Quick Hit: MHS stats for 2009

Jeremy reports on the MHS blog that 2009 was an impressive year for the Library Reader Services staff

All told we had over 1,450 researchers visit the library over the course of the year, for a total of 2,851 daily uses. We had over 740 first time visitors this year, a good indication that both our website and our public and educational programs are reaching out to new users. It is also a good indicator that people are still interested in using libraries.

In addition to the people that visited the library in person, our reference staff engaged in over 1,500 email correspondences with researchers seeking assistance, answered 62 posted letters, and fielded over 1,100 reference-related phone calls.

In servicing our researchers the staff made over 13,000 photocopies of MHS documents, and paged over 5,600 call slips. Because researchers can request multiple volumes and/or boxes from manuscript collections on a single call slip, it is difficult to gauge just how many individual items were retrieved and returned to the stacks, but I would wager it is a safe bet to say that it was well over 10,000 items.

If you're interested in further stats, like where all these researchers came from, click through to the Beehive for his full post.


holland, hope, and homosexuality: some reflections

Just before Christmas my friend Rachel sent me a recent column by screenwriter Dustin Lance Black about his experience filming in Holland, Michigan (my hometown) and being invited to speak at Hope College (my alma mater). As I wrote here in October, Black was extended and invitation to speak at the college and then the invitation was withdrawn by the administration. Later arrangements were made for Black to speak at an off-campus venue.

Black's column, reflecting on his experience in Holland and at Hope is clearly written in a well-meaning spirit of reconciliation in a situation where hurt feelings abounded. It is also written from the personal perspective of an outsider who visited Holland for a short period of time to do a specific project and became tangled up in one chapter of the ongoing saga that is West Michigan's religious, social and political conservatism. More specifically, he walked into a situation colored indelibly by Hope College's struggle to decide where it stands in relation to the Reformed Church in America, a denomination currently divided (as most mainline Christian denominations are) in regards to their official stance and everyday practice concerning sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, I think Black, with the myopia of a visitor -- misses the mark when it comes to understanding the particular context for -- and history of -- his own slice of experience in West Michigan and with Hope College. He characterizes Holland (a metropolitan area of roughly 95,000) as a "small Midwestern town" and describes his encounters with the local populace as if his presence was somehow a catalyst for the city and college to wrestle with issues of sexual orientation that they had heretofore complacently ignored. "I don’t think the town was homophobic," he writes, "I think they had simply never discussed gay rights openly before, and here I was, an interloper, threatening to thrust this hot-button issue into their community."

Well . . . yes and no. Clearly, I have my moments of profound antagonism toward the conservatism of place and people that characterizes the West Michigan region. There are reasons I felt it necessary to become a self-identified feminist, reasons that I decided to move elsewhere for graduate school, and reasons I will think long and hard before supporting my alma mater financially or otherwise. There have been times when I experienced the majority culture of West Michigan like a physical weight on my chest, an asthma attack waiting to happen.

Yet on the other hand, I think it's important -- and I speak here as a feminist, as someone who's bisexual and in a same-sex relationship, and as a Midwesterner -- to resist the easy dichotomy of "Midwest" versus "coast," and "small town" versus "urban" that become stand-ins for talking about political and social conservatism and liberalism. West Michigan was where I became the person I am today partly in spite of yet just as much because of the people around me: West Michigan's politics and majority culture are conservative, but that conservatism does not thrive in a vacuum free of liberal, leftist pushback. West Michigan conservatism is perennially contested by those who disagree with the premises of a conservative Church and Republican party politics. (Consider, for example, that my senior project in the Women's Studies program at Hope was a multi-year group research project on a predominantly lesbian, feminist organization and community that thrived in West Michigan during the 1970s and early 1980s.) I would argue that Black served less as a catalyst for new awakening and more as the latest spark to reignite the antagonism between these two indigenous forces: dominant culture and counter-culture.

Those outsider-sparks can serve as personal awakenings, sure: it was a similar series of events in 1998 that were my own adult initiation into the world of feminist and LGBT politics -- but I think the important thing to remember is that even if the immediate impetus for such community reflection comes from outside, myriad resources with which to challenge the conservative status quo are rooted deep in local, Midwestern soil.

I grew up a crazy-ass liberal in what (as Black points out) is the most Republican-leaning county in Michigan -- yet I found a tenacious network of like-minded folks within that community who have helped me to grow, often to thrive, and always to explore a world beyond the boundaries of fear-driven, narrow-minded conservatism. And many of those people hail from (and continue to live in more or less uneasy relationship with) the very groups of folks that Black imagines to be so well-meaning yet clueless about queer politics. Among the folks who helped me grow into the woman I am today are Holland natives, Hope College faculty and staff, and deeply religious folks whose Christianity informs their political liberalism.

And those folks deserve to reside in the "small Midwestern town" of our collective imagination just as much as (if not more than) those who resort to fear and exclusion.


Quick Hit: Transgender Basics (Video)

This video from the Gender Identity Project has been making the rounds on the blogs I read regularly; I finally had twenty minutes last night (and a computer with sound!) to sit down and watch it.

I'm fairly new to the subtleties of transgender identity, and while I enjoy reading feminist theory (can't say often enough how much Julia Serano's Whipping Girl helped me wrap my brain around trans issues) a lot of people I know just aren't that into it, and trying to explain the current connotations of sex vs. gender -- not to mention what people mean when they start talking "trans" -- can leave me feeling inept. I really like how this video breaks it down without using too much insider language while at the same time not talking down to their audience. Definitely something to keep in the "resources" file.

Jos at Feministing reports that, as of yet, there is no transcript available, but tnat a volunteer is working on one. Hope it will soon be available through the GIP website, if you are interested in and/or need one.


Nadolig Llawen*

As this blog post goes live, Hanna and I are hopefully enjoying a quiet Christmas morning sans internet obsessiveness. We have plans for homemade eggnog lattes, present-opening before our miniscule tree, and possibly a double-screening of Die Hard and Love Actually later in the day.

A very Merry Christmas to you all, wherever you may be.

*"Merry Christmas" in Welsh via Google Translate.


Quick Hit: The Case of the Slave-Child Med

I have another post up at the Beehive recapping the lunch talk given by MHS fellow Karen Woods Weierman on the 1836 court case, Commonwealth vs. Aves, in which abolitionists in Boston sued a Southern slave-holding family in order to free a 7-year-old girl they had brought North with them while visiting relatives.


happy first day of winter!

