~oOo~

2010-07-28

a few thoughts about "children-are-people" conversations



It seems I can't help myself.

maia @ Feministe wrote a post yesterday about the freedom people in American culture feel to act on their prejudices against young people.

there is this weird thing in western culture, especially n american culture, where people/adults seem to believe that they have a right to discriminate against children.

recently, i was hanging out at a bar, when a friend called and invited me to come hang out for a few drinks and chill time as the sun came up. cool. then, i heard a bit of whispers in the background and the question posed to me: is aza with you?
ummm…what? why? does that matter? ...

im not a feminist ( yeah, i said it...shrug). but i dont understand people who claim to be feminist on one hand, and on the other hand think that children should be designated to certain public and private spaces, not mixing in ‘normal’ public areas, such as restaurants, stores, airplanes, etc. cause in us culture, when you create little reservations for children, you are really creating little reservations for mothers. it is the mother who will be sent away to take care of the child. and how is that supporting all women and girls?

The post, as has become predictable in these situations, attracted the good, the bad, and the ugly as far as commenting goes, weighing in with a comment thread that (as of this writing) clocks in at just under 550 separate posts. As Brandann Hill-Mann @ Women's Rights Blog points out,

There is a conversation that needs to happen, where we discuss how children are part of our society, how they have a right to exist, to take up space. How we are here to protect them and teach them to exist in the adult world because they don't yet understand how to navigate our world alone. But we can't really have that conversation, because every time we do, someone has to assert that children just should not be in certain places because children infringe on their rights, ignoring the rights children should have, but don't.

To demonstrate this, take a look at the wonderful post written by maia at Feministe about how to support parents in public spaces, and the 400+ (at the time of this writing) comments in it that have burst forth with numerous remarks about how children are unholy terrors in restaurants and ruining things for everyone else.

I've written about these issues on this blog repeatedly and at first I thought I would just pass this one by -- I tried to ignore the comment threads and forget all the crap people were yelling at each other about children (notice how children themselves rarely get to participate in conversations about what would improve their lives or the lives of those around them??). But riding home on the T this afternoon I couldn't get the hate out of my head, so I'm going to blog a few observations. Maybe that'll help.

1) The specter of the "entitled" parent needs serious unpacking. I'll admit right upfront that I've used this specter myself. "Oh no," I'll reassure someone, "Of course I'm not talking about those parents when I'm talking about children's rights. I'm talking about the considerate ones. The ones who never get in your way and whose children are always quiet and polite. The ones who never inconvenience us." The thing is, just like feminism is for bitches, children's rights are for kids. All kids. Not just for kids whom we think are "acceptable" (as defined by us). As a feminist, I see how people who don't follow the expected rules for their class of person are considered to be acting "entitled." Women who expect to be taken seriously -- or just take up the same amount of space on a bus. Black men who refuse to back down about something and get handcuffed. A trans woman who requests bathroom privileges and is labeled a troublemaker. "Entitled" behavior is often in the eyes of the beholder -- and people who assert their basic human rights in the face of discrimination are often judged by others as acting entitled.

I'm not saying people don't behave like assholes -- we all do, sooner or later. I'm just saying that to fall back on the "entitled yuppie mothers" stereotype to defend your distaste for families in public places is too easy. "Entitlement" needs to be problematized, dissected, looked at with a critical gaze. Next time you think someone is acting out of a sense of "entitlement" think about why, exactly, their behavior seems out of line. My bet is that at least seven times out of ten it's going to be behavior you'd tolerate (or at least not let color your feelings about a whole class of people) if it was done by someone whom you weren't pre-disposed to suspect of ruining your day.

2) Where do we get off judging the parenting decisions of others? A few weeks ago, Jessica Valenti blogged about how as a pregnant woman she is suddenly subjected to a much more intense level of scrutiny and intervention than as a non-pregnant person. This scrunity follows parents (especially mothers) into parenthood. Parents and non-parents alike in our culture feel free to offer their own expert opinions on every aspect of parents' interactions with their children and the way that parents and children interact with the wider world. While, obviously, everyone is entitled to think what they want in their own head (I've totally been there -- I get as pissed at what I think of as "bad" parenting as the next person), but I'm continually amazed at how presumptuous folks are about airing that critique in public forums. Two things alarm me about this

a) What makes you think you, personally, are in a position to act as judge? I'll admit upfront that I'm particularly sensitive to the policing of other peoples' parenting because I come from a family in which my parents made some pretty non-conventional parenting decisions -- decisions that, according to a great many people, were seen as borderline abusive. When I was a child, kids were taken away from parents who tried to home-educate them, particularly if those parents were not simply replicating school-at-home lessons. All through my childhood, I experienced the suspicion and policing of adults who did not trust me, my siblings, or my parents, simply because we didn't follow the conventional rules. When my mother tried to act as a liaison to facilitate our interaction with suspicious adults, she was branded a trouble-maker, a controlling mother. Things were written in our medical records, warning future medical staff to watch out for my mom.

This is all to say, I've known first-hand how the judging process works. It makes the judgers feel powerful and the judged feel small. And it has nothing to do with the actual well-being of actual children, since most judgments are made by people who have firm convictions about what is "right" and "wrong" when it comes to raising children -- all children -- with little or no flexibility of thought when it comes to individual families and individual children.

Next time you see a parenting decision you disagree with, I'd encourage you to imagine at least for a moment (even if you later reject the notion) that this decision was the right decision for this parent with this child.

Which leads me to the second half of this "judge not lest ye be judged" observation: the trump card of the judgers. The "what about the children who are being mistreated!" argument. See, I think a lot of the time this is

b) Self-interest disguised as concern for children. Judging parents in public spaces does not help truly vulnerable children. When parents sense they are being critiqued by others around them, they're likely -- especially if they are already abusing their children -- to take the shame they feel out on their children. So by shaming the parent you're making it worse. Do not intervene in situations where you feel a child is actually being maltreated unless you have the ability to follow up and ensure that that child is actually going to be protected going into the future. I'm assuming most feminists (who are well-versed in issues of domestic violence) understand this principle. Which is why I also sense that a lot of the concern expressed about children ("but what about the bad parents! should they get away with it?") is actually, again, about our own subjective irritation at people who are different than us.

While I sympathize -- who doesn't feel irritable on occasion? -- it's just not the fucking responsibility of all people at all times to cater to our own individual desires for how the world should be regulated.

3) Feminism is for children as well as for bitches. It was, in part, my experience being policed as a child that facilitated my openness to feminist activism and feminist theory, especially the notion that oppression is intersectional and systemic. That the only way to true change is radical change -- change that dismantles the system predicated on power that is power-over (the kyriarchy) and replaces it with with power-with. Power-with being the sort of power that recognizes the authority of experience and skill without creating a world divided between the haves and the have-nots. As Hanna so often reminds me, to depose one privileged group and replace it with another, to critique one set of cultural norms that advantage group A and advocate replacing them with a set of cultural values that advantage group B or C does not change the basic pattern: we're still stuck in a world with winners and losers. With people who are scrabbling desperately to acquire and hold onto resources and acknowledgement that is (so the kyriarchy tells us) in limited supply. I'm not buying it. I'm not buying that there's not enough love and care and resources in the world to take care of all people, no matter how broken, no matter how small. But in order to make sure that everyone's needs are being met, we need to quit playing the winner-loser game. We need to quit turning around once we've established our right to exist and shove the next person waiting in line. Instead, as self-proclaimed feminists we should be welcoming them in.

Which is why it's so hard for me to defend certain parts of the feminist movement (like, say the feminists who claim that ageist prejudice against children doesn't exist ... echoing the those who laugh off feminist concerns about sexism as so second wave already!) Sadie Stein @ Jezebel mocks maia's post and suggests, in a parting shot, that "ageism" only counts if its legal discrimination, not just social prejudice. If you replaced "ageism" with "sexism" do you honestly think that many feminists would agree with her? Yet her scoffing resistance to understanding children as a vulnerable, disenfranchised group in our society is all too common in the feminist blogosphere.

