Booknotes: Five Lectures in Psycho-Analysis

In the few weeks since discussing Darwin, my Intellectual History class has moved through Nietzsche and Fin-de-siecle Vienna and arrived at Sigmund Freud.

I imagine there are few Women's/Gender Studies students in the country who have not encountered Freud in their intro-level classes: I remember the director of my women's studies program back at Hope College -- whose training was in the field of psychology -- suggesting that maybe, possibly, my response to Freud's theory of sexual development and penis envy was a little too categorically dismissive (if I remember right, my scathing response paper admitted to having thrown our textbook across the room). So I will admit upfront I came to Five Lectures in Psycho-analysis prepared for weary frustration at Freud's legacy, even as I was interested to see what a fresh reading ten years (yes, ten years!) since that first encounter might bring.

Five Lectures is a slim volume in which Freud recreated from memory five lectures he delivered at Clark University, Worchester, Massachusetts, in 1909 while visiting at the request of the university president, G. Stanley Hall. This fact alone gives me the creeps, since G. Stanley Hall had some heavily social darwinist theories of child- and adolescent development. Five Lectures is an extemporaneous-feeling overview of Freud's development as a psycho-analyst, his theories of dream interpretation and sexuality, and his beliefs about the role of psychoanalysis human development. Only one of the five lectures focuses specifically on sexuality, although his beliefs about human sexual development are integral to his view of human nature and growth.

While none of his basic views were startlingly new to me, I was struck as I read this chapter by two things: 1) how closely Freud's description of childhood sexuality corresponds with current, twenty-first century progressive, feminist views of human sexuality, and 2) how strongly Freud seems to feel the need to contain, organize, and channel that sexuality within the circumscribed space of heterosexual intercourse for the purposes of reproduction.

Of childhood sexuality he writes:

A child's sexual instinct turns out to be put together of a number of factors; it is capable of being divided into numerous components . . . independent of the reproductive function . . . it serves for the acquisition of pleasurable feeling, which, basing ourselves on analogies and connections, we bring together under the idea of sexual pleasure.

He describes masturbation, dominance/submission activities, the "desire for looking," fantasy, sexual play and emotional bonds all under this broad umbrella. He also points out that "at this early period of childhood difference in sex plays no decisive part." In sum, "widespread and copious" is the sexual life of children, loosely organized around the principle of pleasure (p. 46-48).

It is only after this rich description of sexuality, replete with possibility for variation, fluidity, and individuality which (crucially, in my opinion) places the recognition of pleasure at the heart of sexual feeling, that Freud retrenches. In the paragraph immediately following the descriptions above, he suggests that all of this abundant energy must, in order for "mature" adult sexuality to emerge, be "brought together and organized" into genitally-centered, reproductive activity (p. 48).

. . . Why? What is so terrifying to Freud (and any others who resist it) the first, "childhood," model of sexual-sensual experience? This week in class, I'm looking forward to sitting down with this fear and trying to understand what, exactly, is so freaky about "widespread and copious" pleasure.


Quick Hit: Birthday Feminism

My friend Linda sent me this article, The End of the Women's Movement, by Courtney E. Martin, today with a query for my thoughts. Linda is herself of the "second wave" generation of feminist activists (although I try to avoid generational language as much as possible when talking and writing about women's history), while Ms. Martin and I are in our twenties and of the "third" (or possibly forth?) wave era. Since intergenerational tension within feminist activism is an issue I care deeply about, and this article was published on my birthday, I thought it deserved it's own post rather than being buried in my next links list.

Courtney Martin, whom I read regularly at the blog Feministing, is herself involved in ongoing activism in this area as part of a roadshow of intergenerational feminists. In this particular piece, she takes a gathering at the Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art as a jumping-off point to write about the process of feminist activism today, and specifically some of the differences between today's political change and the activism of movements in the 1960s and 1970s:

People within feminist circles may recognize names like Jessica Valenti or Jennifer Baumgardner, but the general public doesn't. This is largely due to what Wired editor Chris Anderson calls "the long tail" -- the decreasing presence of a mainstream culture and the increasing influence of more diffuse communities organized around specific interests. In other words, we don't have a leader because it's hard to even pin down who "we" are. Leaders are useful for galvanizing movements, but they also rise to fame at a critical cost. Young feminists should count ourselves lucky that we don't have one face representing our generation -- which would mean one race, one socioeconomic class, one ideological bent. Nothing could be less representative, actually.

