples the freedom to chart new, less gendered, approaches to heterosexual relationships. Study 2 experimentally investigates the effect of gender identity threat on anti-gay aggression. Findings show moderate support for the theory. While not all threatened men display more anti-gay aggression, certain marginalized groups of men do. This study also makes a unique methodological contribution in that it cultivates a new paradigm for the study of aggression in laboratory settings. Study 3 seeks to understand the ways young men define masculinity, experience threats to their masculinity, and respond to emasculation. Analysis of 44 in-depth interviews with heterosexual, undergraduate men reveals a core of characterizations and behaviors these men use to define masculinity. When they fail to live up to this definition of masculinity, or are held accountable by their peers for failing to live up to this definition of masculinity, they experience gender identity threat. The majority of young men use healthy strategies to deal with these threats. However, less often, young men respond to gender identity threat and feelings of emasculation by engaging in adverse gendered behavior including drinking and drug use, risk-taking, violence, aggression towards women, and sexual coercion. Together, these studies suggest that many of the deleterious behaviors associated with young masculinity stem from identity insecurity and cultural definitions of “appropriately” masculine behavior.
I have presented data from each of these studies at professional meetings. I am currently revising manuscripts from my dissertation, some of which are currently under review. These papers can be found below.
Infidelity is a fascinating topic to investigate from a sociological perspective. Few decisions are more private than the decision to engage in an affair. Yet situational and structural forces shape these very private decisions. My interest in studying infidelty started with my dissertation research (see above). Study 1 of my dissertation research has been converted into the paper, “Gender, Economic Dependency, and Infidelity,” and is currently under review. That paper is available here.
I have several other infidelity papers in press and in preparation. For example, “The Science of Two-Timing: The State of Inﬁdelity Research” (available here ), provides an overview of research on inﬁdelity in an effort to synthesize past studies and orient future studies. It begins with inﬁdelity estimates, followed by a synopsis of evolutionary explanations prominent in both popular and academic writing. I argue that, despite the potential utility of evolutionary arguments, inﬁdelity needs to be understood as a dynamic social process subject to inﬂuence by the context in which it is embedded. This conceptualization urges scholars to attend to the component, proximate, and psychological factors that affect one’s decision to engage in inﬁdelity. Accordingly, I categorize empirical inﬁdelity research in this manner. I conclude by addressing new developments and avenues for future research.
In another paper on infidelity, I examine the importance of opportunity in extradyadic sex. After merging NLSY97 data with occupational sex composition data, I find that the number of women in one’s occupation is a strong predictor of heterosexual men’s decisions to engage in infidelity. For women, the percentage of men in one’s occupation does not appear to have an impact on infidelity. This paper is in preparation.
Gender Identity Threat and Gender Violence
As noted above, I am interested in the causes and consequences of gender violence. As opposed to violence against women, gender violence is violence that targets individuals due to their location in the gender hierarchy including violence against women, violence against sexual minorities, violence against “feminine” men, and violence against “masculine” women. In addition to my dissertation research on this topic (described above), I have experimentally investigated the effects of gender identity threat on men’s and women’s perceptions of date rape and sexual coercion (with Robb Willer, University of California, Berkeley). Understanding what factors impact the way people view violence against women is important for a variety of reasons. First, these crimes have extremely low reporting rates compared to other crimes and low reporting may stem in part from public perceptions of date rape and sexual coercion. Second, public perceptions affect outcomes for both victims and perpetrators. The opinions of police officers, prosecutors, juries, and judges have a real impact on the treatment of victims and the disciplinary actions taken against perpetrators. Third, the dynamics shaping attitudes toward violence against women likely impact public policy, as attitudes held by society at large influence what is criminalized as well as the availability of assistance and services for victims. The results of this experimental study show that men whose masculinity is threatened respond by blaming the victim and exonerating the perpetrator more, while threatened women respond by blaming male perpetrators more and placing less blame on female victims. Men’s response to threats is more pronounced than women’s, an asymmetry we attribute to the cultural devaluation of femininity. These findings highlight the significance of masculinity concerns in perceptions of sexual violence and, more generally, the importance of perceiver context in views of violence against women. This paper, published in Violence Against Women, can be viewed here.
The content of the 45 in-depth, semi-structured interviews I conducted for my dissertation research provide a detailed understanding of the diverse ways young men define their gender identity, experience threats to their gender identity, and respond to these threats. The interviews yielded incredibly rich data that I am using to craft several empirical papers, as well as a book manuscript. First, in a paper titled, “Emasculation in Social Relational Contexts” I revisit the assumptions built into the existing masculinity threat literature. While masculinity threat scholarship has flourished in recent years, these studies operationalize masculinity threat in a limited number of ways. Specifically, psychologists tend to present participants with false feedback on a masculinity-related test, whereas sociologists tend to use economic dependency, unemployment, or female-typed work as a proxy for gender identity threat. While both of these strategies have merit, the former lacks ecological validity and the late is based on potentially outdated assumptions about the importance of breadwinning to current definitions of masculinity. Moreover, these studies are not representative of the myriad of ways masculinity might be called into question. This is particularly true given the changing nature of masculine identities that has occurred over the past twenty-five years. This paper presents the results of a systematic investigation of the situations and activities young men find threatening and suggests that social and economic circumstances have expanded perceptions of masculinity such that some factors men once found emasculating are no longer threatening. On the other hand, other beliefs about masculinity have been less amenable to change. In either case, however, the results demonstrate how rhetoric around both changing and unchanging cultural expectations are used by men to explain and recreate unequal, hierarchical relations with women. This paper is in preparation.
