The Bees, the Queens, and the Wealth of Wall Street: A Sociological Analysis of WallStreetBets’ GameStop Phenomenon in January 2021

by Sophia Garbarino, August 30, 2021

Introduction

They swarmed, racing towards the deepest abyss of the hive. At the heart lay the queen, helplessly defenseless and stuck in the combs of her own making. Her workers, revolting against the monarchy with newfound passion and invigorating spirit, pushed past her and into the forbidden fortress of honey. There, they proudly paraded in hexagonal patterns, vicious and victorious, herding their hard-earned profits into the deepest chambers of their hearts: the wealth of Wall Street. A decade in the making, the reddit revolution quickly accelerated into its final stage within months. At the beginning of 2021, young and hungry reddit traders forced the queen brokers and hedge funds into submission, inflating the failing GameStop’s net worth into the double-digit billions. GameStop, a video game retailer primarily based on brick-and-mortar stores, had lost a significant number of sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was well on its way to bankruptcy before the rapid inflation. The long-term results remain to be seen. In this essay, I will explain this reddit-Gamestop phenomenon and analyze it using two key sociological theories by Karl Marx and Max Weber. Further, I will discuss the limitations of these theories using intersectionality theory.

The reddit GameStop phenomenon explained

According to The New York Times, GameStop stocks started rising in value after a new investment in mid-2020 (Phillips and Lorenz, 2021). For reference, a stock is an investment that represents partial ownership of a company, and its price fluctuates with that company’s overall value (U.S. S.E.C., “Stocks”). If the company is “public,” that means anyone in the general population can buy partial ownership if they have enough money (U.S. S.E.C., “Going Public”). GameStop is one such public company, and in January 2021, GameStop’s total market value went from $2 billion to over $24 billion in just a few days, meaning its stock prices also skyrocketed (Phillips and Lorenz, 2021). This sharp increase was primarily caused by amateur traders, or people who buy and sell stocks, in the subreddit social media community called WallStreetBets (hereafter referred to as “WSB”). WSB’s amateur traders, also known as retail investors, started a trading frenzy and forced seasoned professionals to participate in order to minimize financial losses. In turn, the increase in trading drove the stock price up (Phillips and Lorenz, 2021). While this obsession with GameStop seemed random and spanned only a few weeks, it was actually a profound reflection of the accumulating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2008 Recession.

The 2008 Recession, COVID-19, and financial ruin

The majority of the WSB day traders are Millennials and Generation Z. These groups were children and teenagers during the 2008 Recession, when thousands of Americans lost millions of dollars due to the U.S. real estate catastrophe, which began a decade earlier in 2001. At that time, because banks and mortgage firms were issuing loans with low interest rates to borrowers who didn’t qualify, demand for houses rose. Years later, when interest rates started to increase again, home prices plummeted by a third (Duignan). As a result, the Recession saw the S&P 500 index1 drop by half, while the unemployment rate rose to 10 percent by the end of 2009 (Rich, 2013). This triad of financial ruin was an enormous blow to the national economy, and children watched helplessly as their parents lost their life savings to corporate greed. Many still blame Wall Street for this and saw the GameStop situation as an opportunity for revenge for the Recession, wanting to “punish” the ones responsible for their “pain” (Sarlin, 2021).

GameStop’s stock inflation may have been near instantaneous, but the animosity between the public and Wall Street’s finance magnates is nothing new. America’s wealth gap has increased every year since the Recession, leaving its people sharply divided into two distinct economic classes: the wealthy and the not-wealthy (Horowitz et al., 2020). Over a decade later, COVID-19 further increased the wealth gap as many people struggled to choose between paying their rents and feeding their families. On the other hand, the world’s wealthiest men, like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, actually increased their wealth by more than five hundred billion dollars, collectively (“Wealth Increase,” 2021). In essence, wealth flowed from the poor to the rich. In recent years, however, investing has become more accessible than ever thanks to apps like Robinhood (Morrow, 2021). Now, the honey-sweet wealth of Wall Street is within reach of more people, and Millennials and Gen Z are breaking into the stock market at earlier ages (Dimock, 2019). With many WSB traders using these apps, the reddit-GameStop phenomenon is a powerful demonstration of the people’s ability to manipulate the market.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Class divides and social change

Despite the increasing accessibility of stocks, sharp social and economic divides remain in American capitalism. In The Communist Manifesto (1848), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels categorize all of society into two economic-based groups: the bourgeoisie (rich bosses) and the proletarians (poor laborers). In other words, the bourgeoisie is the queen bee, and the proletarians are the worker bees. Unlike bees, though, human laborers are not biologically bound to their bosses; as such, according to Marx and Engels, these groups are in constant conflict with each other because the bourgeoisie use the wage-labor system to profit from and oppress the proletarians, whose values are based on how much their labor increases these capital benefits (Marx and Engels, 1848). This conflict always leads to social change as explained by Marx’s materialist theory of dialectical social change, which consists of three main parts: 1) “species being,” meaning humans are unique for their creativity and productive labor; 2) dialectical change, meaning change is caused by the synthesis/resolution of contradicting ideas, known as the theses and antitheses; and 3) historical materialism, meaning material things shape people’s ideas and cultures (Marx and Engels, 1848).

We can use Marx’s theory to explain the reddit-GameStop phenomenon. First, the non-wealthy were involved in a class struggle with the wealthy as a result of the Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. This prevented the non-wealthy from achieving their “species being” purpose, meaning they were forced into wage-labor because they could not afford to be creatively productive on their own. Historically, this conflict between the thesis—proletarians—and the antithesis—bourgeoisie—has always been ongoing, but the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated it to the point of change. The dire need for basic resources, like food and shelter, all acquired using money, created a new environment that required elimination of the previous system, in which the wealthy had increasing control of  financial resources. The synthesis of this conflict, or the resolution, was the reddit-GameStop phenomenon: redistributing Wall Street’s wealth to the people. They had the means—apps like Robinhood—so all they needed was a personal reason.

Max Weber: instrumental rational action and value-rational action

According to German sociologist Max Weber, people’s reasons for doing things, or rationality, can be divided into two types: instrumental rational action and value-rational action. Instrumental rational action is when an individual person or a group strategizes and uses the most efficient means to achieve a goal, often of financial nature. On the other hand, value-rational action is when a person or a group prioritizes a value rather than a goal, often incurring additional costs that would not be considered most efficient by the instrumental rational action (Weber, “The Protestant Ethic,” 1905).

The motivations behind the mass, organized action of the GameStop inflation can be divided according to these two types of action. For those who were purely motivated by financial gain, the stock market was the most efficient method of achieving their goal: more wealth. For those who prioritized their anger and vengeance for the Recession, the stock market made the most sense given the prioritized values. Regardless of motivation, both behaviors necessarily involved a certain level of risk that comes with investing, but for those utilizing instrumental rational action, the benefits outweighed the costs—GameStop’s stock prices increased over 1,700 percent, enabling some traders to pay off student loan debt or become millionaires (Morrow, 2021; Sarlin, 2021). For those utilizing value-rational action, the stock market’s volatile nature and susceptibility to manipulation allowed them to beat Wall Street at its own game, regardless of risk of financial loss. For others, it was a mix of both.

Limitations of Marx and Engels’ theory and intersectional race hierarchies

As with any theory, both Marx and Weber’s ideas have limitations. The most significant fault in their theories is the lack of intersectionality. Coined in 1989 by Black law scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality explores how people’s experiences, including oppression and privilege, are a result of several social factors interacting with each other (Crenshaw, 1989). For example, a common intersectional analysis involving race and gender argues that Black women experience racism differently than Black men because of its connections to sexism. Intersectionality largely coincides with feminist Patricia Hill Collins’ standpoint theory, which views knowledge as subjective and socially constructed (Collins, 1990). Every person’s experiences are unique but can be similar based on belonging in certain groups. 

With this in mind, we cannot homogenize the WSB traders the way Marx and Engels would. Modern America is not composed of identical, black and yellow fuzzy bees; it is increasingly diverse. Financial consequences of the Recession varied depending on social factors such as race, gender, age, education, and geographic location, among others. The same is true of the COVID-19 pandemic over a decade later, in which BIPOC are disproportionately affected by both unemployment and COVID-related death rates (“Tracking the COVID-19 Recession’s Effects,” 2021; APM Research Lab Staff, 2021). This is largely due to systemic racism, which puts BIPOC at an economic disadvantage by default. Analyzed through a racial lens, Wall Street and WSB can be subdivided into their own bourgeois and proletariat groups: Whites and BIPOC, respectively. While many middle to upper-middle class White Americans discovered were unaffected by COVID-19 and even gained wealth, hundreds of thousands of BIPOCs lost their jobs and steady income.

Furthermore, financial education is highly determined by access to resources, which is notoriously lower in communities predominantly of color and/or lower income. Whites are overrepresented in the upper class, giving them a predetermined advantage in achieving financial success (Reeves and Joo, 2017). So when COVID-19 drove stock prices down at incredible rates and millions of new brokerage accounts were opened, race/ethnicity, class, and education were crucial factors in determining who opened those accounts and who profited from them (Fitzgerald, 2020; Zarroli, 2020). Therefore, the reddit traders were privileged themselves in that a) they had to have ready access to technology in order to place the trades; b) they had to have some sort of basic financial education, whether it was self-taught or learned from others; and c) they had money with which to trade, whether it was borrowed, essential income, saved retirement funds, or extra cash. As such, this proletariat group has an internal, sociological hierarchy within itself.

Finally, we must also consider the professional traders. The division between the WSB and Wall Street investors is not as clear as one may initially think. While WSB certainly has intersectional differences, so does Wall Street, which is what Marx would consider the privileged bourgeois group. Wall Street firms severely lack racial and ethnic diversity, with over seventy-five percent of senior managers being White in 2018 (Hoffman and Pulliam, 2020). Additionally, the ratio of male to female fund managers is nine to one despite women’s performance being equal to men’s (Sargis and Wing, 2018). So who was really making all the money during the Recession and COVID-19? White men. Even within the privileged bourgeois there’s hierarchies of privilege, just like the proletariat group. Therefore, they cannot be so easily and clearly divided the way Marx and Engels imagined.

Limitations of Weber’s theory and intersectional age privilege

Within the WSB divisions of class, gender, race/ethnicity, etc., there are also complex, intersectional components of rationality. Weber’s two types of action, instrumental rational action and value-rational action, are also oversimplified, much like Marx and Engels’ economic groups. Socioeconomic status (SES), which Weber categorized into the “property” class and “lack of property” class, contributed to how severely the Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic affected people (Weber, “The Distribution of Power” 311, 1921). Investors with less money to begin with lost more, meaning different levels of wealth privilege impacted risk tolerance, or how much money the reddit traders were willing and/or able to risk losing on the market (U.S. S.E.C., “Assessing Your Risk Tolerance”). Furthermore, younger traders may have prioritized repaying student loan debt and had more long-term risk tolerance, while older traders may have prioritized increasing their retirement funds and had less risk tolerance. Therefore, while the means to achieve the goal of financial gain were the same (stock trading), the values differed according to SES and/or age. After all, worker bees have different priorities within the hive depending on their age (Farrar, 1968).

However, age can also affect political views, particularly those regarding fiscal conservatism. According to the Pew Research Center, conservatism grows with age (Desilver, 2014). This may explain why young people, including most of WSB’s traders, have consistently been accused by older generations of having a “lax work ethic” and masquerading lazy entitlement as socialism (Shapira, 2010; Ingram and Bayly, 2021). In fact, socialism has become quite popular among young voters during the past decade (Saad, 2019). It is important to recognize, though, that supporting socialism and engaging in wage-labor are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps young people are embracing the classic “work smarter, not harder” mantra and finding non-traditional ways to make money, like starting side hustles and capitalizing on social media. Generation Z faces record-high student debt, rising tuition costs, and an increasingly difficult job market, particularly during COVID-19. Therefore, age is an important intersectional factor in rational action which Weber’s original theory failed to account for, and traders’ differing levels of GameStop profits are indicative of age and wealth privilege.

