Alright readers, this is my second (and last!) post that will be about conferences, I promise! But this one was too good not to write about as well. This past week I attended the Southern Sociological Society’s annual conference to present my own student research as well as sit in on many other presentations of studies done at undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels. As a Sociology major, it was a dream come true. To make it even better, the conference took place in sunny New Orleans. And then, to top it all off, the theme of this year’s conference was, “Stalled Revolutions? Gender Inequality in the 21st Century”. Sociology AND Gender Studies?? I’m in.
The best part of this conference was the fact that each and every study that focused on gender inequality had an understanding of the social structures that these inequalities persist within. In true sociological fashion, this is the kind of analysis that you would expect to see in such research, but it really became apparent to me throughout the week that these are the ways we need to approach social inequality when we confront it in our individual daily lives as well.
As a basic introduction to what Sociology is, the term “sociological imagination” is often used to describe the discipline. Coined by C. Wright Mills in 1959, the sociological imagination is “the vivid awareness of the relationship between experience and the wider society”. Mills urges people to see their individual experiences within a broader context of society and to observe how all interactions influence other individuals and their situations. Society then becomes the result of the collective behaviors of people who think and act in similar ways, all adhering to the same social rules.
As one professor has said to me many times, “Sociology will ruin your life…sorry about that.” He couldn’t be more right, because once you begin examining and understanding issues from a sociological perspective, it becomes absolutely impossible not to see the problematic causes of these issues everywhere. It can drive you a bit crazy at times, especially when you begin analyzing every aspect of life around you, but I think it’s worth it in the end. Feminism and Sociology can really work hand-in-hand in this way.
When it comes to breaking the confines of a hetero-normative, hegemonic, patriarchal society (deep breaths…) we HAVE to look at the roots of these issues and the everyday ways we participate in them. We often get overwhelmed by the larger issues and fail to realize how our individual actions all impact the greater scheme of society. As feminist author Carol Hanisch famously quoted in the 60s, “The personal is political”. Our individual stories may feel minimized and silenced at times by the louder voices of society, but it is our individual actions that impact these patterns. By understanding these issues on both a personal and a broader scale, we can get closer to seeing the whole picture and finding the ways to dismantle societal issues from the immediate causes. None of these things occur in a vacuum, it all starts with you.