~oOo~

2011-09-30

booknotes: premarital sex in america

It's not that I had terribly high expectations for a book titled Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Because seriously: "premarital"? Particularly when the authors -- sociologists Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker -- acknowledge in their introduction that by "premarital sex" they actually mean sexual activities undertaken by an "emerging adult" (ages 18-23) who is not married, and that by "young Americans" they actually mean people who are cisgendered and straight. In other words, the very framing of this book-length study by the title alone suggest that what readers will get is a familiar story re-packaged as a ground-breaking assessment of how "contemporary shifts in [sexual] market forces ... have dramatically altered how [heterosexual] relationships are conducted" (as the jacket copy claims). As I said: not that I had terribly high expectations going in.

The thing is, this book could have been a successful and insightful analysis of 18-to-23-year-old heterosexual attractions, identities, and practices. With a mixture of quantitative and qualitative analysis (national data collection and 40 in-depth interviews), the authors could have offered new ways of understanding heterosexual sexual practices in young adulthood. They could of provided us with an in-depth exploration of the individual and cultural values, social pressures, and practical concerns that lead to those practices. They could have taken the opportunity to counter moral panic about changing sexual mores with data that show, for example, that college sexual cultures are much more relationship-based than a freewheeling marketplace of hook-ups. In fact, occasionally, Premarital Sex in America seems poised to take on this role of reality-check for media moralizing: marriage doesn't mean the end of one's sexual happiness (p. 174: "marriage tends to be good for emotional intimacy as well as sexual intimacy") and the so-called hook-up culture (p. 106: "casual sex from hook-ups is rare by comparison, suggesting that popular perceptions of the depravity of the 'hook-up culture' may be somewhat overstated"). So despite initial trepidation, I was ready to give this book a reasonable change to prove my pre-conceptions wrong.

The problem can be boiled down to two systemic (and, I would argue, inter-related) issues. First, the persistence of the authors in leaning heavily on unexamined assumptions about what is "just a fact" or "inescapable" (they actually use both on p. 22) as well as the use of terms without specific definition -- they never indicate, for example, how they determined the sexual orientation of their interviewees (identity? practice? desires?), and later in the book divide respondents into "reds"/conservatives and "blues"/liberals without detailing the criteria by which they sorted these groups (political affiliation? beliefs about sex? upbringing? religious practices?). They "explain" many of the assumptions I found problematic by relying heavily on shakey theories of innate gender difference (see here, here, here, and here) and the perennially popular theory of "sexual economics" in which men are the lustful consumers of sex which women "sell" for relationships. 

I obviously don't have any first-hand experience in this heterosexual "marketplace" in which we ladies are selling the sex we don't want for the emotional intimacy men reluctantly give in exchange for booty ... but can I just say, on behalf of the many women and men I know who swing that way: EW. Not only is this theory an impoverished way of thinking about human sexuality, it has absolutely no explanatory power for peoples' motivations to get into sexual relationships. Because if dudes are all about getting it off, hello: you have two hands and lots of (supposedly equally horny) fellow dudes who could help you out. If sex is just sex and the relational context in which it happens is meaningless, then what benefit would men have in seeking out women to be sexually intimate with? Zilch. The authors of this book actually say this at one point, when discussing pornography: "If porn-and-masturbation increasingly satisfies some of the male demand for intercourse, it reduces the value of intercourse, access to which women control" (246). You can only capture and keep a man by bartering sex in exchange for intimacy -- if your fella has access to sex all on his ownsome, then tough. In turn, if women aren't that into sex and want emotional intimacy -- why bother with the work of selling sex in exchange for (presumably reluctantly-expressed or faux) emotional intimacy or relational stability when you could meet your emotional needs elsewhere -- say with family members or close friends? -- and avoid the trouble of putting out?

So basically, you could bother to describe heterosexual interactions in terms of economic transactions, but it's not going to help you explain why men and women continue to seek each other out for long-term intimate relationships. In fact, the theory of sexual economy these authors put forward argues against hetero sex being at all rational as a way of meeting our emotional and physical needs -- unless you happen to want to procreate (something they barely touch on within the text). It's irritating and unsatisfying and, aside from everything else, makes me wonder why anyone who believes hetero sex works like this enjoys being heterosexual. 

I'd point out that another gaping hole in the theory of sexual economics these authors put forward is that they argue it's just the way humanity operates ... except they fail to take into account queer folks relationships, which are also part of humanity and are an interesting control group for the power of their pet theory. For example: if women barter sex for relational intimacy, then what happens when two women are in a relationship? Why hello, "lesbian bed death" the theory that will never die! Except ... plenty of women in same-sex relationships are getting it on together ... are we selling each other sex (that we don't want) in exchange for emotional intimacy (that we already have?). You can see how it starts to get ridiculous damn fast.

