People Over Profit

People Over Profit

Susan AlexanderIt may seem hard to believe, but Professor Susan Alexander didn’t always know she wanted to be a sociologist. “I started college at Illinois State University as an accounting major,” she explains with a laugh. “But after my first sociology class, a course on marriage and family, I loved what I was learning.”

She made the leap to her new major because of a social stratification course focusing on social classes: “We were watching a documentary that followed a man repossessing furniture when a person was unable to pay on the loan. He knocked down the door in a slum apartment and took the only piece of furniture in the room—a baby bed covered with chicken wire to keep the rats off the baby. It was then I knew that I couldn’t be in a job that was about profit over people.”

After earning her master’s and PhD in sociology, Alexander focused her research on mass media and pop culture. “Media studies are critical in contemporary society because of the growing importance of mediated (read ‘coming from the media’) identity and mediated relationships,” she says. At Saint Mary’s, she has studied the ways gender is portrayed in the media. “When I came here I was the only female sociologist in the department, and at the time, my male sociology colleagues weren’t raising gender issues in the classroom. I saw a need, and with support from the Women’s Studies program, I began to educate myself.” Two courses resulted—“Sociology of Popular Culture” and “Social Construction of Gender.”

Alexander has published studies on women’s images in mass media including MTV music videos and, most recently, on how consumerism and masculinity reinforce one another. “After a student had completed a project on men’s magazines, she showed the class a fold-out asking readers, ‘Are You A Greek God?’ It included the measurements of the statue David, and I thought if women’s magazines did that, people would be outraged. A gender identity shift is happening in masculinity. While women have lived with unrealistic body expectations in media for decades, for men it is new phenomenon really accelerating within the last 15 years. Now men also have to realize that the body is becoming a ‘project’ driven by corporations.”

Alexander chose sociology after realizing “there was something systemic about inequality and like most sociology majors, I wanted to fix it.” When she sees the same attitude in her students, she’s inspired. “I love teaching at Saint Mary’s because I like to see young women develop their intellectual skills and to help them understand that they can change the world. That’s a very positive thing you don’t get at a large state university.”

–Megan Osberger ‘07