Gender Socialization and Toys, Sociology 204 Writing Assignment, Nacirema Redux
Can be used for Major Assessment 2, 3, 4, and 5. You can write multiple papers if you want, just pick different
You have eight options for the written assignment for this class. Some of them involve topics that
we will not cover until later in the class. It is a good idea to wait until we have at least started a topic
in class before embarking on a paper. On this point or anything else feel free to be in touch with us
if we can clarify anything.
The assignment “, and must be submitted both in hard copy and online via Canvas. Please be sure
to put both your name and your GTF’s name on your paper. Please also put your word count at the
top of the paper.
Please be careful to observe all UO standards of academic honesty, especially as they relate to using
the words and ideas of others. If any of the phrasing in your paper or ideas came from any source
other than your own original work and thinking make sure that you identify that source and use
quotation marks if it is a direct quotation. You do not need to provide a bibliography if you only
quote the textbook, lectures, or other assigned course readings. Quote those sources as appropriate
though. If you use outside sources, please quote those using a systematic citation style. The one
you use doesn’t matter, but don’t make it up. If you are confused about this please be in touch.
Feel free to write in a “voice” that is comfortable for you. If you prefer to use the first person, that
is fine. Contractions are also fine. Slang is sometimes appropriate, especially if it is called for by the
analysis. But keep in mind that your essay needs to be successful as a tool for communicating an
argument that is based on specific evidence and examples. These aren’t personal essays so much as
they are analytical ones (even option four which is entirely about your personal experience focuses
on your analysis of that experience).
Your papers should be between 1200 and 1500 words. We will not directly take off points related to
the word count, but you won’t be able to do a good job on these assignments writing less than 1200,
while doing more than 1500 is probably overkill.
Grading guidelines and criteria are on the last page of this document. We won’t write a lot of
comments on your papers but are happy to meet with you during office hours either before the due
date to help you with your work or afterwards to go over your paper and grade in as much detail as
Sociology 204 Writing Assignment Option 1:
Gender Socialization and Toys
For this writing assignment you will be visiting a retail establishment to analyze one of the ways that
gender socialization occurs in children. Specifically, you will visit a shop that sells children’s toys to
better understand how toys reflect and communicate ideas about what it means to be a girl or
a boy. Good options include Elephant Trunk in the 5th Street Market (there is also one in the Valley
River Center) or Toys R Us near the Valley River Center. Your visit should last at least 20 minutes,
and you will need to take notes on what you are seeing, including specific details about toys and
images that you observe, as well as notes about the layout of the store or other details that you find
to be relevant.
You may have some suspicions before you do this exercise about what you will find, but try to let
your argument be guided as much as possible by what you actually see in the store that you visit.
Please be sure that your essay tells us what store you visited and when, what you did in the store,
and what your overall impression of the store in relation to gender socialization was.
Your main argument should be your answer to the question posed in bold above. Make sure that
you include lots of specific examples of toys and images that you actually observed. (Most stores
won’t let you take photographs but if you want to include illustrations you can probably find the
same packaging online).
Other questions that you may want to think about in figuring out what to say include patterns that
you observe in toys for girls, toys for boys, and more gender-neutral toys; how the toy
manufacturers make sure that you know that they are for girls or for boys or gender-neutral; things
that seem positive to you and things that seem negative; anything that surprised you or caught your
attention. Also keep in mind the concepts and ideas about socialization, norms, deviance, and the
social construction of gender that we have/will cover in class as ways to develop your argument and
talk about what you are observing.
This assignment is based on “Gender Socialization” in Sociology Through Active Learning, edited by
Kathleen McKinney and Barbara S. Heyl. Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press. 2009.
Sociology 204 Writing Assignment Option 2:
The Three Rules of _________
In this assignment, you are to imagine that you are trying to communicate to a total outsider the key
norms that they need to learn to function in a social setting that you choose. You could choose
almost anything, although some choices probably work better than others. The question at the
center of the exercise is not, though, what are the three norms/rules you need to know, but why are
these three norms so important to functioning in this setting?
Settings you could pick include a restaurant or other eating establishment, dorms, the gym, a team or
club, being a student from another country, the movies, living in a small rural community, having
controversial political conversations, and so on, pretty much anything. Feel free to write to your
section leader or Prof. Norton about whether a topic you have in mind will work.
Make sure that the norms you identify are different and that you explain them in detail providing
plenty of examples of what they are, why they are important, and what happens if they are not
followed. Your examples should do a good job in getting specific about the general rules that you
identify. The rules you identify, though, should be in service to the bigger point about why these
norms are important. Questions that might help you develop an answer to that in the specific
setting you have identified include: why do these norms exist in that setting? What do they do?
