Abigail Saguy

Abigail Saguy


Office: 102 Haines Hall

Email: saguy@soc.ucla.edu

Phone: 310-794-4979

Personal Website

Curriculum Vitae

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I am a sociologist 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 have examined: 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 talk of “coming out” as members of these groups to resist stigma and collectively mobilize for social change; and 4) how the concept of gender neutral has been defined in the courts and the various (and sometimes contradictory) ways it has been used to advance equality and inclusion.


2000 Ph.D., Princeton University

1999 Ph.D, L’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris


I am spending the 2023–2024 Academic Year at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York City working on a book, provisionally titled Gender Neutral: Equality and Inclusion. This book explores how the legal principle of gender neutrality—i.e., that the state should not overtly discriminate based on gender—has advanced gender equality and how new understandings of gender neutrality are being used today to promote diverse forms of gender expression and a wider range of gender identities. 

This book project extends research that I conducted with Juliet A. Williams and generous support from the National Science Foundation Program in Law and Social Science. We published our findings about how gender neutrality has been discussed in the news media, in 2019 in Signs; about how U.S. courts have defined gender neutrality, in 2020 in Law & Society Review (with Mallory E. Rees); and about how people are using singular they to resist and redo aspects of the prevailing gender structure, in 2021 in Gender & Society. In 2023, I published an article examining how activists conceptualize the promises and pitfalls of gender-neutral identity documents in Social Problems.

My previous book, Come Out, Come Out, Whoever You Are (2020, Oxford), examined how and why people “come out” as specific kinds of people. It examined the political goals this accomplishes and how the term’s origins in the gay rights movement inform what it means to come out as, say, fat, undocumented, as Mormon fundamentalist polygamist, or as a victim of sexual abuse. It showed that identity-based movements seek to cast off negative stereotypes and internalized shame. Sometimes this involved reclaiming stigmatized terms such as black, queer, or fat. Other times, groups try to destigmatize and reframe issues by employing new terms, such as undocumented, DREAMers, or plural-marriage-families. In both instances, people counter stigma and discrimination and pursue a human need to have their authentic self publicly recognized and valued.

In 2013, I published What’s Wrong with Fat? (Oxford). This book 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 also published several articles that examine related issues.

My very first book, What is Sexual Harassment? From Capitol Hill to the Sorbonne (2003, California). Along with several related articles, this book 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. In 2018, I extended this work in an article published in Law & Society Review, showing 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 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. The impact that news media reporting on this arrest has had on the enforcement of sexual harassment law in France sheds light on the likely impact of the #MeToo movement in the United States, as I discussed in several subsequent publications.



Come Out, Come Out, Whoever You Are. Oxford University Press. 2020.

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

Too ‘Full of Gender‘: How Activists Conceptualize the Promises and Pitfalls of Gender-Neutral Identity Documents.” 2023. Social Problems. Online First.

A Little Word that Means A Lot: A Reassessment of Singular They in a New Era of Gender Politics.” (with Juliet A. Williams). 2021. Gender & Society Review. 36(1): 5–31.

“Gender, Power, and Harassment: Sociology in the #MeToo Era.” (with Mallory E. Rees). 2021. Annual Review of Sociology. 47:417–435.

“Reassessing Gender Neutrality.” (with Juliet A. Williams and Mallory E. Rees). 2020. Law & Society Review. 54 (1): 7–32

“Reimagining Gender: Gender Neutrality in the News.”  (with Juliet A. Williams). Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. vol. 44, no. 2 (Winter 2019): 465–489

“Europeanization or National Specificity? Legal Approaches to Sexual Harassment in France, 2002-2012.” Law & Society Review. vol. 52, no. 1 (March 2018): 140–171.

“‘I Would Never Want to be an Only Wife’: The Role of Discursive Networks and Post-Feminist Discourse in Reframing Polygamy.” (with Nicole Iturriaga) Social Problems. vol. 64, no. 3 (February 2017): 333–350.

“Culture, Health, and Bigotry: How Exposure to Cultural Accounts of Fatness Shape Attitudes About Health Risk, Health Policies, and Weight-Based Prejudice.” (with David Frederick and Kjerstin Gruys) Social Science and Medicine. vol. 165 (September 2016): 271–279.

“Effects of Competing News Media Frames of Weight on Antifat Stigma, Beliefs about Weight, and Support for Obesity-Related Policies.” (with David Frederick, Gaganyjot Sandhu, and Traci Mann.)  International Journal of Obesity. vol. 40, no. 3 (March 2016): 543–549.

“Coming Out of the Shadows: Harnessing a Cultural Schema to Advance the Undocumented Immigrant Youth Movmeent.” (with Laura Enriquez).  American Journal of Cultural Sociology. vol. 4, no. 1 (February 2016): 107–130.

“How to Describe it? Why the Term ‘Coming Out’ Means Different Things in the U.S. and France.” (with Michael Stambolis-Ruhstorfer) Sociological Forum. vol. 29, no. 4 (2014): 808–829.

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

Gendered Homophobia and the Contradictions of Workplace Discrimination for Women in the Building Trades(with Amy Denissen) Gender & Society.  vol. 28, no. 3 (June 2014): 381–403.

 Coming Out as Fat: Rethinking Stigma. ” (with Anna Ward) Social Psychology Quarterly. vol. 74, no. 1 (March 2011): 53–75.

 Social Problem Construction and National Context: News Reporting on ‘Overweight’ and ‘Obesity’ in the U.S. and France.” (with Kjerstin Gruys and Shanna Gong)  Social Problems. vol. 57, no. 4 (November 2010): 586–610.

Morality and Health: News Media Constructions of Overweight and Eating Disorders.” (with Kjerstin Gruys). Social Problems. vol 57, no. 2 (May 2010): 231–250.

Fat in the Fire? Science, the News Media, and the ‘Obesity Epidemic‘.” (With Rene Almeling). Sociological Forum. vol. 23, no. 1 (March 2008): 53–83.

The Epidemiology of Overweight and Obesity: Public Health Crisis or Moral Panic? ” (With Paul Campos, Paul Ernsberger, Eric Oliver, and Glen Gaesser).  International Journal of Epidemiology. vol. 35, no. 1 (February 2006): 55–60.

Constructing Social Problems in an Age of Globalization: A French-American Comparison.” (With Rodney Benson)  American Sociological Review. vol. 70, no. 2 (April 2005): 233–259.

Weighing Both Sides: Morality, Mortality and Framing Contests over Obesity.” (With Kevin W. Riley)  Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law. vol. 30, no. 5 (October 2005): 869–921.

International Crossways: Traffic in Sexual Harassment Policy.” European Journal of Women’s Studies. vol. 9, no. 3 (2002): 249–267.

Employment Discrimination or Sexual Violence?: Defining Sexual Harassment in French and American Law.” Law and Society Review. vol. 34 no. 4 (2000): 1091–1128.

Puritanism and Promiscuity? Sexual Attitudes in France and the United States.” Comparative Social Research. vol. 18 (1999): 227–247.

Awards & Grants


Russell Sage Foundation. Fellow. 2023–2024

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.”


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.

Graduate Students

Jessica Huerta

Mallory Rees

Angela Clague