My advice on how to change all this? (Since I know you're dying to have unsolicited advice from your friendly future-feminist librarian ...)

4) Don't demand perfection, but do challenge yourself to think twice. We all make snap judgments based on our prejudices and stereotypes about types of people. We all feel intense reactionary hate at the person who takes the last seat on the subway when we want to rest our aching feet, or the parent whose child is fretful and screaming in the checkout line on that afternoon when a migraine is building behind your right eye. I'm not a fan of self-judging, self-guilting, self-blaming, and relentless self-policing. Punishing yourself for being human isn't going to make the world a better place to live in; it's just going to make you unhappy, your loved ones miserable, and probably not make those parents and young people you've been critiquing a helluva lot happier (unless they're the nasty sort of people who get off on revenge -- in which case perhaps I should exempt them from my 'all humans deserve respect mantra'?!)

Instead of punishing yourself, acknowledge the feeling. Acknowledge the thought. Let it know it's been recognized and heard, and that it represents some portion of your self that is trying to care for you in the best way it knows how -- however flawed that attempt might be. Accept the feeling into yourself, but don't let it consume you.

And then move on. Let the feeling go.

Or, if you're feeling so inclined, consider where it's coming from, and why you feel so desperately like your own sanity is in the hands of all these other people in the world who, like you, might just be having a rough day.

The best way to dismantle the kyriarcy is by recognizing and taking pleasure in the uniqueness of all beings, one being at a time. Including yourself.

So go forth. Care for yourself. And think twice before judging those around you. Perhaps particularly those who are further out on the margins that you yourself are. Perhaps, if you stopped pushing them away quite so hard, you'd discover that you actually had a lot more in common than you thought at first glance.

Peace, and good night.

quick hit: call for orgasm essays

Via the Good Vibes blog.

From sexuality educator and columnist Midori.

I am collecting women’s accounts of the physical experience their orgasms. I’m really hoping that some of you can help me out with this. Feel free to pass it on to any women or lists with women who might be interested.

Details –

I am seeking first person descriptions from women about their orgasms.

Who: You are a woman, 18 years or older, who have experienced one or more variety of orgasms. (Transwomen! I want your unique perspectives too!)

What: Essay of clear and detailed description of your orgasm, from start to finish, focusing on the physical experience, expressed in your own words. When does it start? What’s the hint of it? Where does it start? How does it move through your body? What sort of sensations? Imagine trying to illustrate your orgasm to a person who’s never had it.

If you have more than one type of orgasm, each variety would be written in a separate essay piece. (The get-to-sleep quickie, the deep one, the surprise one, the long building one, solo-sex one, when getting oral sex, etc…)

How Long? As long as it takes for you to describe it. It may be a couple of paragraphs or couple of pages.

Credit line: How would you like your essay to be credited? You’ll have one or two lines.

Editing: At most I will edit for grammar, spelling and simple readability. I want to keep it as true to your original narrative and tone as possible.

When: No later than end of August

Send to midori AT fhp-inc DOT com

Please make sure that there’s an e mail I can reliable reach you at. I may have some questions around editing or some other detail.

I’m happy to answer any questions on this.

Thank you!

Midori

2010-07-27

booknotes: her husband was a woman!


Cover art for Her Husband was a WomanA few weeks ago, when I was in Maine for the weekend I found time to read Alison Oram's slim little volume on gender crossing in mid-twentieth century England (1920-1960s, roughly), as reported in the popular press. Her Husband Was a Woman!: Women's gender crossing in modern British pop culture (New York: Routledge, 2007) explores how gender identity and sexual orientation was understood -- or at least reported -- in tabloid newspapers, and how it changed over time from the dawn of the twentieth century to the postwar era.

While clearly a scholarly monograph with a very narrow focus, Oram's book does a nice job of historicizing how we understand the relationship between gender crossing behavior and sexual identity. She is careful not to read backward onto women in earlier eras categories of identity that did not exist (transgender, for example) or were understood differently then. At the same time, she describes how those categories emerged and how they, in turn, influenced how gender crossing was reported in the press and understood by the individuals featured in the stories.

She draws mostly on stories of women we would today likely understand as transgender or butch lesbian: women who were read as men in their society (through the clothes they wore and the social roles they fulfilled) and were partnered with women. Some women began crossing as a way of escaping the constraints of femininity (to see better-paying employment, for example) and found it suited them. Others seem to have been drawn for more nebulous reasons to identify as men.

Oram compares the stories of these on-the-street gender crossers with women who performed in drag on stage, in situations where the audience knew the actor was female but bought into the male persona on stage. These performers, who were well-known and adored throughout the late 19th century and into the 20th provided a framework for tabloid journalists to understand gender crossing as something that was not necessarily tied (as it would later become) to lesbianism -- even though many of the real-life gender crossers were in same-sex relationships.

According to Oram, the early tabloid reports focused on the performance aspect of gender crossing, marveling (in a positive sense) at the women's ability to succeed in moving about the world as a man. As the twentieth century wore on, and scientific models of gender and sexuality were more widely discussed, medical language about sex changes and lesbianism began to creep into the reports. Gender crossing became more closely linked to same-sex relationships (which in turn were suspect) and the theatrical element of women's drag performances faded.

The book is a quick read, which I highly recommend to anyone with a particular interest in how cultural interpretations of gender expression and sexual identity have changed over time.

2010-07-26

shameless friend promotion monday


My friend Joseph, who blogs over at Greensparrow Gardens, was on the NPR show Splendid Table this weekend, talking about his new tomato hybrid (final segment). Annie Lamott once said in a talk I attended that in her family, making it onto National Public Radio was the sign that someone had Made It as a writer, artist, thinker, etc. And I've always thought that was a pretty good litmus test (as frightfully liberal bourgeois as that might make me sound!). So congrats, Joseph, and hope this is only the first of many appearances. My vote? Shoot for This American Life or Fresh Air next!

2010-07-25

sunday smut: links on sex and gender (no. 30)


bisou! by madefortvmovies @ Flickr.com


Welcome! This week in sex and gender ...

New Blog: Anarcha-feminism: it's about as scary as it sounds. Complete with rainbows and happy trees and coloring outside the lines!

Michaela Borg @ Ms. Blogs | Shoulder to Shoulder: UK Suffrage Postcards! The images are definitely worth the click-through if you're into vintage postcards + feminism ... I mean, really, what's not to like??

Anna North @ Jezebel | Terrifying weight-loss ad will make you lose sleep. Video and commentary. "First of all, it's obviously not true that fat people can't tie their own shoes or lead exciting lives. But what kind of exciting life is depicted here anyway? Trench warfare? A firing squad? A bleeding knife? These are the worst reasons to lose weight we've ever heard (and we've heard some bad ones)."

Jacelyn Friedman @ Feministe & Yes Means Yes | On Sex and Compromise (Feministe) and On Sex and Compromise (Yes Means Yes). Cross-posted discussion about the ethics of sexual negotiation in relationships vis a vis the concept of "enthusiastic consent" as the ethical standard for relational sex. I share both posts because the comment threads on both are crucial to fleshing out the conversation as it evolved.

Minerva @ Hypomnemata | Armed and Alarmed [No Sex as Weapon]. My friend Minerva challenges Jacelyn's reading of sexual negotiation and compromise from her perspective as someone with an asexual orientation.

Vexing @ Feministing Community | "I wouldn't fuck a trans person." On why saying this is transphobic. Full stop.

