New Directions in Gender Research

My final research area reflects a direction in which my work is increasingly pushing. Building on the insights of gender scholars such as Barbara Risman, Patricia Yancey Martin, Cecilia Ridgeway, and Leslie McCall, I argue that both how we measure gender attitudes and how we conceive of status and power among women are in need of further development. This interest builds directly from much of my earlier work with gender.

A recent paper in this vein addresses the need to revise our approach to the measurement of gender attitudes — long dominated by the separate spheres paradigm. Along with co-authors Claudia Geist and Brian Powell, in Marital Name Change as a Window into Gender Attitudes (Gender & Society April 2011) we argue that as women's share of the labor force approaches parity with menís individuals' attitudes about a traditional breadwinner/homemaker divide are no longer as effective as sole measures of gender beliefs. Recent years have seen revived interest in marital name change as a gendered practice with the potential to provide new ways of tapping into gender attitudes; however, scholars have yet to test its effectiveness. In this paper we present views toward marital name change as a potential window into contemporary gender attitudes, and most centrally as an illustration of the types of measures that hold great potential for attitudinal research. Using quantitative analyses from a national survey, we show that views on name change reflect expected sociodemographic cleavages and are more strongly linked to a wide array of other gender-related attitudes than are views regarding gendered separate spheres — even net of sociodemographic factors. We then turn to interlinked qualitative data to illustrate three reasons why name change measures so effectively capture broader beliefs about gender. We suggest the insights gleaned from these analyses — the need to focus on the tension between collectivist and individualist orientations to gender, recognize the centrality of identity to contemporary gender beliefs, and unlink attitudinal measures from gender role occupancy — can provide future directions for the conceptualization and measurement of gender attitudes.

Looking forward, I am currently developing a single-authored theoretical paper discussing femininity as an embodied form of cultural capital. Previous research, often under the rubric of intersectionality, tells us that what is most valued is raced, classed, and (hetero)sexualized forms of femininity. However, even this research tends to come back to women's power relative to men, rather than focusing on the ways in which women themselves police and control femininity to serve their own interests, and the extent to which some women gain at the expense of others. I argue that a hegemonic form of femininity is rapidly developing that, when women lean into it, has not only costs but economic, sexual, and social benefits — in some cases can even giving women an edge over men.