from the neighborhood: i get birthday presents!

My 29th birthday (as many of you know) was at the end of March, and Hanna found this awesome coffee mug for me, all the way from McLaggan Smith Mugs in Jamestown Alexandra Scotland. It finally arrived yesterday, after a slight delay due to volcanic eruptions in Iceland

Regular readers of this blog may have realized that I am a longtime champion of nonstandard spelling, something which caused a great deal of tension between my mother and I during my early years (believe it or not, she had to work strenuously to convince me that writing was a worthwhile pursuit). "Excited" was one of the words she requested, eventually, that I learn how to spell the conventional way because I used it so often and she was getting tired of the variations on spelling I came up with.

The graphic is a riff on a 1939 British war propaganda poster that encouraged British citizens to "keep calm and carry on" in the face of German aggression. In recent years, lots of variations have cropped up, including Hanna's favorite: "now panic and freak out" (featuring the royal crown, only turned upside down).

This morning I christened the mug with its first cup of coffee, made in our brand new percolator (Kenya AA from the Boston Common Coffee Co., also known affectionately as the Beanstock).

"i think i might be gay...now what do I do?"

At one of my places of work, Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections, I'm in the early stages of processing the papers of Keri Lynn Duran (1962-1995), an AIDS activist and educator. On Tuesday, I came across two pamphlets from the mid-90s titled "I think I might be gay...now what do I do?: A Pamphlet for Young Men" and the corresponding "I think I might be lesbian...now what do I do?" (you can see updated versions of these -- lesbian and gay -- online at Advocates for Youth).

My reading of these was quite possibly colored by the fact I'd spent the afternoon reading literature on AIDS prevention and clinical drug trials . . . but I was struck by the muted tone of the pamphlets. They were in no way irresponsible or shaming: the text was affirming of non-straight sexuality, encouraged young people not to be pressured into settling on a single sexual identity, acknowledged the homophobia they may encounter, and provided additional resources.

But what I felt was missing was, you know, joy.

I'm far from the first person to suggest that our cultural attitudes toward the sexuality of children and young adults yo-yos back and forth from the clinical to the hysterical, from "just the facts" to "omg! think of the children!" without a lot of room left for pleasure. For embracing human sexual intimacy as one of the great joys in life. (See, for example, Jessica Fields, Judith Levine and Heather Corinna for starters.) And I understand the urge -- particularly in the age of lethal sexually-transmitted diseases -- to take a public health approach and deluge young people entering sexual maturity with the information to protect themselves from these infections (as well as from unintended pregnancy, physical and emotional abuse, etc.). But in dumping all of this cautionary information on top of them, while freaking out every two seconds about their sex lives (it constantly amazes me how much adults in the media enjoy speculating about the sex lives of youngsters), we somehow forget to talk about how freakin' awesome sex is.

And I'm not talking about how "hot" or "sexy" sex is -- as in "girls gone wild," performative sex. I'm talking about, you know, why all of us everyday folks (the people who don't look like the models in Vogue or GQ) enjoy sexual intimacy with our partners. We don't talk about why sexual intimacy is, at the end of the day, worth pursuing if engaging in sexual activity truly entails all the risks we tell young people it entails: a broken heart, a viral infection, an unplanned pregnancy, possible death.

I believe this is because our culture views young people as sexually insatiable. We assume they're perpetually horny. And we assume that, being horny, surrounded by other equally-horny teenagers, they automatically (magically?) know how to access all of the enthusiastic, joyful, athletic (dare we say "innovative, bordering on the avant garde"?) sex they want whenever and with whomever. We somehow (I guess?) imagine that young people have access to the language to talk about their desires, their loves, what turns them on, who turns them on, how to act on those feelings even though I doubt that picture of adolescence is one most people remember from their own teenage years.

Or possibly we don't invoke pleasure, joy, and desire in these conversations because we often still struggle to articulate them for ourselves -- let alone feel confident enough to speak of them to young people with less experience and even more questions than ourselves.

This silence makes me sad. Growing up, it seems to me, is scary enough without adults constantly taking it upon themselves to remind young people just how scary it is. Again, these pamphlets were providing encouraging information to young people they assumed were already struggling. And none of their advice seems, to me, particularly misplaced. They're not wrong in what they do provide. But . . .

I just wish the answer to "now what do I do?" (for all teens, regardless of orientation) could be a little less like a public service announcement and a little more, well, more confident in teens ability to grow into their adult sexuality with grace -- stumbling along the way, to be sure (we're all human, after all, teenagers too) -- but with generosity, tenderness, energy, creativity, passion, resilience, intelligence, and joy. Backed up by the message that we're available in the background to listen, converse, support, and provide information and resources whenever they might need them.

But really, we shouldn't forget to mention the joy.


on anonymity and political speech

Walking home this morning from dropping Hanna off at work, I happened to hear Nina Totenberg's story on today's oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court over whether the constitutional right to privacy protects petition signers from having their names made public.

Transcript available at NPR.

While the case before the court involves an anti-gay petition to repeal a same-sex "everything-but-marriage" law in the state of Washington, the issue before the court is not so much about homophobia, per se as it is about the right to anonymity in political speech: does someone who signs a petition for issue X have the right to keep that act private? In the Washington case, when advocates of the everything-but-marriage law requested to review the petitions in order to check for fraud, the petitioners claimed that the right to privacy protected them from having to make the lists public. They argue that privacy is necessary in order to protect petition signers from harassment by their opponents.

So here's the thing. I realize that, in this country, we have a right to privacy when it comes to actual votes: I often talk openly about whom I am going to or did vote for, or where I stand on certain issues. But it is my right as a citizen not to be forced to show my hand if I choose not to. However, a petition is something different. I've signed a few petitions in my life: usually I've done so outside my hometown library, or via websites, or at the grocery store. I'm asked to include my name and address on the understanding that those who tally signatures have to determine -- at least in the case of alleged fraud -- that I am who I say I am. There's no implied or expected right to privacy here. I'm putting my name on a form in broad daylight, right below the last person who signed the damn paper and right above the line where the next person will sign theirs. It seems really disingenuous to come up post facto with the argument that signers have a right to anonymity which they were never promised in the first place. You can't sign a petition "X".

Unless, of course, that's your legal name.

What truly bothered me about the pro-privacy advocates in this story is their argument that acts of political speech need to be protected by anonymity so that people who speak up for a certain position can be shielded from having "uncomfortable conversations" with those who disagree with them.

"Uncomfortable conversations"?


We're at a point where people who are against same-sex marriage want the right to defend their (in my opinion bigoted) point of view by protesting via a petition drive, but also want the right to remain anonymous so that they don't have to have "uncomfortable conversations"?

Grow the fuck up already. Part of being a human being in this chaotic, messy, every-changing world of ours is, you know, sometimes interacting with people who hold different opinions from you. And possibly having conversation in which those different opinions come to light. Conversations that turn out to be awkward, stressful, painful, sometimes alienating.

Welcome to the world.

There's tons of ways to deal with this diversity of opinion. Learn to be confident in your own opinion. Learn to be comfortable speaking up for yourself while also being a good listener. Find like-minded supporters. Possibly (god forbid!) re-evaluate your position in light of new interactions and learn something.

But if you're going to sign a fucking petition asking voters to revoke the human rights of a certain proportion of the population, then I say you'd fucking well better be able to articulate your reasons. And be willing to do so in public. In the NPR piece, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna defends disclosure laws on these grounds (though with less swearing).