Conclusion

The GameStop situation occurring during the pandemic is no coincidence. The COVID-19 climate created stay-at-home free time, an investment goldmine, an outlet for post-Recession anger, and increased support for socialist policies. The reddit retail investors were simply exploiting pandemic conditions for revolutionary purposes, similar to a Marxist proletariat group revolting against the bourgeoisie. However, the diversity within the proletarians is critical, too, since they were not all trading for the same reason, nor were they all affected the same way. As such, instrumental rational and value-rational action are also necessary to explore. Though the stock market seemed to be the most efficient and effective method for everyone, the motivations differed. Some wanted revenge for the Recession while others wanted quick and easy money. For many, it was a mix of both; therefore, we must consider both Marx and Engels’ and Weber’s theories to achieve a full, robust understanding of the GameStop sociological phenomenon. The honey-sweet wealth of Wall Street was now in the hands of the worker bees, who had previously served the queen hedge funds while receiving minimal benefits. The WSB traders shamelessly demonstrated the power of the people en masse. Ultimately, though, their billion-dollar victory was short-lived. After a few days of halted trades, GameStop shares returned to the market as its price dropped back into the low triple-digits (Reuters Staff, 2021). As Marx and Engels’ wrote, “Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time” (Marx and Engels 162, 1848).

1 The S&P 500 measures the stock performance of the 500 largest publicly-traded companies in the United States (Kenton, 2020).


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Following Our Digital Footsteps

by Ean Tam, May 19, 2021

On January 21st, 2020, the United States reported its first case of COVID-19 in Washington state. Over the course of a year, offices emptied, schools closed, and normal life disappeared. By April 2021, over 553,000 Americans had passed away due to the pandemic. Now, as vaccine shots continue to make their way into people’s arms, the hope of defeating the pandemic appears more attainable. The vaccine is our shot back to the workplace, the classroom, and, some would say, back to normal life.

While suppressing this respiratory disease itself may be possible, many people struggle to take a deep breath and relax. For more than a year, across the country Americans have been sheltering in their homes, taking in the world through screens and behind masks. They have been waiting to return to work, hoping to regain jobs they lost at no fault of their own. It will take time for people to regain a sense of control over their lives and examine the mental health effects of the pandemic.

Perhaps we can comprehend how the pandemic played into the worst sides of ourselves. How did transitioning to a life online affect us? What will be our ‘new normal’ post-pandemic? How do we want to discuss mental health? To answer these questions, we should examine the research into our social and online behavior, including new techniques in studying social media activity.

A Life Online

When isolation orders began, we observed the panic: not as frenzy crowds going berserk in the streets, but in the simplest of manners: lining up at the supermarket. Under the threat of prolonged lockdown, citizens translated their insecurities through their wallet. In the United States, where consumerism is a part of our culture, our spending behavior can exemplify our human instincts: “Cash, and the fantastic appeal of what money can buy… provide a way for humans to distance themselves from the disturbing realization that they are animals destined to die” (Arndt et al., 2004). Certainly, not everyone assumed COVID-19 was going to be the ultimate scourge of the human race, but the mindset was there. As a reflection of that mindset—that we as humans can have some control over our lives—we decided to wipe out the supermarket shelves before COVID could wipe us out.

Of course, the online world to which we were regulated put us face-to-face with another nuisance we had already been trying to grapple with: misinformation. Unfortunately for us, online misinformation has only become worse. In beginning of the pandemic, so little was known about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Once a rumor, half-truth, or plain lie made its way online, there was no way of knowing how far it could travel. But it is clear that unreliable sources induce panic and anxiety, stoking our fears of the current situation, encouraging us to prepare more (Usher et al., 2020; Johal, 2009).

When ventures outside of our homes are limited to stocking up on groceries, the possibilities for personal connections are lost. Small talk is hard to come by, especially when you are six feet apart, wearing a mask, and staring through the glare of plexiglass. Physical interaction has become impersonal. Even the relationships established before the pandemic have been hurt. The online connection has been unable to keep up with the loneliness. While we can turn on our cameras to see each other’s faces on screen, the interaction is not a proper substitute for in-person contact (Lippke et al., 2021). In a study of 212 Swiss undergraduate students, researchers found that the students, because of the pandemic, were increasingly working alone and not engaging in networking with their peers. Students’ depressive and anxiety symptoms also increased. The concerns about the students’ minds ranged from the “fears of missing out on social life to worries about health, family, friends, and their future” (Elmer et al., 2020). For mourners who require “restorative activities (e.g., travel, spending social time with friends),” those options vanished (Lee and Neimeyer, 2020). The emotional connections that would have helped no longer do, and the strength of the friendship has diminished. This faltering sense of belonging and attachments to others can manifest itself in our physical and mental health (Baumeister and Leary, 1995).

It is no secret that internet use and mental health are intertwined. More time spent on the internet affects our social interactions and increases the chances of cyberbullying. It appears the relationship between internet use and social interactions can go either way: problematic internet use (PIU) can be both the cause and the result of diminished social interactions. When internet use is the cause, social interactions suffer because of depression, neglect of offline obligations, and obsessive behaviors, all of which are linked to PIU. When PIU is the result of diminished social interactions, the internet is seen as a coping mechanism—a world to which people can escape (El Asam et al., 2019).

However, the world people enter is not always so agreeable. Excessive internet use has a profound impact on adolescents because they are not only victims of cyberbully, but also encouraged to take part in it. Online communities offer opportunities for validation. At times, participating in cyberbullying is a way for some adolescents to ‘fit in’ with their online counterparts. Moreover, an adolescent who engages in such internet behavior can be expected to develop PIU (Chao et al., 2020). It appears that most of the time, victims of cyberbully do not allow the abuse to end with them. They will have “a desire to respond, which may encourage others to join the fray leading to a potentially long and drawn-out series of increasingly abusive and antagonistic communications” (Chao et al., 2020).

Before lockdown, excessive users of the internet had the ability to separate themselves from their devices. However, once life went online, that opportunity disappeared. We all, in a way, became problematic internet users. A life online, while necessary for the past year, has shown to be harmful to our mental well-being.

Back to Normal?

When we eventually emerge from this pandemic, the cloud of lockdown will still hang over us. One of the lingering concerns will be the home as the petri dish. Throughout this pandemic, citizens have created their own fortresses, hoping to keep the COVID invader at bay. Every trip outside of the home was a potential for letting an intruder in. That is why we wiped down all our groceries and bathed ourselves in hand sanitizer after every door handle. The pressure to keep the home decontaminated has been especially hard on those living with vulnerable groups like the elderly.

Retreating to our homes for the past year has proven to us that some things are simply no longer worth going out: movies, restaurants, shopping. However, “even people who do not become housebound may become fastidious germaphobes, striving to avoid touching ‘contaminated’ surfaces or hugging people or shaking hands” (Taylor and Asmundson, 2020). Pandemic sanitation standards will persist, similar to how some American families maintained their parsimonious, self-sufficient lifestyles after the Great Depression (Taylor and Asmundson, 2020).

The stress of yourself being a carrier and potential hazard to those around you can be exacerbated when living conditions are tight. When living conditions are limited, tensions can flare. Unfortunately, some people find themselves trapped at home with COVID outside and an abuser inside, making their situation a possible source of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Taylor and Asmundson, 2020).

For those who have contracted COVID-19, some have had to deal with guilt for possibly infecting others, embarrassment for having contracted the disease while others did not, and shame for not protecting oneself enough. Not even our healthcare workers have been exempted. In Italy, Daniela Trezzi, a 34-year-old nurse, took her own life in March of 2020 after she had tested positive for COVID-19. Trezzi’s colleagues reported that her suicide may have been the result of her concerns of having infected other people (Giuffrida and Tondo, 2020). As COVID-19 surged in New York City last April, Dr. Lorna Breen, an ER doctor at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, committed suicide. The virus had taken the lives of many of Dr. Breen’s patients. Despite the overachieving and dedicated passion to her job, Dr. Breen’s family believed she “was devastated by the notion that her professional history was permanently marred and mortified to have cried for help” (Knoll et al., 2020).

Plenty of people will be able to return to normal life post-pandemic, to go back on the street as if nothing has changed. But for many members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, this is an impossibility. A wildfire of misinformation spreads (and continues to spread) across the internet, pinning a substantial number of American citizens as walking embodiments of SARS-CoV-2. Therefore, for AAPIs, returning to a normal life post-pandemic does not mean traveling down the street as if nothing has changed. As the United States begins to open, we are already seeing increases in racist attacks against AAPIs. We have seen this before. In 2014, Ebola was blamed on Africans because it was deemed an “African problem” (Usher et al., 2020). The ease of scapegoating specific demographics is an example of maladaptive coping “where coping is emotion-focused rather than problem-focused” (Cho et al., 2021).

We would like to think there is a chance for a return to normal. However, for many people, this is an unlikely future. Quarantine and the pandemic experience have affected the mental health of citizens across the globe. The pandemic has left us lonely, guilty, and fearful. It has forced some people to channel their insecurities into counterproductive behaviors. Behaviors that prevent us from regaining a sense of camaraderie and interconnectedness—some things we all lost this past year in quarantine.

Putting Our Online Activity to Good Use

Although living our lives on the internet has strained everyone, there may be something to gain from our past year online. In recent years, mental health researchers have turned their eyes to social media. With every post, like, or share, there may be a hidden meaning waiting to be deciphered. A variety of social media websites have been utilized for possible insights into specific mental health issues. Twitter is a popular site for study. It has been used for learning about detecting signs of depression and suicide (De Choudhury et al., 2013; Tsugawa et al., 2015; Coppersmith et al., 2016). Instagram, Reddit, and Tumblr have been used to study depression, suicide, and anorexia, respectfully (Reece and Danforth, 2017; Shing et al., 2018; Chancellor et al., 2016).

Taking advantage of machine-learning to comb over patients’ extensive social media activity, researchers have found indicators of mental health illnesses. For example, researchers classified tweets of suicidal individuals by their expressed emotions, emoji usage, and frequency of tweets. They found that tweets usually expressed sadness then anger after a suicide attempt, and that frequency of emotional tweets increases while emoji prevalence decreases (Coppersmith et al., 2016). The machine-learning systems allow for detecting these indicators with accuracy as high as 80 to 90 percent. This technique of combining computing power with psychiatric evaluation has led to the term “digital psychiatry” (Chancellor and De Choudhury, 2020). The focus on social media is particularly helpful in studying younger generations. Regardless of race or medical history, a younger age has been “the only significant predictor of blogging and social networking site participation” (Chou et al., 2009).

Northwell Health, New York state’s largest healthcare provider, has realized the importance of using social media for the purpose of engaging with patients as soon as possible. Since 2013, Northwell’s Early Treatment Program (ETP) has specialized in treating adolescents and young adults suffering from psychotic symptoms. Dr. Michael Birnbaum, Director and founding member of the ETP, studies the application of social media as an indicator for psychosis. I spoke with Dr. Birnbaum to learn more about his research with social media and its implications.

“This line of research was happening in the world of computer science, but not so much in psychiatry,” Dr. Birnbaum explained. “The idea sort of organically arose through reading the exciting literature on machine-learning and social media. Thinking about some of the major challenges and obstacles to delivering effective care, we came up with this solution.”

To perform his studies, Dr. Birnbaum and his colleagues retrieved social media archives donated by participants. These databases were downloaded straight from social media websites and then inputted into machine-learning systems provided by computer scientists from institutions like IBM, Cornell Tech, and Georgia Tech. The magnitude of data for these studies were immense. For instance, in one study, from just 223 research participants, Dr. Birnbaum and his team had collected 3,404,959 Facebook messages and 142,390 images. With this Facebook data alone, they found that the machine-learning system could identify research participants who had schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSD) and mood disorders (MD). In terms of posts and messages, those with SSD were more likely to use words of sensory perception, those with MD were more likely to make references to the body, and SSD and MD groups were both more likely to use curse words. When it came to Facebook photos—a more abstract source of analysis—Dr. Birnbaum and his research team found that those with SSD and MD were more likely to post smaller photos by dimension, and the hues of photos from MD participants were more blue and less yellow (Birnbaum et al., 2020).

Now, while the volume of information is essential to the experiment, the social media archives are not limited to just the research participants. Within these archives, you can find private messages sent by the research participant and messages sent from second parties whom the participant was communicating with.

