espresso AND a puppy: the consequences of free-range children?

Via my friend Laura comes this warning from a coffee shop in L.A., posted online at The Consumerist.

I'm going to admit up front I find this funny. I think it's a fairly light-hearted way to ask parents to be aware of their children in public, crowded spaces. And remind them not to assume that baristas and/or store clerks and/or other customers are available for free childcare. As a person who used to work at Barnes & Noble, I've experienced first-hand the frustration of adults who came in with the clear intention of dumping their kids in the children's area and then going to meet their friends for an extended coffee klatch at the Starbucks across the store. It's one thing to believe that "it takes a village to raise a child" (I do believe young people are our collective responsibility) and another thing to demand that "the village" suddenly add childcare to their list of work-related responsibilities.

There's a big difference between asking a barista to politely take an order for chocolate milk from a three-year-old and asking them to supervise a gaggle of small people roughousing on the coffeehouse furniture. As Laura said to me in a follow-up email,

Whenever people ask me to take care of their children, I try to make it clear that they may not like the results. After thinking through this child-hate controversy for a long time (via your blog and elsewhere), I have come up with [the point that] us haters don't actually hate children, we hate the parents. The parents who don't respect their children or other people enough to to teach/guide/discipline their children within responsible boundaries. My own personal experience with this is primarily in stores and on the T [Boston subway], both places where it can be dangerous not to monitor children. Plus, I think most everyone could do with a teaching moment on respect, politeness, and kindness, and I think it's a real problem that some parents think their children can't learn it, or it will be stifling to their creative spirit to learn it. I mean, children are smart, you can teach them appropriateness in different circumstances.

To go back to the episode of My Family I wrote about for mother's day, when Ben and Susan (the parents) are trying to speak with another couple about that couple's son's bullying behavior toward Ben and Susan's youngest child. The parents of the bully are self-proclaimed advocates of "free range" children, which in their minds equates to being completely hands-off and allowing their child to run rough-shod over other young people. I have first-hand experience with this kind of parenting philosophy, which basically assumes that children should work out problems among themselves. What I find suspicious about this philosophy is that a) the parents espousing it are more often then not the parents of children who benefit from the playground hierarchy, rather than parents of victims; and b) it side-steps the question of how children are going to learn -- particularly in a culture that's so age-segregated as ours, where children spend the majority of their time with their age-mates -- the skills to mediate and problem-solve. These are skills even adults with years of practice struggle with, and yet we assume children will magically acquire them?

I sense a disconnect.

Which is why I come back to observation "a": radically hands-off parents* are more often than not bullies themselves, advantage-takers who are more than willing to step over others more vulnerable then themselves (whether it's a polite stranger they cut in front of in the coffee line, or a colleague at work they systematically undermine, or a spouse whom they bully Hyacinthe style). They believe the world is a cut-throat, take-no-prisoners place in which their children will need to learn how to come out on top if they are to survive.

I realize I've wandered far away from "espresso and a puppy" here. I think what's fascinating to me about the question of attended/unattended children in public spaces (and the related question of what type of "attending" said children require) is that rarely do we stop to assess what the stakeholders in the situation really need and how we might best arrange our public spaces in order to accommodate those needs. And I use the rather social-sciencey term "stakeholder" here as an umbrella term that encompasses all people involved: coffee shop employees, customers with children, customers without children, customers who are children ... how often do we stop and ask, when there is a perception of a problem (i.e. unattended children) what the actual problem is, and how it might be fixed. It's a possibility that rowdy, neglected children are symptomatic of something deeper, and that requiring children to be "attended" won't necessarily fix that issue -- which will manifest in some other way down the road.

Still, points to the sign-creators for naming the symptom at least -- if not the cure. And doing it in a fairly benign fashion at that, with a clear sense of humor. I particularly appreciate that the consequences of the percieved problem, in this case, are couched in terms of consequences for the parents (your kid's gonna learn the word "fuck"! and acquire a taste for coffee!) rather than abuse toward the children themselves, who are still learning, growing, and practicing what it means to be part of the social fabric of the world.

*Again, to be distinguished from parents who respect their children as human beings and care for them with unconditional love, something that is often also referred to as "free range parenting." That's a post for another day.


"time trickles down, and i'm breathing for two"

So Hanna and I -- like lots of couples, I imagine -- don't (yet) have any sort of definitive anniversary date on which to celebrate the miraculous grace of being together. Depending on which version of the story gets told (aren't there always competing narratives?) we've been together anywhere from one to three years, give or take.

The awesome thing about this, Hanna informs me, is that it means we get to pick at least two dates on which to take special note of this thing we have going together. And -- according to my version of the story at least! -- today is one of them. So hooray! Let's celebrate!

Thing is, neither of us is all that good a celebrating milestones like this, so rather than do anything super-duper splashy I thought I'd make a list. I'm good at lists! Hanna is also good at lists. We enjoy making lists together, in fact. So here's my list for today, which is a list of all the beautiful, funny, wicked, delicious, true things in the world I would not know about (or know far less about) if Hanna hadn't walked into my life.

Allston, Mass., which we now call home.
Boston Common Coffee Co., the first place we ever had coffee together (we talked for six hours -- I really ought to have known then).
Catherine Tate, aka Donna Noble.
Dear Agony (Breaking Benjamin).
Walking on the Charles River Esplanade (much more fun with two).
FIFA World Cup Football (and why the UK England lost even though it was a tie).
The importance of having green things in one's home.
Holding hands (way more intoxicating than I could have imagined).
Ice cream that comes in monthly flavors!
Joe Hill.
Kisses (also Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).
Let the Right One In.
Metta meditation.
The Ninth Doctor.
The Ood.
The Peabody-Essex Museum.
Quotations (and Quality snark) for every occasion.
Irish republican nationalism.
The Super 88, where we had dinner the night I decided to move in.
Terry Eagleton who introduced us to the ever-useful term "Ditchkins."
Underwater Light (best Harry Potter fanfic ever, sadly no longer available on the internets).
Vampires who do not sparkle
Waving not drowning.
Always vote X saxon if you know what's best for you.
Yoga practice.
Zombies (along with Christopher Eccleston, who might be scarier than zombies).

Thank you, love, for all of this. And let's keep making lists together for years to come.

image credit: lesbian romance by made underground @ Flickr.com


from the archive: "the librarian's image"

I'm processing a collection at Northeastern donated by Michael Meltsner, one of the faculty at the School of Law. On an op-ed page from the New York Times, 13 October 2003, I came across the following letter to the editor.

To the Editor:

Your Oct. 9 Arts pages article about the librarian action figure modeled on Nancy Pearl referred to librarians who found the figure offensive as the ''humorless reaches of librarianship.'' A number of my colleagues have taken offense at being described as such. We are opposed to the action figure not because we are ''humorless'' but because it perpetuates a stereotype that is demeaning to our profession.

Perhaps public librarians are not directly affected by the dowdy librarian stereotype, but as law librarians we provide library services to some of the most prestigious firms in the country and must maintain a professional image.

The librarian doll with the ''amazing push-button shushing action'' damages the professional image that we have worked so hard to achieve.


Port Washington, N.Y., Oct. 9, 2003

I think it's the second to last paragraph that really takes the cake. I'm fascinated by the way it combines a total lack of willingness to enjoy the light-hearted, self-depricating humor embodied by the action figure -- not to mention the way the action figure is an ironic commentary on the stereotype she's unhappy with -- and professional snobbery at the expense of public librarianship. I mean really: who in their right mind disses public librarians? I guess now we have our answer!

Given that this was a random letter to the New York Times from seven years ago, I'm not really out to slam Ms. Danielson for what I sincerely hope are now outdated sentiments! But I was really impressed by the elitism this letter was saturated with, and I'm amusing myself on this stifling hot Monday in June by re-posting it here.


sunday smut: links on sex and gender (no. 28)

A quiet week in Lake Woebegone, folks ... maybe everyone was laid low by the heat? Or busy watching the World Cup? Anyways, here's a handful of links that jumped out from my feeds these past seven days.

First, a pretty picture (nsfw) which I was unable to use for today's illustration (damn people protecting their online content!!)

Amanda Marcotte @ Pandagon | How I Stopped Being A Slut, And Learned To Cash Massive Book Advances. "There are some obstacles to overcome. The largest is obviously my boyfriend, who is all about me getting lucrative book deals, but is concerned that the necessary thesis---that my wanton feminist ways have left me loveless and manless---could be construed as insulting to him. I’ve tossed around the idea of kicking him out and only seeing him on the sly, but the cats have raised objections to this, having grown quite fond of him after living with him for most of their lives."