McKenna replies that only one blogger said he wanted to encourage uncomfortable conversations. And he adds, "I don't think that encouraging uncomfortable conversations amounts to the kind of harassment or potential intimidation that would warrant keeping these petitions out of public view," he says.

"In fact, in a democracy, there are supposed to be conversations which are occurring about difficult or contentious political issues," McKenna says -- even if those conversations are uncomfortable.

Yes, it's important that you be protected from stalking behavior, from verbal abuse over the telephone or from (I'm speculating scenarios here) people who come to your place of business and interrupt your work to abuse you verbally or threaten physical violence. But this sort of behavior is already illegal. What's not illegal (thankfully!) is the right of person X to criticize (privately or publicly) person Z for an action or opinion of Z's that X finds misguided, hateful, or otherwise wrongheaded.

There are obviously more or less effective ways of having that conversation. I'm personally a fan of ill doctrine's approach.

What I am not a fan of is people who try to reinforce systems of oppression and exclusion through law and then argue they have a right to do so without taking flack for it, and without being held accountable. Once you start trying to force everyone around you to accept your version of morality, you lose your right to privacy on that particular issue. If you wanted to keep that opinion private, you should have kept it to yourself.


reading and gender: a couple of links

Thanks to Hanna, I have a couple of book-and-gender-related links to share with you this afternoon, despite the fact I haven't spent much time on the internet in the last few days.

George @ Bookninja shares a recent variation on the narrative-that-won't-die, the libelous fiction (pun intended) that men don't read. While admittedly I am not male-bodied, male-identified or even very butch or masculinely inclined, I know guys. And the guys I know read. At least, the guys I know read or don't read in equal proportion to the women I know who read or don't read. Their maleness has nothing to do with their interest (or lack thereof) in the printed word.

As an historian, I find it fascinating that our current cultural narrative around books and reading (possibly even writing?) is that it is a feminine pursuit: back in the late 18th century, polemicists fretted about girls being exposed to works of literature, particularly fiction, as fiction was seen as inherently libidinous in nature and might lead them to masturbation (Thomas Laqueur, Solitary Sex). In the 19th century, people worried about the power of a gothic romance to encourage girls' imprudent liaisons (recall Catherine in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey?) and later on feared that too much reading led to neglect of household chores (Lydia Maria Child). By the late 19th and early 20th century, mental exertion (particularly reading and writing) caused concern among advice-givers to both women and men: Charlotte Perkins Gilman was, famously, denied writing and reading as part of her treatment for postpartum depression; male academics and clergymen fretted that their chosen professions doomed them to a life of effeminacy and poor health (Gail Bederman, Manliness & Civilization).

So, somehow, by the twentieth century, "manliness" and the life of the mind had evolved -- at least in the humanities (as opposed to the sciences) -- into something that was both the province of women as well as a threat to the health of "civilized" human beings, regardless of gender.

And now, today, we have folks wringing their hands over a culture of masculinity that discourages being smart, articulate, literary (except, perhaps, if you can use language to bully others in the manner of public intellectuals like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins -- thus proving your uber-manliness by the way in which you wield language as a weapon with which to take down your opponents*). Whole books are written about encouraging literacy and reading among boys, and websites devoted to the subject exist on the internet.

My point is that this story we tell ourselves, about how boys (and the men who these boys become) are not readers, or only readers of very specific genres -- technical manuals, graphic novels, thrillers for example -- is just that: a story. It's fiction. Or at the very least, it's a sociological truth that we've mostly created through our formulation of what's "manly" in our culture, and reinforcing that every chance we get.**

So where does this association of genders (masculine and feminine) with certain types of literary behavior fit in with this second story Hanna found me from Sharon Bakar @ bibliobibuli on a new "women concept" bookstore that just opened in Malaysia? As Bakar observes

I don't like the cliched assumptions that women should like certain things whether in terms of decor (usually frilly, flowery pink things) or in the choice of books. The concept of women's bookshops is nothing new, but around the globe most have been independents which promoted feminist and/or lesbian thought.

I'm with Bakar on this one. Women's bookstores historically (and here we're talking 1970s-present) have been associated with the underground feminist/separatist culture that grew up around the surge in feminist activism and lesbian visibility in the mid-twentieth century across the globe (and particularly in the West). These cultural institutions obviously have a long and complicated history, given that they often promoted the work of activists and artists who had no outlet in the mainstream (in my mind a positive) while also, at times, fostering a separatist, essentialist feminism that perpetuates bigotry in various forms (in my mind an obvious negative). While safe(r) spaces for the marginalized folks are, I would argue, absolutely essential, it's also important to keep alive the conversation about how (in creating those spaces) whom we are excluding and why. And for what purpose.

A "women's concept store" that -- according to the news item Bakar links to -- highlights "chick lit" (itself a problematic category!) and wedding stationary is a far cry from that sort of separate space. Space that by its very existence challenged (and occasionally continues to challenge) our assumptions about sex, sexuality, and gender. Instead, this space seems more like the homosocial spaces of yore, which reinforce oppositional gender stereotypes. In this instance, possibly reinforcing the stereotype that bookshops are for women, while dudes go off and do, well, more manly things.

Presumably not-with-books.

*I make no claim that women do not, also, use words to bully: I think it happens all the time. However, I do think men are encouraged in our culture to equate being "smart" with taking down the competition in a way that women, possibly, are not.

**Again, this is a story about guys and reading, but we could just as easily write a story about women and the gendered way they are marketed certain types of literature and not others: I'm a fan of graphic novels, for example, despite the fact that graphic novels and comic books are often seen as the province of boys, and in need of a make-over in order to appeal to girls.


sunday smut: links on sex and gender (no. 19)

Just the links this weekend, folks!

Amy Romano @ Science & Sensibility | Why my first year blogging has changed how I see everything.

Ampersand @ Alas, a Blog | If you can't switch to vegetarian, switch to chicken.

Amanda Hess @ The Sexist | With Great Cleavage Comes Great Responsibility.

Two posts from awesome sex blogger Greta Christina @ The Blowfish Blog | After You, My Dear Alphonse (on why speaking up for what you want in bed is not selfish) and Mis-Matched Libidos: Can Mixed Marriages Ever Work? (on why Dan Savage's advice to couples with mis-matched libidos is lacking).

Melissa McEwan @ Shakesville | Two Days in the Life of Fatty Fatastrophe (on being shamed by one's doctor about weight).

Gala @ Gala Darling | xox (on why slut-shaming and virgin-shaming are wrong). Via Spiffy @ Hippyish.

Also on the subject of virgins and whores: J Maureen Henderson @ Bitch Blogs | The Young and The Feckless: Casual Sex Meets Cognitive Dissonance.

Tracy Clark-Flory @ Salon | Viagra for women: The quest for the perfect orgasm.

Nancy Keenan @ Blog for Choice | Nancy Keenan Responds to Newsweek Article on Young Pro-Choice Activists (more on the question of young progressives/liberals/people generally and social responsibility later this week if I can carve out the time).

Annaham @ Tiger Beatdown | LADYPALOOZA PRESENTS! How Amanda Palmer Lost a Fan, or, My Own Private Backlash (more about internet bullying than Amanda Palmer, but don't click through if you'd rather avoid someone being pissed at Neil Gaiman's fiancee. just sayin').