“One of the other ethical issues is the fact that there are a ton of secondary subjects: all of the friends and connections to other users who don’t necessarily agree to have their data donated and analyzed, and so that’s something that, as a team, will need to sort of grapple with,” Dr. Birnbaum explained. To handle this ethical issue, Dr. Birnbaum’s studies had to eliminate the data from these secondary parties. So, while these secondary subjects may not have their private messages inputted into a machine-learning system, there is no denying that those messages are being stored somewhere at some point. It will be up to the patient to inform his or her friends that their conversations may eventually find their way into a stored database. Consent, conservation, and confidentiality of social media information are only some of the big hurdles of digital psychiatry (Wongkoblap et al., 2017). However, Dr. Birnbaum believes that with the correct system in place and an understanding from the public, the application of machine-learning can find success in psychiatry.

“This shouldn’t be about surveillance or taking the power away from the patient. It’s just the opposite. In my mind it’s creating a way for the patient to be able to learn more about themselves and also share it with their clinician. Just like when you go to see your doctor who orders a blood test or an X-ray, you donate your blood to inform because it’s going to improve your care. Though most people don’t like taking their blood, similarly, I imagine a situation where the benefits would be clear and patients would be willing and interested in donating their digital data to inform their care in a meaningful way.”

Furthermore, Dr. Birnbaum highlighted a key issue in psychiatry: the reliance on self-reported information. It has been shown that self-reported data can be unreliable and underestimate health issues (Wallihan et al., 1999; Newell et al., 1999). Dr. Birnbaum elaborated, “We just are notoriously bad at this—all of us—at describing our own behaviors. Most of us can’t remember what we ate for dinner a few days ago, and so I think that these things can be immortalized in digital data, and so we can accept it more readily and use it.”

And in terms of the depth and perception from which we can learn, social media information may be the closest thing psychiatrists can have to 24/7 observation of their patients. Retrospective analysis of a patient after they have been admitted into the hospital is not the best solution. Social media information may hold the key.

“A patient sees the doctor periodically, and they meet for a certain amount of time and then that’s it,” Dr. Birnbaum said. “You don’t really know what’s happening in between meetings beyond patient self-report. The [social media information] provides information about what was going on between sessions. So, you can learn a lot more about, or rather from a different source and a more objective source, about what people are doing, thinking, and feeling.”
Of course, social media information is no substitute for in-person meetings. For Dr. Birnbaum, “I imagine a situation where someone donates their digital data a day or two before they come to meet me in my office, and then we can discuss the findings and determine whether or not we need to change the treatment plan.”

Although Dr. Birnbaum explained earlier that routine treatment involves monthly meetings with patients, the timing of when a patient should donate their social media archives is not exactly clear: “That is something that has yet to be empirically explored. Maybe it’s once a month when they come see me, maybe not. I could imagine a situation where it is done at the beginning of care and maybe perhaps periodically after that. I think it depends on what information we’re after, what we’re looking for, and how each individual uses social media.”

In the end, social media activity would just be one component of digital psychiatry. The way Dr. Birnbaum sees it, “Social media is a piece of the puzzle. They’re also people looking at speech, facial movements, wearables, cell phone data. All of this stuff paints a picture. A more comprehensive picture.”

What’s the Point?

On April 9th, The Wall Street Journal published an article titled, “Loneliness, Anxiety and Loss: the Covid Pandemic’s Terrible Toll on Kids.” In it, the author, Andrea Peterson, details the faltering grades, confidence, and motivation of young students. One 13-year-old stated, “[I]t’s been a lot harder to make friends and talk to new people… I feel like a lot of us drifted apart… It has set in that I’m alone” (Peterson, 2021).

With vaccines getting administered around the world, our public health appears to be on the right track. For many of the students who spoke with Peterson, transitioning back to in-person social activities will be difficult, but nonetheless, they will finally be in-person. Hopefully, for all of us, returning to in-person work or school will be the remedy we need. But the final obstacle we will face is the way we confront mental health as a society.

When The Wall Street Journal shared Peterson’s article on its Twitter profile, many of the comments were supportive—a lot of teachers and students voicing their approval with the awareness raised by the article. Then, of course, there were comments like these:

https://twitter.com/HRHSherlock/status/1380646040714375170

https://twitter.com/eagles2sixers/status/1380923582268764164

It would be quick and easy to say kids these days are just soft. It would be quick and easy to say there are more pressing matters than this. But the people who choose these quick and easy solutions seem to forget that we are all wired differently. We process things differently. Just as physical abilities differ from person to person, our ways of handling strains of our mental health differs. And to those who say the deaths from COVID-19 are more important: yes, preventing deaths is the number one priority, but the pandemic will be over. Can we talk about mental health effects then? Or would we have forgotten about it already?

It is unfortunate to think that these attitudes can exist within families, preventing people from getting the help they need. Whether it be depression or psychotic disorders, stigma exists everywhere. The family unit is not always equipped to understand the needs of someone suffering from a mental illness.

“For the most part, it’s impossible to tease apart providing good care to a patient without involving their family,” Dr. Birnbaum told me while explaining the role of family at the ETP. “So, it’s critical that the family understands what’s happening and has a connection to the treatment team, is involved in the treatment decisions in some capacity, and knows how to be most helpful and supportive for their child.”

It is no secret that there is a clash of how we discuss mental illness. Some people, due to culture or age, like to keep it under the rug, while younger generations tend to be more open about mental health. Those who like to keep a tight lip about it find themselves being blamed for being a part of the problem. Well, to put it simply, they are. I would hope people do not see that as a political opinion. It is informed medical advice.

When asked about breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and culture, Dr. Birnbaum explained, “I think that’s part of the work and that’s part of the advocacy. And part of the excitement of early intervention is sort of getting the message out that there are resources and tools and help available. The more we talk about it, the better.” He added, “Hopefully that’s something that we can do by changing society.”

Changing society will be no easy task. It will take time, just like waiting for this pandemic to be finally over. The ‘new normal’ waiting for us will ultimately be defined by us. If we decide to keep things the status quo, then that is what we should expect. As difficult as the past year has been, we ought to make the most of it. With the new advancements in machine-learning, we can learn from the online activity we amassed in quarantine. Work like Dr. Birnbaum’s shows that studying our online presence can improve the way we comprehend mental health. We can learn more about ourselves, mental health, and possibilities for early treatment for young people. When it comes to pandemic, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be getting brighter. While we cannot say the same for mental health, our digital footprints can help lead the way.


Work Cited

@CortezGeovanny. “Kids are getting softer and softer with each generation.” Twitter, 9 Apr 2021, 9:20 p.m., twitter.com/CortezGeovanny/status/1380692134659940352.

@eagles2sixer. “I’m sorry the kids had to stay home on their phones for a year but please. Did the kids that worked in dangerous factories or lived during the blitzkrieg or black in the south in the early 1900s or during the depression or a million others not have it 1000X worse?” Twitter, 10 Apr 2021, 12:40 p.m., twitter.com/eagles2sixers/status/1380923582268764164.

@HRHSherlock. “Yes, this is all very sad, but over 560,000 Americans are dead.” Twitter, 9 April 2021, 6:17 p.m., twitter.com/HRHSherlock/status/1380646040714375170.

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Birnbaum, Michael L., Raquel Norel, Anna Van Meter, Asra F. Ali, Elizabeth Arenare, Elif Eyigoz, Carla Agurto, Nicole Germano, John M. Kane, and Guillermo A. Cecchi. “Identifying Signals Associated with Psychiatric Illness Utilizing Language and Images Posted to Facebook.” npj Schizophrenia, vol. 6, no. 38, 2020, pp. 1-10. PubMed, doi.org/10.1038/s41537-020-00125-0.

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Cho, Hyunyi, Wenbo Li, Julie Cannon, Rachel Lopez, and Chi Song. “Testing Three Explanations for Stigmatization of People of Asian Descent During Covid-19: Maladaptive Coping, Biased Media Use, or Racial Prejudice?” Ethnicity & Health, vol. 26, no. 1, 2021, pp. 94-109. Taylor & Francis Online, doi.org/10.1080/13557858.2020.1830035.

Chou, Wen-Ying S., Yvonne M. Hunt, Ellen B. Beckjord, Richard P. Moser, and Bradford W. Hesse. “Social Media Use in the United States: Implications for Health Communication.” Journal of Medical Internet Research, vol. 11, no. 4, 2009, pp. 1-12. Google Scholar, doi.org/10.2196/jmir.1249.

Coppersmith, Glen, Kim Ngo, Ryan Leary, and Anthony Wood. “Exploratory Analysis of Social Media Prior to a Suicide Attempt.” Proceedings of the 3rd Workshop on Computational Linguistics and Clinical Psychology: From Linguistic Signal to Clinical Reality, 2016, pp. 106-117. ACL Anthology, doi.org/10.18653/v1/W16-0311.

De Choudhury, Munmun, Michael Gamon, Scott Counts, and Eric Horvitz. “Predicting Depression via Social Media.” Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, vol. 1, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1-10. Microsoft Academic, http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/predicting-depression-via-social-media/.

El Asam, Aiman, Muthanna Samara, and Philip Terry. “Problematic Internet Use and Mental Health Among British Children and Adolescents.” Addictive Behaviors, vol. 90, 2019, pp. 428-436. ScienceDirect, doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.09.007.

Elmer, Timon, Kieran Mepham, and Christoph Staftfeld. “Students Under Lockdown: Comparisons of Students’ Social Networks and Mental Health Before and During The Covid-19 Crisis in Switzerland.” PLoS ONE, vol. 15, no. 7, 2020, pp. 1-22. Google Scholar, doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0236337.

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Lee, Sherman A., and Robert A. Neimeyer. “Pandemic Grief Scale: A Screening Tool for Dysfunctional Grief Due to a Covid-19 Loss.” Death Studies, 2020. Taylor & Francis Online, doi.org/10.1080/07481187.2020.1853885.

Lippke, Sonia, Marie Annika Fischer, and Tiara Ratz. “Physical Activity, Loneliness, and Meaning of Friendship in Young Individuals – A Mixed-Methods Investigation Prior to and During the COVID-19 Pandemic With Three Cross-Sectional Studies.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 12, art. 617267, 2021, pp. 1-13. PubMed, doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.617267.

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Peterson, Andrea. “Loneliness, Anxiety and Loss: the Covid Pandemic’s Terrible Toll on Kids.” The Wall Street Journal, 9 Apr 2021, http://www.wsj.com/articles/pandemic-toll-children-mental-health-covid-school-11617969003?reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink.

Reece, Andrew G., and Christopher M. Danforth. “Instagram Photos Reveal Predictive Markers of Depression.” EPJ Data Science, vol. 6, no. 15, 2017, pp. 1-12. SpringerOpen, doi.org/10.1140/epjds/s13688-017-0110-z.

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You Can Sit With Us, But You Shouldn’t Have To: The Hidden Benefits of Social Cliques

by Vineeta Abraham, May 9, 2021

Many adults with yearbooks filled with high school “horror stories” will claim they  originated from the rigid, harsh social structure they had to adhere to, complete with bullies,  queen bees, and their select array of victims. This myth is the reason behind many administrative efforts to integrate students in middle schools and high schools across the country as an attempt to attack the issue of social circles or “cliques” from multiple angles. When doing this, they often think that tackling the main problem involves eliminating the social hierarchies that exist in the halls of almost every high school. While this seems to be in the students’ best interests, it may be doing more harm than help. What teachers and administrators often fail to recognize is that when students are socially structured, they are able to create identities for themselves and thrive in the niches that the school environment creates for them. While most people assume this means that a sense of privilege will linger among several of these social standings, it should be noted that allowing students to stay comfortably within their social groups might be a better alternative than forcing them to intermingle. Although people have misconceptions about the nature of so-called “cliques,” and are therefore enforcing programs to dismember them, allowing these social circles to thrive, while taking care to encourage healthy cooperation between them, can help students develop psychologically in group settings and avoid the negative effects of not having a social group to call their own.