What kind of social order do they contribute to? What do the norms protect, or what vision of the
social setting do they advance? What do they have in common? What are the beliefs or values
behind the given norms? What happens to norm violators? To be clear, you don’t have to answer
all of these questions; rather, they are questions that might help you answer the central questions of
the paper: what are the three key rules/norms in the setting you have chosen and what does the
importance of those norms tell us about the setting?
Sociology 204 Writing Assignment Option 3:
A Deviant Act
We can focus on four elements to understand deviance as a social construction: norms, contexts,
interaction, and punishment. And the construction of deviance also always involves power. In this
writing assignment you will identify a single, specific action that is defined as deviant and analyze it
using this framework. The question that your paper will use this framework to answer is: How
does this construction of deviance reflect dynamics of social power?
You can pick pretty much any deviant act (i.e., an act or actor that an audience labels as deviant) that
you want, big or small, real or fictional (so an example from a tv program or movie is fine, as is one
from the news or your own experience). Not all choices will be as easy to write about though, as
you need to be able to talk about all four of the elements involved in the construction of deviance
and how they shaped the situation you are writing about. You should pick a specific episode or
situation, not a category of situations (for example, you could write about a specific encounter with
the police reported in the news but not about police stops in general).
Questions that you may want to think about in coming up with your case and argument for the
paper include: why was the act constructed as deviant? Why was the audience that defined it as
deviant able to do so? Why did the person do the deviant act? Did they not know? Not care? Have
different priorities? Was it a violation of a single norm (rule) or a cluster of norms? Were there
contradictory norms? What were the most important social contexts involved? What did the
punishment look like? Why did it take the form that it did?
To be clear, you don’t need to answer all of these questions. Rather, they are meant to be helpful to
you in thinking about how to analyze the deviant act that you are focusing on and especially to make
sure that your analysis allows you to answer the central question of this paper: How does this
construction of deviance reflect dynamics of social power?
Sociology 204 Writing Assignment Option 4:
Socialization into Yourselves
People inhabit multiple social worlds, and act differently in those different worlds. Socialization is
one of the processes that allows this to happen, focusing on how we learn and internalize the norms,
values, beliefs, habits, knowledge, behaviors, and modes of action that allow us to function in those
different social worlds. In this essay, please identify two distinct social worlds that you inhabit and
the ways that the differences between them are reflected in your different “selves” in those settings.
The question that should be the focus of your essay is why do these settings call for (or
demand!) different selves?
Your paper will have to accomplish several tasks. First, make sure to provide a thorough description
of the settings and the “selves” that you adopt in them, focusing on differences between the two, as
well as similarities, and whether you experience them as complementary or contradictory (although
you should also note similarities). Second, you should provide an analysis of why you adopt
different selves in these settings focusing both on how the setting enforces or demands it and on the
different socialization processes in the two different settings (the lecture, slides, and textbook all talk
about aspects of the socialization process and you should use those resources to guide your
discussion of socialization – don’t just wing it, use the concepts and theories we have gone over).
All of that work is the set up to allow you to answer the main question for this paper which is: why
do these settings call for different selves? Does it have to do with what the settings are about? With
power? With different cultures or social groups? Different goals or purposes within the setting?
Different people or relationships? There are lots of other possibilities but those will hopefully get
your thinking started down a useful road.
Sociology 204 Writing Assignment Option 5:
Many of the issues that sociologists focus on exert a powerful influence over people’s lives and
experiences. Because of this many sociological issues are reflected in pop culture, from movies and
tv to novels to music. For this writing assignment you will identify a song (with lyrics) that relates to
one or more of the concepts or ideas that we have covered in this class and develop a thesis that
explains the song’s perspective on social life by analyzing its meaning, resonance, lyrics, sound,
history, and/or relevant parts of the biography of its creator/s (you don’t have to focus on all of
those things; they are just some of the things you could focus on). The three closely related
questions that this essay should answer are: What is the point that the song makes about an
aspect of social life that we have touched on in class? How does it make that point? And
what evidence from the song can you identify that tells us why the artist/s responsible for
the song thought that this was a point worth making?
This essay, then, involves a combination of sociological analysis (to identify appropriate concepts,
social structures, data about society, etc.) and literary analysis (to analyze how the song relates to the
sociological material). While it necessarily involves a creative interpretive effort on your part, it is
important to make sure that your analysis is closely tied to some of the material that we have been
talking about in class. For example, if my essay is on Green Day’s “Longview” I want to make sure
that there is a tight connection between the song, its themes, and an area we have covered in class.
