Hey, Larry Summers - Read These

September 7, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

Why do men’s shirts have the buttons on the left side, but women’s blouses have the buttons the right? Someone posted this question at the Teaching Sociology listserv/GoogleGroup. Robert H. Frank’s poses this same question in his book The Economic Naturalist, and I blogged about it not long ago. I thought again of converting Frank’s economics assignment into a sociological one: find something curious or paradoxical in everyday life, something you’ve seen with your own eyes. Todd Bern at Broward Community College calls this assignment “The Inner Sociologist,” and requires students to peg their questions to the topics in the readings for the current segment of the course.

I haven’t assigned this yet. But in keeping with my principle of not asking students to do something I hadn’t done first, I tried coming up with some questions. Turns out, it’s not all that easy. But here are a few.

Why do college/university courses meet two or only one time a week but high school courses meet five days a week?

Why do baseball players throw the ball around the infield after they make an out?

Then I went to the newsstand this morning, and this is what I saw.

Men’s magazine covers have pictures of attractive women, but women’s magazine covers have pictures of . . . attractive women. Why not attractive men?

And what’s with the numbers? (Larry Summers, BTW, is the former president of Harvard. He was forced out for several reasons, but one of those was a talk he gave suggesting that compared with men, women were by nature less inclined towards math.)

Cosmo is the piker here with only 4 and 5. Glamour raises with 12, 39, and 101. Vogue outbids them with 840, but Lucky comes in with 863 and looks like it’s going to win.

But then Bazaar leaves them all in the dust with a bid of 1,015 New Looks. Beat that.

But why? You don’t see numbers like these on other kinds of magazines.


maxliving said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
maxliving said...

In regards to the college vs. grade school question, I suspect it's because up until age 18, school acts as a free babysitter while the parents are at work, which is why many places (ahem, NYC) are loathe to call snow days, because the parents will have to find something to do with the kids.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the first question: http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/about/sub.asp?key=17&subkey=1874. My understanding is that the 5-day high school week was the result of the establishment of the Carnegie Unit in the early 1900s as a means of rationalizing standards of academic quality for purposes of determining a student's eligibility to proceed to college. The student hour for college instruction was later set at 1/5 CUs. One of the interesting questions for the sociology of ed is how these rather contingent historical decisions about academic standards became so widely institutionalized to the point that alternatives are difficult to even conceive.

Anonymous said...

My inner sociologist makes me wonder who still believes the wonderful-new-looks, grand-diets, no-more-pimples promises or you-urgently-need-this-product orders on in magazines and if blogs and other self-made media will one day really get these commercial traditional media into trouble.