And finally, with amused befuddlement, I offer you Emily Votruba @ n+1 | Is Anal Sex Fair to Women? (complete with helpful comparative chart!)

*image credit: Nude sheer by Bruce Mayer made available @ Flickr.com by V-Rider.


in words and pictures: asking trans folks questions

This new poster has been making the rounds on the blogs I read the last couple of weeks, and I actually think the title is somewhat misleading: it's not so much about what specific words are verboten (for a glossary of terms surrounding transsexuality, check out the guide put together by the Gender Identity Project) but about why certain questions or turns of phrase are hurtful to trans people.

I appreciate that they include explanations along with each phrase, rather than just announcing "these words are transphobic!" When folks find themselves explaining over and over again that certain language is hurtful, the "why" often -- understandably -- gets lost in the shuffle. The "why" is often so obvious to those who are inside a given community that it can seem redundant to explain to those outside the loop why a question is hurtful. It can often be even more difficult to explain why it's hurtful without making the person on the recieving end of the explanation feel defensive.

Obviously, it's not the responsibility of those in the know to educate 24/7 about the things they're knowledgeable about . . . which is why it's handy to have infographics that do it for us!

via sexgenderbody and others.


on acquisitiveness: books I have known

This morning, while waiting for the local Trader Joe's to open, I found myself browsing the $1 cart at the brookline booksmith once again. This time, I found a copy of Laurens van der Post's 1972 quasi-autobiographical novel A Story Like the Wind which my mother read to us when we were small. It is the story of Francois Joubert, a colonial child whose coming-of-age is disrupted by the political violence of the native community's struggle for independence.

I haven't read the book in ages and there is probably much to critique about it vis a vis the history of modern imperialism and post-colonial Africa. From what I do remember, the novel idealizes the native peoples and treads lightly over the political backdrop that gives rise to the violence that overwhelms the Joubert family.

But the point is: I bought it. Standing there, in the early morning sun, I saw this paperback book with the cover I remembered from my own childhood, and I had the sudden overwhelming urge to own the novel. Even if I never open it and read it again (possibly out of fear that, once re-read, I would no longer take the same child's pleasure in the adventure story and instead read through the critic's eye).

I wanted to own it. Needed to own it. Mostly because of a passage I remember in which the child, Francois, observes how his father -- estranged from the colonial community for his critique of imperialism and from the native community for being European -- falls ill in an adult version of what might be described as "failure to thrive." Both communities have engaged in what Francois' Matabele mentor terms "the turning of the backs," a collective shunning of the outsider. The-turning-of-the-backs. It's such a wonderfully descriptive phrase, somehow conveying the utter isolation -- and eventual death -- of the human being who is an outcast, who is rejected from human society.

So I bought the book. And now it is sitting here, on my desk, gazing up at me. And I somehow feel more at peace for having this book -- with its little piece of wisdom, its kernel of human truth tucked away in its pages -- physically on my shelves. Part of me feels bad about this: why buy the book, even at $1, if I'm unsure I'll ever read it again -- thus depriving someone else the chance to discover and enjoy it? But I do keep buying books, as much for their material objectness as for the ideas the contain. And I miss them as objects when they are not near me -- as in the hundreds of volumes still stored at my parents' house in Michigan.

I'm not sure this post has much more of a point than this: that the objectness of books still seems to matter, even in this age of the internet and the kindle, when a great deal of my reading and writing -- let's face it -- happens in front of a computer screen. Some still, small part of my soul hears and responds to the printed word as something physically tangible, and different from all those words that flow by us every day in a long string of 0s and 1s rendered in text on the screen.


quick hit: a linguists delight

CaitieCat @ Shakesville blogged last Friday about prescriptivism, classism, racism, otherwise known as three bad ideas that go poorly together. She writes
As many of you already know, I'm a linguist by training and vocation, as well as by avocation: I simply adore language and languages, always have. One of the first things one often hears when mentioning a background in linguistics is something along the lines of, "Don't you just hate it when people say $EXPRESSION? Wouldn't it be great if they had grammar?"

My answer is always, "Well, no, actually, I don't just hate it; I find all forms of my native English delightful in the most literal sense, that is, they delight me. And further, every language and dialect has a grammar. If they didn't, no one would understand anything anyone said, and they do, or they wouldn't be talking that way."

Because, like most linguists, I'm a fairly staunch descriptivist. In small words, what that means is that I believe language is what it is created to be, and that it changes, constantly, and that change in language is neither bad nor good: it simply is. As linguists, it's not our job to tell people what is or is not "good $LANGUAGE_NAME". It's our job to study how and why language is what it is.

As a kid who struggled to see the point of standardized spelling ("but you know what I mean!" I would always point out stubbornly to my mother) I have always felt unjustly criticized by people schooled in more mainstream, socially acceptable American and/or British English for not using "correct" spelling and/or grammar. So I have to say, the five-year-old child in my soul was particularly delighted by this passage
When you deride someone else's use of English for its "failure" to adhere to the "standard" variety, it's not they who end up looking ignorant. Consider, next time, asking yourself about some "pet peeve" about a particular variety of English: Did the speaker achieve communication (the goal of language)? Were their goals achieved, in that you were able to understand what they said, their ideas successfully conveyed from their brain to yours? If so, then what grounds have you for complaint? [emphasis original]

Amen. And go check out the whole post over at Shakesville.


because I'm a lithwick groupie

Legal affairs correspondent Dahlia Lithwick has a column up over at Slate.com about the liberal law student response to the prospect of a second Obama Supreme Court nominee.
They understand that it's a foregone conclusion that there will be no risky pick for the court. They just aren't sure what makes their heroes so risky. Supreme Court savant Tom Goldstein has laid out better than anybody why the Obama White House has no interest in picking a fight about the Stevens seat this summer. Emily Bazelon has argued that the White House may not even have the stomach to tap Diane Wood if it means offering up red meat to antiabortion groups. Liz Cheney contends that Elena Kagan's participation in a broad national effort to ban military recruiters from campuses because of "don't ask, don't tell" makes her a "radical." By calling even Obama's moderate shortlisters unhinged, conservative judicial activists have knocked any genuine liberal out of play in advance of the game.

This has political implications, certainly, but my concern here is with the next generation of liberal law students, who continue to hear the message that their heroes are presumptively ineligible for a seat at the high court, whereas the brightest lights of the Federalist Society—Judge Brett Kavanaugh, professor Richard Epstein, Clarence Thomas, Theodore Olsen, Ken Starr, and Michael McConnell—are either already on the bench or will be seen as legitimate candidates the next time a Republican is in the White House. Look at the speakers list of the last national Federalist Society conference and tell me the word filibuster would have been raised if John McCain had tapped most of them. Not likely, because they're all perceived as smart, well-respected constitutional scholars and judges.

Read the whole column over at Slate
. I find it incredibly dispiriting, but because I'm a Lithwick groupie, I'm willing to read pretty much anything she writes. And I couldn't agree more on the cockamamie state of affairs that is our current notion of what constitutes the legal mainstream. Where, oh where, have the outspoken, articulate liberals gone?

Ampersand @ Alas, a Blog offers some further thoughts.


from the neighborhood: npr!

