A few reflections on my first WAM! conference

I'm taking a (probably undeserved) break from writing my paper on White Women's Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States to describe a few impressions and reactions from my very first WAM! conference. I don't have very coherent thoughts at the moment, since my brain power is being sucked away by catching up on academic responsibilities, but a few highlights and a couple of links for those folks who are interested:
  • It was awesome to spend a weekend surrounded by feminist activists from a wide variety of backgrounds, from bloggers to organizers, undergraduates to radical grannies. I had the opportunity to do a lot of feminist star-spotting, since there was a healthy representation of bloggers and writers present at the conference whose blogs I read and books I own.
  • In addition to volunteering at registration, I attended two panels and a screening of the Silent Choices film about African-American women and abortion. Incidentally, the two panels I attended were live-blogged about at feministing.com, one on reproductive justice and one on battling anti-feminist backlash, if you're interested in a quick synopsis of the discussions.
  • Amanda Marcotte, over at the blog Pandagon, who was one of the speakers at the panel I attended on reproductive justice, wrote about her perspective on the session, and includes a great picture of the Stata Center (designed by Frank Gehry) where the conference was held.
  • In addition to being a blogger, Amanda has just written her first book, It's a Jungle Out There, which is a hilarious, light-hearted blend of "feminism 101" and humor for those of us who can feel burnt-out by anti-feminist crap. "Why are people so mean to feminists?" she asks in the introduction, "Because so much of feminism is the fine art of calling bullshit, and calling bullshit makes people uncomfortable. The first rule about understanding bullshit is that people really love their bullshit . . . Many people love their bullshit more than they love their spouses, or at least they'll defend their bullshit more fiercely." I picked up a copy at the conference bookstore before they were sold out, and read it all the way home on the T, giggling to myself.
All in all, the conference was an energizing break from my regular routine, and gave me an opportunity to reflect, once again, on how I envision bringing together the sort of research, writing, and practical skills I am developing as a librarian-in-training and student of history with the politically relevant, people-oriented activist work that I find incredibly nourishing to be involved in, even though I have never been comfortable out on the front lines. I realized, sitting in the conference rooms listening to all these articulate, politically engaged women (and yes, a handful of men), that even though I get burnt out sometimes by the amount of work that needs to be done, I virtually never get tired of engaging with feminist ideas and the people who care about discussing them. Now if only I can figure out a way to get paid for doing it!

UPDATE: You can also check out conference coverage at Feministe, where Jill talks about both of the panels I attended, and other stuff as well, and Racialicious, whose regular blogger Carmen was at the (seemingly universally attended) backlash panel.


"I can't really say I liked it"

Stephen D. Levitt, author of the wildly popular book on weird statistics, Freakonomics, has just reviewed Philip Pullman's fantasy novel The Golden Compass on his blog over at the New York Times. Did he like it? Not so much. As Hanna wrote when she sent me the link, "okay, this has to be the fastest and most complete pan of a book I have read in a long time." Check it out and have yourself a giggle.


Home Education in CA

In the midst of the midterm crunch, I don't have a chance to reflect on this at great length, but I saw via the NPR website this week that a California appellate court recently ruled that home education in the state may be vulnerable to legal challenges:
The court ruling that declared some home schooling unconstitutional, Huerta says, seemed to indicate that California regulators' occasional monitoring of the family's home efforts was deemed insufficient to qualify children as being enrolled in a school.

Huerta says the ruling is an unprecedented decision, and one that has prompted an uprising not just among home schoolers but also among privacy advocates. "This is an issue that's going to be taken all the way to the Supreme Court," he says. "It's going to open a Pandora's box of issues the court may not want to address."

Diane Rehm also did an hour on the subject this week, a show that I plan to listen to and report back on when I have a chance.

I'll be interested to see both how this actual legal case develops and how the media covers it.


WAM! 2008 @ MIT

I just got in from my volunteer orientation for WAM!2008--the Center for New Words' Women, Action & the Media conference, which is held annually here in the Boston area. I'm volunteering at the registration table Friday night, and plan to spend all day Saturday with the over 500 feminist activists who are converging on the Strata Center to talk about political activism and the media. It was great just to meet the handful of local volunteers who showed up at the orientation session tonight, and remember what a wide range of women are interested and involved in feminist activity.

The conference plans to record and post all the sessions on YouTube and various web-based media outlets, so I'll be back later in the weekend to share some highlights with y'all. For now, let me say that I'm particularly looking forward to meeting many of the wonderful ladies over at feministing who will be on hand to participate in various breakout sessions, as well as getting to see Silent Choices, a documentary film about African-American women and abortion politics.

Check back for more after the weekend . . .


