September 14, 2015

Junk Mail and the Sociological Imagination

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

As you learn more and more about sociology and how to use your sociological imagination, keep an eye out for the many everyday items that cross your path. You can use those items to know more about our society.

For example, the following two-sided laminated flyer came my way a few days ago, thanks to a good friend. She had received it in her mailbox.

One side is bold, red, white, and blue, announcing “College Men” who can move your stuff. They are friendly, use tools and trucks, and “customers prefer us 1 bijillion times more than the other guys.”

 The “College Men” flyer invokes higher social class and educational esteem. This also might make people want to support these men in reaching their goals while they do this physical work to support their education, presumably so they no longer need to do physical labor. Calling themselves “College Men” might also evoke a sense of responsibility and work ethic. (Are the employees really college men? We can’t be sure.)

College men The tools and trucks invoke a very masculine sensibility since those are tightly linked with the dominant and active characteristics we value in men. The red, white, and blue emblem invokes a sense of patriotism. The message seems to be that these men will be doing manly work to make our country better.

This flyer seemed pretty pedestrian and a bit patriarchal but perhaps with a flip sense of humor – and then I turned it over.

The other side. “College Women Cleaners.” What?

They do all the support activities necessary such as “errands, organization, packing, and help!” The text continues, in red, “We use a check list” then in smaller print, “for a thorough excuse free cleaning experience.”

Back in black text, surrounded by happy face emoticons, “O.C.D. packages available.”

There are pictures, of not one woman, but two, with three types of cleaning tools. This followed by the pricing per hour.

(I removed the contact information in my photos of each side of the flyer.)

College women

These are (supposedly) College Women, but does this flyer invoke a sense of higher social class and educational esteem? The difference between using images of women in cleaning garb versus a patriotic emblem could make a big difference in how we imagine these workers.

Support work like cleaning and organizing are tasks  are stereotypically feminine (as the moving tasks were stereotypically masculine). Thus these women are conforming to the traditional social norms for their gender.

That “We use a check list’ is in red allays any worries that the women will not do their work and have “no excuses” if something isn’t done or done right. The checklist will effectively supervise the women and control their behavior. This gives the sense that women need that type of control; otherwise they may not do their job. Very patriarchal, indeed.

The pricing is identified, thus there is probably not any negotiation. Although there is a two-hour minimum, the wage for the women is rather low (Remember the workers don’t get the full amount paid to the company and perhaps the two workers image means that two share that pricing.) The pricing for the men is not mentioned, implying that their wage is fully open to negotiation and/or change. Thus the men have more room for getting more pay and profit for their labor than do the women. This difference—stated pay rates versus negotiation—is a key to understanding the gender gap in wages.

Each side of the flyer reinforces traditional norms about masculinity and femininity, one dominant and of value, the other subordinate and lesser. While they may have had a humorous intent, as the depictions are a bit extreme, especially for the women, they do not challenge those norms; they reinforce them while joking about them.

However far we think we’ve come in reducing gender inequality, this flyer suggests that we’ve not accomplished much.

Using your sociological imagination, what else do these ads say about our society? On another note, did you have a different reaction to each side of the flyer? What about the flyers you receive in the mail or elsewhere? How can a sociological imagination help you critically think about them?


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