In February, CBS Sunday Morning aired a short news segment on the bro hug phenomenon: a supposedly new way heterosexual (white) men (i.e., bros) greet each other. According to this news piece, the advent of the bro hug can be attributed to decreased homophobia and is a sign of social progress.
I’m not so sure.
To begin, bro-ness isn’t really about any given individuals, but invokes a set of cultural norms, statuses, and meanings. A stereotypical bro is a white middle-class, heterosexual male, especially one who frequents strongly masculinized places like fraternities, business schools, and sport events. (The first part of the video, in fact, focused on fraternities and professional sports.) The bro, then, is a particular kind of guy, one that frequents traditionally male spaces with a history of homophobia and misogyny and is invested in maleness and masculinity.
The bro hug reflects this investment in masculinity and, in particular, the masculine performance in heterosexuality. To successfully complete a bro hug, the two men clasp their right hands and firmly pull their bodies towards each other until they are or appear to be touching whilst their left hands swing around to forcefully pat each other on the back. Men’s hips and chests never make full contact. Instead, the clasped hands pull in, but also act as a buffer between the men’s upper bodies, while the legs remain firmly rooted in place, maintaining the hips at a safe distance. A bro hug, in effect, isn’t about physical closeness between men, but about limiting bodily contact.
Bro hugging, moreover, is specifically a way of performing solidarity with heterosexual men. In the CBS program, the bros explain that a man would not bro hug a woman since a bro hug is, by its forcefulness, designed to be masculinity affirming. Similarly, a bro hug is not intended for gay men, lesbians, or queer people. The bro hug performs and reinforce bro identity within an exclusively bro domain. For bros, by bros. As such, the bro hug does little to signal a decrease in homophobia. Instead, it affirms men’s identities as “real” men and their difference from both women and non-heterosexual men.
In this way, the bro-hug functions similarly to the co-masturbation and same-sex sexual practices of heterosexually identified white men, documented by the sociologist Jane Ward in her book, Not Gay. Ward argues that when straight white men have sex with other straight white men they are not necessarily blurring the boundaries between homo- and heterosexuality. Instead, they are shifting the line separating what is considered normal from what is considered queer. Touching another man’s anus during a fraternity hazing ritual is normal (i.e., straight) while touching another man’s anus in a gay porn is queer. In other words, the white straight men can have sex with each other because it is not “real” gay sex.
Similarly, within the context of a bro hug, straight white men can now bro hug each other because they are heterosexual. Bro hugging will not diminish either man’s heterosexual capital. In fact, it might increase it. When two bros hug, they signal to others their unshakable strength of and comfort in their heterosexuality. Even though they are touching other men in public, albeit minimally, the act itself reinforces their heterosexuality and places it beyond reproach.
Hubert Izienicki, PhD, is a professor of sociology at Purdue University Northwest.
In an era of body positivity, more people are noting the way American culture stigmatizes obesity and discriminates by weight. One challenge for studying this inequality is that a common measure for obesity—Body Mass Index (BMI), a ratio of height to weight—has been criticized for ignoring important variation in healthy bodies. Plus, the basis for weight discrimination is what other people see as “too fat,” and that’s a standard with a lot of variation.
Recent research in Sociological Science from Vida Maralani and Douglas McKee gives us a picture of how the relationship between obesity and inequality changes with social context. Using data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth (NLSY), Maralani and McKee measure BMI in two cohorts, one in 1981 and one in 2003. They then look at social outcomes seven years later, including wages, the probability of a person being married, and total family income.
The figure below shows their findings for BMI and 2010 wages for each group in the study. The dotted lines show the same relationships from 1988 for comparison.
