Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Rick Santorum Scares Me! Oh, and Happy Halloween

Election day is one week away. Pennsylvanians should be excited by the possibility that Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum has a good chance of losing his Senate seat (the worry is he will reemerge in 2008 as a VP candidate).

In any case I want to alert you to two websites full of good reasons to not vote for Rick. First of all, Project Vote Smart, which is a bi-partisan non-profit agency devoted to researching the canddiates and providing in-depth information for voters (read more here). In any case, Rick-the Prick-Santorum refuses to answers to Project Vote Smart's surveys, and hence is depriving citizens of full information about his positions and votes. I guess he wants to rest on his jack ass T.V. ads, rather than give thoughtful, measured defenses of his voting record and accomplishments.

Do contact Project Vote Smart to get Santorum to "pass the National Political Awareness Test!"

Secondly, I want to alert all readers--liberal and moderate alike--to take a look at this website, "The Haunting of Rick Santorum." Here you can read Rick's own words on issues such as birth control, equal pay, and on women with careers.

Since Ricky won't pass the political awareness test at Project Vote Smart, PPPA sponsored a website to help fill in the gaps. I particularly like his response to "privacy."

On Privacy: "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything."

I swear this man has an unhealthy preoccupation with perverse sex. What's up with that?

Happy Halloween MMF readers!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

If This Is Sisterhood, Then No Thank You

I just finished reading an article for my WS course entitled "Sister Acts: Resisting Men's Domination in Black and White Fraternity Little Sister Programs," by Wendy Stombler and Irene Padavic (two sociologists). I predict that this essay, along with the two first chapters of Alexandra Robbins book, Pledged, will spark a heated debate.

My little college is dominated by the Greek system and one of the most pernicious affects of this is that sorority women--even though they are enrolled in a Women's Studies course--will invest a great deal of energy into disabusing us kill-joy-feminists that anything nefarious is afoot. They will adopt one of a few strategies: say the data doesn't apply to them because we are small school, argue that the portrayal of sororities as reproducing gender inequality is "insulting," insist that sororities are really empowering and offer important leadership roles for women, or simply get defensive. (Let's hope I am just being pessimistic!)

What really resonated with my experience with Greek women in Stombler and Padavic's essay is the observation that white women join sororities or participate in "little sister" programs as a strategy for "getting a man." What was surprising (i.e. new to me) was that Black women join sororities or participate in the same little sister programs to "get ahead" in their career. I have heard that Black sororities place far more emphasis on community service and lifelong networking, but I hadn't realized how much that was mirrored in the very structure of their organizations. While Black sororities are far from perfect, they do seem, according to Stombler and Padavic's research to foster more meaningful relationships among women--"sisterhood"--and work to empower Black women to succeed in the labor market.

I started thinking back to my own undergraduate experience and my very short-lived experiment in pledging. I lasted 3 days. I dropped out because I just couldn't bring myself to conform to the behaviors that the other women expected me to display during this period. Certainly few of them actually were as fake as they were acting, but the rituals of pledging forced us all to act in ways that were alienating to me.

Though I dropped out of pledging, I didn't totally disconnect from sorority women. I ended up living with a house full of Delta Gamma girls my senior year. And, I think that experience, above all, was the most alienating one of my life. I never had my self-esteem suffer so much than the year I lived with the sorority girls. I had just returned from a life-changing year in Rome, during the first Gulf War and a year into the Berlin Wall coming down. The world opened up for me in ways I had never expected. I had grown into an intellectual, cosmopolitan girl, carrying a dog-eared copy of the Second Sex with me wherever I went. When I found myself in a de facto sorority house, I thought I had been sent to purgatory.

These women, mind you, had been my friends. But, my all-too-provincial goals of being a typical co-ed, luring in hunky guys and getting drunk off of beer bongs had lost their appeal. Instead, I wanted to throw myself into stimulating classes, surround myself with others who had been abroad, and begin to avail myself of all the cultural treasure of the Bay Area that I had never thought to explore until I spent a year exploring foreign lands. What did my roommates want to do? Throw bid parties, get drunk with jello shots, starve themselves thin, and attract the attention of the best fraternity men.

Since I was so young, I tried to get along. I wasn't yet at a point of total rebellion. But, I found, increasingly, that when I was trying to blend in with the DGs, I was miserable. It usually manifested itself in dark, drunken moods where I would walk into sliding glass doors, trying to escape the mind numbing conversations about boys, boys, and boys. I would drag myself out to some disco or dance party with the girls only to feel immediately trapped and in need of a quick escape. I would walk home, in not very safe neighborhoods, just to get back to my apartment and read Madame Bovary or some such other novel that I had just learned to adore.

The fact is, that my sense of sororities is that they do in fact teach women to aspire only to the approval of some drunken frat guy. And, while it took me another year to articulate that to myself--after I took a few women' s studies courses--my body had begun to rebel much sooner. In fact, I think my bouts of depression first began during my senior year with the DGs.

So, what I can't seem to make sense of is why I am so unusual? Or am I? None of my former college mates seemed to have deviated far from their sorority girl selves. They are all married now, with kids and get together to relive keggers. The thought of attending a reunion with them makes me ill. So, how do they do it? How do they live what I take to be such an empty life? How is it that they derive their self-worth from having landed Tyler or Patrick from XYZ frat house?

I find myself really challenged by this kind of material and the defensive discussions that ensue. I have to hold back my judgment of these women and locate, if I can, some empathy for their need to belong in this way. I think the only way I can cope with tomorrow's lecture is to try and care for these women, to understand their driving need to conform in this way. But, now that I have a clearer picture of the role that Black sororities play, I find it doubly difficult to excuse the retrograde--truly anachronistic--role that White sororities play in enforcing gender roles.

UPDATE: So, as I expected, the students in the class totally rejected the articles. They said, over and over again, that these articles spoke to and described Sorority culture in the South, but not here. They also rejected any suggestion that Sororities encouraged conformity behavior, be it either in fashion, hair color or more dramatically eating disorders or cosmetic surgery. I had to spend some time really pushing them to defend their views, which tended to crumble when I did. Depending on what question I asked them, they either claimed that Sororities were just "social" clubs or they were "civic" ones. I asked them at one point how many lesbians were recruited for membership. I also asked them how they would go about recruiting lesbians. To those questions, they responded: "I don't really think they want to join." To which I responded, "why, because they don't believe in the civic goals or they don't enjoy heterosexual dance parties?"

Friday, October 27, 2006

Gay Marriage and the Senate

Just two days after Kate Clinton made her appearance here, and emphasized how sick she was of being a "wedgie" issue: "a thong between the cheek of church and the cheek of state," the New Jersey ruling on gays and marriage benefits has reignited the GOP.

In Virginia, the court decision could not have come at a better time for Senator George Allen, a Republican whose campaign for re-election had been thrown off course by allegations that he had used racially insensitive remarks. The Virginia ballot includes a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Mr. Allen supports it; his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, argues that the ban is unnecessary.

On Thursday, Mr. Allen could be found in Roanoke at a rally held by backers of a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage. Victoria Cobb, an organizer of the events, said the New Jersey ruling was giving the cause “a new momentum.”

“It’s an issue that’s going to play a big role in the next 12 days,” Mr. Allen’s campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, said in an interview.

In Tennessee, another state with a proposal to ban gay marriage, Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., a Democrat running for the Senate, was sparring with Republicans over an advertisement in which the Republican National Committee asserts that Mr. Ford supports gay marriage — an assertion Mr. Ford says is wrong. On Thursday, he responded with his own advertisement, calling the Republican ad “despicable, rotten lies.”

Mr. Ford says he will vote for the Tennessee gay marriage ban. With early voting under way, the Republican candidate, Bob Corker, is telling voters that he has already cast his ballot in favor of the gay marriage ban.

And in Pennsylvania, where Senator Rick Santorum, the Senate’s leading Republican backer of a gay marriage ban, is fighting for his political survival, conservative advocacy groups were working furiously to revive the gay marriage debate. Pennsylvania does not have a ballot initiative.