Obviously, once someone's overall framework for analysis fails to impress, the little shit begins to grate on one's nerves. So for the sake of relieving my spleen I'm going to bullet-point the smaller issues I had with how the data was presented and analyzed:
  • The use of "virgin" to mean "person who hasn't had vaginal intercourse." First, I'm skeptical that all of the studies from which the authors drew data defined "virgin" in exactly this way, and second ... really book? really? We're going to reinforce the idea that sex = tab A into slot B one more frickin' time? Particularly when in the same breath, practically, you go on to talk about "virgins" who've engaged in oral and anal sex?
  • Lack of transparency in data. So I realize I'm hypercritical of data because, well, I'm suspicious and I've been trained by good friends and colleagues that way. But when you start telling me things like what the average number of sexual partners for X group over X period of years is ... and then tell me you're relying on self-reporting ... I'm tempted to throw out the data. Unless you're going to tell me how you asked study participants to define "sex" and "partner" and whether you asked them to keep track over a period of months or years, or whether this was data based on recollection, etc. 
  • Describing people as "attractive" without qualification. Especially when you're two men describing your college-age study participants as "attractive 20-year-old women." Just: EW. But beyond that, the assumption that attractiveness is some sort of objective, measurable quality and that it exists on a static scale rather than being deeply subjective and situational. 
  • Suggesting sexual "mystery" is better than reality in relationships. Again, a symptom of seeing sex as transactional: men, it seems, are most interested in sex they think they desire but must pursue. So the "easier" women are to fuck, the quicker the relationship is to "age" and grow stale. Additional negative points for working in sentences like: "It's a classic tale that characterizes billions of sexual relationships in human history" (80). Naturalizing something by making it seem historically inevitable = no cookies for you!
  • Failing to define "pornography." Yeah, it becomes clear that they (like so many other critics) mean commercially-produced videos and photographs. But that's no excuse for laziness in reporting. Since they seem to have assumed everyone was on the same page about what pornography was, they accepted the reporting on their interviewees concerning the effect "porn" had on their relationships and sexual desires. A much more interesting conversation could have been had if they had probed a little more deeply into their subjects engagement with erotic materials on a broader scale (I bet at least some of the young women they interviewed are writers and readers of slash fan-fiction, for example). Instead, we just got the tired scare story about how mainstream video pornography is creating unrealistic expectations in men concerning women's bodies and sexuality.
  • Failing to delve beyond the most obvious analysis of their data. This happens repeatedly, so I'm just going to give one example. In a section on negotiating unwanted sexual practices, the authors report that the top "unwanted sexual request made by men of women is for anal sex" (the top unwanted request by women of men is for cunnilingus). It becomes clear that what they mean is men are requesting penis-in-anus sex, though they don't articulate this. No mention is made whether they asked the men (or women) about penetrative anal sex to stimulate the prostate, which is something I don't think they count as "sex" because they suggest that "there is no biological basis for preferring anal sex to vaginal sex" ... a statement that would only make sense if they were thinking about stimulation of a penis. They go on to argue that men are only asking to perform anal sex because they've learned it's part of the sexual script from watching pornographic films. They also accept without further analysis women's self-reporting that they just don't like anal sex, full stop, without exploring in what contexts it was tried (i.e. did the partners have lube? did they prep adequately? was there coercion? did they try a second time, with better results?). Precision counts people!
  • "Intercourse is more satisfying than masturbation" (157). Written in a section headed "Semen: An Antidepressant?" So ... yeah. I just want to point out -- AGAIN -- that reducing sex to penis-in-vagina intercourse is a big problem in this book. I also think there is something deeply troubling about the idea that solitary sexual activity is and unsatisfactory substitute for relational sex. Not because it isn't for many people (though I'm going to go out on a limb and say that for some it likely is) but because masturbation isn't a substitute activity. It's a parallel or complementary sexual activity. We do it, and enjoy it. We get different things out of it than we get out of partnered sex. Many women in The Hite Report and Our Bodies, Ourselves, among other texts, report very distinct types of orgasms (both pleasurable) from self-stimulation and partnered stimulation. 
  • Characterizing a relationship that ends as a relationship that "failed." Relationships can be formed for many reasons, and as long as they were mutually-satisfying for all the people involved for the duration of the relationship, there's no reason why the fact the relationship ended means the relationship failed. It's true that many relationships do come to an end because one member or both stops being satisfied. But "end" doesn't automatically mean "fail."
  • Emotional health is a woman thing. Again: seriously? Yeah ... they're serious. Not only do they bring up the correlation between abortion and depression (without clarifying it's a correlation and not necessarily causation), as well as a throw-away mention of the correlation between same-sex activity and poor mental health outcomes, but they out-and-out argue that women's emotional health is the only story that matters: "the central story about sex and emotional health is how powerful the empirical association is for women--and how weak it is among men" (138). They explain this using the theory of "natural" gender differences which, since the data to support this theory is shite, isn't really an explanation at all. 
By way of a conclusion, Renerus and Uecker offer to dispel "ten myths about sex and relationships" for which the evidence "just isn't there" (242). Some of these are fairly value-neutral -- for example the first one is the myth that "long-term exclusivity is a fiction," when in fact only about 12-13% of American adults followed in a longitudinal study reported cheating on their partners. But others are off-the-wall wacky, such as the assertion that "to call the sexual double standard wrong is a little like asserting that rainy days are wrong" (243), or their suggestion that women control men's sexual impulses by playing hard to get: "If the average price for sex should rise, men's sexual behavior could become subject to more constraints" (245). Their sexual economics lens for viewing human relationships, oddly enough, leads them to espouse a deeply conservative and moralizing tone when it comes to suggesting how we can effect change in sexual interactions.

Finally, as I argued above, the theory of a (hetero)sexual economy that pervades the analysis in this book is deceptively simplistic in its power to "explain" human interactions. Instead, it could more aptly be understood as a compelling set of metaphors for a specific type of sexual scene -- say a fraternity party or a singles bar. Because, as reviewer Evan Hughes notes, "shaky when you examine it closely, the sexual economics theory in its broad outline seems almost trivially true: it describes what we know but does little to explain what we do not understand." Because the economy is so compelling as a metaphor (at least to Regnerus and Uecker), they fail to ask any new questions of their material, instead regurgitating outdated gender stereotypes in place of fresh insight.
Cross-posted at The Pursuit of Harpyness.

2011-09-28

30 @ 30: reading [#10]

I was going to follow up last week's "work and vocation" post with a "work and money" post ... because I feel like I still have some things to say about work and class-based experiences of work and vocation, and what it means to have income and economic agency ... but all that's going to take a bit more brainpower to formulate than I have at the minute. So we're taking a time-out this week with a lighter topic: reading!


It probably hasn't escaped you that I'm fond of reading. What with being a librarian and all. Reading, even more than writing, is probably in my blood given that I'm the daughter of two English majors and grew up in a home that -- I'm speaking literally here -- had books in every room.

But what I've read has, for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, changed over the years. The part of me that's prone to list-making and historical chronicaling (in my parents' attic, I have lists of "books read" stretching back into my early adolescence) enjoys taking note of trends over time and speculating about what this means about the sort of person I currently am, used to be, and will become.

books read so far in 2011 (goodreads)
This year, for example -- as evidenced by my GoodReads list, at right -- I've been reading a lot of nonfiction in the areas of history, sexuality, and politics (big surprise, I know). The two years before that, unsurprisingly, were even heavier in history given all the background research I was doing for my thesis. Still, I read lots more non-fiction these days, even sans graduate school, then I did as a child and into my teens. Oh, I still read fiction -- mostly genre stuff (fantasy, science fiction, mystery) and fan fiction, truth be told -- but to be honest? I never made the leap from middle grade/young adult fiction to adult literature.

Like, okay, yes. I can get sucked into a modern novel but it usually has to have some sort of supernatural or historical element -- if you can squeeze in some of both, I'm totally there. Think Camille DeAngelis' Mary, Modern, a modern-day Frankenstein in which a geneticist clones her grandmother in the basement and it all goes wrong. Or Martin Cruz Smith's Rose, a historical novel/mystery/romance in which an American explorer down on his luck gets hired to investigate the disappearance of a vicar in Wigan, Yorkshire. Or Audrey Niffenegger's now-famous The Time-Traveler's Wife, which not only involved time travel by the landscape of my childhood -- how could I escape getting sucked into that? And well-written sexytimes will never go amiss.

I'd say, on the whole, that these recent titles are a fairly accurate representation of the type books that I read these days:

last fifteen titles read (goodreads)
I actually learned to read "late," according to a lot of school-based expectations. I was about six years old, between six and seven. I wasn't much into practicing at reading (practicing at anything, really) and found
those beginning-to-read books mostly boring, unless I happened to like them for the story rather than the repetitive words. I must have been rehearsing on some level, though, because what I remember is the day I pulled The Best Christmas Pageant Ever off the shelf and discovered the words on the page made sense.

That obviously wasn't the beginning of my love affair with reading, given that my parents read to us regularly and continued to do so long after we could read for ourselves -- family bedtime stories didn't stop until I was into my teens. But being able to read on my own meant more books. I used to go to the library, check out a stack of novels -- I'm talking 10, 12, 15 books at a time -- and read through them in an afternoon.

Ah, happy memories.

I have to say being able to read like that was a big incentive not to go to school, like, ever. Because going to school would have meant not being able to spend the day reading. And seriously: who would want that sort of fate!

Of course, as a college student and graduate student reading (and writing) were a major part of what I did, what I was expected to do, in school -- so the conflict sort of faded away. Though there were always types of reading that waxed and waned during term-time. New fiction, for example, rarely got a look-in while my stand-by favorites became battered from the constant emergency comfort reading.

I was introduced to the world of advance review copies as a teenager when I worked at a children's bookstore. We used to circulate the ARCs among the staff and eventually got to take them home once they'd outlived their usefulness. Again at Barnes & Noble free pre-pub copies were a regular and delicious perk of being on staff. I love the element of surprise in advance review copies: they're unknown quantities, particularly if by unknown authors, which hold the promise of being brilliant gems as well as dreadful mistakes.