Richard Florida @ The Daily Beast | America's Top 20 Gayest Cities (in pictures!). Shared mostly because my brother and his girlfriend (Portland, OR, #8), my sister and her boyfriend (Austin, TX, #7) and Hanna and I (Boston metro, MA, #4) all make the list. Coincidence? Likely not! Also, I find it fascinating that Florida is "surprised" that Columbus, Ohio, made the list (#16). If you're from the Midwest and in the queer community this really wouldn't come as a surprise at all!

Thomas @ Yes Means Yes | The Slut-Shaming Kind of Feminist. Really not much of a feminist at all.

Courtney @ From Austin to A&M | ForeverGeek does it again! On (once again) why personal experience -- while legitimate -- is not a replacement for analysis of larger patterns. "How has this adult geek woman never considered, when she writes for a blog where she is a token lady, that she is in a male-dominated culture? Seriously."

Tracy Clark-Flory @ Salon | Transgender widow put on trial. Nikki Araguz is being sued by her husband's family, following is death while on duty as a firefighter in Texas. The husband's family claim the marriage was invalid due to Nikki's trans status. Autumn Sandeen @ Pam's House Blend has more.

Charlie Glickman @ Adult Sexuality Education | Shame as a Public Health Issue. He's talking specifically about trans/queer youth and safer-sex practices, but I'd say shame itself is a public health concern, given the detrimental effect self-hatred and shame have on quality of life and the ability for someone to feel worthy of sexual pleasure.

And finally, Hanna @ ...fly over me, evil angel... | friday fun times. Hanna has a round-up of the photographs from Comic Con of geeks counter-protesting the Westboro Baptist Church haters, who came to rain on the Comic Con parade. When in doubt, fight hatred with laughter. Humor always wins (or at the very least, has a good time!). Just sayin'.

2010-07-24

quick hit: "oh, inversion. how I shake my fist at you"!


Danika @ The Lesbrary has a fun post up sharing notes from a conversation between herself and a friend Cass about Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928).

C[ass]: The term ‘homosexuality,’ while in use in 1928, didn’t yet have its modern definition or its now understood division from gender. Inversion, on the other hand, completly tied sexual orientation to one’s gender and gender expression. A person labelled female at birth could not, by defition, be an invert without displaying masculine traits and masculine leanings. Therefore, in order to be a novel ABOUT inversion, Stephen has to be masculine. If we are using our modern lens here, then we can agree that, despite her masculinity, Stephen is not automatically male. The fact that her parents gave her a traditionally male name is out of her control. Lots of girls who continue to identify as women like to dress in pants rather than dresses because they are easier to walk and play in. Looking “like a man” or being masculine doesn’t make a person a man.

The conversation with her father is trickier, but if she has a crush on a girl, and thinks that only men and women can have relationships together, it’s logical that she would want to be a man in order to be happily in love with a woman.

D[anika]: True, but coming from a modern perspective, that assumes that you are by default the gender you were assigned at birth and only the opposite if there is overwhelming evidence. We don’t have overwhelming evidence that Stephen would identify as a man, but we have a lot less evidence than there is for Stephen identifying as a woman. She can’t stand to even be around women, except the ones she falls in love with.

That makes sense, but it isn’t just around having a partner that Stephen is frustrated at being labelled a girl. In fact, as some point she said “Being a girl ruins everything” (not an exact quote)

C: [...] [H]er gender and gender expression can be on the trans-masculine spectrum without her necessarily being trans. In 1928(ish), being a girl DID ruin everything!

I think you are the gender you understand yourself to be, but sadly I can’t ask Stephen. ;)

Check out the whole thing at The Lesbrary (and if you enjoy part one, then check out part two posted by Cass @ Bounjour, Cass!).

2010-07-23

friday fun: homophobes not welcome!


As previously mentioned, my sister and her boyfriend just moved to Austin, Texas and by all accounts it is an awesome place. Here's something that makes it a little more awesome. I'll let my sister tell the story.

I wrote this in a bathroom at a cafe a week ago on a chalkboard (meant for customer use).


blackboard reads: My sister is bisexual. I come from a tiny town that hates homosexuality. THANK YOU, Austin for accepting all people [heart] MRC.

Today, I went back. Under is someone wrote, "well, we don't really support homophobes, so you're welcome."

I thought that was a grand response.

Happy Friday everyone. Spread the love :).

2010-07-22

in love with new blogs: Emily Nagoski :: sex nerd ::


I'm really bad about updating my blogroll regularly, but I do have this exponentially growing list of blogs I follow on Google Reader. So I thought I might do a weekly (posted on Thursday) series for a while called "in love with new blogs" in which I highlight some of the bloggers and blogs I think y'all might be interested in.

And I'm going to start with one I recently discovered (or possibly re-discovered; it looks familiar so I know I've come across it before but why oh why did I not subscribe to its RSS feed then?? because this blog is awesome!): Emily Nagoski ::sex nerd::


Emily Nagoski is a health educator who lives in Northampton, Massachusetts and works at Smith College. In her own words

In 2006, she completed a Ph.D. in Health Behavior with a concentration in Human Sexuality. She also holds a MS in Counseling Psychology and a BA in Psychology with minors in Cognitive Science and Philosophy. She’s worked for well over a decade in the field of sexuality education and has grown into an impassioned advocate for social justice through sexual fulfillment. Politically progressive and unapologetically atheistic, Emily has strong opinions and a big vocabulary, and she’s determined to use both to make the world a better place for human sexual expression.

And maybe in another ten years I will have a job (somewhat) like hers! 'Cause damn, that sounds like fun.

Emily Nagoski ::sex nerd:: offers one post a day, roughly speaking, on the subject of human sexuality. Combination sex column, opinion column and ideas-in-progress space, this looks to be a great (and often funny!) resource for sexuality information.

A few recent posts to give you a flavor of her style.

differential desire.

So look, I’m going to say this thing, and you’re going to listen and believe me because… I don’t know, why would you believe me if you haven’t believed it from anyone else? Because I’m clever and have a PhD and things? No, you’ll believe me because it’s just true. Because in the patient corners of your heart, you’ve ALWAYS known it’s true. It’s this:

You’re not broken. You are whole. And there is hope.

You might be stuck. You might be exhausted. You might be depressed, anxious, worn out by the demands your caring makes on you, and in desperate, dire need of renewal. You might be tired of feeling like you need to defend yourself. You might wish that, just for a little while, someone else would defend you and protect you so that you could lower your guard and just be. Just for a while.

Those are circumstances, they’re not YOU. YOU are okay. You are whole. There exists inside you a sexuality that protects you by withdrawing until times are propitious.

I completely get how terribly frustrating it can be that your partner’s body feels like times are propitious right now, while your body is still wary. And it’s even worse because the more ready your partner’s body seems, the more wary your body becomes. It is The Suck, Like Woah, for both of you.

But it’s in there, your sexuality. It’s part of you, as much as your skin and your heartbeat and your vocabulary. It’s there. It’s waiting. You’re okay. Just because you’ve had no call to use the word “calefacient” or “perfervid” lately doesn’t mean it’s not longer available to you. Should the opportunity arise, there it will be, ready, waiting. Like the fire brigade. Like a best friend.

There’s a bunch of stuff you can try to create propitious circumstances.

read the rest here.

what I got wrong about LUGs.

Now imagine you’re a person who’s always identified as straight and then you come to college and you meet this amazing person who happens to be the same gender and you just fall head over heels, even though you never even imagined being in a same-sex relationship before… are your feelings less genuine simply because they might not have occurred in a less inclusive environment?

Should you choose NOT to get into a relationship this person you’re attracted to, on the grounds that you might not be attracted to that person under other circumstances?

Is the only REAL love a love that would thrive even in a hostile, hateful landscape? Only if you can love through being egged and threatened on the street is your love real?

