I am Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at UCLA. I am the author of What's Wrong with Fat? (2013, Oxford University Press) and What is Sexual Harassment? From Capitol Hill to the Sorbonne (2003, University of California Press). My teaching and research interests include gender, culture, the body, politics, law and public health.
I have a longstanding interest in how cultural schemas shape power relations and how subordinate groups are sometimes able to create new cultural meaning to increase their control. I have pursued these interests through my comparative research on sexual harassment definitions and on framing contests over fatness. In these “hot” or highly contested topics, social actors make their cultural assumptions explicit, making them ideally suited to cultural analysis. In my work, I use multiple methods and cross-national, cross-issue, and cross-institutional comparisons.
In recent years, the “obesity epidemic” has emerged as a top public health concern in the United States and abroad. Scholars, journalists, and politicians alike are scrambling to find answers. What or who is responsible for this crisis and what can be done to stop it? In contrast, in What's Wrong with Fat? (2013, Oxford University Press) I argue that these fraught debates obscure more important sociological questions: How has fatness come to be understood as a public health crisis at all? Why has the view of fatness as a medical problem and public health crisis come to dominate more positive framings of weight – as consistent with health, beauty, or a legitimate rights claim—in public discourse? Why are heavy individuals singled out for blame? And what are the consequences of understanding weight in these ways?
In What is Sexual Harassment? From Capitol Hill to the Sorbonne, I point to dissimilarities between key institutions in each country and the ways in which these institutions interact. I show that, while feminists in both the U.S. and France struggled for sexual harassment laws, they encountered distinct legal resources. American feminists inherited civil rights laws and jurisprudence, which enabled (and constrained) them to argue that sexual harassment was a form of workplace discrimination, punishable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In contrast, French feminists could not build on a similar legal tradition, as discrimination laws there were weak, but could and did build on existing sexual violence laws to define sexual harassment as a misdemeanor in the Penal Code. Once sexual harassment was inscribed in law, legal definitions shaped corporate responses, individual understandings, and mass media representations of sexual harassment, although often in surprising ways.
Other research projects include a study (with UCLA graduate students Rebecca DiBennardo, Laura Enriquez, Nicole Itturiaga, and Michael Stambolis) of how the narrative of “coming out” has travelled beyond U.S. gay rights politics. Specifically, it explores how it is used differently by gays and lesbians and France and by various other groups in the U.S., including fat women, fat admirers, people with gay parents, women in polygamous marriages and undocumented students.
I am also investigating the extent to which social movement frames shape policy instruments (with Henri Bergeron and Patrick Castell), how news media framing of fatness shapes individual attitude about health risk and social rights (with David Frederick and Kjerstin Gruys), how straight women and lesbians in male-dominated trades resist and respond to sexism and harassment on the part of their male coworkers (with Amy Denissen), and how European law has changed legal approaches to sexual harassment in France since 2002.