She also makes what I think is a fascinating observation that:

Members of the second-wave generation developed their feminist identity during the heyday of direct action. They had ecstatic, very physical experiences of feminism. . . . Now these women are older, many of them happily shifting into what Jane Fonda calls 'the third act' -- a stage of life when they don't give a shit what anyone else thinks, and they want to see the world live up to its God damn potential, once and for all. . . They're prioritizing changing the world again. And as such, they seem to experience an old hankering for an unapologetic women's movement that they can see, hear, and touch.

I had never before thought of situating women's movement activism in sensory experience; in the body -- and I think using embodiment as a framework to describe what is so compelling about the narrative and experience of that era is an intriguing new approach to understanding what the 1960s and '70s counterculture might offer us in terms of wisdom for the future.

The essay as a whole is thoughtful, and I think balances fairly well the task of respecting the lessons to be gleaned from historical circumstances and the experiences of our elders -- without losing sight of the fact that grafting past tactics onto present-day situations can often be counter-productive. Read the whole thing here.

UPDATE: Pursuit of Harpyness has a group post up discussing the article as well. Highly recommend checking it out.

"Happy birthday to me/that's how it ought to be . . ."

Sliding in just under the wire in the Cook family "birthday month" of March, I'm celebrating my 28th today. My mother noted on the phone when we spoke this weekend that I've been with her nearly half her life now. I find that a humbling thought.

In honor of the day, I take it upon myself to post something that brings together my childhood self and my present-day self: Raffi's "Bananaphone" song, remixed with images from Dr. Who and Torchwood. I find it hilarious and disturbing in equal measure; Hanna declares it deeply, deeply wrong.

Thanks to Diana for disseminating this video via twitter.

And thanks to my family for, serendipitously, discussing Raffi and this song just days before Diana found said video, so it was fresh in my mind.

Now it's off to open presents!


Earth Hour 2009

Last night, the city of Boston participated in Earth Hour 2009, a one-hour worldwide event in which people were encouraged to turn out their lights for one hour (8:30-9:30) in support of combating global warming. Hanna and I spent our hour of ecological friendliness playing scrabble by candlelight.

Hanna won infinity points for spelling "Ianto" on the board and thus won the game hands down.


links again

So it's clearly that time of year when substantive posts are by and large beyond me. But enjoy the fluff and piffle while it lasts, and look forward to more commentary in May.

Meanwhile, I'm off to WAM!2009 tomorrow over at MIT. Enjoyed volunteeering last year; this year signed up just as an attendee. Looking forward especially to hearing one of my feminist crushes, Julia Serano, participate in one of the panel sessions. Will report back next week.

Meanwhile, here are a few links of note from the past week.

NPR reported on the Quiverfull movement, and I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that the two quiverfull families showcased are from West Michigan. Ah, my home state. Land of radical extremes.

Have recently discovered, and have been enjoying, Greta Christina's contributions to the Blowfish Blog. For example, her recent post on what's wrong with the phrase "good in bed."

Betsy Hartmann over at Alternet calls out Chris Hedges for "overpopulation hysteria" and points out the dangers of attempting to legislate against population growth -- namely, repressive policies that curtail women's ability to control their own bodies and reproductive choices.

My blog was mentioned on Women's Health News!

John Stewart makes fun of the Pope's view of condoms. As my sister observed on twitter: "CNN: 'Pope wrong on condoms' hopefully not the expiration date." To which my mother replied: "or . . . what? . . . Pope baby!"

Yes Means Yes reports on the ACLU's involvement in cases where teenagers have been accused of "child pornography" for taking and sharing naked photographs with their significant others.

Via Hanna (because what link list would be complete without one?), the London Review of Books on my stupid vampire.

She also has some lovely new photos up; for those of you who miss my albums check hers out. Beautiful work.


Another March Birthday Post

It's my mother's 59th birthday today ("Many happy returns of the day, Mum!"), and since she's categorically opposed to having her picture in the public eye, I offer this (tangentially) fiber-art related amusement.

