Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Witch Hunt in Women's Studies

Yesterday, a friend of mine forwarded this article from Women's eNews. I also noticed that Jessica already blogged about this at feministing. I live in PA, whose House was the first to adopt the Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) and I have definitely had exposure to the Students for Academic Freedom platform of seeking legal remedies for courses they find to have a liberal biases. Its not fun. You feel like you are part of a witch hunt. In my experience, the students who make accusations of "liberal bias" against courses or professors haven't necessarily taken the course or had a conversation with the "offending" faculty member.

Here is my incomplete list of what is just plain wrong with this movement (I would love to hear from others):

1. It is disengenous. Those pushing the ABOR in state legislatures or on campuses use the language of "academic freedom" or "diversity" to then persuade state or local governments to engage in censorship.

2. ABOR supporters make the fallacious leap that if the content of your course is critical of the status quo; offers viewpoints deemed "liberal;" or bears on current political issues, even they are not obviously (to them that is) related to the content, then such course is indoctrinating. This point merits further discussion. Do the conservative groups that support this bill really think teaching Marx, John Dewey, Auguste Comte, or Betty Friedan is that threatening? PLEASE. What are there subliminal messages buried in these texts that colonize the minds of students? Btw, have many of these students read Marx's Capital? It is hardly the pornographic text they make it out to be.

3. When you try to have a rational discourse with many of the conservative students who support this bill, they tend to use victim language. Rather than debate the substance of this proposal, they garner sympathy for their cause by telling horrendous stories of liberal professors who made them feel uncomfortable by disagreeing with their support of the war. I am all for a real discussion of FREE SPEECH. I am also quite sympathetic to those who actually have been discriminated against for their views. But, mostly what I hear is overblown stories. I take OFFENSE that the victim language used by these students, or the stories posted on the SAF website, are implicity suggesting that experience of being in the class of a liberal professor is like rape or some other horrendous trauma that destroys your sense of security, or your self-esteem.

Because I imagine that I will continue to be hunted and scrutinized by these forces on campus, I opened my first class with a discussion of whether or not Women's Studies is a subject matter geared toward indoctrinating you. It was an interesting debate, wherein I mostly adopted the role of defending the ABOR (after all I am a philosopher, so I am going to take the opposite side of whatever view seems to be winning out).

I have no idea what is in store this year? What will come of the September hearings in PA over House Resolution 177?

However, it is clear to me that the inspiration for this witch hunt in Women's Studies, which no doubt will go after any heterodox economist, sociologist, area studies, Peace and Justice studies program (who have I left out?) is the Powell Memo.

Written in 1971, Lewis Powell gave the game plan for how to turn the national discourse back to conservative views. Here are two snippets from this memo to muse on:

The sources are varied and diffused. They include, not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society, than ever before in our history. But they remain a small minority, and are not yet the principal cause for concern.

The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.

Now, for Powell's strategy:

What Can Be Done About the Campus
The ultimate responsibility for intellectual integrity on the campus must remain on the administrations and faculties of our colleges and universities. But organizations such as the Chamber can assist and activate constructive change in many ways, including the following:

Staff of Scholars
The Chamber should consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system. It should include several of national reputation whose authorship would be widely respected -- even when disagreed with.

Staff of Speakers
There also should be a staff of speakers of the highest competency. These might include the scholars, and certainly those who speak for the Chamber would have to articulate the product of the scholars.

Speaker's Bureau
In addition to full-time staff personnel, the Chamber should have a Speaker's Bureau which should include the ablest and most effective advocates from the top echelons of American business.

Evaluation of Textbooks
The staff of scholars (or preferably a panel of independent scholars) should evaluate social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology. This should be a continuing program.

The objective of such evaluation should be oriented toward restoring the balance essential to genuine academic freedom. This would include assurance of fair and factual treatment of our system of government and our enterprise system, its accomplishments, its basic relationship to individual rights and freedoms, and comparisons with the systems of socialism, fascism and communism. Most of the existing textbooks have some sort of comparisons, but many are superficial, biased and unfair.

We have seen the civil rights movement insist on re-writing many of the textbooks in our universities and schools. The labor unions likewise insist that textbooks be fair to the viewpoints of organized labor. Other interested citizens groups have not hesitated to review, analyze and criticize textbooks and teaching materials. In a democratic society, this can be a constructive process and should be regarded as an aid to genuine academic freedom and not as an intrusion upon it.

If the authors, publishers and users of textbooks know that they will be subjected -- honestly, fairly and thoroughly -- to review and critique by eminent scholars who believe in the American system, a return to a more rational balance can be expected.

Equal Time on the Campus
The Chamber should insist upon equal time on the college speaking circuit. The FBI publishes each year a list of speeches made on college campuses by avowed Communists. The number in 1970 exceeded 100. There were, of course, many hundreds of appearances by leftists and ultra liberals who urge the types of viewpoints indicated earlier in this memorandum. There was no corresponding representation of American business, or indeed by individuals or organizations who appeared in support of the American system of government and business.

Every campus has its formal and informal groups which invite speakers. Each law school does the same thing. Many universities and colleges officially sponsor lecture and speaking programs. We all know the inadequacy of the representation of business in the programs.

It will be said that few invitations would be extended to Chamber speakers.11 This undoubtedly would be true unless the Chamber aggressively insisted upon the right to be heard -- in effect, insisted upon "equal time." University administrators and the great majority of student groups and committees would not welcome being put in the position publicly of refusing a forum to diverse views, indeed, this is the classic excuse for allowing Communists to speak.

The two essential ingredients are (i) to have attractive, articulate and well-informed speakers; and (ii) to exert whatever degree of pressure -- publicly and privately -- may be necessary to assure opportunities to speak. The objective always must be to inform and enlighten, and not merely to propagandize.

Balancing of Faculties
Perhaps the most fundamental problem is the imbalance of many faculties. Correcting this is indeed a long-range and difficult project. Yet, it should be undertaken as a part of an overall program. This would mean the urging of the need for faculty balance upon university administrators and boards of trustees.

The methods to be employed require careful thought, and the obvious pitfalls must be avoided. Improper pressure would be counterproductive. But the basic concepts of balance, fairness and truth are difficult to resist, if properly presented to boards of trustees, by writing and speaking, and by appeals to alumni associations and groups.

This is a long road and not one for the fainthearted. But if pursued with integrity and conviction it could lead to a strengthening of both academic freedom on the campus and of the values which have made America the most productive of all societies.

Graduate Schools of Business
The Chamber should enjoy a particular rapport with the increasingly influential graduate schools of business. Much that has been suggested above applies to such schools.

Should not the Chamber also request specific courses in such schools dealing with the entire scope of the problem addressed by this memorandum? This is now essential training for the executives of the future.

"The Chamber." I wish it were just a science-fiction dystopia novel.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Katrina Kaos

Like most people, I have been rather consumed by the NPR reports on New Orleans after the levee broke. Za's (my significant other) brother, father, step-mother and step-sister all live in New Orleans and, thankfully, they have gotten to safety.

When I got home today, I was peppering Za with all sorts of questions about how his family is doing. I also was asking him the same questions yesterday, but he was still in shock. Anyway, his father, step-mother, and step-sister are in Franklin and taking in 14 homeless folks. His brother is in Baton Rouge with his mom and sister. Most likely all of their homes in New Orleans are destroyed. And, neither his brother or his father know of the whereabouts of many of their employees.

Za thinks it will be months before they can move back--if they even decide to--to New Orleans.

I can't help but be awed by how vulnerable human existence really is in the face of nature. We can spend all the time we want plotting to reform the world and nature in our own image, but, at the end of the day, Nature always kicks our ass.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Melancholy Monday: Communities of Hope

To my great pleasure, my blog entry '"Christian" Communities of Hate,' really resonated with folks at my UU church. Several members began to reflect on their painful experiences in their former religious communities, and this outpouring has helped inspire a renewed thankfulness for the oasis of our local church.

I was thinking about what to focus my second "melancholy monday," post on when I received another touching reflection on the importance of accepting communities from Nathan's partner, Sam:

Two and a half weeks ago, Nathan came home from his workday the way I love to see him arrive - bursting at the seams to tell me about something exciting. And I could tell, this excitement wasn't a program crisis or about some driver with unique navigation skills - but a different sort.