Much of the skepticism surrounding the existence of social circles in schools comes from  stereotypical assumptions about them. These are often fueled and exaggerated by the media,  through means such as books, television series, and teen-drama movies. The entirety of the  infamous 2004 comedy Mean Girls revolves around a typical new girl trying to outmaneuver the  social ladder that exists at her new school, including the “A-list girl clique” described in the  summary provided on the internet movie database, IMDb. In this movie, many types of cliques  and social circles are represented, as well as a clearly defined ladder that is topped by the so called “mean girls.” The movie highlights the entitled, harmful personalities of those who top these social hierarchies and proposes that cliques tend to remain vicious towards each other and cannot coexist peacefully (IMDb). Media such as this promote a general sense of wariness in the minds of their audiences, which include families, educators, and administrators, through their use of pure exaggeration. One may argue that some schools do in fact have a strong presence of social hierarchies and social ladders, but it must also be noted that this is not very different from how society is structured in a world outside of the school building. Status is not a foreign concept for our communities, and treating it as such in school doesn’t prepare students for what they will face long after graduating from their microcosms of the real world. However, it is possible to attract attention towards eliminating the toxic potentials of social hierarchies while still encouraging the social groups. 

Social circles have existed in schools for generations, and although the way they’re structured has varied through generations, their general formulas remain fairly consistent. Cliques are nothing new, as shown by Jerry Adler, a former senior editor of Newsweek who has written for magazines such as The New Yorker, The Smithsonian, and Scientific American. In a 1999 Newsweek article, he explains that these groups include “athletes and preppies and wanna-be gangsters; pot-smoking skaters and sullen punks; gays and nerds and, yes, morbid, chalk-faced Goths,” and remain “surprisingly similar from coast to coast” (Adler). This consistency further supports the idea that these social structures are not only normal, but even instinctive, especially for adolescents. Shayla Ahamed, a blogger from Penn State University, writes that most people are simply “inclined to become friends with people that are similar to them and share their interests,” claiming that while negative side effects seem to be the focus in the media, forming groups are for the students’ own benefit (Ahamed). Additionally, Daniel A. McFarland, a sociology professor at Stanford University, uses his 2014 study for the American Sociological Review to discuss details of social structures, calling them “supportive and protective” and claiming that this is what leads students to tend to create them more often than not (McFarland). Perhaps the universality in these adolescents’ instincts to self-segregate is an important reason why we should nurture, rather than destroy, this phenomenon that we term “cliques.”  

Although Adler describes that in some places, these hierarchies demand a certain  evaluation of “status” be added to the existing situations, this is not always the case (Adler).  McFarland discusses how “adolescent societies” form when students begin to create groups “with individuals who share similar attributes, behaviors, or attitudes,” continuously  emphasizing the term “homophily” to describe how students constantly look for a sense of  “familiarity” (McFarland). As students begin the extremely trying time in their lives  corresponding to their high school years, their need for connecting to others like them increases immensely, highlighting the importance of having a strong social system to guide them  (McFarland). Although one may believe that social divisions can lead to insensitivity or other  undesirable side effects like bullying, the truth is that proper lessons in respect can, together with  these groups, be advantageous to the student body.  

These avoidable consequences of cliques encourage educators and administrators to overcompensate and actually cause more harm. This anti-clique mentality is inspiration for programs such as “Mix It Up at Lunch,” a social campaign started by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Learning for Justice project. The “Mix It Up” program aims to encourage students to spend time at lunch with people who are not in their primary friend groups by eating with people outside of those social circles. Learning for Justice has also created multiple other activities to promote integration, including “Mix it Up Dialogue Groups” (“Mix it Up”). Another such example of programs created in an attempt to dismantle these social structures is Abigail N. Kirk’s teacher inquiry for Penn State University called “Kick the Cliques,” in which she promotes classroom activities to encourage girls to cooperate with each other while avoiding the creation of self-made groups (Kirk). These and other similar programs aim to teach students to adapt to other personalities and promote large group settings by straying away from creating smaller groups or self-segregating. While their intentions are pure, programs like these are usually a mix of ineffective and awkward for the students being forced into them, typically without having the choice to opt out. While one may argue that current discomfort will pay off later on, the chances of making most long-lasting friendships from continuously forced collaborations are slim. Furthermore, continuous efforts by the administration to intervene in students’ social decisions can be more harmful than beneficial. 

Rather than trying to eliminate these cliques, schools should embrace the idea of  encouraging kids to thrive within their own social circles. Physician Susan Biali Haas, M.D. argues in her 2013 Psychology Today article, “Stop Trying to Fit In, Aim to Belong Instead,” that people should stop “trying to be something [they’re] not in order to gain acceptance,” which is what integration promotes (Haas). This viewpoint emphasizes the idea that people should embrace their own characteristics and look for those with similarities in order to find their social circles rather than drastically changing their personalities to match those of a preexisting group. The alternative to having to change oneself for the benefit of fitting in would be to allow students to create groups that are naturally suited for their personality types and interests — in other words, allowing them to focus on belonging (Haas). The concept of belonging encourages self-acceptance and self-esteem, thereby providing students with more helpful guidelines for life and helping redirect the goals of administrators. For example, rather than focusing on rearranging students’ social groups, administrative intervention can include teaching students to avoid mean or hateful actions towards those who don’t necessarily fit into their own cliques. Furthermore, author Mark Rowh writes in an article for Current Health 2 that many students claim cliques can be “useful anchors in their social lives,” showing the true benefits they can have on the socioemotional health of students (Rowh). 

Being in small group settings can be psychologically beneficial, and studies of “social  psychology, for example, examine how emotion, cognition, and action are shaped by the social  environment” (McFarland). In an interview with psychologist Dr. Stacey Scott from Stony Brook  University, whose research specializes in emotions and stress in development throughout the lifespan, she described the importance of having “social support” throughout one’s life and  claims that adolescents require that strong support just like adults do (Scott). She explains further by saying that the social segregation that occurs during high school or one’s adolescence is representative of how “adults function in society,” even claiming that “adults aren’t necessarily  friends with everyone, so adolescents shouldn’t be expected to be either” (Scott). She also  suggested that other research has been conducted in the past to explain the normalcy of students  to “view their peers as being nominated under certain groups” and that this is not something we necessarily need to eliminate (Scott). It also encourages students to join small yet fundamental clubs and sports. These clubs and sports follow the same general guidelines that most cliques do — the only difference between most of these clubs and allowing students to create their own social circles is the absence of administrative involvement.  Furthermore, cliques and social groups help students develop and thrive within a self-made “niche in some section of [their] society,” as examined by psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett from the University of Maryland College Park in a 2000 article for the American Psychologist (Arnett). 

The fate is much worse for students who don’t belong to a clique at all. While students  may think that most of the so-called “shunning” comes from social classes of higher status  towards those of lower status, the ones who don’t belong to a specific group often get the worst  of the blow. Chris MacLeod, a registered social worker who founded the website Succeed Socially, claims that failing to socially integrate can lead to “slip[ping] through the cracks” of the community (MacLeod). This feeling of not being “right” for a certain group can lead to feelings of loneliness and exclusion. Although it’s true that those who don’t necessarily conform to a certain group may choose to be that way, either because they  “don’t have enough” of whatever that particular group demands of them or simply because they believe those groups are either “on a pedestal” or “below them,” MacLeod suggests that eliminating these mindsets and embracing the idea of joining a group would prove to be beneficial to one’s social state (MacLeod). MacLeod supports the idea that joining such groups even when apprehensive could help improve one’s social skills such as “making conversation, feeling more comfortable around others, [and] being able to open up to people” (MacLeod). Daniel A. McFarland further discusses the importance of this “peer network” in his research by stating that “cliquing increases” during adolescence because of the “attachment shift from parents and family to peers” (McFarland). Allowing these close-knit relationships to form between students would be a better alternative for educators instead of trying to break these social structures down. This, in turn, will eliminate many of the problems associated with adolescent loneliness, as described by researcher Ahmet Gurses in his 2011 article for Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences as he attempts to connect the problems of loneliness in high school to “academic  unsuccessfulness” (Gurses). Students without groups at all can find themselves falling into a spiral of adolescent loneliness and social awkwardness, as described by MacLeod. The simple alternative is to embrace the benefits cliques can have on the student population (MacLeod).  

Although the use of the words “clique” and “social circle” have negative connotations, it  should be noted that the majority of these assumptions about the implications of creating social  structures come from personal experience. Most phenomena in society have the potential for negative side effects, but it is wiser to eliminate the side effects rather than their causes. Allowing social structures to flourish in a high school setting can actually be beneficial to the students both socially and psychologically. Rather than implementing programs to negate and eliminate the instinct of high schoolers to self-segregate, schools and educators should work to promote healthy segregation. This would encourage students to embrace their differences and connect with others by developing their similarities. Therefore, programs originally intended to eliminate the prospect of social groups should be redirected in order to fuel the creation of healthy divisions among students while promoting sympathy and amiability between these divided groups. The main focus of administrators and  educators should be shifted from reworking preexisting divisions that students make instinctively to teaching students how these divisions can help them flourish as they enter adulthood and the outside society.


Works Cited

Adler, Jerry. “The Truth about High School.” Newsweek, 10 May 1999, www.newsweek.com/truth-about-high-school-166686. 

Ahamed, Shayla. “The Science of Cliques.” SiOWfa15: Science in Our World: Certainty and  Controversy, Penn State University , 8 Sept. 2015, sites.psu.edu/siowfa15/2015/09/08/the-science-of-cliques/. 

Arnett, Jeffrey Jensen. “Emerging Adulthood: a Theory of Development from the Late Teens  through the Twenties.” American Psychologist, vol. 55, no. 5, 2000, pp. 469–480. 

Gurses, Ahmet. “Psychology of Loneliness of High School Students.” Procedia Social and  Behavioral Sciences, vol. 15, 2011, pp. 2578–2581. 

Haas, Susan Biali. “Stop Trying to Fit In, Aim to Belong Instead.” Psychology Today, 17 Oct. 2013, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prescriptions-life/201310/stop-trying-fit in-aim-belong-instead.

Kirk, Abigail N. “Kick the Cliques: Activities to Promote Positive Relationships among Girls in the Classroom.” Penn State U, 26 Apr. 2006. Penn State University, www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/51491966/kick-the-cliques-activities-to-promote-positive-relationships-among-. Manuscript. 

MacLeod, Chris. “When You Feel like You Don’t Fully Fit into Any Social Group.” Succeed  Socially, http://www.succeedsocially.com/dontfitintoanygroup. Accessed 20 November 2019.

McFarland, Daniel A. “Network Ecology and Adolescent Social Structure.” American  Sociological Review, vol. 79, no. 6, 2014, pp. 1088–1121. 

“Mean Girls.” IMDb, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0377092/. Accessed 20 November 2019. 

“Mix it Up.” Learning for Justice, http://www.learningforjustice.org/mix-it-up. Accessed 5 May 2021. 

Rowh, Mark. “The In-Crowd: the Not so Shocking Truth about Cliques.” Current Health 2, a Weekly Reader Publication, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 11+.

Scott, Stacey B. Personal interview. Oct. 2019. 

The Insidious Rise of Automation

By Ali Ahmad, April 23, 2021

Next time you go to your favorite coffee shop or go the checkout aisle at Walmart, you won’t be met with the warm welcome of a person behind the counter. Instead, a computer will simply prompt you for payment. Automation is replacing jobs that were once held by people with cold efficient machines. This raises ethical issues of unemployment, wealth inequality, and how we interact with machines. Automation holds the potential to drastically upend the precious balance of labor that we have today.

Automation is the result of advancement made in artificial intelligence, robotics, and advanced computing systems. Customer service is especially vulnerable to automation takeover. Instead of a cashier behind a counter, customer check out is now equipped with automated touchscreen kiosks.  Businesses looking to improve customer satisfaction and reduce wait time in lines are resorting to these kiosks. Leading technology and business executives concluded during a Gartner Customer Service Summit that “nearly 85% of all customer transactions will be done with humans” by 2030 (Schneider, 2017).  Furthermore, people are turning to robots for brand information and outreach. Facebook, along with airline and tourism businesses, are employing thousands of chatbots to connect consumers with ads—in fact, messaging apps overtook social media since “individuals are increasingly using messaging apps to interact with brands” (Schneider, 2017).

Automation is also becoming increasingly involved in the kitchen.  In 2015, four MIT graduates founded Spyce, a fully robotic kitchen that “cooks food constantly by tumbling your food, thus providing a nice sear” (Andrews, 2019). These robotic culinary contraptions cook food in less time and reduce wait time. Businesses are eagerly turning to automation technology as operating costs and competition increase, but right now automation remains more of a “ helping hand” (Andrews, 2019).

