Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Special Olympics Bocce Ball Volunteering

It was a cool Saturday morning, with the sun hanging low in the sky. I arrived at Stevenson at around 7:58 A.M, wearing a zip up hoodie over a t-shirt. Walking over to the end of the field, I saw a small crowd of people standing near the fence. I joined them, and made sure to sign in so that there was evidence that I was volunteering at the Special Olympics bocce ball tournament. Barely 30 minutes had passed by and the morning was already starting to get hotter. I noticed some peers from my class were also there. I joined them, and the four of us became a team. After standing around and waiting in awkward silence, the coordinator spoke and t-shirts were passed out. I picked a shirt off the table and began heading towards the bathrooms to change. I swung open the door to the men’s bathroom, and in full view were a bunch of shirtless guys with the same idea. Lo and behold, the only stall in the entire bathroom was occupied. Some of the guys looked at me. I promptly turned back around and walked the other way. Everyone else was already wearing their volunteer shirts. After a few minutes had passed, I tried again-- upon entering the bathroom once more, there weren’t any shirtless guys crowding the small space but the stall was still occupied. I decided to stand by it and wait. More awkwardness ensued-- one of the people using the urinals was mooning everyone, there was a pungent smell in the air, and after the person in the stall was finally done, another person sprinted in with lightning speed, cut in front of me, and slammed the door shut. Not wanting to wait any longer, I decided to just leave the bathroom and figure something else out. In the end, I just decided to put the shirt over what I was already wearing. Soon thereafter, my team and I walked over to a spot in the middle of the field and began setting up our court.

(it looks sort of like this, but with longer grass and white rope).

After about 15 minutes, my group and I were able to set up the court and we went over the rules. Afterwards we were assigned our first athletes. We walked them to our court from the tents, and started the game. The game started with a coin toss-- whoever won got to go first. My team and I had to make sure that all of the rules were being followed, and we used a small red flag to indicate the position of the ball if it was hard to see for the athletes. At the end of each round we counted up the points, and sometimes we had to use a measuring tape if we were unsure as to whether one of the athletes’ balls counted in or not. After points were added up, we switched sides and started again. This process kept going until one of the players had 12 points, or if we ran out of time (30 minutes was the max). Surprisingly, not a single game that day went to 30 minutes. During the game, we cheered the athletes on and sometimes applauded whenever the athletes threw a really good toss. Another thing-- most of them were insanely good at bocce ball. So I must’ve said, “Nice!” and “That was a great toss!” and “Sweet!” about hundreds of times that day. One athlete that I remember well was Martha-- she had brought her boyfriend with her and his support was so sweet. She ended up in the finale I think. Something else that I remember distinctly-- every time we walked a new athlete(s) to our court, I would always strike up a conversation with them: “Nice to meet you guys! What are your names?” and “How long have you been playing bocce ball for?” and “Do you play any other sports?”
At around 10-11 AM, Subway sandwiches were passed out and we couldn’t just stop what we were doing, so we had to coordinate the games while trying to eat-- a feat that proved slightly difficult. Rounds ended after a couple of minutes, and we had to gather up the balls afterwards so I had to hold onto two to four 2-pound balls while still holding my sandwich and carry the balls across the court.

