Faculty

Abigail Saguy


Professor


Contact Information

Email    saguy@soc.ucla.edu
Office  102 Haines Hall
Phone  310-794-4979
I am a cultural sociologist of gender who studies how cultural schemas shape power relations and how subordinate groups are sometimes able to increase their control by creating new cultural meaning.

To date, I have pursued these interests through four main lines of inquiry that examine: 1) how and why the United States and France developed very different legal and corporate approaches to sexual harassment; 2) how and why fatness has come to be understood as a public health crisis and the consequences of understanding body weight in this way; 3) how and why various groups—including fat women, undocumented immigrant youth, and Mormon fundamentalist polygamists—talk of “coming out” as members of these groups to resist stigma and collectively mobilize for social change; and 4) how the term gender neutrality has been used in and out of the courts and across the women’s rights, gay rights, and transgender rights movements. 

 

In 2003, I published What is Sexual Harassment? From Capitol Hill to the Sorbonne (California), which showed how different legal and political traditions constrained and enable U.S. and French activists to develop distinct legal approaches to sexual harassment that, in turn, had disparate implications for corporate policies in each nation. I am currently extending this work by examining how European law—and specifically a 2002 Directive—has shaped the practice and content of sexual harassment law in France. I find that the European Directive meaningfully changed how French courts address sexual harassment and shaped the content of a new sexual harassment law France passed in 2012. Yet, its influence has been mediated by dominant national attitudes about: 1) the nature of sexual harassment, 2) which legal institutions are best suited to address it, and 3) the character of women who claim to have been harassed. I further find that news reporting on a 2011 arrest of a French politician for sexual assault led to more positive attitudes about sexual harassment victims. This work contributes to our understanding of the mechanisms of the European Union’s influence on member states’ laws and jurisprudence, as well as the factors that limit its influence.

My 2013 book, What’s Wrong with Fat? examined how and why fatness has come to be understood as a public health crisis and the social consequences of understanding body weight in this way. I continued to pursue two separate lines of inquiry that build on this book. In an ongoing collaboration with David Frederick (Chapman University), I have been extending this work by designing and conducting several experiments that test how exposure to different news media representations of body weight shape people’s attitudes about weight-based discrimination and stigma, obesity policies, weight-related health risk, and the value of size diversity. We have published this work (with Kjerstin Gruys) in Social Science and Medicine, in 2014 and 2016, and (with Traci Mann and Gaganyjot Sandhu) in the International Journal of Obesity in 2016. Together, this work provides strong evidence that exposure to different accounts of body weight not only shape attitudes about health but also influence the extent to which people see it as justified to discriminate on the basis of body size.

Also building on my work on debates over body size, I am working on a project (with French colleagues Henri Bergeron and Patrick Castel) that uses the case of French obesity policy to develop propositions about when news media frames will be consistent or inconsistent with the policies that are subsequently implemented.

Another line of research with current or former UCLA graduate students builds on my 2011 article (with Anna Ward) about how and why fat acceptance activists talk of “coming out” as fat. This project examines how and why various groups talk about “coming out” to resist stigma and work toward social change. With Michael Stambolis-Ruhstorfer, I show how and why the term “coming out” means something different for gays and lesbians in France, compared to those in the U.S, contributing to our understanding of the intersection between language, meaning, and political context, within a cross-national setting. With Rebecca DiBennardo, I show how the stigma of having gay parents is experienced differently over the life course and how—as these children become adults—their own sexual orientation shapes the ways in which they make sense of this aspect of their biography, as well as their relationship with gay rights groups. With Laura Enriquez, I examine how the undocumented immigrant youth movement has adopted, transformed, and (incompletely) institutionalized the cultural trope of “coming out” in this new context, shedding light on how social movements can mobilize a fearful constituency and encourage public talk about forms of inequality that are risky to reveal. With Nicole Iturriaga, I show how Fundamentalist Mormon polygamist activists are openly declaring their polygamist status, despite considerable risks, and how their talk of “coming out” as polygamist is part of a broader trend of building on the successes of the gay rights movement to counter stigma and advocate for political and legal rights. I am currently working on a coauthored book that systematically compares across these cases to contribute to understandings of stigma resistance, cultural meaning, social change, and mobilization.