“It’s an important wedge issue to talk about between candidates where there are two distinct viewpoints on the issue,” said Joseph Cella, president of Fidelis, a national Catholic advocacy group that has embraced Mr. Santorum for his views on abortion and gay marriage. Mr. Cella said his organization, which was also working to pass a gay marriage ban in Colorado, was contemplating an advertising campaign.

I don't see this wedgie issue working for Santorum; he's going down. But, it may very well tip the Senate to the GOP in Tennessee and Virginia. Hanno reports to me that he thinks it might influence some House races.

How screwed up is that? I am starting to curse this ruling, even though it was a real victory for gay rights. I do hope that when history looks back on this era, we will consider these homophobic white men, including Shrub, to be backward bigots who squashed Civil Rights.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Note to NeoCons: Stop Pimping Feminist Arguments

I don't know about you, but I have about had it with conservative politicians using "feminist" arguments to fuel resentment and outrage toward Muslims. It sickens me as a feminist to think that Muslims around the world might get the idea that feminists are racist or otherwise bigotted. This morning I heard the following BBC report:

Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali said women who did not wear a hijab (head dress) were like "uncovered meat".

But he has now apologised for any offence caused by his comments, The Australian newspaper reports.

Leading Muslim women condemned the comments and PM John Howard said the remarks were "appalling".

"The idea that women are to blame for rapes is preposterous," Mr Howard told reporters.

Look, its hard for me to stomach this deep concern for women, particularly this argument that feminists have made for years only to be dismissed, that what someone wears does not invite rape. How convenient to trot out this well worn feminist argument in the context of admonishing a Muslim cleric.

Let's not forget that the frenzied Neo-cons around W have been all to happy to point out how atrociously the Muslims treat their women. They also encourage that states like Iraq develop a secular government, while at home they embolden and encourage the rabid right wing to interfere and have control over all aspects of women's lives.

Stop the madness.

On behalf of feminism, I want to apologize to Muslims, and particularly Muslim women, who endure unfair criticisms for their decision to wear headscarves. The politicization of the headscarf is the most cynical misuse of feminism for despicable and deplorable foreign policy aims.

While telling women who don't wear the hijab that they are like "uncovered meat" is a statement I find offensive; it in no way represents all Muslims, nor does it even suggest that Muslims mistreat their women. All that it does is give Australians (Brits and Americans) further fuel for their irrational hatred of Muslims. It also allows paints Muslim women as helpless victims in need of the safety and rescue of the strong American (men).

Look, the last people I want being chivalrous, or championing women's rights, are the Neo Con wackos currently killing these very women with their disgusting foreign policy!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Another Bushism

After trying to delineate the difference between "benchmarks" and "timetables," George Bush said, in today's press conference about Iraq, that he thinks he needs to inform the public about what is going on. But what he said was: "I will continue to make explanations." Is this just his usual logorhea? Or, did it give us insight into what he really wants to say: "I will continue to make apologies." This is probably just wishful thinking, eh?

Less Than Two Weeks

I spent a bit of time talking to political strategists last night (yes, more than one). Many of them called me to ask for money (duh!). In any case, the word is that the Dems have a good shot on taking the House. But the Senate races in Tennessee and Virginia are too close to call. So, given the stakes of this mid-term election, let me encourage all of you to give $ to some PAC that will help us win both the House and Senate. I donated, as you would expect, to NARAL. If you choose to do so, go here. You could give to Move On as well. And, if you don't have any money, then get out and vote and/or get others to the polls.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More Evidence of Anti-Hillary Sexism

John Spencer, Republican challenger to Senator Clinton, allegedly stooped to new lows.

Sen. Hillary Clinton doesn't really want to reduce her reelection campaign to a debate on her looks.But if you must know, the former First Lady thinks she was a cutie in high school.

The odd discussion about her appearance came after her long-shot opponent, Republican John Spencer, suggested to the Daily News that Clinton had undergone "millions of dollars" in plastic surgery, and pointed out she used to be much less attractive.

"You ever see a picture of her back then? Whew," he told Daily News columnist Ben Smith during a plane ride to Rochester last Friday. "I don't know why Bill married her."

"She looks good now," he added.

Asked if she was embarrassed by the story, Clinton laughed yesterday and shot back, "I thought my high school picture was cute," referring to a photo that ran on The News' front page.

She mostly took the story in good humor, even coming back with a very undoctored retort.

"Do you want to check for the scars?" a smiling Clinton asked The News after an upstate campaign stop, pulling her head back in a preening pose.

But she did criticize Spencer's comments as a new low for him.

"I've never seen a campaign where we are now down to false accusations about appearance," Clinton, 58, told reporters outside Schenectady.

Spencer, the former mayor of Yonkers, spent much of yesterday denying he used the words "ugly" or "plastic surgery," although The News never quoted him saying those specific words.

He declined to talk directly to The News and instead put out a statement decrying the story as "tabloid journalism at its worst. The Daily News owes Hillary Clinton an apology."

Earlier in the day, Spencer offered an alternate explanation to an Albany radio station, suggesting The News was "on a mission" to derail his campaign - which already trails Clinton by a whopping 37 percentage points.

"I clearly won both debates," Spencer said of his faceoffs against Clinton last weekend in Rochester and Manhattan, "and I think they're a little bit upset about that."

This isn't the first time Spencer has tried to run from his own comments.

Last April, when Spencer's hometown paper chided him for saying that Clinton had taken "moolah from the mullahs" - his way of saying that Clinton had accepted campaign donations from the Iranian-American Political Action Committee - Spencer at first denied making the comment, originally reported by The New York Times.

Two days later, however, Spencer put out a statement conceding that The Times was "correct in their reporting on this issue" - adding he was only repeating a phrase he had read elsewhere.

Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson said Clinton has had no plastic surgery or similar work.

"I'm not sure what's worse - that Mr. Spencer made these insulting comments or that instead of owning up and apologizing for them, he is lying about them," Wolfson added. "Either way, it's clear that he is unfit for the U.S. Senate."

More evidence that the hatred of Hillary is rooted in deep-seated sexism.

Does Racial Profiling Foster Racism?

This was the compelling question that my colleague, Raj, asked his first year students this morning. Raj teaches a class on Terrorism and had just introduced the notion of "racial profiling" on the day I was observing the class.

Before asking the question, however, he pointed out how racial profiling as a policy is a really bad way of gathering intelligence: (a) it involves throwing a large "net" over people that fit a general ethnic or racial profile and pulling them in for interrogation (and in some cases torture), regardless of whether or not they were linked with known terrorist activity (behavior) and (b) this scattershot approach to interrogation--using the inappropriate markers of race or ethnicity and disregarding criminal behavior--does a lot to turn communities against us.

If you buy this premise, namely that racial profiling actually operates this way, then it is not a far leap of logic to see that this intelligence gathering behavior will create racism in otherwise innocent minds (see the photo above, taken on 78 in Jersey). If you have a state policy that says it is legitimate to suspect anyone who looks like an Arab, then before long, you have young people absorbing these ideas and growing up to hate and fear Arabs. What is truly reprehensible about this is that these young peoples racism will be due, in part, to state activity. Raj asked, correctly, shouldn't we be outraged that our government is violating civil liberties in this way?

His students reacted in a predictable way. Anyone who has taught a course that confronts--in a clear-eyed way--racism or classism will be all too familiar with the ways in which students react to evidence that the world is not fair: they deny it. You can pile facts upon facts of incidences of injustices--in this case of racial profiling--and they do all sorts of clever psychological moves to reject the evidence. What is happening here is that the reality of the world--the reality of racial profiling in this case--is running up against a deeply held belief that our government is fair, just and protects individual rights. If racism exists, these students reason, it is the case of a few "bad apples." Or, it is the individual who has failed to see that racial profiling is just a blunt instrument and should not imply that all Arabs are to be feared and distrusted.