Santas on the London underground.

I'm planning on posting with a light touch over the next few weeks, during Christmas break. Hanna and I are celebrating Christmas here in Boston and I have the work for my Wintersession class, which I'm hoping will impede as little as possible on the break-ness of the break. Hope you all have a wonderful holiday season (whatever holidays you and yours celebrate) and see you back with the "sunday smut" list and all the rest in the early days of 2010.

*image credit: Photo of the Day #31 credited to deepstoat @ Londonist.


sunday smut: links list on sex and gender (no. 4)

News flash: women no longer have "hymens" but "vaginal coronas." Why, you may ask? Ann Bartow @ Feminist Law Professors explains.

While the idea of re-naming the hymen has a certain amount of political merit, I'd say the same does not hold true for calling the vagina a "baby-making hole" (aside from being clunky, it's factually inaccurate people!). Check out the sex education book that used this term at beyond birds and bees (via aag, who provides the book illustrations for the visually-inclined).

Artist Zina Saunders is doing a series of portraits of "long-standing gay couples" in response to New York state's recent failure to pass a gay marriage bill.

I'm equal parts gleeful and creeped out by this story of the "ex-gay" organization Exodus International severing ties with a Michigan-based affiliate after allegations of homoerotic abuse. Most puzzling to me is why any group would name itself "Corduroy Stones" (outside of the emo rock band context) and what that could possibly have to do with sexual orientation therapy.

Ann at Feministing offers yet another perspective on the abusive relationship dynamics of New Moon, pointing out the normalization of violence in the Native American community depicted in the book and film.

On Wednesday, Jessica, also at Feministing, solicited peoples' stories about Women's and Gender Studies programs in an open comments thread.

I enjoyed Hanna Rosin's book God's Harvard which I reviewed here a couple of years ago. However, sometimes her op-ed pieces cause in me a "what the fuck?!" sort of reaction. For example, her recent ruminations on her husband's behavior in the kitchen, titled The Rise of the Kitchen Bitch. As my friend Joseph sarcastically commented, "I so appreciate her writing a piece about men doing more cooking and describing them as bare-fisted, potty mouthed, and (my favorite) testosterone-fueled assholes." I mean, really, I could spend paragraphs dissecting harmful class- and gender-based assumptions being made in these two sentences alone:

I first heard this term in Sandra Tsing Loh’s recent Atlantic story about her divorce. She used it to describe a friend’s husband who was anal and fussy and altogether too feminine—he belonged to an online fennel club, for God’s sake.

While we're on the subject of harmful stereotyping, Dr. Marty Klein describes how our cultural terror of online sexual predators effects the ability of consenting adults to role-play sexual fantasies online in "Fantasy On Trial (Again)"

In an instance of entirely tone-deaf wording, the BBC online forum "have your say" published a piece this week it titled "Should homosexuals face execution?" (since changed to "Should Uganda debate gay execution?") The simple answer to that, boys and girls, is no. The more nuanced answer is fuck no. (via Cruella-blog). Journalists and the public complained, and the BBC has since apologized. Hanna and I have been debating between ourselves the effectiveness and legitimacy of the headline; she thinks the first version got the response the BBC wanted, I think the second is more accurate. Either way, it's an interesting case-study for how these international issues are framed and reported on by media outlets.

In another instance of media framing, I've been seeing various iterations of this headline the past few days: "topless teen causes auto accident" or, as DigitalSpy.uk put it, "breast-flashing teen hit by car." A New Zealand teenager who was dared to flash oncoming traffic was fined for supposedly distracting one driver so badly that he veered off the road and ran her down. Okay: flashing traffic is possibly not the brightest idea going (akin to mooning someone out the window of your car, right?: stupid prank) But I'm irritated by the way no one is asking why a woman's breasts were so distracting to a driver that he hit her with the car -- and if, indeed, that's the case, why it's somehow her fault and not his.

Lots of folks weighed in on a recent study that concluded young people who engage in casual sexual encounters do not necessarily experience adverse effects. Brandann Hill-Mann @ Women's Rights Blog announced "this just in: sex isn't going to destroy you!"; Thomas @ Yes Means Yes wrote about "the absence of harm"; Amanda Marcotte, writing @ Double X concludes that "the kids are downright boring."

And finally: speaking of sex, as opening lines go, Rachel Kramer Bussel definitely takes the cupcake this week with "I lack sexual restraint. Philosophically, I don’t see the point in it."

*Image credit: PICT1897 by Always Rain @ Flickr.


pre-christmas cheer

Tonight, we're off to the Blue Heron Renaissance Choir's "Christmas in Medieval England" concert at First Church in Cambridge.

Also in the Christmas spirit, I bring you this photograph of gingerbread daleks, courtesy of Jason Henninger @ Tor.com. Hanna and I have plans to try making them on Christmas Eve. If they turn out at all recognizable I'll provide photographs!


that was sweet, mr. J.P. Lick's man

There's a J.P. Licks ice cream shop in Coolidge Corner that Hanna and I stop at on our way home from work or school. The weather being what it is, we haven't been in there for a while, but on Wednesday we stopped in for a pint of their egg nog ice cream to go with the gingerbread we made earlier this week. One of the guys who's been working there for a while, whom I know by sight but not by name, was behind the counter. We were considering our ice cream options and I said something to the effect of "what sounds good to you?" and gave Hanna a kiss on the cheek, just as the guy asked if we were ready to order.

"Sorry," Hanna said, for failing to respond to his question immediately (we were both tired and distracted, having just come from the computer lab where we'd printed out five copies of her 130-page thesis; that's a solid ream of paper folks!).

"No need to apologize for public displays of affection," he told us, as he packed our ice cream container.

"Oh, no," Hanna responded, "I was just apologizing for my inability to use the English language!"

On the one hand, it seemed a little intrusive for him even to mention the fact I'd kissed her. But if he thought Hanna was apologizing for my actions, I think he was kind of him to let us know he wasn't offended. I know plenty of people in the world who would have been. (Sad, but true). Not that I spend my time wandering around wondering what the world thinks of my PDA behavior (well, I admit, if I got the sense we were being criticized I'd probably have to quell the urge to be even more outrageous). All the same, I think it was a well-intentioned comment.