In a second paper, I examine the popular and intuitive claim that men who experience a threat to their masculinity will behave in overly masculine ways by way of compensation. The interviews provided rich, detailed accounts of the ways in which men responded to specific gender identity threats. When these young men failed to live up to normative definitions of masculinity, or were held accountable by their peers for failing to live up to these definitions, they did experience feelings of emasculation and identity insecurity. There was, however, great variation in how young men responded to these feelings. The most common response was to simply do nothing, and a number of participants detailed healthy, restorative strategies for dealing with gender identity threat. At the other end of the spectrum, however, were respondents who drank, used drugs, engaged in risk-taking behavior, exaggerated the details of sexual activity, sought out sexual activity, and expressed anger and aggression. I don’t contend that all men, or even most men, engage in adverse gendered behaviors in response to gender identity threat. Rather, I argue that when gendered behaviors like these occur, they might be in response to emasculation. Moreover, I find that although the majority of respondents deny engaging in any compensatory behavior, almost all respondents claimed that the majority of their peers engage in masculine overcompensation and readily give examples of such behavior. This paper is in preparation.
Finally, I am preparing a book manuscript – ‘Man Up’: Masculinity Threat and Compensation in Young American Men – for submission to university publishers.
Gender Identity and Expression
I am currently working on several collaborative projects involving gender identity and expression. In one project (with Beth Hirsh, University of British Columbia), we addresses the impact of factors thought to inﬂuence gender identity and expression nondiscrimination policy adoption among Fortune 500 ﬁrms. We have published one article from this data suggesting that city and state laws likely inﬂuence policy adoption, as do federal case rulings regarding gender nonconformity and the adoption of similar policies by companies in the same industry. That paper is available here. We are working on a second project that investigates the impact of discrimination litigation on policy adoption.
In a related line of research (with Ali Fogarty, Stanford University) we ask how transgendered persons and gender identity issues are portrayed in the news media, and how this portrayal has changed over the last 20 years as medical, scientific, cultural and legal advances have been made. To address these questions, we employ both quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze New York Times articles from 1991 to 2010. Although not all coverage is inaccurate or negative, we find that – despite increased coverage in recent years -the NYT contributes to stereotypes of transgendered people, resulting in the oppression, stigmatization, and marginalization of transgender people. Moreover, the coverage perpetuates three gender fallacies. First, they perpetuate the notion that there are only two (acceptable) genders and that all people fall (or should fall) into one of these two distinct and complementary genders (man and woman). Under this conceptualization of gender, there is no room for ambiguity or fluidity. Second, they are often based on essentialist assumptions about gender and a belief that the binary is natural and innate. Third, the articles serve to perpetuate the idea that women are subordinate to men, femininity is subordinate to masculinity or that all things feminine are subordinate to all things masculine. Finally, the articles demonstrate the marginalization of transgender people within the “LGBT” community. An outline of this article, which is currently under preparation, is available here.
In collaboration with Karl Pillemer (Cornell University), J. Jill Suitor (Purdue University) and Thomas E. Fuller-Rowell (University of Michigan), we ask how the level of intergenerational ambivalence within the same family differs between mothers and fathers, and if mothers’ and fathers’ patterns of ambivalence can be explained by the same combination of social structural characteristics, personal characteristics, and contextual factors. Using data collected for the study of within-family differences in parent-adult child relations, we examined older mothers’ and fathers’ (N = 129) assessments of ambivalence toward their adult children. Fathers reported higher levels of overall ambivalence. Both mothers and fathers reported less ambivalence towards married children than single children, towards more educated children than less educated children, and toward children they perceived to be more similar to themselves; however the effect of marital status and education were more pronounced for fathers, whereas the effect of child similarity was more pronounced for mothers. Fathers reported less ambivalence towards daughters than sons, whereas mothers reported less ambivalence toward sons than daughters. This paper appears in the October 2012 issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family and is available here.
Accelerometers and Avatars
Because violence typically occurs spontaneously or covertly, researchers rarely see aggressive processes unfold. Experimental research allows us to observe aspects of these processes in real time, to discover relations and test predictions, and complement existing survey and qualitative research to build more comprehensive theories of violence. Yet, the study of aggression and violence in laboratory settings is plagued by practical and ethical concerns. We can’t ethically set up situations in which people harm one another and people are often unwilling to act aggressively when they are being observed. This has been a significant problem for the advancement of social psychological violence research. In a series of laboratory studies, I demonstrate a new methodology that uses an immersive virtual environment (IVE) to simulate realistic scenarios that allow for subjects to engage in violent actions toward a target without actually endangering the target. In the IVE, participants use Nintendo Wii avatars to simulate a fight between themselves and a confederate. During the fight, I use accelerometers to track participant movement. Study 1 demonstrates the method’s utility, Study 2 correlates the measure with previously validated measures of trait aggression, and Study 3 (currently being collected) uses an alternative research design to correlates the measure with trait aggression. The most recent version of this paper (studies 1 and 2 only) can be found here.
This paper reviews literature on traditional approaches to the teaching of gender in introductory sociology classes and finds that gender is primarily presented in terms of sex role socialization. I outline the weaknesses of teaching gender solely in terms of sex role socialization and suggest three learning objectives for introductory students regarding the sociology of gender. These are: 1) to identify cultural expectations and stereotypes of men and women, 2) to understand that men and women are not inherently all that different from one another, but rather that gender is a social construction that varies across time and space, and 3) to explore the ways in which institutions are gendered. I then describe a reading (Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland) and an exercise I use in my introductory class that addresses each of these learning objectives and suggest fruitful queries and probes for discussion. I conclude with student responses to the activity, a discussion of possible limitations, and suggestions for adaptations. This paper will appear in Activities for Teaching Gender and Sexuality in the University Classroom (edited by Michael Murphy and Elizabeth Ribarsky). A copy of the article is available here.