Aviva Dove-Viebahn @ Ms. Magazine Blog | How to Lose Your Virginity: An Interview with Therese Shechter. "Up until a certain age, you’re not supposed to be sexually active, and then you cross some invisible threshold and suddenly everyone is supposed to be having sex ... And I have met so many people that aren’t and feel terrible. Not personally feel terrible—they’re making decisions about their lives—but feel terrible culturally. Like, God forbid anyone should find out about this."

Miriam @ Feministing | Defining queer virginity. "...But for queer folks, the boundaries are less defined. When two women have sex, when have they 'done it'? What about two men? What about two genderqueer or trans folks? Is it about penetration, or about orgasms, or nudity, or oral sex? When you expand your ideas of sexuality beyond the confines of straightness, things are more open."

Amanda Hess @ The Sexist | Talking Sex, With Kink Educators and Anti-Porn Activists. "Since co-founding KinkForAll, Maymay has encountered some complications that don’t figure into his spreadsheets—which is why, even if there’s no live action onstage, he tapes every gathering. 'I record myself because some people like to say I’m a pedophile, and since I’m not really a pedophile, it helps when they see video of me not being a pedophile,' he says. 'I’m like, "Actually, I was just showing a Google doc on the screen."'"

Molly @ first the egg | review: The Business of Being Born. "A little over 16 minutes into the film, an adorable doctor explains why doctors tend to prefer the flat-on-the-back-in-bed position and why that’s not okay. This part is just fantastic; I do wish every 'parent-to-be' would watch these two minutes."

Miriam @ Radical Doula | New radical birth magazine: SQUAT.

and, for those looking for comment threads to wile away some time on ...

erica @ Feministe | What kind of mirror did your mom make you look at your vagina with? "All this measures up very differently when I hear friends’ stories about how they only really learned about sex in their twenties, or thought that by only having oral, or anal sex they could still remain virgins. So, to expand my horizons a little, I asked everyone I knew to contribute their virginity and/or their how they learned about the birds & the bees stories. They’ll be going up all this week starting later today."

image credit: La Grande Danse macabre des vifs by Martin Van Maele (1863–1926), made available @ Wikimedia Commons.


weekend fun: the world cup and twitter

Soccer self portrait by LBott @ Flickr.com. Link at bottom of post.We're set for another weekend of soccer football at my house this weekend, particularly the Germany vs. UK game, about which I've heard via Hanna via StephenFry via CarlTidy on Twitter: "This world cup is like WWII: The French surrendered early the Americans turned up late leaving England to fight the Germans."

So in honor of this international sporting event, to which I am neophyte follower (having been put through my paces by Hanna), I share this story from last weekend's On the Media about the World Cup and that internet phenomenon known as Twitter, which is used by human beings worldwide communicating in a polyglot of languages -- often (as this story shows) to unintended and, shall we say, très amusant results.

BOB GARFIELD: Carlos Eduardo dos Santos Galvao Bueno is a play-by-play announcer who calls the World Cup matches on Brazil’s largest TV network, Rede Globo. Last weekend, someone in Brazil offered a blunt critique of Galvao’s broadcasting style with a three-word Tweet in Portuguese: "Cala Boca Galvao," or, in English, "Shut up, Galvao."

The phrase quickly became one of the top worldwide trending topics in the Twittersphere, and what happened next, says Ethan Zuckerman of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, was the result of a wired world eavesdropping uncomprehendingly on one another’s conversations.

ETHAN ZUCKERMAN: For the last three or four days, "Cala Boca Galvao" has been absolutely at the top of the topic list. And so, what happened was a lot of non-Portuguese speakers saw this phrase, didn't know what it meant and started Tweeting, what does Cala Boca Galvao mean?

If there’s a new topic trending on Twitter, there’s probably a significant chance that it has something to do with Lady Gaga. So some of the Brazilians grabbed that idea and started telling the non-Portuguese speakers that Cala Boca Galvao is the new Lady Gaga single.

The fun doesn't stop there! Sad to say there is no direct embed function for the audio, but you can listen to the story, download the mp3, or read a full transcript over at On the Media.

Have a great weekend!

image credit: soccer self portrait by LBott @ Flickr.com.


evangelicals' "defining story" = divine child abuse?: some reflections

This is a rambling sort of post reflecting on Doug Frank's recently-released A Gentler God: Breaking Free of the Almighty in the Company of a Human Jesus. Doug is one of the founding faculty members at the Oregon Extension, the community I am researching and writing about for my thesis. I might write a proper book review / booknote about A Gentler God at some point, but for now I want to share a story from my own history of interactions with the church -- and Evangelicals particularly -- that reading this book reminded me of, and helped me understand in a new light.

Despite growing up in culturally and religiously conservative Western Michigan, I was largely what they call "unchurched" as a child. My paternal grandfather was an ordained minister and professor of New Testament theology at Western Theological Seminary which is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, a small but mainline protestant denomination. My father was, therefore, a preacher's kid; my mother -- raised by a lapsed Scotch Presbyterian and a Christian Scientist -- was sent to Congregational Sunday school as a child and attended confirmation classes but never joined. My parents didn't have us baptized and pretty much stopped attending church around the time my little brother was born (I was three) because the amount of nurturing they got out of church on Sunday wasn't worth trying to parent small beings in a child-unfriendly space.

We didn't return to Hope Church (my father's childhood RCA congregation) until I was a teenager. We had a few reasons for doing so, including the fact that several of my more conservative, evangelistic friends had attempted to convert me (them: "have you accepted Jesus into your heart?" me: "uh ... no.") and my mother was hoping to inoculate us against fundamentalist, evangelistic theology by giving us a chance to learn the language and messages of Christianity and a scholarly, fairly liberal environment. To give you an idea of what this meant: the congregation had recently gone against denominational practice by ordaining a gay member as a church elder, they had already had a series of women ministers, they had an active pacifist group, and my feminist theology professor at college was a member.

I offer all of this as a preface to the story-story I'm going to tell you, which is about the husband and wife who served as youth group leaders for several years while I was attending Hope Church. This couple were way more theologically fundamentalist-evangelical and socially conservative than the majority of the congregation, and I'm not exactly sure how they landed the position of youth leaders (likely because they volunteered). I did childcare for the family regularly, but used to find myself at loggerheads with them (also regularly) about a number of issues including parenting, feminism, human sexuality, and theology.

And one day at either a youth group meeting or in a Sunday school class they offered -- as if it were the best metaphor in the world for God's love and the power of atonement (Jesus dying for our sins) -- the following allegory (I'm paraphrasing from my own memory)

There's a train full of passengers hurtling down a railroad track toward a bridge that has washed out. God is at the switchboard about to switch the rails so that the train goes onto a side rail (thus saving the passengers). But then suddenly his toddler son (Jesus) wanders out onto the side rail. God has to decide -- train full of people or toddler son? And because God is so unselfish, he saves the train full of people rather than his own child.

What. The. Fuck.

That's what you're thinking, right? There are just so many things wrong with this story that it sort of stops you dead in your tracks.

This is the story that this couple -- with three small children of their own, remember -- told with passion and the clear expectation that we would be humbled by the boundless, sacrificial love of God. Whereas, of course, what character in this story is any human being (let alone a child!) going to identify with? The toddler! Whose own parent kills them in order to save a train full of unnamed, faceless persons. What child could possibly fail to be traumatized by a story that tells them the moral "right" is one in which their parent would not save them from death when they had the power to do so?

The take-away message regarding God and Jesus in this story is that God is a violent, murderous parent who has no overriding, irrational love for His own child. It's a story of divine child abuse. And to me it was absolute crazy-talk.

Well, according to Doug, who describes this very story -- or at least the collection of ideas embodied in this story -- in the first part of A Gentler God, this is the "defining story" of modern American evangelism. Evangelical Christians, Doug argues, grow up in such close proximity to this story that they have trouble seeing its internal contradictions: the way in which a story that is trotted out to signify God's boundless love for humanity actually tells a story about extremely conditional love and bloodlust. God demands bloodshed, which is why Jesus is required by God to die for our sins. How can we possibly square this with a God who cares for all of God's creation unconditionally?

Well, you can't, which is why Evangelicals (again, according to Doug and other scholars I've read) live on some level in perpetual fear of the wrath of an Almighty deity who -- but for His willingness to murder his own son -- would surely have come after you in vengance.

The story I heard in youth group displaces the personal wrath of God in favor of a fatalistic, mechanical failure -- God isn't causing the train to crash -- God simply has to decide between God's own child and the rest of humanity. But it still does no better at describing a loving, compassionate God -- in fact, in my personal opinion it actually reifies the wrongness of the defining narrative by turning Jesus (a full-grown adult who, the Bible if pretty clear, makes the decision to die as a consequence of his actions) into a child who in no way chooses his own death. Instead, this story takes God and shapes Him (definitely "Him"!) into a monstrous parent. This is, I'd argue, even a step beyond the traditional Evangelical God of atonement whose divine sense of justice impersonally demands blood. This isn't a God overly obsessed with justice at the expense of compassion -- but a God who is simply uncaring, sociopathic even.