That’s not the standard we set for straight relationships or relationships that look heteronormative.

I can totally see where the resentment would come from, and yet… I can’t bring myself to judge a person’s individual, internal, emotional experience on the basis of its political import. How could *I* know whether or not someone really loves someone else? Can I tell from the outside whether she’s a “real lesbian” or “just experimenting?” If it not my relationship, is it any of my business?

read the rest here.

how to fall in love (if you're fictional).

With so many barriers lowered these days, it’s hard to generate compelling and original reasons for your hero and heroine NOT to get together. I think sci fi romance, vamp stories, werewolf stories, shapeshifter stories are so popular because you can invent all kinds of rules about how risky it is for a human to mate with a whatever or who knows. And historicals, where you can use the rules of society that USED to keep people apart but don’t anymore.

Dorothy Sayers needed three novels – two of them VERY long – to disentangle her hero and heroine from their stigma. He saved her life; it’s a problem. 5 years later he allowed her to risk it, thus giving her life back to her. Her “Greater Than Themselves”? Detection, murder investigations and, under that, the truth at all costs. Her big “They Know” scene takes place in a punt on the Isis in Oxford, where they both went to school and which represents intellectual refuge from the discord and bitterness of the human world.

Me, I like writing Reunited Lovers stories because the stigma is built in: one of them done the other one wrong, enough that they split up. How are they ever going to fix it? But whatever brought them together in the first place makes a perfect Greater Than Themselves.

So now you know the trick to falling in love if you’re fictional.

read the rest here. I say she made extra bonus points there for the Dorothy Sayers reference.

Sometimes, she's a little women's sexuality is different and more complicated than men's! for my taste, but I think the overall advice she gives about being open to more fluid, expansive definitions of sexuality and sexual activity is good so I'm willing to at least go along for the ride and keep reading.

2010-07-21

from the archives: when work and life collide


So the other day at work when I was searching the Library of Congress authority files (where librarians go to verify how to construct subject or name entries while cataloging) I had the idea to look up my grandfather, a published author, in the database. And lo!



There he is, Cook, James I., 1925-. It's super strange to see someone you actually know listed in the Library of Congress catalog, and have their identity described in an authority record like this.

LC Control Number: n 80104485
HEADING: Cook, James I., 1925-
Biographical/Historical Note: b. Mar. 8; Th.D. from Princeton; prof. of Biblical languages & lit. at Western Theol. Sem.
Found In:Grace upon grace ... 1975.


Even though he died May 1st, 2007, the catalog entry doesn't reflect that because unless there's an immediate need to change the authority record the LoC usually doesn't. They just leave it the way it was when they first created the file.

Anyway, that was my little sliver of enjoyment for the day. Library geeks will get some fun out of it, and the rest of you can make of it what you will.

2010-07-20

reconsidering twilight fans: a couple of links



Feminists have a complicated relationship with the Twilight series and fandom, as I have previously documented on this blog. this morning, I'd like to share a couple of items that challenge us to remember that, however retrograde and problematic the series and its surrounding franchise are in terms of gender and sexuality, writing off the fandom as gullible or unenlightened is hardly helpful and (I would argue) hardly feminist.

First, Mathilda Gregory @ The Guardian (thanks to Hanna for the link) reminds us that fans are not necessarily passively imbibing the narratives handed to them -- and it's insulting to the fans (primarily teenage girls and women) to assume they are.

Has there ever been a franchise whose fan base has been so maligned? It's starting to feel like some of the male critics of Twilight are just uneasy that, for once, something that isn't aimed at them is getting such a big slice of the zeitgeist.

Meanwhile, instead of defending the film, some feminists aren't happy either because of Bella's passivity and the tale's theme of abstinence before marriage. Well, OK, author Stephanie Meyer's devout Mormonism does give weight to that reading of the text. But it's not really as simple as that. We can presume a lot about the author's intent, but that's not necessarily the message the films' fans are taking away from it.

The second story, from Amanda Marcotte @ RhRealityCheck comes in the form of a podcast interview with Tanya Erzen about the contours of Twilight fandom. Check out the podcast or, if you can't access audio on your computer, this recent essay by Erzen @ The Revealer about the religion of Twilight fans. Here's an excerpt.

In my interviews and survey of 3,000 fans, the majority express sometimes contradictory beliefs in the supernatural while asserting adherence to traditional religious institutions. Yet, while Twilight won’t replace organized religion, it reflects a longing for sacred and extraordinary experiences in everyday life that are perhaps missing in traditional religious venues. In pilgrimages to Forks, Washington, the setting for the books (in July 2009 alone, 16,000 fans trekked to Forks like supplicants at a holy site, more than the total number of visitors in 2008), fans indulge the fantasy that a supernatural world exists alongside our own, searching for vampires in the woods and lingering outside the re-imagined home of Bella. Rather than fueling interest in vampirism, a concern among some Christian critics of the books, the series provides what Laderman calls “myths that provide profound and practical fulfillment in a chaotic and unfulfilling world.” It’s also impossible to separate these moments of spiritual enchantment from the Twilight franchise, which ceaselessly offers consumption to women and girls as a way to retain the feelings of belonging, romance and enchantment. There are Edward and Bella Barbie dolls, lip venom, calendars, video games, graphic novels, and fangs cleverly promoted and eagerly purchased at conventions and online stores. Yet, the shrines attest to the way fans also transform these objects into something personally vital within the messy entanglements of commerce and enchantment.

The impulse of a lot of feminists (including myself!) is to act to protect young women from narratives we think are abusive by arming them with the skills to deconstruct the Twilight series' sexism and anti-sex messages. However, to assume that young women don't have those skills simply because they have appropriated the stories and continue to enjoy them smacks of misogyny. That is, it plays on the stereotype that women (and young women particularly) are shallow, flighty, clueless and particularly vulnerable to outside influences. That their sense of themselves as persons worthy of respect, as persons smart enough to challenge the messages they're being fed by the media, is uniquely endangered. As Susan Douglas has pointed out recently, there are reasons to be concerned about assertions that young women don't need feminism. But it is also important to make sure that feminism does not become as didactic and authoritarian as the sexist culture we're challenging: exchanging one power-over system with another does not a revolution make.

So I'd argue: be wary of attempts to deride Twilight fans because of their age and/or their gender. And be aware of how criticism of fans -- even if it's not explicitly sexist -- trades on negative and stereotypical constructions of femininity. Like criticizing Hot Girls for being Hot rather than criticizing the culture that rewards them for meeting gendered expectations, making teenagers feel shamed for their reading and viewing choices does little to support their sense of agency and critical self-awareness that (I believe) so essential to feminist consciousness.

2010-07-19

multimedia monday: "my baby likes a bunch of authors"


NPR's On the Media recently did an hour-long show devoted to books, bibliophiles, and the future of the printed word. You can cherry-pick segments or stream the whole show over at their website; Unfortunately I can't embed it here. To give you an idea of the content, here's an excerpt from segment Books 2.0.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Reading a book, losing oneself in the imagination of an author is usually a solitary enterprise. So, too, is writing a book, says author Neil Gaiman.

NEIL GAIMAN: Writing is like death, a very lonely business. You do it on your own. Somebody is always sitting there figuring things out. Somebody is always going to have to take readers somewhere they have never been before.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: But, as books move from printed page to networked screen, it grows easier for writers and readers to gather in the virtual margins to discuss the plot and characters and for readers to actually help shape them.

Crowd sourcing artistic expression in this way may seem contrary to the rules of creativity - books by committee? But Bob Stein, founder of the Institute for the Future of the Book, sees an inevitable merging of writer and reader.

As someone who for decades has experimented with new forms for books, he’s used to people who grew up with traditional books reflexively rejecting his ideas, as when he explained his vision to a group of biographers.