So thank you, Mr. J.P. Lick's man, for saying what you did. It was sweet.


prepare the fatted (vegetarian) calf

I'm gonna let Hanna make this announcement in her own way.

Please think of her around 1:00pm this afternoon, when she will be presenting her thesis, Tiocfaidh ár lá!: Irish Republican Nationalism from Bobby Sands to the United Irishman, 1981-1899, at the History Colloquium as the final requirement of the dual-degree program.

You've done amazing work, love. Yes, there were a couple of moments when I thought you might possibly drive me to wailing and gnashing of teeth in exasperation -- possibly a fleeting thought around 4pm on Monday afternoon about the pleasures of bloodying my forehead against the doorjamb -- but mostly it seemed important just to step out of your way and let you get on with what you had to say.

I stand in awe at the depth and breadth of your knowledge and I'm looking forward, in full faith and anticipation, to whatever projects you choose to take on next.


breaking news: octopus builds house

The end of the semester has brought its usual brand of insanity this week, so no substantial posts so far -- but here's a great story that came across my RSS feeds this morning from The Guardian: scientists have discovered (and filmed) octopuses using coconut shells to construct hiding places on the ocean floor. Thanks to YouTube I can embed a video of the octopus in action.

Happy Wednesday!


from the neighborhood: lava cakes redux

Last week I posted a picture of, and recipe for, chocolate lava cakes. This weekend, I tried them again only this time with a marshmallow in the center of each. When Hanna saw the finished product she couldn't stop giggling (although this may have been in part due to thesis-induced hysteria).


from the neighborhood: coil candle

Our "Christmas present for the house" this year was a beeswax coil candle from the Acorn catalog. The wick is a little unruly, and we find our apartment gets a little cold for the coil to uncoil properly, but once it's lit, the light is lovely.


sunday smut: links list on sex and gender (no. 3)

The links list in which I indulge my interest in things sex and gender related that I've read around the internet.

First off, from the fabulous Fug Girls comes this PSA: "EVERYONE'S VAGINA IS FINE. WORRY ABOUT THE CLOGS." Best advice in, like, forever. Although I doubt clogs really need worrying about either. Mostly, I find they're pretty low-maintenance footwear.

Can someone explain to me why "sexting" somehow more lewd and/or potentially dangerous than writing love letters or having flirty phonecalls? I don't get it. Emily Bazelon over at Slate suggests there might be some truth under the hysteria while Ani DiBranco over at the Women's Rights Blog asks whether "sexting" is the biggest problem facing teenage women.

(Personally, I think maybe we should be worrying about that giant octopus off the coast instead. . . but that could be me).

I have a few links related to trans issues this week. First up is Laurie Penny over at the UK-based F-word argues for the death of transphobic feminism in Moving towards solidarity. "Not a single person on this planet is born a woman," she writes, "Becoming a woman, for those who willingly or unwillingly undertake the process, is torturous, magical, bewildering - and intensely political."

Next comes Helen G over at Questioning Transphobia has a post up about "psychiatry's civil war," or the politics of revising the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (currently in-process), particularly when it comes to gender identity.

And finally, on a similar -- and no less contentious note -- The Bilerco Project published an opinion piece this week by Ronald Gold in which he took a stance against the concept of "transgender," going so far as to question the very existence of trans folks (obviously very hurtful to people for whom this is lived experience). The post has since been removed. These situations are, I think, complicated, emotionally fraught for everyone involved and I don't know enough about this one to pass my own personal judgment on the rightness or wrongness of pulling the piece. But what I actually want to link to this morning is the original response written by Bil Browning (founder of the Project) about why he decided to publish Gold's piece in the first place, which I found thought-provoking as an example of how to handle these struggles over what does and does not appear in (online) print.

Liz Kukura @ RhReality Check and Rose @ Feministing wonder about the validity and usefulness of "generational divide" talk around reproductive rights.

Also on the subject of reproductive rights, Michelle Goldberg at The American Prospect reports on a case before the European Court of Human Rights that has the potential to recognize women's universal human right to reproductive freedom.

On the opposite side of the political spectrum, anti-choice activists increasingly invoke the concept of "choice" to bolster their own political aims. Amanda Marcotte over at RhRealityCheck weighs in on the trend.

Two stories on public breastfeeding this week, one from sexgenderbody about a Target store in Michigan (oh, the shame!) that called the cops when a woman refused to stop feeding her daughter (Woman's Rights Blog also weighs in) and another from Her Bad Mother at BlogHer about ads in Chicago proclaiming breasfeeding "tacky". Her Bad Mother writes:

This question should be settled, as settled as not refusing to serve same-sex couples in restaurants, or ensuring that public places are accessible to disabled persons. You have every right to be discomfited by public breastfeeding. You just don’t – or shouldn’t (depending upon what state or province we’re talking about) – have the right to protest or disparage it publicly.

Well . . . um, yeah, actually I believe you do have a right to "protest or disparage" it (although, please, people, get over it already). What you do NOT (or should not) have the right to do is discriminate by such methods as requiring someone to feed their infant in a restroom (ew!) or calling the fucking police when someone engages in a perfectly legal activity. This is why many nursing mothers and advocates have started pressing for legislation specifically protecting their right to feed their children in public. Because apparently it's something they can't take for granted.

Essin' Em at Sexuality Happens muses about whether it's always important or necessary to come out (and, conversely, why straight, monogamous, "vanilla" folks never feel the pressure to come out about their own sexual proclivities).

Why do we have this default of “you should only come out/express your sexuality if you’re not the norm?” I mean, really, what’s wrong either with no one having come out, or having everyone come out? Why is it so specific?

Also on the subject of language and communication, Hanna mused at ...fly over me, evil angel... about the power of words, and what happens when people shift from highly emotive words like "rape" to (possibly technically more accurate but nonetheless distancing) phrases like "sexual- and gender-based violence."

Lisa at Sociological Images offers a lovely set of real-life portraits of phone sex workers, juxtaposed with images taken from phone sex adverts (nsfw).

And finally, on a mildly celebratory note, congrats this week to the Episcopalian church here in America which just elected its second openly gay Bishop. See the New York Times and The Guardian for more.