Weekly Update: Brain dead edition

It's that point in the semester (I'm sure all students and former-students will identify) at which the end of term seems both impossibly far away and alarmingly at hand. Projects develop glitches. The panic-o-meters on everyone around you start to rise and your own barometer cranks it up in response. "Many college students stressed out, study finds", the Boston Globe reported this week, in a classic "No duh! Don't we know this already?" headline. What is always amazing to me is how normalized and individualized the state of being stressed out--physically and emotionally--is. We expect to spend our educational careers overworked and frazzled, and inability to get things done is always seen as a personal failure, not as a systemic problem of a social system that requires students to work part- and full-time as well as attending school in order to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, we haven't entirely lost our sense of humor. Here's a little something that's been circulating on the internet for all my political-junkie friends out there. My friend and colleague Laura Cutter forwarded it to a bunch of us after our history class last night:

The George W Bush Presidential Library is now in the planning stages.

The Library will include:
  • The Hurricane Katrina Room , which is still under construction.
  • The Alberto Gonzales Room, where you can't remember anything.
  • The Texas Air National Guard Room, where you don't have to even show up.
  • The Walter Reed Hospital Room, where they don't let you in.
  • The Guantanamo Bay Room, where they don't let you out.
  • The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room (Which no one has been able to find).
  • The Iraq War Room. After you complete your first tour, they make you to go back for second, third, fourth, and sometimes fifth tours.
  • The Dick Cheney Room, in the famous undisclosed location, complete with shooting gallery.
  • Plans also include: The K-Street Project Gift Shop - Where you can buy (or just steal) an election.
  • The Airport Men's Room, where you can meet some of your favorite Republican Senators.
  • Last, but not least, there will be an entire floor devoted to a 7/8-scale model of the President's ego.
To highlight the President's accomplishments, the museum will have an electron microscope to help you locate them. When asked, President Bush said that he didn't care so much about the individual exhibits as long as his museum was better than his father's
Happy Spring Equinox to you all and hope this finds you all well. I always enjoy your emails and calls and correspondence (I actually still receive letters by post from a number of you!) and will be in touch when I can.



Thanks to Jesus Camp, I was expecting this one, but it's still depressing and kinda creepy: Sarah Seltzer over at RH RealityCheck illuminates the connection between Horton Hears a Who! and anti-choice activists.

Whither the Witches?

This being Spring Break, as previously mentioned, Hanna and I took one entire day off to frivol. We took the commuter train up to Salem and wandered around town, visiting the Peabody Essex Museum, admiring gravestones in the Old Burying Point Cemetery, and tarrying a while at a coffee shop with the most comfortable chairs ever invented (or at least they felt that way). We did not feel much of a need to visit the Witch Dungeon, the Witch History Museum, the Witches Cottage, although we did pass by the Witch Trials Memorial on our way down to the shore :).

Here are some pictures.


Classification Politics

Just before Spring Break in my Organization of Information class, which is the introduction to library cataloging and classification schemes, our professor Candy launched into the segment of the course devoted to Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), which are used in many English-language libraries worldwide.

My friend Aiden has been doing research--and enthusiastically passing materials along to me--on the concept of classification as a form of oppression. The connection seems obvious: any time that you construct a schema for organizing ideas, you make choices about how to arrange those ideas, what associations to make between ideas, and how to label those ideas so that others can find them. Therefore, I was tickled when Candy just happened to illustrate her lecture on subject headings with the following example:

"United States--Annexations"
USE: "United States--Territorial Expansions"

Ah, yes. An early example of spin.

So I look forward to seeing where Aiden goes with his classification activism! If he makes any progress, I'll let you all know :).



On Saturday, Hanna and I went shopping at McIntyre & Moore's, this spiffy used bookstore in Davis Square, near Tufts University. Their fiction section and children's book section are paltry, but they have extensive nonfiction titles of all sorts. The impetus for the shopping trip (besides needing a Saturday outing) was the fact that they're moving and having a 40%-off sale of their entire stock! Hanna walked away with a whole stack of books on Irish history and I picked up a book on the history of sex education in the United States that just became the 900th volume in my librarything catalog. I'm not sure what that says about me, other than that I've more or less managed to make up for all that weeding I did back when I initially cataloged my library in 2006.


Separate But Equal?

A few days ago, my friend Joseph sent me a link to this New York Times article on sex-segregated public schooling. Aside from the fact that I thought we'd sorted out a long time ago that segregation in schools does not lead to greater social equality, there seem to me to be an overall assumption here about children that I find highly suspicious--namely, that they can be sorted into two groups of like individuals based on gender behavior. As Joseph pointed out in his email to me:
I think it is reasonable to accept that, on average, males and females tend to react differently to different teaching styles, but treating those rather small differences as the basis for segregating class rooms seems dangerous, because one ends up implying that ALL males want to draw pictures of cars going fast and girls want to draw pictures of people interacting. The goal of improving teaching by making a classroom more homogeneous seems to be a hopeless one -- rather, it seems one should be focusing on teaching each student as an individual and meeting their needs rather than trying to break children up into supposedly homogeneous groups.
By separating children into gender-based groups, we are encouraging children to accept stereotypical generalizations about the opposite sex--the boys in the article are quoted as saying, for example, that they like being in an all-boys classroom because girls don't like snakes. Well, I happen to know several girls who love reptiles. But because these boys aren't seeing girls get friendly with snakes in class, they can more easily continue to believe that no girls share their interest.