BOB STEIN: One of the people in the room was one of these writers who gets a two-million-dollar advance, goes away for ten years, literally, writes a book, sells a lot of copies and then does it all over again. So I said to him, instead of getting your two-million-dollar advance and going away for ten years, how about if your publisher announced to the world so-and-so is going to start work on a biography of Barack Obama, who’s interested?

And n-thousands of people say, yes, I'm interested, and they subscribe to your project and they pay two dollars a year, whatever it is. I said, at the end of ten years you'll have a body of work, and you'll have the same two million dollars.

The difference will be that you've done this in public and you've done this with a group of people helping you in various ways.

And he, of course, as I expected, you know, put his fingers up in a cross, saying, oh, my God, that’s the most horrible thing I've ever heard of, that’s the last thing I ever want to do.

And I said to him, I'm willing to bet you that there’s a young woman who’s getting her PhD right now who grew up in MySpace, in Facebook, somebody who is comfortable and excited about working in a public collaborative space. She is a seed of the future.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: But how do you make money in your vision, the subscription model?

BOB STEIN: It’s all subscription. The day that the

author is no longer interested, and she doesn't want to work with the readers any longer, she stops getting royalties.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: You know, there are many authors who talk about a quiet place, a moment of inspiration, alone.

BOB STEIN: It’s very interesting. The very concept of an author, the very idea that somebody owned an idea, is extremely recent. Remix culture, you know, where something is constructed from lots of different parts, remix culture was actually the standard until print came along. Print actually changed everything because suddenly you weren't relying on -

BROOKE GLADSTONE: An oral tradition.

BOB STEIN: - on the oral tradition.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: I'm simply raising the fact that whether or not the author holding up his hands in a get-thee-from-me-Satan position is a biographer or a philosopher or a novelist, there’s not necessarily a role, at least in the beginning of creation, for the reader.

BOB STEIN: I – we're, we’re definitely in a space where it’s almost impossible to argue about this.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Because you’re projecting into a future where that quiet place will no longer be necessary?

BOB STEIN: [SIGHS] Basically, yeah.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about the thingness of books?

BOB STEIN: I'll miss it. I love holding the object in my hand. On the other hand, when I'm online and suddenly my daughter, who lives in London, shows up in the margin of something we're reading together, chills go up and down my spine. Being able to share an experience of reading with people whose judgment I care about is deeply rewarding.

Here’s a wonderful sort of factoid which may be helpful: The western version of the printing press is invented in 1454. It takes 50 years for page numbers to emerge. It took humans that long to figure out that it might be useful to put numbers onto the pages.

[BROOKE LAUGHS]

We're at the very, very beginning of the shift from the book to whatever is going to become more important than it. I realize that there’s a way to see what I'm saying and, and sort of say, there is a truly mad man, and, and in a lot of ways I, I can't prove it, but – you, you understand the problem.

Listen or read the full transcript over at On the Media.

And something fun that I can embed, here's the music video for a song they use on the show as a bridge between segments, the classic "My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors," by the band Moxy Fruvous.



Happy reading (however you choose to go about it)!

2010-07-18

sunday smut: links on sex and gender (no. 29)


I'm back this week, and I know at least a couple of people missed this list 'cause they wrote and told me so! How cool is that?

Lindsey june 101 by Ron Gibson @ Flickr.com


Anyways, here's a bunch of stuff that's been accumulating since the weekend of the 4th out there on the internets, and which I hope you'll find yourself hooked by (at least a link or two).

On the family values front


While I was gone on vacation, Bristol Palin and once and future beau Levi Johnston announced their re-engagement on the cover of Us magazine. Amber Benfer @ Salon contemplates the way the celebrity family's story matches up (or doesn't) with the narrative conservative America wants to tell about teen sex, marriage, and parenting.

Annette Bening and Julianne Moore co-star in "The Kids Are All Right," a "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" for the queer family age, in which Bening and Moore's two teenage children bring their biological father (played by Mark Ruffalo) home for dinner. David Edelstein @ Fresh Air offers a glowing review and Sarah Seltzer @ RhRealityCheck weighs in on the film's limitations.

When women are pregnant, they often discover that the normal rules of personal space cease to apply, as Jessica Valenti of Feministing documents on her own personal site. "Stop touching my stomach without my permission. It’s presumptuous and it creeps me out. You wouldn’t touch a non-pregnant person’s belly without asking, so what makes you think it’s okay to just lay hands on mine?"

Sarah @ Feministing Community shares her own personal experience with the fundamentalist Quiverfull movement and challenges feminists to educate themselves on the contours of this rapidly-growing conservative counterculture, rather than just toss off scornful comments.

Dodai Stewart @ Jezebel suggests that a recent story about an interracial couple who have twins with differing skin tones is a useful object lesson in how race is culturally constructed.

Feminism is for everybody (even Hot GirlsTM!)


I've been reading a lot of awesome stuff lately about appearance policing and sexism/misogyny. Is it something in the air y'all?

The story about Olivia Munn and sexism and The Daily Show, which I didn't have the energy to blog about (although I tried several times to write something from scratch and failed), has really brought out a lot of awesome posts about the difference between hating on someone 'cause they're HotTM and calling out individual (Munn) or collective (TDS) actions that actively or passively support a system that is sexist or using power in other unhealthy ways.

For starters, there's Amanda Hess @ The Sexist and Sady @ Tiger Beatdown (both such Very Awesome LadiesTM) talking about criticism of comedian Olivia Munn for her participation in sexist culture. And for being HotTM. Amanda: Consent and Manipulation in Olivia Munn’s Playboy Shoot Amanda: Feminism is for Bitches Sady: The Munn Paradox Amanda: Women as Gatekeepers of Sex - and Sexism. I can't emphasize enough how worthwhile it is to read all of these posts in full, but it comes down to this: as feminists, we should call out sexism as it hurts everyone, even those who we think are enabling it, even those who benefit from it.

Not everyone sees it that way, though, specifically Emily Gould @ Slate who has a history of making controversial statements about feminists, charging feminists with being overcome by jealousy. Shelby Knox @ Feministe observes that Gloud might possibly have been purposefully misconstruing the situation for page views; Amanda Marcotte @ Pandagon writes about the difficulty of blogging on body issues, and why Gould's attack on feminist media for critiquing harmful cultural norms is so counterproductive.

See, Hot GirlsTM totally can't win, as this post from @ Jezebel points out. "It's not that we want or need Angelina [Jolie] to do a romcom. The universe is a much better place with her sneering, running, jumping, doing her own stunts and gunning down fools. But doesn't calling her 'too forceful' imply that love is for the weak? Don't we all have a little bit of a swooning romantic in us as well as a smidge of ass-kicker? And what the hell does it mean to be 'too strong' for romance?"

You don't even have to be a Hot GirlTM to get be caught in a lose-lose type situation, as Lilly @Jezebel points out in her personal story of sartorial humiliation while serving ice cream. The post struck such a chord that it garnered Jezebel's comment of the day (COTD) award with this list of instructions for women who find themselves shamed by the appearance police.

Silvana @ Tiger Beatdown leaps into the frey with a post about judging other peoples' appearance. "When I hear, tights are not pants, or you should wear pantyhose to court, or I wouldn’t wear X cut of a shirt because it doesn’t look good on me, I think, who made these rules? Why are we following them? Why do we passively subscribe to an aesthetic system that requires us to daily fulfill the twin obligations of being 'respectful' by not doing anything out of the ordinary and looking as thin and 'feminine' as we can muster? I want fashion to be less about making other people comfortable, and more about personal expression and art. There is too much hierarchy. It is too top-down, from a murky top with too many leaders with too many conflicting messages."

"She asked for it" -- Not!