Having automated machines in the workplace has generated heated ethical dilemmas in the workplace. With an increase in automation, there is a good chance that some jobs will be considered obsolete in a few years. Humans will no longer be “central and critical” to the workplace environment and productivity (Mayor, 2019). Advances in automation also highlight the growing wealth inequality in America and impact corporate greed has had on technological development. From 1987 to 2016, displacement due to automation was 16 percent but reinstatement was only 10 percent in factory positions (Dizikes, 2020). In other words, more people from lower paying jobs are being displaced than are being hired. Furthermore, by pushing low income groups out of the labor force and replacing them with automated machines, the need for skilled labor increases. This demand for scarce labor may push highly skilled income further above low skilled income, widening the already massive income gap (Dizikes, 2020).

Introducing automated machines into the workplace could also lead to heightened workplace anxiety. By having machines that do some of the tasks originally done by humans, workers might begin to fear losing their job. Since automated machines are quickly becoming more and more advanced, it is not unmanageable to foresee a future where machines perform work in an office environment, thus “causing panic and reducing morreale” (Gaskell, 2018). If automation is to have a much larger place within our society these pressing ethical dilemmas need to be addressed immediately.

Automation is here to stay, and we need to adapt to the ever-changing technological challenges that automation brings. As algorithms replace human workers, there is a chance of increased unemployment. In an automated society, many people will face the dilemma of “broken career ladders,” in which entry-level workers no longer have any opportunity to enter the workforce (Wong, 2015). Entry-level jobs in finance, banking, construction, and even waiting tables could become automated in the future. These jobs will greatly reduce career options for many young workers. The future of automation appears quite alarming.  Once a reservoir of creativity and hope, modern technological advancement is quickly becoming a nightmare with extensive ramifications for blue collar workers.


References

Andrews, R. (2019, August 28). How automation is changing the way restaurants do business. Eat. https://restaurant.eatapp.co/blog/automation-in-restaurant-industry

Dizikes, P. (2020, May 5). Study finds stronger links between automation and inequality. MIT News. https://news.mit.edu/2020/study-inks-automation-inequality-0506

Gaskell, A. (2018, April 18). Automation, ethics and accountability of AI systems. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2018/04/18/automation-ethics-and-accountability-of-ai-systems

Mayor, T. (2019, July 8). Ethics and automation: What to do when workers are displaced. MIT Sloan School of Management. https://mitsloan.mit.edu/ideas-made-to-matter/ethics-and-automation-what-to-do-when-workers-are-displaced

McNeal, M. (2015, August 7). Rise of the machines: The future has lots of robots, few jobs for humans. Wired. https://www.wired.com/brandlab/2015/04/rise-machines-future-lots-robots-jobs-humans/

Schneider, C. (2019, October 28). 10 reasons why AI-powered, automated customer service is the future. Watson Blog. https://www.ibm.com/blogs/watson/2017/10/10-reasons-ai-powered-automated-customer-service-future/

Wong, J.C. (2015, January 18). How will automation affect society? World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/01/how-will-automation-affect-society/

Fast Cars, Fast Women: A Societal Analysis

by Josh Gershenson, April 18, 2021

(BMW Hellas)

The advertisement above showcases a young, attractive woman with the caption, “You know you’re not the first,” comparing a used car to the woman. After receiving criticism and backlash, the ad was pulled and never ran (Green). Immediately, the blatant objectification perpetrated by BMW Hellas (Greece) is identifiable, but there is much more at hand regarding the interpretation of the deeper, more complex meaning and long-term societal effects this form of rhetoric can impose.

To start, beauty is equated to promiscuity. Promoting this, especially in the sphere of consumerism and public availability, leads to an altered perception of women as enjoyment objects. Portraying a beautiful woman as always ready and willing completely neglects her choices in sexuality and tears down the fabric of consent in our society. The person depicted in this advertisement could be a virgin or completely celibate; just because she is considered pretty does not warrant judgment about what choices she makes with her sex life. This ad only reinforces the mentality that sexually violating women, both verbally and physically, is socially acceptable and encourages this same mentality in the younger generations.

The objectification and mentality of using women like a car exposes the consumerism in this country and how its grasps have fallen over even the usage and discarding of women. As a society, our perception of fast purchases has become synonymous with our sexism. This unveils the detrimental effects our economic system has on other issues – a comorbidity which can be seen in multiple other social problems we face in the Western world, such as relentless classism and its strong ties to racism.

The majority of women viewing this ad, however, would most likely be repulsed by its imagery and would not be enticed to buy a BMW. So, how could this ad have gotten past BMW’s review board if it polarized half of the audience from buying their products? This would be a counterintuitive move for a company that appeals both men and women— and that’s the catch: I don’t think it does. It seems that BMW made this decision based on the notion that only men would buy their cars, and the opinions of women was irrelevant in terms of sales. Pushing this concept even deeper, it may be that BMW doesn’t even consider the majority of women as potential buyers. Even now, in 21st century America and Europe, the effects of a male dominant society can be seen in ads like this. The mentality that women would never buy a car without their husbands’ permission still taints even the largest, most successful manufacturers to the core.


Works Cited

BMW Hellas. You know you’re not the first. BMW, 2008, retrieved 7 April 2021 from i.insider.com/51545499ecad04b50f00000f.

Green, Dominic. “The 10 Sleaziest Ads of The Century.” Business Insider, 30 Mar. 2013, www.businessinsider.com/sleaziest-car-ads-of-the-21st-century-2013-3.

Gentrification: A Call For Reform or a Negative Acceptance?

by Iqra Ishrat, April 9, 2021

According to experts from Brookings Institute, gentrification is “the process of neighborhood change that results in the replacement of lower income residents with higher income ones” (Kennedy & Leonard, 2001), and has existed in United States urban centers since the 1970s (Fox, 2013). Since then, it has been changing communities, populations, developments, and professional opportunities in cities. According to statistics presented by population researcher Mark R. Montgomery, “During the period 2000-2024, the world’s total population is projected to grow by 1.76 billion persons, with some 86% of this growth expected to take place in the cities and towns…” (Montgomery, 2008). With populations increasing and more people moving into cities, some claim that gentrification can lead to health improvements, better education, lower crime rates, and more refined neighborhoods. However, it also leads to displacement of people, higher rent-prices, and animosity between inhabitants. These consequences and setbacks raise a question: do the benefits of gentrification outweigh the toll put onto original residents in the United States? Considering economic and political lenses along with perspectives of old residents, new wealthier inhabitants, researchers, and other community members in cities, gentrification is necessary for cities to develop and improve.

A major economic problem of gentrification is the cost of rent, which is increasing for former residents. Data from the US Census shows that in 1990, the median value of owner-occupied housing in central cities was 127,589 dollars and later in 2010 jumped to 184,839 dollars (Ellen, Horn, & Reed, 2017). That is a major price change of 57,250 dollars; many old residents are unable to pay for new, expensive housing, forcing them to leave. Along with increasing prices for housing in gentrifying cities, rent has also increased throughout the United States from 2000 to 2016. US Census data gathered by the Institute for Policy & Social Research shows that in states with many gentrifying cities like New York or Connecticut, the rent prices nearly doubled to over a thousand dollars per month (Institute for Policy & Social Research, 2018). Clearly, with such high changes in rent price, old residents do not have the wealth to afford increasing rent or house costs, forcing tenants to leave their cities.

Many old residents are angered with the inflating prices of housing. Since the prices keep increasing, people are being displaced from their communities. In other words, people are forced to move out to different neighborhoods since they cannot afford the current costs of living. Viewing the perspective of these old residents, they complain of the rent price rise due to gentrification. In an online newspaper entitled The Guardian, author Franseca Perry mentioned the opinion of a homeowner in Silicon Valley, “My entire family has left over the years to more affordable places for the working class… People are casually displaced every day and $1,000 a month rent hikes are not uncommon” (Perry, 2016). This view indicates that not all individuals can cope with economic changes occurring in gentrifying cities.

As the cost of living in cities is increasing, so are the cities’ tax revenues since homes have more value and wealthier inhabitants are moving in. Although this may promote displacement of the poor, it has many benefits that are necessary for cities. According to experts Maureen Kennedy and Paul Leonard (2001) from Brookings Institute, with the tax revenue increasing and more affluent individuals present, a city can spend more money to make itself vibrant, poverty rates can be decentralized, and commercial activity can be promoted. Thus, with more money, services can be added to revitalize the dull cities, and the old streets and broken-down residence cities can be cleaned and replaced with much needed improved housing. At the same time, new residents moving in can bring new customers to old businesses using their purchasing power and can also promote the development of new businesses, benefiting the economy. Overall, the better economy and increased number of wealthy occupants leads to decentralized poverty rates. According to the perspective of a community director in Cleveland, “I know it’s not politically correct, but with an average poverty rate of 42 percent, what my target neighborhoods need is a little gentrification” (Kennedy & Leonard, 2001). Although many old inhabitants in cities are displaced through gentrification, it will lead to much needed prosperity in neighborhoods and contribute to a more stabilized economy.

Additionally, while many residents have been displaced through the process of gentrification, studies found that the displacement may have been beneficial, to promote economics as mentioned previously, but also helpful to those that were forced to leave. In a large survey of five cities addressed by Professor of Economics Stephen Sheppard at Williams College, “displaced residents did not live in worse conditions following their moves. The majority of the displaced reported increased levels of satisfaction with their home and neighborhood and commute times were more likely to decrease after the move” (Sheppard, 2012). In other words, even though people couldn’t afford to live in their old neighborhoods, they are being moved to cities with better conditions where they can live their lives. Because of wealthier inhabitants, cities will have the benefit of a stronger economy; at the same time, old residents who cannot continue to afford the lifestyle get to live more comfortably when they move out to a new neighborhood.

Nevertheless, with changes occurring in cities through gentrification, animosity between residents is bound to occur. Specifically, the old residents are unhappy with the new wealthier individuals moving in. According to Elizabeth M. Kirkland who has a Juris Doctor degree and has focused on systemic racism at the Race Relations Institute of Fisk University, “the pre-gentrified neighborhood is inhabited mostly by African Americans or other people of color, and the in-movers are typically white” (Kirkland, 2008). Often, old residents of a certain ethnicity are unhappy with new groups moving in since they feel that their hometowns are being breached by people that will steal their city. Social Researchers Victoria F. Burns, Jean-Pierre Lavoie, and Damaris Rose interviewed elderly people in gentrifying cities on their thoughts of new individuals moving in. One interviewee, an 85-year-old woman, stated, “We ask ourselves where we are. I don’t like it. They are invading us…they are going to take everything from us… all the businesses; it’s them who are running them” (Burns, Lavoie, & Rose, 2012). Hence, it is important to note that community changes are not compensated within enlivening cities.

View of American poet Richard Blanco is similar to those unhappy with changes in the community due to gentrification. In his poem, “Looking for The Gulf Motel”, Blanco describes the changes that took place to his old neighborhood in Marco Island, Florida, and he wishes it was still the same as then:

“I am thirty-eight, driving up Collier Boulevard, looking for The Gulf Motel, for everything that should still be, but isn’t. I want to blame the condos, their shadows for ruining the beach and my past, I want to chase the snowbirds away with their tacky mansions and yachts, I want to turn the golf courses back into mangroves, I want to find The Gulf Motel exactly as it was and pretend for a moment, nothing lost is lost.” (Blanco, 2012)

In his poem, Blanco does not appreciate how everything that once was is gone. All the old buildings, scenes, and history important to him in Marco Island are gone; resembling the theme of change that is present in gentrification. This shows that not all will appreciate the changes done through revitalization of a city, comparable to the woman quoted earlier believing her community was invaded.