Putting to the one side the students rejection of the argument and the evidence in support of the arguments, what is your reaction? Does our government--in carrying out this racial profiling--foster racism that will be lingering for decades to come? Before you answer, let me clarify that I am not talking about tightened security in airports or train stations (or any mass transportation). I am talking about "rounding up" people in Arab communities for no other reason than they are Arab.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Obama Might Put His Hat In

Since so many of my readers bristle at the idea of Senator Hillary Clinton running for (or being elected to) President, I thought I would ask what you think of Senator Barack Obama running? Since he just let it slip that he is taking the idea seriously, and his potential candidacy would be a real threat to Senator Clinton, what should we make of this? Is he our guy? While I think he is a good looking, handsome, and seemingly old school liberal, I am not yet sure of his mettle. (See Dan Balz's piece in the WaPo)

But having served just two years in the Senate and seven in the Illinois state Senate, Obama has a thin résumé upon which to build a presidential candidacy. He was asked yesterday on "Meet the Press" whether he was ready to be president.

"I'm not sure anybody is ready to be president before they're president," he told moderator Tim Russert. "You know, ultimately, I trust the judgment of the American people that in any election they sort it through. We have a long and a rigorous process and, you know, should I decide to run, if I ever did decide to run, I'm confident that I'd be run through the paces pretty good."

One could argue that his short time in the Senate is a plus, since his voting record won't be so long and therefore capable of hanging him. His position on the Iraq war is certainly more attractive to many Dems. But what else does he have to offer?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

This Feminista is Getting Married!

So, I went to Emma's Halloween party last night--dressed up as Starbuck from BSG and Za was dressed up as Jayne Cobb from Firefly. It was a fun party--as usual--and then, all of a sudden, Za demanded that I come outside to hear his performance of "The Ballad of Jayne Cobb." I went outside to the fire pit, ready to watch him sing his heart out with Ricardo playing the guitar. Everyone from the party was gathered to see this performance.

When it was over, Za said: "Well, since I have already embarrassed myself enough, I am going to embarrass myself some more." He then pulled out a ring box, and proposed to me. Needless to say I was completely caught off guard and totally flummoxed since 20 people were staring at me. I was pretty much speechless and crying. *I* was really crying and then, thank goodness, pointed out that I should "say something." I hadn't realized that I didn't say "yes," and everyone was staring, waiting, and frankly, getting a bit nervous. I quickly said "YES!," and like that I was engaged.

So, this little feminista has clearly worked through her ambivalence about getting married and said yes to an amazing man, who got on one knee, after singing the "Ballad of Jayne Cobb," in full costume to propose.

Halloween was my favorite holiday before, but now it has taken on a whole new meaning.

Btw, the ring is an awesome Georg Jensen mobius ring from Denmark. He went out of his went out of his way to find something really special that fits with my personality and heritage.

Update: Here is what the ring looks like. Cool, eh?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I Agree, This Shit is Not Fucking Helpful

A few weeks ago Hanno asked me (via email) why the Dems hated Hilary Clinton so much. I did my best to answer since, afterall, Za is among those who really hate her. Hanno's asssumption (not a bad one) is that some sexism is afoot. I was willing to be persuaded otherwise, but haven't yet found a viable alternative. Maybe some of you readers can point me toward those alternative explanations.

The criticisms made against Hilary Clinton are no different from criticisms made against most politicians. The only novel criticism I heard recently on NPR is that if she were to get elected in 2008 then we would have been saddled with a Bush-Clinton dynasty for 24 years, which certainly flies in the face of the founder's ideals of democracy. But even considering that criticism, I am with Hanno in that I don't quite get why Republicans and Dems alike hate Hilary. She is indeed a truly polarizing figure and that is bewildering.

Anyway, Hecate just alerted me to some really unfortunate comments that Elizabeth Edwards just made--clearly to position her husband for 2008. Ms. Edwards is trotting out the ole' "mommy wars" angle again for her husband's political gain. It is bad enough when the NYTimes writes these "trend" stories on elite mommies "opting out." The stories are a big F*** You to women working their ass off trying to balance a work and home life because, although the feminist movement has been successful in so many ways, it still has its work cut out for finally making a substantial dent in work as an institution. Women are still trying to figure out how to be a creative, contributing productive citizen and a nurturing, creative mother. While most women I know love being a mother, it is not the only thing they want to do. Frankly the fact that external forces--and they are external forces Ms. Edwards--makes this balance nearly impossible and makes these women miserable is an important social issue that politicians like Jonathan Edwards ought to address if he wants to attract my vote in 2008.

Ms. Edwards had this to say about Senator Clinton:

“We both went to law school and married other lawyers, but after that we made other choices,” Mrs. Edwards said, according to The Associated Press. “I think my choices have made me happier. I think I’m more joyful than she is.”

Now Ms. Edwards is apologizing to Senator Clinton (here). Obviously this is not a freely given apology, but a political move, probably motivated by some less than noble threats to the Edwards. Fine. But, what this incident finally makes clear to me is that the anti-Hilary sentiment out there is, plain and simple, fueled by sexism. Thanks to a progressive female lawyer, speaking in support of the Democrats, for clarifying that, once and for all.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Congress: Top 10 Dubious Accomplishments

Courtesy of reader Will, once again.

I Don't Give a Rat's Ass

Look, the Mark Foley thing is despicable. And, what I mean by despicable is that people in power knew about his inappropriate behavior and yet didn't do anything about it (check out the timeline from NPR). In fact, despite these allegations of "inappropriate" behavior towards pages, he was deemed fit to serve on the Congressional Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. Here is a bit of transcript from NPR where Foley discusses the despicable nature of the very behavior he engaged in.

CONAN: You were quoted in The New York Times today as saying the Supreme Court "sided with pedophiles over children." Why do you think that?

Rep. FOLEY: Well, I think what we've done here is allowed people to get away, if you will, whether it's virtual reality or live children, exploiting them for sexual gratification. I think we're entering a very, very dangerous period. I'm not a prude. I have no problem with adult pornography. People are entitled to read it, watch it, see it in their homes or in public accommodations. Where I have to draw the line is using children for the excitement of those more mature people who should know the difference and know better. So I was troubled by the court's rendering. We worked long and hard on that bill to pass it in '96, and we're prepared to meet with Mr. Ashcroft and other legal scholars to define a bill that hopefully will pass the muster of the Supreme Court when we reintroduce it.

CONAN: What areas do you think you might have to tighten up?

Rep. FOLEY: Well, obviously, they're using the standards of visual reality -- meaning you're not really depicting live, breathing humans -- in the sexual act or sexual endeavor. And I think we're going to have to find a standard that will at least allow us to further explore, based on the Internet, this new technology, how to limit the production of this very same material. Justice Kennedy, I believe, compared this to "Romeo & Juliet," a Shakespearean work. Well, I have to disagree with him, because it may have been appropriate during Shakespeare's time, but we are in a very, very different time.

Today we get another Times story on Foley's molestation. This time a Priest admits to "fondling him." This reporting makes me want to vomit. Seriously, I don't give a rat's ass if Foley was molested. I don't understand why it gets the same billing as the "cover up" story. In fact, it dominates the cover up story. And what else does it do? It drives home the GOP message that homosexuals are molesting freaks. Foley's problem is not that he is gay; his problem is that he is a child molester. And, not surprisingly, like many child molesters, he was molested by an adult when he was younger.

Can we get off this priest molestation angle? Shame on you NYT! And you Neocons who read my blog and like to spout off that the media is liberal--Jeezus!--they are hitting it out of the ballpark for your team. Now all we need is Santorum to come along again and remind us that the reason priests molest little boys is because of the godless liberal culture the permits this behavior.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Lonely Regret

Since I departed from my disciplinary conference (really it is my speciality within the discipline conference), I have been musing a lot on regret. From my other posts, you may have gleaned that I didn't feel at home among these people (hence, why I titled one of the post's "Continental Alienation"). The sense that I didn't belong grew the longer I stayed. I had no obvious way to strike up a conversation with colleagues, because I no longer read, nor cared for what counts as the "cutting edge." Without an academic home--outside of one's teaching post and institution--it is easy to fear that your identity is disappearing.

