Much like the other attendees and presenters at the 89th Annual Meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society in Boston (March 14-17), I had a little set of slides to go with my paper, but technology in the meeting section of the hotel was spotty. So we improvised, gathering around the digital hearth (my rickety laptop) when we couldn’t get the projector to talk to any devices. Here is a summary of my paper below, and a link to the slide set. Here’s a link to the draft paper. This paper is part of my larger project on self-storage in the US. A summary: from Paper Session 322: Status and Consumption. US national publications fielded a spate of anti-decluttering, first-person essays in the past two years, preoccupied with the problem of “clutter shaming.” There’s very little work in sociology in the US on stuff management. Self-help literature, paradoxically, advises individual-level management techniques but treats it as a social problem. Growth of the self-storage industry is often cited. Self-storage industry’s marketing materials (to potential customers and investors) have increasingly picked up on similar defensive themes about the too-much-stuff problem. It tries to enlist academic psychology in the process, awkwardly.
The debate over the perennial holiday song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” heated up this year, rather than just withering away in the face of sheer insignificance, as I had hoped. In fact, the only thing possibly more annoying than nixing a perfectly good song is the ensuing whining about political correctness that it provokes. I’ll grant that it’s hypocritical to single out “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” for criticism. Anybody who enjoys literally any genre of popular music with lyrics should probably start with a bunch of other stuff if they are intent on being censorious.
My book, Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History (2016) only deals with the newfound discomfort with this song in passing. I haven’t written about it extensively; I’ve only commented to my friends I found the whole campaign against the song wrong-headed. Since then, there’s been some very good writing about the topic. Mainly: listen more closely.
I liked Cammila Collar’s take on this at Medium, which rightly recommends listening closely enough to realize that the female singer is looking for a way to stay, not to leave, and that she’s joking around when she asks, “what’s in this drink?” Collar and other writers on the topic, some of whom I mention in my book, also plead for greater attention to the historical context of the song, where ideas about shame and propriety greatly thwarted women’s desires and leisure activities. In the ensuing years, not surprisingly, role-reversing renditions have emerged, keeping the original lyrics intact. (If you want a little soundtrack for this blog post, I recommend the Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s 2013 version.)
Let’s also understand the drugs-and-alcohol-related context of the joke the duet singers share. It’s true, as Collar and others said, that “what’s in this drink?” was a common joke at the time when people wanted to account for their own bolder-than-usual, sillier-than-usual, or more-at-ease-than-usual behavior in all kinds of social settings, not just in potentially romantic or sexual ones. Throughout the song, she’s also mocking and rejecting an expected gender role: appointed schoolmarm of the evening, disciplinarian of the wily male. The song also came about during a new era of pharmaceuticals, and with it a new post-Prohibition sense of ease with alcohol, too — and sometimes a blithe attitude about their combination. And thus, jokes.
In my book, I wrote:
After Prohibition, the liquor industry sought to re-domesticate the image of alcohol as a wholesome accompaniment to a social evening at home. While drinking slowly became more acceptable for middle-class women, the consumption gap [where men drank considerably more than women in the US] of pre-Prohibition returned. In advertising, women were often shown serving alcohol rather than consuming it. In this milder way, women once again seen as limiters and keepers in alcohol-serving environments – not people who were at risk, except under exceptional circumstances, of overindulging themselves, but not the grim-faced disapprovers of the Temperance era, either. A permanent shift had taken place in norms around drinking and women’s propriety. There was, by and large, nothing now deviant about it.[See Lori Rotskoff’s history, Love on the Rocks: Men, Women and Alcohol in Post-World War II America]
Beginning in 2012 and reprised every holiday season since, a sort of silly claim has emerged that the 1944 Frank Loesser holiday tune,“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is actually “rapey” in part because the dialogue contained the line, “what’s in this drink?” In its own context, this actually makes no sense. First, it’s clearly not a song about someone genuinely worried about being drugged, but simply someone teasing her companion and humoring her own increasing desire to stay with him longer. Her quarrels (and ultimately mocking tone) are with the shaming voices that might disapprove. What it does reveal is both a relaxed attitude about her freedom to go or to stay, and about alcohol itself, and the mild disinhibition that everyone seeks from it. The drink (plus the “half a drink more” that she asks for) seems to make her go through the motions of propriety, in an increasingly joking way, of the what-will-people-think variety without diverting her from what she really wants.
It is difficult, however, for modern ears to pick this up unless you have an understanding of both transitioning gender roles at the time and perhaps a maybe too relaxed attitude about alcohol, drugs, and mixing the two at the time for both sexes. Barbiturates and chloral hydrate still appeared in a number of pharmaceutical products, and at the time there was still generally too little concern about their mixture….While I’ve suggested that this may have a lot to do with lessening fear of alcohol itself and its rekindled association with sociability rather than social pathology, it also has to do with the techno-utopian view of tranquilizers coming onto the market. [pages 89-91]
The mass marketing of tranquilizers in the post-war period (as this song gained popularity) created a halo around these products, and it was not yet common for doctors to warn patients sternly about mixing these drugs with alcohol.