Ever since coming to Boston I've been frustrated by the inconsistency of the reception for NPR stations in the Boston area. Our apartment is wretchedly fickle about letting us get solid reception of WBUR or WGBH. But yesterday, Hanna had a brainstorm to hook up her Sansa MP3 player (which gets really good radio reception in our apartment) to a pair of computer speakers which we aren't currently using -- and voila! A 21st century radio! We were just in time to hear the Sunday Puzzle on Morning Edition.

Now I have NPR in the apartment and I am happy. My girlfriend is awesome.

a word from your blogger; or, how this blog has evolved

A couple of members of my family have recently pointed out to me that, since I started this blog back in March 2007 on livejournal, it's evolved from being mostly a chatty family-and-friends update-on-my-life sort of space into something more political in nature. Sure, I still throw on pictures from the neighborhood, talk about travel and Boston. But the majority of posts I put up here these days at the Future Feminist Librarian-Activist have to do with the scholarly and political issues I'm interested: sexuality, gender, feminism, books and reading, and political events.

This has happened for a number of inter-related reasons. Partly, because Boston and graduate school is no longer a new adventure, I have fewer "firsts" to share. I don't carry my digital camera around these days when I run errands in order to take photographs of, say, the Boston Public Library or Trader Joe's. I'm not moving to new living situations or starting new jobs.

At the same time, I've discovered that this blog is one of the few places in my life right now where I get to cogitate about the feminist and women's studies issues near and dear to my heart. While elsewhere in my life I'm immersed in the History side of my brain, this blog is a place where I can do cultural analysis and engage (however lightly) in current politics. It operates as a much-needed pressure valve, of sorts, and helps me connect to the wider world of feminist activism and analysis via the feminist blogosphere. Since I don't have as much time as I did pre-grad school to spend time on other blogs comment threads discussing these issues with other folks, posting on my own blog is a way of at least keeping my foot in the door and keeping my mind limber vis a vis feminist issues in a fashion that doesn't (usually) turn into a black hole of Time Lost on the Internets.

And finally, as this blog as moved from being purely personal and pitched toward my family and friends to something that has an ever-so-slightly broader following, I feel it's less appropriate to share some of the more personal facets of my life in this space. I am also mindful that these days a lot of my personal life overlaps with that of my significant other, who gets a say in what I share and don't share online for other folks to see. Since this is new territory for me to navigate, I've often erred on the side of caution when recounting personal anecdotes in this space.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, as I said at the top of the post, a couple of family members have remarked recently that they feel less in touch with what's going on in my daily life than they used to -- and this blog is not as useful a tool as it used to be for checking in as it has been in the past. I have, actually, considered splitting the blog and starting one (like my brother Brian and his girlfriend Renee have) that's personal news as opposed to quasi-professional in nature. And that's probably a good idea, but something that I honestly don't have the time and/or energy for at the moment. So while a new blog isn't off the table for good, it's been back-burnered until I finish up this grad school thing.

For now, I just wanted to let you folks who come here looking for personal news that I've heard your feedback and I'll be working toward some sort of solution! In the meantime, I wanted to direct your attention to the blog function known as "tagging" which can help y'all navigate the blog for more personal news amidst the sunday smut lists and feminist soapboxing. You'll notice at the bottom of each post I add a series of labels (on this post "blogging," "family" and "domesticity") that identify the basic content of the post. On the left-hand sidebar below the Archive (the list of posts in chronological order), you'll see the list of labels I use in alphabetical order and the number of posts tagged with each label.

Clicking on a label will take you to all the posts, in reverse chronological order (newest at the top) that are tagged with that label. For example, domesticity. For those of you who know how to bookmark URLs, you should be able to bookmark a particular label to return to later, to see if there are any new posts under the label. The URLs for each label follow this pattern: http://annajcook.blogspot.com/search/label/LABEL NAME.

So "domesticity" will be found under http://annajcook.blogspot.com/search/label/domesticity. You should be able to bookmark that label and return to it later. While you can see that many of the tags overlap with more personal newsy items, the most frequent labels I use for personal posts are

from the neighborhood (photos)

Obviously, any other tags you are particularly interested in you can likewise bookmark to check in on regularly. Or simply hop on over to the blog and click on the relevant tag in the list for up-to-date results.

I hope this helps y'all feel a little bit more able to navigate the Future Feminist Librarian-Activist for the posts you're actually interested in without being overwhelmed. I promise more streamlined changes when I have some time to actually follow through on them. I fear at the minute I'd be setting up a new blog only to let it lie fallow for lack of material and time to devote to updating it.

And, as always, I love hearing personally from friends and family via email. I can't always turn around and respond immediately to correspondence but I do keep mail in my Inbox until I've responded -- so I promise you won't be forgotten!


sunday smut: links on sex and gender (no. 18)

Divisions within sex and gender activism seem to have been in the virtual air this week across the feminist blogosphere. Yesterday, I linked to a few posts [discussing the use of trigger warnings]. That topic definitely took up a lot of bandwidth this week which, depending on how you want to look at it, either provided an opportunity for fruitful debate on the use of such warnings or simply upped the pageview stats of the original controvertista Susannah Breslin @ True/Slant. I'd like to think that even if it did the latter, it also prompted the former to net good effect.

Meanwhile, Ope Bukola @ Racialicious was observing another dust-up in the blogosphere, this time around the question of power and race within feminist activism.

Likewise, a number of blogs on my feeds covered the story of a British clothing chain, Primark, that has pulled padded bras for preteens after an outcry from consumer groups, many of whom took offense at the early "sexualization" of girls. Columnist Laurie Penny @ Guardian (clearly a young writer to watch closely!)argues that this is another misguided attempt by adults to police young peoples' sexuality.
Padded bras for preteens are not the problem. The problem is a culture of prosthetic, commodified female sexual performance, a culture which morally posturing politicians appear to deem perfectly acceptable as long as it is not 'premature'. By assuming that sexuality can only ever be imposed upon girl children, campaigns to 'let girls be girls' ignore the fact that late capitalism refuses to let women be women – at any age.

While I believe there's a role for parents to play in creating a safe haven for children and teens to explore their own sexuality at their own pace, at least somewhat sheltered from the media and peer culture, I agree with Penny that yanking consumer products from the shelf is not the best way to do so.

Also at The Guardian, Corinna Ferguson asks "do teenagers have the human right to consensual sexual activity?" In my own opinion, the answer you're looking for is yes. But, as Ms. Ferguson points out, the legal framework for adolescent consent in the UK is tangled at best.

While we're on the subject of sex (although it's hard to escape in these weekly posts for obvious reasons!), rabbitwhite @ sexgenderbody poses another question: what is sex? "As I counted cocks in order to lull myself to sleep, it inevitably got fuzzy. Did that one time in the cab count? Was there actual peen in vag penetration? This seem to stem from protecting the precious hymen, that invisible piece of skin elevated to such importance. That was what mattered right?"

Essin' Em @ Sexuality Happens, meanwhile, voices frustration at the way physical issues and situational stress have recently lowered her sex drive, frustrating her and her partner, Q, as they struggle to adapt.
Is it any wonder that my sex drive seems to have taken a vacation? No, but it pisses me off.

Why? Because I LIKE sex. In my head, I still want to have it 6-10 times a week like we used to. I see Q, and she’s so hot, so sexy, so much deliciousness and I want her all the time. But physically, my sex drive has gone out the window.