Later on in the day, we decided to alternate taking mini-breaks since we were getting pretty exhausted. On my break, I made the mistake of lying face-up on the grass, with the sun directly overhead, slowly scorching my skin, unbeknownst to me at the time. I had chosen to not wear any sunscreen that day. This was a mistake that I would regret several hours later. After my break, I joined back in and continued coordinating the games.
Sometime during the day, I remember dropping one of the bocce balls on my finger-- a rather painful experience. Though they are only 2 pounds, these balls are capable of quite some damage. The singles games turned into doubles, and now teams were competing against each other. Many times teams weren’t sure when they were supposed to go, so throughout the day we had to tell them (and the individual athletes) some of the rules regularly. Though I was happy to help them and explain some of the rules to them, it became a bit wearying saying the same things over and over again. By the time all the competitions were done and our court was packed up at around 2:40-3:30, I was glad that everything was done. The athletes’ months (and/or years) of practice had paid off terrifically, they received their awards, had a good time, and it was time to go home.
I came home at around 4:00, and one of the first things my mom said upon seeing me was how red my face was. I headed for the mirror and saw that my face had indeed become a glowing tomato. A bruise didn’t end up forming on my finger, but my face did sting for the next few days. Overall, this was a great experience that I don’t regret. Despite what doubts society may have about the abilities of people with disabilities, individuals like those in the Special Olympics help quash these types of misconceptions and stereotypes.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Nature & Nurture, Agents of Socialization, and Gender

Do you ever look around and wonder, “How did America become what it is today?” I think about this often. How could there be so many narrow-minded, rancorous, willfully ignorant, bigoted, malicious, supremacist, acrimonious conservatives who hold such animosity and loathing towards those who are unlike themselves? How could someone who fulfills most, if not all of these labels, become the leader of a “modern” nation? Part of the answer lies within agents of socialization-- groups that we are a part of that shape us significantly throughout our lives. These include family, school, peers, and media we’re perpetually bombarded with. Agents of socialization play a strong role in the nurture process, that is, the extent to which our environment shapes us. Nature on the other hand, is how our biology shapes us. This includes predispositions to certain ailments, or our physical characteristics (such as the probability you could get cancer, the color of your hair, etc.).

We’re all born with an awareness of our emotions and with the capability to learn. That is, we’re born with an aptitude to connect with others humans. What makes us different from most other species is that our cerebral cortex allows for conscious thinking, making us aware of our thoughts and choices. In other words, what makes us human is the fact that we are nurtured-- and as a result, we are aware of our emotions. You wouldn’t be the person you are today without other people-- humans are intrinsically social creatures. Take for example the reading, “What is Human Nature?”-- in it, the author explains how “If an individual lacks language, they live in an isolated world, a world of internal silence, without shared ideas without connection to others.” They used some examples of “feral children,” those who were abandoned or lost by their parents at an early age and raised by animals. When they were discovered, they had animalistic behaviors, were unable to speak, and had very low intelligence. Even in the cases of children who grew up in orphanages--”The babies were kept in standard hospital cribs [...] that effectively limited visual stimulation. No toys or other objects were hung in the infants’ line of vision. Human interactions were limited to busy nurses [...].” Those children ended up having a significantly lower intelligence because they were raised with limited social interaction.

To reiterate, nurture plays a crucial role in our lives with regards to agents of socialization-- but what are these agents? As stated earlier, they can include family, school, peers, the media, and any group that you are a part of that influences you. The first group to have a major impact on us is our family--”They lay down our basic sense of self, establishing our initial motivations, values, and beliefs. They give us ideas about who we are and what we deserve out of life,” according to the article we read on Agents of Socialization. Because of this, I picked up several manifest and latent lessons from my parents at a young age. Manifest lessons, or things they purposefully nurtured into me, included how to communicate with others, how to eat with a fork and knife, morals, why not to cut up money ($17 to be exact), etc. Some latent lessons, or things they unintentionally nurtured into me, included my self-worth, a fixed mindset, and how I was supposed to behave (gentle, docile, nice, etc.), which happens to be included in the whopping can of gender roles that we latently learn from other vehicles of socialization. In school, not only are we unintentionally taught to be nationalistic (reciting a daily pledge about how fantastic our country is) while manifestly being taught mathematics and whatnot, but we also involuntary pick up on inane rules as to how we're supposed to behave based on the gender we’re assigned at birth.
For example, teachers seeing two boys “rough-housing” and saying, “boys will be boys,”
or creating austere dress codes that primarily target young girls and teach them that their bodies are inherently wrong, and are something that they need to cover up. Boys on the other hand, can practically go shirtless without teachers giving it much thought.