One of the best things about being a librarian (and, really, a blogger) is that they give you books for free. In the past five years I've been offered advance copies and electronic galleys of really interesting stuff that I might otherwise never have read -- in part because I offer to review stuff on the internets, and in part because I am a librarian which is a professional credential that opens doors.

It's like crack for bibliophiles: come work for us and we will give you free books to read!

Um, sure! Where do I sign!

Georges Island (Boston Harbor), 2007
When I learned to read, reading was still something you did offline. In that, there actually wasn't an online -- or at least, not an online for people like me (and probably you). I didn't have a personal email address until ... 1997ish? College. I was in college before the internet was a reality in my life. Which I'm sure to some of you makes me seem like an infant just out of diapers and to some of you makes me seem ancient.

Anyways. The point being, this reading-shit-online is still a new development for me. I'm still getting used to counting the reading I do online as reading, in fact, despite the reality that maybe 50% at least of the reading I do during the course of any day is now online or in electronic form: e-books, PDFs, etc. We pre-'net generation types are used to thinking about reading in terms of books finished, or pages read. According to GoodReads I've read (for example) 59 books and 16,710 pages so far this year. But that doesn't include all the fan fiction I read, or the blog posts I take in, or the journal articles I read for work and pleasure.

I downloaded a PDF file of one of my favorite fan works a few weeks ago and the PDF was over 200 pages long. That's a respectable novella-length story. Just sayin'.

For those of us interested in chronicling our reading habits, how do we document that sort of thing? How do we leave a record of online materials read and digested -- how do we leave traces of our textual influences? It's an ongoing question.

Hanna and I argue about whether things like fan fiction actually "count" as "reading" (of the legitimate vs. non-legitimate variety). If you read this blog regularly you probably know where I come down on the issue of categorizing things as "legit" or not. It's a friendly debate (although she absolutely draws the line at audiofic, since apparently fic-on-tape is the final straw!) and an apparently insoluable one, for now.

I'm not sure if all this online reading has altered the way I read. I find it more difficult to get lost in a book these days -- the sort of uninterrupted reading sessions I had as a child and adolescent which involved resurfacing at 3am bleary-eyed and a little bit nauseated from the virtigo. I remember distinctly half a dozen specific books over which I made the concious decision to read until they were finished, even if it meant falling asleep at 5am. Because the story simply couldn't wait.

I don't do that so much anymore, but I don't know how much of that is the (supposedly) shortened attention span created by extensive internet connectivity and how much is the training I had as a college student -- that dual-consciousness of both reading a book and analyzing it. It's hard for me to turn that part of my brain off now, even when I'm reading a ripping yarn. I don't think it necessarily detracts from the experience of the story, though it does mean I need to be sure to keep multiple books on hand for when distraction rears its head and I need to switch genres for a bit.

All things considered, I'm more inclined to blame it on school and work (both of which demand constantly-divided attention) than the medium of the internet per se. If blame even needs to be considered as an option, seeing as I'm still reading and enjoying it -- which frankly is all that matters to me.

2011-09-26

four years ago today: "I'm gloating to you because I wouldn't gloat to anyone else."

From: Anna
To: Janet, Mark
Date: Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 11:43 PM
Subject: Welcome home!

Hi Mom and Dad,

Well, I'm hoping that you're both so preoccupied with besting each other at cribbage that you won't bother to check email until you get home [from vacation] this weekend.  I'm trusting that Brian and Toby [the cat] didn't murder one another in your absence . . .

Whew, it's hot and humid here!  We are having Indian Summer with a vengeance and the dorms are insufferable.  I still haven't caved and bought a fan, which means I get by with cold showers and sleeping naked on top of the sheets.  It's working in the short term, but if this lasts through the weekend, money may have to be found, regardless of future job prospects, for a small fan. 

I had my first [Department of Conservation and Recreation] internship session today . . . what fun!  B, my supervisor, is a Simmons grad whose specialty is digitization of visual records (photos, art, etc.). Until last year, she worked at Harvard on a number of different projects. Now she's the plans archivist for the DCR's Office of Cultural Resources (or OCR, god do people love their acronyms!).  They have a giant basement with all those cabinets with the big file drawers for maps and plans.  I'm working with a subset of the collection of land plans that the DCR inherited from one of its predecessor departments, the Municipal Parks Commission (you guessed it: MPC).  I am starting with the earliest plans, which date back into the 1890s, and many of which come from the Olmsted firm.  The plans are deteriorating and Judy would like to apply for a grant to have conservation work done on them -- which can cost as much as $500/sheet.  Like buying reproduction wallpaper for the Cappon House.  So my job is to organize the plans and enter data on each plan into an Excel file (which I will design as I go along) that will serve as an index of what they have for people who need to use the information currently, as well as provide information for writing the grant proposal.

MPC plan detail (Sept 2007)
The maps are very cool!  And it's easy to get sucked into wanted to know the whole story about them.  Already, I'm thinking about side-research projects into the history of public parkland, landscape architecture, not to mention the history of the maps themselves and the conventions they follow.  The little directional markers alone are beautiful.  (I will try to stay in everyone's good graces so that, when you guys come out here, Dad, I can take you down for a private tour!  Provided you don't need a homeland security background check :) . . .)

section of the Charles River Reservation plans (Sept 2007)
I helped lead discussion on postmodernism and history today.  I felt it went so-so, though Laura (prof) was encouraging overall.  People struggled with the readings.  But we did manage to have a discussion, so that in itself felt like a success :).  I got my second response paper back (with my second "check-plus," which is the highest of her pass-fail marks) . . . I'm gloating to you because I wouldn't gloat to anyone else: she made it a point to say in class that she's being stingy with the marks because it's her job to teach us something in the class, and we have to start somewhere . . . so that if we found ourselves in possession of one of the few check-plusses she handed out, we have something to feel proud about.  (A +! +! +! +! . . .)  She put it nicer than I just did, but you get the point.  I had to be careful not to laugh.  Seriously, though, she wrote "absolutely elegant -- you express your sophisticated level of thinking beautifully." Aww . . . crush just got a little bigger :). 

I'm gingerly making inroads on the friendship front with several colleagues in that class.  Lola (not to be confused with Laura the prof) was my discussion co-leader and we had a lively meeting Monday night to come up with our questions.  She's a graduate of Smith College, in history, worked as the curator of a small house museum for several years, is now back in school.  Her adviser at Smith was Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz who is like my women's history idol . . . one of the people who I was soooo disappointed doesn't teach at a graduate institution.  I very immodestly squealed (yes, I did: "Ohmigod! You had  Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz as your thesis advisor???!!!") when she mentioned it in passing.  And I'm persisting in making contact with G, although I'm not exactly sure what footing the friendship will take at this point (still trying to figure out: interested in guys? girls? both? neither?).  He's got a cultural studies/gender studies background and is really interested in themes of resistance and social change.  I sent him a rather long email this evening continuing our classroom conversation of this afternoon, and fingers crossed it won't scare him away!

I also have a group of students that I'm doing a hands-on archive project with in Archives class (we take a practice collection and have to "arrange and describe" it, and produce a "finding aid," which is like a detailed catalog entry -- as I explained to one girl, think of it as the cross between a card catalog record and an index or detailed table of contents - -that researchers use to figure out what an archives holdings are and whether they would be useful).  I think it's going to be a fun project -- we're organizing the papers of a woman who was in the army as a dietitian during WWII and an alum of Simmons.