Do we have sex? Yes, although definitely not as frequently, and not for as long of sessions. Do I wish we had more? Again…my head says yesyesyesyesyses, my body say whatever.

Sending good thoughts toward both Ess and Q in hopes that they find some less frustrating solutions soon.

Cara @ The Curvature ponders the importance of consent in everyday situations, not just when it comes to sex. Does it matter when you tell your hairdresser you don't want shampoo and she goes ahead with the soap anyway, thinking she's doing you a favor?

Last week, I posted a couple of links to feminist blogs discussing the advent of "male studies" as the Manly answer to the wussy discipline of Men's Studies. A few more post on the topic for those who enjoy the horror: Amanda Hess @ The Sexist offers some helpful answers to pro-male-studies comments that have come her way since she wrote about the story; Pema Levy @ Women's Rights Blog points out that for a discipline attempting to exist without reference to other disciplines, male studies seems to have a lot to say about feminism and women's studies; and frau sally benz @ Feministe suggests 4 Ways NOT to Argue for Male Studies.

On a lighter, though no less amusing, note, guest blogger David Dismore @ Sociological Images offers a fascinating meditation on the rhetoric of suffragist postcards sent out in the early 20th century to secure the pro-suffrage vote.

To the delight of humorless feminist bloggers everywhere, Feministe will be hosting its annual Next Top Troll competition, in which odious, clueless, meanspirited, and often nonsensical comments left on Feministe posts are paraded by in a series of brackets and readers are asked to vote for their favorite troll, with explanations as to what tipped their vote in the comments (often well worth the read!)

And closing on an up note, Pilgrim Soul @ The Pursuit of Harpyness brings us the cheering news that the Obama Administration is moving to enforce hospital visitation rights for folks who wish to designate non-family members as their primary relationships. Obviously this is in part about queer families, but also includes the examples of religious folks who may wish the company of others in their order, or those with no close kin who wish to designate a close friend. Would be nice to see a bit more legal pressure put on institutions to recognize the variety of human relationships that exist in the modern world.

*image credit: gay art... by painting512 @ Flickr.com.


"spoiler alerts for the real world"

So this week in the feminist blogosphere there's been a lot of discussion about the practice of using trigger warnings. Some bloggers, particularly in the feminist blogosphere, who write a post on something that might trigger symptoms for those with PTSD (such as graphic descriptions of violence or sexual assault) label said posts with a trigger warning so that their readers can make an informed decision about whether to continue reading the post, pass it by completely, or save it for another day. Amanda Hess @ The Sexist has a good round-up of links from around the blogosphere on the subject, as well as her own reflections on the usefulness of trigger warning tags.

Melissa McEwan @ Shakesville makes an eloquent case for trigger warnings and explains why she uses them on her own blog posts.
A trigger is something that evokes survived trauma or ongoing disorder. For example, a person who was raped may be "triggered," i.e. reminded of hir rape, by a graphic description of sexual assault, and that reminder may, especially if the survivor has post-traumatic stress disorder, be accompanied by anxiety, manifesting as anything ranging from mild agitation to self-mutilation to a serious panic attack.

Those of us who write about triggering topics (sexual assault, violence, detainee torture, war crimes, disordered eating, suicide, etc.) provide trigger warnings with such content because we don't want to inadvertently cause someone who's, say, sitting at her desk at work, a full-blown panic attack because she happened to read a triggering post the content of which she was unprepared for.

Matched only by her follow up, On Triggers, Continued.
[Susannah] Breslin [blogging at True/Slant] accuses feminist writers of "handing out trigger warnings like party favors at a girl's-only slumber party," which is certainly designed primarily to insult writers like me, but doesn't say much for what she thinks of feminist readers, either. I don't view my readers as children at a party. I respect them as adults, with autonomy, agency, and the ability to consent—their own best decision-makers, their own best advocates, and their own best protectors.

Not that trigger warnings are universally employed by feminist bloggers. Amanda Hess (above) and the group blog Jezebel both thoughtfully articulate their reasons for not using such tags on their posts. However, it seems odd that someone would so virulently object to their application. As Hanna said when I described the practice to her, "so it's like spoiler alerts for the real world!"* which I have to say I think is an awesome description. That's exactly what they are. And I think they can be a really useful tool.

Apparently blogger Susannah Breslin, writing for the online news magazine True/Slant, doesn't think so. She thinks trigger warnings are a symbol of everything that is wrong and wussy about modern feminism.

Just to be clear here, we aren't talking "trigger" as in "you might be annoyed by the sentiments expressed in this post." At that rate, everything would be slapped with a flashing warning light. No, we're talking "trigger" as in involuntary physical reactions like panic attacks and flashbacks. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder territory. As commenter Li writes over at Feministe
I really like the part where she [Susannah Breslin] suggests that her previous post "triggered" feminists into being offended, cos I personally know that when I am offended it is exactly the same as when I am triggered and go into major motor function failure.

I was in a severe car accident over ten years ago, and to this day I find certain sounds and settings (such as emergency rooms, ambulance sirens, panic in peoples' voices) slightly triggering. I've never actually suffered hard-core flashbacks or other incapacitating physical symptoms, but I've had enough experience navigating those waters to imagine how much it would suck to walk through the world wary that something you read was going to cause "major motor function failure."

I find it incredibly dispiriting -- not to mention bewildering! -- that anyone would choose that sort of personal pain (and the corresponding courtesy that some of us are attempting to show, by equipping visitors to our blogs with the tools to navigate this space) as the avenue through which to attack feminist bloggers. Isn't being courteous to well-meaning visitors to our blogs basic politeness? I make the effort to label my photographs, for example, and clearly identify my links so that my blog posts are more reader-friendly to those who use accessibility software. I try to provide transcripts when available to video and audio content. I consider "trigger warning" tags for stories with especially graphic content (such as Amanda Hess's excellent, detailed account of a sexual assault victim's quest for medical care) to be similarly courteous, and do my best to indicate when links contain graphic content.

If that's what it means to be a feminist -- even if that's all it meant (as Ms. Breslin alleges) -- I'm proud to consider myself a feminist. Because hopefully by extending courtesy and care to other human beings who visit my space, I'm helping to make the world a little bit better for all of us.

*Used to alert readers of your blog when you're going to talk about plot details of a movie, television show, etc., that they may or may not have seen. That way, if readers care about not having the plot "spoiled" by knowing the ending, they can avoid reading the rest of the post until they've actually seen the show in question.


"our tea party has cookies!"

Right-wing celebrity of the moment (a girl can hope, yeah?) Sara Palin appeared in Boston this past Wednesday, April 14th, for a whinge session with the Tea Party movement folks (there are even some here in Boston, who knew?) who are pissed about possibly getting better health care and all. So a group of gentle souls decided to hold a polite counter-protest in the form of an actual tea party. The kind where you dress up and have biscuits.

These tea partiers dressed to the nines (or at least the four-and-a-halves) and carried pretty signs with such slogans as

"Tea Drinkers for Civilized Discourse"

"Impoliteness does not bring peace."

"Our tea party has cookies!"


"There is no trouble so great or grave that it cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea" (courtesy of philosopher Bernerd-Paul Heroux).

Hanna and I were unfortunately both working and unable to make the occasion (not to mention our lack of proper attire!) but a couple of folks who did make it have posted pictures on Flickr, the photo-sharing site, which are a joy to behold.