However, gentrification can decrease integration, or, race-based segregation in schools. Overall, with different-raced inhabitants moving in, gentrification leads to more diverse populations in schools. Professor of Law and co-founder of Perception Institute which focuses on researching social problems and creating solutions based on the research, Rachel D. Godsil wrote a paper on segregation in schools and how gentrification can help. In her paper, she states, “Diversity has been shown to play a critical role in spurring innovation and rigorous thinking” (Godsil, 2019). Simply, gentrification leads to interaction between diverse peoples, which ultimately encourages stronger thoughts and better relationships in schools. Also, schools can provide better education since they will have better funding due to increased tax revenue from wealthier inhabitants. With this money, supplies such as student recourses and/or technology can be added to a school district. So, with gentrification of cities comes the benefit of a better education due to greater diversity and increased funding. While this may not solve the problem of preserving communities and their history, it can ease tensions and lead to a brighter and more cooperative neighborhood.

When cities are re-developed through gentrification, health norms can be increased. Health conditions are typically bad in pre-gentrified cities due to low city budgets not being able to afford adequate standards. As stated by researchers Joseph Gibbons, Michael Barton, and Elizabeth Brault from the Department of Sociology in San Diego State University (2018), low income communities lack healthy food options, quality healthcare, and park space. Additionally, due to poverty in the cities, there are environmental factors that weaken residents’ health; physical examples such as living in broken and cramped homes, and social examples being the witnessing of depressed, drunk individuals on the streets (Gibbons, Barton, & Brault, 2018). Therefore, when communities described as such go through gentrification, improved healthcare is available, along with the availability of leisurely activities like community parks, overall helping to improve the health standards.

Along with better health for a community, crime rate can also decrease. Specifically, personal and violent crime rates tend to decrease in gentrifying cities. The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics defines personal crimes as “Rape, sexual assault, personal robbery, assault, purse snatching, and pocket picking” (Bureau of Justice Statistics, n.d.). Basically, it is any crime that may harm an individual. In a large study done that analyzed fourteen gentrifying neighborhoods by researcher Scott C. McDonald, it was found that as new wealthier inhabitants were moving in while cities were being changed, personal crimes overall decreased (McDonald, 1986). Recent statistics provided by the US Census also highlight the same results as McDonalds’ research. According to the data, in 1988 there were 13.5 violent crimes occurring per 1,000 population; but later in 2008, dropped down to a mean of only 8.9 violent crimes in the same population (Ellen, Horn, & Reed, 2017). This indicates that crime is reduced overall through gentrification and cities in the United States become safer.

Unfortunately, the uncontrolled gentrification process may not be able to maintain cities the way older residents prefer, but many positive and necessary changes in health, economics, safety, education, and revitalization occur to improve cities. However, improvements can be made to the gentrification process so that it doesn’t harm old residents of the cities as much. Currently, methods are used to ease gentrification and to keep the number of people being displaced low. Some methods mentioned by Kennedy and Leonard are, “tax abatements, housing trust funds, job linkage efforts, linkage fee programs, rent control, and so on” (Kennedy & Leonard, 2001). These methods allow more individuals to cope with economic changes occurring and they increase the number of old residents able to remain in cities. The goal is to achieve “equitable development”, described by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as “an approach for meeting the needs of underserved communities… It is increasingly considered an effective place-based action for creating strong and livable communities” (United States Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.). In other words, it was an attempt to make things fairer to old residents in gentrifying cities and to mitigate the detriments in the gentrification process overall.

First, it would be necessary to strengthen the relationships of community members so that they can devise a plan together. Cooperation would be important between different groups and communities within a city. “Strategies can and should be supported, implemented and funded by regional, city, private sector, non-profit sector and philanthropic interests” (Kennedy & Leonard, 2001). All these different groups coming together would be important to a city because they can help directly influence the outcome of the gentrification process. Through the various studies Godsil analyzed in her paper, she claims, “Studies have found a link between the quality of the informal interactions with diverse peers and analytical problem-solving and complex thinking skills (Godsil, 2019). If there is unity, diversity, and problem solving, different groups sharing their ideas would be highly effective.

Second, it would be required that all groups taking part have a common goal and view in mind. All people would need to know exactly what the purpose is for the city and how it is planned to achieve that goal. According to Kennedy and Leonard, working towards a common goal is not only beneficial since it creates a sense of trust, but it also allows for securing of land and homes for people through the communication of public and private sector leaders (Kennedy & Leonard, 2001).

Finally, once there is a common goal, work needs to be done to implement the desirable changes. This means policies may need to adjust, home development plans must go into effect, negotiations between leaders should occur, and overall taxes must be used effectively. If the entire process of gentrification occurs in this way, there will be far less drawbacks to it. Through this entire process, the necessity of gentrification will be revealed since it may bring positive changes to neighborhoods, bringing far more benefits than drawbacks through a much-needed stronger economy, better health conditions, lower crime rates, improved education, and most importantly, a united community.


References

Blanco, R. (2012). Looking for the gulf motel. In R. Blanco (Author), Pitt Poetry Series: Looking for the Gulf Motel (pp. 1-3). Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. (Original work published 2012)

Burns, V. F., Lavoie, J. P., & Rose, D. (2011). Revisiting the role of neighbourhood change in social exclusion and inclusion of older people. Journal of aging research, 2012, https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/148287

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (n.d.). Terms & definitions: Crime type. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from Bureau of Justice Statistics website: https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tdtp&tid=3

Ellen, I. G., Horn, K. M., & Reed, D. (2017, March 1). Has falling crime invited gentrification? Retrieved from Social Science Research Network database. (Accession No. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2930242)

Fox, J. C. (2013). Urban Renewal. In K. L. Lerner, B. W. Lerner, & S. Benson (Eds.), Human Geography: People and the Environment (Vol. 2, pp. 653-656). Detroit, MI: Gale. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2062300256/SUIC?u=nysl_li_valleysc&sid=SUIC&xid=a418b775

Gibbons, J., Barton, M., & Brault, E. (2018). Evaluating gentrification’s relation to neighborhood and city health. PLoS ONE, 13(11), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207432

Godsil, R. D. (2019). Rigor and Relationships: The Positive Case for Integration in Schools and Neighborhoods. Cardozo Law Review, 40(3), 1287–1326. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=135181365&site=ehost-live

Institute for Policy & Social Research. (2018). Kansas statistical abstract 2017 (52nd ed.). Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1808/27662

Kennedy, M., & Leonard, P. (2001). Dealing with neighborhood change: A primer on gentrification and policy choices. Brookings Institution, 5. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/research/dealing-with-neighborhood-change-a-primer-on-gentrification-and-policy-choices/

Kirkland, E. (2008). What’s race got to do with it? Looking for the racial dimensions of gentrification. The Western Journal of Black Studies, 32(2), 18+. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A196534328/SUIC?u=nysl_li_valleysc&sid=SUIC&xid=0fa6f5b6

McDonald, S. (1986). Does Gentrification Affect Crime Rates? Crime and Justice, 8, 163-201. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1147427

Montgomery, M. R. (2008). The urban transformation of the developing world. Science, 319(5864), 761-764. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1153012

Perry, F. (2016, October 5). ‘We are building our way to hell’: Tales of gentrification around the world. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/oct/05/building-way-to-hell-readers-tales-gentrification-around-world

Sheppard, S. (2012). Why is gentrification a problem? [PDF]. Center for Creative Community Development. Retrieved from http://web.williams.edu/Economics/ArtsEcon/library/pdfs/WhyIsGentrificationAProbREFORM.pdf

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Equitable development and environmental justice. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from United States Environmental Protection Agency website: https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/equitable-development-and-environmental-justice

Zoom Is Not A Dating App

by Zarya Shaikh, March 31, 2021

I turn on my camera and answer questions in the chat during office hours and lectures. I welcome private messages (PMs) when someone misses a key point our professor made. After all, as a pre-med student, it is my job to have color-coded notes on everything. I sometimes joke and socialize in breakout rooms to get to know who I am working with. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for someone to perceive my well-intentioned, friendly but professional, actions as flirty or feisty. In Spring 2020, one professor compared me to his ex-girlfriend when I asked about the status of a pending grade. I laughed it off as a joke and rephrased my original question. 

On the last day of classes in the Fall 2020 semester, I was attending classes via Zoom while grocery shopping. A classmate I had not spoken with before PM’d me during our final lecture, wishing me luck on my finals. I wished him well, too. He sent another PM, but I lost wi-fi. I finished grocery shopping and re-joined the lecture once my internet connection returned. I continued the conversation: 

I had received a wink from three other individuals without any prompting by that point in the semester, and I was not sure what to make of it. It reminded me of my classmate *Peter who would PM me at the start of the semester. He would comment on the content we were currently reviewing in the ongoing lecture and then ask for my social media in the same conversation. After answering his lecture-based questions, I would politely try ending the conversation by noting I do not use social media, and it was time for me to focus on the lecture (see screenshot below). He persisted in the following three Zoom lectures, and I was exhausted. I caved and gave him my Snapchat username. I never added Peter back, and he stopped asking. 

I was stunned by how committed Peter was considering I had expressed I was not interested in different ways on several occasions. He could see from my video feed how uncomfortable I was whenever he messaged me. It felt like Peter was in my room with me. He would know I chose not to respond to his message the next time I sent a general chat during lecture. So, I responded out of obligation and did not know if I was overreacting. I was used to second-guessing myself and questioned why I did not simply turn off my camera. 

In person during Fall 2019, I had developed a habit equivalent to turning off my camera. My two male classmates, *Imran and *Rahul, heckled me from the back of our Frey lecture hall. “Zarya beti!” (daughter in Urdu). I could hear it from the front of the large classroom. My professor heard it. My classmates heard it. I would turn around and tell them to stop distracting me and others around me. They persisted, and I could not focus. We had several conversations in which they agreed to stop. They did not.

Imran had the audacity to not only mock me during class but also ask, “Can you ask your friend to go out with me?” at the end of every lecture. In one case early on, I asked my friend (who I sat with every lecture) if she wanted to go out with him. She declined. Imran looked at me as though I had told him he missed an exam. He had been referring not to my friend but to another female classmate *Asma I randomly sat next to once. Following our conversation, Imran figured out where *Asma sat in our lecture hall and insisted that I ask her to go out with him – even though I had never spoken with her. Imran made it his life’s mission to make Asma and her friends uncomfortable by frequently turning around in class to look at them. In the meantime, Imran and Rahul built the courage to start sitting next to me in class. I used to arrive 10 minutes early to Frey, so I could get the seat I wanted. I eventually developed a habit of coming in after the class started, so they couldn’t easily change seats to where I was sitting.

To make the situation more complex, Imran and Rahul were both in my workshop section. I asked my graduate teaching assistant to change my group since Imran was in mine, too. Little did I know that Imran and Rahul would both appear at my desk at random times of the workshop and ask to go out with my group member. I became uncomfortable to the point where midway through the semester, I started watching lectures from my dorm room and finishing workshop exercises in 15 minutes just so I could leave before they arrived. 

Zoom classes are simply another space where I have felt the need to hide. 

A 2015 study found that among 385 female college students, 90.4% experienced verbal harassment and 80.0% experienced nonverbal sexual harassment.1 Individuals who were nonverbally harassed were “12 times more likely to experience psychological distress.”1 It is alarming that my experience of nonverbal sexual harassment is not a unique one; we are looking at a common issue that does not stop at the collegiate level. These statistics are only one preview of the sexual harassment that “38% of women and 13% of men across the US” endure in the workplace.2 “About 72% of sexual harassment charges” are met with retaliation from employers.3 It is disheartening that I was hesitant to reach out to my professor or the Title IX office. My fear stemmed from the notion that there would be retaliation if I reported Imran, Rahul, or Peter as there was in the cases of those surveyed. I look forward to replacing that fear with a network of support on campus for those who experience sexual misconduct.

*Names have been changed to protect students’ identities. 


References

[1] Mamaru, A., Getachew, K., & Mohammed, Y. (2015, January). Prevalence of physical, verbal and nonverbal sexual harassments and their association with psychological distress among Jimma University female students: a cross-sectional study. Ethiopian journal of health sciences, 25(1), 29–38. https://doi.org/10.4314/ejhs.v25i1.5

[2] Chatterjee, R. (2018, February 22). A new survey finds 81 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587671849/a-new-survey-finds-eighty-percent-of-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment

[3] Frye, J. (2017, November 20). Not just the rich and famous. Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/news/2017/11/20/443139/not-just-rich-famous/

The Medicalization of Birth in the United States of America

by Pavithra Venkataraman, March 20, 2021

“The United States provides the world’s most expensive maternity care but has worse pregnancy outcomes than almost every other industrialized country”

(Feldhusen, 2000).