"How would you feel if I said I wanted to go to church this weekend?"

A few hours later, I had regained my faculties and was able to slowly utter the words "go to chuurrrccchhh?"


We've had many conversations about spirituality over the 10 years we've been together. Generally they all left me feeling like discussions of theory. Hypothetical events. We *could* go *someday* if there was an accepting place. But mostly the discussions left me with the same general feeling on the subject. Fear.

Church. In my mind and in the minds of many gay people is sort of like that dark side of town where you don't walk alone. Dangerous. Scary. Gay bashing with words instead of fists. The place that has made my mother, accepting as she's become, believe that she has failed in me.

The last few years' political climate has only made that feeling worse. Now there is even more to fear. The church-goers have the power now. We'll ignore the Jews - they're used to that - and we can be outright hostile to the rest of the unclean - no one will defend them. One nation under a white straight Christian God.

Church. Wow. Now the word has even more power. More fear.

So, as I was saying, Nathan managed to revive me after the C-question. He gave me Aspazia's sales pitch. I began my deep breathing exercises. Breath sweeps mind. Breath sweeps mind. And finally decided, "What the hell." Nathan wants the fellowship of a Church. I could do worse things on a Sunday morning. It's too hot to mow the lawn. And I won't go back if I don't feel comfortable.

We walked up the sidewalk to the Church, and I felt dry in the mouth, and tense all over. Ready to run. Breathe. Breathe.

Then it got weird.

People noticed that we were new right away. This friendly red-headed woman :) makes a point of welcoming us. There's no crucifix. People know each other. Where's the guilt? I came for the guilt!

And so, I got through my first service. And honestly, that's the feeling I had at the end. I got through. It didn't hurt. Like a good dentist appointment. I spent the better part of the week trying to figure out what had just happened. I figured you were on your best behavior because you had guests from _________. You couldn't really be that accepting. That open. One doesn't expect that. Tolerance is just a theory in this land.

And I found myself back this week. People remember us by name. Everyone seems really happy to be here. The formal part of the service is over and there's not a rush to be the first out the door.

I read recently the proverb, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears."
I think I must be ready. That you must be here for me. That I have much to learn from each of you.

You have all humbled me. You've made Nathan and I feel welcome. You've made us feel that it mattered to you that we were there. You may not realize how profound and rare that feeling is for gay people in our current culture. I left this week thinking "What can I give to this community?"

Thank you all,


I wanted to share this amazing letter today because it convinces me of the importance of accepting and nurturing communities, the importance of fellowship. For those who do not feel excluded from the religious communities that bash gays and lesbians, I imagine they would defend their church principally because it provides them with the fellowship that many of us search for.

If you are cast out of these sources of nourishment, you are liable to face the "black dog," the Celtic symbol for the messenger of depression (which Winston Churchill made popular). Experiencing isolation, rejection, bigotry, especially from the very communities from which we should draw spiritual strength, is bound to make us vulnerable to depression.

I am always skeptical of ethicists or, more likely, "pop" psychologists who warn us away from antidepressants or therapy, and encourage us toward religion. Generally what they mean by religion is some brand of evangelicalism, which is supposed to be the healing balm of lost souls. And yet, isn't the cure worse than the disease for Nathan and Sam?

Rather than end this post on a melancholy note, I will end it with hope. For those of us who have been wounded enough by religious communities that devalue women, reject or try to convert gays and lesbians, or promote racism, there are still religious communities that will take us in.

WHERE’S THE BEEF!?!” [Guest Blog]

Upon awakening, I raced to the 7-11 for the NY Times. Pleased that the competition had not depleted the inventory, I scooped up my times, paid and headed home with paper and chocolate milk in hand. I couldn’t wait. I gulped down the chocolate milk within ten steps of 7-11. I didn’t wonder what evolutionary tid bit brought me to the Times and chocolate milk, until I opened the week in review and found an opinion by that ‘Tuft’ thinking philosopher, Daniel Dennett. He was playing his favorite game, skeet shooting the imaginary pigeons of intelligent design. He yelled pull and fired away at the Discovery Institute’s totalizing anti-claims against evolution.

While reading, I thought of the early stages of the evolving big hamburger. It was in the eighties, most of you were still eating happy meals with little burgers that went unfinished, while the big kids had to eat a number of burgers to fill up. Then a miracle happened. An old lady pulled off the bun, saw a little burger and exclaimed, “Where’s the beef!?!” Wendy’s had unpredictably, maybe mistakenly, evolved out of bad burger land with a great tasting, big burger. Everything began to evolve in burger land. Not true. McDonald’s original French fry was and is still the best. Why, the beef by product that dresses it, which brings me back to Daniel Dennett and the evolution of beef.

Was beef intelligently designed or did evolve it in what we eat today? (I’m jealous of Dennett, not for his over the top obsession with evolution, but with his ability to argue his case. I hope I evolve into such an arguer.) Yes, there are holes in the theory of evolution and Dennett’s argument, just as there is with ground beef. Nevertheless, Dennett has evidence to support his claims. The intelligent designers’, like misguided ordinary language philosophers (Wittgenstein is not an ordinary language philosopher) only have their critiques of others’ claims. It’s sad. Intelligent design does not have one piece of evidence to support its beliefs, where as Dennett has evidence to support his beliefs. Yes, evolution has some gaps to fill to continue to grow Darwin’s insights. However, the Discovery Institute (DI) has offered little to explain itself, just a critique of Darwin. Unlike the old lady, the DI argues evolution is a small burger that is enlarged by intelligent design. The burger, or life, is too complex to be explained by the randomness of evolution. In support they take Einstein out of context by proclaiming: not even Einstein believed that God played dice with the universe. Boy, that’s convincing.

Intelligent design is interesting and almost convincing, for as Dennett argues, it’s intuitive to believe every product has a maker or every effect has a cause. But intuition is not science, although it’s in(E)volved in the process. Saying the burger is too big to capture our love for it, does not mean the burger did not evolve through trial and error. Unlike evolution, though, there is a burger maker who is evolving.

Don’t get me wrong, I think we should teach Intelligent Design where it is already taught, Sunday school. Perhaps, it might be taught in a philosophy class, but only as an example of a bad argument or non-argument trying to argue its case, like one who continually says - “you’re being illogical!” – without showing you how. Even ethics often have a “how to do it” style.

Remember, in the Spirit of Kant, God is sanctified not in or out of evolution, but with the infinite task given to us by morality, “Be Holy” or, as the Prophets state: Make the world a better place. Nevertheless, that’s not science. (Like evolution, there is a hole in Kant’s ethical reasoning between is and ought, the gap has not been closed nor should it be closed. If it closes, it means accepting the world as it is instead of pursuing our ideals for a better world. Maybe the gap will close in messianic times, which is a religious hope or belief, not science. In the influential styles of those at DI, I assert a non-argument. Intelligent design is Western monotheism disguised as science. Until it evolves into something beyond a totalizing anti-claim, I ask in the spirit of the little old lady, “where’s the beef!?!”

Until I hear an answer, you’ll find me playing backgammon.

Guest Blogger: Yehudster

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Only Liberalism Can Save Us Now?

Via Shakespeare's Sister, I stumbled onto a debate over why the MSM seems to favor W, and, hence why they suck so bad. For a bit of background, see Lance Mannion's two part piece here and here. Also soo Ezra Klein's piece here. I had read these pieces before picking up Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy last night, and Russell's very brief overview of the history of intellectual and scientific revolutions gave me a wide frame from which to consider not only the failure of the MSM, but the failure of progressives/liberals/dems.

I don't pretend to be a media expert or as insightful as the above folks are, but I am bordering on fanatically obsessed with why a rather dogmatic and irrational political worldview predominates in our current era. In fact, I think that W's presidency has made me more political than I ever wanted to be in my life.