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Perhaps the biggest agent of socialization is the media-- TV, movies, advertisements, etc. They latently tell us what a “normal” person should be like-- how they're supposed to look (especially young girls and women), what they're supposed to eat, how much sex they’re supposed to have, what kind of people are considered “normal” (straight, white, cisgender people), what they’re supposed to buy, etc. The media hypersexualizes women and promotes toxic masculinity, further re-enforcing archaic gender roles.19f13f9ee3b5dccd51b350ad23ffc2f9.jpg                tumblr_lxy89r1XBK1qzdrqro3_1280.jpgfc9f032c301858e975285faaeb489de8.jpg                          930d83da557b02a2357965d3f693ad88.jpg
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By doing this, not only does the media bring people up with narrow-minded attitudes, but it makes people who don’t fit into the media’s definition of “normal” feel inferior and unwanted. Representation of minority groups is essential and desperately needed, but unfortunately we don’t see it enough. If you don’t see anyone like you in TV or in films, you start to think that maybe your story doesn’t deserve to be told or doesn’t need to be told. The media can act as both a mirror and a sliding glass door; they can reflect our stories and show us others like us, and they can allow us to open a door and step into a new world where we learn the stories of other people. If you only see straight, white, cisgender, able-bodied people in the media, whether you like it or not, that unintentionally becomes your definition of “normal.” Take for example the current president of the United States; he primarily gets his information from a notoriously conservative news network, thereby limiting his information and perspective on the world by viewing it through a narrow-minded lens.

Media had the power to skew our ideas of other people in a negative way, but it can also uplift those who are part of a minority group.

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Agents of socialization play a strong role in the nurture process. Sometimes they nurture you purposefully, and oftentimes they nurture you unintentionally.





Thursday, April 6, 2017

Macro/Microsociology, Groups & Identity, Stereotypes & Generalizations, and Ingroups & Outgroups

In Unit 2, we learned about sociological concepts known as macrosociology and microsociology. Macrosociology is essentially, "Why do we choose what we choose?" A macrosociologist studies sociology in the grand scheme of things-- they analyze social systems and populations on a large scale. Or, why you make certain decisions in life in terms of where you live. Microsociology, on the other hand, is the study of sociology regarding individuals and how they interact with each other--small, everyday, face to face social interactions.

These concepts can be observed in the Abandon Ship activity. The reason why we kicked off certain individuals off our "boat" was largely in part due to macrosociology. As Americans, we value usefulness, health, and youth. As a result, one of the first few people we kicked off were the older ones who had already “lived out” their lives. We ended up keeping the more educated people because we believe that the “smart” people will contribute most to society and bring about innovation and progress for the human race. We also kept people with experience in sailing or medicine, since they’ll be most "useful" in helping us survive. Americans view usefulness in terms of a person's occupation--if they're a doctor they can heal the sick, if they're a sailor or navigator they can help navigate the boat to safety, etc.

With microsociology, our face to face interactions within the boat also played a role in who we threw overboard. One person decided that the best way to vote people off was by raising our hands. Everyone agreed, and so rather than just shouting over each other about who gets thrown off we just raised our hands.

An example of macro/micro sociology in my life is the fact that I’ve decided to take A.P. physics instead of college prep physics. As a student in an upper-middle class, suburban high school, I felt pressured into taking a “challenging” class like everyone else because generally, students in this high school want to appear intelligent and driven. In addition to wanting to challenge myself (both on the account that I was subconsciously pressured into doing so due to microsociology in our school and because I genuinely wanted something above college prep physics), I also immensely enjoy learning about science so that was even more of an incentive to taking an A.P science class. I mean if you like a certain subject, might as well taking the most challenging version of it right? That is the way most students think in our high school “bubble.”