It appalls me, even all these years later, that this was the narrative of Christianity meant to excite conversion.

A Gentler God gave me a new perspective on the way this story, and its sister-stories in the Evangelical theological landscape, shapes how conservative Christians view their God -- and how that view of the divine shapes their interaction with the world around them.


quick hit: more reasons to choose "queer"

Miriam @ Feministing takes up the question of "queer" as an identifier in a post from last week, What's the difference between lesbian and queer? and invites readers to share in comments what the word means for them and what words they use to speak about their identity.

From my perspective, there are two main reasons to use queer as an identifier. Queer is not as specific as words like lesbian or gay, and it does not explain exactly either your gender or the gender of your partner.

Lesbian implies pretty clearly that you are a woman who partners with other women. You might identify as genderqueer, trans or gender non-conforming, so that kind of specificity might not fit well. Or you might partner with people across the gender spectrum.

If someone partners with people across the gender spectrum, "bisexual" may not feel appropriate because it implies there are just two genders (bi meaning two). Additionally, if a person might not identify themselves with a binary gender (male or female) then a term like lesbian or gay might feel limiting.

Queer is an umbrella term, it really implies "not straight" more than it implies what exactly someone's sexuality might be. It's also a political term and many people use it as such, to imply a particular set of political beliefs alongside their orientation.

You can read the whole post at Feministing as well as the comment thread, which is where a lot of the conversation takes place.


"with all due respect, small children"

Let's face it, we all have our favorite books from childhood. (I hesitate to call them "children's books" because so many authors who write books children enjoy resist being ghettoized and too many children read books originally written for grown-up audiences). And let's admit we are completely partisan about our golden oldies. I, for example, tend to evaluate any scholarly or reference work on children's fiction by flipping to the index and discovering whether Arthur Ransome merits an entry. If not? You have to talk awfully fast if you want me to buy it. If Edward Eager is discussed your chances are upped, and Michelle Magorian is really required reading in anything purporting to discuss young adult lit.

Which brings me to this recent op-ed by Alison Flood @ The Guardian. The children of England recently voted Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl, the first in a series featuring a young supergenius antihero. Flood disagrees. "With all due respect, small children," she writes, "your choice of the admittedly excellent Artemis Fowl as the 'Puffin of Puffins' is deranged and wrong. It should clearly be MY choice: Goodnight Mister Tom."

I also adored Magorian's Back Home, another story of an evacuee. Rusty is sent to America, and the drama plays out around her return to England to a world and a family who feel like strangers. Anyone else remember that one? I loved the bit where Rusty escapes from boarding school to decorate her own little cabin in the woods.

But Goodnight Mister Tom is better. It should have been the Puffin of Puffins, and I think it has a good claim to be the children's book of children's books. (Now that'd be a fun vote, although we may have to exclude anything published after I graduated to grown-up books, else I'll only get upset again.) I'm imagining that all you discerning adult readers will agree with me about Goodnight Mister Tom being the top Puffin – but please let me know either way. And I'll try not to cry if you disagree.

I'm not going to weigh in on whether or not Goodnight Mr. Tom should or should not be the top Puffin -- to me, book choices are personal, idiosyncratic things. My passion for particular books has (I suspect) less to do with any objective artistry -- if any objective measure of artistry exists -- than it is tangled up with where I was when I read the book (Our Arcadia) what questions I was asking about life (The Solace of Leaving Early), whom I read and shared the book with (The Blue Sword) and more often than not a single scene -- a single passage -- a single sentence -- that seared itself into my psyche forever simply because it spoke to me. The rest of the book might be a shit book. I might never read it again except to open it up to that passage and remind myself once again why I fell in love so irrevocably with the text.

So here's what I wanted to say about Michelle Magorian, 'cause I adore her too, and then I'll open up the comment thread to any of you who feel like sharing your own well-worn favorites from childhood: I'd love to hear about the books you loved and why you loved them.

So: Magorian. Alison Flood leaves off Magorian's third novel, Not a Swan which is difficult to find (unlike the other two) and, in the United State at least, out of print* (which accounts for, apologies, the sucky cover art image). But my public library had a copy in the young adult section, and I discovered it when I was about twelve. And promptly fell in love. Set during the waning days of the Second World War, in an English seaside town, it's the story of a sheltered seventeen-year-old schoolgirl, Rose, who longs to be a writer.

There's a whole long list of plot elements that combined to make this a story that enthralled me (I vividly remember, fifteen years later, the feeling of staying up until 3:00am to finish it because I could not put it down). It was an historical novel (1) set in England (2) during the Second World War (3). It was about an adolescent girl who rebelled against conventional expectations about what young ladies should be (4) and do (5), craved adult independence (6) and wanted to be a writer (6). There was the best friend, pregnant out of wedlock (7) whose birth scene -- without giving too much away -- was quite possibly what precipitated my adolescent interest in midwifery. There's an historical mystery (8) involving archival documents (hidden diaries) and above all, there was Alec (9), the bookshop owner (10) who hires Rose as his shop assistant and encourages her in her writing.

And (11) there was sex. Gorgeous, glorious, enthusiastic sex. Tame, to be sure, by the standards of adult erotica, but still pretty damn steamy. Not a Swan, I would argue, is one of a slim, slim handful of novels written for young adults that embraces adolescent sexuality without shaming. Again, without giving details away, I will be forever grateful that one of the first genuinely "YA" novels I read was essentially a story about a young woman claiming her right to enjoy her sexuality on her own terms. (Actually, by my count, at least four women, all in very different circumstances, yet all asserting their independence and their right to happiness and sexual pleasure).

Depending on your perspective on human sexuality and the whole women-as-humans thing, you could say this was the beginning of my coming into myself as an adult woman who embraced feminism and the potential for joy in sexual relationships -- or you could see it as the beginning of my long, slow decline into the life of a slutty teen-age bibliophile. Either way, there really was no turning back.

So take it away readers -- what books do you enjoy championing and why?

*woodscolt in comments alerted me to the fact that in the UK Not a Swan has been republished under the title A Little Love Song. Thanks woodscolt!


"bibliobimbo": pro-book pulp fiction posters

Thanks to Anne Bentley, our art curator at the Massachusetts Historical Society for this link. Helfond Book Gallery, Ltd. offers a series of images from the underbelly of the rare book world, otherwise known as "bibliopulp" posters riffing on pulp fiction book covers from the mid-twentieth century. I'm personally torn between the "Bibliobimbo" (pictured above), "Rare Book Tramp" and -- with a cover that would make Jack Harkness proud -- "They Made Me a Book Collector."

Happy Wednesday!


multimedia monday: new economy of the poor

My audio for the week is an interview by Terry Gross of journalist Gary Rivlin, whose new book Broke USA explores the world of marginal finance.

Full transcript available at NPR.

I particularly like the way Rivlin discusses exploitation without flatting out the narrative into one of class warfare. He talks about the ways in which institutions like payday lenders and rent-to-own businesses provide services to poor neighborhoods and rural areas that are often vital and welcomed by their clientele. He doesn't come across as shaming poor people for being dupes of predatory loan companies or (for that matter) universally condemning financial institutions for providing services that are in high demand.


sunday smut: links on sex and gender (no. 27)

Sam Leith @ The Guardian (h/t to Hanna) | EM Forster's work tailed off once he finally had sex. Better that than a life of despair. "Nobody should have to write, or paint, or sing from the depths of despair, no matter how exhilarating the results. I'm sorry we never got to read Forster's unwritten novels, but I'm much happier he got laid."

Amanda Marcotte @ Pandagon | New Bulletin: Men Have Hearts That Break. "Both sexes are, gasp, human beings and therefore are sad when they lose a relationship. The reason that men have trouble bouncing back is that our culture doesn’t create enough room for men to heal. Men are discouraged from having close friendships where they can talk this stuff out (at least when they’re younger), and they’re encouraged to put on a stoic face and bury pain deep inside. It’s no surprise to many of us here, I’m sure, that a little crying it out can aid recovery. That men aren’t given that space is just another example of how Patriarchy Hurts Men Too (PHMT)."

Miriam @ Feministing | Is female dominance a success for feminism? "Women's success at the expense of men is not a feminist success. Flipping the scales in the other direction is just as problematic. So what's the solution? I don't think it's the tactics that Rosin reports on in her article: quiet affirmative action toward men trying to get into higher education, re-segregation of education to cater towards boys learning needs. If we keep up these tactics, we're going to create a seesaw effect where women outpace men, and then men outpace women. We need a new strategy. A less gendered one."