I started preliminary research on my chosen topic for my archives paper, a short paper due in late October about an issue in archival theory/practice.  I chose the interaction between feminist theory/methods and archival practice.  I went to the librarian and she was very nice but suggested I had picked perhaps too narrow a topic, on which there really wasn't anything written yet.  I said, "Well, I guess I've found my niche and it's not even the end of my first month here!"  Unfortunately, I won't be able to, you know, write a body of theory and publish it in peer-reviewed journals in time to write a paper for class in which I referred to my own scholarly research :).  So I am left piecing together stuff in innovative ways (what's new?) . . . N (librarian) was a little bit nudging me to consider re-orienting my topic slightly, but I wasn't giving in.  I mean, it's only a 5-7 page paper for gods' sake, I think I can manage to write a literature review of what's out there in that length of text without exhausting my argument.

For my history paper (roughly the same size), I'm supposed to take a primary document to analyze; I chose something from the Oneida Community which touches on gender and education and communitarian values . . . so there's plenty to sink my teeth into.  I was tempted by a more contemporary memoir on 1980s feminism that I stumbled into on one of the databases, but it felt a little like cheating (too recent) so I let it pass.

[You can read the paper that resulted here at Simmons' Essays and Studies literary journal]

I did, however, sign up for a series of lectures/discussions hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Schlesinger Library called the Boston Series on Women and Gender in History: four times over the semester they get together and discuss a paper (as yet unpublished) with the author and a "commentator" over dinner.  $20 for the whole series!  It would have been obscene to pass it up, especially since the topics are all awesome.  Unfortunately, the first two conflict with my History class, but I'm going to try and squirm out of one class, since the topic is gender in the Vietnam era and I just can't miss it. 

view from Spectacle Island (Sept 2007)
Well, I really ought to get to bed. Early day at work tomorrow . . . and then a packed weekend of reading, so that I can frivol on Sunday -- fingers crossed I have time to visit the Harbor Islands, and then I'm, watching The History Boys over a bottle of wine with Hanna [yes, this was more me-style flirtation] -- and then my [job] interview with the MHS on Monday!  Send lots and lots of good karma waves in my direction.  Natalie [a friend and former MHS research fellow] is in town and she is going to put in a good word as well (she assures me this is kosher). 

Lots of love . . .
Anna

2011-09-23

wee ones ftw [two articles]

via
There's been a lot of talk in the mainstream media in recent years about child-on-child bullying. Rightfully so, in many cases, since kids can be as cruel as adults and often their cruelty goes just as unchecked as the cruelty of grown-ups. As a culture we're still enamored with the myth of childhood innocence (and its doppelganger the narrative of childhood depravity). Children are either seen as beings of sweetness and light to be sheltered from the reality of the adult world or they're seen as barely-civilized monsters a la Golding's Lord of the Flies -- ready to devour one another (and probably the adults around them) at a moment's notice. We are both terrified of, and disdainful toward, young people.

Between these two poles of "good" and "evil" it can be very difficult for us to see young humans for what they are: people with a wide range of experiences and behaviors. People who can grow and change and respond to their environment in the same way adults do. Sometimes their learning happens at the encouragement of adults. Sometimes kids learn incredibly well without adult management and, in fact, can teach us a thing or two about what it means to be decent human beings.

To whit: two recent articles that have come across my dash in which the young people behaved in a significantly less bigoted and freaked-out fashion than the adults. First, a recent article in Bitch magazine by Avital Norman Nathman, Pink Scare: What's Behind the Media Panic About 'Princess Boys'? (Summer 2011). In discussing the panic over boys who express and interest in "feminine" activities, clothing, and toys, Nathman quotes a mother who was harassed for letting her son choose accessories seen as "girly" by other parents:
“I picked up Dyson from gymnastics and some parents spoke about his pink butterfly backpack,” she recalls. “A mother: ‘What a shame that mom buys girls’ stuff for her son.’ A father: ‘I’d never allow my boy to be anything but a boy.’ Then the son asked Dyson, ‘Where did you get that backpack? I like butterflies.’ As Dyson answered, the father grabbed his boy [away]. Kids are not the problem.”
You can read the full article over at Bitch Media. In our rush to explain children's behavior with theories of gender or innate evopsych proclivities ("human beings are just naturally selfish creatures") we forget that from the moment they are born children are steeped in a dense network of relationships in which human behaviors are modeled for them. It's a wonder, really, that despite adults cueing children so relentlessly that pink butterflies are for girls there are kids with a strong enough sense of self to disregard those messages and simply express an delight at something they like.

Similarly, via Jos at Feministing, we have the story of a 10-year-old trans girl who has been accepted as no big deal by her age-mates while the adults around her totally spaz. While parents went ballistic and called the child a "freak," demanding she play on the boys' sports teams and change in a private bathroom, the kids seemed completely chill. As the girl told her local news outlet, "They haven't really said anything ... my friends stick up for me and say 'he feels like a girl so he can be on the girl's team.' " Jos writes of the story:
I hope it’s clear that the acceptance she’s felt from her peers is much more important than the specific pronoun they use. Yes, language matters, but I know I greatly prefer the support I get from a friend who genuinely accepts me as myself, even if they’re not up on all the lingo, to someone who talks the talk but doesn’t ultimately treat my identity as valid.
So I just wanted to take a moment this Friday to give a shout-out to the wee ones of this world who are refusing to cater to adult anxieties and instead continue to interact with their friends (and, hopefully, relative strangers too!) with kindness, generosity, interest, and enthusiasm. It's people like you who give me hope for the future of this planet -- no matter how young in years you may be.

2011-09-21

30 @ 30: work and vocation [#9]

If I had wanted to be a librarian all my life, I suppose this could have been a much shorter blog post (and maybe I'd have been able to finish it for last Wednesday)! But actually, the decision to become a professional librarian came relatively late in my exploration of possible vocations. Looking back, that fact seems sort of inexplicable. After all, I grew up living a scant 1.5 blocks from the local public library and applied for my first library card the moment I could sign print my name. I even volunteered there as a child, honing my alphabetization skills by re-shelving the chapter books in the middle-grade fiction section one afternoon a week. It was a great way to discover new authors.

via
Still, "librarian" didn't make the cut as consistently as a number of other options on the what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up? list. As I was just relating to a friend recently, when I was a wee child under the age of ten my most ardent desire was to become an actress in musical theater -- my very first vinyl record was the Broadway cast recording of Annie Get Your Gun and you bet your bottom dollar I knew every word.

I also considered "lighthouse keeper" after seeing Pete's Dragon at an impressionable age.

As I've written about previously, I always felt comfortable caring for young people and for a long time assumed that parenting and perhaps some sort of professional social work occupation were in my future. When I hit puberty and became fascinated with pregnancy and childbirth, I considered midwifery (and later doula training) as a possible option. I still think about this -- the doula/midwifery thing -- as a possible second career, though right now our family can't really handle my taking on one more new thing.

Perhaps the most abiding vocational dream I had growing up was a vision of becoming a writer of fiction. I figured I might combine this with being a bookshop owner -- preferably a picturesque bookshop by the seaside, complete with the bookshop cat(s) or dog(s), and a small apartment above the shop in which to live.

me (circa 1993)
After I started volunteering at the local history museum as an adolescent, the bookseller/author dream was joined by the possibility of becoming a museum curator, or perhaps working at a living history site somewhere (the romance of this only increased by Nancy Bond's novel Another Shore in which the protagonist is sucked back in time through working at a living history village). This was how I ended up taking History classes in addition to English and Women's Studies classes in college -- and ultimately discovering my love of research and scholarly writing -- and how I ended up being encouraged to consider graduate school as an option.