Finally, I am collaborating with Juliet Williams (UCLA Gender Studies) on a project examining the contested and evolving meaning of the term gender neutrality in and out of the courts and across the women’s rights, gay rights, and transgender rights movements. While the principle of gender neutrality has been invoked in almost thirty Supreme Court cases and over 500 Appellate Court cases and inspired movements for gender-neutral parenting and gender-neutral bathrooms, no one has yet systematically examined the different meanings given to the term or the impact it has had on law or politics. This study thus provides the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of the principle of gender neutrality in U.S. law and political activism. We expect to find that gender neutrality has been underutilized as a legal doctrine, underestimated as a social change strategy, and undertheorized in scholarship on law and gender politics.

Our first paper (forthcoming in Signs) from this project draws on quantitative and qualitative analyses of a sample including all news articles published in The New York Times that include the term gender neutral/neutrality or the synonyms sex neutral/neutrality or sexually neutral/sexual neutrality anywhere in the text and all articles with these terms published since 1987 in USAToday, San Francisco Chronicle, or Christian Science Monitor. Our analyses of these data show that the press has invoked gender neutrality in discussions of a wide range of issues, including language, consumer products, and restrooms. The press has discussed gender neutrality in the context of women’s rights since the 1970s, gay and lesbian rights since the late 1980s, and transgender rights since the 1990s. Most news discussions focus on reducing the salience of gender—or degendering, but among the subsample of articles discussing transgender rights, most frame gender neutrality as gender inclusivity—or the recognition of multiple gender identities. A third frame—androgyny, in which people are encouraged to play with gender regardless of their biological sexis invoked more rarely than the other two. We discuss the implications of these findings for contemporary gender politics, and more broadly, for advancing current theoretical accounts of doing gender. Specifically, we suggest that the gender neutrality frames we identify—degendering, androgyny, and gender inclusivity—challenge normative conceptions of gender and thus gesture at alternative gender orientations. While degendering represents an orientation in which gender is downplayed, androgyny supports free play with masculine and feminine elements. Degendering corresponds to undoing gender, whereas androgyny speaks to redoing gender. By recognizing gender identities beyond the binary, gender inclusivity offers a different version of redoing gender. In each of these ways, gender neutrality challenges some aspect of the prevailing gender system, whether it is an assumption of the “omnirelevance of gender” (degendering); a strict dichotomous account of gender (androgyny); or the binary gender system itself (gender inclusivity).

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Degrees

Ph. D., Princeton University AND L'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris

Awards

UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award, 2017.

Honorable Mention. Association for Humanist Sociology Book Award. for What's Wrong with Fat?

Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), Stanford. Fellow. 2008-2009.

Fellowship. Robert Wood Johnson Scholars in Health Policy Research Program (Yale site). 2000-2002.

Winner. Sally Hacker Award. Sex and Gender section of the American Sociological Association. 2000. "Sexual Harassment in France and the United States: Activists and Public Figures Defend their Definitions."

 

Grants

National Science Foundation. Law and Social Science and Sociology Programs. # 1734340. For “How difference matters in the development of legal doctrine” (with Juliet Williams) $326,967. September 1 2017-August 31 2020.

ASA/NSF Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline (FAD): Creating the “Obesity Epidemic”: Science, Social Activism, and the Mass Media. $7000. 2004-2006.

National Science Foundation. Doctoral Dissertation Research: Defining Sexual Harassment in France and the United States. NSF 98-2. $3400. 1998-1999.

French Government. Subvention pour le fonctionnement d’une cotutelle de thèse (Dissertation Grant). 35,000 F ($6364). 1998-1999.

Council for European Studies. The Young Scholars Networking Grant. Spring 2000.

Selected Publications

Books
What's Wrong with Fat?  " Read the Introduction"  Oxford University Press. 2013.

What is Sexual Harassment?: From Capitol Hill to the Sorbonne. University of California Press. 2003.