Stephanie Zvan @ Quiche Moraine (via Sex in the Public Square) | What Is an Ally? "I’m not really sure how it happened. Allies in the culture wars aren’t appreciably different than military or political allies, but somehow, the meaning of the word has changed online. We’ve gone from 'In everyday English usage, allies are people, groups, or nations that have joined together in an association for mutual benefit or to achieve some common purpose, whether or not explicit agreement has been worked out between them' to the assumption that the act of alliance comes with specific obligations and that people are 'bad allies' or not allies at all if particular things are done or left undone."

Sinclair @ Sugarbutch Chronicles | BDSM is Not Abuse. "I am still surprised how often BDSM gets equated with abuse, and this list makes the distinctions so very clear, I like it. I have the feeling I’ll be referencing this quite a bit in various things. Hope the Lesbian Sex Mafia doesn’t mind that I am reprinting it here!"

Greta Christina @ The Blowfish Blog | How Often Should You Ask For Something? and How Often Should You Ask For Something? Part Two: The Specifics. "How do we value the right to say 'No' to any kind of sex we don’t want to engage in — while still valuing the right to ask for what we want? How — specifically, practically — can we make this distinction?" and "Example. If my partner asks me, 'Can I apply hot peppers to your nether regions?” and I say 'No, I don’t want to try that,' it’s probably not going to occur to me to bring it up again. Not because I’m traumatized by the very idea . . . but because it simply won’t be on my radar. Even if hot peppers aren’t an absolutely firm No for me — even if they’re something I’d be willing to try if my fears and reservations about it were allayed — once I’ve said 'No,' for me the matter is going to be pretty much closed. But that doesn’t make my partner a bad person for opening it up again."

Cara @ The Curvature | Group Suggests Age Appropriate Sex Education? Time to Freak Out. "Sex education, in my view, shouldn’t be about 'preventing teen pregnancy.' It should be about teaching young people how to engage in emotionally and physically healthy, pleasurable, consensual sexual relationships if and when they choose to engage in such relationships at all, and informing them about how to keep themselves as healthy and safe as they can and how to control their reproductive capacities as they see fit as a part of that."

Rachel @ The Feminist Agenda | Obesity and fun sexy time. "The thing we should be paying attention to is the fact that many fat women are so beat down psychologically and have so thoroughly internalized the message that they are not sexual beings, that they don't deserve love and sexual fulfillment, and that their bodies are worthless and disgusting, that they often put their sexual health at risk. That is fucked. You know what else is fucked? The fact that many fat people have had such negative experiences with medical professionals that they would rather risk their sexual health than interact with them."

Vanessa @ Feministing | The sanctioning of child genital cutting at Cornell University. "Alice Dreger and Ellen K. Feder at Bioethics Forum brought recent attention to the controversial (to put it mildly) treatment which Dr. Poppas claims to 'fix' the genitals of children as young as 3 months so they can have a more 'normal appearing vagina' after the doctor deem their clitoris oversized." Original post flagged with a strong trigger warning.

And I have to break away from my format-of-the-week here for a little editorializing, because Vanessa shares this appalling quote from the F-Word

One time I asked a surgeon who does these surgeries if he had any idea how women actually reach orgasm. What did he actually know, scientifically, about the functional physiology of the adult clitoris? He looked at me blankly, and then said, "But we're working on children." As if they were never going to grow up.

I just want to point out that, not only do children grow up -- they actually experience pleasure from their genitalia as children. The fact that the doctors are only secondarily (if that) concerned with the functionality of the clitoris yet primarily concerned with the clit "looking right" (which is a highly subjective observation, given the diversity of human genitalia) tells me just how much they've dehumanized these young people -- in part, I would argue, because their age makes them supremely vulnerable to exploitation in the name of increasing medical knowledge and "protecting" them from the (apparently irreparable) damage of being deemed abnormal according to our straightjacket codes of gender conformity.

And finally (because I am, after all, a librarian), Danika @ The Lesbrary | Lesbian Canon? "For the last couple days I’ve been thinking about the concept of a lesbian canon. I mean, I know that canons in general are problematic, but I like the idea of trying to identify the books that really steered lesbian writing."

Which brings me to Isabel @ Feministe | Not a Fish, Not Yet A Human. "Now: I am not interested, here, in trying to reclaim The Little Mermaid as a feminist classic, because I… am never interested, really, in trying to stamp something definitively with Feminist or Not Feminist. There are fucked-up things going on in every Disney movie ever, and The Little Mermaid is no exception. ...But right now, I want to focus on The Little Mermaid as a – still poignant to me – story of the painful liminal zone between childhood an adulthood." Even though The Little Mermaid terrified me as a child and has never been my favorite fairy tale, in my book every work of fiction deserves a second chance -- and Isabel musters a damn good defense of this one.

image credit: Gerstl, Richard (1883-1908) - 1901 Self-portrait, half-nude on a blue background (Leopold Collection, Vienna), made available by RasMarley @ Flickr.com.


new spectacles + good vibes (both kinds!)

It's been awhile since I posted something that was just about life in Boston, so here on this hot, humid Saturday -- as Hanna and I watch Denmark vs. Cameron at the World Cup -- I thought I'd share pictures of my new library lady spectacles. They're my first new pair in over five years, and I feel like the world just got a little bit clearer! Hopefully, they'll help with the headaches and eyestrain as well.

Hop over to Twitpic if you want a larger version of the photo (I'm on Hanna's laptop at the minute and too lazy to edit the .jpg without my usual software).

Hanna says they are very 1950s and reminiscent of the ladies in Farside; perhaps this will help with my fearsome feminist library lady persona? Time will tell!

In other low-key weekend news, we happen to live about a ten minute walk from the only Good Vibrations store on the East Coast and I enjoy stopping in occasionally -- mostly to window shop as most high-quality sex toys are simply beyond my modest discretionary budget. So I paid them a visit this morning on my way to the grocery store and while I was browsing a fellow customer came up after making her purchase and offered me a $10-off coupon she'd just received that she said she would never had a chance to use (I assume the was in the Boston area on holiday). I have no idea what her name was or what prompted her to pass the card along to me -- but thank you mystery woman for that anonymous treat! I already have a few ideas for how to make use of the gift :).


to be subjective and scholarly

Last Friday, I blogged about my frustration with finding balance between my academic research and writing, my wage-work, and my domestic life and loves. This Friday, I thought I would pick up where I left off, after a fashion, and write about the ways I try to balance the academic and the personal within my work as a scholar.

This post has gone through a number of different iterations in my head, but is taking this particular form because of a recent post by Kimberley @ 72-27 who this week wrote a long, reflective piece about her own return to academia and the limitations she sees in rigorous scholarship that neglects the relational in pursuit of the rational.

Before my current program, I came from a small school in Seattle that trained students to be therapists, and thus it placed primary value on inter-personal and intra-personal knowledge. My professors were psychoanalysts and therapists, and they asked their students to delve into the unconscious self and figure out what was there and why it was there. We did intense work understanding our own families of origin and personal narratives, and we received a great deal of feedback on how other people experienced us while in relationship with us. While the program lacked academic rigor in the traditional sense, it demanded a kind of inter-personal and intra-personal rigor that was invaluable.

While I love the rigor that is applied to critical thinking at Yale, I am left envisioning what Yale would be like if that same kind of rigor were applied to self- and inter-personal knowledge. For instance, in my U.S. religious history class, one of my professors shared with us that it took him quite a while in his career to realize that he hadn’t picked his research “objectively.” His research came out of deeply rooted questions based on very personal life experience. Yet, in his graduate training, he had not been encouraged to see the connections between his “objective” research and his own life story. This discussion in class came at the very end of the semester, and it was a relief to me. I had often felt as if historians maintained a pretense of objectivity. It was nice to finally hear that we can actually do better research if we are self-reflective in the process. Knowing ourselves better will also translate to being better collaborators.

Emphasis mine. You can read the whole post at 72-27.

How does this connect to my own work, beyond the skepticism toward an overly-depersonalized academia which I unabashedly share? To begin answering that question, I want to share another lengthy quotation -- this time from an email I wrote earlier this spring. When I was at the Oregon Extension in March, doing research for my thesis Doug Frank -- one of the faculty there, an historian and mentor of mine -- asked me whether my project was a chronicling of "what happened" or whether I was making a specific argument. I stumbled through an immediate response that, from what I remember, emphasized that I was gathering the oral histories as a type of chronicling, but that my thesis would itself have a specific argument to make about the place of the Oregon Extension in American cultural, educational, and religious histories.