Ezra argues in his post that the protocols that reporters must follow are to be blamed for why they tend to beat up dems and give a love fest for W. He also suggests that the Republicans have become quite good as manipulating this system, and thereby forcing otherwise good journalists to focus on salacious and sensational scandals. He writes:

Does it suck? Yeah. Is it unfair? Definitely. But at its base, this is how it is. We know how the media react and what they react to. We need to stop pretending, then, that these are autonomous reporters with agency in their stories. They file what sells. They report when new information comes out. And so if we give them stories that sell and new information to sustain them, they'll report. The problem is, thus far, we've only given them those stories when they're about us. Maybe it's time we fed some that cut into the other team. Because the media doesn't look to be getting better anytime soon. Right now, it's only becoming more fractured, more cowed, less able to face down the different interest groups clamoring for coverage. So we're going to have to use it. And despairing over how little they like our candidates isn't the way. Reporters will report what sells. When we figure out how to give them more sellable stories than the other guy then, and only then, will their coverage "like" us.

What stuck in my mind here was the suggestion that we "figure out how to give them more sellable stories than the other guy . . ." I imagine we could start to work the MSM machine, and get as disciplined as the Republicans have become. I don't think it's a bad idea. However, I do worry that the structure of our thought prevents us from playing this sort of game.

And yet, what reading Russell put in my mind was how utterly old this type of political battle is. Russell writes the introduction to his book just after WWII, and is reflecting on what he thinks is a fundamental tension between science and (dogmatic) theology. Historically, when a belief in science, coupled with a confidence in human capacity to comprehend the world without reliance on authority, blossoms (whether Ancient Greece of Italian Renaissance), the more disciplined, organized, and irrational political forces are waiting to crush the "anarchism" that results from free-thinking.

Reflecting on the inevitable demise of free-thinking, secular states, Russell writes:

What had happened in the great age of Greece happened again in Renaissance Italy: traditional moral restraints disappeared, because they were seen to be associated with superstition; the liberation from fetters made individuals energetic and creative, producing a rare florescence of genius; but the anarchy and treachery which inevitably resulted from the decay of morals made Italians collectively impotent, and they fell, like the Greeks, under the domination of nations less civilized than themselves but not so destitute of social cohesion.
So our free-thinking, our scepticism, our scientific approach threatens to make us rather wimpy political leaders. We question the "morals" that the other side leaves unquestioned, and hence we find ourselves left without a pre-scribed moral code; we are left to reason and deliberate about moral matters among ourselves. And, while we are having thoughtful debates or entertaining experiments in living, the other side, organized and single-minded kicks our asses.

Russell gives a wonderfully attractive summary of the rise and fall of civilizations at the end of his introduction:

Throughout this long development, from 600 B.C. to the present day, philosophers have been divided into those who wished to tighten social bonds and those who wished to relax them . . . The disciplinarians have advocated some system of dogma, either old or new, and have therefore been compelled to be, in a greaters or less degree, hostile to science, since their dogmas could not be proven empirically. They have almost invariably taught that happiness is not good, but that 'nobility' or 'heroism' is to be preferred. They have sympathy with the irrational parts of human nature, since they have felt reason to be inimical to social cohesion. The libertarians, on the other hand, with the exception of the extreme anarchists, have tended to be scientific, utilitarian, rationalistic, hostile to violent passion, and enemies of all the more profound forms of religion.

While I don't think that what we mean by "libertarians" now is the same thing that Russell mean (at least those who are aligned with the social conservatives in the US), I like this neat portrait that he draws. It comforts me, oddly, to know that we (the reality-based, rational-minded folks) regularly become vulnerable to the more dogmatic and anti-science forces out there.

Russell's hope lies in liberalism, which he believes is capable of escaping the endless oscillation between tyranny and anarchy:

The doctrine of liberalism is an attempt to secure a social order not based on irrational dogma, and insuring stability without involving more restraints than are necessary for the preservation of the community. Whether this attempt can succeed only the future can determine.

So I am ending this blog entry rather far away from the point being made by the folks I link to above. (Sorry, I think its the nature of my brain). I wonder what Russell would think of the likelihood of liberalism to curb the excesses of tyranny. Clearly we are not threatening to collapse into anarchy right now. Instead, we are facing an ensuing battle over our right to privacy, our right to have a sphere of our lives in which the government cannot interfere. I hope that liberalism wins out.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Haloscan added--

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

What this means is that I no longer use Blogger's comment section. Now, when you want to comment on this blog, you will need to register with Haloscan. The old comments, however, are not lost. You can reread comments on old posts by clicking on the title of the old post (in archives).

Haloscan is a better program for comments. Sorry about this new adjustment, but bear with us.

Saturday Morning with Uncle Ben: Liberals are Soft on Crime

Neither Ben nor I were able to make it to our usual friday afternoon appointment, so I don't have new pearls of wisdom from Ben. What I will offer you today, instead, is a joke Ben sent me earlier this week and his views on common sense.

Q.What dilemma faced Washington as he planned to cross the Delaware on his
way to Trenton?
A. Row v. Wade

Now, a brief reflection on Ben's view of politics and common sense. In many of the conversations we have had, Ben always returns to the same point: Conservative views are just common sense. I asked him to unpack this a few weeks ago, and give me some examples. He paused for a moment and then, inspired, said: lenient parole boards are simply bad ideas. He also thinks that it is common sense that women do not belong in the front lines of war. Finally, he pointed out that it was common sense to keep gay men out of the military, since it will surely break down morale among the unit.

I scratched my head.

In turn, we discussed all his examples, but I will just focus on the lenient parole board issue today. The day we were discussing this we happened to be sitting with and behind two young men who have done time. If you met these two men, you would never know they had. Neither of these men committed a violent crime: one was drug related, the other was a theft. Discussing parole boards, sentencing for crimes, and the re-entering of felons into society with Ben's "common sense" view--criminals should be in prison and get no leniency in their sentences--was surreal in the face of an actual "ex-felon" affected, and suffering by this worldview.

Before pointing out some questions I have for Ben, I want to represent, as faithfully as I can, Ben's position. He believes in the rule of law (unless of course you need to defend yourself, and then you better have your "1911" handy). He believes in a rigid, clear cut system of punishment. If you committ a crime, and its a felony, you belong in jail and you deserve the disenfranchisement that comes with a felony. There is very little nuance or subtlety in his views.

The young man sitting with us during this conversation pushed Ben to think about his views a bit. His crime was committed 5 years ago, when he was 19. He robbed a store in a rather desperate act. He admitted to the crime, served his time. However, as he said quite eloquently, "I am still being punished for a crime that I already served my time for." What he means by this is he cannot get a job. He filled out a job application for a retail store and they rejected him because he is felon. When he was pulled over by a cop, who suspected him of speeding, the cop proceeded to give him 5 citations adding up to $400 when he found out he was on parole. And, more recently, he had cut his finger doing an odd job (which is the only work he can get) and went to the hospital to get stitches. When he opened the bill from the hospital, it turned out he owes $1200 dollars, because he has no insurance. Why doesn't he have insurance? I think you can figure it out.

Here is where Ben and I differ in our impressions of what is common sense. Where Ben might see the treatment that this young man is getting to be justified, I see this system as likely to encourage more crime. I am not saying that our friend will reoffend. However, I am not surprised that many felons of non-violent crimes reoffend, given the world they return to after serving their time. Moreover, we cannot deny how politics play into tougher sentences. A politician seeking office is quite likely to mete out stiffer punishments to prove he is not wimp on crime (see The Soul Knows No Bars, Drew Leder).

The last issue on this topic that I discussed with Ben was class. I presented him with a scenario--a thought experiment--and asked him what he thought would happen. Before I present this thought experiment, I want to note that I often do this with Ben and his response is to say "I'll believe it when I see it," or "that would never happen," etc.

Let's take two 19 year-olds: One is hispanic, lives in a poor section of town, and sells pot to make money. The other 19 year-old is a liberal arts college student who sells his ritalin to folks on campus. Who is likely to be put in jail?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Notes from the Prozac Nation: Vol. I, No.1

As promised, here is my first installment of Notes from the Prozac Nation (NFPN). I am furiously getting my syllabi done, so this is a quick post.