Selected articles

“Reimagining Gender: Gender Neutrality in the News.”  Forthcoming. Signs. (with Juliet Williams)

“Europeanization or National Specificity? Legal Approaches to Sexual Harassment in France, 2002-2012.”52:1. Law & Society Review.

“‘I Would Never Want to be an Only Wife’: The Role of Discursive Networks and Post-Feminist Discourse in Reframing Polygamy.” 2017. Social Problems. 0, 1–18 doi: 10.1093/socpro/spw038. (with Nicole Iturriaga)

“Culture, Health, and Bigotry: How Exposure to Cultural Accounts of Fatness Shape Attitudes About Health Risk, Health Policies, and Weight-Based Prejudice.” Social Science and Medicine. 2016. 164, pp. 271-279.  (with David Frederick and Kjerstin Gruys)

“Effects of Competing News Media Frames of Weight on Antifat Stigma, Beliefs about Weight, and Support for Obesity-Related Policies.” 2016. International Journal of Obesity. 40, pp. 543-549. (with David Frederick, Abigail C. Saguy, Gaganyjot Sandhu, and Traci Mann.)

“Coming Out as Undocumented and Unafraid: Social Movement Spillover and Cultural Innovation.’” 2016. American Journal of Cultural Sociology. 4:1, pp. 107-130. (with Laura Enriquez).

“How to Describe it? Why the Term ‘Coming Out’ Means Different Things in the U.S. and France.” 2014. Sociological Forum. 29:4, pp. 808-829. (with Michael Stambolis-Ruhstorfer)

Reporting Risk, Producing Prejudice: How News Reporting on Obesity Shapes Attitudes about Health Risk, Policy, and Prejudice.” 2014. Social Science and Medicine. 111: June, 125-133. (with David Frederick, and Kjerstin Gruys.

"When Frames (Don’t) Matter: Querying the Relationship between Ideas and Policy" 2013. RWJF Scholars in Health Policy Research Program Working Paper Series, No. W53, December. (With Henri Bergeron and Patrick Castel)

"Gendered Homophobia and the Contradictions of Workplace Discrimination for Women in the Building Trades"2014Gender & Society.  28:3, pp. 381-403. (with Amy Denissen) 

 Coming Out as Fat: Rethinking Stigma. " 2011.Social Psychology Quarterly. March, 74:1, pp. 53-75 (with Anna Ward)

" Social Problem Construction and National Context: News Reporting on ‘Overweight’ and ‘Obesity’ in the U.S. and France. " 2010. Social Problems. November, 57:4, pp. 586-610 (with Kjerstin Gruys and Shanna Gong)

Morality and Health: News Media Constructions of Overweight and Eating Disorders. " 2010. Social Problems, May, 57:2, pp. 231-250. (with Kjerstin Gruys)

Fat in the Fire? Science, the News Media, and the 'Obesity Epidemic'.” 2008. Sociological Forum. 23:1. pp. 53-83.(With Rene Almeling). Email saguy@soc.ucla.edu for a reprint.

The Epidemiology of Overweight and Obesity: Public Health Crisis or Moral Panic? ” 2006. International Journal of Epidemiology. 35:1. pp. 55-60. (With Paul Campos, Paul Ernsberger, Eric Oliver, and Glen Gaesser).

Constructing Social Problems in an Age of Globalization: A French-American Comparison.” 2005. American Sociological Review. 70(2):233-259 (With Rodney Benson).

Weighing Both Sides: Morality, Mortality and Framing Contests over Obesity." 2005. Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law.30:5, pp. 869-921 (With Kevin W. Riley).

International Crossways: Traffic in Sexual Harassment Policy.” 2002. European Journal of Women’s Studies. 9:3, pp. 249-267.

Employment Discrimination or Sexual Violence?: Defining Sexual Harassment in French and American Law.” 2000. Law and Society Review. 34:4, pp. 1091-1128.

Puritanism and Promiscuity? Sexual Attitudes in France and the United States.” 1999. Comparative Social Research. Vol. 18, pp. 227-247.