Of course me being me, I left the conversation unsatisfied with my response and the following day wrote Doug a long email trying to explain my motivations for this research. I won't reproduce the email in full here, but I wanted to share two paragraphs that speak to the connections between my "objective" historical analysis of the Oregon Extension and my own life story.

On a more personal note, I will say that this project comes out of my own deep interest in history of non-mainstream education and my very personal quest to find a way to bring together my love of learning (the life of the mind) in some sort of structured environment with the quality of life I experienced as a child and young adult outside of institutional schooling. My original desire to attend the OE as a student (nearly a decade ago now!) was driven, in large part, by my desire to find a way to be a scholar without having to fit myself into the vision of education (the fear-based model you were talking about yesterday, which I believe is still deeply embedded in most schools) and of human nature that ran so counter to the understanding of human life that I had grown up with in my family (and elaborated on through my reading in theology, feminism, and educational theory). I am drawn to examples of intentional community and purposeful work life, in which folks have been able to step outside of the pressures of the mainstream and forge a life for themselves that isn't grounded in being "anti" (that still retains some sort of relationship with the dominant culture) but nevertheless has some autonomy when it comes to priorities and values -- the power to say "you have no power here" to things within the dominant culture which are inimical to human well-being.

When I went back to graduate school, I was taken aback by how much my soul rebelled against being back in an environment of institutional education, surrounded by folks who largely take those traditional frameworks for granted (at the very least) and often champion them (Boston's educational culture is incredibly status-conscious). I don't necessarily believe I made the wrong choice to return to school (the factors are myriad), but I do know that when it came time to choose a thesis topic, I intuitively knew I needed to spend my time with a topic that would help me retain critical distance on that culture, that vision of humanity, that understanding of the way human beings learn and what they need to thrive. And as of this writing, at least, I feel pretty proud of the way that this project has helped me to do just that, giving me a certain inner sense of distance from the expectations and values of the institutions within which I work as a student scholar, so that I am sharing these ideas with them (in a form they can accept for credit) but not writing my thesis for them.

As I wrote more concisely (though much more pedantically) in an early draft of my thesis introduction, "The scholarly task of historicizing the college classroom and the expectations of higher education were, in part, a method of coping with the alienation I often felt as a student whose experiences and vision of, not to mention goals for, learning were at odds with the majority of the people whom I encountered at school."

In other words, this topic matters to me, in a visceral, immediate way. The project of make sense of the history of competing educational theories and practices is as much about finding a place for myself within that world as it is about situating the Oregon Extension within its unique historical context. I am invested in doing my part to enter these folks into the historical record because I believe deeply in the value of what they do. It is important to me that their own unique experiment in living be acknowledged at some level as part of the history of education in the twentieth century -- a way of being that runs counter to the stories we tell ourselves about how life has to, or ought to, be.

And the world of academia is definitely divided as to whether this is or is not a good thing. Emotional proximity to one's subject-matter is often viewed with deep suspicion, as it is seen to cloud the mind, bias the historian whose job (as Kimberley notes about) is ostensibly to be "objective" about her subject. Distance from one's topic (in time as well as emotion) is supposed to provide you with the dispassionate objectivity to analyze and critique with greater clarity. Even if we recognize (as most scholars do today) that we are all inevitably subjective in our scholarship, the push has been to recognize and attempt to minimize or compensate for those biases, rather than to embrace and work with them as strengths.

I'm less certain that this is the only or the best approach to subjectivity within scholarship. Although I'm still searching for language to articulate it, I think that there are different qualities of emotional proximity or connectedness to one's research subject that can -- depending on how self-aware the researcher is and what their relationship to that connectedness is -- help or hinder scholarly analysis.

I am taking a meditation class with Hanna this month (my first ever!) and have been introduced to the practice of metta meditation, in which the quality of loving-kindness toward beings is distinguished from feelings of acquisitive desire for those beings. I've been thinking this week about how the same distinction might be made concerning one's affinity toward a research project: intense feelings of loving-kindness toward the subject and subjects -- relatedness that is not conditional upon a particular outcome -- could be separated from an emotional investment that was conditional, that required fidelity to a particular outcome, a particular historical narrative that fit pre-conceptions about what story these historical sources were going to tell.

Again, I'm not sure how practically this translates into a real-world relationship between the scholar and her sources, the scholar and her passionate involvement with the work of her subjects. But it is a beginning, a way to open (inside myself, at least) a conversation that values not only my intellectual work but also the personal, emotional, life-story reasons why the pursuit of this particular story is not only an academic exercise but also very much a matter of existential survival.

image credit: Barnard College, 1913 (LOC) made available by the Library of Congress @ Flickr.com.


booknotes: sexing the body

I took a class as an undergraduate in the Cultural History of Victorian Science and Technology, which was one of the most awesome classes of my lengthy undergraduate career. One of the conversations I remember from that class was a discussion about how and why some new technologies and scientific theories succeed and some fail. We tend to have a merit-based vision of innovative success and failure: good ideas succeed, bad idea fail. But this isn't necessarily so -- you might have a bad idea but really good marketing skills. You might have a good idea but fail to file your patent paperwork at the right moment. Usually at the beginning of a new technology (take cars for example) the a multitude of products compete for the industry standard. The gasoline-powered internal combustion engine was only one of a number of automobile technologies developed around the turn of the twentieth century: its hegemony today had everything to do with marketing and the availability of cheap oil, rather than its inherent superiority to, say, an electric motor (which was on the scene simultaneously, even a little bit prior to, gasoline-powered motors).

What does this have to do with Anne Faustos-Sterling's Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (New York: Basic Books, 2000)? I thought of the story of the automobiles and its lesson about the interaction of science, technology, and culture while I was reading Sexing the Body because what my cultural history professor had done for modern technologies, Faustos-Sterling, a trained biologist, does for the scientific exploration of gender and sex in the human body. The work is now a decade old, but still reads (to my eyes anyway) as a fairly current account of how sex and gender have been understood through the lens of science, specifically intersexuality during the twentieth century and how the treatment of intersexual persons is shaped by larger cultural understandings of gender, sex and sexuality.

This exhaustively-researched, amply-footnoted book does a commanding job of balancing the important-yet-technical ins and outs of scientific studies involving rats and hormones with a compelling, readable narrative. Faustos-Sterling documents the way in which the production of scientific knowledge -- specifically the knowledge related to human sex and sexuality -- is inexorably shaped by the cultural understandings of what is normal sex and gender presentation. She begins with external markers of sexuality and a truly horrific chapter concerning how people with unacceptable genitalia have been treated by the medical establishment in the twentieth century. She then moves internally to look at the less visible ways in which scientists have identified the sex of persons, from gonads to hormones. As you might expect, her argument is that "sex" is far from easily established on a medical level, and the standards by which we have chosen to measure sex are hardly objective, unchanging scientific criteria but rather contingent on the narratives concerning sex and gender that scientists performing their laboratory tests take part in and are influenced by.

Warning to anyone who has experienced hospital or medical-related trauma: the descriptions of medical malpractice that included things like operating on infants without painkiller, operating on people of all ages without consent, and providing misleading or outright erroneous medical information to patients or the parents of underage patients are infuriating and painful to read. I find the idea of any medical professional performing invasive, medically unnecessary surgery on a person without their consent or with coerced consent so upsetting that I had to put the book down several times just to let my blood pressure drop.

Much like Hanne Blank's history of virginity, Sexing the Body takes a concept ("sex") that we have come to think of as biologically determined and physically identifiable and questions just how much we really know about what "sex" constitutes. Even if the components of our body that have become markers of "sex" (male or female) are, indeed, physical realities, the decision to establish those particular physical characteristics as markers of sex is, in the end, a socio-cultural decision we make, and one that we can change.

And this, in the end, is Fausto-Sterling's hopeful call: for us all to look beyond the dualities of male versus female, masculine and feminine, and nature (what we have come to label "sex") and nurture (what we have come to label "gender") and acknowledge the reality that we are both and neither, that what we understand as sex and gender identity is both nature and nurture -- and, in fact, more. That we cannot hope to gain more knowledge about human biology and behavior if we continue to constrain ourselves to limited, limiting categories and attempt to shoehorn the diversity of humanity into their narrow confines.


from the archive: anti-suffrage activism in Massachusetts

This week, I've been doing some background research on a pro-suffrage parade that the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association organized in Boston on October 15, 1915. Here at the Massachusetts Historical Society we hold a leaflet distributed to the marchers which will be our object of the month in July (you'll see a link here when it goes up!)

While feminism continues to be a controversial political movement these days, only rarely do you hear people voice the now radical-seeming notion that the world would be a better place if women did not have the right to elective franchise. Less than one hundred years ago, however, exactly the opposite was true: women who sought the vote were understood to be the radical troublemakers whose quest for elective franchise would bring disaster: divorce rates would rise, domestic life would become a shambles, and the twin threats of Mormonism and Socialism would converge and destroy modern civilization [1].