  • "The popularity of antidepressants among women puts a premium on men who are skilled lovers. A woman who might have had an orgasm with even the most clumsy guy is now forced to seek out a man who is willing and able to invest 1-2 hours cleverly to bring about the main event." --An observation from a friend of mine, who, perhaps, has some experience with female sexual dysfunction.

  • John McCain, gearing up for Presidential race, blasts Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit.

  • The battle in CA over Prop. 79 (which would force the Big Pharma to cut costs on prescription drugs for the poor, elderly or uninsured) rages on. Big Pharma has $60 million dollars to spend on TV ads, trying to convince the voters to choose their ballot initative which supports Pharma 's plan to voluntarily offer discounts (when it feels like it, I guess?) rather than deal with the red tape and bureaucracy of CA state government

  • Wyeth Pharmaceuticals sponsored a study that claims depression patients don't take their medication as regularly as they should.

  • Scarlett Johansson takes our favorite Scientologist Tom Cruise to task for his anti-choice stance--that is, anti-anti-depressant choice. Johansson says, "I think people have their own right to choose whether or not they want to stop taking a drug. I can go into a very lengthy conversation with anyone about a woman's right to choose and things like that, but I don't believe in forcing my opinion on people."

  • Kudos to the University of Cincinnati who are using NIH money to figure out why (hmmm? I wonder) depressed African American's are diagnosed as schizophrenic.

Happy Women's Equality Day--August 26th

Today is not only the 85th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, but in 1971 Rep. Bella Abzug designated it "Women's Equality Day."

So find time today to celebrate one of the great achievements of the women's movement.

Thanks to Pissed_Off_Patricia at BlondeSense for the reminder.

UPDATE: See egalia's fine post at Tennessee Guerilla Women.

This is What a Feminist Looks Like

All of this talk in the Blogosphere about Cindy Sheehan, mourning mothers and activism has got me thinking a lot about what makes women feminist activists.

Sheehan's protest has been so effective, in part, because she is a mother. A mourning mother, who has lost a son to war, is and has been a common form of protest in this country. Julia Ward Howe (a Unitarian Universalist, I might add) wrote the Mother's Day Proclamation to protest the carnage of war and stand behind the mother's who lost sons. Our current "mother's day" has virtually no relationship to Howe's call for an "international mother's day for peace," for which she wrote this proclamation:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."

I read Amanda Marcotte's report from Camp Casey and was particularly interested in her description of the women who have gathered as PTA-like mothers: floppy hats, comfortable shoes, and great organizational powers. Marcotte notes how silly the counter-protestors, wearing lots of leather, waving flags and riding motorcycles, look in comparison to these PTA-like mothers.

What makes anyone, not just a mother, an activist?

While the mourning mother is a powerful symbol, I am a bit saddened that this same powerful symbol is not automatically associated with women who have become feminists.

Choosing to be a feminist and then proclaiming yourself a feminist unfortunately says to most others that you are a man-hating, uptight, lesbian bitch. (Or see my post on Robertson below). And yet, anyone remotely familiar with feminism knows how utterly ridiculous that caricature is.

Last night, I was sitting in a room with 6 feminists (2 men, 2 mothers, 2 college professors, and 2 women who work in social services). We were discussing our position on John Roberts and the SCOTUS in general. What really struck me in this conversation, however, was how amazing these people in the room are and what drives them toward activism.

One mother works at a Community College and interacts with many women who are trying to leave abusive relationships and earn a profession that will enable her to support, on their salary alone, her children. The obstacles that single mothers face enrolling in college are unbelieveable. And, my friend does this work, while sharing the work with her husband of raising her three children, one of which is autistic. When I looked at her last night, I just wanted to hug her. She was so tired and drained and felt as if she wasn't doing enough for NOW. And, yet, she is doing amazing work and I don't know how she does it, given what her days are like.

Another young woman was visiting us from another town. She has been working in a women's shelter for 6 months, and has seen 150 women who are trying to flee abusive relationships. She deals with the unbelievable bureacracies to try and get these women transportation, child care and TANF. If a woman is finally ready to leave an abusive husband, but doesn't have housing, childcare or transportation to make it happen, she can't leave, unless she chooses to become homeless. Once she is homeless the "system" will help her. Then, of course, more problems ensue: judges don't like to give sole custody to one parent. So, when she has to hand the children over to her abuser, she is most vulnerable to murder.

These are just two of the women that I know and work with. Why are they feminists? Duh! But, what it really comes down to is a realization that dawns on many women that they are not enough in the circles of power that would change their lives materially. How difficult would it be to obtain affordable day care if your legislators were predominantly women with children (who have left abusive partners, who want to have a profession in addition to raising children, or who have lost a husband to, let's say, a war)? This realization is sparked by the real experiences they live through and see others live through, which catapults them into action. This is what activism is all about.

There are millions of heroes out there like Cindy Sheehan, struggling in your towns for justice. And yet, just as we watch the pundits try to destroy Sheehan's character, feminists are belittled and bullied every day.

For some time there has been a consideration of giving a new look to feminism, working on a PR campaign. Perhaps that is a good idea. But, no matter what we do, those who are in power and want to stay in power will find new threatening and dehumanizing images and language to mischaracterize us: just look at what they are doing to Cindy Sheehan.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The New Balance

Within the parameters of my family, I am witnessing one of the most powerful forces in the movement for gender equality. It is the new balance of family life:

These past few days have been hard for my sister. She is a nurse and has a successful career. Monday was her first day back to work since giving birth to my nephew earlier this summer. Imagine my surprise when I called her cell phone and didn’t reach her. She left her phone at home, where my nephew’s father, Derek, stayed throughout the day watching the baby. He picked up the phone and I could hear the baby cooing in the background.

“I thought the baby was going to your Mom’s house today,” I said confused.

“We just couldn’t leave him,” he replied," so I stayed with him."

Immediately, I had a flashback of my first day at Kinder Care. It was the year before I went to kindergarten. My parents sent me there for a few hours a day to socialize and let my Mom catch up on some sleep from working the nightshift as a nurse. A couple of hours into my first day, my Mom called to check in on me. The manager of the Kinder Care told her, “Your son is fine. Your husband, however, hasn’t yet left the parking lot.” Like my Dad couldn’t leave me, Derek couldn’t leave my nephew.

Coming back to the conversation, I asked Derek, “What about work?”

“I will go in when your sister gets home.”

I couldn’t help but be proud. Don’t get me wrong, I wish that all families could have finances that allowed one or two parents to stay home all day with their kids. But that just isn’t reality. Interestingly, most of the families I can think of that have a husband who makes enough income for their wife to stay home only got through their intense and long professional study because their wife worked to help put them through the study.

Of course, women don’t have to be the only ones who can stay at home and raise the family so their husbands can work. There is the situation of my friend: Her Mom is a vice-president of a private, prestigious liberal arts college. When they first moved to the school, her father, who was formerly a journalist, stayed home with the two kids for a few years. My friend refers to those years nostalgically. She recently told me, “Stay-at- home Dads rock. My brother and I had so much playing with my Dad after school and getting to spend so much time with him.”

These stories show that we can have an affect on this world in at least two ways. One is by raising and caring for children. Another is by contributing to the worlds of work and volunteerism. Women shouldn’t be excluded from the latter. My Mom has touched many lives as a nurse. When she was leaving her position as a nurse in a prison, she got a note from an inmate explaining how she gave him hope during his incarceration. (The warden used to tell her that if there was a riot, he was standing behind her!) When she worked for a corrupt nursing home where nurses were mistreating patients and stealing drugs, she worked with the state government to expose the corruption. These examples show the special ways women can contribute to society outside of their families.

Those who argue that the natural role of women is in the home should look more closely at the exceptional ways women influence society. Women who choose to be stay-at-home mom are making a wonderful contribution to society. Women who choose to be mother and worker are also making wonderful contributions.

Increasingly, families need to rely on two incomes to live comfortably. Of course, one cannot forget the difficult and vastly unsupported domain of single parents. However, my sister and Derek’s situation, I think, is indicative of the situation faced by many Americans.

The way Derek and my sister juggle takes me back to the years when Mom worked night shifts to spend time with us during the day and Dad rushed home from work to make sure we had dinner and did our homework. It takes me back to the time when Dad left his incredibly successful and lucrative consulting career because he wanted to be home for dinner every night.

