Thursday, October 29, 2009

OUCH! Why We Love Shoes That Hurt Us

In "Why We Love Shoes That Hurt Us", fashion historians, professors of economics and gender studies and podiatrists debate why women wear high heels and other extreme shoes.

"Are high heels all about sexual advantage, since they elongate and exaggerate the female form?", they ask. "Or is there another explanation? What liberates women and what shackles them, when it comes to shoes?" (Room for Debate - Blog, The New York Times)

According to Nancy Rexford, author of Women's Shoes In America: 1795-1930, it's all about expressing power and control, "control over one’s own body, and the power to use one’s body to draw the gaze of others."

Most of us are familiar with the saying "You can't be too rich or too thin." And, social scientists agree that language reflects a society's values. Rexford echoes this idea when she argues that "thin is a mark of status, and high heels emphasize the advantage by lengthening the leg. Add platform soles, and you rise superior to a wasteland of waddling sweatshirts and dumpy athletic shoes."

Robert H. Frank, professor of economics at Cornell University and author of “The Economic Naturalist’s Field Guide: Common Sense Principles for Troubled Times" adds that you also cannot be "too tall". He explains "Height isn’t always advantageous, of course, but it usually helps. Taller people earn more, for example, and command greater attention in social settings. And hence the attraction of high heels."

In the context of the fashion business, he adds "heels have grown taller as fashion markets have become more competitive. On Paris runways this week, models had to wear five-inch heels atop two-inch platform soles to get an edge."

Marlene Reid, podiatrist and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medicine Association, offers a medical perspective. "When it comes to shoes, women should not have to choose between fashion and foot health. However, most women do need to make healthier shoe choices. According to a recent survey from the American Podiatric Medical Association, far more women (87%) than men (68%) have suffered foot pain due to footwear. Most foot conditions stem from the type of foot we inherit, yet the footwear we select can negatively contribute to the condition’s development. For example, flat feet are the main cause of bunions, but footwear, such as pointed shoes, can contribute to their progression and pain."

One important theoretical perspective that was not discussed in this debate is a biosocial explanation.

Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, is in the camp of those who think that sky-high heels are just too sexy for most workplaces. “High heels thrust out the buttocks and arch the back into a natural mammalian courting — actually, copulatory — pose called ‘lordosis,’ ” Fisher said. “Rats do it, sheep do it ... lions do it, dogs do it. ... It is a naturally sexy posture that men immediately see as sexual readiness. [Heels] are a ‘come hither’ signal. ... “When women wear high heels at work, they send sexual signals that should be avoided if they want to be taken seriously.” (Do high heels empower or oppress women?)

Do high heels empower or oppress women? 23 September 2009
Why we love shoes that hurt us. 8 October 2009 Room for Debate - The New York Times www.roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Women's Conference

There is a live webcast today, Tuesday, October 27th from 8 am until 7 pm PDT, of the Women's Conference. Click here to view the webcast and see the website.

What is The Women’s Conference?

The Women’s Conference is the largest and most dynamic gathering of women in the nation. The annual Conference unites more than 80 internationally-acclaimed leaders, visionaries and authors with 14,000 women in one arena, plus thousands more online, to share enriching stories of transformation and success, self-empowerment and life lessons (The Women's Conference).

One section of the website is the XX Effect: Generation to Generation, WHAT DO WOMEN WANT? Women from diverse backgrounds and generations answer this question. You can actually join this conversation and share your opinion about what women want. Here is the link to the webpage.

According to WE Education: My

: A young woman who graduates from college will earn about 76% more over her lifetime than a woman with only a high school diploma. This education provides her with a head start in her effort to become financially independent today—and in the future.

This week, my online students will be discussing these and other issues related to gender. More later.....

Friday, October 23, 2009

Do Your Choices Reveal Your Class?

Balsamic vinegar, tofu, white bread or 9-nine grain bread, tartufo bianco vinegar? Does your consumption reveal your social class? What do you surround yourself with? Satirist, Joe Queenan, talks about baby-boomer consumption patterns.

Watch the video:

Marketing and the social sciences are intertwined. According to the PBS "People Like Us" website "Marketers know that birds of a feather flock together."

Yes, you are where you live!

Go to this website: PRIZM
"Type in your zip code and get a printout of the kind of people who live there, as well as the kinds of cars they drive, the food they eat, and the magazines they read. Maybe you're more like your neighbors than you think!" (People Like Us)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Thinking About Social Class

Last week we explored human diversity and the social construction of race. This week my online students are discussing social class, addressing the following questions:
What is the meaning of class?

Is it about:

social or economic position?
power and control?
one's culture?
taste and lifestyle, regardless of income?
one's ethnicity, religion or race?
one's job?
one's self-image or attitude about the world?

The PBS documentary People Like Us: Social Class in America reveals the many ways Americans think about and define social class. The following is an introduction to the film.