When it comes to groups and identity, I can definitively say that they impart a heavy influence on me. A group is when two or more people identify with each other, or when they regularly and consciously interact with one another. The social structure of a group is the typical patterns one sees in groups.

Some of the groups in my life include my friends, school clubs (GSA, film club, physics club, etc.), teachers, family, and online communities. Depending on where I’m at during the day, I can be in multiple groups at a time. During the school day when I’m with teachers and friends I’m free to be myself, but when I’m with my parents I have to remember to not get upset (or nauseous) when someone calls me by my birth name or uses “she/her” pronouns.

All of the groups that I’m a part of have influenced me to have become a more open-minded and empathetic person, plus a crafty and ace liar--I could literally write a series of novels recounting tales of my double life. Ever since I started going by Danny at the beginning of junior year my life has just been a wild, hellish ride. This is also an example of role strain--at times it can be hard to balance my role in certain groups, and I have to be careful in letting too much information from my friend group or from any other group to leak into my family group. My role as an “offspring” is much different from my role as a “friend.” As a child of Russian Jewish parents, I can’t wear or do certain things because it’s not “right” whereas as a friend, I can talk about truly anything and deliver terrible puns (“Let’s be transparent guys.” Ba-dum, tss).

An example that we looked at in class was the show Freaks and Geeks--all of the characters were apart of multiple, distinct groups. One of the characters, Lindsay, quits the math team (the “geeks”) and starts hanging out with the “freaks” instead--those who hang behind the bleachers, smoke, cut class, etc. She wants to be perceived as “cool” by the freaks, by doing things like wearing a leather jacket. The negative influence the freaks impart on her (dysfunction) is part of functional theory--which is one of the three main sociological perspectives.

And with being in different groups, there comes categories, generalizations, and stereotypes. Generalizations allow us to “[...] intelligently act in a wide variety of situations [...]. If we are open-minded and reflective, we can even evaluate how good or how poor our generalizations are, and we can alter what we know as we move from situation to situation.” However, if our generalizations aren’t accurate, it can sometimes be difficult to recognize and change them--“Too often our generalizations actually stand in the way of our understanding, especially when we generalize about human beings” (Charon, “Should We Generalize about People?”). Meaning, If we do not generalize accurately then we run the risk of stereotyping.

For example, many people categorize feminists as “feminazis,” or radical feminists who hate men. They also stereotype them as aggressive, attention-seeking lesbians who don't shave, burn their bras, don’t want to get married, are all women, practice witchcraft, are “too sensitive” or “too politically correct,” etc. As a feminist myself (and as a person who frequents feminism club), I know that all of these stereotypes and misconceptions are, if not infuriating, completely ill-founded. Perhaps the biggest misconception about feminism as a whole is that it is unnecessary because women are “already equal.” Feminism is necessary (for a myriad of reasons, which would take too long for me to get into), and indisputably anyone can be a feminist. Here are some insanely useful and informative websites explaining some important things regarding feminism!

Finally, there are ingroups and outgroups. Ingroups and outgroups refer to groups that we are either a member of or not a member of. It’s much easier to feel connected to the groups that we are a part of, and feel less attached or more judgmental towards our outgroups. For example, there’s the LGBTQ+ community--or even more specific, the trans community. For those in the queer community that aren’t transgender, the trans community is their outgroup. They can’t really sympathize with the experiences and challenges trans people face (and even less so those that aren't in the LGBTQ+ community) Whereas if the trans community is your ingroup, you know pretty well what types of challenges other trans people experience: passing (via binding, change of clothing, hairstyle, voice training, etc.), misgendering, gender dysphoria/euphoria, internalized transphobia, surgery costs, depression, hormone therapy, discrimination, getting disowned, etc. And so you’re more connected with those in your ingroup since you share similar aspects of your life / experiences / interests / hobbies with them.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Sociological Theories: Imagination, Mindfulness, and the Construction of Reality