For someone who'd waffled about even attending undergraduate classes, graduate school was an idea that I was both flattered by (I had an incredible group of faculty mentors) and resistant to.

Which is actually how I ended up in library school. Mostly because I really didn't want to apply for PhD programs. I knew I didn't want to teach and by the time I graduated from college in 2005 I was fairly sure I didn't want to get into the business of independent book selling -- I just don't have the business head for it. A year and a half in corporate book selling at Barnes & Noble was enough to tell me I'd go mad in that environment. I was good at the customer service side of things, but hated the corporate pressure to compete internally over sales and memberships and all that crap. Just -- no. I couldn't be bothered. Which would have meant not moving beyond part-time sales clerk, no matter how well I knew the stock.

Librarianship (alongside continuing my studies in history) seemed like a good way to compromise on all of these competing interests without closing any doors for good on my research or feminist interests. And if my present-day occupation(s) -- including this blog -- are anything to go by, I'd say the gamble has by-and-large paid off when it comes to quality of life and work-life balance. I have a job that I find intellectually stimulating and socially responsible. I realize that one (a satisfying, respectably-compensated job) doesn't automatically follow from the other (an MLS degree), but putting one foot in front of the other in that general direction brought me to Boston and eventually brought me here.

But what does it mean, to me specifically, to be at this point where I have a professional job? What do my career choices (at this point in my life) say about how I think about the labor we perform? And what we are called to contribute to the world? I don't have any pat answers to those big meta questions. But I do have a few observations.

I grew up in a home where what people did as paid employment didn't define them. My mother worked in preschool education and went to college for English and Architecture before leaving the workforce to pursue full-time parenting. My father took his (still current) position as a bookstore manager before completing his BA and has remained in that job throughout his career. While he actively pursues professional development and has re-invented the role of the bookstore (and bookstore manager) several times over, it has never been who he is any more than being a full-time parent has been who my mother is. I could also introduce them, variously, as "cyclist," "cartographer," "calligrapher," "fiber artist," "writer," etc. While we children were encouraged to follow our passions and do what we love, we were also not required to turn those loves into money-making work.

I believe in professional standards and ethics, but resist the hierarchy of professionalization. I've written about the issue of professionalization and one-ups-manship before on this blog (see here and here) and in a slightly different context over at Harpyness (see here). What it boils down to is that I value people's knowledge and skill set, not their credentials -- and I don't trust the credentialing system to always give me accurate information about an individual's abilities. I imagine this comes from being homeschooled. And to be frank, it also comes from having been through graduate school and seeing first-hand the work my fellow students were doing. Schooling doesn't always equal expertise.

"Work" is not always synonymous with "vocation." My job is to be a reference librarian. While I see that job as part of my vocation, it does not encompass it. I'm not precisely certain, at this juncture of my life, what my vocation is ... but I believe I could pursue it in a number of different guises, librarian and blogger being only two of a myriad options.What's my vocation? I was lying awake at 4am this morning trying to think about what aspects of my work I think of myself as being called to do in some sort of "I must do this or fail to thrive" sense. Writing and thinking about ideas certainly falls into that category. Cultivating and nurturing intimate relationships (sexual and non-sexual). Being conscious about the way my life choices effect others is another part of my answer to the question "how to live?" But none of this requires a particular type of job in order to pursue.

"Work" is also not separate from "life," any more than "school" and "life" are mutually exclusive. Growing up outside of school, I find, has had an enduring effect on how I consider the dividing line between what I understand to be "work" and everything else. I don't think that "work" and "play" have to be (or ideally should be) mutually exclusive categories. Nor do I think that "life" is something we should picture as being put on hold when we go to work. I realize that for the majority of paid employees, that is the reality -- they aren't allowed to be themselves in the workplace. But even when we work in shitty workplaces, that too is part of our lives rather than being something that puts our lives on hold.

While I do hold certain expectations that personal drama be kept from bleeding over into our workplace lives, I also don't believe there are hard and fast rules about this. Sometimes shit happens, and sometimes it happens while we're at work. While there are aspects of my non-work life I don't feel interested in sharing with my colleagues (or really anyone outside my intimate circle), I also appreciate a workplace that recognizes I am a human being with a full life and interests that may fall outside of the scope of my job description.

At the same time, I don't want work to be my life. I don't want to be defined by my profession, and I don't want my life to be dictated by it either. I'm lucky enough to have a boss that chastises me for checking my email at home (even if she does it herself), and who insists that I work my 35 hours/week and only that with rare exceptions (which are always acknowledged as exceptions). I appreciate that I can walk away from work at the end of the day and it doesn't follow me home. I'm also grateful that there are times when my work is so interesting that I kinda wish I could take it home. But for the most part, I don't. Because I want to make sure I leave room for my other (my vocational?) priorities.

So where am I headed from here? My bare minimum expectation for "success" as a worker is to have a job where I'm respected as a human being and as a laborer, a job that's intellectually stimulating, fairly autonomously-directed (i.e. I have freedom to do my work independently), and a job that pays for good quality of life. I have that right now, which is a position of social privilege in these economic times. There are junctures when I wish we were a little more financially stable, or when I wish we had more discretionary income with which to travel or give gifts (see the upcoming installment "money"), but for now I am content.

Did I imagine this sort of work life when I was a child? Probably not (mostly because the internets were a thing of the future; I learned to use libraries when card catalogs were still, actually, card catalogs).

via
But I don't think my child-self would be disappointed with where I've ended up thus far. Which I feel is about the highest form of praise I could ask for.

2011-09-20

"The second vital smirch"

So last night I got a pingback on a book review I wrote earlier in the year at Harpyness of Stephanie Coontz' A Strange Stirring. Out of curiosity (who would be linking to a six-month-old post?) I clicked through. At first glance it appeared to be a book review of Judith Warner's Perfect Madness. At second glance it turned out to be a plagiarized version of my review of Judith Warner's Perfect Madness.

Well, sort of.
"mommy and baby are people of highly importance"
(click image to imbiggen)
As I started skimming the post, I realized that they hadn't quite plagiarized it ... they'd thrown it through a translation filter (or maybe several?) so that the result was complete gobbledygook. The whole site reads like it was put together by a robot with only a thin grasp of English.

It's just not worth going after them for stealing my post, because in actual fact their garbled version is much more colorful and entertaining than my own incisive analysis! I'm not going to link to the post because I'm philosophically opposed to sending traffic their way (though, *cough*cough*, you can find the ping-back on the Coontz review comment thread above ... they were foolish enough to leave the internal links intact from the original post ... bwahahahah!). However, I'm totally not above providing y'all with some Tuesday afternoon laughs.

