Thursday video: digital emulation edition

In my archives class tonight (LIS440: Archival Access and Use) were were getting the cliff notes version of digital preservation, the future of archives. Because even though we will continue for the foreseeable future to have and acquire traditional materials in, say, paper form (or am I seriously the only person who still keeps my journal long-hand? writes actual pen-and-ink letters?), we'll also get an increasing proportion of "born digital" materials -- say drafts of a novel preserved in Word format, or an Excel file detailing travel expenses for a conference, or a computer program modeling data sets from a science experiment.

One of the concepts for preserving this data and making it available to researchers is "emulation." Basically, it's creating--using newer technology--a way of accessing older data that will re-create as closely as possible the original experience of accessing the data. For example, making it possible to run an old computer game (Donkey Kong anyone?) on newer technology, but maintaining the look and feel of the original game.

Our professor, Susan Pyzynski, showed us this digital archive, the agrippa files dedicated to Agrippa (a book of the dead), a sort of performance art collaboration created in 1992 by artist Dennis Ashbaugh, author William Gibson, and publisher Kevin Begos, Jr. It was a limited-edition book meant to be read for a limited time only before its text faded packaged with a diskette containing a digital file of a poem meant to be opened and read only once before it self-destructed.

the agrippa files managed to capture and emulate the experience of reading this poem, a process which they detail on the website and have made available through Google video with the permission of the original creators. Check out this experiment in 21st century archival access!

(note: if you actually care about reading the poem, you can find a higher-resolution Quicktime video on the agrippa file website)


In which I declare my love for Dahlia Lithwick

The final weeks of the semester have officially made me incapable of composing even simple links lists, so the blog post ideas are piling up. But in an hour between classes in which to occupy myself catching up on my rss feeds, this post by fellow West Michigan feminist Rita tipped me off to Dahlia Lithwick's recent column on Redding v. Safford Unified School District, Search Me: The Supreme Court is neither hot nor bothered about strip searches.

Now, I am an amateur SCOTUS junkie who also happens (ahem) to be a feminist interested in children's rights, women's sexuality and embodiment. So when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the legality of strip-searching a 13-year-old whose classmate had intimated she was in possession of (gasp!) ibuprofen, it's like being handed an oreo cheesecake ice cream sundae. When Dahlia Lithwick weighs in with her very own account of the proceedings, it's like adding fudge sauce, whipped cream, and graham cracker crumble to the top. To whit:

Editorialists and pundits have found much to hate in what happened to Savana Redding. Yet the court today finds much to admire. And even if you were never a 13-year-old girl yourself, if you have a daughter or niece, you might see the humiliation in pulling a middle-school honor student with no history of disciplinary problems out of class, based on an uncorroborated tip that she was handing out prescription ibuprofen. You might think it traumatic that she was forced to strip down to her underclothes and pull her bra and underwear out and shake them in front of two female school employees. No drugs were found. But even those justices lacking a daughter, a niece, or a uterus had access to an amicus brief in this case documenting the fact that student strip searches "can result in serious emotional damage" and that student victims of strip searches "often cannot concentrate in school, and, in many cases, transfer or even drop out." Savana Redding, herself a data point, described the search as "the most humiliating experience" of her life. Then she dropped out of school. And five years later, at age 19, she gets to listen in on oral argument in Porky's 3: The Supreme Court Says "Panties."

. . .

Yet in recent years, the high court has slowly chipped away at the privacy rights of students—frequently based on the rationale that there were drugs!!! Somewhere in America!!! Drugs!!! Creating danger!!! (This led an annoyed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to dissent in a recent case that the court was peddling "nightmarish images of out-of-control flatware, livestock run amok, and colliding tubas" to justify drug tests for any student with a pulse. )

Today's argument features an astounding colloquy between Matthew Wright, the school district's lawyer, and Justice Antonin Scalia, who cannot understand why "black marker pencils" are also considered contraband. "Well, for sniffing!" answers Wright. "They sniff them?" asks Scalia, delightedly. "Really?"

. . .

Nobody but Ginsburg seems to comprehend that the only locker rooms in which teenage girls strut around, bored but fabulous in their underwear, are to be found in porno movies. For the rest of us, the middle-school locker room was a place for hastily removing our bras without taking off our T-shirts.