My focus for this song, for instance, could be on social networks (the song is about isolation and
loneliness), culture (it is also about the compulsive watching of stupid tv), family, and sex. So I
would focus on how the song weaves those themes together, how they relate to ideas about those
themes that we talked about in class or that are covered in the textbook or other readings. I might
also talk about early 90s pop-punk and the efforts by Green Day and others in the genre to come up
with a formula for watering down the musical style and anger of punk enough to make it marketable.
In writing the paper I’d be sure to use lots of quotes from the song and maybe some references to
bios of the band or an article where they talk about writing the song, or perhaps I would want to
write about the reception of the song (especially relevant if you wrote about something that was
either a smash hit or was controversial and were trying to explain why – the reaction to it gives
valuable insight into what the song is really about).
One of the possible pitfalls of this paper is to get too sucked into talking about the song and leaving
out the sociology; another is not talking about the song enough and in a specific enough way for it
to anchor your paper. Try to avoid both of those problems. If you want to write about a song that
may not quite fit these directions let us know and we can help you figure out if it will work.
If you do this paper include at the end a copy of the song’s lyrics. They do not count towards the
paper’s word count.
Alternate: If you want to do this same assignment but modify it to allow you to talk about
something related to art or poetry that is fine. Be in touch if you want to work out any of the
Sociology 204 Writing Assignment Option 6:
In Unit One we talked about how disasters and accidents often need to be viewed in a broader
perspective to understand the causes of the disaster and its effects. In this essay you are going to
identify a specific disaster or accident (either one that has happened or one that may happen; please
do not use one of the examples we covered in class or section) and write an essay exploring and
explaining how cause and effect are connected to a social system and how analyzing that
system allows us to better understand what happened (or what might happen).
You should feel free to think about a wide range of possible cases to use in developing this essay. It
could be something very large and systemic (like the impacts of a tsunami on thousands or millions
of people) or something much more localized (the effect of a landslide on the residents of a remote
valley). Since it is a disaster or an accident, though, it should be an event that nobody intends to
happen but that happens anyway. Also, better essays usually have more specific material to work
with, so writing about air pollution might fit the topic but it is so huge that it will be difficult to do
the kind of specific analysis you need to in such a short paper. If you were to write about particulate
emissions from ships using the port of Long Beach and their impacts on the health of nearby
neighborhoods and workers you can be more detailed in your answer. Some questions you may
want to consider (you don’t need to cover all of these, they are just some ideas to get you thinking
about the issues) include what social factors, dynamics, processes, etc. have to do with the
circumstances leading up to the accident/disaster, and what they have to do with its effects. Why
does it happen? Why does it/will it have the effects that it has? Who is impacted by it and why?
Why are some people affected by it differently than others? And other questions along those lines.
Sociology 204 Writing Assignment Option 7:
For graded section three you read “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.” In this writing assignment
you will write an essay modeled on the Nacirema article (maybe an even better model is “Nacirema
Celestial-Deer Worship” written by a student, Elizabeth Smith, for a similar writing assignment at
her college; it is on Canvas). For your essay you should identify some topic like body-ritual or
celestial-deer worship and develop a central point about it that you develop through a series of
“naïve” observations from an outsiders perspective on your topic.
This essay more than the others will be graded on the quality of your writing and your ability to
mimic the tone of the original (and Smith’s version) while advancing your own point. It is more of a
writing challenge than the other assignments, and best suited for more confident, creative, and
ambitious writers. This essay can be 1,000 – 1,200 words rather than 1,200-1,500, and may work
well in a five paragraph format. The grading criteria below still apply but we will weigh your writing
as part of our assessment of the argument, as with the Nacirema piece an important part of the
argument is communicated not directly but through the writing.
You may use the topic that you talked about in your section groups if you like. In case the smallgroup
outline you may have used in your section is helpful, it is included with Smith’s essay on the
Sociology 204 Writing Assignment Option 8:
Open Sociology 204 Prompt
Finally, you are welcome to develop your own thesis related to ideas, data, issues, themes, or other
stuff that we have covered or touched on in class. Pay careful attention to the grading guidelines
below to help you map out a good thesis and an approach to it, but basically you want to ask a good
question related to stuff we are talking about in class and then make your answer to that question
your thesis. It is probably a good idea for you to be in touch with Prof. Norton or your section
leader if you do this option to make sure that you are on the right track.
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