When analyzing the differences between how America approaches birth, and how other developed countries approach birth, there is one that stands out: medicalization. Medicalization is a process by which human problems come to be defined and treated as medical problems. It consists of acts such as using medical language to describe a problem, adopting a medical framework to understand a problem or using a medical intervention to treat it (“The Medicalization of Childbirth,” 2016). The transition from home to hospital has brought with it opportunities that have created an increasing number of negative outcomes. These can easily be attributed to the industrialization of childbirth into hospitals. Demystifying and advertising the much more beneficial and safe option of midwifery would greatly increase and make more comfortable pregnancy outcomes across our country.

A Brief History of Birth in the United States

The birthing process has changed dramatically through the centuries. To properly identify the time periods where change occurred, scholars often split this transition from home to hospital into three stages. The first stage, social childbirth, was extremely community oriented, “laboring and delivering with the assistance of female family, neighbors, and midwives” (Martucci, 2017). This stage lasted from the early 17th century to the mid 18th century. Birth was a female occurrence; men were not involved unless there was an emergency situation. During this stage, the only birthing style that was practiced was a ‘normal’ birth, defined as “a vaginal birth in which labor starts spontaneously [and] labor progresses without assistance or specific drugs and forceps [are] not used” (“The Medicalization of Childbirth,” 2016). In effect, there are no drugs that are used to induce, ease, or speed up the process; the woman’s body does the work and that is all. Midwives were the only resource that women had if they wanted assistance. 

This natural birthing process was interrupted by the invention and introduction of several medical apparatuses, especially the obstetrical forceps. Tong-like instruments, these were used to assist in delivery as opposed to either cesarean sections or other less-safe and more damaging devices. With this invention, university-educated doctors flooded the birthing process. During this transitional period, from the middle of the 18th century into the 19th century, there was an equal mix of hospital and home births, and therefore an equal mix of doctors and midwives being used. The rise of the forceps created a necessity for obstetrical education, to teach physicians the proper way to use them. 

In addition to the forceps, reports published in 1910 and 1912 stated that the practicing American obstetricians at the time did not have the proper training: “To improve obstetrics training, one report recommended hospitalization for all deliveries and the gradual abolition of midwifery. Rather than consult with midwives, the report argued, poor women should attend charity hospitals, which would serve as sites for training doctors” (Rooks, 2012). An important addition to the hospitalization process, the ‘twilight sleep,’ was created in 1914. Considered a sign of progress at the time, this process used a mix of several drugs and an amnesiac, scopolamine, to induce a long sleep that also took away any memories of giving birth. During this period of time, the natural child birthing process was criticized by scholars and doctors who wanted childbirth to be seen as a ‘destructive pathology’ in order to encourage medical intervention. Consequently, the medical focus of birth shifted from “responding to problems as they arose to preventing problems through routine use of interventions to control the course of labor” (Rooks, 2012). With this shift, instead of only using medical interventions in cases that had immediate and pressing problems, these interventions were used in every single case of pregnancy, whether or not there was an issue naturally.

This leads to the third stage of birth: medical authority. In the present day, around 99% of births happen in hospitals, with the process of pregnancy now beginning with doctors of gynecology. In this stage, the cesarean section rate is close to 30%, both elective and emergent, even though the ideal rate according to the World Health Organization is 15% or less (“The Medicalization of Birth”). Specifically, celebrities are electing to participate in a procedure called designer birth, according to the film The Business of Being Born (2008). This procedure involved a scheduled c-section delivery followed immediately by a procedure that involves the removal of excess fat and skin, better known as a tummy tuck. Other assisted delivery procedures include an episiotomy, “a surgical incision made in the perineum… to allow the baby’s head to pass through more easily; an amniotomy, “an artificial rupture of the amniotic membranes, which contains the fluid surrounding the baby… to induce or augment labor;” induction of labor through “Pitocin, a synthetic form of the drug oxytocin given intravenously;” and vacuum extraction, which uses a pump that pulls the baby ‘down the birth canal with the help of the instrument and with the help of the mother’s contraction” (“Pregnancy: Types of Delivery,” 2018). Each one of these procedures were created with the aim of helping the pregnant person and the baby and yet has large risk factors associated with the outcomes.

From Home to Hospital

In theory, it seems that it must be a good thing to have medical research and professionals improve and create new processes to help ease the birthing process. I argue that because of the following societal systems we have in place, medicalization no longer prioritizes the pregnant individual and child, instead favoring the hospitals and medical organizations that profit from them. It would be wrong to assume that all these procedures have improved birthing outcomes. In actuality, “a scholar who conducted an intensive study concluded that the 41 percent increase in infant mortality due to birth injuries between 1915 and 1929 was due to obstetrical interference in birth” (Rooks, 2012).  I believe there are two levels to the systems in place in the United States that have obstructed the improvement of birthing results. On the individual level, I believe that pregnant people and their bodies are no longer seen as such, even during individual interactions with doctors; rather, they are seen as commodities of flesh to be used and are treated that way. On a collective level, I believe the birthing process as a whole was seen as a business opportunity and therefore has been industrialized for the purpose of making the most profits. 

On its own, the birthing process began as an experience tailored to the needs of the pregnant person, based on the preferences of the family, and structured around the environment where the birth was happening. In the present day, the process in a hospital is unified, completely up to the discretion of doctors, and wholly dependent on what resources exist in that hospital. I compare this to the theory proposed by Hortense Spillers in Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book (1987), and expanded upon by Nirmala Erevelles in Disability as “Becoming”: Notes on the Political Economy of the Flesh (2011). Beginning from Spillers’ recognition of black bodies during the Middle Passage being treated as commodities of flesh, as opposed to bodies with purpose, Erevelles takes it one step further by conceptualizing ‘disabled’ bodies as similarly being viewed as ‘wounded’ flesh without considering the bodily aspects of mind and soul that also contribute to a body’s worth. It is easy to picture this occurring within the process of birthing: pregnant individuals are seen as vulnerable and weak, and at the very minimum, during the period when the birth is happening, they are only flesh that needs to be dealt with instead of bodies filled with emotions, preferences, and needs to be fulfilled outside of physical procedures. 

For example, a procedure known as ‘the husband stitch’ was brought to light first by Sheila Kitzinger in her 1994 book, The Year After Childbirth, and then through Carmen Maria Machado’s short story called “The Husband Stitch” (2014). This “refers to the procedure of suturing the vaginal entrance narrower than necessary to repair trauma post-birth, with the presumption that this will enhance the sexual pleasure of a penetrating penis” (Halton, 2018). The stitching happens after the occurrence of an episiotomy, which on its own has been increasingly advised as unnecessary and non-essential by many medical guidelines both in the US and the UK. Women who share their birth stories often report not being aware that an episiotomy had occurred until months after the birth when they were experiencing extreme pain and searched for the cause. They relay not being properly informed about the procedure or told how to help and deal with the healing process that is to come. As a newly public procedure, there are no studies that exist to explore how often, how many times, or how recently this stitch is and has been added. The process itself turns a woman into Spillers’ definition of flesh: women exist sexually for their husbands even though the pain of recovery is increased exponentially by both magnitude and length of time. These women exist as vehicles for reproduction and are placed at the complete mercy of their doctor with much less freedom to make their own choices especially while their legs are forcibly spread. 

When analyzing birth as a collective social institution, it is easy to see how industrialized the process has become. What was once a private experience is now a conveyor belt-style, in-and-out procedure where doctors and hospitals are praised and rewarded for their efficiency in terms of the number of births they can successfully complete in the least amount of time. I compare this to Lisa Lowe’s claim in her book titled The Intimacies of Four Continents. Lowe’s study of the effects of colonialism on the colonized lead her to claim that modern liberalism affirms the people in power “while subordinating [and erasing the history of] the variously colonized and dispossessed peoples whose material labor and resources were the conditions of possibility for that liberty” (Lowe, 2015, p. 6). Not only did settler colonialism remove and disadvantage Natives from their land, but the history books and archives ‘discourage’ these connections. Similarly, medical professionals capitalized on the birthing field, simultaneously discrediting midwives as untrained and incompetent and denying that this history of midwifery ever existed.

Not only does this industrialization disadvantage midwifery, but it equally, if not more so, disadvantages pregnant individuals. For example, the labor process has been streamlined to the point where the baby and pregnant person’s lives are put at danger over and over. Labor for a pregnant individual can naturally last anywhere from a single hour to 18-20 hours (“Pitocin,” n.d.). However, to hospital institutions, the more women they can care for in the least time possible, the more money they can make. Therefore, methods that speed up labor, no matter the cost or non-necessity, are introduced into the process: “Other wealthy, industrialized countries have national health services, in which elements of care that aren’t needed and don’t bring improved health tend to be dropped because of the cost. In the U.S. health-care industry, the more care that is provided, frequently more money is made by the doctors and the hospitals, so there is less incentive to not use these methods” (Rooks, 2012). One such method is the administration of the drug Pitocin, which mimics the natural hormone oxytocin by reducing the time between contractions, which in turn speeds up labor. This sounds like it would be favorable, but in reality, “Pitocin is the drug most commonly associated with preventable adverse events during childbirth” (“Pitocin,” n.d.). The most common negative outcome seen with Pitocin is hyperstimulation. In labor, contractions slow blood and oxygen flow in and out of the placenta to the baby, and the stages in between contractions allows the placenta to rest. When Pitocin is administered, the time between contractions is shortened which does not allow enough blood and oxygen to reach the placenta which creates a large risk, known as hyperstimulation, for the baby (“Pitocin,” n.d.). A common medicalized cycle of birth is as follows: (1) Pitocin is administered to speed up the labor, which creates pain and tension in the pregnant individual, which then leads to (2) heavy pain medication administered such as an epidural, which numbs the nervous system and therefore slows contractions and the time in between. 1 and 2 are repeated a couple of times, until the baby is in such distress that there is no option but to move to a c-section, which can be stressful and traumatic for both the baby and the pregnant person (“Pitocin,” n.d.). 

Not only are pregnant people forgotten during a process in which they should be the focus, there is a disproportionate negative effect towards pregnant individuals of minority, whether that be by race, sexuality, trans-status, disability, and/or socioeconomic status, to name a few:

“Black women are 4 times more likely than white women to die from complications of pregnancy. In fact, black women have a higher risk than white women for dying from every pregnancy-related cause, including hemorrhag, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and pulmonary embolism… [B]lack infants… die at twice the rate of white infants… Other ethnic minorities also have higher infant mortality rates.”

(Anachebe & Sutton, 2003)

Women with pre-existing health conditions unrelated to pregnancy such as asthma, diabetes, depression, or substance use issues are already at a higher risk of negative outcomes. While there are few studies that focus on outcomes of trans individuals who have given birth, a simple search yields testimony after testimony of these individuals who have faced discrimination and intrusive questioning that fall outside of the realm of birthing, as well as the sense that the care being provided is not as thorough. Socioeconomic status and the outcomes that occur can be explained by locational, geographical, and monetary access to hospitals and quality of care. When the only known option is a hospital birth, the nearest hospital is miles and miles away, and insurance does not cover the cost of giving birth in a well-ranked hospital, the outcome will generally not be as positive. 

Conclusion

I believe that these numerous negative outcomes and societal manifestations are a result of the medicalization process. To counteract these issues, we should return to the midwife-assisted, non-hospital-dependent birthing process that the majority of developed countries around the world still use. This transition would be a return to an age where birthing worked while still keeping the option of modern medicine in the extreme cases where the body is not functioning in the normal way. Midwife-assisted births would reduce the number of drugs administered, the number of c-sections performed, and cases of the ‘husband stitch.’ The focus would return to the individual giving birth, restoring continuity of care, tailor-made birthing timelines, and the ability and authority of the family to make their own health care decisions. Midwifery allows the pregnant people to choose which individual they would most like to work with during the pregnancy process based on comfort, particular skill set, and even cost associated. Although this system is not perfect, it greatly reduces risks attached and increases the likelihood that outcomes will be negative, allowing the birthing process to function on its own the way it is supposed to.  