Her penultimate observation? "Evidently teenage nakedness is only a problem when the children choose to be naked."

Dahlia Lithwick, I am yours forever.

Seriously. Go enjoy the whole thing.


Friday video: cutest. robot. ever.

well, okay. maybe not EVER. Wall-E was pretty darned adorable. but, anyway, via Alas, a Blog comes this New York City art project involving mobile "tweenbots" who are let loose on the streets of the city and aided by passersby.


A few more links on bodies

A couple of weeks ago, I rounded up a few links on policing "imperfect" bodies (women's bodies in particular). Here are a few more.

Watching the blogosphere coverage of Susan Boyle's performance on the Britain's Got Talent television show has been an a thought-provoking and often intensely discomforting experience (as was watching the video itself, though she does indeed have a gorgeous voice and sings with her whole body). Here are blog posts and threads I found particularly spot-on with regards to what's off about the hype.

1) The Pursuit of Harpyness asks whether Susan Boyle's performance at Britain's Got Talent and the freak-show aspect of media coverage surrounding it is "Heartwarming or Heartbreaking?"

2) via radishette: What he said. Nailed it.

3) Courtney Martin writes: "I don't think the majority of us are really willing to look at the ugly scripts in our heads, the fat discrimination, the self-hate (oh so relate to our merciless judgment of others)," that the popularity of the Susan Boyle video draws out.

And then: I've written a lot about how ageism hurts young people, and specifically about the American obsession with teen sexuality. Now here's a story about Massachusetts attempting to legislate against elder expressions of sexuality. The legislation is ostensibly to protect elders and disabled individuals from exploitation (a laudable goal), but has been carelessly and broadly worded. Not cool adopted state.

*Image (c) ria hills @ flickr.


Quick Hit: Children's Issues are Feminist Issues

Two links on bullying that came across my rss feeds lately remind me again about how integral children's experience and childhood spaces are to the struggle against power-over hierarchical relationships (i.e. the kyriarchy.)

First, via Feministe and Feministing, stories of two boys who killed themselves as a result of bullying that hinged on homophobic and sexist taunts: Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera.

Partly in response to these stories, as well as her own experience, Antigone over at punkassblog declares "If We Have Kids, We're Homeschooling":

Based on the number of people that had to live through bullying, and the complete lack of any systematic effort to stop it, I’m calling bullshit, hard. Public school does not properly socialize anyone, it teaches children to become bullies, victims, or learn the nifty trick of “not my problem”. That is not a socialization I want to give my kids at all.

Home education isn't the only possible solution to this type of situation (and indeed, will like not shield kids from bullying entirely -- though it can serve as a life-saving buffer for some), but I think Antigone's "I'm calling bullshit" is an important impulse. Systemic violence is not okay, regardless of where it happens and to whom it happens. Children -- who spend much of their time segregated from the general population -- often suffer from the same discrimination as marginalized adults (sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, ableism, etc.) while they are simultaneously less able to name and combat it -- because they lack the (developmental and experiential) perspective of adults and the resources and agency of adults.

Many children must -- through lack of individual choice or material options -- return to these hostile situations day after day after day where oversight by adults is inadequate at best and indifferent at worst. This is not acceptable. And I see calling bullshit on the intensely hostile world in which our children (who will grow up to be caretakers of our world and of us in our elder-hood, whether or not we are parents ourselves!) as integral to the feminist project.


Conversation in the Blogosphere

Many of you who read my blog don't necessarily spend a lot of time in the "feminist blogosphere," I know . . . so the heated, often polarized, conversations that have been happening in that virtual space over the last couple of weeks are possibly completely off your radar. But to me they have been important. They have encouraged me to be mindful about how I interact with others in virtual spaces -- on this blog and in comment threads on other blogs. They have challenged me to think about how to be open to learning in a spirit of humility while also refusing to let others set the terms of my own participation in the world of feminist activism.

I'm still thinking about what all of these conversations mean to me in terms of this blog and in terms of my participation in online communities generally. And I don't feel ready, quite yet, to offer my own composed thoughts on the subject. I thought, therefore, that I would round up a few posts that have spoken to me on the issue of interpersonal conversation and debate and share them with you:

Miriam Perez, at Radical Doula, writes about why she blogs and why she refuses to be bullied into silence in relation to this conversation about comment threads and transphobia at Feministing.