How do you define social class? With which class do you most identify?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Human Diversity: Skin Color Adaptation

One of my students correctly pointed out that many physical traits, for example, skin color, represent human adaptations to different environments. A biological adaptation is a trait that has evolved over time because it increases the likelihood that a person will survive long enough to reproduce, thus allowing the survival of a population. A cline is a gradual change in a trait over a geographic area. The above map shows a cline for skin color.

Our skin must:

1. Absorb enough ultraviolet radiation from the sun to manufacture Vitamin D, which our bodies need to keep our bones strong and healthy.

2. Protect us from the damages of too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Too much UV radiation destroys folate, a B vitamin. Folate deficiency is linked to neural tube birth defects during pregnancy.

is the pigment in our skin that determines how much UV radiation will be absorbed by our bodies. Melanin also gives skin its color. The darker the skin, the more melanin it contains. Note the regions where skin tone is the darkest. These areas are closer to the equator where ultraviolet radiation from the sun is most intense. Melanin acts as a filter to protect the body from absorbing excessive amounts of UV radiation. If your skin tone is darker, your ancestors most likely lived closer to the equator. In regions with low UV radiation, such as Scandinavian countries, the skin contains low levels of melanin, making skin lighter. Light skin allows the absorption of enough UV radiation to make Vitamin D.

If a person with dark skin moves to Sweden, he/she should take Vitamin D supplements to prevent conditions such as rickets. This is why milk is usually fortified with Vitamine D. If a light-skinned Scandinavian woman were to move to a country in central Africa, she would likely need to take higher doses of the B vitamin, folic acid, particularly during pregnancy.

Hence, visible traits are biological adaptations to environmental conditions and not determinants of a person's identity.

In the following video clip, Nina Jablonski, author of Skin: A Natural History, discusses human adaptation to different climates and levels of ultraviolet radiation.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Race & Human Variation: Student Observations

During this past week, students in SOC 320 Gender, Race & Class engaged in a lively discussion forum after reading about race in our textbook, completing the sorting exercise and viewing the video clips at the PBS website. Here are just a few student comments from our discussion.

"Wow!!! First off let me say, I really enjoy topics like this. I found the video quite interesting when it explain how truly close we are, genetically alike, versus any other species in the world. It amazes me how much people react to race and the misconception that comes with race. Is race real? Race is real only to the minds of confused people. Society has created this separation amongst the many different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Over the years, it has been embedded within us that we are a specific race, when ultimately we are just one race, the Human Race. Race is not real. Being a racist or having racism is real." Student in Soc 320 Online

Thank you for your comments! Yes, while there is genetic variation (scientists call this genotype) among human beings, classifying people into discrete biological or "racial" groups by their visible traits (scientists call this phenotype) is not possible. The sorting exercise demonstrated this. Dr. Kulik

"This section is absolutely interesting and I am soaking up every last bit of it. I've never really paid a whole lot of attention to the meaning of race and its origin. Unfortunately I only guessed 7 out of the 20 for the sorting exercise. I was very confident and actually took upwards of 20 minutes trying to get my answers correct because I was adamant I could figure out a person's race just by looking at their physical features. Race is not real and here it is 2009 with all the integration that we do as a country, well as a world, that we still attempt to put people in a "race" box just by their appearance. It was very interesting to see that we are more genetically linked then we think we are. The video was very enlightening and I will let my children watch it so they can learn this as I am. "You can't judge a book by its cover" truer words were never spoken!" Student in Soc 320 Online

Good points. Thank you! While human populations show some genetic variation, it is correct that we are far more alike than different. Dr. Kulik

"I did not do too well on the sorting exercise. I think I got seven out of the twenty right and the rest I guessed. It was not easy, I will tell you that though, I learned you cannot categorize people based on the way they look, their physical features. The reason why I did not do too well on the sorting exercise, for example, is that a person who is considered black in one society might be nonblack in another. Race should not be based on the physical features of people. I think race should be considered more a social and/or a mental construct rather than an objective biological fact." Student in Soc 320 Online
There are historical and cross-cultural data to support your argument that racial groups have been socially constructed. Historically, Brazil has classified people in as many as 30 or more categories. Also, in U.S. history, the Irish and Italians were once classified as "non-white". If race were purely biological, why would these categories shift over time and across cultures?
Good observation! Thank you! Dr. Kulik
"There is only one race, and that is the human race. I could go on for half an hour and talk about evolution, but anyone should be familiar with the works of Charles Darwin! I took a class in evolutionary psychology and we studied Darwin, I learned so much! Read about evolution! Scientists have concluded that we are one human race; Homo Sapiens! The external differences we see and wrongly perceive as races are just biologically developed traits that make us more suitable for the natural environment we initially grew up in. Natural selection has shaped our skin colors, noses etc. differently in order to better deal with the natural environment we live in." Student in Soc 320 Online
I'm glad you raised the concept of adaptation. I have posted some information on biological adaptation and skin color. Thank you! Dr. Kulik
Thanks to all students for your excellent work this week!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Is Race Real?