Of course, sexual assault skeptics rely on appearance policing big time as a way to legitimize victim-blaming (if it's okay to police peoples' appearance, then it follows on some level that it's okay to punish them for inappropriate dress and behavior). Alex DiBranco @ Women's Rights Blog points our attention toward a new PSA campaign in Scotland that points out the absurdity of laying the blame for rape on the behavior of the victim (rather than, you know, on the behavior of the perpetrator).

Amanda Hess @ The Sexist points out the problem with "hoping it's not true" when it comes to allegations of sexual assault by someone you respect. "When we 'hope it’s not true' ... We’re not hoping that our criminal justice system works to convict the guilty and acquit the innocent. We’re hoping that the person who reported the sexual assault is a liar. We’re hoping that people who claim to be victims of sexual assault are all lying, that it never really happens. We’re hoping, in the end, that bad things do happen -- to good men who are victimized by bad women." Seriously. Go read the whole thing.

Via Amanda Hess comes this post by Sarah M. @ Change Happens on why "drunk sex" isn't really that easily confused with rape, and we shouldn't pretend that it is. "Clearly people are sometimes going to get drunk and have sex. And the presence of alcohol in someone’s bloodstream does not automatically make it rape. But there’s a spectrum of intoxication. If someone is physically impaired by their drinking (or drug use), you can tell. They are getting sick, their body is limp, they’re not able to communicate clearly with you. It’s a common sense situation. If it’s less obvious, you know they have been drinking but you’re not sure how much and they seem OK, that’s where communication is key, and honestly—if it’s unclear how drunk your partner is and you feel conflicted, then maybe just play it safe and don’t do it. Instincts are there for a reason."

If you're a child and your parent asks you to do things like pose naked and talk about your sexuality which make you feel uncomfortable but you do them 'cause it's your Dad and you don't want to say no, and then those images and words are turned into artwork and made accessible for the whole world to see -- do you have a right to say "no"?

Obvious answer: yes (Carolyn @ Carolyn Gage). Answer given by a lot of folks out there in the world ('cause the world is fucked): not if it's art (Irin Carmon @Jezebel). More to come on this next week, in a still-being-written blog post about archival ethics and issues of consent.

IrrationalPoint @ queergeeks offers a succinct example of how consent and nonconsent works, starting in childhood, when bullies don't listen to the voices of children who try and stand up for themselves.

Feminism is for everybody!


Courtney @ From Austin to A&M explains why being "apolitical" doesn't stop you from perpetuating sexism.

A lesson that the folks over at The Daily Show could apparently stand to learn (or remind themselves of). Amanda Hess @ The Sexist explains.

Possibly also Whoopi Goldberg, who recently fell into the Ill Doctrine trap of having the "is he a racist" conversation rather than the "what he said was racist conversation. @ Bitch Blogs explains.

Feminism (in my oh-so-humble opinion) is all about treating every human being like, well, a human being, instead of a 'bot created to fill a certain social role. zack @ The New Gay calls out straight women for expecting gay men to fill such a social role, rather than treating him as, you know, an individual.

Feminism is even for menfolk! Greta Christina @ The Blowfish Blog lays some feminist hate on the straightjacket expectations of masculinity and then explains why laying on the feminist hate matters, and might actually make the world a better place for all those wonderful menfolk we feminists love so much.

Which isn't to say that being a feminist and, like, making that change in the world is at all easy. Harriet J @ Fugitivus explains in great, now I hate everybody.

Oh help!


This post has become MAMMOTH! and I still have stuff to share ... damn it. Oh, well, I'm going to call it quits there for this week and see if I can't work a few other things into actual legitimate blog posts.

Meanwhile, I'll sign off with this story from Richard Knox @ NPR about a psychologist who has been studying marriage proposals on YouTube. Have fun, y'all! And I'll be back with more.

2010-07-16

friday fun: indigo magic!


Last weekend, when Hanna and I were visiting her parents up in Norridgewock, Linda was experimenting with some indigo she had grown in the garden to use as a dye for her spinning fibers. I got to watch the whole process of making the dye and using it on the wool. It's a multi-step process in which the water first turns a sort of greenish-grey and then yellow, at which point you put the fibers into the vat. Then, you take the fiber out and -- like magic! -- when the dyed wool hits the oxygen in the air, it turns a gorgeous blue. I filmed the process in action on my digital camera, and you can see the video below.



(Note: about a minute into the process, Hanna comes out onto the deck to watch and her foot goes through a rotten plank. She sustained some scrapes and pulled the ankle a bit, but was perfectly fine after a bit of ice!)

2010-07-15

want.



Via Lamdba Literary comes this awesome installation at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London. It's called "The Ark" and is part of the V&A's 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces exhibition.

Who doesn't need a giant walk-inside bookcase? I mean, really!

2010-07-14

journalist discovers children are people, promptly misinterprets data


Farm for school children, New York City
Library of Congress's Photostream @ Flickr.com


Gwynne Watkins @ Salon offers her analysis of a recent "exposé" by Jennifer Senior in the New York magazine on the unrealistic expectations of modern parenting.

"I Love My Children. I Hate My Life." That's the cover line on this week's New York magazine, superimposed on a photo of a beautiful mother and infant in a sun-drenched landscape. Presumably, the mother is loving her child and hating her life. Presumably, we all are.

The whole post is worth reading, since it calls out the bullshit that is our contemporary culture's obsession with parenting that turns human beings into infinitely perfectible projects -- yet refuses to accept Senior's conclusion, which is that if that "perfect" family life is a lie, all we have left to live on is the fumes of nostalgia.

One particular passage of Watkin's post, however, sort of hit me in the head like a low-hanging tree-branch. So I'm hijacking it for this blog post so I can ask, once again, why the fuck "children are people too" such a difficult concept for people to grasp.

Like really.

Here's the passage. Read and digest.

If you're having a baby for reasons of self-gratification, of course you're going to be miserable. Becoming a parent is less about enriching your life than it is about up-ending it entirely to make room for another human being. And that's what Senior's article is missing: the fact that children are people, and having a child is about forging a relationship. Take this quote from a sociologist Senior interviewed about why parents are so disgruntled: "Middle-class parents spend much more time talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child's thought as a special contribution. And this is very tiring work." Funny, that doesn't sound like work; that sounds like having a conversation. The true reward of parenting isn't looking back with nostalgia, as Senior concludes; it's getting to watch a baby turn into a fully realized person. It's hearing the thoughts and opinions of somebody who didn't exist until you brought them into the world. It's a humbling, daunting, awesome experience -- and it's hard enough without the added pressure of making every moment enriching and significant.

So here's the thing. What I find so disturbing about this passage is the way basic human interactions, when placed in the context of parent-child relationships, are suddenly framed in Senior's article as an onerous obligation, and joyless demand. And this is seen as so normal, so common-sensical in our culture, that a sociologist seems to think there's something problematic about asking one person in a committed relationship (parent) to treat the other person in that committed relationship (child) as if their thoughts were worth giving a damn about.

Really?

Really??

Take a minute to switch out "spouse" with "child" in the above passage:

Middle-class couples spend much more time talking to each other, answering questions with questions, and treating each other's thoughts as a special contributions. And this is very tiring work.

"I love my spouse. I hate my marriage"? If the thought of spending time with your partner, talking together and treating each others' thoughts with respect felt like tiring, joyless work -- drudgery only relieved by the fond memories you had of your courtship or a fleeting weekend getaway -- then possibly it's time to seek out some couples counseling and/or ask yourselves whether this is really a relationship worth being in.

And while you obviously can't walk out on a dependent child with the same impunity as you can an adult spouse, I'd suggest that it's not too much of a stretch to stop thinking of children as hobbies or vocations and, you know, remember that you enter into a relationship with them. And that -- as with all human relationships -- the intrinsic reward of relatedness is the pleasure of getting to know another human being intimately. Learning to see the world through their eyes. Watching them grow and change over time. The pleasure of having conversations together, some of which last a moment and some of which will go on for years. Sharing experiences like the reading of a book, the watching of a movie, attending a concert or art show, cooking dinner and sharing the meal.