We academics desperately need conferences where we can share ideas, get useful feedback, make plans for future work, and keep learning. We need a community that pushes us to improve our ideas. The last evening I was at SPEP, I started to panic that I had lost my community. I had made too many decisions that put me on the outs: I had taken a job at a liberal arts college, and hence could not keep up with the cutting edge work; I had broken ties with former friends over disputes; and, I had lost touch with people I once cared about deeply because of the first two points. I felt regret for my decisions because I was now alienated from a community.

I voiced this regret to *I,* who responded with a very helpful question: in what sense do you regret losing touch with these people from the past if at each moment you made the decision that was best for you? I found this question compelling. It is helpful for me to think of her point in a different context, let's say a failed or unrequited romance.

Many of us can reflect upon people who we cared for deeply, but couldn't sustain or forge a romantic relationship with. We cared so much for these people that we wanted to create a more lasting union, but the contingencies of life made this impossible. Each of the reasons why we couldn't sustain this relationship are good ones. And yet, even after reflecting on each of the reasons we turned away, we have regrets. Why?

What is it in me that longs for a past that I chose, wide-eyed, to turn away from? Why do I still long for the acknowledgement of the community that I was once part of and left?

Part of it seems to lie in the fear of losing a past. If you have wonderful memories of friends, energetic conversations, passionate commitment to ideas shared over glasses of wine or in seminars, it is hard to find yourself on the outside of that community. You look in from the outside and want someone to remember and rekindle even the past that has passed by. Without someone witnessing this past with you, you feel lonely.

A Peek at the William Jennings Bryan Henrie Project Website

Many of you may be long time readers, and so you have followed the research project I undertook on WJ Bryan Henrie's life: a Pre-Roe abortion doctor from Grove, Oklahoma. If you haven't read my series on the interviews I did in Grove, visit here. I am about to give a presentation on this research for the faculty on friday and wanted to also unveil the website that I am working on with my IT department and get some feedback. You can get to the website here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

You Can Get Arrested For Your Bumper Stickers?

Za alerted me to this outrageous case, reported in CNN yesterday:

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- A woman who was ticketed for having an obscene anti-Bush bumper sticker filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday against a county in the state of Georgia and its officials.

Denise Grier, 47, of Athens, Georgia, got a $100 ticket in March after a DeKalb County police officer spotted the bumper sticker, which read "I'm Tired Of All The BUSH**."

A DeKalb judge threw out the ticket in April because the state's lewd decal law that formed the basis for the ticket was ruled unconstitutional in 1990.

Grier is seeking damages from the county for "emotional distress," according to the lawsuit.

Grier also seeks a declaration in federal court that her bumper sticker is considered constitutionally protected speech because she is "uncertain and insecure regarding her right to display her bumper sticker in DeKalb County," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

Grier, a nurse who works at Emory University and other hospitals, also is seeking punitive damages against the DeKalb police officer who gave her the ticket because he "acted with reckless disregard" of her rights, the lawsuit said.

The state law prohibited lewd or profane stickers and decals on vehicles.

How come nobody ever arrests the pro-lifers with their incendiary bumper stickers?

An Expose of Prurient French Politicians: Now What are We Exporting?

Leave it to the French to write an expose of the sexual exploits of politicians entitled Sexus Politicus. Two reporters, Christophe Dubois and Christophe Deloire, churned out a 39o page tome on the sexual habits of the successful French politician and discovered, according to the NYTimes,

The book’s central premise is that in France, a successful politician is also a seductive politician. Sex, the authors say, is a civic imperative. “Far from being a flaw, to cast yourself in the role of seducer is without doubt an important quality in our political life,” the book claims.


They understood, according to the authors, a fundamental rule of French politics: Good politicians love and are loved.

What is perennially disappointing about seducing politicians (with the exception of cretans who go after young boys or girls) is that the American public is so damn moralistic about the whole thing. Moreover, we have a hard time respecting privacy, probably due to that same moralism. We would rather delight in the moral failings or exploits of others than take a look at our own shortcomings. Afterall, why do shows like Jerry Springer thrive here: where an ex-politician caught for soliciting hookers gave a little moralizing sermon after parading the most depraved subjects on the planet for the public's consumption. A little privacy would go a long way.

The article ends thusly

That Ségolène Royal, the leading candidate for the Socialist nomination in next year’s presidential election, is not married to the father of their four children has not been an issue.

That said, the French tolerance — or even celebration — of sexual exploits may change if Ms. Royal becomes president.

“This French exception that makes power rhyme with sexual prowess — will it survive the feminization of politics?” Le Figaro asked. “This question has not escaped Ségolène Royal, who predicts the revenge of women if she assumes power.”

If it is the case that the feminization of politics leads to more moralizing about the private lives of public servants, then I do think we have an interesting cultural difference on our hands. The most expensive moralizing to the taxpayers in this country came from Conservative men, looking to bring down a moderate Democrat. If the Democrats take the House or Senate (neither very likely), then perhaps we will see "the revenge of Conservatives" once again.

More importantly, what is wrong with the Le Figaro question is the potent and damning association now made between feminism and cattiness. If it is the case that the election of Ségolène Royal ennervates moralizing femmes, then I wouldn't mistake those femmes for le feministes!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Bag Pipes, Scottish Heritage, and Why God is Offended by Your Abortion

Greeting me as I left a Centennial lunch on campus (it's our 175th year), I ran into an interesting band of chaps, bedecked in red with white sashes. They had a bag pipe player with them, and a large red banner with the words: "Tradition, Family, and Property," written in a calligraphy. What can this group be about, I wondered?

As I got closer to the merry band of bag pipers, I noticed four students sitting directly across from them with a duck call whistle and a sign offering up "Free Abortions." Odd! What does a band of disaffected white male liberals, with a purposely shocking "Free Abortions" sign have to do with this group of men in red? To add insult to injury, one of the disaffected liberal students was reading the Da Vinci code (apparently this same group showed up to protest the Da Vinci movie).

The answer lies in what the TFP (Tradition/Family/Property) group stands for: They are a single issue political activist group. Their goal is to somehow uphold the TFP values by opposing abortion. They hail from Spring Grove, PA and parked themselves on our campus to educate us on the 10 reasons why abortion is wrong.

Many students and faculty are agitated with this group. But, of course, that is their purpose. What I wanted to know was why they used the bag pipes. So, I asked: "Why do you have bag pipes with you?"

"Because they are really effective at getting us attention," TFP speaker #1.

"What do the bag pipes have to do with your TFP stance," I asked.

"They are Scottish," TFP speaker #2.

"Is your organization a Scottish organization," I ask, perplexed.

"No, we are Americans," TFP speaker #1.

"Then why do you have Scottish bag pipes to represent your 'crusade,'" I ask, (truly perplexed).

"Because some of us have Scottish blood," TFP speaker #2.

Before leaving, one of the TFP guys was kind enough to remind me that I was a baby killer and murderer because I was not so interested in their literature. I was a bit put off by these tactics. After all, I had just made my way through a rowdy group of PETA protesters in Philly this weekend. The PETA protesters were engaged in a shock and awe campaign with bloody carcasses of foxes. Anyone who is confused about the similarity between the far left and the far right should compare PETA with Pro-lifers like TFP. The only difference is the bag pipes.

P.S. I find the move that considers that life begins at conception to be so whacked out. If life begins at conception, then God is the biggest abortionist in town and so how can abortions offend God?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Earthquake on Big Island

I got a phone call from my Dad at 3 pm today to let me know that he was ok after the earthquake. I was stunned! I had no idea there had been an earthquake, let alone a 6.6 (according to CNN). There is some dispute about the magnitude of the earthquake, see here. (Internet connections in HI seem really slow, I have had a hard time loading the Maui news). I just got off the phone with my Dad who said that things were fine, overall, in Maui. A few serious "sink holes" on roads, but no major damage. Now he said they are alerted to some potential for Tsunamis! Geez! Luckily my Dad moved to the upcountry 3 years ago, and so he is not in any immediate danger were there to be some big waves after this quake.

