Barbara Risman

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Barbara Risman
Born (1956-07-20) 20 July 1956 (age 61)
Lynn, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Washington
Scientific career
Fields Gender inequality
Institutions University of Illinois at Chicago

Barbara Risman is Professor and Head of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Early life and education[edit]

Barbara J. Risman was born on 20 July 1956[1] in Lynn, Massachusetts to an immigrant Jewish family. Risman’s grandparents fled antisemitism in Europe and immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century. She grew up in a multi-generational extended family home with grandparents, aunts, and cousins as well as her parents and three siblings. An early experience of sexual discrimination occurred at her bat mitzvah in 1968. At that time, only boys were permitted to read from the Torah. Professor Risman has been interested in gender inequality ever since that first “click.” She earned her bachelor's degree in Sociology and Women's Studies from Northwestern University in 1976, and her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Washington in 1983.

Academic career[edit]

Professor Risman joined the Department of Sociology at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 1984. She was also the founding director of the NCSU Women's Studies program from 1989 to 1993. In 2006, she became Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has been a Visiting Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Trento in Italy, and the Free University in Amsterdam. Professor Risman was elected as Vice-President of the American Sociological Association.[2]


Currently, she is president of the Board of the Council of Contemporary Families, a non-profit, non-partisan organization of family scholars and practitioners dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about families. She has also served as Co-Chair and Executive Director of the Council on Contemporary Families, president of Sociologists for Women in Society, and a member of the Executive Council of the American Sociological Association. She is incoming president (2014-2015) of the Southern Sociological Society.

Gender as a social structure[edit]

A major career contribution is Risman's theory of gender as a social structure. Her book, Gender Vertigo: American Families in Transition (1998, Yale University Press) is an early presentation of this theory. In this monograph, Risman introduces a theoretical framework that conceptualizes gender as a social structure, comprising three distinct but interlocking levels – individual, interactional, and institutional. Risman argues that it is the recursive relationship between all three levels that constructs and perpetuates gender inequalities in society. The monograph includes research on single fathers as parents, how baby boom women balance work and family, and egalitarian couples.

In her forthcoming book, Professor Risman traces the history of ideas and development of the use of gender in sociological theory and analysis. She then offers her own feminist theory of gender as a social structure. This is a major revision of her argument about how social change towards gender equality might effectively occur with far more attention to cultural issues. The book provides elaboration of how gender is constructed and sometimes deconstructed at the individual, interactional and institutional levels. She illustrates the use of efficacy of her theoretical argument with three different research studies: The first study is based on life history interviews with young people ages 18 and 30 about the meaning of gender in their lives. The second study is based on a major national survey of college students, as well as nearly 100 interviews with University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) students about sexuality. The third study is an analysis of the effectiveness of major federal grants to universities to do "gender transformation" projects; the data are based on a meta-analysis of new research and an analysis of both quantitative climate surveys and interviews with people involved in the project at the UIC. The book concludes with a utopian vision for a society that has moved beyond gender.

Influence on gender studies[edit]

Numerous studies have drawn on Professor Risman's theoretical framework of gender as a social structure. These include, but are not limited to, analyses of double standards in hooking up,[3][4] men's talk about home cooking,[5] involvement in gay and lesbian rights activism,[6] sexual violence on college campuses,[7] the “ex-gay” movement,[8] gendered migration,[9] the division of housework and child care,[10] and how society can move toward greater gender equality.[11]


Barbara Risman's numerous awards include the Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) Feminist Lecturer Award in 2003, the Southern Sociological Society Katherine Belle-Boone Jocher Award for lifetime contributions to the study of gender in 2005, the SWS Feminist Mentoring Award in 2007, and the American Sociological Association Award for the Public Understanding of Sociology in 2011. Most recently, she was named among the "100 Women that Mattered" at North Carolina State University.

Selected bibliography[edit]


  • Risman, Barbara J.; Schwartz, Pepper (1989). Gender in intimate relationships: a microstructural approach. Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth Pub. Co. ISBN 9780534096908. 
  • Risman, Barbara J.; Myers, Kristen A.; Anderson, Cynthia D. (1998). Feminist foundations: toward transforming sociology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. ISBN 9780761907862. 
  • Risman, Barbara J. (1998). Gender vertigo: American families in transition. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300072150. 
  • Risman, Barbara J. (2010). Families as they really are (1st ed.). New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 9780393932782.  Second edition forthcoming in 2014.

Journal articles[edit]


  1. ^ "Risman, Barbara J., 1956-". Library of Congress. Retrieved 13 July 2014. CIP t.p. (Barbara J. Risman; N. Car. State Univ.) galley (asst. prof. of sociology) data sheet (b. 7-20-56) 
  2. ^ "Results of the 2014 Election". American Sociological Association. 2014. 
  3. ^ Allison, Rachel; Risman, Barbara J. (2013). "A double standard for 'Hooking Up': How far have we come toward gender equality?". Social Science Research. Elsevier. 42 (5): 1191–206. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2013.04.006. PMID 23859725. 
  4. ^ Ostermeier, Ben (31 October 2013). "Chicago-area professor researches college promiscuity, gender roles". The Alestle. 
  5. ^ Szabo, Michelle K. (May–June 2014). ""I'm a real catch": The blurring of alternative and hegemonic masculinities in men's talk about home cooking". Women's Studies International Forum. ScienceDirect. 44: 228–235. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2013.08.003. 
  6. ^ Swank, Eric; Fahs, Breanne (2012). "An intersectional analysis of gender and race for sexual minorities who engage in gay and lesbian rights activism". Sex Roles. Springer. 68 (11–12): 660. doi:10.1007/s11199-012-0168-9. 
  7. ^ Armstrong, Elizabeth A.; Hamilton, Laura; Sweeney, Brian (2006). "Sexual assault on campus: A multilevel, integrative approach to party rape". Social Problems. Oxford University Press. 53 (4): 483–99. doi:10.1525/sp.2006.53.4.483. 
  8. ^ Robinson, Christine M.; Spivey, Sue E. (2007). "The politics of masculinity and the ex-gay movement". Gender & Society. Sage. 21 (5): 650–75. doi:10.1177/0891243207306384. 
  9. ^ Banerjee, Pallavi (2012). Constructing dependence: Visa regimes and gendered migration in Indian transnational professional families (Thesis). Unpublished Dissertation at University of Illinois, Dept of Sociology. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. 
  10. ^ Sullivan, Oriel (2013). "What do we learn by analyzing housework separately from child care". Journal of Family Theory & Review. Wiley. 5 (2): 72–84. doi:10.1111/jftr.12007. 
  11. ^ Trigani, Kathleen (July 2001). "From gender vertigo to gender peace". WWWomen. Out of the Cave: Exploring Gray's Anatomy. Retrieved 20 November 2013. [self-published source?]