"Becoming a parent is less about enriching your life than it is about up-ending it entirely to make room for another human being," Watkins writes, in her response to Senior. While I agree with her on the basic point that becoming a parent because you expect a child to fulfill your expectations is problematic, I would make a slightly different, possibly more radical argument: rather than juxtaposing "enriching your life" with "up-ending it" to make room for another, I'd suggest that such an up-ending is intrinsically rewarding, even if in none of the ways you initially anticipate. And that is the beauty of the chaotic unpredictability of humanity. If that sort of uncertainty is not your cup of tea, then maybe you should think again about whether you want to have kids. Or whether you want to be in a committed relationship of any kind.

'Cause that's kinda the point of being in a relationship.

As someone who has grown from being a dependent child to an adult in relationship with parents who treated her as a human being, I can attest first hand that (as with spousal relationships) recognizing each others' humanity doesn't make the experience of living together a panacea. It doesn't mean we've never failed each other, struggled to communicate, lost our tempers, or felt (temporarily, sometimes for months or years at a time) at an impasse. What it does mean is that we aren't reduced to our socially-assigned roles, and the expectations of behavior that come with those roles. It does mean we have more flexibility to adapt our relationships as the people within them grow and change -- because those relationships were formed in the first place specifically to suit our own individual selves. In other words, shifting from the straight-jacket of "perfect madness" parenting to a model of ordinary human relatedness doesn't solve all of life's problems.

But it absolutely does open up a realm of possibility that is not possible when one person in the equation is reduced to a project rather than a person. A series of tasks and responsibilities rather than an organic being whose presence you are given the chance to experience.

Which is (surprise, surprise!) more or less the argument that feminists have made for decades about the idealization of heterosexual, monogamous marriage. When you reduce two human beings to their roles of "husband" and "wife," and punish individuals from deviating from impossible normative standards (or make it exhausting, endless struggle for them to do so), it's a recipe for disaster. The exact same observation can be made about "parent" and "child."

Senior's essay on parenting is the perfect opportunity for the feminist "click" moment, parenting style. It could offer us a chance to assess the way our culture's idealization of family life dehumanizes children and parents, setting them up in relationships warped by power dynamics that make true intimacy all but unattainable.

Instead, Senior's "solution," to the extent that the article posits one, appears to be a band-aid fix that feminists will be very familiar with: the Flanaganian solution of "settling." Senior's article seems to suggest that the only options are

a) Playing to win. Pretending to find pleasure in the "perfect madness" of trying to conform to our culture's ideal of the good parent (in reality, the good mother), thereby driving yourself and everyone around you crazy, but at deriving pleasure from the knowledge that you're out-parenting all other parents or

b) Calling bullshit and giving up. Re-framing parenting as grim work, rather than a joyful vocation, undertaken out of duty and made bearable by the hope of delayed gratification of nostalgia after the raw experience has long passed. Just give up, Senior's article ultimately seems to suggest; expecting to experience enduring happiness (gasp!) in your relationships with your children is just unrealistic. Shame on you!

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this is a false dichotomy, and that the way out of this lose-lose situation is, well, feminism for children. See, both of these "options" still posit that parenting = job rather than parenting = relationship. You can enjoy a job for intrinsic and/or extrinsic rewards (conducting oral history interviews!), or you can dislike a job but feel it's worthwhile (canvassing before an election), or you can dislike a job but recognize it's necessary (like doing dishes), but at the end of the day it's still a job of work.

Why would you choose either of these options when instead you could have interesting relationships with these people who've walked (often invited by you!) into your life? Isn't that one of the most awesome thing about being alive in the world -- the chance to get to know and caring about the lives of others?

I say, just quit. Quit your job and go find a relationship. With that person who you're interested in being intimate with as they grow and discover the full strength of their humanity. Who knew this would be such a radical suggestion?

2010-07-13

quick hit: the myth of work vs. home life split


From Amanda Marcotte @ RhReality Check comes a wonderful interview with Amber Kinser, author of a new book, Motherhood and Feminism (Seal Press, 2010). The following passage, while focused specifically on mothers in the workplace, speaks to a lot of the issues I was blogging about in my recent post on feeling guilty for wanting a balanced life (starts at roughly minute 19:00).

There is an assumption in the workplace that if you're a mother your primary loyalty is always going to be your family even during the workday and that that's a problem. The assumption is, for men, your primary loyalty is always going to be at the workplace and that that's not a problem. And if you're single and you're ... childfree and female then we don't have to worry that you'll be called away, you know, to go pick up a child who's sick from school or go take care of a disciplinary matter or go the Halloween parade at school.

So part of the problem [of discrimination against mothers in the workforce] is this mythical -- and I talk about this in the book a good bit -- this mythical split between public and private. The workforce still operates on the assumption that home life is separate from work life. It never has been, it isn't now, and it never will be. And so part of the problem is the problematizing of people who are invested in their families. So that if someone has to go to the piano recital during the school day or someone has to go take care of a sick child this goes up against workplace policy and norms. And so what we do is penalize -- largely the women, because they're the ones who end up doing it -- who do that. That's where that motherhood penalty comes in -- instead of shifting workplace norms so that they can accommodate the fact that public life and private life are not, you know, they're just not distinguishable. Men are better positioned to be able to pretend like they're separate than women are and so they benefit in the workplace.


The full interview can be heard as part of Amanda's latest RhRealityCheck podcast, Pro-Choice, Feminist Support for Motherhood.

Kinser is emphasizing the parenting angle here, because that was the thrust of the conversation she and Amanda Marcotte were having. But I would extend her observations not only toward men who are attempting to parent more actively but also to individuals who are not parenting. Being invested in family life, or private life, is a choice all of us can make, regardless of whether we are parenting. Caring for, or enjoying time with, a partner or a parent, extended family members or close friends, are equally important and a necessary part of life. They should not be something we need to sideline or make invisible in order to be valuable workers, but of course in an economic system that is built to value only efficiency and workplace productivity, those values are difficult to "sell" as a benefit to one's employer.

2010-07-09

"oh I need a vacation!"


Hanna and I are headed north this weekend to visit her parents in central Maine and celebrate Hanna's birthday (yay! birthday cake!). Linda and Kevin live an hour north of Augusta is a beautiful cabin they've built themselves. We will be enjoying an internet-less weekend and I am thus taking a few days off from blogging. The sunday smut list will be back next week.

In the meantime, enjoy this song from the musical Pump Boys and Dinettes which I adored as a child and used to sing a top volume in public places, much to the chagrin of my parents.

2010-07-08

"the scandal of our own non-necessity"


On Tuesday, I posted a quote from Terry Eagleton's On Evil. To risk appearing completely enthralled by Eagleton's prose (which I admit are difficult not to delight in), today I'm sharing a passage from Holy Terror (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 2005), which Hanna recently finished and handed off to me.

I've talked briefly in a couple of recent posts about the meditation practice of metta, or "lovingkindness," the Buddhist practice of extending intentions for well-being, peace, and and end to suffering toward all beings in the world. Even beings we do not like very much (or at all). Even ourselves. A friend of mine recently suggested this is similar to the Christian practice of "radical welcome" or "radical acceptence." Both distinguish loving beings qua beings, so to speak, from loving individual beings in a more particular sense. I believe both types of caring -- the more impersonal, unconditional love extended to all, and the particular liking of certain persons -- are important. But I also believe that liking people, in a genuine way, really only takes root within the more disinterested, impartial sea of radical acceptence, or radical love.