I am from California and grew up with earthquakes. I was in college during the big one of 1989 (running along a graveyard in Santa Clara when a huge iron fence started flapping back and forth). I hate earthquakes!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Susan B. Anthony Would've Been Fine with Modern Abortions

Many of you have probably been clued into the right wing tactic of appropriating the early suffragettes in their anti-abortion zeal. This quite maddening and successful rhetorical move has been adopted by folks like the Susan B. Anthony List, a pac devoted to Pro-life issues, Kate O'Beirne, and Feminists for Life. The appropriation of Susan B. Anthony is a perversion of history; it is stripping away a woman's message from the context in which she wrote. Certainly Anthony would have found little in common with the pro-life women's organizations that so malign her by pimping her image and words. She was, however, a rather ruthless strategist, forming alliances with conservative religious women if it would further her goals.

Ann Bartow just alerted me to this NYT op-ed, written by Susan Schiff, called "Desperately Seeking Susan." And here is a delightful and delectable excerpt:

So long as we have written history we have rewritten it, seasoning it with bias, straining it of context, molding it to our agendas. (The French codified this problem years ago by throwing each camp a bone. For years it was understood that conservative historians got the ancien régime, the communists the Revolution, and the socialists everything thereafter.) But Anthony the pro-lifer hails from a different land, the treacherous province of cutting and pasting, of history plucked from both text and time. Now we are Photoshopping rather than airbrushing; with enough slicing and dicing, an argument can be made for anything. The doctorate in sophistry is optional.

Ms. Crossed has argued that abortion rights are a violation of those for which Anthony fought. To her mind, the right to vote does not bring with it the right to destroy our offspring. This may be true. And then again it may not be. “We demand that woman shall be given the means to assert herself, regardless of whether she ever uses it or not,” pretty much qualified as Anthony’s theme song.

Above all, the drillmaster of the suffrage movement had no patience when it came to dogma. She won few points for her free thinking but forged ahead all the same: “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” She cast her vote always for tolerance, acting from a simple conviction: “For a people is only as great, as free, as lofty, as advanced as its women are free, noble and progressive.”

The bottom line is that we cannot possibly know what Anthony would make of today’s debate. Unwanted pregnancy was for her bundled up with a different set of issues, of which only one truly mattered: rescuing women from “the Dead Sea of disfranchisement.” In the 19th century, abortion often was life-threatening, contraception primitive, and a woman as little in control of her reproductive life as of her political one. The terms do not translate, one reason time travel is a risky proposition. No amount of parsing the founding fathers will reveal what they think of the war in Iraq, just as no modern chorus of mea culpas will explain away their slave-holding. To suggest otherwise is to wind up with history worthy of those classic commercial duos, Fred Astaire and his Dirt Devil, Paula Abdul and Groucho Marx.

For what it’s worth, Anthony has ceded her place on the dollar to another steely and resourceful woman, the face of manifest destiny, who — coincidentally? — appears always with a child strapped to her back, the original rendition of backwards-and-in-heels. Sacagawea may have been a crackerjack scout, but she left no paper trail. Who knows what she thought about white men or westward expansion? She’s up for grabs, an icon without a cause. Feminists for Life may want to hurry, before the logging industry gets there first.

Amanda takes this issue up as well.

Continental Alienation

My discipline's conference ends each day with what is called, anachronistically, a "smoker." The APA has these as well, but in the case of Continental Philosophy, they are more appropriate. Lots of pierced, funky glasses-wearing, bedecked in black grad students have mobbed the conference, and repeatedly step outside to inhale, anxiously, from their cigarettes. I am just grateful that hotels have banned cigarettes in the room; during my early conference days, I got burned a few times by drunken francophiles leading with their cigarettes through thick crowds.

The minute I arrived in the lobby of the hotel, and saw all the devoted conference goers standing around debating the papers they just heard, I felt like a fraud. Teaching in a liberal arts college pretty much kills off the pious Continental in me. A few friends, from my more abstract days, asked me what I am working on and I said: "Nothing. I have tenure." After saying that a few times, I realized I should probably be more earnest in my answers since I do actually write things beyond this blog.

I studiously avoided any theoretical conversations and just hung back with "I," making snarky comments. We ran into one of our peers from grad school who spent the entire conversation telling us about her job, her commute, and her book. No questions about us. "I" astutely noticed that most of these conference goers have no social skills.

Another guy, hanging back with us in our snarky moods, made fun of all the french-y thinkers, who, he said with great disdain, you felt like you had to genuflect for. I asked him what he worked on: "Nietzsche," he said. This exchange, by the way, makes no sense if you have read Nietzsche, who is as impenetrable as the French thinkers he eschews. Frankie, my favorite Heidegger guy, who really is French, was given a reprieve from this condemnation by the Nietzsche scholar. It seems that Heidegger has made Frankie's writing less abstruse.

Oh, how is it that I ended up here? I suspected I would feel alienated at this conference and I was. While others were talking the Ontological difference, I was worrying over the effect of gerrymandering on the upcoming November elections.

The very last thing I did before giving up and heading up to my room to watch You, Me and Dupree (which was not worth 13 bucks) was look at a flyer for a conference upcoming called A-Way from Heidegger. That was the last straw. I needed to get A-way.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Conferencing this Weekend

I am off to Philadelphia for the weekend to attend the Continental-Fashionista-Philosopher's Conference. Blogging might be sparse, but I am sure you all can find something to debate here without me. Feel free to use the space below.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

New Feminist Blogosphere Blowup: Porn Pimps

So, there is a big buzz over the appropriateness of selling a popular feminist blog site, written by a pro-feminist man, to a porn site.

I am not in a position to comment on the latest buzz in the feminist blogosphere. But, I do want to alert my readers, who don't normally make it around to other blogs, what is up. Barry from Alas, A Blog has sold his domain name to a hard core porn site. Dr. Violet Socks gives the details here. I first discovered this at Hugo Schwyzer's place and then followed him to Lauren's blog.. zuzu from Feministe weighed in here. Then I tracked down more links at Sour Duck. Finally, this lead me to Heart at Women's Space.

The uproar has led some to really question whether or not a man can really ever be pro-feminist. I am not sure I am persuaded against a man being a feminist because one pro-feminist man sold his popular feminist blog to a porn site, but I get the point.

In addition to the fiasco at Alas, Pam Spaulding annouced Pandagon was picked as one of the top 10 political blogs. feministing alerted readers here. Here is Heart's response at Women's Space. This is not an exhaustive round up of links, but enough to introduce readers to the issue.

If you feel like answering, what do you think of this latest blowup? Should Amanda be outraged to be applauded by Playboy? Should we be sickened by Barry selling out to a porn pimp? Inquiring minds want to know.

Happy Birthday Za!

Wish Za a Happy 40th Birthday!

I Expect Them to Participate in Creating Peace

"There will always be discrimination, no matter what you can't fight it."

"Human nature is just lazy. They aren't going to fight unless something is affecting them directly."

"Eventually things will get better. It might take a long time, but things change."

These are typical phrases that either students utter in class discussions about oppression or how they end their papers. The students who uttered these phrases, by the way, are young and have not faced much in the way of hardships (struggling to make ends meet, facing racial discrimination, living in a war zone, etc.)

My job is to teach these students about other human beings who do confront, daily, hardships. However, when I do bombard them with facts and faces of those living under oppressive conditions, my students find it difficult to process. Sure, many of them are deeply and profoundly touched. Those students go find the Peace club or Amnesty; they take that concern and outrage and do something with it.

The majority of my students don't. I was reminded of that last night when a young woman raised her hand, after a rather technical talk on lobbying, to say: "look, we have all heard what you've said here: how many Iraqis have died, torture, etc. But, we'll feel bad for a little bit and then we are going out to the bar tonight or doing homework." Yep. That is about right.

In my WS class yesterday, a student asked the class: "Do you have to be directly affected by oppression in order to become an passionate activist fighting it? Why is that we aren't all out there fighting these institutions after reading about it and discussing it in class?" No one answered her question.

What is my job here at this liberal arts college. Some would say it is to "teach the facts." Well, at least that is what the Horowitz crowd would like me to do. But, guess what, I teach the facts. I show students how the gap between rich and poor is ever widening. I talk about the exploitive practices of Wal-mart. I can go on and on. The point is that I do this for a reason.