Enthusiasm and ensuing carelessness about meprobamate [Miltown] is difficult to overstate …. Comedian Milton Berle, in the 1950s, once joked with his audiences that he was planning to change his name to Miltown Berle. There were even Miltown cocktails variations on the Bloody Mary and Martini that required a dose of the stuff. No worries! [pages 91-92][Also: See Andrea Tone’s book, The Age of Anxiety]
From a caution-bound contemporary standpoint, such practices (and jokes about them) seem reckless rather than “so very nice.” But that wasn’t how people saw it back then. We don’t have to see drinking, drugs, or even flirting exactly the same way to understand it. Kudos to the stations that have kept it in rotation.
A lot of people are wondering about the origins of the weird, one-size-fits-too-little term “date rape.” I got a good sense of where it came from when I was researching my book, Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2016.
While it is a confusing and maybe not so useful term, (and one that has been mangled beyond all recognition by the very misleading phrase “date rape drugs,”) the original coiners of the term, in the mid-1980s, meant well. They were trying to focus more attention on the ordinary-life occurrence of rape, and away from the image that many people had from media images of stranger rapes. It was at this time that we learned how common acquaintance rapes were on college campuses.
Below are some excerpts from my book (pages 138-140) for a little context:
The popularity of the term “date rape” no doubt stemmed from the need to shift the imagined problem away from the stranger lurking in the shadows, and toward the much more common acquaintance. In many non-stranger cases, the assailant is someone who the victim was socializing with (date, friend, classmate, fellow partygoer) when the assault took place, either by force, threat, or lack of ability to consent. [….]
The term “date rape” emerged alongside a highly noted study by Mary Koss and her colleagues, whose results were published in both Ms. Magazine and peer-reviewed journals. It was a large, multi-campus survey that found that 15.4% of college women had experienced an assault that met the legal definition of rape since age 14; another 12.4% had experienced an attempt at this type of assault (attempts are also felonies). Forty-two percent had never disclosed the assault to anyone. Eight percent of college men admitted to engaging in acts that met the legal definition of rape or sexual assault.
Immediately, some confusion emerged among both advocates and critics: some erroneously thought that this meant that one in four college women had been assaulted while in college. Others did not realize that respondents had described incidents to the interviewers, and then the interviewers categorized the incident as an assault, using legal definitions.
Some critics seemed to object to researchers making these decisions, but also seemed to object to women themselves calling something “rape.” Subsequent surveys found similar numbers from year to year, so it is unlikely that the methodology was faulty. [Alexandra] Neame’s review (2004) of this period of backlash points out that as sound social science, the research has not been challenged.
Most of the backlash, however, was a reaction to the impact of the research in the broader culture. [….] In the long run, though, the activism and research of the 1990s did succeed in changing perceptions of the typical rape.
It appears that at a certain point, though, the gains associated with a more thorough understanding of the commonality of sexual assault among non-strangers peaked and then stalled. Perhaps too many assumed that once we all knew that this was the more common circumstance than the man jumping out of the bushes, then we would see greater consequences for sexual assailants. But instead, since the 1990s, it appears that neither reporting rates (the likelihood that a victim will report an assault to the police) nor conviction rates have systematically improved. In some ways, perhaps caution was warranted in this matter. Given what we already knew about the circumstances under which women were more likely to report sexual assault to the police (by a stranger, if there were other physical injuries, if the assailant used a weapon), the likelihood that non-stranger rape reporting would increase drastically was low to begin with. Still, the almost complete lack of improvement in reporting is troubling.
The social consequences of reporting have remained high, and now go beyond stigma, minimizing, and disbelief. The digital age poses new kinds of threats to assault victims who come forward – harassment, threats, and doxing from strangers. It’s not surprising that reporting of rape and sexual assault remain low. But the secrecy fostered by a low-reporting situation also leads to all kinds of second-guessing and misinformation.
References and Links
M.P. Koss, C.A. Gidycz, N. Wisniewski, “The scope of rape: Incidence and prevalence of sexual aggression and victimization in a national sample of higher education students,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 1987, 162–170.
Alexandra Neame, “Revisiting America’s ‘date rape’ controversy,” Family Matters, 68, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Winter 2004.