*image credit: Ture Ekroos, posted at The Art Department by way of the Tor.com Cthulu art thread.


this may be the only appropriate response

Just before I got in the car on Tuesday to drive down to my digital archives class in New Haven, this story from the Yale Daily News came across my feeds via Melissa McEwan @ Shakesville. A young evangelical street preacher, Jesse Morrell, has been preaching repentance on and around Yale's campus wearing a sandwich board that delineates twenty activities he considers sinful: fornicating, homosexuality, lying, stealing, masturbating, voting for Obama, practicing Buddhism, dirty dancing (does anyone know what this entails, exactly?), practicing Hinduism, singing "gangster rap," practicing Islam, drinking, being a feminist, being an immodest woman, being a Democrat, being a liberal, believing in evolution, not believing in God, smoking pot, and having anal sex.

Holy shit is that a lot of thoroughly enjoyable activities to avoid!

Hanna did the math and pointed out that we're guilty of at least fourteen out of twenty already, so probably at this point our eternal salvation -- at least in this guy's heaven -- is a long-lost cause. (Sounds like a boring place anyway -- I mean, no immodest women or questioning the existence of God? what would we do for fun??) Those devils in hell had better be ready! Do you think we should shoot for a perfect score?

At least two of the bystanders thought such a plan might be worthwhile, and wasted no time in checking off at least one item on the list.

I think this might just be my favorite protest action of the week. It seems like the only appropriate response, really, to hellfire and brimstone preaching: the assertion of passion, pleasure, and the human capacity for finding joy in physical intimacy. It absolutely gets the point across by refusing to enter into the terms of the debate and, through action, offering an alternative vision of the world.

Now let's see . . . I'd better get busy practicing my dirty dancing moves!


Quick Hit: Religious Diversity and SCOTUS

I've written before about my undying love for legal commentator Dahlia Lithwick; today I bring you her latest column at Slate, which challenges us to consider the religious diversity of the United States Supreme Court.

Popular opinion once held that even one Catholic was too many on the court. Today there are six. But would anyone even notice if Obama appointed a seventh to replace Stevens? Once upon a time, there was an outright religious litmus test for Supreme Court appointees. Today religion is almost irrelevant in appointing new justices.

. . .

We generally don't talk much about religion and the Supreme Court. We talk about the need for race and gender diversity on the court in brave, sweeping pronouncements: The court needs more women, we say, or more Asians, or more gay and disabled people. Because all those things will impact the law. But when it comes to talking about religious diversity, it happens in whispers, if at all. Because it might impact the law.

I think it's an interesting example of how our conversations about identity are shifting from more material, embodied factors (sex, race, sexual orientation, physical abilities, class) to understanding people in terms of chosen affiliations, and how those affiliations shape our sense of group identity and our understanding of "diversity" in action.

That's all I have for the end of this busy week, but hope you all head on over to Slate to read the whole thing.


Quick Hit: London Tube Map History

Last week I stumbled into a great slide show put together by the Guardian; a history of the iconic London tube map in pictures.

Tube maps have been part of London life since the birth of the Underground, and were initially as confusing as the city itself: a tangle of different lines woven around the curving River Thames. Enter Harry Beck, an LU engineer who in 1931 came up with the radical idea of presenting the ever-expanding network as a circuit diagram rather than a geographical map – so creating a modernist design icon that has never been bettered. But as the Oystercard zone expands, are its days numbered? Take a look back at the changing face of the tube over the last century.

Hop on over to the Guardian site to check it out.


from the neighborhood: donna the christmas angel

She first appeared as the titular Runaway Bride in the 2006 Dr. Who Christmas special, so who better to top our tree this Christmas than Donna Noble (played by the aforementioned awesome Catherine Tate)?

And just in case you're up for a little Donna nostalgia I bring you (via Hanna, who posted it first at ...fly over me evil angel...) an awesome fan video.


Wintersession: Digital Memorial and Cultural Archives

On a quick personal and professional note (for all of you who read this blog to find out What Anna Get's Up To When We Aren't There To Keep An Eye On Her):

I'm excited to report that I've been accepted to participate in a wintersession course (beginning this evening) on Development of Digital Memorial and Cultural Archives, taught by Kevin Glick, Electronic Records Archivist from Yale University. The class is being offered as a joint project between Southern Connecticut State University and the group Voices of September 11, which curates the 9/11 Living Memorial digital archive to commemorate the lives and stories of September 11, 2001 and the February 26, 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

I'm really excited to be taking this class, since I am hoping to create a digital archive for the materials I collect as part of my oral history research. I am also looking forward to broadening my knowledge of New England a bit, since I have never been to Connecticut except passing through on the Amtrak on the way to New York City. Now I have a totally educational (read: legitimate) excuse to make the trip!


from the neighborhood: lava cakes!

Saturday night, Hanna and I tried this recipe for lava cakes:

Ingredients (4 people):

6 oz. Semi-Sweet Baking Chocolate (or use your favorite 70% dark chocolate bar)
6 oz. Butter (diced, room temperature)
3 Eggs
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
1/3 cup Flour
Butter for Ramekins

How to Make It:

Preheat oven to 350°F
1. Melt chocolate on low flame in a bain-marie (double boiler). When melted, take of flame, and…
2. Stir in diced butter, until it melts.
3. In another bowl, beat eggs and sugar, until it starts to whiten.
4. Stir in melted chocolate and then the flour.
5. Butter 4 individual ramekins, and pour in chocolate batter.
6. Cook for about 10 minutes.
7. Tip ramekins upside down onto dessert plates and serve.

They were definitely, as Hanna says, "tasty goodness"!


sunday smut: links list on sex and gender (no. 2)

Welcome to week two of "sunday smut," the links list in which I indulge my interest in things sex and gender related that I've read around the internet.

Columnist Violet Blue of the San Francisco Chronicle tackled the subject of labiaplasty, the latest trend in elective plastic surgery: altering women's genitals to meet their conception of what "normal" is. As Violet Blue points out, "Some of us girls want a little more than that. Little, like a fully functioning clitoris" and "who knows how much sexual research has been flawed -- and continues to be inaccurate -- because researchers consistently leave out the crucial ingredient of female pleasure?" (via Hanna on Google reader)

Over at the Guardian Celia Hannon covered the latest studies on gay parenting while Peter Tatchell called for an end to the gay blood ban.

Via my friend Rachel comes this hilarious story of a man in California who is taking the anti-gay-marriage folks at their word that protecting marriage is what they're all about. If you really want to protect marriage, John Marcotte argues, why not enact a ban on divorce?