Because we are growing up in an era where technology is exponentially increasing and improving, we are all impacted by the proliferation of technology. And this includes technology in medicine, in engineering, in particle accelerators, in space crafts, in automobiles, in solar energy, and in our small cellular devices. Just like everyone else living in this modern era, I too am impacted by all of this rapid growth of technology. Living in a century where I can have access to all of the information I want or need at just the touch of my fingertips may seem ordinary at first--since I've grown up with having this capability and it’s been normalized by the modern society--but in the grand scheme of things this is all actually extraordinary.
I wouldn't be the person I am today without technology. I wouldn't have been able to pursue any science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) related courses at school, and I wouldn't have been able to do any of that in the sometime future if I had grown up in a different era. I am more socially aware of issues affecting people, I'm better able to get in touch with friends, and I have passions in HTML/CSS, video editing, and computer programming--none of which would have been possible without growing up with technology in the U.S. in the 21st century. The time and place that I grew up in--21st century America-- affected my biography--my interest and deep involvement with technology-- my sociological imagination.
And with the use of technology, I'm able to learn more about others and the current state of the world. In fact, just this weekend I was able to use the texting capabilities of my phone to find out the details of the Women's March on Chicago that happened on January 21, 2017--the day following Trump's inauguration into office. The purpose of the march, according to their website, is to "Make ourselves seen and our voices heard to the new administration [...]. We will help to 'send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.'"
Though I was just a single face in a massive crowd of other marchers, holding up a sign that said, "Respect Existence Or Expect Resistance," my small contribution did make a difference. With many other individual voices like my own, over 250,000 people showed up to the march to be seen and heard (more than the amount of people at Trump’s inauguration). While in the crowd, I thought about all of the events that have occurred for this march to have happened--the 2016 election, the (deeply flawed) electoral college, and the inauguration of someone whose approval ratings are the lowest in history (32%). All of these events have shaped and influenced us to become marchers. They have united us together as a group of fighters--and thinking about all of this in that magical moment of time was me being sociologically mindful. I was in tune to both the way in which the present moment was influenced by society and I was also aware of how we are all players in shaping the present moment by banding together to send a bold message to the world.
The day following the Women’s March, I was planning on going to a school event known as World’s Fair. However, my father refused to drive me simply because I was wearing a hat. He said it looks stupid and I should look more “feminine.”
I argued, “Why are you so afraid of non-conventionality?”
And he boomed, “It’s wrong, you have to look like a girl.”
And so the argument ensued for several minutes before I finally got my brother to drive me instead.
My parents grew up in a Russian town in the 1970s-1990s while the USSR was still alive and well, so what they believe people should act and look like is vastly different from what I believe people should be able to do. Growing up in that time era and in that place has caused them to develop certain ideas akin to 19th-century beliefs on what “men” and “women” should or shouldn’t be able to do.
The way they’ve experienced reality, they believe that it’s revolting and immoral to look in any way different from what you were assigned at birth. They grew up in a society that taught them that gender is something ingrained: you “naturally” like being rough and playing outside or you “naturally” are good at doing domestic work and are “naturally” quieter and more “proper” or you are “naturally” a louder and more “macho” person. They have never heard of the concept of gender roles, and wouldn’t ever believe anyone who’d told them their perception of gender is just a social construct. They try to stay away from deviating from the norm, try to fit in and be as “normal” as possible. They constantly pester me about how I’m doing something “wrong” because it’s not “normal,” and try their best to get me to behave according to their definition of what a “normal”girl is.
The social construction of their reality in terms of how they perceive gender has been warped and molded and dried into a giant boulder of cisnormativity and traditionality that would be near impossible to crack, given their age and the ideas that they’ve always grown up with. As a result of their rigid narrow-mindedness, they’re hypersensitive to doing anything that might be perceived as outside of the “norm.” The way they experience their life in their “gender” and their ideas on “gender” has been created by the society they grew up in--an example of the social construction of their reality.