These times weren’t easy, but my parents put their heads together to make things work. Now my sister and Derek are doing the same thing. These simple examples of families trying to “make it work” constitute a striking affirmation of the goals of feminism. The women in my family were able to balance career and family because they were in supportive, egalitarian, mutually-dependent relationships.

As I watch my family grow, and my sister and Derek begin to find ways to balance, I am struck by the new balance of family. As much as I cherish the moments I receive with my Mom and sister, I am proud of the ways they have influenced society. Just as proud as I am of Dad and Derek for supporting them.

The Opt-Out Revolution

Lisa Belkin's article "The Opt-Out Revolution," is a few years old, but I dug it up after spending a day at the pool and overhearing a group of 3 mothers who I felt resembled the women portrayed in Belkin's piece. The mothers I overheard were talking about how they chose to “give up” their high paying corporate jobs when they gave birth to their children. These mothers talked about staying home full time as being as a blissful existence filled with playgroups, and Mommy-and-me yoga classes, as a hiatus of sorts from their former ‘chaotic’ corporate lifestyles. I don’t have children, and don’t pretend that I know all that motherhood entails; however, I’m willing to bet that for most women being at home full time is no easier, less chaotic, or less tiring than a full day at ANY office. Women could be “opting out" for any number of reasons (NONEXISTENT maternity leave, poor day care system, etc.) but I certainly don’t think it’s because being a full time mother provides the “balance and sanity” that a “career” does not.

I also found myself thinking about how the working mother used to be considered “super mom”, balancing both family and career, but today the “stay at home mom” is the one who seems to be considered larger than life “tossing everything else aside in order to shower children with nonstop attention and encouragement”. I can’t help but think that perhaps women are guilted into staying home full time. In a culture where there are “Baby Einstein” videos to stimulate brain development, where reading Dr. Seuss and playing Mozart to unborn children is common practice, and where more and more children are expected to know their alphabet and basic arithmetic by the time they reach kindergarten, are mothers’ feeling like they HAVE to stay home in order to instill in their kids the early “touchpoints” that our culture is insisting are necessary for a successful future? I don’t know, just a thought....
Here's a portion of the article for your enjoyment:

The scene in this cozy Atlanta living room would – at first glance -- warm an early feminist's heart. Gathered by the fireplace one recent evening, sipping wine and nibbling cheese, are the members of a book club, each of them a beneficiary of all that feminists of 30-odd years ago held dear. The eight women in the room have each earned a degree from Princeton, which was a citadel of everything male until the first co-educated class entered in 1969. And after Princeton, the women of this book club went on to do other things that women once were not expected to do. They received law degrees from Harvard and Columbia. They chose husbands who could keep up with them, not simply support them. They waited to have children because work was too exciting. They put on power suits and marched off to take on the world. Yes, if an early feminist could peer into this scene, she would feel triumphant about the future. Until, of course, any one of these polished and purposeful women opened her mouth. ''I don't want to be on the fast track leading to a partnership at a prestigious law firm,'' says Katherine Brokaw, who left that track in order to stay home with her three children. ''Some people define that as success. I don't.'' ''I don't want to be famous; I don't want to conquer the world; I don't want that kind of life,'' says Sarah McArthur Amsbary, who was a theater artist and teacher and earned her master's degree in English, then stepped out of the work force when her daughter was born. ''Maternity provides an escape hatch that paternity does not. Having a baby provides a graceful and convenient exit.''
Wander into any Starbucks in any Starbucks kind of neighborhood in the hours after the commuters are gone. See all those mothers drinking coffee and watching over toddlers at play? If you look past the Lycra gym clothes and the Internet-access cellphones, the scene could be the 50's, but for the fact that the coffee is more expensive and the mothers have M.B.A.'s. We've gotten so used to the sight that we've lost track of the fact that this was not the way it was supposed to be. Women -- specifically, educated professional women – were supposed to achieve like men. Once the barriers came down, once the playing field was leveled, they were supposed to march toward the future and take rightful ownership of the universe, or at the very least, ownership of their half. The women's movement was largely about grabbing a fair share of power -- making equal money, standing at the helm in the macho realms of business and government and law. It was about running the world. ''We thought there would be a woman president by now,'' says Marie Wilson, director of the Ms. Foundation for Women and president of the White House Project, who has been fighting to increase the representation of women in work and politics since 1975. ''We expected that women would be leading half the companies in this country, that there would be parity on boards.'' Instead, Wilson has just finished a book that includes an examination, in her words, of ''how far we haven't come,'' titled ''Closing the Leadership Gap: Why Women Can and Must Help Run the World.'' Arguably, the barriers of 40 years ago are down. Fifty percent of the undergraduate class of 2003 at Yale was female; this year's graduating class at Berkeley Law School was 63 percent women; Harvard was 46 percent; Columbia was 51. Nearly 47 percent of medical students are women, as are 50 percent of undergraduate business majors (though, interestingly, about 30 percent of M.B.A. candidates). They are recruited by top firms in all fields. They start strong out of the gate. And then, suddenly, they stop. Despite all those women graduating from law school, they comprise only 16 percent of partners in law firms. Although men and women enter corporate training programs in equal numbers, just 16 percent of corporate officers are women, and only eight companies in the Fortune 500 have female C.E.O.'s. Of 435 members of the House of Representatives, 62 are women; there are 14 women in the 100-member Senate. Measured against the way things once were, this is certainly progress. But measured against the way things were expected to be, this is a revolution stalled. During the 90's, the talk was about the glass ceiling, about women who were turned away at the threshold of power simply because they were women. The talk of this new decade is less about the obstacles faced by women than it is about the obstacles faced by mothers. As Joan C. Williams, director of the Program on Work Life Law at American University, wrote in the Harvard Women's Law Journal last spring, ''Many women never get near'' that glass ceiling, because ''they are stopped long before by the maternal wall.''

As these women look up at the ''top,'' they are increasingly deciding that they don't want to do what it takes to get there. Women today have the equal right to make the same bargain that men have made for centuries -- to take time from their family in pursuit of success. Instead, women are redefining success. And in doing so, they are redefining work. Time was when a woman's definition of success was said to be her apple-pie recipe. Or her husband's promotion. Or her well-turned-out children. Next, being successful required becoming a man. Remember those awful padded-shoulder suits and floppy ties? Success was about the male definition of money and power. There is nothing wrong with money or power. But they come at a high price. And lately when women talk about success they use words like satisfaction, balance and sanity.

That's why a recent survey by the research firm Catalyst found that 26percent of women at the cusp of the most senior levels of management don't want the promotion. And it's why Fortune magazine found that of the 108 women who have appeared on its list of the top 50 most powerful women over the years, at least 20 have chosen to leave their high-powered jobs, most voluntarily, for lives that are less intense and more fulfilling.

Why don't women run the world? Maybe it's because they don't want to.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

How Does a Female Prof Sleep?

I am an insomniac. All of my friends have tried at one time or another to help me solve my insomnia issue, usually to no avail. I might go a few weeks with sleep, but as soon as some major project, talk, or paper comes my way, I am back to sleepless nights.

Early this summer, the NY Times published this article (published elsewhere so you can read it without paying) on how women are more likely to suffer from insomnia than men. Women--no surprise to me--are also a big market for sleep medications like Lunesta or Ambien.

Today a colleague alerted me to a study on the stress levels of female academics in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The data found that female full professors taught more courses and independent study units than did their male counterparts. At the associate professor level, men taught more regular courses, but far fewer independent units. And at the assistant level, men and women were equal in teaching regular courses, but women taught more independent units.

In interviews, the researchers found that women cited a variety of reasons for their increased workloads and stress associated with students, and many women attributed much of the problem to sexist patterns or attitudes — from their colleagues or students.

One woman interviewed said, “I taught 500 students my first semester. I taught the core courses. I carried 90 percent of the load of core courses for my whole department. Why? Because if women wanted to introduce a new course in their research and scholarly interests it was usually turned down. They’re there to serve and teach those core courses but men were able to fairly easily introduce the so-called vanity courses with the small enrollments.”