Not only does this model of "girls" vs. "boys" reinforce gender stereotypes, it also assumes that all children naturally fall into these two categories, and that they thrive better when socializing primarily with members of their assigned sex/gender. It neatly elides the existence of queer and trans children, who may not be sure where they fall in the female/male spectrum--and shouldn't be forced to decide (or have their parents decide for them). Joseph also pointed out that some situations that we generally think are more comfortable for children as a single-sex environment can be more awkward for gay and lesbian kids than mixed company:
The one point where it seemed to make a little sense was when a female teacher was saying that she felt much more able to discuss sexuality in the literature they read in class in an all-female setting, which I can certainly imagine. Though that, of course, leaves the homosexuals in a more awkward position . . . I also have this really negative -- bordering on fearful -- reaction to all-male settings . . . settings where there is the implicit understanding that females are excluded because that type of space [locker rooms, etc.] only works where no one is sexually attracted to anyone else in the space.*
While it may solve some shorter-term problems (such as girls' reluctance to speak up in science class, or boys' reluctance to join the choir because it's too "girly") establishing a same-sex education program does so at the expense of already vulnerable children, whose sense of exclusion may only get stronger with increasing emphasis on the homogeneity of the environment in which they are placed.

Ann, over at feministing, has written a post on this article and linked to several other sources discussion the supposedly "scientific" basis for same-sex education. Check it out if you're interested!

*Thanks Joseph for the permission to use your email in this post :).

Image lifted from the NYT article


"Name all the stars . . ."

Through a complex series of mental associations having to do with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, library student jokes about cross-referencing and the Super Tuesday election hoopla, I suddenly felt the urge to share my favorite political quotation of all time from Sara Vowell's essay "The Nerd Voice," written in the wake of the 2000 election (Gore v. Bush, in case anyone has forgotten):
I wish it were different. I wish we privileged knowledge in politicians, that the ones who know things didn’t have to hide it behind brown pants, and that the know-not-enoughs were laughed all the way to the Maine border on their first New Hampshire meet and greet. I wish that in order to secure his [or her!] party’s nomination, a presidential candidate would be required to point at the sky and name all the stars; have the periodic table of the elements memorized; rattle off the kings and queens of Spain; define the significance of the Gatling gun; joke around in Latin; interpret the symbolism in seventeenth-century Dutch painting; explain photosynthesis to a six-year-old; recite Emily Dickinson; bake a perfect popover; build a short wave radio out of a coconut; and know all the words to Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Two Sleepy People,’ Johnny Cash’s ‘Five Feet High and Rising,’ and ‘You Got the Silver’ by the Rolling Stones. After all, the United States is the greatest country on the earth dealing with the most complicated problems in the history of the world—poverty, pollution, justice, Jerusalem. What we need is a president who is at least twelve kinds of nerd, a nerd messiah to come along every four years, acquire the secret service code name Poindexter, install a Revenge of the Nerds screen saver on the Oval Office computer and one by one decrypt our woes. [The Partly Cloudy Patriot, 116-117]
That is all.


Oral History Video Clip

This week in Oral History, we watched a documentary called Hamburger America, which is a tour of some unique hamburger joints in America. I was a little skeptical, I will admit, because of all the documentary focus on the meat industry and American food recently, in books like Fast Food Nation. But the movie was really entertaining and fascinating. Here's a clip showing one of the places they profiled:

MIA: Weekend before Spring Break

As predicted, the "weekly" updates from grad school aren't quite so weekly as I had hoped. I've been busy and--I hope!--productive the past couple of weeks. This past Thursday I turned in my project proposals for both oral history (interviewing Boston area doulas about their work) and history of imperialism (a term paper on feminists, history-writing, and the idealization of "primitive" cultures). I finished up reading report on feminist methodology in oral history and learned about coding MARC records in cataloging.

And of course, since I'm not an advocate of being studious 24/7, I have also made time for the first five episodes of Torchwood with Hanna, who is happy she finally has someone with whom to discuss the intricacies of combating alien invasions through the great Rift of Cardiff :).

The second week of March is Spring Break here at Simmons, and we are all looking forward to the time to catch up a little on our research and reading (we're grad students, we don't ever quit entirely), as well as make the time for a little leisure. Hanna and I have plans to take the commuter rail up to Salem to visit the Peabody-Essex Museum, and if I remember to take my camera with me, there should be some pictures coming soon.