Via Shakesville (via a genealogy of other blogs).


Booknotes: Quiverfull

A couple of weeks ago, my own personal copy of Kathryn Joyce's new book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement arrived in the mail -- just when I was looking for one more way to put off doing school-related reading over Simmons' spring break. Joyce's book documents the theology, politics and daily life of families (especially women and girls) who follow the loose collection of conservative ideas that fall under the umbrella of "quiverfull" thinking: a patriarchal family structure that demands wifely submission, opposition to all kinds of family planning, fears of a "demographic winter" for Western nations, home education, and often political alignment with the Christian reconstructionist agenda. Hanna flipped through my copy and asked me how it is I can read books like this and not feel my blood pressure skyrocket. Which challenged me to reflect a little on my addiction to reading books about the intersections of gender, sexuality, politics, home education, and the Christian right. This booknote, therefore, is less of a review and more a motley collection of observations inspired by Joyce's journalism.

I think what I find most absorbing about the Christian right and the way they think about gender, sexuality, and education, is not their strangeness but their familiarity. And I'm not talking about familiarity due to close proximity (although growing up in a very religiously conservative area means I've been exposed to my fair share of right wing bigotry and fear-mongering). No: what I'm talking about is the fact that Christian right's critique of the American mainstream begins with with many of the same critiques of modernity that leftists put forward. Many of the families profiled in Quiverfull are deeply ambivalent about modernity -- about the rise of scientific rationalism at the expense of the irrational and sacred. They critique the way that a capitalist economic system, with its separation work and home spaces (and the resulting age-segregation of children and the elderly -- nonworkers -- from wage-earners).

As a result, they have created a vibrant counter-culture of their own that, as Joyce rightly points out, shares many of the same characteristics of the radical left. Home birth and midwifery activism among Quiverfull families, for example, "overlaps with back-to-the-land hippie counterculture in some ways. It's a deliciously amusing irony to some Quiverfull moms, who stake out their territory of natural pregnancy in the odd company of feminist doulas and naturopaths opposed, as they are, to high rates of hospital cesarean sections" (164). Likewise, the modern home education movement, which began as a form of leftist activism (see: unschooling) has since become an overwhelmingly right-wing phenomenon. So much so that -- although she makes passing mention of this history -- Joyce is comfortable conflating "homeschool" with Christian conservatism throughout most of Quiverfull without specifying that she is, in fact, writing about a very particular subset of the home education population.

In fact, it is precisely the outward similarity of these profiles of radical right and radical left that I find both fascinating and deeply disturbing. For while on the surface quiverfull families and "back-to-the-land hippies" and feminists may make similar lifestyle choices, their reasons for doing so are often diametrically opposed. Whereas leftist, feminist advocates of low-intervention childbirth and home education ground their critique of modernity and counterculture activism in notions of gender equality, democratic social structures, and a commitment to individual human rights, those on the radical right pursue the same forms of activism but root them in notions of gender difference, social structures that unapologetically support the kyriarchy, and the subordination of individual persons to tyrannical group dynamics.

As most of you know, I grew up in a family that was part of the leftist home education tradition. My sibs mixed public schooling with home-based learning, and all of us have gone on to college-level institutional education (and beyond). At the same time, I am firmly committed to the continued legality, and minimal governmental oversight, of home education. In this, like the feminist doulas of Joyce's book, I find myself in the uncomfortable company of groups such as the Home School Legal Defense Association. Because of this, I believe it is my responsibility to take a long, hard look at the beliefs and practices of those whose political and social agenda I (however occasionally) share -- and whose right to continue living as they do I, however abstractly, defend.

Though there was nothing startlingly new to be found in the pages of Quiverfull if you've read other work in this area, Joyce does a thorough survey of the disparate strands of religious and political thinking that inform the movement, and remains sensitive to the nuances of class, race, gender, and theological difference that shape individual experience within it. I also enjoyed discovering that by cultivating close relationships with other women, I am apparently in danger of committing the sin of "spiritual masturbation" (which, sadly, is not nearly as kinky as it sounds).