Lynn Langton and Sofi Sinozich, Rape and Sexual Assault Among College-Age Females, 1995–2013. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2014. http://bit.ly/2PMNW3C
Caroline Heldman and Baillee Brown, “A Brief History of Sexual Violence Activism in the U.S.” Ms. Magazine Blog, August 8, 2014, http://msmagazine.com/blog/2014/08/08/a-brief-history-of-sexual-violence-activism-in-the-u-s/
updated April 2019
These are: the paper that I based a panel talk on at the ASA Consumers and Consumption Mini-Conference in August 2018, and the one from a panel talk at the Eastern Sociological Society in March 2019.
“We’ve thrown off certain old mores over the last few decades, and now the proper girl ideal has been replaced by the smart girl ideal: freedom, but no room for error, and everything’s your fault.”
I did a Q & A about the book project over at the great Points blog. Thanks to Kyle Bridge and everyone at the blog, which focuses on the history of drugs and alcohol.
Newest Update, June 15, 2017: The plot thickens, and yet we have clearer answers as to the disappearance of Beall’s List. Read the latest by Prasad Ravindranath at Science Chronicle: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/44933113/posts/1493322021
original post January 18, 2017, updated February 13, 2017 and June 15, 2017
February 13 update: So, this story just keeps getting weirder. It seems that in a recent interview with science blogger Prasad Ravindranath, Jeffrey Beall significantly downplayed his plans to collaborate with Cabell’s on (re-)producing an ongoing list of flagged or potentially predatory journals and conference proceedings. Cabell’s responded in a shocked manner. And Beall, for his part, is feeling very much like he needs to move on to less controversial work at UC Denver. And that’s where we are with all that, folks.
Reminder – the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive has Beall’s List up through the end of 2016 there.
Jeffrey Beall’s running list of potentially scammy journals, publishers, and conferences has been taken down. What now?
Recently, in the process of putting together a paper on rumor research, I came across a handful of interesting articles in journals and conference proceedings that had been flagged on ScholarlyOA.com as potentially predatory and phony. I was disappointed, since they seemed like they were based on some solid work. I haven’t decided yet whether I plan to leave them out of further revisions of the paper or simply refer to them as unpublished manuscripts. Some of them involve mathematical sophistication that I am in no position to evaluate, and I therefore have to know for sure whether other mathematical modelling people have reviewed it.
For those of you unfamiliar with the world of peer-reviewed scholarly and scientific publishing, the word “predatory” here tends to mean charging submitters a large fee and then engaging in little to no peer review, resulting in the publication of journal issues or conference proceedings that have no recognition from, or participation in, organizations in their respective fields. Their editorial boards are also phony – scholars have been sometimes shocked to learn that they were on the masthead, and had never been sent manuscripts to review. They often have innocuous names that sound perfectly respectable, or are similar to, legitimate journals in a field. So let’s say there’s a legitimate journal called Journal of Crypto-Invertebrates. The predatory one might be called International Journal of Crypto-Invertebrate Research. Unless you noticed that the publisher wasn’t one of the major journal publishers, or called up the people on the editorial board, you might not catch it at all; the visible mimicry of real journals is fairly impressive. You might easily mistake one of these places for real if: you had not been aware of this growing problem, or if you were looking for research that is outside your discipline or specialization.
One note: the up-front-payment criteria doesn’t by itself doesn’t mean a publication is bogus; legitimate Open Access publishers seek payment from sponsoring institutions like universities and institutes, and then make the content free to readers. That’s just a newer and alternative payment model; the peer-review process is supposed to be the same, and they’re sponsored by the same scholarly and scientific publishers as other journals.
But the bogus publications are essentially pay-to-play mills. Although Beall’s List, as it has come to be known, has served as a handy double-check for the past few years, the problem was identified in science magazines about ten years ago.
Jeffrey Beall, who is a research librarian at the University of Colorado at Denver, hasn’t commented, as far as I know. But Cabell’s, a company that he has been working with, has only said to press inquiries that Beall removed the lists from his blog “due to threats and politics.” Cabell’s plans to put out its own list later this spring, 2017, according to Inside Higher Ed.
In the meantime, as of January 18, the archived ScholarlyOA.com lists have been reposted at Internet Archive-Wayback Machine.
More as I find out about it.
- The Times Higher Education site published an article on the Beall’s List disappearance, pointing out two aspects of this situation that I hadn’t thought about: 1) a vetted list that results from actual investigation and engagement is important to librarians, too, who need a way to differentiate journals that are shady or predatory versus ones that are legitimate but small, new, or independent journals. Also, the THE article points out that some scholars knowingly publish with these predatory places to boost their citation counts. Seems risky to me, but I guess it’s possible if you know your institution well enough that you feel like you can slip a publication by them.
- About the Internet Archive/Wayback Machine: yes, it does have mirrored sites abroad, including a distributed hosting project. [Translation: efforts to “back up” large portions of publically available web pages can continue even if IA/WM has a problem or two.]