Have a lovely weekend, one and all.

*image credit: Parasol! made available by pensive.wombat @ Flickr.com.


"but the important thing is, knowing that doesn't make you as mad."

Today is the final day for filing tax returns* and apparently, some folks on the right have been getting upset that people such as me and my girlfriend (working four jobs we made a total gross income of just under $30,000 last year) pay little or no income tax in addition to payroll taxes (medicare, social security, state and local taxes, etc.). Nick Baumann @ Mother Jones explains.

I was mostly grateful that our tax returns enabled us to buy Hanna a pair of new work shoes without worrying about overdrafting the checking account, and maybe put a little money away in the savings account. But it turns out there are some people who are hopping mad that we have the unmitigated gall to be living below the poverty line.

Thankfully, we can count on Jon Stewart to highlight this craziness and make light of it. While simultaneously underscoring, of course, just how incredibly myopic, privileged, and, well, simply mean it is to scapegoat economically marginal folks for paying less tax.

Not to mention: WTF? Aren't these people the ones who think there is too much tax already?II? Shouldn't they be jumping with joy that over 40% of American households are in such dire straights economically that they're in effect starving the government of funds? Pretty soon we'll have smaller government by default. You can't have your no-tax cake and eat it too, people!

*(in case you finished them back in February, like me, and had forgotten there was a deadline still to come)


k.a.p.t: children as commodities

Reminder: Kids Are People Too.

I often suspect that our outwardly child-centric culture (the one that obsessively tracks celebrity "baby bumps" and coos over the latest convert to parenthood, the one that freaks out when couples try to limit family size or seek permanent pregnancy prevention through surgery) is actually deeply allergic to the concept that children are, in fact, not accessories but actual human beings. I've argued before that our obsessive adoration of all things "cute" and child-like actually points toward a callous disregard for the actual lives of actual small human beings.

The recent case of a Tennessee mother returning her adoptive son to Russia with a note saying she no longer wanted to parent him ("I'll remember you all in therapy!") has given us an opportunity to consider a whole tangled web of complicated ethical issues such as the moral ins and outs of international adoption and the lack of structural support for parents with children they feel unequipped to care for. However, as Pilgrim Soul @ The Pursuit of Harpyness points out, it also suggests the level to which our culture has accepted the commodification model of parenting.
My question, you see, is this: what is our culture teaching people if they are consistently displaying the signs of believing that child rearing and child care is some kind of consumer lifestyle in which they will metaphorically purchase happiness by “selflessly” devoting themselves to a child? That the care of children is not viewed as a collective responsibility but rather an optional joy, and when it turns out that the experience isn’t joyful, that it’s too hard, you just, you know, go back to the store. Complain about the service you received. Call it a day. What happens or doesn’t happen to these kids when they are basically unwanted, no one talks about. That’s somebody else’s problem.

This manifests in more ways than clueless Tennessee women putting foreign children unaccompanied on planes. It manifests in the fact that foster care systems are often a disgrace, that school systems are a low funding priority, and that this country, for example, doesn’t have a functioning health care system to support people who do parent children of the non-Wheatabix-cereal-box-beauty commercial variety. These attitudes, I’m saying, have consequences. Generation after generation of these kids suffer both emotionally and materially from our habit of demanding certain habits from them, and no one really gives a shit. When was the last time you heard a politician get on his high horse about seriously reforming child services, and I mean, not in a “those social workers must be fired” kind of way, but in a “let’s have a conversation about whether this is the kind of society we want to be” way?

Go read the whole post @ Harpyness, since it's totally worth it. And now I have to get back to polishing a presentation for Saturday's conference.


quick hit: feminist cognitive dissonance

So just last Saturday, I blogged about wrestling with how to live out feminist values in the real world. Then yesterday, Amanda Hess @ The Sexist wrote about what she calls "feminist cognitive dissonance," or the fact that
a simple awareness of feminist issues can’t magically negate the power of the culture in which we live. Here, validation is still dispensed based on how well you conform to the ideal.

Some of us desire that validation more than others, or need to conform in some places in order to, say, keep our jobs in order to pay rent -- while completely disregarding them in others (say in the privacy of our own bedrooms). Complicated shit.

Hess quotes from a piece on the difficulty of giving good sex advice in a fucked up culture.
Nagoski [Hess writes] notes that "most of the time it takes more than normalizing statistics to liberate someone from the burden of fear." In other words, simple awareness that our cultural ideal has been hoodwinking women into hating ourselves isn’t enough to make us stop. "What can an educator provide? Sadly, most often it’s advice about how to conform more to the cultural lie. Which makes me feel like a fraud," she writes. "It’s like trying to send the message that weight doesn’t matter, and then giving dieting tips."

You can check out the rest of the post at The Sexist under the title of Female Orgasms, Skinny Girls, and Feminist Cognitive Dissonance.


from the neighborhood: bear in shawl

A couple of months ago Hanna's mom sent her this hand-dyed, hand-spun, hand-knitted meditation shawl, and then my mom sent her a cat-shaped shawl pin to hold it in place. This weekend, we snapped a picture for both moms showing the shawl and the pin. Sebastian the teddy bear was our very patient model.


sunday smut: links on sex and gender (no. 17)

Sunday rolls around once more, and with it fun stuff on sex and gender for your weekend leisure reading!

As I catch up on my reading and put this list together, mostly supervising the reading room at work, the MHS is hosting a conference, Margaret Fuller and Her Circles, in honor of the 200th anniversary of Margaret Fuller's birth (23 May 1810). In conjunction, we have also mounted an exhibit, "A More Interior Revolution": Elizabeth Peabody, Margaret Fuller, and the Women of the American Renaissance, open to the public Monday-Saturday, 1-4pm through June 30th. If you're in the Boston area, come on by and check it out!

Lori @ Feministing offers us an alternate advice column in response to a young woman in Vermont who wrote to Dear Wendy asking what to do about the fact that everyone calls her a slut, and on the way by links to a recent piece by Chloe Angyal @ The Huffington Post reflecting on why media literacy won't solve the problem of women and girls' negative body image: "Fashion models, [the girls surveyed believe], are too skinny, unrealistic, and look unhealthy and sick. And yet 48% wish they could look just like them. This is, to state the obvious, a serious problem. It's one thing to want to be beautiful for beauty's sake. It's quite another to want to be unhealthy for beauty's sake."

Teen mom celebrity Bristol Palin has recorded an anti-teen-parenthood PSA message that has been criticized by many feminist bloggers (among them Roxann MtJoy @ Women's Rights Blog) as a message that basically comes across as "only rich, privileged kids like me should have sex." What I think is fascinating is that Palin is voicing (though in a bizarre, through-the-looking-glass way) what many feminist bloggers have pointed out: that she had a robust support system that enabled her to carry her pregnancy to term and become a teen parent without many of the long-term negative effects that her less-privileged peers can suffer. Yet she rather than speak out for reproductive justice so that all girls and women have the same ability to choose parenthood she did (if they want to), she shames less-privileged girls for having sexual desires and acting on them. No points.

Anat Shenker-Osorio @ RhRealityCheck reflects on the problem with understanding sex ("what bodies are") and gender ("what bodies do") as distinct and oppositional categories (male/female) when in reality -- biologically as well as culturally -- they are often somewhere in the muddled middle. "It’s too long been standard practice to enforce a one-to-one relationship, to dismiss any divergence between sex, gender identity and even sexual orientation as some kind of problematic aberration. In fact, deviation from the mean is an interesting, useful and common aspect of humans in our forms and functions."