To educate in the liberal arts model is to educate a future global citizen. We are not charged with vocational training. We are not even charged with disciplinary training, so that students can pursue Ph.D.s in our fields. We are charged with making our students thoughtful, articulate, smart, capable of assimilating information from different perspectives in order to arrive at informed judgments, and encouraging our students to take leadership roles. It is the last of that list that interests me the most. Because these students are poised to be the next managers, diplomats, CEOS, lawyers, politicians, etc., we expose them to the lingering challenges across the globe: profound moral challenges that threaten peace.

I expect them to participate in creating peace.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jon Stewart Exposes Gay Congressional Network Behind Foley

Reader Will sent me this. It sure brought a smile to my face during the midweek blues.

By the way, I can't tell you how many times I have been pretty flipped out by the pages and other assistants in Congress. Everytime I have gone to visit with a Senator, I have found myself utterly blown away by the drop dead gorgeous beauties--men and women--working there. I am surely not the only one who has wondered, perhaps too snarkily, what exactly are the qualifications for working in, say, Senator Santorum's office. Certainly not "modesty," by the length of those skirts and low cut blouses.

What I Learned from Philosophy Graduate School

After finishing my post on feminist blog trolls yesterday, I spent a good bit of time reflecting on what my post-undergraduate training in Philosophy did for me, and how it might have offered me some real tools for coping with trolls. Most people who have been graduate students in Philosophy have experienced a fair amount of real, flesh and blood trolls. Graduate seminars and interactions outside of class can be incredibly competitive and downright nasty. Most graduate students in Philosophy know that there are only a few great jobs out there for us and this knowledge tends to heat things up.

I did not attend a predominantly Analytic program, like Steve G did, but there were enough embittered analytic philosophers in my department to teach me the classic moves of the snarky analytic. The classics are: (a) look dumbfounded, confused, scratch your head and then ask a basic question that leads to your whole argument crashing down, (b) furrow the eyebrows and ask, "is this Philosophy?", or (c) lay on some ad hominems. The Continental students are more maddening. They're modus operandi is to (a) show off how many languages they can read it, (b) cite a passage from a footnote of the winter seminar in Tubingen of X German Philosopher, (c) wear more black and smoke more cigarettes than you, (d) suggest that anyone who hasn't read Foucault is an idiot!

It is tough in that environment, and because I am a masochist, I liked taking it from both the Analytics and the Continentals. Many people might leave graduate school on a lot of medication and a broken person given this enviroment. But, what it did for me, I think, is inure me to trolls. I learned to see right through their antics and recognize that much of what they did was done out of extreme insecurity. I also learned some pretty effective tools for interacting with trolls.

First of all, I hardly ever (unless totally without sleep) match the tone of trolls. When they get snarky, I get polite and self-effacing. It generally throws them off balance. I engage them respectfully, suggest they might be right and explore the ways in which they are with them, iff they are willing to continue the dialogue. Secondly, in the real world, I have found that saying something loudly doesn't make the point all that more interesting or profound. Staying calm, enunciating and respectfully yieding the floor when you are done is a good tactic as well. And finally, learn to brush off most trolls. I can honestly say that I have never learned anything of value from a snotty, competitive and insecure troll (whether online or in the real world). I have, however, learned a great deal from people willing to enter into substantive debates, where there were back and forths, and I even profoundly disagreed with the person I was debating with. But, this could take place only iff the person you are debating actually plays by the rules.

What I mean by the rules, is he or she is willing to reconsider a position based on a better argument or new evidence or an unearthed hidden premise. Moreover, playing by the rules means that you avoid lying (i.e. when someone points out a contradiction in your position, you swiftly try to explain away, via some sort of obfuscation, that you now changed your positions) and that you don't enter into a conversation assuming that you are 100% correct.

I just got a lovely email from a student in Scotland today who is encountering the cruel reality of postgraduate studies. He feels really isolated and alienated by the competitiveness of other graduate students. Rather than finding a place of collaboration and exploration, all he is finding is snark. I sympathize with him. But, I know that if he sticks it out, he will find those he can collaborate with and he will gain some valuable life skills in dealing with dickheads.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Feminist Blog Trolls and Their Impact on Feminist Bloggers

This past week a lovely person interviewed me (and I imagine several other women bloggers) about how blogging affects political participation. During the interview, I started to reflect quite a bit on the role of trolls and how women might be disinclined to continue blogging once they emerge. Lately I have had a troll (maybe two) emerge from No. Virginia (according to the I.P. address), but I have a couple of others that only show up if I talk about abortion, the Pope, or evangelicals. In general, I get far fewer trolls than the rock star feminist bloggers like Feministe, Pandagon, feministing, etc.

What I started thinking about during the interview, however, was the way in which trolls seem to concentrate on feminist blogger (or, women blogger) sites. I know at times that some right wing blogs have sent troll traffic my way if they didn't like the message. I imagine this happens far more regularly to the rockstars. Dealing with trolls is annoying. They are manipulative. They want to piss you off, get you to respond to them, so they can benefit from your attention, even if it is negative.

Trolls are easy to spot. They have zero interest in the dialogue. They aren't going to be persuaded, nor even indulge the viewpoint of the blogger. They have one purpose: heckle, insult or degrade.

Now, what I am wondering is if trolls are more likely to hang out at women's sites than men's sites. (No study here). But, if I compare the sort of traffic that SteveG gets at Philosophers' Playground to mine, I don't see many--if any- trolls. And, Steve is far more blunt and incisive in his criticisms of Republicans, religion, conservative politics (etc.) than I am. I asked Za what he made of this phenomena, and his usual straightforward response was: many of these trolls (who are men, but not always) automatically assume that the women writing are their inferiors. They will pick on any woman blogger--even if her intelligence is manifest--because they think, by virtue of being men (and sexist at that!), they are right, smarter, better and damn them a woman won't be spouting off.

I also think that women bloggers who don't focus primarily on feminist issues are less likely to attract trolls. Or, if women bloggers adopt gender neutral names and don't talk specifically about feminist issues they get less trolls. But, I wonder what you think? Moreover, what impact do you think these feminist blog trolls have on feminist bloggers? Do they wear many of us down? Do they detract from the message of the blog and civility of discussion? Have these trolls made some feminist bloggers more raging than they might ordinarily be? And, if the latter is true, does that then serve the purpose of reinforcing the myth that feminists are man-hating, intolerant bitches?

This feminista wants to know.

UPDATE: I just found these genius posts on "The Species of Troll" over at Laurelin in the Rain: "Know Thy Enemy" "Species of Troll II" and "The Nature of the Troll." And, check out her latest troll smack, "The Terrorism of Words" (dealing with the hate emails that Biting Beaver and Stopmyabortion has gotten). I linked to Biting Beaver's post on the obstacles in her way to acquiring EC. Well, it turns out that the EC she got didn't work and she is now pregnant and in need of an abortion. And, true to form, trolls and hateful types are doing their best to terrorize her.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Melancholy Monday: Polarization Costs Us All

Za and I spent a delightful few days in upstate New York, around the little towns that dot the Hudson. In particular, we enjoyed our day spent in New Paltz. New Paltz is a little oasis. People walk everywhere, bicycle racks exist in front of all business and even in front of the bus. The restaurants participate in the slow food movement. Every business accomodates both children and pets. In fact, we went to have tea at a darling little shop and there was a large chalkboard, toys, books, and little people tables for kids. The bathroom had diapers stocked for mothers.

I have been obsessed with this town ever since we left. This is indeed a place to raise children. Mothers and fathers are certainly not isolated since every business welcomes children as important members of the community. I started reflecting on how so many of my friends become de facto shut ins in most American cities where breast feeding is seen as a public embarrassment and squawking children and rambunctious doggies are no-nos in public spaces. Here is a community designed to really embrace and celebrate families--including the pets. And, here is a town designed to protect our natural resources through organic farming, walking, recycling, and these happy villagers throughly enjoy the outdoors through hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking and sailing.