My review reads:

Suddenly, living in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, Warner found herself with no critical distance on a culture that rewarded mothers for being entirely absorbed in, perfectionists at, a very particular type of mothering.
The plagiarized review reads:

Suddenly, vital in a Washington D.C. civil area, Warner found herself with no vicious stretch on a enlightenment that rewarded mothers for being wholly engrossed in, perfectionists at, a unequivocally sold form of mothering.
My review reads:

The second major flaw in Perfect Madness was the way Warner allows herself to make pretty harsh judgments about specific parenting choices.
The plagiarized review reads:

The second vital smirch in Perfect Madness was a proceed Warner allows herself to make flattering oppressive judgments about specific parenting choices.
My review reads:

Warner lays the blame for her sorrows at the feet of 'the culture wars' between social conservatives and feminists, whom she believes waste their energies on issues that are not of concern to the majority of Americans.
The plagiarized review reads:

Warner lays a censure for her sorrows at a feet of 'the enlightenment wars' between social conservatives and feminists, whom she believes waste their energies on issues that are not of regard to a infancy of Americans.
My review reads:

As a thirty-year-old woman in a lesbian relationship with no immediate plans to parent, I am not the demographic that Warner is writing about or writing for.  Even if I were to find myself a parent, the legacies of my own childhood in a fairly radical household and my own values system would preclude parenting the way the women in this book are parenting. Their values are, in many ways, decidedly not my values. And because of that, the experience of reading Perfect Madness felt voyeuristic at times. The study of lives and concerns at far remove from my own.
The plagiarized review reads (this might be my very favorite paragraph):

As a thirty-year-old lady in a lesbian attribute with no evident skeleton to parent, we am not a demographic that Warner is essay about or essay for.  Even if we were to find myself a parent, the legacies of my possess childhood in a sincerely radical domicile and my possess values complement would preclude parenting a proceed a women in this book are parenting. Their values are, in many ways, decidedly not my values. And given of that, a knowledge of reading Perfect Madness felt voyeuristic during times. The investigate of lives and concerns during distant mislay from my own.
My friend Lola has suggested that now she should qualify every introduction of me with "a lesbian attribute" as in, "this is Anna, a lesbian attribute." When we find out what I'm an attribute of you'll certainly be the first to know!

2011-09-19

from the neighborhood: BU bridge

Last Friday, Hanna and I walked from our apartment over to Cambridge via the Boston University bridge which has been under extensive restoration for the past several years. It was a gorgeous September day. Here are a few photographs that we snapped on the bridge.

Hanna looking west up the Charles river
(photo by Anna, obviously)
Moon over I-90 (photo by Hanna)
graffiti on the freight rail  bridge below
(photo by Hanna)
girders in the sun
(photo by Anna)

Cross-posted at ...fly over me, evil angel....

2011-09-16

booknotes: making sense of sex

Without getting too explicit here, I can pinpoint the exact moment in which I made the decision to pursue a sexual relationship with Hanna. I was in the Schlesinger Library's reading room ostensibly doing research for a seminar paper, but in actual fact writing a long and incredibly angst-ridden letter to a friend about all these unruly thoughts and feelings I was having about this new person who'd just recently walked into my life. And somewhere in the midst of writing the letter, it clicked. I was in a muddle -- and then I wasn't. I can't explain it more coherently than that. It was an intuitive thing: When I sat with the idea of not being with Hanna, I was anxious and sad; when I sat with the idea of being with her, that knot of unhappiness unwound and the world settled into place.

Of course, that moment of decision was only a hinge, the personal turning point amidst a sea of smaller decision-making steps, choices made and chances taken in the midst of what I still think of as our "courtship" period. All of which added up to the "intuitive" decision that I wanted to be with this person, wanted a specific type of relationship with her. What Michael F. Duffy, author of Making Sense of Sex: Responsible Decision Making for Young Singles (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2010), would like us all to do is make that intuitive process a conscious and deliberate one: a process of personal and moral discernment.

I'm going to come clean here and confess that I requested the advance review copy of this book because I expected to be able to write a snarky review highlighting how full of fail it was. The pre-publication blurb made clear that this book was coming at the question of whether or not to have sex from a Christian perspective, and while I'm definitely open to the possibility that Christians can be awesome about human sexuality, most of the Christian-centric literature I've read on decision-making about sex has been woeful. So yeah (guilty foot shuffle) I was kinda looking forward to making fun of it.

The thing is: This is one of the best books I've read on the subject of ethical sexual decision-making. Granted, I haven't read everything out there -- and not much of it has been from an explicitly religious point of view. But I was pretty damn impressed: it pushed virtually none of the buttons I was expecting it to push, and got a lot right in the process. It has its limitations (about which Mr. Duffy is upfront in the introduction): it supposes a predominantly Christian audience, and a heterosexual, gender-normative one. Anyone who isn't interested in lengthy examinations of personal motivation and ethics is bound to be bored, and someone who isn't Christian and is actively turned off by Christian language would likely have a hard time getting passed the more overtly religious chapters. But the overall point of this book is to lay out a framework for sexual decision-making, not to point readers toward any one way of engaging in relational sex. Beyond the principle of basic mutual consent (more on this below), Duffy bends over backward to remind his readers that ethical people are capable of coming to differing conclusions about what constitutes a good reason to engage in sexual activity -- and that each person might have made a moral choice.

Things for which Duffy earned points in my book:
  • The chapter on sexual consent. This chapter is solidly grounded in (I would say feminist) theories of mutual consent, not only covering the ground-rules of basic consent but also pushing readers to consider how much responsibility we have ensure our partners are making informed decisions about being sexual with us. His four ground-rules are 1) no sex with someone unwilling, 2) alcohol and drugs make consent problematic, 3) in general no sex with people in categories that make them incapable of consent [i.e. underage, mentally incapacitated], and 4) no sex when one person has "identifiable power" over the other. Beyond that, he writes "We should remember as we go that sexual consent is not a one-time agreement but must be maintained throughout any sexual encounter or relationship" (6). In other words, consent is ongoing and negotiated between the relevant parties.
  • Reasons for being sexually intimate. He pushes his (presumably Christian) audience to consider that premarital and "casual" sex can be a moral choice for some people, in some circumstances. He emphasizes throughout that self-awareness, responsibility, and communication are key. He allows that, depending on your view of God and the Bible, it may be that you personally decide that premarital sex is sinful -- while reminding his readers that many Christians have caring, nourishing sexual relationships outside of marriage and that many of the arguments for limiting sex to marriage have more to do with rules than the actual material difference between marital and non-marital relationships.
  • Pregnancy and abortion. Anyone who pushes Planned Parenthood as an organization to which you can turn to for resources and support (p. 147) is someone who deserves kudos in my book. The chapter on pregnancy prevention and family planning is somewhat limited by the fact he's only talking about heterosexual relationships (my marginalia alongside the chapter title, "If you do not wish to become pregnancy, how will you prevent it?" reads: "have sex only with women :)" (43)!). Given that, though, he encourages partners to be clear about their desires regarding pregnancy and emphasizes mutual responsibility in the event of an unplanned pregnancy -- while being very clear that the "deciding vote" over what to do goes to "the woman in whose body this form of human life is growing" (80). Basic? Perhaps -- but not when written for college students and twentysomethings who have been steeped in anti-abortion rhetoric and culture their entire lives.
  • Lack of sexism. This, also, is going to sound basic. But Duffy's overall schematic for sexual decision-making is very light on the question of gender. With the exception (for obvious reasons) of the chapter on pregnancy -- and to a lesser extent the section on sexual assault and coercion -- one could take his questions about sexual ethics and ask them of any person, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. His concept of sexual ethics is not dependent on a belief in innate gender difference -- he does not assume, for example, that women will automatically suffer more (or at all) from "hooking up," or that men are not interested in committed relationships. In this era of increasing buy-in to theories of gender difference, gender-blind sexual ethics are a welcome relief.
Areas in which Making Sense of Sex was lacking:
  • Heteronormative framework. Duffy is up-front in the introduction that he chose to focus on heterosexual partners in his text, in part because that's where his own personal experience lies. While I'm pleased he made a conscious decision, I also question the narrowness of his interpretation of sexual ethics: are same-sex or genderqueer folks really so different as to need a whole different framework for understanding their sexual lives? And the same could go for folks choosing poly relationships -- couldn't the same basic questions about trust and meaning apply to them as well? I think he short-changes himself in this regard and (perhaps inadvertently) sends the message that non-heteronormative relationships are so utterly different as to be beyond the scope of his project. He makes a passing mention to "group sex" and the fact it can be ethical, but doesn't get much into it.
  • Sex = "vaginal intercourse" (xv)? Really? Even given Duffy's focus on heterosexual couples, I feel that choosing to define sex straight-up as "vaginal intercourse" is a missed opportunity to challenge the majority assumption that this is the beginning and ending of human sexual activity.
  • Pornography and sexual ethics. While I understand why he skirted this issue (it could be a book in and of itself), I think the question of pornography and erotica -- and its place in human sexual activities -- really cannot and should not be avoided when talking about sexual ethics. If I were going to use Duffy's book in a class, I'd want to augment it with a list of readings on erotica.
So, overall verdict? This would be a solid text to use in a course or workshop on sexual decision-making, but I'd definitely want to add some other titles to the list -- Heather Corinna's invaluable S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College (New York: Marlowe, 2007) comes to mind -- as a way to bring queer perspectives into the discussion. And I'd make sure to have a full-fledged discussion about how erotic materials might be ethically and mutually enjoyed by all parties in a sexual relationship, as well as the way in which they are often used to cover up or avoid areas of a relationship that have ceased to function. If this is your area of professional or personal interest -- and especially if you're working with young people who come from a Christian background -- I'd highly recommend checking this book out as a useful resource.