Another woman, commenting on how students treat female and male faculty members, said, “Students treat the women differently than the men. They’re more critical of the women than they are of the men. I’ve seen it even among the grad students in our department. More criticism is directed toward the female faculty than toward the male faculty because there are certain expectations about power and who’s wielding power. I didn’t come into this profession with those opinions. I have reached them painfully over the years because it’s impossible not to see it after a certain period of time in the profession.”

Summing up the problems female faculty members face with students, the authors wrote that “women felt students expected them to balance authority and nurturance in the classroom in ways that their male colleagues were not. Having to consider this balance while trying to deliver a course that is meaningful certainly contributes to stress related to teaching and students.”

While I personally haven't contended with all of these professional pressures and subtle, yet pervasive discriminations, I can relate to a lot of this. Above all the issue of nurturance.

I had to learn very early on to put a lot walls up after my first year, when a student of mine showed up and told me she was going to commit suicide. I had to take her to the hospital, accompany her through the whole intake exprience, and then endure heartbreaking phone calls from her begging me to spring her out of the hospital. I am pretty certain that none of my male colleagues have had to deal with that situation.

The emotional tax is significant.

I feel a bit vindicated by this study, although it doesn't help me sleep much.

"Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.
Pat Robertson

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Vacation's End

I spent my weekend poolside with family and friends. It was the perfect end to a summer which was spent everywhere but poolside. Sunday was my official “Last Day to Relax before I Head Back to College.” Among the party guests was a family friend who works with the CIA. The friend is home for a while and couldn’t resist being entertained by the circus that is my family. He knows I study political science and is quite eager to debate, discuss, and pick my brain. I was lounging back in my chair, looking longingly at the pool I had just left and planning my reentrance into its lukewarm water when he began to comment on Cindy Sheehan.

As it turns out, it would be several hours before I reentered the pool.

“She is a biased, liberal, propagandist who is dismaying the memory of her son. Her husband is even filing divorce over her antics. Disgraceful!”

Before I could respond, he went into a full-out assailment. September 11th: Clinton’s fault. War on Terror: opposed by the liberal left. Iraq: Making the world safer. Cindy Sheehan: unpatriotic.

I didn’t know where to begin, so I started asking questions. We had an interesting discussion of the War on Iraq. Throughout the entire conversation, he kept saying to me, “You’re not involved in the military. You don’t understand.”

Returning to Sheehan, as he so frequently did, he began to dip into his pot of rage. I put my hand forward to stop him and said, “You’re not the mother of a kid who died in this war. You don’t understand.”

Of course, there are mothers of sons who have died in this war who still support the war. And that is their choice. But they are not Cindy Sheehan. They did not raise her son. Her situation is unique. And when she stands in protest to the war that took her son’s life, no one is better-equipped to honor the memory of her son than her. She created the memory of her son, and because of this war, she is left, all-too-young, to find a way to honor it.

I explained all of this to my friend. He sighed, put his arms in the air and proclaimed, “The president already met with her once. FDR didn’t sit down with every mother who lost a son in World War II. Why should this president have to?”

The President, whether it is FDR or George Bush, serves as a single figure with many roles. Perhaps the most compelling is his or her ability to comfort in times of tragedy. As such, maybe it’s time the President took more time from his vacation to comfort those who have been most affected by this war. Sheehan’s voice of protest is loud and unanswered. Polls show that support for the war is waning. Perhaps it would be wise of the President to extend an olive branch and attempt to support, or at least understand Sheehan. But I won't hold my breath.

Until then, what started as the single protest of a mother's broken heart and what has become a microcosm for dissatisfaction with the policy in Iraq, will continue.

With this in mind, I began to wonder two things about Cindy Sheehan: why is she getting so much press and why is she being attacked so viciously? My mind trailed off to a political philosophy class I had taken on feminism the previous semester. Our professor had mentioned that when women choose to be stay-at-home mothers they are rarely taken seriously outside of their role as a mother.

The attacks on Cindy Sheehan have attempted to paint her as a political activist, a partisan hack. If she is seen solely as a mourning mother, her message resonates in our hearts. Those who attack her believe that when she is seen as a political activist, as a biased source, her credibility diminishes. Speaking as a mother she is credible; speaking as a mother attempting to affect change in politics, she is biased. Or so goes the argument.

What perhaps is most fascinating is that Sheehan’s opponents try to treat her as if her political activism with regard to the war and her experiences with the war are mutually exclusive. She is an anti-war Democrat, right? No. This is a half truth. In reality, the fact that her life has been affected so deeply by this war qualifies her to be biased. It took her son’s life. Her love as mother and the pain she feels for losing her son motivate her actions of protest, not vice versa.

Just as the mothers who believe their sons died in a just cause deserve our respect, Cindy Sheehan deserves our respect. This war has affected her deeply, and it is not the place of anyone to judge her grieving. She must live with this grief for the rest of her life.

As my vacation dwindles to its end, I have come to realize something sad: Vacations will never be the same for Cindy Sheehan. I wonder, why can’t the President take time out of his vacation to recognize that?

The Bipartisan Blonde: Group Storywriting!

Aspazia discovered that the same rules apply to love and politics.
First: Know your opposition.

Aspazia Feminista, blond, beautiful and entirely bedazzled, got out of Blane Winter's sedan and stood smiling with unbidden adoration at the big man inside the car.

"See you tonight? About seven?" Blane asked.

His velvet baritone had the same enthralling effect on Rosalie (aka Aspazia) that it had on political audiences, and her cheeks bloomed pink. "That's right, Mr. Winters."

"Call me Blane."

Dazed with bliss, she turned around and ran into a rosebush. Then, weaving slightly, she went slowly up the driveway. She couldn't get over it that she, a mere kid of 35, a philosopher who still had trouble remembering the difference between modus ponens and modus tollens, could have attracted this handsome attorney, a dozen years older than she was, Republican candidate for state assembly and her political opposition for the past year.

Who wants to play? Just post a comment to keep the story going . . .

Iraqi Consititution Failure, California Courts' Success

A couple of things to pay attention to here, one good and one very, very, very bad. The bad news first. It appears that the democratic experience that we have begun for Iraqis will either turn into a out and out civil war among the Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds or will result in a Theocratic, Islamic state, in which women who have enjoyed freedoms for the last 40 years will be stripped of the right to profession, property, etc.
See Elise's post at Bitch, Phd, Shakespeare's Sister, Amanda at Pandagon , Digby, and Pepper.

Now, for the good news. The California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex parents have equal rights to children from their union, even when they are no longer together. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

The California Supreme Court broke new legal ground for same-sex parents Monday by ruling that lesbian and gay partners who plan a family and raise a child together should be considered legal parents after a breakup, with the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual parents.

Three weeks after issuing a precedent-setting decision banning business discrimination against domestic partners, the justices took another step toward equal treatment for the tens of thousands of California households headed by same-sex couples. The court became the first in the nation to grant full parental status to same-sex partners regardless of their marital status or biological connection with their children.

"We perceive no reason why both parents of a child cannot be women,'' said Justice Carlos Moreno, writing for the majority in three related rulings issued Monday.

It was a bold statement by a normally cautious court -- although, as Moreno pointed out, the Legislature said essentially the same thing in a new law that gave domestic partners most of the same rights as spouses, including parental rights. Monday's rulings went a step further and granted parental status to members of couples who had separated before the law took effect in January.

In each of the three cases, the court said, lesbian partners had cooperated in conceiving and rearing children in a family setting and, thus, were both legal parents -- entitling them to visitation over an ex-partner's objections and requiring them to pay child support. The ruling would apply equally to gay men who agreed to raise a child together.

The WaPo (like many other newspapers) ran this quotation from Matthew Staver:

"Today's ruling defies logic and common sense by saying that children can have two moms," said attorney Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel. "That policy establishes that moms and dads as a unit are irrelevant when it comes to raising children."

There's that blasted "common sense" and "logic" stuff again. What on earth is "common sense" for these wing-nuts? What exactly is embracing traditional family values? Should we take a look at what the Iraqi Constitution is threatening to do to women as a clue to what they consider logical and common sense approaches to raising children?

On being a bleeding heart....