Why aren't there more towns like this? I have been thinking about this alot. You see, my first impulse is to find an adorable place like this for Za and I to live and raise children. But, the more I thought about moving to a place like New Paltz, the more I started to see what is so terribly problematic about the whole Red State/Blue State thing. A few weeks ago I wrote about White Privilege and Class. After writing that piece, my friend (who lives in a very white and racist working class neighborhood of Long Island) sent an email where he expressed his deep concern about any living space where only one race lives. We shouldn't have such communities where only white people or only black people or only latinos (you get the idea) lives. It flies in the face of the whole "melting pot" idea.

While in New Paltz I started to think, you know, here is a wonderful place to live, but it exists as an oasis. It is an oasis because it is carved out in a country where people largely live in Green towns, Blue States or Red States. The ideological balance of most towns is out of whack and polarized. If we saw towns with a better racial balance, ideological balance, and economic balance, we might see some of the good ideas of towns like New Paltz take root in other spaces. After all, the values of this community are not at all opposed to the more rural, agricultural and religious communities surrounding it. Both places value children, value farming, value crafts and community events. But, rather than seeing an exchange take place where Green party folks live peacefully with Mennonites (for example), we see towns segregated by political beliefs and values. Rather than see the common values, we emphasize the stark differences.

The big loser is all of us. Rather than actually create a true marketplace of ideas where good ideas win out, we create little cells wherein most residents think alike, don't want to change things and don't like any outsiders coming in and messing things up.

If we fought against the unfortunate polarization of the country and saw Republicans, Democrats and Greens all embrace the issue of our time--the enviroment, rather than politicize it and use it to divide us--we might all be a lot happier. We might slow down a little bit. We might enjoy each others' company. We might find we have more in common than we first realized: family, home, and a safe and loving community.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Hotness and Feminism [Guest Post from Hanno]

I have been thinking about Asp's recent post about Hotness and Feminism,
especially in relation to some of the comments posted.

Hotness is power, no doubt about it... but isn't it a strange kind of
power? First, it is not gender specific, nor is it universal. For
hotness to be powerful, you need first of all to be hot, and both men
and women can be hot.

And isn't it more or less even, in the following sense: the person
desired also wants to desire. So the person who is hot also seeks out
someone they think is hot. When they themselves desire, they become
under the power of someone else. Their power is neutralized. And while
merely being the object of desire may be fun and empowering, mutual
desire is far more fun... and perhaps less empowering, as you become
under the power of another. The model does not marry the loser, but the
rock/sports star, the one she is more or less equal to in desirability,
the one she desires, the one who may have power over her.

On top of that, there is power in being the object of desire, and power
in being the one who does the desiring. The artist has the power to make
art, but they make art for others to enjoy. The artist and the art
critic are both powerful, and in a symbiotic relationship. The absence
of the power of one immediately leads to the absence of the power of the
other. Let us suppose that wearing some article of clothing will make
you the object of desire. Wearing it gives you the power of being
desired. But the person doing the desiring shapes what is desirable to
them, and hence shapes what objects of clothing are desirable, and hence
also has power. Can't have one without the other, but this is more or
less mutual.

The same thing happens with particular sex acts. Giving pleasure is
quite powerful, as you control the situation, but being the object of
pleasure-giving is also powerful (but in a different way), since someone
is doing something for you. Again, you can't have one without the other.
Oddly, the mere position of power can itself be pleasurable, but on both
sides of this situation. I do not think this is in any way gender specific.

[I feel kind of icky, kind of Continental.]

All this has nothing to do with the kind of power Asp has in mind in her
post, i.e. Feminism as political power and dealing with political issues.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Feminism to Women IS NOT the same as Evangelicals are to Christians

Keep this disanalogy in mind folks. I bring this up for two reasons, first, a conversation I had with a young college student last night and, secondly, today's piece in the NYTimes on evangelical youth activities. Let me see if I can get you to follow my reasoning here.

While reading through today's Times piece on the growing fear among Evangelicals that they are losing their youth, I happened upon this passage.

Over and over in interviews, evangelical teenagers said they felt like a tiny, beleaguered minority in their schools and neighborhoods. They said they often felt alone in their struggles to live by their “Biblical values” by avoiding casual sex, risqué music and videos, Internet pornography, alcohol and drugs.

I'll save for some other time what is fundamentally flawed about this reasoning. What I want to focus on instead is what this characterization of their non-evangelical school mates says about what role evangelical Christianity plays in the moral development of teenagers. The idea here is that only by adopting the strict father moral code of evangelical Christianity can young people avoid the pitfalls and dangers of a sex-crazed life. The idea here is that being an evangelical is, in large part, about denouncing certain behaviors and activities. By joining an evangelical community, you join a community that prohibits certain activities and also keeps you committed to those prohibitions.

What is interesing about this sort of practice is that the emphasis on strict prohibition might deter many from joining such a faith community. Strict prohibition is usually synonymous with moralism. People don't like living up to a list of don'ts, and frankly, when that is one of the core impulses of a religious movement, it's not likely to appeal to a lot of people. I think we generally like to find communities that accept us, that listen to us, and that allow for some different views about what is healthy behavior and what isn't

Now, why am I tying this to feminism? Well, you see, last night I was talking to a young feminist from my campus who was reflecting on why so many young women do not want to call themselves feminists. One of her friends said, "I can't be a feminist because I really like to read Glamour or Cosmo." We (5 adult activist feminists) all sort of chuckled. None of us really cared a whole lot about whether or not a woman wants to read fashion magazines (and yes, I did say that in spite of my critical post on BUST magazine.) While I think these magazines are inane, I don't think this is sufficient to kick someone out of the feminist movement. Similarly, I don't think that a teenager who listens to non-Christian rock n' roll should or who doesn't endorse abstinence-only education should be considered a heretic or dangerous secularist.

If you are a woman who believes you have a right to be treated like a human being, with dignity, respect and worth, then you are a feminist. What you wear, what you read, what you eat, or who you fuck, don't matter a whole lot to me if you believe strongly in the above sentiment. Likewise, I don't think that a Christian--someone who is inspired by Jesus's example--needs to check out of the secular world and its delights to be truly faithful.

To see feminism as an evangelical movement is, plain and simple, a strawfeminist argument. And, what a pity. We have already seen how the rise of fundamentalism, particularly fundamentalist evangelical movements, has done to many peoples' views of Christianity in general. The religious right insights real hatred for Christians in general, when these folks do not represent, by any means, what Christianity is about.

Likewise, the false image that feminism is a insular community of women who prohibit the desires and delights of most women--whether it be fashion magazines, being a stay-at-home mom, or knitting--does untold damage to the value and worth of this movement.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Amish on Forgiveness

The tragedy in the Amish School house this week has been haunting most of us. A lot of other bloggers have written on this and I held back because I honestly couldn't find anything of value to say. The fact that these were young women, shot execution style, is deplorable. The fact that this was not the only school shooting this week, is equally troubling. But, we all know that, and we all try to grapple with this. I have been far more shielded from this tragedy than my colleagues with young children in school. Many local schools ran drills on Monday to beef up their security in the case of a wayward shooter. I cannot even imagine these sorts of drills; certainly, when I was in school we never had such procedures and policies in place.

Given the horrific nature of this shooting, I was grateful for Shaila Dewan's piece in the NYTimes today. The subtext of this article is forgiveness. Dewan begins with Leroy Zook, the father of one of the teachers in the schoolhouse, who shook the hand of the killer's father-in-law.

Still, it is not unusual for the Amish to reach out to those who hurt them. When an Amish dies in a car accident, for example, the motorist is often invited to the funeral. Mr. Zook said he had shaken hands with Mr. Roberts’s father-in-law, whom he encountered at the home of the Fisher family, who had three daughters in the school. One escaped, another was wounded and the third was killed. Mr. Zook said such encounters helped the survivors victims heal.

All too often we see victims of these tragedies seek retribution, seek revenge, and their anger and disgust grows so hot that they soon become what they hated. Certainly this is what is behind so much of the "war on terror," a war so badly fought that all it does it escalate hate and violence.