For White and Black men, wages actually go up as their BMI increases from the “Underweight” to “Normal” ranges, then levels off and slowly decline as they cross into the “Obese” range. This pattern is fairly similar to 1988, but check out the “White Women” graph in the lower left quadrant. In 1988, the authors find a sharp “obesity penalty” in which women over a BMI of 30 reported a steady decline in wages. By 2010, this has largely leveled off, but wage inequality didn’t go away. Instead, that spike near the beginning of the graph suggests people perceived as skinny started earning more. The authors write:
The results suggest that perceptions of body size may have changed across cohorts differently by race and gender in ways that are consistent with a normalizing of corpulence for black men and women, a reinforcement of thin beauty ideals for white women, and a status quo of a midrange body size that is neither too thin nor too large for white men (pgs. 305-306).
This research brings back an important lesson about what sociologists mean when they say something is “socially constructed”—patterns in inequality can change and adapt over time as people change the way they interpret the world around them.Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.
Originally posted at Gender & Society
Last summer, Donald Trump shared how he hoped his daughter Ivanka might respond should she be sexually harassed at work. He said, “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case.” President Trump’s advice reflects what many American women feel forced to do when they’re harassed at work: quit their jobs. In our recent Gender & Society article, we examine how sexual harassment, and the job disruption that often accompanies it, affects women’s careers.
How many women quit and why? Our study shows how sexual harassment affects women at the early stages of their careers. Eighty percent of the women in our survey sample who reported either unwanted touching or a combination of other forms of harassment changed jobs within two years. Among women who were not harassed, only about half changed jobs over the same period. In our statistical models, women who were harassed were 6.5 times more likely than those who were not to change jobs. This was true after accounting for other factors – such as the birth of a child – that sometimes lead to job change. In addition to job change, industry change and reduced work hours were common after harassing experiences.
Percent of Working Women Who Change Jobs (2003–2005)
In interviews with some of these survey participants, we learned more about how sexual harassment affects employees. While some women quit work to avoid their harassers, others quit because of dissatisfaction with how employers responded to their reports of harassment.
Rachel, who worked at a fast food restaurant, told us that she was “just totally disgusted and I quit” after her employer failed to take action until they found out she had consulted an attorney. Many women who were harassed told us that leaving their positions felt like the only way to escape a toxic workplace climate. As advertising agency employee Hannah explained, “It wouldn’t be worth me trying to spend all my energy to change that culture.”
The Implications of Sexual Harassment for Women’s Careers Critics of Donald Trump’s remarks point out that many women who are harassed cannot afford to quit their jobs. Yet some feel they have no other option. Lisa, a project manager who was harassed at work, told us she decided, “That’s it, I’m outta here. I’ll eat rice and live in the dark if I have to.”
Our survey data show that women who were harassed at work report significantly greater financial stress two years later. The effect of sexual harassment was comparable to the strain caused by other negative life events, such as a serious injury or illness, incarceration, or assault. About 35 percent of this effect could be attributed to the job change that occurred after harassment.
For some of the women we interviewed, sexual harassment had other lasting effects that knocked them off-course during the formative early years of their career. Pam, for example, was less trusting after her harassment, and began a new job, for less pay, where she “wasn’t out in the public eye.” Other women were pushed toward less lucrative careers in fields where they believed sexual harassment and other sexist or discriminatory practices would be less likely to occur.
For those who stayed, challenging toxic workplace cultures also had costs. Even for women who were not harassed directly, standing up against harmful work environments resulted in ostracism, and career stagnation. By ignoring women’s concerns and pushing them out, organizational cultures that give rise to harassment remain unchallenged.
Rather than expecting women who are harassed to leave work, employers should consider the costs of maintaining workplace cultures that allow harassment to continue. Retaining good employees will reduce the high cost of turnover and allow all workers to thrive—which benefits employers and workers alike.
Heather McLaughlin is an assistant professor in Sociology at Oklahoma State University. Her research examines how gender norms are constructed and policed within various institutional contexts, including work, sport, and law, with a particular emphasis on adolescence and young adulthood. Christopher Uggen is Regents Professor and Martindale chair in Sociology and Law at the University of Minnesota. He studies crime, law, and social inequality, firm in the belief that good science can light the way to a more just and peaceful world. Amy Blackstone is a professor in Sociology and the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine. She studies childlessness and the childfree choice, workplace harassment, and civic engagement.