Fashion and Feminism seems like such a fraught topic, but I can't resist. The inspiration for this post is not so much my penchant for fashion, but the sheer delight I take in dressing up my little girl. You see, I love putting her in pink, girlie clothes. And, it really catches my friends and family off guard. Just yesterday my mom worried that I wouldn't like the pink hoodie she was going to buy Maddie, "would you like a blue one instead?" "No," I said. "I love pink." And, I do.
Many years ago, my friend Ann wrote a paper on beauty for an Aesthetics class we were in. I think she tried to send a version of it to Hypatia, but I don't know if it made it in. The basis for the paper was the rituals that her many sisters and mother performed to prepare for a wedding. It ranged from discussion of shaving, of when pearls are appropriate, make-up and hair. Each of Ann's sisters differed in their love of fashion, dress up, and make-up. Her mother was a rock, famously saying "Pearls are always appropriate." Ann's thesis was that these rituals were not frivolous, but really artistic processes.
I am not sure if she waded into the inevitably thorny issue of whether or not fashion and other beauty technologies are inherently patriarchal. This is a pretty pervasive theme. One of the most devastating essays on this is by Sandra Lee Bartky, "Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power," in Feminism and Foucault: Reflections of Resistance. Ed. Lee Quinby and Irene Diamond. (Boston: Northeastern U P, 1988) Susan Bordo's work is also quite thought provoking, but she seems to have more of a love affair with femininity than Bartky does.
You see, the mantra "the personal is political" opened up a minefield for feminists to gingerly tiptoe through with their daily decisions on how to comport themselves. If the oppressor resides in the most minute and seemingly harmless everyday decisions, then an intense, vigilant practice of self-presentation, thought, and habits is inevitable. It is no surprise that many of feminists, my generation or younger, find it near impossible to live this way. In recent years a revival of knitting and sewing--by self-proclaimed feminists--have returned many women--of all stripes and political affiliations--to go back to women's work. The proliferation of DYI shows dealing with fashion, design, and home renovation has sought to wed the love of beauty, decoration and fashion with feminist messages of empowerment.
Such a landscape is likely to produce guilt or confusion in feminists who decidedly want to reject the kind of femininity that says "I need the total guidance of a man to make it in the world," but still want to look pretty. I am one of those feminists. I have made my peace with this for the most part. I am not sure that I have worked it out theoretically. I cannot give a defense of my love of fashion. I think most arguments that I put forward could be quite easily be demolished by someone like Bartky or Bordo.
No matter what women decide to do in relation to fashion and beauty, they are embroiled in it. If they go crunchy like the many women in Maui I saw, it is still a statement. If they wear only natural, breathable fabrics that float, they are making a statement. If they choose the lumberjack look, they are making a statement. No matter how you dress, you are making a statement. You are announcing to the world a great deal of your personality, your likes/dislikes, your preoccupations, your investment in your self, etc. I am just not sure that there is a politically correct way to make that statement. Now, having said that, please, oh please, don't lump me with "choice feminism," whatever that is.
At bottom, "I love being a girl." I love dressing up my little girl, even in pink.
So, you tell me, is fashion to feminism an anathema?
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
When I first heard that sum, it occurred to me that love was not a high priority for these folks. My second thought was why would you put a sum on one of the best things that is free? My third thought is, what sort of romantic notion of love is operating here? After all, love means hanging in there with someone despite disappointments, stress, strain, illness, boredom, irritation, ad nauseum.
Now, this whole conversation started because we were discussing another friend of my Dad's who gets married quite regularly, signs pre-nups for about $200,000 and then divorces. I couldn't get my head around the idea that these women were willing to marry someone, who is a bit of a horn dog and not so loveable, in order to get that money. My Dad said (as he has my whole life): "everyone has a price." I responded, "well, then my price is much, much higher." At which point all the men at the table started to quote me a number to determine my price.
So, there are two odd things here: (1) Does everyone have a price? and (2) How much would you pay for love? To the first question, I have to say that I think that it is probably true that everyone has a price. But, I would love to be persuaded elsewise.