(For further background, you can see this earlier Feministing post for links).

Rachel, at the Feminist Agenda, muses about a dynamic I try to keep in mind when participating in the blogosphere, both as a way to check my own defensiveness and as a way of understanding others'.

On a related note, MK asks when is comment-thread engagement worth the fight?

Mandolin, over at Alas, a Blog, writes about disliking "competitive conversation." As someone who likewise finds oppositional debate both exhausting and unproductive, I really appreciate the distinction she draws between collaborative discussion of divisive issues and debate that is polarized.

More to come (hopefully) as the semester winds down and I have more time to think about the nature of this particular virtual space in relation to activism, online communities, and my daily life.


Quick Hit: Children as Caregivers

via the H-Net listserv on history of childhood comes a link to a recent New York Times article about children who care for parents and grandparents with health and other concerns.

Across the country, children are providing care for sick parents or grandparents — lifting frail bodies off beds or toilets, managing medication, washing, feeding, dressing, talking with doctors. Schools, social service agencies and health providers are often unaware of those responsibilities because families members may be too embarrassed, or stoic.

Some children develop maturity and self-esteem. But others grow anxious, depressed or angry, sacrifice social and extracurricular activities and miss — or quit — school.

“Our society thinks of children as being taken care of; it doesn’t think of children as taking care of anybody,” said Carol Levine, director of families and health care at United Hospital Fund, a health services organization that studied child caregivers.

As people on the listserv point out, the concept of children as automatically dependents, rather than caretakers, is historically contingent: throughout history children have been in the position of caring for others. Yet in our contemporary culture, we assume that, ideally, children will be cared for not caretaking. As a result, children who are taking on these responsibilities are often invisible to the public at large, at least in public policy and mainstream media discourses.

What is particularly interesting to me about the NYT article is that many of the organizations they profile are not treating child caretakers as automatically being taken advantage of, although they acknowledge the ways children are often ill-equipped to provide care, and the ways in which their own mental and physical health suffers.

The Caregiving Youth Project in Florida offers the most comprehensive approach, holding weekend camps to give children breaks and teach them caregiving skills. It counsels families and conducts classes and meetings in schools.

While I would obviously have to do much more research and reflection before offering an opinion about the efficacy of this approach in terms of the benefit to children and families, my knee-jerk reaction is to believe that meeting kids where they are realistically at (that is, honoring the valuable work they are doing in their families) rather than treating them as potential delinquents or devaluing their caretaking, is generally on the right track. Thoughts?


xkcd describes my life

I've been thinking a lot this week about how quickly and chaotically conversations sometimes happen in the blogosphere, and the pressure I -- at least -- feel to be instantaneously thoughtful on issues of great importance. I've never felt particularly adept at rapid response, and in the virtual world -- where the daily demands of our lives are often invisible -- impatience for instant feedback, apologies, clarifications, and elaborations can feel that much more intense. So today, when Diana put this xkcd comic up on twitter, it spoke to me.

It's nice to know there are other people in the world who don't feel so quick on the uptake either!

Tomorrow I'm off early to the New England Historical Association spring conference in Portland, ME. Then back home to work on grading student quizzes, reading Foucault, my seminar paper on mid-20th century humanist pedagogy (say it five times fast), and laundry, cooking, and perhaps even and episode or two of sarah jane or carnivale. Hope you all find ways to enjoy the weekend as well.


File this one under "patriarchy* hurts men too."

Stupid headlines like this irritate the hell out of me:

This was a story in the Boston Metro (free transit newspaper) today that Hanna and I noticed while riding the T out to Harvard Square. The entire text of the article reads as follows:

China’s budding gender gap — inspired by decades of one-child-per-family law, and the resulting rise in baby-girl abortions and infanticides — could develop into an increase in violent crimes, a new study reports.

With 32 million more young men than women, and the imbalance only growing, sociologists worry about a coming spike in crime, when men take out their frustrations on an increasingly wealthy population.