Now it's back to Carl Rogers' Freedom to Learn (for my seminar paper in Intellectual History) . . . not to mention keeping an eye out for Jessica Valenti's latest, The Purity Myth, and Michelle Goldberg's sure-to-be-absorbing The Means of Reproduction.


links: queue clean-up edition

I'm headed up to Maine tomorrow to pick Hanna up at her parents' house (they provide lunch, I'm bringing dessert!) so I'm trying to cross things off the "to do" list while I'm at work this afternoon. This includes finally publishing a couple of posts I have had hanging in the blogger queue this week.

First up: here's a hodge-podge of links I've collected over the past few weeks with an eye toward sharing them with the wider world.

I haven't read the short story it illustrates, but I was paging through a recent issue of the New Yorker when I came across the full-page reproduction of Ryan McGinley's photograph "Fireworks Hysteric", which I'm adding to my mental catalog of Awesome Visual Depictions of Women.

Karen Rayne offers some advice about talking with teens about sex, which I actually think is awesome advice for anyone who finds themselves in the position of communicating and educating about human sexuality.

Hanna sent this story about the Riot Grrrls music scene to me with the note "more your thing than mine." I actually know next to nothing about alternative rock, feminism in the early 1990s, and how the two fit together -- so thanks, H, for the link!

This post on anti-gay-marriage bullshit cracked me up; what I loved even more was that in comments people started discussing the ethics of human-cyborg relationships. Seriously. Geeks rock!

A recent personal favorite in the category of "what crazy stuff we humans do": Christian salt.

As oral arguments were heard by the California Supreme Court on Proposition 8, Slate's Kenji Yoshino published a piece on a Boston-based lawsuit challenging the lack of recognition of same-sex marriage under federal law.

Via Querki M. Singer in a comment on this thread: How kids in England are smeared in the press, and what to do about it.

And archivists everywhere felt their hearts breaking when this story came out.

I just read Kathryn Joyce's new book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement (booknote coming soon!); Mother Jones has an excerpt up at their website.

Diana sent me this link to women's history resources on the web. Hooray for women's history month!

Hanna and I have fallen woefully behind on Joss Whedon's new show, Dollhouse, but I've enjoyed Maia's commentary on the series over at Alas, a Blog (warning: spoilers!): see here and here.

Earlier this week, I blogged about a column on breastfeeding and feminism. DaddyTypes has another smackdown of the same article from the perspective of fathers.

Newsflash from the British Library: "The library believes almost all have not been stolen but rather mislaid among its 650km of shelves and 150m items – although some have not been seen in well over half a century." This struck me as a very phlegmatic, British description of the problem somehow.

Finally, Jesse over at Pandagon offers this analysis of the conservative worldview and comes to the conclusion that: "I tend to prefer a world which, at some point, can have some form of gender equality that’s not based on the presumption that the other gender is genetically inclined to fuck me in the ear with a rusty spoon."


Friday Video: I <3 Catherine Tate

At my apartment, we talk a lot about how much we love the British comedienne Catherine Tate, who -- among other performances -- can be seen as the brilliant Donna Noble, most recent companion of Dr. Who, the titular character of the long-running BBC series that Hanna has lovingly introduced me to this past year. Donna rocks.

Which, by extension, means Catharine Tate rocks.


Which means that we were particularly offended when Germaine Greer took it upon herself last week to suggest that Tate is not funny.

Excuse me??

Obviously, the entire premise of said column is flawed, as Kate Smurthwaite of Cruella-Blog has so thoroughly and amusingly pointed out.

Luckily, as if to underline the point, this video surfaced, showing just how unfunny Catharine Tate really is. Particularly when playing the completely not-funny character of schoolgirl Lauren Cooper and paired with Dr. Who co-star David Tennant in a very serious (cough) and high-minded (coughcough) sketch about Shakespeare.


Refusing the Question

Via a comment over at Pandagon, I discovered a brilliant op-ed by a post-partum doula working in California that takes up the issue of breastfeeding infants and the politics thereof. What I like most about this piece is that the author, Meredith Lichtenberg, refuses to accept the usual terms of this particular controversy.

In popular debates, the question of whether or not it's preferable to breastfeed or bottle-feed infants and young children is often cast in starkly either/or terms. One camp argues that breastfeeding is of negligiable benefit to babies and a burden to mothers; the other camp argues that lack of breastmilk will do irreperable harm to infants.