In Either/Or: Sports, sex, and the case of Caster Semenya, New Yorker Reporter at Large Ariel Levy considers what damage our preoccupation with gender has done to someone who wanted nothing more than to do what she did best: run.

Religious leaders are pledging to practice civil disobedience when it comes to gay rights and abortion laws. While I respect the right of everyone in the nation to nonviolently protest against laws which they believe are immoral, I find it offensive that religious leaders are taking a stand against basic human rights, which I believe stand at the heart of all major world religions.

via aag comes a post on sex positivity and judgment from the Good Vibrations online magazine and blog. The post has relevance beyond sexuality, but because people tend to be particularly reactive when it comes to other peoples' sex lives (maybe because sex, for so many people, is intimately connected to our sense of self?)

Instead of saying that what someone does is bad or sick or wrong, we can say that we don’t understand it. Or that we have a squick around it. Or that we find it scary. Or that we are intrigued by it and are worried about what that means. Or that we believe that it causes harm to someone. Whatever the actual judgment is, when we own it, we are able to speak and act from a much more powerful place because we don’t give control of our feelings to external events. This creates an opportunity to discover whether the people doing it are, in fact, acting in ways that are contrary to their best interests or whether we just think that they are. Owning our judgments helps us keep an open mind.

Natalie Stein over at Bitch Magazine has some thoughts on a recent piece by Karla Jay published in In These Times, Empathy, Not Apathy: An Open Letter to my Students. I'm not one-hundred-percent on board with Natalie, but I think she speaks for a lot of people in our cohort when she writes,

In Karla's mind, and in several other elders' minds, we are not doing enough. She argues that we don't feel connected to the issues; that nothing is "real" to us unless we see it on reality television. And while I am aware that this can be true for many, many people (of all ages, respectively) I am a little perturbed at the assumption that because some of us are lazy and uninterested in politics and think "racism is over because there's a black president," we are all like that.

Possibly the best response (or at least the most satisfying!) to a person who tries to devalue women's experience and opinions is to devalue that devaluation. Regina Barreca gives anti-feminist Satoshi Kanazawa, author of the succinctly-titled op-ed "Why modern feminism is illogical, unnecessary, and evil" (as a left-handed person, I am already a minion of satan -- calling me "evil" is just egging the cake!), a taste of his own medicine in Why Anti-Feminism is Illogical, Unnecessary, Evil, and Incredibly Unsexy.

L. Lee Butler over at the YALSA blog writes about Twilight, abusive relationships, and why he almost didn't put Stephanie Meyer's popular series on his school library shelves.

And to round things off for the week, a somewhat inexplicable list of ten tips for young ladies found in an early-twentieth-century books titled Confidential Chats With Girls. (My favorite: "Woolen undergarments are a most prolific source of mischief." Mischief! Oh no! Not mischief!)

Lots of promising stuff has come across my feeds the last couple of days, so hopefully this coming week I'll have a chance to actually read them and report in "sunday smut no. 3" . . . until next time, happy reading!

*image credit: Life Drawing 18-10-09 30 mins by tobybear @ Flickr.com


gelukkig sinterklaas nacht*

Tomorrow is St. Nicholas Day, what in my family growing up was the true beginning of the Christmas season. Every year on the night of December 5th we'd put out our shoes for St. Nicholas, and on the morning of December 6th we'd wake up to shoes full of chocolates, marzipan, and and other small holiday treats.

In fond remembrance of the holiday, I bring you Six to Eight Black Men, by David Sedaris, is perhaps my all-time-favorite commentary on the holiday; you can also listen to Sedaris read this piece in an episode of This American Life as part of one of my all-time favorite episodes, "Them." (Bonus: "Them" also features Jon Ronson of men-who-stare-at-goats fame reading an excerpt from his book Them: Adventures With Extremists). For anyone who has tried to fathom the holiday celebrations of an unfamiliar culture: this essay is for you.

*dutch for "happy st. nicholas eve"
**Image credit: Susan Seals @ The St. Nicholas Center.


friday fun: "sister suffragette"

Today my research group in Collective Memory is presenting our project on collective memory and the passage of the 19th Amendment (ratified 18 August 1920). To celebrate both the end of the semester and women's "political equality" I thought I'd bring you a little something that was my earliest introduction to the suffrage movement.

A lot of feminist ink has been spilled on the subject of Disney films and the myriad ways they reify gender, racial, and other stereotypes. Today, however, I'd like highlight the fact that Glynis Johns singing "Sister Suffragette" in the 1964 Mary Poppins musical was my introduction, if not to feminism, certainly to the militant suffragist movement.

Regardless of what Disney may or may not have wanted me to glean from the sequence (is Mrs. Banks a bad mother for neglecting her children in order to attend political rallies?), as a six-year-old child I knew where the action was at: it was unequivocally with Mrs. Banks marching about and singing with heartfelt enthusiasm.

Lyrics: (courtesy of allthelyrics.com):

We're clearly soldiers in petticoats
And dauntless crusaders for woman's votes
Though we adore men individually
We agree that as a group they're rather stupid!

Cast off the shackles of yesterday!
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray!
Our daughters' daughters will adore us
And they'll sing in grateful chorus
'Well done, Sister Suffragette!'

From Kensington to Billingsgate
One hears the restless cries!
From ev'ry corner of the land:
'Womankind, arise!'
Political equality and equal rights with men!
Take heart! For Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!
No more the meek and mild subservients we!
We're fighting for our rights, militantly!
Never you fear!

So, cast off the shackles of yesterday!
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray!
Our daughters' daughters will adore us
And they'll sing in grateful chorus
'Well done! Well done!
Well done Sister Suffragette!'


wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong

This story is a little old (Inside Higher Ed carried the story on 20 November), but I can't stop thinking about the levels of wrong involved, so I'm hauling it out in order to be pissed about them, and to enumerate them in public. Nothing like a blog to get things off your chest!

First up, here's the low-down on what happened, according to Inside Higher Ed:

More than two dozen seniors at Lincoln University, in Oxford, Pa., are in danger of not being able to graduate this spring -- not because they’re under disciplinary probation or haven’t fulfilled the requirements of their majors, but because they were obese as freshmen.