The report paints a grim picture for a modernizing China. “If you’ve got highly sexed young men, there is a concern that they will all get together and, with high levels of testosterone, there may be a real risk, that they will go out and commit crimes,” lecturer Therese Hesketh told the AP.

I was particularly charmed by the boxed quote attributed to "Researchers" (names please? the title of this report? anything that would reliably enable readers to fact-check the study**?) which read: "Nothing can be done now to prevent this."

Because, you know, dudes are just violent animals without wives to keep them in check.

I dunno, people. I personally have faith that guys in China may find another, less violent, solution to the dearth of women.

*or "sexism" or "kyriarchy" if you prefer.  

**A little searching on the internet tracked the study I'm assuming they refer to back to the British Medical Journal


stuff i've been reading (on the 'net)

Here's a haphazard collection of stuff I've been reading the last couple of weeks.

via MK: two hilarious comics about the experience of reading Twilight.

via Cynthia: a "funny futuredance" from the 1960s German science fiction film "Raumpatrouille Orion."

via Jeremy: two posts about the ducknapping and recovery of Pack, one of the bronze ducklings in the Boston Public Garden.

Kittywampus blogs about feminism and the sexual revolution (via figleaf).

Figleaf also offers some reflections on how one simple question can make us stop and think about how "heterosexual" is the default assumption we make, as a culture, about peoples' sexual orientation.

Cool sexuality education resource a conference-goer tipped me off about at WAM!

Miriam at Radical Doula on the creative potential of "crisis" and change.

Surgeon and journalist Atul Gawande on why solitary confinement should be considered torture -- and one evidence-based practice proven to reduce prison violence: giving prisoners greater control over their lives.

A new way to think about the concept of "political correctness."

Given my previously acknowledged love of dictionaries, I couldn't let this one go by unlinked. (You can view this as my salute to IA, VT, and DC).

Jesse at Pandagon on one reason why we should think twice before judging the purchasing decisions of people in poverty.

Because I linked (in my WAM! post below) to a thread on feministing about gender-neutral restrooms and trans rights, I'm including three responses from MK, queenemily, and catspaw pointing out the problems with how that conversation went down.

And finally, the now-traditional Hanna-link! This has been a feminist-heavy link list (damn; guess the secret's out), so here are two articles on Marx: a marxist analysis of Grand Theft Auto and a commentary pointing out that Marx was in many ways a product of the very economic structure he set out to critique.


Wednesday Reflections on WAM!2009

A week (plus) after WAM!2009, I'm finally getting around to blogging a few reflections. This was my second year attending WAM! Last year I went as a volunteer; this time I paid my way and wandered around the Stata center free of responsibility. It's an awesome conference for feminist people-spotting and in general spending time talking about all that stuff I spend my time thinking about virtually 24/7 (in some form or another) with people who are as obsessed as I am. Either we aren't as crazy as we likely all feel most of the time, or there are a lot of us crazies wandering free on the streets -- frankly, I'm not sure which is the more appealing option!

I've learned over the years that my stamina for conference sessions is limited: I reach "critical mass" when it comes to new and stimulating ideas fairly rapidly. So I limited my participation to two panel discussions and an informal lunch caucus -- and came away with lots to think about!  

The panels I attended on Saturday were "In/Out of Focus, Broadening a Feminist Lens: Gender, Non-Conformity and the Media" and "Feminist Blogging: From Journalism to Activism in Election Years and Beyond." Between the two panels, I joined an informal group of conference-goers at a lunch caucus to discuss "feminist sex ed." This lunchtime event, which I only found out about on the day of the conference, was both inspiring and dispiriting. On the one hand, it's awesome to hear from those in the diverse world of sexuality education (from schoolteachers to community organizers to college professors and sisters looking for resources to pass on to their younger siblings) about the work they are doing. On the other, it's frustrating to hear how much misinformation, legal restriction, community fear, and lack of resources and time limit possibilities.

One of the things that really struck me in the lunch caucus was folks' resistance to "co-ed" (non-gender-exclusive) sexuality education. As I have argued previously, the problem with sex-segregation in educational spaces is that young people who do not identify as male or female, or do not feel comfortable in environments in which everyone is presumed to be the "same" in some way based on sex/gender, are marginalized. I think it is particularly problematic in sexuality education, since the ostensible reason for separation is so that (hetero) girls and (hetero) boys won't be subject to scrutiny and embarrassment in front of other-sex folks. But this presumption of increased safety and comfort in single-sex environments breaks down for anyone who is not straight or gender-conforming.