This book was made available to me in electronic format for advance review through NetGalley.

2011-09-14

the puzzle of heterosexual women [placeholder post]

No thirty at thirty post today -- simply because I didn't get my act together to write one. So look for the "work and vocation [#9]" installment next week. In its place, I offer this three minute clip from the World Science Festival (via io9). It's part of a 90-minute panel on the origins of orientation: sexuality 2011 which I fully intend to watch sometime in the near future.


There is not a transcript currently available; sorry for that.

The researcher in the clip, Meredith Chivers, describes how self-identified heterosexual women are actually the most puzzling population for sexologists who are seeking correlation between identity and arousal. That is, women who identify as lesbian, bi (or anything other than 100% straight in their attractions) usually show a strong correlation between their self-identified attractions and patterns of arousal when shown erotic images of men or women (the more same-sex attraction you articulate, the stronger your arousal to same-sex imagery). But heterosexual women show no correlation between their interest in men and differential arousal: their baseline is equal attraction to men and women (in the physical arousal sense).

I have lots of questions about this type of research as a measure of someone's orientation -- for starters, how can researchers tell whether the person studied is reacting to the erotic nature of the pictures or the sex/gender of the body on display? -- but I do think the data are an interesting starting point for asking more questions.

2011-09-13

announcement: fan fiction tumblr launched

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

I look at this as the (nearly) inevitable result when you take two librarians + a galloping fan fiction addiction + the internets and stir: Hanna and I, in search of a way to share our favorite fan fiction with friends who have a similar taste in leisure reading (and occasionally writing), have established a Tumblr blog for collecting and sharing fan-created fiction.

everything-gay-nothing-hurts.tumblr.com
It's multi-fandom -- though our current obsession is with Supernatural's Dean/Castiel -- and we've enlisted the assistance of two pals (MH and R) to help us broaden our fandom scope. Our plan is to post a fic recommendation Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So if fic is your thing, please wander on over and subscribe!

~Anna & Hanna

2011-09-12

four years ago today: "I'll have to re-think this being-your-friend thing"

Hanna's comment, when I asked her to look this conversation over and approve it for posting, was: "good god, you are a clunky flirt ... just...wow ... it's amazing." The only thing I can offer by way of defending myself is to point out that at that point I hadn't yet consciously realized I was interested in flirting, or even at all capable of it! As before, third party names have been omitted and clarifying editions are in brackets. All other text is original to the conversation.

dorm room beds aren't the best for cuddling
(September 2007)
Online Chat with Hanna Date: 2007/9/12
1:13 PM
me: the internship site [for choosing archives internships] is up and running!
Hanna: oh, thank goodness!
anything you can't live without? ;)
1:14 PM
me: um . . . nothing quite THAT inticing
My top three choices so far are:
Hanna: drumroll
1:15 PM
me: 1) BPL [Boston Public Library], a photo project with the Leslie Jones collection, "part of a pre-digitization phase."
Hanna: awww...the bpl....
me: 2) Mass. Dept of Conservation and Recreation, organizing and indexing plans and maps, including some Olmstead stuff [this was the one I was eventually offered, and accepted]
Hanna: nice,nice.
1:16 PM
me: and 3) the New England Conservatory of Music, a personal collection of one Victoria Glaser, now 94, whose collection they would like to make accessible for research
Hanna: oooh, nice. all good choices!
me: I also looked at the Boston Athenaeum, just because the space is so worthy of drooling over
1:17 PM
[me:] but the whole concept of a subscription library . . .
so hoity-toity
Hanna: yeah, S (who used to work here) went on and on and on about how much she loved the athenaeum and her internship there. she said they had the best pencils ever.
1:18 PM
me: haha
well, that $220/year membership fee has to pay for something!
the thing I wasn't so sure about with their internship (aside from the elitism)
was that they weren't so specific about what projects were available
1:19 PM
[me:] so you're just picking the site, not the project
Hanna: right, right -- warning there, though. when i signed up for my 438 internship the project i got at the site was totally different from the one they advertised.
i don't know what would have happened if i'd raised a stink about it.
me: ah
good heads up
1:20 PM
[me:] so S liked the athenaeum?
(aside from the pencils?)
Hanna: oh, yeah, she loved it.
apparently it's a gorgeous space and i guess some of their collections are to die for.
me: have you ever talked to anyone who's worked at the BPL?
1:21 PM
Hanna: thinking
no, i don't think so.
1:22 PM
[Hanna:] i know one of the girls in my management class this summer was just going to start working there when the class ended, but we didn't stay in touch after the semester was over.
me: oh well
1:23 PM
Hanna: :( sorry.
me: :)
don't worry about it
just thought, you know, if you had any insider info . . .
Hanna: ;) only that they can't hire anyone who doesn't live in bosto.
n
1:24 PM
me: ah . . . well, that's good to know for future reference!
Hanna: yup, pretty much!
did you see the collection at harvard that's olmstead's stuff?
1:25 PM
me: no . . . hmm
I kinda skipped over the Harvard entries, since V made it sound like those were really popular
Hanna: mmm, true. but if you don't ask, you don't get! ;)
1:26 PM
me: yeah, but I have this pathological aversion to taking choices away from other people :)
I always want to take the choice that no one else is interested in, so I don't spoil anyone's plans
1:27 PM
Hanna: well...yes, so, okay philosophically i have to say that is highly altruistic of you.
and therefore i cannot disapprove.
me: :P
Hanna: or even argue really.
me: I'm not saying it's a GOOD thing
Hanna: :)
me: I mean, for me personally
1:28 PM
Hanna: no, i know. and in this case it might be a bit of overkill, really. it is just an internship after all. it isn't like you're doing something really serious like taking the last m&m or something.
me: haha
(looking at the Harvard internships)