Lichetenberg, rather than step into the frey on one side or another, asks us to re-frame the question. The important point is not whether one parenting choice is better or best for everyone, but what parenting choice is best for each individual family. In her column, she is responding to a recent article by Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic Monthly that explores the potential benefits of breastfeeding (and concludes they are minimal). Lichtenberg writes:

The reason [Rosin and I] part ways, ironically, is that she’s missing her own point. Rosin is enraged that Society told her she should breastfeed because it was healthy for babies. Society told her that her own wishes or needs didn’t factor in.

But instead of saying, “Hey, Society, don’t tell me what I need to do! I’m the mom here, and I’ll decide for myself what’s best for me and my baby!” she succumbed to the “pressure”. Three babies later, she’s really mad. And she thinks that that makes a case against breastfeeding.

Lichtenberg's article is a great example of how to refuse the terms of debate on a controversial topic and re-frame the conversation in a way that is more holistic, more specific, and ultimately (I would argue) more feminist: she reminds women (and their partners) that they, too, can refuse the terms of debate and place the needs of their own families -- including their own needs -- front and center. That is a feminist position that can encompass all manner of individual parenting decisions, and one that I firmly believe is best for us all.


Are you ready for marriage?

Mystery Science Theater short, mocking a Cold War era "marriage preparedness" video.

No further comment necessary, really.

Except that the marriage counselor looks terrifyingly like Brother Justin in "Carnivale."

Hat tip to Hanna, as is so often the case :).

Shameless Self-Promotion: Essays & Studies

The Simmons College journal, Essays & Studies, has just published its Spring 2009 edition, in which I have an essay: " 'I have been more or less dissatisfied': The Educational Project in the Oneida Community." Also featured is my friend Rachel Searcy, also of the MA/MLS dual-degree program, with her paper " 'Seated at the Hearth-side': The Prescriptive Tradition of Female Nationalist Involvement in Late 19th and Early 20th Century Ireland."


Because to someone like me that's british for "eat me"

There's a little market down the street from the Massachusetts Historical Society that tends to stock random imported candies from the UK. For a few months, they were regularly carrying one of my favorite chocolates from my time in Aberdeen, minstrals, and every time I stop in for an iced tea or granola bar, I check to see if they have any. No luck in recent weeks, but their most recent shipment included one of the most intriguingly-marketed chocolate bars Britain has to offer: the Yorkie bar. As depicted above, its current packaging sports the slogan "it's not for girls," along with the appropriate signage for those not able to grasp the meaning of the text.

Hanna and I agree that the chocolate is quite tasty, and that our double-x chromosomes did not impede us in the least from enjoying it.


Happy Birthday, Birthday Boy!

My brother Brian turns 25 today. Happy Birthday Bro! Hope you're making time between prepping for your art students and designing threadless t-shirts to eat some cake and ice cream. Just think: if you worked at Dunder-Mifflin, Michael Scott would be throwing you a party!


Now all he needs is a magic top hat

Regular readers of this blog will remember that Hanna and I are besotted with the British stop-motion animated series The Clangers, and back in November wrote an open letter to the Obama family suggesting addition of froglets to the new White House family.

You will understand, therefore, our delight last week to discover our friend and colleague Cynthia had introduced, without even realizing that she had done so, a froglet to the Northeastern archives. Please meet Schweinfurth, the Northeastern Froglet.

He currently resides on the reception desk and seems content with his sole possession: a dime. We are currently on the look out for a top hat and gladstone bag, with which most froglets seem to be rarely without.


Movienotes: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Okay, I'll admit this right off the bat: I was ready to be disappointed by Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Despite my affection for Michael Cera as a comedic actor (due to being introduced by my brother to Arrested Development), it automatically starts out with a heavy handicap given that it's a movie made of a book I have adored since it first came out and introduced me to the brilliant David Levithan, who co-authored with fellow YA author Rachel Cohn.