As Jessica Fields has documented in her book Risky Lessons, women and girls do face a disproportionate amount of misogynist harassment in sexuality education settings that often goes unchallenged. Yet I'm hesitant to accept that sex-segregation is the way to go in addressing this problem. If nothing else, because it reinforces the sexist idea that men and boys are naturally disrespectful, misogynist pigs for whom containment is the best strategy. A far healthier (and feminist!) approach, it seems to me, would be to tackle the problem of sexism and respect head-on. It should be our collective responsibility to make sex education spaces safe and affirming for every person -- regardless of sex, gender, or sexual orientation.

This question of gender-segregated space and who is included was also a major topic of discussion in the first panel I attended "In/Out of Focus," since the topic was gender-nonconformity. This was the panel I was most excited about attending at the outset, since the line-up included one of my favorite feminist authors and one of my favorite feminist bloggers. And it did not disappoint! 

What the reality of gender-nonconformity means for "women-only" spaces is far from settled, even in feminist spheres (as a recent thread on gender-neutral restrooms at Feministing amply illustrated).  I thought both the panel and the audience members who participated in conversation gave a lot of nuanced and valuable perspectives on how conversations about sex and gender in feminism can take place without fear or bigotry.  Miriam Perez (see "favorite feminist blogger" above) talked about the need to be mindful of whom we are including when we use words like "women" or "female," and who we are excluding with that same language.  While no one is asking feminism to expunge the word "woman" from its reasons for being, it is also important to remember (as one of the panelists -- Julia Serano? -- pointed out) that "feminism and women are strongly related but not analogous."  Even among a group of folks who identify in the feminine spectrum, it's important to remember that not all of us have identical experiences of womanhood.  

The Q&A portion of this session was particularly strong, some of which Jill live-blogged over at Feministe.   You can also see live tweets from the session at Twitter #wam09gnc (oh, the crazy things one can do on the 'net!). 

My final panel of the day, "Feminist Blogging," introduced me to more new bloggers to add to my feminist-themed iGoogle pages (yes pages), and was a lively, reflective session on the lessons learned from the 2008 election about the interaction between the blogosphere and corporate media, between blogging and activism.  The conversaion also highlighted, for me, the way so many bloggers are able, through their blogs, to integrate their various life-works (parenting, employment, personal projects and passions, hobbies) in a web presence that somehow encompasses -- or at least touches upon -- all aspects of their personhood.  

The "Feminist Blogging" session helped me think, in a new way, about why keeping this blog has been so important to me over the last two years: As I make my way through graduate school, I often feel overwhelmed trying to find a path that will bring together the things that I care about into some sort of meaningful life and life's work.  This blog is one of the few public spaces where I can mix and match freely, shuffling and re-shuffling the various bits until the balance feels right and the relationships between thoughts and experiences are clarified.  It's an awesome privilege, and one which I am hopeful is mirroring the (albeit) messier "real world" version.
See the WAM!2009 conference site for a links list to further conference coverage.


Actual class: Scotland trusts its midwives

Via Molly at Citizens for Midwifery, an article about the Scottish government shifting primary responsibility for care surrounding pregnancy and childbirth from medical doctors to midwives.

Classy, home state

My old health insurance, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, has stopped providing coverage for sexual reassignment surgery for trans folks. This move was (sadly) part of larger cutbacks in coverage, due to a $133 million dollar loss in the past year. However, according to the Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery only 100 to 500 sexual reassignment surgeries are performed annually in the United States. Even with costs ranging from seven to fifty thousand dollars (depending on what medical procedures are done), I doubt this was a huge line-item in the BCBSM budget. Considering that the vast majority of health insurance companies already deny coverage to trans folks, it's disappointing to see one more bite the dust. Not cool Michigan.