“You would have made a great doctor.” My grandmother tells me this at least once a week. She has never been one to hide her displeasure with regards to my educational choices—in particular my decision to drop my pre-med major in college to pursue something far less “professional”-- child life therapy. The decision to change my major, and hence my career path, came when I interned at DuPont Children's Hospital in Delaware for a summer during college. The purpose of the internship was for me to shadow a pediatrician, and what I realized during this experience was what little contact doctors have with their patients, especially in big establishments like DuPont. After a lot of research, and a lot of volunteering in different departments within the hospital, I discovered Child Life Therapy and changed my major to psychology when I returned to school in the Fall. This decision has prompted my grandmother to send me countless emails and newspaper clippings (complete with graphs) that depict the salary of my chosen profession as falling just above that of a mediocre artist. She never fails to add a note at the end of her email: “You should have been a doctor.” My grandmother attributes my “lack of motivation towards a ‘real’ profession” to me being a “bleeding heart”. And for all intents and purposes I am one. My parents used to comment on “how cute” it was that at age 7 I used my allowance to sponsor a child from the Philippines. But now that I’m older, my “bleeding heart” is viewed by my family as being less of a virtue and more of a tragic flaw that is preventing me from being “successful”.

This background brings me to a conversation that I had with my hairdresser, Sue, on Friday (btw Aspazia, yes, beauty salons are FABULOUS for that!). As usual I asked about her three daughters, all of whom are in their early twenties. Her oldest daughter graduated from a liberal arts college 3 years ago with a degree in Biology and decided upon graduation that she wanted to join the Peace Corps, her middle daughter graduated from the same liberal arts college last year and was accepted into the program “Teach For America”, and her youngest daughter just graduated from Columbia and is leaving in 2 weeks to work in an AIDS clinic in Africa. All I could think as she spoke about her girls was how cool it would be to have all three of them in a room together!! But after talking about their work for a few minutes, Sue made a comment that shocked me: “it’s a waste to send a woman who’s a ‘bleeding heart’ to college.”

I pressed her to explain this further. She said that while she felt that her children were “engaging in worthwhile causes, that they would be better off entering into the professional world, and leave the benevolent volunteer work to women who have made the choice not to pursue an education.” I asked her what she thought about my work in Child Life Therapy, and she responded in the same way my grandmother always does: "Antheia, you would have been a really good doctor."

She went on to claim that “bleeding hearts” tend to gravitate towards ‘nurturing’ professions (teachers, nurses, child care workers, or that they work for non-profit organizations), and that this is nullifying years of advances gained in terms women’s educational rights!

I was so taken aback by her thought process. The notion that her daughters aren’t as “successful” as some of their colleagues who are doctors and lawyers is astounding. Their work is emotionally taxing, underpaid, and under appreciated, and yet there's something that makes them go back to work every day... something that can't be measured by corporate benefits or a 401k plan. Sue’s daughters (like quite a few women and men I know) feel a sort of responsibility to use their educations to better the lives of others; to act as advocates for oppressed populations who don’t have a voice. If that makes them “bleeding hearts” then I'm damn proud to be a member of that category!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Melancholy Monday: Untranslatable Moments

When I was 24 years old, I lived in Boston. I worked in the operations department for a broker dealer called Linsco Private Ledger (LPL). My brother worked across Federal Street at Scudder. I enjoyed my job in a corporate environment; however, I was wrestling with starting a Ph.D. I had to make a decision between a life in mutual funds (or some other corner of the world of finance) and a complete dedication to the life of the mind.

The choice was actually quite difficult. I didn't particularly like the substance of my work at LPL, but I really liked the people: the guys from Southie who were heavy drinkers, proud Irish Catholics, and fiercely loyal. I also loved having my brother near me. We had the same circle of friends, and spent the summer before I left visiting places like Wolfeboro, NH. My brother played on LPL's softball team, and I religiously attended the games to support my team.

The perks of corporate life are also pretty enticing: free Bruin's tickets, fancy expense-account dinners, excellent investment advice from the trading room, and the beloved homerun pool (which I won before I left).

I also had started a rather intoxicating romance with someone in Boston, and I knew that if I left to start my Ph.D. the relationship wouldn't survive. I would leave my brother behind, the promise of wealth, a great apartment in Brighton, and my new friends.

I spoke with one of the VP's in the office, a woman who had an MA in Literature and she persuaded me to consider the upsides of not continuing my graduate work. Another VP, who had been a Philosophy major at Boston College as an undergrad, encouraged me to follow my dreams. After much wrestling with the decision, I accepted the offer at my New York graduate school and put in my two weeks notice at LPL.

I will never forget my last day at work, and my last night in Boston. My Southie buddies took me out for beers in Fanueil Hall and then I hailed a cab back to the Brighton. Taking a cab home was a real luxury in those days.

What I can still conjure up, almost as if it was yesterday, was that cab ride home. It was one of those rare moments in my life where I actually knew its significance and I was trying to soak up every detail that I could. That cab ride marked a passage in my life, one in which I was wholly uncertain if I was making the right decision, and in which I was slowly letting go of a place and people I loved dearly.

The cabbie followed along the Charles river, exiting in Cambridge near the Harvard football stadium, through Watertown, and then onto Brighton. We drove by places that were magical for me (which, sorry, I am keeping to myself ) and I took mental pictures. In fact, all of these years later, I can still visualize the map of my favorite haunts in Boston: the coffee shops, theatres, bookstores, blues bar, softball field in Newton, bagel shop in Newton Corner, etc.

The best analogy that I can make to how I felt in that cab ride lies in the film Lost in Translation. This film is an exquisite rendering of the impossible task of trying to hold onto a moment that, by its very structure, cannot be held onto. Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johanssen) are wholly aware that they are already saying goodbye.

The film also ends with a secret: Bob whispers something into Charlotte's ear that we cannot hear. I love that ending, because, for me, it highlights what is profound about fleeting moments--they have a significance for us that we can never fully translate to others.

UPDATE: gxx at Rude Barbie has been inspired by this post to write her own amazing, nostalgic reminiscience. And, many others are in the comments section below.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

What It Means to Be Real [Guest Blog]?

In the New York Times bestseller, Reviving Ophelia, Mary Pipher refers to characterizations of women as “weak, docile, and other-oriented.” Pipher presents several startling stories of young women in the early nineteen nineties struggling to fit the societal mold of a model woman. These girls starve themselves to near-death to be thin, take charge of crippled households, defy their individuality for men, and give in so they can fit in. Giving in comes in many forms: giving in to men who see them as sexual objects, giving in to a society that often tells them that their place is in the home, and giving in to an adolescent experience which crushes the unbridled, confident spirit of their childhood. The overarching theme of Pipher’s book is powerful: our society is polluting our young women and we need to stop it.

A decade later, I wish I could say much has changed. The tides of feminism have given young women in this society an access to opportunity and a source of confidence that was once nonexistent. However, a look at the incidences of anorexia, teen suicide, teenage pregnancy gives a clear indicator that the work Pipher spoke of a decade ago is far from finished.

In many ways, our society still promotes unhealthy images for young women. Many activists, Phyllis Schlafly as one example, promote the natural providence of women in the home. With this in mind, I begin to wonder, “What does it mean to be real?”

Schlafly argues that feminism is an attempt to “repeal and restructure human nature.” She answers the question of what it means to be real like this, “What I am defending is the real rights of women. Women should have the right to be in the home as wife and mother.” For Schlafly and crew, the natural place of the woman is in the home, away from the public sector of society, raising the family.

The ‘feminine mystique’ that Betty Friedan spoke of with such disdain, according to these individuals, is the natural position of women in civil society. I think not.

In order to discuss such issues, we need to look at the philosophies that underlies them. This involves asking a few questions. Here are a few? What distinguishes women and men? Women are the sex with the reproductive ability. But beyond that, what predisposes women to the constraints of home? What tells us that women are weak, docile, and other-oriented? Quite simply, nothing.

I am a man. It is inescapable. And I like being a man. But what does it mean to be a man? Really? Are we less capable of loving our children, less capable of raising them? Are we better equipped to earn income for the family? How are we different? On average, one can argue, men have more physical strength. So what?