In the spirit of the film classic American Graffiti, Infinite Playlist tells the story of a group of teenagers poised on the thresh-hold of adulthood as they spend an endless night trailing around New York City in search of an elusive performance by the mysterious band Where's Fluffy? Nick (Michael Cera) is the one straight guy in a queer-boy band, not yet over his traumatic break-up with manipulative queen bee Tris; Norah (Kat Dennings) is competent and quiet, used to spending her time at concerts watching out for her reckless friend Caroline and ignoring rumors she's a frigid bitch.

Despite these obviously gender-specific social quandaries, the thing that really struck me while I was watching the movie is that the people involved (writers, directors, actors) have managed to tell a love story that's not boy-meets-girl but person-meets-person. It's a story that resists casting Nick and Norah into any stereotypical "teenage boy" and "teenage girl" roles -- or at least making the story revolve around their performance in those roles.

On the downside, I missed the richess of the inner dialog inherent in first-person fictional narration (the novel is told in alternating chapters by Nick and Norah), and the more explicit sexuality that's possible in fiction that can't be translated onto movie marketed to a teen audience (thanks movie ratings board). While there's a really sweet make-out scene -- the details of which I will not spoiler ahead of time -- I couldn't help but notice that both the Tris-and-Norah snogging and the almost-oral sex scene didn't make the cut in the film version. I iz suzpishus.

In the end though, I think they may have made up for it by writing solid new material and (more importantly) giving Salvatore his due; I would have been very, very sad if Salvatore had been entirely absent.


Booknotes: Autobiography of Charles Darwin

This is Darwin week in my intellectual history class; we're reading selections from On the Origin of Species, Malthus' Essay on the Principle of Population, and finally Charles Darwin's charmingly personal Autobiography, which he wrote for his family toward the end of his life. I don't have any Big Thoughts to share with you on Darwin's story, but there were a couple of passages from his recollections that I thought I would quote here, to give you a sense of his autobiographical writing and sense of himself as a human being.

On his education: "During the three years I spent at Cambridge my time was wasted, as far as academical studies were concerned, as complete as at Edinburgh and at school . . . I got into a sporting set, including some dissipated low-minded young men. We often used to dine together in the evening, though these dinners often included men of a higher stamp, and we sometimes drank too much, with jolly singing and playing at cards afterwards. I know that I ought to feel ashamed of days and evenings thus spent, but as some of my friends were very pleasant and we were all in the highest spirits, I cannot help looking back on these times with much pleasure . . . But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them and rarely compared their external characters with published descriptions, but got them named anyhow" (50-53).

On society: "Few persons can have lived a more retired life than we [he and his wife] have done. Besides short visits to the houses of relations, and occasionally to the seaside or elsewhere, we have gone nowhere. During the first part of our residence we went a little into society, and received a few friends here; but my health almost always suffered from the excitement, violent shivering and vomiting attacks thus being brought on . . . I have [thus] lost the power of becoming deeply attached to anyone . . . As far as I can judge this grievous loss of feeling has gradually crept over me, from the expectation of much distress afterwards from exhaustion having become firmly associated in my mind from seeing and talking with anyone for an hour, except my wife and children" (95).

One final note: For those of you who didn't see this link earlier on my post about Darwin and Lincoln's joint birthday, check out the beautiful online exhibition about Darwin's life and work at Chicago Field Museum.


A few things

Books + feminism = irresistible .

mk has a thoughtful, succinct post on how to be an ally up at Little Lambs Eat Ivy.

I haven't become a twitter-er (twitterite?) yet, but see the writing on the wall, so enjoyed reading this beginners guide to twitter via feministing.

Feministing launches a new weekly sex advice column. First installment here.

Found this slightly chaotic, but thoughtful post on the use of the word "privilege" as a personal slur today and thought it was worth a read. (It references some recent feminist blog drama that I have purposefuly not been following -- not enough time or emotional energy -- but I think makes sense without the background.) Via, which provides links to said background, which in turn was found via.

New favorite web comic.

After I complained that my rss feeds all favored the informative over the entertaining, Hanna provided me with "true internet fluff" in the form of a dr. who locations guide.

She also directed me to this follow up on the story about teenagers arrested for creating "porn" by sharing naked pictures with their significant others.

And in honor of my birthday month (happy March everyone!) here's a lolcat that I think bears a striking resemblance to a few of my earliest baby pictures (sorry, they aren't digitized, so I can't provide visual verification).