Elizabeth V. Sweet Ph.D.
Copyright @ Elizabeth V. Sweet. All rights reserved.
Current Research Projects
Beauty and the Beast:
Beauty and Violence in Gender Relations
Playing with Gender: Toys, Gender, and Inequality over the Twentieth Century
This book will offer a new historical context within which to situate the segregated pink and blue toy market we see today and in doing so explain the paradoxical resurgence of heavily gendered toys even as overt sexism has waned. Drawing from a content analysis of over 7,300 toy advertisements from a sample of seven Sears Catalogs that span the 20th century, I offer a detailed analysis of how the gender-based marketing of toys and the particular gender messages embedded in toys have varied over time in ways that both reflected and reinforced dominant social beliefs about gender in any given era.
In this project with Mary Jackman, we use Jackman’s (2002) definition of violence to analyze a wide range of physically injurious female beauty practices across different cultures and historical periods (e.g., Chinese foot-binding, genital cutting in contemporary Africa, 19th century corsets in the West, chronic dieting and cosmetic surgery in the contemporary U.S.). We explore secondary sources to identify systematically the differences and commonalities among these apparently disparate female beauty practices. We evaluate the two main extant theoretical explanations of these practices, those deriving from evolutionary psychologists and from feminist theorists of patriarchy and misogyny. We argue that neither of those theoretical approaches provides a good fit with the pattern of evidence. We focus instead on the way in which the politics of gender govern the practice of beauty, examining the social and economic incentives and sanctions that induce women to engage competitively in violent beauty practices.
From Little Homemakers to Pink Princesses:
Gender and Children’s Toys in the Late 20th Century
Over the past five years, the public visibility of transgender and gender nonconforming children has grown. Many suggest that this reflects a greater freedom of gender expression among children in the wake of swelling public support for same sex marriage and lesbian and gay rights. While there is some evidence to support such an argument, it does not account for the persistent, and perhaps growing, levels of transphobia that have emerged even as public support for LGB communities has increased. We argue that the increased visibility of gender nonconforming children can be better explained as a response to the narrowing portrayals of gender in children’s media and culture. We on deviance theory and an analysis of children’s toy advertisements to explore how the recent emergence of extreme gender boundaries in children’s culture have led a greater range of behaviors to be perceived as gender non-conforming, especially as children and parents push back against increasingly rigid gender standards. While these new normative standards limit the opportunities and modes of expression for both boys and girls, we discuss how the impact and consequences of hegemonic standards of masculinity are particularly salient for boys.
Between a Rock and a Pink Place:
An Exploration of Narrowing Gender Boundaries and Childhood Gender Expression
In this paper, I focus on the changing role of gender in children’s toy advertisements during the last four decades of the 20th century. Using content analysis data drawn from the 1965, 1975, 1985, and 1995 Sears holiday catalogs, I describe the changes in the gender-marketing of toys during this period and analyze how these changes connect to broader economic, cultural, and demographic shifts. I argue that while the toy industry steered away from overtly gendered marketing at the peak of the second wave feminist movement, in subsequent decades economic pressures encouraged toy makers to adopt new marketing strategies. These strategies—and their public reception—were fundamentally shaped by enduring cultural beliefs about gender and set the stage for the pink and blue toy aisles we see today.