Amy Romano @ Our Bodies, Our Blog writes about the unequal treatment meted out by professional associations, the legal system, and the general public towards midwives and OB/GYNs. While midwives live under constant threat of having their ability to practice curtailed or revoked with the slightest whiff of malpractice, doctors who performed a c-section on a woman who was not pregnant have faced little in the way of professional consequences.

On a similar note, Miriam @ Radical Doula calls our attention to the website "My OB Said WHAT?!?" which encourages women whose care providers (whether nurses, OB/GYNS, or midwives) has said off-the-wall shit to them during prenatal care, labor and delivery, and post-partum care. For example

"The baby can’t do that. You haven’t had a cervix check." -L&D nurse absentmindedly while reviewing papers, to mother with a history of fast labors, when the mother stated "The baby is coming" 20 minutes after arriving in the hospital. The baby was crowning.

I particularly enjoyed this one because the exact same thing happened to my mother (who also had fast labors) when she went to the hospital to give birth to my brother twenty-six years ago. Like babies and mothers' bodies somehow wait for the nurses to check all the little boxes in the appropriate order before getting on with things!

Harriet Jacobs @ Fugitivus has a brief post up on what it means to be a "fat acceptance" blog, and I appreciated the way she articulates the difference between telling your own story and judging others.

Do you want to talk about your own body image issues? That is awesome. Do you want to talk about the “obesity epidemic” and how if people would just eat X while dancing in a circle with Y and clapping their hands for Tinkerbell they would win the anti-gravity BMI trophy of HAPPINESS? You don’t get to do that here. Everybody gets to be the size and shape they are, everybody gets to eat how they want here, and nobody here gets to tell them they have to change, or there’s something wrong with them.

I still haven't formulated a comment policy for my own blog, mostly out of laziness (too little traffic to make it an issue 99% of the time), but when I see stuff like this I realize I should sit down one of these days and really articulate what I believe to be civil discourse. Not pushing your own shit onto others, even (most especially?) strangers on the internet, is definitely one such criteria.

Feminist bloggers the blogosphere over squealed with glee over the news that a group of scholars disappointed in the multifaceted, intersectional gender analysis that is women's studies, men's studies, and gender studies, have established a new discipline that they call "male studies." Tracy Clark-Flory @ Salon describes the group's position and expresses sadness that their oppositional stance toward feminism could prove counterproductive for thoughtful gender analysis. Sady & Amanda @ Sexist/Tiger Beatdown rap about what this says about the state of gender politics and Amanda Hess (who can't seem to stop giggling about this) offers some possible names for consideration as appointments to future male studies departments.

In a similar vein, figleaf @ Figleaf's Real Adult Sex reflects on why anti-feminists are so worried that women's advancement means men's downfall. "Summary: A highly-exasperated reflection on the embarrassing, sometimes embarrassingly earnest, anti-feminist belief that if the playing field is leveled men can can’t compete with women."

And finally, this week, on a thoughtful note, this column passed along to me by Hanna from The Guardian in which Denis Campbell @ The Guardian discusses the complicated ethics of transatlantic surrogacy and adoption. In the words of one couple, "I resent people saying that British couples who resort to surrogacy are buying babies abroad. We didn't buy Harriet: she's not picked off a shelf. She's not a 'designer baby'."

*image credit: Snake on a Naked Woman made available by lucy10 @ Flickr.com.


feminist values: calling on people to have some thoughts

Cross-posted at Feministing Community.

Hanna and I have been talking lately about feminism and feminist politics, comparing our very different experiences with various incarnations of feminist theory and feminism as a political movement. One of the things that we've been talking about is the question of hypocrisy: if someone (a feminist in this case) critiques a certain behavior, beauty ritual, book/song/movie, word/phrase, cultural belief, etc. and yet still engages in (possibly even takes pleasure in) said behavior/ritual/belief, does that make the person hypocritical? Or are they just being pragmatic or realistic? And if so, does that mean that there's no point to engaging in critical feminist analysis, if in the end we all end up pragmatists: does that mean that the status quo wins out in the end anyway?

There was a time in my life when I would have answered with an unqualified "yes, absolutely." I will always remember the conversation I had about shaving my first year taking college classes (I was seventeen) when I had just discovered theoretical and political feminism as something that -- rather than being of historical interest -- was of living, breathing political relevance. I had this Creative Nonfiction professor (whom in retrospect I would say I had a huge crush on) whom I met with to discuss an essay I was working on, and in the course of the conversation I said something to the effect of:

"Anyone who shaves their legs is supporting the patriarchy."

Yes, I did. I really did.

And my professor, bless her heart, gently suggested that given that we live in a complicated, messy, real world in which actions have multiple meanings and sometimes you do a thing for complicated, messy, personal reasons -- given all that maybe, just maybe, it was possible to shave your legs because it made you feel less self-conscious about your body, or shave your legs because you enjoy the ritual of shaving, or shave your legs because it makes it easier to lotion your dry skin and none of these things makes you less of a feminist. I was skeptical.

But I didn't forget what she said. And, over time, I've learned to live with the dissonance that is a fucked up world that -- try as hard as we might to improve -- is never going to be perfectible (and we should probably be grateful for that!). And living "within and against the rules" of that imperfect world (to borrow a phrase from theorist Sidonie Smith) is hard. Because we're at one and the same time unique individuals and products of our culture; our desires, our like and dislikes, or comforts and discomforts, they are often a confusing jumble of "me" and "society." Figuring out when Society is worth resisting, because it compromises my Self too much to be borne -- that's practically a full-time job. An important one, but an endless struggle. Sometimes even more difficult are those times when my Self and Society appear to be in accord: do I just think they're in accord? Do I want that because I've been encouraged to want it? Or do I want that because that luminescent Self at the center of my Being desires it?

Or is it a combination of both? And when, oh when, does it matter -- discerning one way or another?

(See, for example, my reflections on the sex and gender roles in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series)

I'm pretty sure all of you thoughtful people out there on the internets have examples of these difficulties in your daily lives. And I'm curious how y'all manage to navigate the perilous waters of Self and Society, to make a meaningful life for yourself "within and against" the rules of to culture as-is, while you're striving to live as if the world was the place you wanted it to be. Is living "as if" even practical? Is compromise always hypocritical? How do you have compassion for yourself (as a human being) who sometimes has to make the best of an imperfect situation? How do you hold on to your vision of a better world while slogging through the everyday? How do you make sense of the desires you have, or the actions you take that are, on some level, counter to your core values?

Please consider this an open thread for discussing any of these questions. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you've brought together feminist values with life in the world.


from the neighborhood: day of the inch plants

This is a picture of our inch plants in February of this year.

This is a picture of our plants yesterday morning.

Will this be our inch plants when we wake up tomorrow morning?

Welcome to spring, everyone!


booknotes: best sex writing 2009

So apparently, Best Sex Writing 2010 just came out and I'm a year behind. But I picked up Best Sex Writing 2009 at Powell's in Portland when I was there shopping with the birthday money my brother and his girlfriend had given me (thanks Brian and Renee!). I didn't realize until after I'd gotten the book home that the woman whose torso is pictured on the cover has no navel which is freaky and probably means she is actually an alien from outer space, or possibly a genetically engineered human like Luke Smith. Which is a little not okay (and now I can't stop noticing it), but does not detract from the essays within, which gather together awesome writing on sex from the past few years and bring it together for all of us to enjoy in one single place.