As the Massachusetts pro-suffage activists geared up for their parade, the "antis" (as they were known) geared up for a counter-protest. As the Boston Daily Globe reported the day before the parade

In their great “victory” parade tomorrow the Woman Suffragists of Massachusetts, who expect to march with 15,000 in line and 30 bands, must pass on their line of march no less than 100 houses decorated with red roses, the symbol of the antisuffragists, and with banners appealing to the men of the State to vote against votes for women.

Hovering about the line of March, like flying cavalry seeking an opening for flank attack on an enemy column, will be many motor cars decorated with red roses, some of them as large as cabbage heads and mounted on long staffs for stems.

In many hotels maids and matrons will sell red roses and with each will give away a red card bearing an argument against Woman Suffrage.

On the streets some hundreds of boys will sell red roses and give with each a similar card.

Among the crowds that are expected to witness the parade will be many hundreds, and it is hoped by the “antisuffs” many thousands, wearing red roses.

...This is the answer of the No Votes for Women workers among the gentler sex in Massachusetts to the suffragist bid for the ballot through a great parade.

It will constitute the only organized demonstration of the antisuffragists against their sisters of the opposite camp. No effort will be made to interrupt the parade in the smallest degree or to embarrass the paraders by any attacks, direct or indirect, except that silent protect of the blushing roses that is worn on each antisuffrage bosom, be it male or female.[2]

I am struck by the tension in this journalist's story between portraying the anti-suffrage activists as more demur and ladylike in their approach than "their sisters of the opposite camp" and the undercurrent of threat that surfaces in the martial imagery of the motorcars festooned with red roses "hovering about the line of March, like flying cavalry seeking an opening for flank attack on an enemy column."[3] Note how the anti-suffrage activists are described as both male and female while the suffrage activists (which included men as well as women, notably a contingent of Harvard students) are described as "woman suffragists" and "sisters." "Maids and matrons" as well as small boys are said to be distributing protest flowers, which evokes a sense of broad cross-class participation, and the number of 15,000 marchers is contrasted with what is hoped to be 100,000 protestors (the number of roses prepared for distribution).

The referendum on woman suffrage was defeated by a 2-1 margin statewide on November 2nd that year and pro-suffrage activists turned their attention to the nation-wide struggle for the Susan B. Anthony constitutional amendment (to become the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919). Massachusetts was the eighth state to ratify the amendment, the state house of representatives voting by an 185 to 47 margin in support of women's right to vote.

More to come soon with the July object of the month!


1. Massachusetts Anti-Suffrage Committee. The case against woman suffrage: the most important question on the ballot at the state election, November 2, 1915. Boston: The Committee, 1915.

Boston Daily Globe (1872-1922); Oct 15, 1915;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers Boston Globe (1872 - 1927)
pg. 1

3. Hanna points out that this makes the anti-suffrage activists sound like the female mosquito women in China Mieville's novel The Scar (New York: Ballantine Books, 2002) who descend upon male beings and suck them dry of their vital fluids. ""Like a woman bent double and then bent again against the grain of her bones, crooked and knotted into a stance subtly wrong. Her neck twisted too far and hard, her long bony shoulders thrown back, her flesh worm-white and her huge eyes open very wide, utterly emaciated, her breasts empty skin rags, her arms outstretched like twists of wire. Her legs judder insanely fast as she runs until she falls forward but does not hit the ground, continues towards them, just above the earth, her arms and legs dangling ungainly and predatory as...wings open on her back and take her weight, giant mosquito wings, nacreous paddles shudder into motion with that sudden vibrato whine, moving so fast they cannot be seen, and the terrible woman seems borne towards them below a patch of unclear air" (p. 269).

4. image credit: Head of suffrage parade, Washington, D.C.


quick hit: reasons to choose "queer"

Via Amanda Hess @ The Sexist.

Thomas has a post up at Yes Means Yes, Would That Make Me Queer? that dovetails nicely with the post I wrote last week on the limitations of "gay" as a catch-all for non-straight sexual identities and political movements. As commenter paintedstone wrote on my earlier post

The major problem with the LGBTQIA etc. position is that it's trying to qualitatively define a subgroup which is at its core everything *but* something else.

...Problem is that there isn't really a term for "everything but X," when "X" is clearly defined as "good" and "right," that can't easily be written off (by Westerners, at least) as "wrong" and "evil". People like to think in dyads, as problematic as they usually are. But then, it's usually only those on the receiving end that care about that.

Thomas, in his post, is musing about the utility of the word "queer" as a catch-all for non-privileged sexual practices and identities.

There’s a lot of weight on terms of sexual orientation. They bundle together at least four somewhat different aspects of a person: (1) sexual; (2) affectional or romantic; (3) cultural; and (4) political. (There may be other ways to typologizes this; I’d be interested to see if others break it down differently.)

The first two are often assumed to map each other, and they generally do, but not always exactly. For example, I know women who only feel romantic love for other women, but play with guys a fair amount. The sexual behavior is bi- or pan-sexual, but their hearts are lesbian. Conflating sexual and affectional orientation also erases some asexual folks, who have the ability and desire to love romantically, and often with a gender preference, but whose preferred mode of sexual interaction is none.

And that leaves out the BDSM-that-isn’t-sex stuff; lesbian women who will top men but not fuck them, gay men who occasionally bottom to women but not if the scene is sexual, etc. There’s a whole range from “it’s sex” to “it’s sexual but not sex” to “it’s sensual but not sexual” to “it has nothing to do with sex” within the BDSM community, and this is one of those areas where I just take people at their word about their experiences.

I highly recommend the whole thing.


wilted teacakes and fried green tomatoes: summer movies (part one)

Summer has well and truly arrived in Boston, which means days at a time where the humid heat rises into the 80s and 90s (Fahrenheit) and even after the sun goes down continues to radiate heat up from the ground where we've "paved paradise and put in a parking lot." We don't have a/c in our apartment, so weather like this means breaking out the fans, taking cold showers long and often, downing gallons of iced tea, and falling asleep with damp washclothes on our foreheads like I used to do as a child back in Michigan. The kind of weather that always makes me think of the passage on Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird in which Scout observes:

Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

How to combat the teacake-y feeling? Or at least distract when there's nothing to be done but wait it out 'til the next thunderstorm blows through? (again: I'm reminded of Garnet in Elizabeth Enright's Thimble Summer who lies in her bed every night listening to the distant echoes of thunder in the mountains, from rain that never makes it down to the shriveled plains) Why, watch movies, of course! Movies in which characters suffering from heat and humidity to a greater degree than you are suffering from heat and humidity (a little schadenfreude never hurt anyone, right?)! Movies in which characters are freezing their asses off and can only wish for the warmth you are currently enjoying in surfeit! And of course, for prolonged, multi-part distraction, television shows in which characters suffer heat and cold (sometimes both at once and more besides!)

Hanna and I have, accordingly, drawn up a four-part list of one hundred movies and television shows from which you can choose your distraction in the sweltering months to come. We'll be delivering it to you in four installments over the next month broken down thusly (links to come as posts go live).

Week One: Movies Wherein Characters Are Hotter Than Blazes
Week Two: Movies Wherein Characters Are Totally Chill
Week Three: Television Shows Wherein Things Happen Which Are Hot
Week Four: Television Shows Wherein Things Happen Which Are Cold

Crandall's Savoy Theatre

Obviously, as with previous such lists, the movies and/or television shows are chosen completely at our discretion and we reserve all rights to bend, twist, knot, reverse and otherwise alter the criteria of each week and the meaning of each movie to fit our desired titles on said list. We make no claims to comprehensiveness or gravity of thought -- these lists pretty much end up on paper (er, web pixels) as they pop into our heads, with little by way of composition or editing.

Please feel free to add those titles which you feel we have unjustly overlooked -- or merely those which you find help you out in an effort to beat the heat. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy!

Movies Wherein Characters Are Hotter Than Blazes

Jaws (1975)

H: jaws must be right up there in the ...oh, the top three, i'd say, for "quintessential summer movie watching." this first list is supposed to be "movies to watch when you want to feel hot" and this should do it for you. just when you're thinking, "gosh, that water does look nice and cool---" nope, not so much. that water looks nice and sharky. yeah, i know the shark kinda sucks -- it bounces and the teeth don't look right and the tail is a little weird but if you don't at least twitch when it rears up out of the water beside roy scheider, i think you're probably wrong in the head on some level.