All had body mass index (BMI) scores above 30 -- the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ threshold for obesity -- when they arrived on campus in the fall of 2006, but none have taken college-sanctioned steps to show they’ve lost weight or at least tried. They’re in the historically black university’s first graduating class required to either have a BMI below 30 or to take “Fitness for Life,” a one semester class that mixes exercise, nutritional instruction and discussion of the risks of obesity.

Now, there is a long tradition of colleges having physical health and well-being requirements as part of students' general course of study -- my undergraduate college, for one, had such a requirement (more on this below). While I have opinions about what definition of "health and well-being" a given school promotes, I see nothing egregious about encouraging students to be physically active and health-conscious, and giving them the information they need to make decisions about self-care and health care (for example: a component on patient advocacy might not go amiss!)

Singling individual students out, based solely on their body mass index (BMI) is something wholly different and wholly fucked up. As Kate Harding over at Salon wrote in You Must be Thin to Graduate

Like most such debates, [the Lincoln University story is] being framed quite simplistically -- as a matter of public health vs. individual freedoms -- with a number of important questions going unasked. Such as: Does BMI actually give a clear indication of an individual's fitness level? No, for a number of reasons -- e.g., BMI is only meant to give a general idea of weight distribution across a population; a large amount of muscle mass can make a person with relatively little body fat technically obese (Lincoln also uses waist measurements in an effort to weed these people out); and above all, fitness and fatness are not mutually exclusive.

On that last point, consider that Lincoln students are given the option of testing out of the class. If a number of students with BMIs over 30 can demonstrate a level of fitness that would make the course redundant, that should tell you right there that targeting fat people for remedial phys ed is discriminatory bullshit. If Lincoln wants to make a certain fitness level a general requirement for graduation, then blatant ableism aside, I guess that's its prerogative. But why not test people irrespective of weight, and offer the course to those who are demonstrably unfit, rather than starting with the deeply flawed assumption that fat people are ignorant about physical activity, while everyone who falls below the obesity threshold is already sufficiently active?

I would add to what Harding says here (which I think is pretty much right on target) by pointing out that not only is this policy targeting people seen by our culture as overweight, it is ignoring people whose health is in jeopardy because of disordered eating or other health issues that put them below a body weight that would help them optimally flourish. Not to mention people who look and weigh a "normal" weight according to our culturally-conditioned filters, but who may be struggling with life-threatening conditions, either diagnosed or un-. Or whose quality of life is chronically undercut by a disordered relationship with food, exercise, and/or their own physical embodiment. (I speak from the perspective of someone for whom what I ate on a given day often during undergrad often had more bearing on my mood than any academic performance).

A fellow Women's Studies major in my undergraduate program did her senior-year project on our own health class requirement (one that was expected of all students, regardless of physical health or body type), showing how obsessed the supposedly holistic curriculum was with thinness, and how it often exacerbated the disordered eating and exercise patterns of students already prone to obsessive or self-destructive behaviors. While modifications were made in the course curriculum to include resources on eating disorders and the dangers of being undernourished, when I took the class as a senior in 2005 the in-class message was blatantly and repeatedly the following:

1) As a college student you are surrounded by opportunities and pressures to make bad decisions about what to eat, with "bad decisions" primarily meaning "deciding to eat fatty foods.

2) As a college student, you are also surrounded by opportunities and pressures not to exercise, and therefore,

3) Between the lack of exercise and the fatty foods, unless you maintain constant vigilance you will become fat and unhealthy.

4) Oh, and by the way it's also not good to be too skinny and if you think you might have an eating disorder contact the counseling center.

I have a beloved sister and several close friends with diagnosed eating disorders. Most of the women I know (myself included) have chronic -- though less-than-clinically-critical -- disordered relationships with food and our bodies. I can name half a dozen women who put off, or simply refuse to meet with, health professionals because they know that the first thing the doctor will see -- regardless of their overall health -- is how much they weigh. All health recommendations will be filtered through the doctor's personal perception of whether the woman (or man) standing in front of him (or her) meets our cultural standard of "thin." (Yes, I mean "cultural standard" not "science-based"; go read Courtney Martin's Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters.)

Beyond arguments about the relationship between physical health and body weight, I think it's critically important to highlight, bold, capitalize and underline the following: WEIGHT IS NOT A SIGN OF MORAL AND PROFESSIONAL FITNESS. People who suffer from physical or mental illness and disability are fully capable of completing programs of higher education and finding work in which they excel. To screen college students by weight and place an extra academic burden upon students deemed physically unfit is NOT OKAY.

To reiterate what Harding said in her piece at Salon, this should not be framed as a a case of individual rights versus collective well-being: neither is being furthered here by this policy. Helping young people to grow into compassionate, self-aware individuals who will (hopefully) have the generosity of spirit to make the world a better place should never, at any time, involve publicly punishing them for their physical appearance, health, or athletic capacity. Goodness knows, if they fail to meet the narrow standards of physical perfection demanded by our culture students already know before they hit college exactly, precisely, where they have failed at unattainable goal of effortless perfection. The last thing in the world they need is one more voice -- this time with the weight of institutional authority -- telling them they are less-than-worthy. Ceasing to harass them achieves the double goal of protecting individual rights to personal privacy while simultaneously making the case for a vision of the common good that encompasses all of our imperfect humanity, not just those who magically mystically meet the current physical ideal.


Quick Hit: Congrats Arin!

Back in October I wrote a post venting about the immaturity exhibited by the administration of my alma mater over a student-issued invitation to screenwriter Dustin Lance Black to speak at the college in conjunction with a screening of his film Milk. Via my Dad (and our hometown newspaper) comes the news that after a long delay and a change of venue, the talk will be held at an off-campus location.

Hope College is not involved with the event.

“Although the college did not choose to invite Mr. Black to speak in an open forum on campus, the film ‘Milk’ raises a variety of moral and social issues and questions,” school spokesman Tom Renner said. “Many of these and other challenging issues have been and will continue to be discussed in a variety of college courses and in other events on campus.”

Hope College student Arin Fisher is among those in the grassroots group Hope Is Ready, which is sponsoring the event.

“Hope Is Ready is just a group of concerned students, faculty, staff and community members who want Hope to know that we as a community are more than ready to discuss questions about the LGBT community, the church and any other relevant issue,” Fisher said.

I'd just like to say congratulations to my sister Maggie's friend Arin (quoted above), whom I know has been working hard for this all semester long. Hope College is a better place for having you there, and I hope at some point down the road they recognize that!