These questions are really best answered in context. The context is 2005. We live in a society which has established the parameters that enable men and women to take on equal roles in society. Neither sex is more qualified for the task of raising families or providing for these families.

Yet we allow the constraints of the past to haunt us. If men take on qualities that aren’t macho, they are considered to be weak. If women attempt to dream a life for themselves in the public sector and fulfill that dream, some accuse them of defying their natural position. Young women are taught to judge themselves based on their physical appearance and society continually allows women to be objectified by men.

We are still using gender as the dividing line despite the fact that the healthy functioning of society is hurt by such inane distinctions. Women are as qualified as men to be doctors, engineers, lawyers, and such forth. Men are as able as women to take care of their families, to show human emotion. Yet when we watch a forum on C-SPAN of the nation’s leading female CEOs, they are asked questions about juggling family and work. When we see society’s leading male CEOs on C-SPAN, they are asked questions about their work. Why are these women judged on their efficacy as caretaker and businessperson, while their husbands are judged on their efficacy as businessperson?

This should be common sense. We have created a societal framework that allows for egalitarian values. The framework exists to treat men and women according to their virtue, yet it is so frequently ignored in favor of a system that divides genders among lines which are read as weak/strong, nurturing/stoic, man/woman.

I don’t say this just as a young, idealistic, male feminist. I say this as a son, a brother, a nephew, and a friend: Gender doesn’t shape identity. Society shapes identity. Why aren’t we better fostering a society which enables man and woman to pursue their goals and dreams without arbitrary barriers to their advancement? Isn’t that the democratic thing to do?

Earlier I asked, What does it mean to be real? The answer: Anything you want it to mean. Perhaps we would be better off if we stopped trying to force men and women into gender straightjackets, and worked harder to promote a society which encourages individual identity. Any woman who wants to affect change in society is real to me. Just as real as the man who values nurturing and loving his children.

Guest Blogger: Gburgkid

"Christian" Communities of Hate

Last Thursday, I met with the director of a homeless shelter for lunch. Before getting to our business at hand, we spent some time getting to know each other better. He started to tell me about his experience growing up in the Southern Bapist Church. He loved singing in the choir and felt close enough to the minister to talk over personal spiritual matters. In fact, "Nathan" said to me: " I grew up in the bapist church and never thought that it was a "conservative" or "hateful" place . . . it was just where I went to church."

Then, when Nathan was 14, he decided to confide in his minister that he had feelings for other boys. He wasn't sure why it was happening, but he wanted some guidance about this and to know if it was sinful. Two days after this chat with the minister, he returned to choir practice (conducted by the minister's life) and found the congregation transformed in their attitude toward him. He went from being part of the bosom of this congregation to being an absolute outcast. The experience, Nathan told me, created a real wound in his heart and has since made him very deprived of a spiritual community. He has tried a few other times to find congregations where he might be welcome, only to learn that the church, whether a liberal christian of the Ba'hai faith didn't accept his homosexuality. Nathan said: "I am looking for a spiritual community, but unless they accept all of who I am, I cannot believe in their doctrines."

So, I told Nathan about my church, the Unitarian Universalists, and his interest seemed piqued. He was considering bringing his partner and seeing what this community was really like. Lo and behold, he showed up today. I sat next to them, and then the president of the board got up to greet everyone. It was then that I realized how important the opening words of the service are. This is the part where the greeter tells the audience that the Unitarian Universalist church is a religious community that is inclusive to all people, whatever their ethnicity, gender, political views and sexual orientation are.

For the first time, sitting next to Nathan and his partner, I realized how utterly important that opening phrase is. Because I am--despite being a woman--rather in the mainstream, I never fully understood why it was necessary to say this out loud before the service began. But, putting myself in Nathan's shoes, I heard those words as an unbelievably embracing welcome. I realized how important it is to say this out loud, and profess it as a community, so that those like Nathan, who show up having been utterly heartbroken in places of worship before can finally find a home.

I thought about how amazing my church is today, what a relief to find a place so inclusive and welcoming to all and committed to making the world a place of deep humanity and justice.

The Unitarian Universalist church is an oasis in a world that leads a mother to have to write an op-ed like this one:

Valley News, VT
P.O. Box 877
White River Junction VT 05001

Sharon Underwood of Hartford, Vermont

Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont. I am the mother of a gay son and I've taken enough from you good people. I'm tired of your foolish rhetoric about the "homosexual agenda" and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny.

My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade. He was physically and verbally abused from first grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be gay.

He never professed to be gay or had any association with anything gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or have gestures like the other boys. He was called "fag" incessantly, starting when he was 6.

In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn't bear to continue living any longer, that he didn't want to be gay and that he couldn't face a life without dignity.

You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair. I don't know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn't put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse. God gave you brains so that you could think, and it's about time you started doing that.

At the core of all your misguided beliefs is the belief that this could never happen to you, that there is some kind of subculture out there that people have chosen to join. The fact is that if it can happen to my family, it can happen to yours, and you won't get to choose. Whether it is genetic or whether something occurs during a critical time of fetal development, I don't know. I can only tell you with an absolute certainty that it is inborn.

If you want to tout your own morality, you'd best come up with something more substantive than your heterosexuality. You did nothing to earn it; it was given to you. If you disagree, I would be interested in hearing your story, because my own heterosexuality was a blessing I received with no effort whatsoever on my part. It is so woven into the very soul of me that nothing could ever change it.

For those of you who reduce sexual orientation to a simple choice, a character issue, a bad habit or something that can be changed by a 10-step program, I'm puzzled. Are you saying that your own sexual orientation is nothing more than something you have chosen, that you could change it at will? If that's not the case, then why would you suggest that someone else can?

A popular theme in your letters is that Vermont has been infiltrated by outsiders. Both sides of my family have lived in Vermont for generations. I am heart and soul a Vermonter, so I'll thank you to stop saying that you are speaking for "true Vermonters."

You invoke the memory of the brave people who have fought on the battlefield for this great country, saying that they didn't give their lives so that the "homosexual agenda" could tear down the principles they died defending. My 83-year-old father fought in some of the most horrific battles of World War II, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all. That wasn't the measure of the man.

You religious folk just can't bear the thought that as my son emerges from the hell that was his childhood he might like to find a lifelong companion and have a measure of happiness. It offends your sensibilities that he should request the right to visit that companion in the hospital, to make medical decisions for him or to benefit from tax laws governing inheritance.

How dare he? you say. These outrageous requests would threaten the very existence of your family, would undermine the sanctity of marriage. You use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking human beings. There are vast numbers of religious people who find your attitudes repugnant. God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows my son has committed no sin.

The deep-thinking author of a letter to the April 12 Valley News who lectures about homosexual sin and tells us about "those of us who have been blessed with the benefits of a religious upbringing" asks: "What ever happened to the idea of striving . . . to be better human beings than we are?"

Indeed, sir, what ever happened to that?

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Blog Bulletin: Upcoming Features

I have attracted a small, yet loyal group of readers to this blog. I have also been fortunate enough to find a few other writers for this blog: Antheia, whose fine work you've already gotten a glimpse of and now Libby, who also has a blog on Autism and Parenting, called Through the Window.

So, I have decided to take advantage of these new writers to give a bit of predictability and structure to the blogs coming from me, Aspazia. Here is what I have come up with so far:

  • Melancholy Mondays : Let's face it, monday's are hell. So, I will devote my monday blog entries to matters that make me a tad melancholy and to sharing with you, my loyal band or readers, excerpts from the history of melancholy (such as "Hildegard's Spin on the Noonday Demon.")
  • Notes from the Prozac Nation:This blog column will appear on Fridays, which will be my research days this semester. Here I will give a blog and news round up on articles of interest on psychopharmacology, pharmaceutical companies, depression and gender.
  • Saturday Mornings with Uncle Ben:Every saturday (around morning time) I will let you relay to you my conversations with Uncle Ben or perhaps other encounters with conservatives in small town life. (Hopefully Uncle Ben will make guest appearances too!)
In the meantime, let me thank all of you for your comments either in the blog or the emails you've sent that keep me going. I love hearing from you and continuing to build this blog community. Keep on posting!

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