Last week, I came across a passage in Holy Terror that speaks to the power of radical love. (Eagleton speaks from his background as a Catholic Christian, though I don't believe the ideas need to be limited to Christian theology.)

Dionysus [in Euripides' play The Baccae] offers men and women precious time off from their burdensome existence under the political law. We have seen already that such carnivalisque interludes are in the interests of the governing powers rather than an affort to them. As Olivia observes in Twelfth Night, there is no slander in an allowed Fool, no harm in jesters so long as they are licensed. When transgression is ordained, deviancy becomes the norm and the demonic finds itself redundant. This is why the devil finds himself with empty hands in the postmodern world. If Jesus's law is light, however, it is not only because he, too, comes to relieve the labouring poor of their afflictions, but because God commands nothing more of his people than that they should allow him to love them.* Because he is the Other who neither lacks nor desires, unlike the Lacanian variety, he needs nothing from others, and his law is consequently free of neurotic compulsion and paranoid possessiveness. Ironically, it is God's transcendence -- the fact that he [sic] is complete in himself, has no need of the world, and created it out of love rather than need -- that allows him to go so easy on his creatures.

God himself has the necessity of law, in that his being is not contingent. But this law, once again, is the law of love -- for since nothing apart from God needs to exist, whatever does exist does so gratuitously, as a result of his unmotivated generousity. To say that things were created out of nothing means that they did not have to come about. The did not follow inexorably from some precedent, as elements of a causal or logical chain. Creation, in Alain Badiou's terms, is an "event," not a dreary necessity. The cosmos could quite easily never have happened. Instead, God could have devoted his considerable talents to, say, figuring out how to create square circles ...

... Since religious fundamentalism is among other things an inability to accept contingency, the universe itself is a persuasive argument against such a creed. What fundamentalism finds hard to stomach is that nothing whatsoever needs to exist, least of all ourselves. For St Augustine, the fact that human beings are "created" means their being is shot through with non-being. Like modernist works of art, we are riddled from end to end with the scandal of our own non-necessity (p. 32-33).

*All bold passages are my emphasis, rather than Eagleton's.

I am bewitched by Eagleton's final passage here: "we are riddled from end to end with the scandal of our own non-necessity." Why? Because our impracticality is the foundation upon which unconditional love is built: we do not have to be useful to be loved, we simply have to be. And this, indeed, is a radical claim.

A fuller meditation on both On Evil and Holy Terror will (knock on wood) be in a forthcoming booknote.

2010-07-07

"autobiography is an exercise in self-forgiveness"; should it always be so?


One of our post-graduation presents for Hanna, one which I also get to enjoy the benefits of, was a subscription to the London Review of Books. The most recent issue includes a review of Christopher Hitchin's latest book, Hitch 22, a memoir. Hitchins, like other public personalities who trade in sensationalism and putting other people down, is easy to dislike for his self-absorption and snobbery. When the memoir first came out, John Crace @ The Guardian crafted a "digested read" version that played on this propensity and had Hanna and I falling off our chairs with mirth.

I find I have written nothing of my wives, save that they are fortunate to have been married to me, and nothing of my emotional life. That is because I don't have one. The only feeling I have is of being right, and that has been with me all my life. I would also like to point out that drinking half a bottle of scotch and a bottle of wine a day does not make me an alcoholic. I drink to make other people seem less tedious; something you might consider when reading this.

David Runciman, whose review of Hitch 22 has been made available at the LRB website, offers much the same analysis -- though in much more analytical a tone. He observes that Hitchins appears to have cultivated the personality of a "political romantic, as described by early-twentieth-century author Carl Schmitt.

For Schmitt, political romantics are driven not by the quest for pseudo-religious certainty, but by the search for excitement, for the romance of what he calls "the occasion". They want something, anything, to happen, so that they can feel themselves to be at the heart of things.

The problem with this, morally speaking, is that a romantic whose raison d'etre is not his ideals but "the occasion," the question of values is irrelavent. Say what you will about the political idealist (and, living with an historian of Northern Irish nationalism I know there's plenty to say!), at least someone who acts violently for the sake of their convictions is a person who is clear about where they stand. They are willing to claim allegiance to a set of values, and to work (at times to the death) to see those values put into action.

Now there are (to a person of my proclivities towards nonviolent political change) better and worse ways of trying to live out one's beliefs. But I also believe there is some intrinsic value in having beliefs: in having enough self-awareness that you feel comfortable owning your beliefs, saying "this is where I stand and why."

You might think that a person who has written, among others, a book titled Why God is Not Great is not shy about taking a personal stand, even a highly controversial one. But being provocative, rhetorically and otherwise, is not necessarily the same thing as being self-revelatory. One can speak highly-charged words while never allowing anyone to see the emotionally-complex human being behind those words. I find other peoples' interior lives fascinating; my obsession with understanding how other people understand the world around them -- how they make meaning of their lives -- is what led me to history as a scholarly pursuit. Runciman's argument about Hitchins, however, is that he has no interior life, or at least not one of which he himself is very aware or willing to share with his readers.

It certainly sounds like it has all been a lot of fun. His has been an enviable life: not just all the drink and the sex and the travel and the comradeship and the minor fame (surely the preferable kind), but also the endless round of excitements and controversies, the feuding and falling-out and grudge-bearing and score-settling, the chat-show put-downs, the dinner party walk-outs, the stand-up rows. Christopher Hitchens has clearly had a great time being Christopher Hitchens. But – and I don’t want to sound too po-faced about this – should anyone’s life be quite so much fun, especially when it is meant to be a kind of political life? Hitchens admits to some regrets, including that he has not been a better father to his children (and by implication a better husband to his wives, though he doesn’t actually say that), but he doesn’t seem to have agonised about it much. In fact, he doesn’t seem to have agonised much about anything. He doesn’t rationalise his political shifts so much as acquiesce in them: if it feels like he has no choice, then he has no choice but to follow his feelings. He has seen his fair share of misery and despair, and may have caused a certain amount of it himself, but it is entirely unclear what this has cost him.

I believe in extending compassion and possibly forgiveness towards oneself in equal measure as toward other human beings -- being kind to yourself as you are kind to others is, truly, one of the ways in which we can make the world a more kind, generous, compassionate place. Yet when "autobiography is an exercise in self-forgiveness" (to borrow a phrase Runciman quotes toward the end of his essay) while the autobiographer neglects to extend all but highly conditional forgiveness to anyone else, such self-adoration seems a shallow, fragile thing indeed.

Go enjoy the rest of Runciman's review, It's Been a Lot of Fun, over at the London Review.

2010-07-06

it's 100 degrees in Boston today


Visual via @MartinClinton for @BostonTweet on YFrog


Hanna and I have been debating all summer about whether or not to get an air conditioner for our bedroom. When the temps get above ninety and the humidity is high, the city holds the heat like nobody's business and it's so, so hard to sleep.

We'd just turned down the offer of a free a/c unit from my colleague and friend, Heather, in favor of fans and cold cloths -- but this past weekend has done us in. And we're going to borrow Heather's window unit after work tonight, in hopes of actually being able to get a good night's sleep.

Long-term, though, we have pretty serious concerns about the environmental effect of conventional air conditioning. I've been hunting around the web today, looking for some eco-friendly ways to get our bedroom down to sleep-friendly temps and humidity. I found a good essay on Green Living Tips that talks about some of the better options, but sadly a lot of the best include structural changes to buildings that, living in an rented apartment, we don't have control over. I was also disappointed to see that Evaporative Air Conditioners are, apparently, super-effective in arid desert environments but counter-productive in humid places like Boston (built on marshland!)

Bah.

So maybe the long-term solution is to move to Central Oregon after all, where we could enjoy the benefits of that High Desert air!

Any of you had experience looking for more eco-friendly air cooling options?