Hope you all have fun at the screening.


from the neighborhood: a left-leaning xmas

Hanna and I picked up this little tree at the Whole Foods near work; we got it home and realized it has this tendency to lean toward the (ahem) left. Here it is in all its splendor on the kitchen table, decorated with bamboo stars and paper cranes. Plans for a Dr. Who angel for the top are in the works.


nanowrimo: finale

So life happened, and nanowrimo did not this past ten days or so. I was not inspired to fiction writing, so my word count fell short of the personal (not to mention official) goal of nano.

But I had fun participating . . . and maybe next year when I'm not in the middle of heavy academic writing and all, I'll be able to relax a bit more and enjoy the fluffly piffle of dashing of things made up.


sunday smut: links list on sex and gender (no. 1)

So I've decided to give in to my pleasure at perusing all things human sexuality and gender identity related in my blog feeds and try setting aside my Sunday post for highlighting my favorite links of the week on those topics. We'll see how it goes!

This week, I found myself following with bemusement the story of a straight couple in the UK who applied for a civil union, only to be denied on the basis that the law explicitly excludes opposite-sex couples. As Hanna said, what sort of dumb-ass bureaucrat said to themselves, "Aha! I know what I'll do! I'll redress discrimination in one set of laws by writing legislation that discriminates in the opposite way!"

JoAnn Wypijewski, of The Nation wrote a column back in September about the trend of medicating human sexuality that is perceived as abnormal -- specifically about the newly-imagined disorder known as "female sexual dysfunction." I recognize that hormones and other physiological factors do play a major role in our sexual lives and pleasures, but I also think her observations are worth considering:

"So many times I don't think sex is a matter of health," Dr. Leonore Tiefer, a sex therapist and founder of the New View Campaign to challenge the medicalization of sex, told me the other day. "I think it's more like dancing or cooking. Yes, you do it with your body. You dance with your body, too. That doesn't mean there's a department of dance in the medical school. You don't go to the doctor to learn to dance. And in dancing school the waltz class is no more normal than the samba class."

Greta Christina, at the Blowfish Blog, has some "harebrained speculations" about why, if sexual orientation is rooted in biology, there are so few people who identify as bisexual.

For some reason, I find the amount of disgust leveled at Levi Johnston for his Playgirl shoot utterly dispiriting. Sure, I find Palin's bid for the vice-presidency and the way the family exploited Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston's pregnancy deeply problematic. I also find it tacky that Johnston is exploiting the media attention by posing in a nudie magazine. But that is absolutely no excuse for anyone to pile hate upon him for not being their ideal object of desire. None. If you think what he did was wrong for any reason other than that you don't like how he looks, say so. If you don't like how he looks don't fucking look. It's that simple, people.

And finally, a word of advice: "These are the names of tulips. Let us allow them to remain the names of tulips." In the wake of the bad sex award shortlist release, and the inevitable discussion over what makes "bad" and "good" sex writing, avflox at BlogHer shares a few tips on writing sex.


links list: audio-video edition

Last Monday, I spent seven hours at Northeastern entering metadata ("information about information") into the Greenstone database for my scrapbook digitization project. Since this only really required the left side of my brain, I entertained the right side of my brain by listening to podcasts, NPR programming, and other miscellaneous audio programs. Here's some of what I listened to.

I started out with the latest podcast from RhRealityCheck (25 minutes), which included a interesting interview with author Laura Scott, who is doing a survey/book/documentary project about couples who remain "childless by choice." As Hanna remarked, do we really need a whole website to support the decision not to have kids? But she had some thoughtful observations and thankfully did not come across as defensive or hateful of children, which in my experience many people who identify themselves as "childfree" or "childless by choice" do -- especially in the anonymous spaces of the internet.

Then came the week's episode on Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me which included a great riff by the panelists on the new Twilight movie, New Moon, out in theatres this week: Who's Carl This Time? (9 minutes)

From On the Media's November 20 show came Online and Isolated?
(7 minutes, transcript after the jump):

Social scientists have long suspected that the internet contributes to our growing isolation. But Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, set out to test that assumption. He says they found that Americans aren't as isolated as we thought and that being active on the internet might actually help prevent social isolation.

On September 23, Terry Gross interviewed author David Weigel @ Fresh Air (40 minutes)

Is the conservative right undergoing a transformation? Journalist David Weigel thinks so. Weigel covers the Republican party for the online magazine The Washington Independent, where he's written about tea party protests, anti-health care activists, the "birther" movement and the recent Values Voter summit.

Weigel formerly covered national politics for the libertarian magazine Reason. He's also written for Slate, Time.com and The Nation.

And finally, writer Lenore Skenazy @ Free-Range Kids posted a lecture on free-range parenting she gave at Yale University's Zigler Center. Skenazy talks about the insane levels of parental fear about letting children explore the world (1 hour video).

*image credit: valu thrift headphones by Thrift Store Addict @ Flickr.


have a restful thanksgiving

Hanna and I are planning to enjoy the day sans things academical and plus Charles Shaw merlot and a Tofurky roast from our local Trader Joe's.

Bonus Radical Feminist Link: Women Postpone Thanksgiving Dinner to Meet Militant Feminist! a 1909 news story via Sociological Images.


booknotes: hunting ground

I find it difficult to read new fiction during the semester, and tend (if I have the time), to revisit old favorites rather than branch out in new direction . . . even new directions that take little intellectual or emotional effort. But this passed week, Patricia Brigg's new installment in the Alpha & Omega series (werewolves; modern American West), Hunting Ground, so in the spirit of Hanna's recent five-minute book reviews, I thought I'd offer a couple of reflections.

Warning: Mild plot spoilers for those who care.

So the Alpha and Omega series started out in a short story from a mass market paperback collection of supernatural romance stories, On The Prowl. Anna (cringe) is a recently-turned werewolf living in Chicago whose pack has been exploiting her. When the Marrok (head werewolf of North America) sends his son Charles to deal with the problem, Charles and Anna have a love-at-first-sight supernatural bonding thing and she ends up leaving Chicago and moving back to Montana with Charles to become part of his pack and (eventually, in the first novel-length book) his mate. So that's the basic set-up.