This anthology works well as a pick-and-choose anthology: you can read it from cover to cover or you can dip in and read whatever piece intrigues you at the time. The pieces included are sometimes erotic by not erotica -- this is not a collection of fiction designed to arouse the reader. Rather, it's nonfiction reporting, personal narrative, science writing, and opinion pieces that take as their central topic something related to the messy subject of human sexuality. In "An Open Letter to the Bush Administration," dominatrix Mistress Morgana Maye writes the (then) commander in chief to complain that his gratuitous use of force is driving away business: her clients lose their taste for domination when real-life humiliation of prisoners in Iraq is plastered all over the nightly news. In "Silver Balling," Stacey D'Erasmo recounts her humorous and inconclusive quest to discover the definitive meaning of sex-related slang term a friend tosses off during a phone conversation. On a more serious note, Don Vaughn reports on the sexual problems as a common (yet under-acknowledged) effect of PTSD, while Amanda Robb explores the Purity Ball phenomenon and Keegan Hamilton reports on how the "oldest profession" has gone 2.0.

One of the funniest (and also saddest) pieces in the book, Hanna and I agreed, was Dan Vebber's "Sex Is the Most Stressful Thing in the Universe," in which Vebber describes losing his virginity in college with his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend Molly (names have been changed).

Beginning with her phone call, and throughout our quest to purchase birth control, Molly's constant mantra was "We've got to get this over with." Is there any sentence in the English language that conveys less passion or romance? Thanks to the last moments leading up to our attempt at sex, Molly provided me with at least one: "Just so you know, this is going to be really painful for me, and I'm probably going to be bleeding all over the place." This final sweet nothing imparted, and the fortress of contraception having been built (including Molly's mood-killing-last-minute dash behind a closed bathroom door so she could put the sponge in), it was finally time for me to get a boner and fuck my way into adulthood. Three, two, one...go!

Needless to say, the encounter went down hill from there. It's a great piece of writing, though also painful in that it so clearly illuminates the need so many of us have for a less competitive, performance-based conception of sexual intimacy (and here I mean "performance" as in "quick! ace this pop quiz!!" rather than improvisational jam session). Molly's reaction to her boyfriend's failure to "perform" in the expected manly fashion illustrates once again how Patriarchy Hurts Men Too: if women are supposed to dislike sex, find it "really painful" and "bleed all over the place" the first time, dudes are supposed to be perpetually oversexed and ready to penetrate said women at any moment, in any circumstance, or they're somehow less-than men.

Anyway, this was a great anthology for airplane and airport reading (yes, really) because it had short pieces that I could pick up and put down as I boarded planes, listened for boarding calls at the gate, took naps on the long transcontinental flights, and so on. They'd also make great selections to read before bed if you know you're only going to be able to stay awake for 5-10 pages before your eyes start to droop . . . I don't know about you, but sometimes I'm more in the mood for something short and nonfictional than I am for something that requires me to invest in -- and keep track of -- the lives of multiple fictional characters. I'm definitely keeping my eye out for 2010 and look forward to what personal and political revelations the contributors have had this year.


quote of the day: not in front of the grown-ups

Hanna found me a copy of Alison Lurie's 1990 book Not in Front of the Grown-Ups: Subversive Children's Literature on the $1 cart at brookline booksmith, and yesterday I started reading it and came across this quote.

I think we should...take children's literature seriously because it is sometimes subversive: because its values are not always those of the conventional adult world. Of course, in a sense much great literature is subversive, since its very existence implies that what matters is art, imagination, and truth. In what we call the real world, on the other hand, what usually counts is money, power, and public success.

The great subversive works in children's literature suggest that there are other views of human life besides those of the shopping mall and the corporation. They mock current assumptions and express the imaginative, expressive, noncommercial world in its simplest, purest form. They appeal to the imaginative, questioning, rebellious child within all of us, renew our instinctive energy, and act as a force for change. That is why such literature is worthy of our attention and will endure long after more conventional tales have been forgotten.1

1 Alison Lurie, Not in Front of the Grown-Ups: Subversive Children's Literature (London: Sphere Books, 1990), xi.

UPDATE: Reader fairbetty has alerted me in comments to the fact that the American edition of this book was published under the slightly different title of Don't Tell the Grown-Ups: The Subversive Power of Children's Literature.


booknotes: so late, so soon

Immersed as I have been in thesis research, I haven't been doing so much actual book reading lately, at least of the kind that can be encapsulated in "booknotes" posts. But while I was on my travels out west in March, I read a couple of books I thought it would be worth mentioning here. And here's the first.

I found D'Arcy Fallon's memoir, So Late, So Soon when I did an internet search (yes, using Google) for information related to Lighthouse Ranch, a Christian commune in northern California that one of my oral history narrators mentioned visiting as part of an Oregon Extension field trip in the mid-1970s. Fallon joined the commune after arriving there as a hitch-hiking teenager in the early Seventies, drawn in by the commune's sense of order and purpose, eventually marrying a fellow communard and remaining with the community for three years, despite the increasing dissonance she felt between her own inclinations and the expectations of the commune's leaders about her role as a Christian, as a woman, and as a member of the community.

Now a professor of composition and creative nonfiction a the University of Colorado, Fallon tells her story with lyrical compassion; although the depression and oppression she felt in her latter days as part of Lighthouse Ranch is palpable, she also manages to convey a clear understanding of why her younger self might have sought out this type of community, at this point in her life, and the difficult of extricating herself once she had become immersed. The book has brevity (I read it on one leg of my flight from Boston to Portland, Oregon) and offers rich details that give us insight into a particular subculture within the counterculture: that of the Jesus Freaks who adopted much of the outward, material culture of the hippies and melded it with a sometimes dogmatic adherence to Christian doctrine, theology, and religious practice. Anyone with an interest in either the counterculture of the era or in the dynamics of religious communities (communal or otherwise) will likely find it an interesting read.


quick hit: america's earliest sex survey

The latest issue of the Stanford Magazine (April/May 2010) carries an awesome, thought-provoking article about the earliest-known sex survey that documents the habits and attitudes of American women around the turn of the twentieth century.

In 1973, historian Carl Degler was combing the University archives, gathering research for a book on the history of the family. Sifting through the papers of Dr. Clelia Duel Mosher, who taught in Stanford's hygiene department around the turn of the 20th century, he came across a mysteriously bound file. Degler nearly put it aside, figuring it was a manuscript for one of Mosher's published works, mostly statistical treatises on women's height, strength and menstruation. But instead, he recalls, "I opened it up and there were these questionnaires"— questionnaires upon which dozens of women, most born before 1870, had inscribed their most intimate thoughts.

In other words, it was a sex survey. A Victorian sex survey. It is the earliest known study of its type, long preceding, for example, the 1947 and 1953 Kinsey Reports, whose oldest female respondents were born in the 1890s. The Mosher Survey recorded not only women's sexual habits and appetites, but also their thinking about spousal relationships, children and contraception. Perhaps, it hinted, Victorian women weren't so Victorian after all.

Continue reading The Sex Scholar, by Kara Platoni in the Stanford Magazine.