A: Hanna finally made me watch this on a warm night last summer during which, if I remember correctly, they were performing horrendous road construction activities outside the window. Luckily, the dialog isn't all this has going for it -- though Richard Dreyfuss does a thoroughly charming turn as the enthusiastic shark expert from out of town, brought in on consultation that quickly turns deadly.

Star Wars (1977)

H: well, the first third takes place in a desert. i think that's reason enough, yes? beyond, you know, just everything else that's right with the movie.

A: Apparently, being of the female persuasion, we're supposed to be watching Sex and the City 2 this summer as the girl equivelant of the dudely Star Wars. Since I was pretty much hooked on the original trilogy the first time Leia appropriated Luke's gun, I cry "foul!" and suggest re-watching all three episodes back to back on a hot summer weekend.

H: everybody remember that scene on the death star when luke approaches chewie with the cuffs and says, "now, i'm going to put these on you---" not his wisest move, right? yeah, picture my reaction to anyone trying to get me to watch s&tc. at least without a healthy dose of irony on hand and, probably, a bottle of wine.

The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994)

H: "Oh, Felicia. Where the fuck are we." you want to know a fun way to make someone's mind bend? find a genre fan; make sure this process won't make them physically ill and then show them star wars: the phantom menace. then show them priscilla. then ask who they recognize. :) it also works with lord of the rings fans, but often not quite so well.

A: I was introduced to the soundtrack of this movie back when I was about twelve and spent at least one summer listening to it fairly incessantly -- on cassette tape no less! Likely on the Sony walkman I thought (when I got it for my ninth birthday) made me look like a totally cool teenager. Hanna (where would I be without her?) finally sat me down to watch the film last fall and I'm so completely glad I did. Really.

Sexy Beast (2000)

H: "But you're dead. So shut up." i'm tempted to say that i'd pay for someone to explain the bunny in this movie to me but...you know what? i'm not sure i want someone to explain the bunny to me. it's weird and grisly and psychotic and kind of haunting and i think it's fine just the way it is. i never fully realised how creepy the bunny is until i saw this movie on the big screen last year. not to mention how creepy ian mcshane is. ray winstone comes across as quite cuddly by comparison. ben kingsley as don logan is just so far out in left field it pretty much beggars description. really, the best description of his character is the chill that goes over the dinner table when h -- not me -- reveals logan's imminent arrival. there's a table of four adults who have been chatting about their approaching evening and the mere mention of this man who is coming the next day is enough to change all their expressions, body language, voices, the whole nine yards. to say nothing of the scene in ray winstone's house in spain where kingsley and winstone are in the kitchen -- kingsley is out of shot most of the time, an unseen harangue of profanity and accent from which winstone is physically flinching. he's the bigger man -- he outweighs kingsley by a solid 50 pounds; he has weapons all around himself; and he's in his own damn house and he is flinching back as though kingsley is hitting him. it's like watching a badly one-sided boxing match.

A: And Ian McShane is in it! Although only in the London bits. But his character is slightly more understandable than the character he played in the recently-released 44 Inch Chest which was good excepting we aren't quite sure what the title refers to, what happened to the dog, or what the movie was about, really. So back to Sexy Beast which I promise I really did enjoy except that Hanna took me to see it in the Coolidge Corner theatre back when we were first dating? And to be honest, although I remember thinking the movie was brilliant, thinking back on it I mostly remember how thrilling it was that she let me hold her hand in the dark while we watched it.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

A: This was a "me" addition to the list, and I added it mostly for the quote I referenced in our intro -- since it takes places in the hot summer of the South, although that summer stretches into autumn. And when you ask children what they remember about the film, according to Robert Coles, what they remember is not the legal case or the commentary on American racism but the children's relationship with Boo Radley, the reclusive neighbor next door whom they are frightened of and drawn to and who -- in arguably one of the most gripping scenes in the story -- rescues Scout on a stormy Halloween night.

H: to be honest, i've watched this movie only once, many years ago, and i remember very little about it. i remember the courtroom scene -- i remember the last scene with boo radley -- and that's about it. um. this may make me a bad person.

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

A: I defer to Hanna on this one since she has a relationship with cars that, while I thoroughly admire and stand slightly in awe of, I do not intuitively share.

H: i have a theory about movies. it isn't much of a theory but as far as it goes it runs as follows: every movie has a moment that makes it worthwhile. if you run across a movie that doesn't, then you have found a true piece of cheese and you should be able to erase it from your brain. excellent movies, of course, are made up of more of these moments -- you can see how the rule expands or contracts according to need or personal opinion. f&f has several such moments: brian's lunch problems in the first half of the movie; dominic's reaction to the car brian dumps in his garage ("i retract my previous statement."); and much of the end of the movie. it's cheesy, yes; it's simple, yes; but, hey, there's something likeable about these characters; there is something to watch for other than the tricked-out cars.

The Proposition (2005)

H: what a movie. hot. every frame of it leaches heat. it's hot, it's dry, it's desert-baked in a way lawrence of arabia never thought of. it is hard to watch. the acting is sharp -- there isn't a dud note in it, down to the extras that populate the half-horse town. strange, violent, strangely violent, depressing, and hopeful.

A: Yeah, I'm with her on the hopeful, though you really, really have to hang in there till the end to get there. Through a really graphic rape scene (for those of you who can't watch them) and brutal, brutal violence. It's a movie that pulls no punches, but offers some really fascinating moral dilemmas for its characters to deal with -- and refuses to let them off the hook. At all. Meathooks. And you can't get away from the scenery, which is really a character all its own.

H: well, really, if you can't handle the first scene, just don't go further. really. honest advice here, folks. this movie is bloody. nasty. unpleasant. unpicturesque violence. the characters and the story coming through all of that are worth it in my book. the reaction of the townsfolk to the public punishment of an arrested boy alone makes much of the blood, sweat, and tears worthwhile, but there is no use in torturing yourself to get there.

Do the Right Thing (1989)

H: never seen it. er. sorry.

A: This was my pick! My brother Brian, if memory serves, introduced me to this Spike Lee movie a handful of years ago. I've lost the specifics now, but remember the contours involving heat, heat in the city, and the short tempers that inevitably break when the heat is so damn hot you can't remember what it felt like to be cool.

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

A: Mary Louise Parker is kick-ass, and really the reason to watch this movie. I mean, okay, there are lots of reasons to watch this movie, but as a young adolescent I mostly watched it to watch Mary Louise Parker kick ass. And cook the bad guy and serve him up for dessert.

H: oh! and there's that great bit where the tiny little cook whangs the awful rapist child-thieving mean dude with the frying pan! i love that bit! so satisfying! plus the bit where ruth dies in the book made me cry when i read the book in college and understood what was actually happening.

Wizard of Oz (1939)
A: To be honest, Oz scared me as a child -- it comes from the same genre of out-of-kilter children's fiction as Raggedy Ann and Andy stories, in which unhinged characters do things you really wish they wouldn't, and punishment is meted out unpredictably and by some sort of foreign logic known only by the story creator themselves. L. Frank Baum was not a well man (possibly he spent too much time holed up in his summer cottage located in my home town, writing about the denizens of Oz). I'm with Gregory Maguire on this one: the Wizard of Oz is not a benevolent man, Oz is not a happy place, and the Wicked Witch of the West is not the one we should be frightened of. That having been said: it's a classic MGM musical with all the bells and whistles, which starts and ends with a tornado in Kansas. What could be more summery than that? Just settle in with a emerald-colored Mojito and enjoy.
H: who wasn't scared by oz as a kid? seriously -- put up your hands so i can fail to believe you. if it wasn't miss gulch, it was the tornado. if it wasn't the tornado, it was the munchkins -- or glinda -- or the trees -- or the witch -- or -- or -- or -- you gettin' my drift here?

The Mummy (1999)
H: there is rachel weisz. there is brendan fraser. there is john hannah. there are just so many things that make this -- and pretty much every other -- stephen sommers movie a great ride. i've never been able to understand why so many people seem to hate what sommers does -- why spend all that time and energy hating something that's so much silly fun? and so good into the bargain? yeah, he clearly loves him the old universal monster classics -- and what's wrong with that? hell, if they really are going to go ahead with a remake of the gillman, i'd vote for sommers to do it any day. at least i could have faith that he's seen it! A: What she said. There's a librarian who (at least some of the time) saves the day, And John Hannah whom I will pretty much follow to the ends of the earth regardless of what he's in, and Brendan Fraser who always looks like he's having so much damn fun. And when you've finished this homage, go read Elizabeth Peters' first installment of the Amelia Peabody mysteries, Crocodile on the Sandbank from which so much of these chracters were so obviously and lovingly pilfered.

Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
A: Strictly speaking, this a a film suitable for any season as it is set in four parts, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. but again with the pull-all-the-stops MGM musical genre and it opens with an ice wagon, which is how people used to get ice for their refrigerators (ice boxes) way back when, which is fun. It pedals nostalgia like scalpers selling tickets, but as long as you know that's what you're getting it can be fun. And as a bonus, you get the winter bit too--so snow and ice and silly Christmas songs as well.
H: um. never seen this either. but i have seen the trolley song on some documentary about musicals somewhere! that counts, right? A: It totally counts -- the trolley song is one of the best things about it. Oh, and little Margaret O'Brien doing soft-shoe.

Twister (1996)
H: "we got cows!" oh, what a silly movie. what a deeply silly, very wrong movie. and yet somehow so deeply, deeply watchable. not least for helen hunt in a frequently soaked tank top but also for the group dynamic and the kind of cheerfully paced action movie that, lets face it, jerry bruckheimer does so well. does it make sense? well-- -ish. does it follow established scientific fact? well, there's that bit where-- does a lot of shit go fast? and explode? yes. absolutely yes. and there is philip seymour hoffman. and, bewilderingly enough, cary elwes. and the guy from george of the jungle. explain that one.
A: I was traumatized by Cary Elwes being run through the head by an iron T-bar and can now never, ever drive behind trucks carrying long slender things which might fly off the back of said truck and through my windshield. Other than that, great summer fun and some totally adorable Movie Science(tm), including, if I remember correctly, something beautiful involving lots of ping-pong balls taking flight.
H: you do realize, anna, that you cobbled that scene together in your own head, right? it's his driver who gets impaled. And it's through the chest, if memory serves. A: Oh bah.

Fire (1996)
H: i'm out.
A: Oh, sweetheart, I should really sit you down and make you watch this one sometime :)! It's the first of a triptych of films by Indian director Deepha Mehta (
Earth and Water being the other two, more historio-political, installments) and tells the story of a woman in a traditional Indian family who falls in love with her brother-in-law's new wife. It's a good messy family drama with, ultimately, a fairly happy ending.

H: oh, i've heard of it. i've just never watched it.

Murphy's Romance (1985)
H: a romantic comedy from before the days when "romcom" had become one of the worst slurs in film reviewing. A: And at the end of that brief, sweet-sweet era in which gutsy women characters (in this case a woman who's trying to make it on her own with her teenage son after walking out on an unhappy marriage) could win the man without losing the independence that made them great characters to begin with. Oh whither the day?
H: in all fairness, she hasn't "walked out" -- there has been a divorce. it isn't like she's hiding out from "Bad Husband (tm)." A: Hehe. True, I was mostly remembering how he showed up later wanting to hang around and patch things up. The ex-who-would-not-leave...

French Kiss (1995)
A: There's sunshine, I remember that, and cheese. I'm leaving the rest to Hanna.
H: this isn't a very "hot" movie. yes, there are some lengthy walks in the countryside of the south of france where our two protagonists -- kevin kline and meg ryan -- do look very warm, but that's about it. no slogging across deserts; no thirst-defying treks. but it is a very sweet, very funny romantic comedy -- absolutely perfect for a disgustingly hot evening in the real world when you just about have enough energy to get brie, crackers, and a cold beer (or glass of wine, if that's your preference) and lie down in front of the tv with a fan blowing on your head. oh, and did i mention there's a kick-ass soundtrack? and that kevin kline has a french accent? and a black leather jacket? now i have. :)

American Graffiti (1973)
H: god, i love this movie. i really should have been more suspicious of my last ex when i realised she didn't care for it all that much. this should have been a clue. a lot of the people who started out in this movie now own large chunks of hollywood. really, very large chunks. you get to watch george lucas indulge his antique car fetish; his thing with the '50s (which he doesn't try to indemnify or make into a harmless place and time (entirely)); and his fascination with growing up, something i'm not entirely convinced he's ever done which probably makes him a very happy, contented person.
A: It's Wolfman Jack, really. Hallie Flanagan, one-time director of the Federal Theater Project during the great depression once said "The power of radio is not that it speaks to millions, but that it speaks intimately and privately to each one of those millions." Somehow, Lucas makes that point through film, which really deserves a gold star.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
H: everyone in this movie is hot, almost 99.99% of the time. if there's a frame where richard dreyfus isn't sweating, i can't remember where it is.A: Maybe they filmed in Texas in August?

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
A: This is a hard, hard movie to watch, but absolutely breathtaking in its brutality and (yes) hopefulness, I think. Hopefulness that despite all the overwhelming evil in the world there will be people -- often unexpected people -- who continue to perform small and courageous acts of kindness, justice, and bravery. "Heat" in this context could, I guess, stand for both the intensity of the situation and the burning passion of those survivors who carry on.
H: um. yes. that. go with that.

Hellboy (2004)
A: I'd say it was wrong of us to pack the list with two del Toro films, but really, can't have too much of a good thing and aside from the unmistakable stylistic markers, it really is a world away from Pan's Labyrinth in tone, though I suspect the same underlying fairytale morality underlies both films. Anyway, how could we possibly skip a film that involves a character who's a demon from hell and a young woman with a talent for bursting into flames?
H: and the cats. don't forget the cats. and john hurt. oh! and the seriously creepy clockwork bad guy. can't forget him.

Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)
H: god bless this strange little remake. if i hadn't gone to see it -- in the theatre, no less -- then when christopher eccleston was announced as the 9th doctor, i wouldn't have been able to say: "wait -- but wasn't he the bad guy in gone in 60 seconds?" and thought: "oh my god we are so screwed." and then have to eat both words and thoughts within, oh, approximately, 15 seconds of him showing up on screen in "rose." anyway, the point here is not to hymn the wonders of christopher eccleston as doctor who (although that is always fun!) but if you're in the mood for cheap one-liners, great cars and some unexpectedly good acting -- mostly from eccleston, giovanni ribisi, vinnie jones, and angelina jolie ("hello, ladies---") -- see this. it is hot -- it's so-cal in the summer time: how much hotter do you want? -- and there's also timothy olyphant playing a gleefully numbskulled cop which, after watching him play an entirely ungleeful law enforcement man in deadwood is worth watching the movie for all on its own. there's also a kick-ass soundtrack ("flower," by moby; "too sick to pray," a3, and "painted on my heart," by the cult top the list, definitely) and more leather than you know what to do with. oh, and cars. did i mention the cars? this movie cemented my love affair with mustangs and the shelby. god bless eleanor. :)
A: I'm out on this one...Hanna hasn't caught up with me on my delinquency yet!

Apocalypse Now (1979)
H: i'm out.
A: I'm in, mostly because of Martin Sheen whom I will follow to the ends of the earth in necessary (oh, President Bartlet, I do miss you!) and also because I associate
Heart of Darkness with this incredible history of the Belgian Congo I read in undergrad, by Adam Hochshield (Leopold's Ghost) and the two together pushed me to finally watch this movie -- which is basically a remake of Conrad's novel set in Vietnam. With the heat and the subtropical humidity and the sick, twisted imperialism.
H: well, i'm only "out" because vietnam films make me uneasy. what i know about
apocalypse i know from film documentaries and jarhead which is deeply disturbing.

Predator (1987)
H: as far as atmosphere goes, note-perfect stifling, hot, and sweaty. about as macho as a movie can reasonably get without knotting itself up so tightly it can't move. i haven't seen rambo which i suspect might out-testosterone this. but this movie also has one of the all-time great, classic, world-beating creatures. who the hell puts together a sci-fi action thriller where you can't see the monster for 3/4 of the movie?! john mctiernan and stan winston. of course, they also incidentally created a franchise with a 20+ year span, but we can't hold them responsible for the second avp abortion. (and i use the word "abortion" advisedly. yuerrgh.) also, this movie falls under my previously mentioned movie rule -- the key moment here is, i think, between, bizarrely enough, schwartzenegger as dutch, the nearly-mindlessly tough commanding officer and bill duke as mac, whose sidekick blain has been killed in an encounter with the predator. dutch, trying to make mac feel better, says of blain: "he was a good soldier." mac pauses for a minute, thinks, looks up at dutch, and says, "he was my friend." A: I remember lots of jungle and rain and cool hunting sequences.

The Painted Veil (2006)
H: out.
A: It's a curious film, adapted from a 1925 novel by English author W. Somerset Maugham. It's a story about an abusive, desperate marriage (adultery on her side, autocratic control on his) between an English debutant (Naomi Watts) and a doctor (Edward Norton) who takes his wife to a remote part of China where they encounter a cholera outbreak and are forced to come to terms with the expectations each of them brought into their hasty marriage. Toby Jones and Liev Schreiber do solid turns as secondary characters, and there is a wonderful cameo appearance by Diana Rigg, who plays a mother superior at a mission school.