While the first short story worked, I was disappointed with the first novel, Cry Wolf, since it felt like a long drawn-out love-at-first-sight-slash-recovery-from-sexual-abuse-via-sex plot (sans any satisfying sex, so what's the point, really?). But I was willing to hang in there for the sake of the interconnected series, so when the second one came out this fall I put it on my reserve queue at the library.

And I'm happy to report that some improvement was made. Having gotten Charles and Anna together at the end of the first novel, we've moved on (mostly) from romantic angst to supernatural international political negotiation: the werewolves in the U.S. have decided to go public and some packs elsewhere in the world aren't happy about it, so Bran, the Marrok, invites them for a diplomatic summit, held in Seattle, sending Anna and Charles as his delegates. Supernatural shenanigans and power-struggles ensue.

Things I'm pleased about:

Anna is developing a backbone, aided, in part, but her particular werewolf powers, which entail being somewhat outside of the normal pack structure and able to stand up to the Alpha wolves (she describes this at one point as being a "zen wolf" which I thought was kinda funny).

Briggs shifted the focus of the plot in this second book from Anna and Charles relationship to the political negotiations, which was a good decision. I'm not against relationships and sex -- it's okay to have both in the story, and in the Mercy Thompson series her ongoing negotiations with the guy she ends up involved with are a fun sub-plot/parallel-plot. But they are never THE plot, which they were in Cry Wolf. So side-lining them while simultaneously giving Anna a more active role in the relationship (as opposed to being the traumatized partner) was a good move.

Setting it in Seattle was fun -- I like my urban fantasy out West, which is possibly just personal bias since I enjoy the landscape of the Pacific Northwest so much myself. And the coastal setting works in her favor in this instance.

Things not-so-pleasing:

Why does Briggs have to go and sexually traumatize her heroines before getting them connected with men (all her main female characters have so far been straight) who support their independence? Sexual trauma is less a feature of Mercy Thompson's character as it is Anna's, since she is raped in one of the later books when her character is pretty well-formed. With Anna, her history of sexual abuse at the hands of her first werewolf pack threatens to overwhelm other aspects of her character. I also resent the implication that for women trauma = sexual abuse. While obviously not minimizing (for women or men both) the violation that is sexual violence, I'd suggest there are other ways to signal "damaged female character" than have them be a survivor of rape.

Unsatisfying sex scenes. If you're going to write sex scene that aren't "off screen," then have the guts to finish what you started. I felt like Briggs, in a couple of instances, was ramping up to a nice sweaty, satisfying bout of on-screen sex only to cut it off abruptly and imply that a "good time was had by all" without actually giving us details. It was weird. In my book, if you're going to skirt around the sex by using that sort of maneuver, it's best not to begin the scene as if you're going to follow through.

On the whole, I'd say this is a middling-to-solid continuation of the series. So far still enjoy Mercy Thompson more as a heroine (begin with Moon Called), and hope to see a fifth installment in the near future. But if another Alpha and Omega book comes out, I'll likely pick it up as well to see if she can build on the gains made in this one.

Related: My earlier reflections on Booknotes: Bone Crossed, the last Mercy Thompson novel.


On the Syllabus: The Great Crusade and After

A few weeks ago, I posted an excerpt from Charles and Mary Beard's The Rise of American Civilization on the women's struggle for suffrage and the passage of the 19th amendment. Below is another version of this same story, offered in the twelfth volume of A History of American Life, a formidable accounting of American history edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger. This volume, The Great Crusade and After, 1914-1928, was written by Preston William Slosson and first appeared in 1930. In the section "Woman Wins Equality," Slosson writes of female suffrage

The Nineteenth Amendment which extended the political franchise to American women, already emancipated in everything save politics, followed about half a year after the Eighteenth, prohibiting the sale of alcoholic liquors. The twin amendments--twin victories for feminism some would say--had much in common. Both prohibition and woman suffrage had roots deep in American history and represented a final triumph obtained after almost a century of continuous agitation. Both were attempted in many places on a state-wide scale before they forced their way to the front as national issues. Both were first mooted by Puritan reformed in Northeastern states, when actually carried into effect by their radical sons who had moved to the Western plains and mountains, and opposed almost to the last ditch by their conservative grandsons who had stayed in the East. (157)

Several things strike me about this framing of the 19th Amendment. Much like the Beards, Slosson writes of suffrage as the culmination of a century-long struggle of women for "equality," possibly going even further than the Beards by explicitly describing enfranchisement as the last barrier to women who were "already emancipated in everything save politics." Pairing the 19th Amendment with Prohibition places women's suffrage rights in the context of nineteenth-century social reform movements. He is not wrong in making the case that Prohibition was seen, in many circles, as a victory for women generally and feminist activists particularly, since the evils of liquor were often characterized by prohibition activists as adversely affecting women and children by encouraging men to spend wages on drink and neglect their families in favor of the homosocial (largely-male) world of pubs and clubs where alcohol was served.

A few pages later, Slosson goes on to describe how the suffrage campaign was ultimately won, highlighting what he sees as "the almost complete absence of 'militancy'" in the American campaign as opposed to the British.

In England a fairly large radical wing of the suffrage movement had tried to badger the government of the day into action by such means as broken windows, interrupting public meetings, destroying mailboxes, and other 'nuisance tactics.' Nothing so extreme occurred in the United States, the nearest approach to it perhaps being the picketing of the White House with banners denouncing President Wilson (himself already a convert to the cause) for not putting more pressure on Congress . . . Even this very mild form of militancy was frowned upon by the majority of American suffragists, who used no method except political organization and open discussion. Their speedy success seems to have been due in part to the skill of their political managers, in part to the chivalric tradition in American life which made it difficult to refuse any really sustained demand by women . . . and in part as a tribute to the indispensable services of American women during the World War. (160)

It is notable here that Slosson fails to mention that even the "very mild" tactic of picketing the White House led to the imprisonment of a number of suffrage activists, hunger strikes, and force feedings (see for example Doris Stevens' account Jailed for Freedom). I also think it's fascinating to see how he opposes militancy with "political organization and open discussion" in a way that not only favors the latter, but also implies that it was more feminine (appealing to the "chivalric tradition in American life"). I think a number of women activists would at the time have taken umbrage at the notion that one hundred years of agitation equaled "speedy success." Many of the women who were among the first generation of modern women's rights activists were no longer alive when the 19th Amendment became federal law. For them, the success was far from speedy: it was, in essence, non-existent.