Booknotes: Purity Myth

Just finished Jessica Valenti's latest book, The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women. It's a quick read (really! I wasn't shirking those reading assignments for class in favor of feminist political analysis . . . again!), and give a nice overview of some of the current conservative and mainstream trends for policing women's sexuality: specifically, the use of the elusive notion of girlhood "purity" and "virginity." She ranges widely over a constellation of cultural narratives about sexuality that all have at their heart a fear of mature adult women's sexual pleasure and sexual agency. Whether it's conservative purity balls and father-daughter dates or the mainstreaming of misogynist pornography and ubiquitous slut-shaming and sexual violence that punish women, the agenda, Valenti argues, is the same: propping up an oppositional view of gender ("men" and "women" are mirror opposites of each other, and blurring of the categories 'male' and 'female' is dangerous to society), often at the expense of women and girls.

I particularly appreciate the way Valenti foregrounds the importance of valuing the ability of women and girls as moral actors, capable of making decisions about their own sexual lives -- particularly when given access to a full range of resources (as opposed to a one-size-fits-all "just say no until marriage" toolkit, which spreads misinformation and ignores anyone who does not fall into a narrow heteronormative model of human sexuality). In the chapter on sexual education she writes:

I'm not going to reinforce the "they're [teens] are going to do it anyway" argument. I believe it's time to take a stance on sex education that isn't so passive--young people deserve accurate and comprehensive sex education not just because they're going to have sex, but because there's nothing wrong with having sex. [emphasis hers] Allowing educators to equate sexuality with shame and disease is not the way to go; we are doing our children a great disservice. Not only are we lying to them, we're also robbing them of the joy that a healthy sex life (as a teenager or in adulthood) can provide (120).

She goes on to describe the profound distrust of women that has been written into state and federal laws that regulate specifically women's sexual descision-making, effectively giving us the legal status of "moral children" (189).

Valenti provides, in the final chapters, practical suggestions for shifting this discourse of fear and proscription to one of sexual agency. Perhaps because I have been thinking a lot, lately, about what it means to approach fellow human beings with intrinsic respect for their personhood, even when we profoundly disagree with their values and choices, I was particularly struck by the way she frames her vision with the concept of trust:

Trusting women means . . . trusting them to find their way. This isn't to say, of course, that I think women's sexual choices are intrinsically "empowered" or "feminist." I just believe that in a world that values women so little, and so specifically for their sexuality, we should be giving them the benefit of the doubt. Because in this kind of hostile culture, trusting women is a radical act (198; emphasis mine).

While obviously fighting for a healthier sexual climate for women and girls does not end with trust, I don't know if there could be a much better beginning.


Hanna blogging: "history is soap opera"

My housemate and fellow historian had some fun yesterday with this column June Purvis wrote, over at the Guardian, about historian David Starkey's recent allegation that women historians have (gasp!) "feminised history" to his great and everlasting dismay. As Hanna points out:

honestly, the first thing i thought when i read this -- other than, "wow, he really is as much of a jerk as he sounds in his books" which i've never been able to read although i have tried -- was, "but, mr. starkey sir, history is often a soap opera all on its own. it needs no help from anyone of any gender." i mean, seriously.

Read the rest here.


A Few Links on Bodies . . .

. . . and the tyranny of cultural standards.

Given the infinite and glorious variety of human bodies, there are few things that piss me off more than the policing we do of each others' physical presence and presentation in the world. As Courtney Martin documents in Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters this is often particularly prevalent among women, although men are by no means except from scrutiny.

The women at Pursuit of Harpyness have a thoughtful discussion of the social privilege of thinness, which I feel is required reading for all women -- particularly those of us who happen to fall within the range of "normal" body weight as it is culturally defined. Whatever our personal insecurities, we need to keep in mind the way our bodies shield us daily from outrageous acts of public shaming.

Two recent posts about the often-invisible alteration of women's bodies via photoshop, one at feministing, and one at The Stories of a Girl point out the subtle standardization of women's bodies via visual media. I love the courage of women willing to own their embodied selves in public spaces.

Fig Leaf offers some thoughts on the policing of women's body hair, and asks why we assume men will be horrified by un-shaved, un-waxed female bodies.

Finally, the latest on the legal trial against teenage girls who had the audacity (shock! horror!) to take and send pictures of themselves naked to their significant others, and were prosecuted under child pornography laws by adults creeped about by sexually-active youth.