I am grateful to see a newspaper piece on the Amish schoolhouse tragedy that doesn't serve to berserk us toward revenge and retaliation. And, I am humbled by the faith and humanity of the Amish.

jesus camp on bill maher

Bill Maher discusses with his guests, including Christian Fundamentalist Fox News Correspondent Sandy Rios, the new documentary Jesus Camp.

The discussion that ensues is fascinating.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Maybe Satan's Values

How the Republican Party stays in power as the "party of values" is a 21st Century wonder. A party that advocates liberalized gun laws, even in the face of this weeks tragedy in Lancaster county (by the way, shame on you Rendell). A party of bigotry. And lest we forget, this is the party that went on a witch hunt with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, but it has its very own long, long list of sex scandals. Here we have a party of "personal responsibility" (aka it's all your own damn fault what happened), unless you were an alcoholic survivor of a pedofile priest, like Mark Foley. Of course, this is the party of Jesus, wherein the leaders, such as Tony Perkins, blames Foley's foibles on the godless Democrats and Liberals. This is the party that didn't see it fit to get to NOLA and rescue the thousands of poor, black people from the worst ravages of Hurricane Katrina (remember Hotel Rawanda?) This is the party that has sent thousands of our young soilders--men and women--to their death based on a lie. This is the party that legalized torture.

I could, of course, go on. But, I think you get the point.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

My Bust Never Got Me Power

Because I am too damn busy this semester (Calgon Take Me Away!), I missed this "intra-feminist debate" on BUST magazine. Happy Feminist has a good summary here. Twisty's original pieces are here and here.

I didn't think I would weigh in on this debate because (a) I don't read BUST magazine very often and (b) I am not sure I have anything like clarity on the subject. But that never stops me in any other situation, so I thought I would weigh in. First of all, Twisty's main contention is that BUST magazine is "fun-fake-feminism." Happy Feminist largely agrees with Twisty's assessment. Page Rockwell, from Salon's Broadsheet, argues that while many of Twisty's criticisms are on the mark, particularly the materialistic, femm-y aspects of BUST, there are still some merits to a magazine that is pro-woman and takes on serious political issues.

So, the last time I read BUST was when I was getting my haircut in D.C. I picked it up and never got past the first few pages that were discussing chicks getting into sewing and knitting. Well, I do both of those things and was grateful for information on books about these activities. I then put the magazine down and continued on with my haircut and a political conversation about France's relationship to the EU.

So, are magazines like BUST problematic, because they sell a sexy, hipster, girl-y feminism about vibrators, cool knitting, fashion trends and an occasional story on Plan B? Yes. The reason I agree with Twisty and Happy is because I see, everyday, how concretely this magazine affects the women I teach. They also read less pro-women magazines like Cosmo. But I am more dismayed by how BUST affects the cool, hip, alternative, pro-feminist women.

The recent trend on my campus has been for the hip feministas to host sex part-ays! They host them at the Women's Center and all sorts of folks show up to learn about sex toys. Now, for the sake of full disclosure, I have not been part of these parties. I don't know what company they went with. If I found out that the company the went with was Good Vibrations from SF, I would probably feel differently. But, my hunch is that they go with one of the companies that are becoming popular for sex toy parties (like Pampered Chef or Tupperwear parties). If you look at what these companies sell, it is basically Victoria Secret and all sorts of toys to make sex pleasurable for the submissive, heterosexual girl. I didn't see much of anything that was focused on helping young women feel more self-esteem, more empowered, or that gave them a sense that their sexuality was theirs.

What sparks these sex toy parties? Magazines like BUST. Now, before I get dumped on by sex positive feminists, I got no problem with a sex toy party in principle. I just get bummed out when I find out that they essentially play into the same old heteronormative stereotypes about sex. The goal is to make women more sexy for their men, and to make their men get their women to sex it up.

The other way in which I find myself frustrated with the affect BUST magazine has on my hip, cool, feminist students is its message that being sexy=being a feminist. While I don't see these things at odds, I don't think that making yourself available to men in a sort of soft porn kind of way is not empowerment. Let me clarify what I mean. A few years ago, I decided to deride the sorority women in my class for the content of their t-shirts. Everyone of their t-shirts talked about their sexuality in terms that I described above. One of them said: "How about this piece of Pi." Another said, "How far does your anchor go?" I could go on and on. Now, the only reason I gave these women a hard time is because they swore to me that sororities were about female empowerment. So, I asked them how making their pledges wear these t-shirts was about empowerment?

The answer I got was: because when you feel hot and embrace your hotness, you have power over men.

Of course, this is not true. Being hot and embracing your hotness never got women more political, economic or social power. It might have made their man pant after them. But, no one made a place for them in the halls of power because they embraced hotness. But, this message is what is sold in BUST magazine. While I appreciate that it has made my students more vocal and supportive about reproductive rights, I am not sure how much it has fired them up to take aim at Senators like Rick Santorum who chastise women for working but offers no plans for affordable day-care. It doesn't make my hip, cool, feminist women fight for fair wages for women.

The kind of power that being hot gives you is incredibly fleeting. When you start to droop and sag, it's gone. With your youth goes your power over a man. So, Twisty I'm with you. And, I do think that these sorts of magazines are, ultimately, insidious to women's issues.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Dreams of Trespass

I had not planned on making it a habit to report my dreams. But for months now I have dreams of travelling out of the country. I am ready to spend a year abroad, or visit a foreign land for a few weeks. I am packed, have made contact with hosts, and get myself to the airport. Once I am at the airport, I realize that my passport has expired and I won't be able to leave the country.
A week ago, I was dreaming of going to Thailand. Last night I was all set to spend a year in Paris. The location changes, but the issue of an expired passport remains a constant.

Now it is true that my passport has been expired since 200o. It is also true that I haven't left the country since my passport expired. And, lastly, it is true that I have been envying my students who go abroad to foreign lands each year. So, I can chalk up my dreams to this waking life reality. Perhaps the message is: renew your passport.

But, I can't help but feel there is something else at work in these dreams. Without a passport, I cannot leave unless I trespass borders. Dreaming of trespass is, alternatively, dreaming of being confined within borders. Am I too young to be having a mid-life crisis?

Faculty Hypocrisy?

Ann Bartow alerted me to her reflections on Daniel Golden's book The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys its Way into Elite Colleges--and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates. (related article at WSJ here).

In particular, Ann points out that not all faculty of colleges and universities have excellent benefits in relation to their children. I think that is an important point to bring up. Benefit packages for faculty vary dramatically and whether or not your children get a free ride to college is wholly dependent on how competitive those benefits are. If I were to have children, they could attend my college for free. But, if they wanted to go elsewhere, I would get a percentage of their tuition paid for by the college, but that is it. This is not an insignificant benefit, btw. Going to my college is expensive. But, it does mean that I will have limited options for where I can send my children if they are unable to score well and receive scholarships.

Nonetheless, I take it that Golden focuses primarily on the Ivies, in the same way that Linda Hirshman focuses on "elite women" from the Ivies. These elite colleges and their graduates are suppose to represent our best and brightest and so what they do with their education sends a signal.

The question of faculty hypocrisy, however, is fascinating. Are faculty at elite schools, who may in fact be pushing students to think critically about systems of domination and class ideologies in the U.S., benefitting from this same privilege? If my child is capable of getting into the elite school where I teach, and get a free education, am I am hypocrit?

I have to say I have never thought about this question much (largely because I am childless), but Za has children and they will hopefully get the benefit of a free or reduced education because he is faculty at a college or university. As I think about this question now, I am perplexed. Neither Za or I have much wealth. We do well on income, if you are looking at census data--that is, we are above the median. However, we have few assets and whatever assets we have do not get us out of our massive student loan debt. Both of us, however, are solidly upper middle class--if you think of class more as a culture than as money.

However, because we chose Academia, we are unlikely to accumulate much wealth over our lifetimes, particularly because of debt and children. So, given this reality, is it hypocrisy to take advantage of benefit packages that allow us to get our children free or reduced education? What is the nature of this hypocrisy? That we are teaching one thing--i.e. institutions should strive to be based on meritocracy and not perpetuate inequalities--and then reaping the benefits of our elite status to ensure that our children never have to struggle to earn their place? What do you think?