What is race? What makes a person "Latino" or "black" or "Native American"? Skin color, hair texture, facial features? Can you be "white" and "Hispanic" at the same time? Is someone from Spain of the same "race" as a person from Brazil? Is "race" defined by physical characteristics or are customs and beliefs better determinants of the category or categories to which we belong? If our culture and sociohistorical background more accurately describe who we are, perhaps, ethnicity (ethnic background) is a more meaningful category.

Answers to these questions vary, even among scholars, however, social anthropologists tend to prefer "ethnicity" over "race". The website from the PBS series Race: The Power of Illusion has an interesting interactive feature that allows you to try sorting people into races based on their physical characteristics. If you'd like to give it a try, click HERE. Go on, try it! It is fun and instructive.

View Part I of this PBS series "The Difference Between Us" at

Marriage of John Rolfe & Pocahontas in Early America

The Wedding of Pocahantas with John Rolf, 1867. Lithograph by Joseph Hoover. Library of Congress.


"When the English first arrive in America, neither the colonists nor Indians think of themselves or each other in racial terms. On the contrary, Protestant England's hated rival is Catholic Spain, while Native Americans see themselves as many nations divided by language, custom and power. When the Powhatan princess Pocahontas marries colonist John Rolfe, the union causes a scandal in the British court, not because Rolfe has married an Indian, but because Pocahontas, a princess, has married a commoner. In 17th-century England, social station is more important than physical differences." (Race: The Power of An Illusion)

Race: The Power of An Illusion, 10 October 2009 (

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

When Italian-Americans were "Enemy Aliens"

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, at least 600,000 Italian-Americans were labeled "enemy aliens" Many were forced to carry identification cards, report job changes, follow a strict 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and could not travel more than five miles from home. Some who did not comply with one or more of these restrictions were arrested and imprisoned

Some Americans of Italian ancestry were forced to leave their homes and jobs and relocate to other areas or internment camps.

Even the fisherman father of baseball great Joe DiMaggio who had a 56-game hitting streak in 1941, was told he could not fish San Francisco Bay or visit the city.
In Pittsburgh, California, 2,000 Italians were told to leave. Many were fishermen, and their boats were confiscated.
"Some of them lost their homes. They had no way of making a living, and so a lot of the things they had, they lost," says Pat Firpo of the Pittsburgh Historical Society (Dornin)
Government-issued propaganda posters (see above) encouraged the suppression of the Italian language and culture. Many Italian-American parents stopped teaching Italian to their children.
"A bill in Congress, Wartime Violations of Italian American Civil Liberties Act (HR 2442) which has passed the House of Representatives, would require the U.S. Department of Justice to compile a report detailing injustices suffered by Italian Americans and would request a formal acknowledgement of these injustices by the President (
Dornin, Rusty "'Secret' of WWII: Italian Americans Forced To Move" 21 September 1997 CNN (
"When Speaking Italian Was A Crime: Don't Speak The Enemy's Language!" (

Sunday, October 4, 2009

October Is Italian American Heritage Month

Every year the president of the United States signs an executive order designating the month of October as National Italian American Heritage Month, in recognition of the achievements and contributions made to American culture by Italian-Americans.

On June 23, 2009 the New Jersey Senate approved a measure to permanently designate October as Italian-American Heritage month. The legislative response was driven by a grassroots effort by UNICO National through its Anti-Bias Committee. UNICO is the largest Italian-American service organization, founded in 1922 in Waterbury, Connecticut. Unico is the Italian word for unique, one of a kind. Over the years, UNICO became an acronym that stood for Unity, Neighborliness, Integrity, Charity, and Opportunity (UNICO National). UNICO's national headquarters is right around the corner on Rt. 46 in Fairfield, NJ.

To learn more about the history of Italian-Americans, explore the exhibit Milestones of the Italian American Experience, created by the National Italian American Foundation.

Ellis Island & Italian Immigration

Between 1880 and 1920, nearly four million Italians immigrated to the United States. Between 1890 and 1910, approximately 85% were from southern Italy (Nelli 1973). Among those Italian immigrants were my great-grandfather Leonardo Romano, his wife Maria Romano and their two sons, Pasquale (age 3) and Matteo Luciano Romano (11 months), my grandfather. The passenger record and ship manifest (pasted below) show that my family arrived at Ellis Island, NYC on April 29, 1901 on a ship called Patria that originated from Naples, Italy. Their last place of residence was Roseto (Foggia), Italy. See the photo above.

Passenger Record

First Name: Leonardo
Last Name: Romano
Ethnicity: Italian
Last Place of residence: Roseto
Date of Arrival: April 29, 1901
Age at arrival: 31 y Gender: M Marital Status: M
Ship of travel: Patria (1882)
Port of departure: Naples
Manifest line number: 0027

0027. Romano, Leonardo M 31y M Italian Roseto
0028. Romano, Maria F 22y M Italian Roseto
0029. Romano, Pasquale M 3y S Italian Roseto
0030. Romano, Mattea M 11m S Italian Roseto

If your immigrant ancestors (Italian or otherwise) arrived at Ellis Island, you can search the records of Ellis Island for free at this link.
Humbert S. Nelli, “Italians,” in The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, Stephen Thernstrom, ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), 545.