It is clear that there is an issue with our birthing system when we compare our outcomes to those of other developed countries. My argument lies in the way in which we, as a country, are choosing to fix it. Instead of compounding the issue by introducing medical solutions to fix medically-induced problems, I propose that we relinquish our need to keep the birthing process entrenched in the institution of hospitals. I believe a return to the way that the birthing process used to work will return us to outcomes that are much less negative and much less divisive along minority lines. Although medicine is important, its purpose, in simple terms, is to treat diseases that are not, for lack of a better word, ‘normal’ to a human body. The inclusion of pregnancy and birth, extremely ‘normal’ and necessary human bodily functions, into this category of medicine is not only unnecessary, but in practice detrimental to both pregnant individuals and the babies. I believe that midwifery is the right way to progress, and the best way to go about improving the birthing process in America.


References

Anachebe, N.F., & Sutton, M.Y. (2003). Racial disparities in reproductive health outcomes. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 188(4), S37–S42. https://doi.org/10.1067/mob.2003.245

Erevelles, N. (2011). Disability and difference in global contexts: Enabling a transformative body politic. Palgrave Macmillan US.

Feldhusen, A.E. (2000). The history of midwifery and childbirth in America: A time line. Midwifery Today. https://midwiferytoday.com/web-article/history-midwifery-childbirth-america-time-line/

Halton, M. (2018, April 26). The ‘husband stitch’ leaves women in pain and without answers. Vice. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pax95m/the-husband-stitch-real-stories-episiotomy

Lowe, L. (2015). The intimacies of four continents. Duke University Press.

Martucci, J. (2017). Childbirth and breastfeeding in 20th-century America. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History, https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.428 

The medicalization of childbirth. (2016, December 10). In UBC Wikipedia. https://wiki.ubc.ca/The_Medicalization_of_Childbirth

Pitocin (Oxytocin) induction risks and side effects. (n.d.). American Baby & Child Law Centers. Retrieved March 7, 2021, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/practice-areas/prenatal-birth-injuries/labor-and-delivery-medication-errors/pitocin-and-oxytocin/

Pregnancy: Types of delivery. (2018, January 1). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved March 7, 2021, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9675-pregnancy-types-of-delivery

Rooks, J.P. (2012, May 30). The history of midwifery. Our Bodies Ourselves. https://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/book-excerpts/health-article/history-of-midwifery/

Spillers, H.J. (1987). Mama’s baby, Papa’s maybe: An American grammar book. Diacritics, 17(2), 65–81. https://doi.org/10.2307/464747

Colleges Pressure Students Away from the Humanities

by Cassandra Skolnick, March 7, 2021

The emphasis on STEM-related majors at colleges and universities has been aggressively fueled by the growing influence of educational systems and political propaganda (Wright). Job seeking websites—including Monster.com—stated that when it came to the highest-paid industries, “…No surprise, STEM majors—science, technology, engineering, and math—came out on top” (Monster.com). Based on salary figures from 2020, STEM-related careers earned on average 26.45% more than humanities-related careers (Monster.com). It makes sense that young people would be persuaded towards pursuing STEM related careers. But are there external factors pressuring college students away from the humanities?

In June 2020, the Australian government announced an economic reform package that was directed to lower the course fees associated for “job-relevant” courses, while at the same time, doubling the cost of programs in the humanities (Duffy). This raise puts the cost of humanities programs at the same level as medical schools; med school programs saw a 46 percent decrease, while humanities programs saw a 113 percent increase (Duffy). The Australian government stated that this economic reform package is aimed at increasing the employment rate for graduates, with employment growth in STEM-related fields expected to be significantly higher post-pandemic (Sears and Clark).

Australia is not the only country influencing the career track of college students. George Washington University’s (GW) president, Dr. Thomas LeBlanc, announced in 2019 that he planned to increase enrollment in STEM-related majors from 19 to 30 percent (Rich and Schwartz). As the undergraduate population shifts to STEM related programs, the number of STEM programs and courses will also have to increase in order to accommodate the increasing number of students. Katrin Schultheiss, chair of GW’s history department, worries that “…the changes will necessitate reductions in funding for non-STEM departments and result in a ‘radical shifting of resources away from non-STEM fields’” (Rich and Schwartz).

This push for STEM programs and graduates comes from a fear of losing the race for high-tech supremacy to China (Herman). Where does this fear originate from? In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said, “…Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs” (Archives.com). We can theorize that this fear derives from the American perception of the “Chinese Threat,” a fear that China will conduct “…brazen cyber intrusions” (FBI.gov) or continue to saturate our economy with global exports (Mack). Fear of the “Chinese Threat” did result in a significant increase in the number of STEM degrees; however, according to a 2016 Census Report, only 74 percent of those college graduates pursued STEM-related careers following graduation (Mand Labs).

Now, elementary schools are introducing STEM curriculums, including hands-on learning to promote STEM skills, hiring and retaining well-trained experts as teachers for STEM curriculums, and working to eliminate the gender pay disparity (Mand Labs); hoping to further increase enrollment in higher education STEM degree programs to meet the growing demand of STEM related careers. Whether or not these new strategies will be effective remains to be seen. What does the continued push for STEM degree programs mean for the humanities, in a world where humanities are needed more than ever? Increasing costs of attending humanities programs, coupled with budget cuts following the 2008 financial crisis, “…have resulted in some schools eliminating courses and degrees in subjects, such as foreign languages, art, and history” (Mullin). Deborah Fitzgerald, a professor of the history of technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says state schools are the first to eliminate humanities curricula: “…Their boards just don’t think they are important anymore” (Mullin).

References

“The China Threat.” FBI.gov, FBI.gov, 10 July 2020, http://www.fbi.gov/investigate/counterintelligence/the-china-threat.

 “Current State of STEM Education in the US: What Needs to Be Done?” Mand Labs, Mand Labs, 6 May 2020, http://www.mandlabs.com/current-state-of-stem-education-in-us-what-needs-to-be-done/.

Duffy, Conor. “Humanities Degrees to Double in Cost as Government Funnels Students into ‘Job-Relevant’ Uni Courses.” ABC News, ABC News, 19 June 2020, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-19/university-fees-tertiary-education-overhaul-course-costs/12367742.

Herman, Arthur. “America’s High-Tech STEM Crisis.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 10 Sept. 2018, http://www.forbes.com/sites/arthurherman/2018/09/10/americas-high-tech-stem-crisis/?sh=32a6c48bf0a2.

Lawler, Moira. “College Majors with the Highest Starting Salaries.” Monster Career Advice, Monster.com, http://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/best-paid-jobs-by-major.

Mack, Graeme. “Perspective | Why Americans Shouldn’t Fear China’s Growing Economy.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 24 Apr. 2019, http://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/04/24/why-americans-shouldnt-fear-chinas-growing-economy/.

Mullin, Rick. “Behind the Scenes at the STEM-Humanities Culture War.” C&EN, C&EN, 16 July 2019, http://cen.acs.org/education/undergraduate-education/Behind-the-scenes-STEM-humanities-culture-war/97/i29.

Rich, Alec, and Ethan Schwartz. “Push to Grow STEM Majors May Mean Cuts Elsewhere, Faculty Say.” The GW Hatchet, The GW Hatchet, 30 Sept. 2019, http://www.gwhatchet.com/2019/09/30/push-to-increase-stem-majors-could-prompt-cuts-in-non-stem-departments-faculty-say/.

Sears, Alan, and Penney Clark. “Stop Telling Students to Study STEM Instead of Humanities for the Post-Coronavirus World.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 19 Jan. 2021, http://theconversation.com/stop-telling-students-to-study-stem-instead-of-humanities-for-the-post-coronavirus-world-145813.

“State of the Union Photo Gallery.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/realitycheck/node/196546.

Wright, Joshua. “Stem Majors on the Rise as Humanities Decline Across the Country.” Emsi, Emsi, 20 Mar. 2016, http://www.economicmodeling.com/2016/03/20/stem-programs-humanities-in-each-state/.

Mean Girls and Boys That Don’t Cry

by Ayesha Azeem, February 27, 2021

Whether we want to believe it or not, stereotypes control our conscious and subconscious thoughts, influencing our actions and behaviors towards society. As Leslie Scrivener’s article “The Cult of the Mean Girl” highlights, our perceived ideologies about how women behave toward each other influence our behavior in practice. Because we believe women are supposed to indulge in gossip and jealousy due to social norms, we as a society expect and even participate in this behavior. Ideologies and perceptions of men’s behavior also exist; while society perceives women as emotional and judgmental, we also expect men to remain professional, dominant, and violent. These thoughts and expectations not only affect how we behave towards others but also how we recognize ourselves. 

As soon as we are born, we gain awareness about the accepted and rejected behaviors in our society. One of these expected roles of a woman include “being nasty to each other … one of the rigidly enforced North American standards of what constitutes femininity” (Scrivener 1). Society expects women to treat each other as antagonistic competition, making them their own worst enemies. Little girls are not directly taught about these attitudes from their mothers, yet women around the world understand and engage in hostility towards each other. Girls watch their mothers gossip about neighbors and coworkers and administer this pettiness within themselves as well.

Society expects young women to rely entirely on their husbands and center their appearance, behavior, and mindset around what the men in their life anticipate and desire. As a result, women may prioritize their romantic relationships over friendships with other females since “women receive messages that their primary relationship should be with men, and that they have to compete for those relationships” (Scrivener 3). This often induces unwarranted aggression and possessiveness as part of the rivalry against female peers and thus destroys any connection they once felt. With the heavy emphasis on supporting the patriarchy, the media influences women to yearn for successful romantic relationships as their ultimate goal in life, belittling friendships and enhancing incivility among women. Because of this, when women suffer domestic violence and other relationship-related stress, they find themselves alone with no one to confide in. The stereotypes women comply with cause failures in their connection with peers and foster unnecessary cruelty. However, stereotypes and social norms control not only women, but also men.

We expect men to act dominant, controlling, and violent, and we criticize them when they do not make these traits apparent. From minor reprimanding like “real men don’t cry,” to extreme, life-changing situations such as forced enlistment into the military for men in South Korea, the way in which our society regards and expects men to behave alters the way they recognize and think of themselves. Generally, we expect men to remain nonchalant and unaffected, whereas we portray women as overly emotional. When men find themselves unable to effectively communicate their feelings because they learn at a young age that their tears are forbidden, they tend to internalize their feelings of depression, pain, and hatred, which may transition into radical acts of violence. Studies find that nearly 1 in 4 women experience physical abuse issued by an intimate partner, generally a male (National Domestic Violence Hotline). However, men are also victimized by abuse and rape. 15% of domestic violence victims are males who may not have the support they need to speak up about their struggles for fear of being labeled as an instigator or facing disbelief — or even taunts — rather than the help they desperately need (National Domestic Violence Hotline). Other men may resort to mass violence instead, attempting to get revenge on society for trying to isolate men from their feelings. The recent mass shootings witnessed in the United States have been overwhelmingly committed by male gunmen, from El Paso to Parkland, Florida. The terror and fear only increase as time goes on (Reese). 

Rather than allowing young boys to communicate their feelings and feel heard, society ignores their violence as “boys will be boys” until the resentment transitions into horror.  Additionally, with the emphasis on the patriarchy and the supposed role of a man, young boys are forced to grow up earlier than they are meant to. Society expects every young man to graduate college with a degree, find a career immediately, buy a house and find a suitable woman to make his wife before he grows old. The pressure put on young men without providing an effective and safe outlet causes harm both for themselves and the people surrounding them. 

With this generation’s eagerness to raise awareness about the immoralities around the world, we would benefit from diminishing the unnecessary stereotypes held about gender and how one’s sex and gender should affect the way they convey their emotions. Parents should nurture their children in a way which young boys do not feel obligated to conceal their emotions and vulnerability, and young girls should feel encouraged to create enduring friendships with other females rather than focusing on finding an intimate partner. After all, we have bigger things to worry about than whether our behavior matches that which society expects of us. 


References

  1. Scrivener, Leslie. “The Cult of the Mean Girl.” Toronto Star, 5 Mar. 2006.
  2. “Statistics.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline, https://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/.
  3. Reese, Phillip. “When Masculinity Turns ‘Toxic’: A Gender Profile of Mass Shootings.” Los Angeles Times, 7 Oct. 2019, http://www.latimes.com/science/story/2019-10-07/mass-shootings-toxic-masculinity.