the Plans Library at the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation
(October 2007)
 1:29 PM
[me:] they have a lot of cool ones related to horticulture this semester, don't they?
Hanna: yeah -- the glass flowers collection one might be cool. have you seen that museum yet?
me: noooo . . .
must plan to go someday [I still haven't been!]
1:30 PM
Hanna: on a sunday -- if i remember right, mass residents get in free before noon -- or after noon -- or something like that. it's on their website.
me: again, good to know!
now you have confused my choices ;)
1:31 PM
Hanna: whoops!
but i added something to your field trip list so that's got to be a good thing.
me: yeah, I'll have to re-think this being -your-friend thing
:)
(field trip list--always a plus!)
1:32 PM
Hanna: see? there you go. the one balances out the other. ;)
1:33 PM
i'd also like to know how this internship out in northampton counts as being on mass transit.
are they confusing the t with greyhound?
me: good question
1:34 PM
[me:] some of the ones on the list looked a little sketchy, access-wise to me!
I mean, yeah, if you had 3 hours to commute!
Hanna: yeah! my 438 class had internships on offer that were up in southern nh and maine.
1:35 PM
me: okay, those may be great sites, but how many of us have the time and/or resources to go out there?
Hanna: exactly.
1:36 PM
[Hanna:] and they were very cool internships, but i don't know if anyone took them in the end.
me: how sad :(
1:37 PM
Hanna: i know we had a couple of distance commuter students, but i think they wanted to go to repositories in boston because of subject interests.
1:38 PM
me: so what are you thinking of?
1:39 PM
Hanna: there's one at bc that just says 'a chance to do higher level processing and finding aids' and i just really want to get into the bc repository because they're supposed to have a good irish collection... [she did, and they do]
...and then the one at harvard about making a kind of harvard cliff's notes study guide because it might be fun to work at the harvard repository...
me: yep, yep
cliffs notes?
(which one is it?)
Hanna: hang on --
1:40 PM
"...[to] create a guide to biographical and genealogical resources about people associated with Harvard..."
and then the one at tufts in their digital collection because i nearly applied for a job there.
1:41 PM
me: the H one sounds like it could be rather OED [Oxford English Dictionary] in length!
well, all good options, yes?
1:42 PM
Hanna: yeah, i think so. and they're all on mass transit in places i know and open m-to-f since i can only work on the fridays.
me: :)
yeah, that's sort of how I sorted them as well
1:43 PM
Hanna: i hate the time crunch thing. i was working out my scheduling last night and nearly gave myself a panic attack.
me: yeah
if I end up working at NEU, my schedule is going to be pretty colorful this semester!
Hanna: :)
1:44 PM
me: plus, I'm still in the mode of catching up from all the transitions
so I feel like sleeping about 10hrs/night
I know it won't last, but it makes me feel very . . . unproductive
1:45 PM
Hanna: i know how you feel.
it's also because it's turning chilly and dark earlier and so on...
me: yeah :)
that was my problem in Aberdeen
3pm?
getting dark?
time for bed!
in the summer
I never had to go to sleep :)
Hanna: :)
1:46 PM
[Hanna:] i just have an awful time getting up in the morning. it's dark and chilly -- this is what my feather comforter was designed for, people! why am i leaving it?
me: yeah, while I've never been a sleep-in-until-noon sort of person,
1:47 PM
[me:] I never have been able to happily get up before it's light out
Hanna: oh, no.
1:48 PM
[Hanna:] when it's light, i can get up -- but getting up before the sun does not work for me.
me: exactly
which presents problems for those of us
living so far north of the equator
or wherever would mean
we wouldn't ever have to get up
before it was light out :)

Sunrise across the Fens (September 2007)
1:49 PM
[me:] well, speaking of productivity . . .
Hanna: oh, overrated.
me: I think I'm going to sign off and go out for a walk before I face classes this afternoon
Hanna:  hehe -- oh, okay, in that case, not overrated. i hear it's gorgeous out!
1:50 PM
me: it is!
Hanna: oh, bah. well, go on then -- you enjoy that beautiful weather! :P
me: mm
I'll try to send you some karmic sunshine, or whatever
1:51 PM
Hanna: hehe. thanks! and do enjoy the walk -- boston's really lovely in the fall.
me: bye
Hanna: wave

2011-09-11

live-blogging 'inspector lewis': wild justice (5.2)

James Hathaway (Laurence Fox)
Welcome to another installment of live-blogging Masterpiece with Minerva, Hanna and Anna, at the particular request of our friend Lola who joins us today via Skype. Today's Masterpiece is an episode from season five "Inspector Lewis": "Wild Justice" (5.2).

Stay tuned for updates beginning at 9pm this evening.


Mmm. Okay. Last minute change of plans as WGBH has revised their schedule at the 11th hour and we aren't getting "Lewis" tonight! Check back in next Sunday and we'll try once again.

2011-09-09

articlenote: setting the record straight

Thanks to a recent issue of Education Revolution E-News, I was alerted to the existence of the Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning, a free online resource for scholars in the field and interested others. Yay! More stuff to read! The journal has been going since 2007 and all five of the annual volumes to-date are available in HTML and PDF form. Yes: I'll be working my way through the back catalog.

But today, I want to highlight an article from the current issue: "Setting the Record Straight: Interviews With a Hundred British Home Educating Families," by Paula Rothermel (JUAL 5, 2011: 20-57). I was super excited when I saw this article because it sounded very much like the type of research I thought about doing back in 2006, when I applied for a Marshall scholarship to do an independent research project in England under the supervision of Professor Clive Harber. The scholarship didn't come through (obviously), but I've remained interested in research on home education and Rothermel's comprehensive study of the styles and outcomes of home-based education does keep cropping up. On my reading list is her recently-available e-book Home Education: Rationales, Practices, and Outcomes (Thesis UK, 2011), which is an in-depth exploration of home educated based on interviews done with one hundred British families who had chosen to homeschool in some way, shape, or form. "Setting the Record Straight" (html, PDF) is a summary of the findings from that project, and Rothermel makes a few really interesting initial observations.

1) I was impressed with the explicit mention of non-heteronormative families in her study sample (about 20% of the total group, including single-parent households as well as same-sex couples) and her emphasis on the broad range of parental background and occupational/class status. She points out that despite the widespread stereotype of homeschoolers as white and middle-class, the one hundred families in her sample traversed socioeconomic strata from travellers to families who could have afforded elite private schooling, from parents who were miners and shop assistants to vicars, teachers, and biologists.

2) Rothermel emphasizes the way in which the decision to homeschool, for many families, was "emergent, the result of a string of seemingly insignificant events that made the choise to home-educate appear natural for the family when the time came to take decisive action" (30). In the UK, I gather, much discussion among school authorities has focused on the "push" factors that drive families away from government schools toward home education. "The idea is that if we know the reasons [for homeschooling], we can address them and (re)integrate children into school" (52). Rothermel suggests that this emphasis misses the point that families often choose to home educate for reasons that have nothing to do with specific school options.

3) She made some intriguing, and all-too-brief, suggestions that parents who home educate migrate from center-to-margin in terms of not only their educational philosophy but also their whole life philosophy. "Most families underwent a transformation proportional to the length of time involved with home-education, becoming increasingly radical in relation to their starting point ... questioning everything" (39). This included non-normative gender roles for some parents, women particularly, who found that their family life choices freed them from other cultural expectations. "Counter-intuitively, perhaps, it appeared as if home-education actually liberated families, women particularly, of social norms, whereby, once they had 'stepped' outside the 'doors' of institutionalism they were free to 'do it their way' " (41). Rothermel makes passing mention of families that had taken steps to form co-housing communities with other alternative educators, an experiment I hope she explores in more depth in her book.

In sum, a really interesting introduction to Rothermel's research to-date. If this is the sort of stuff that gets your intellectual juices flowing, head on over to JUAL to check it out, 'cause after all it's free!