The second question fascinate me more when I start to think about whether or not I would pay to have my daughter's love. And, knowing what I know now, my answer is yes. But, the key is, knowing what I know now.
What do you all think?
Friday, December 07, 2007
I am still here. I haven't forgotten about all of you. You see, I have been in a bit of tough spot. You won't really believe me when I say that this tough spot is Maui. Maddie and I are visiting my Dad in Maui and on the second day of my visit, we are inundated with a huge rain storm. The power goes out in my Dad's place and then, after two hours, it is restored. Phew.
I go to sleep that night and wake around 1 am to feed Maddie when I hear again the howling wind, the rain pouring over my head, what sounds like trees smashing into the headboard above my bed. I try to flip the light switch, but the power is out. I try to go back to sleep, but it's hard with all of this noise. I wake up the next morning to discover the power is still out, it is still raining, and tree limbs are broken all over my Dad's property. We can't access any news since the power is out and we are not really prepared for this kind of storm. So, we head down to Kahului to get some baby formula and diapers. This is when I realize how bad this storm is. The road that leads from my Dad's street to the Kula Highway is suddenly a maze of torrential rivers, carrying tree limbs, mud, mud, and mud, and lots of water. We stop to admire the new waterfall that is carving a new river dangerously close to a house. Then, we head down to Kahului. It will be two days before we get back to Kula.
We ended up in Wailea for the night. My Dad has a friend who owns a condo there and we are saved. No hotels have any rooms left and we cannot get back home. Every time we make our way up the Kula Highway, we are stopped and told it will be another 30-45 minutes until they can clear the road. They say this about every hour. After my Dad gets us safely into the condo in Wailea, he decides to try one more time to get home. But, around 2:00 am he is back in Wailea.
The next morning we wake up happy because the power is back on. We make some coffee and try to get the cable to work to find out what is going on. The cable hasn't been restored. So, we just sip our coffee and watch the rain coming down when the power goes out again. We decide to head back up to Kula, but the highway leaving Wailea and Kihei is backed up with tons of people trying to get somewhere with power and food. It takes us several hours to get to Kahului and then we decide to go to Paia for a late lunch. We finally make it back to Kula around 5 pm and quickly get batteries into the lanterns we have just bought. We light candles, eat popcorn, and finally go to bed. When we wake up this morning, we discover that the power has still not returned so my Dad's wife decides we have to get out of Kula and so we pack to go to Wailea for the weekend. (This is actually pretty cool since we will be right near the resorts and great beach for a few days.)
On the way down the road leading from my Dad's house to the Kula Highway, we get a first hand look of the damage of this storm. You can see pictures and read about it in this article from the Maui News.
I bought Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray and Love before we were exiled from our home. I have been devouring it ever since the power went out. I strain to read it by candlelight or lantern, when my Dad isn't using it. And, the story that Gilbert tells of seeking a way to slow time and to be present resonates all the more in this stripped down, unplugged-from-the-grid existence that I am sharing with my Dad, his wife, and Maddie. Maddie doesn't care that she can't check her email, take a shower, or turn on the TV. She is just happy to be playing with her Grandpa. We are all together and really talking around candle light. I start to wish that I cultivated this kind of existence more.
The power outage has allowed me to slow down, to find some quiet, to really think about what matters. This storm has reminded me that nature always wins over man's quest to tame her. She can shut down all of our devices that keep us busy and deceive us into thinking we are in control of our lives. We aren't really. But this truth is only bitter for those who actually believe we can control anything outside of our own beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts. This is exactly the kind of truth that Gilbert goes seeking for in her memoir. However, while she has set out to find bliss, happiness, and divine love, I just wanted to hang out in Maui for a week. I had no grander quest in mind than a little sunshine and sea before returning to the snow. But, what I have stumbled upon is an invitation to reassess what I really need to be happy. Do I need to be in a well lit home, with my internet, cell phone juiced up, and TV on to feel good. Gilbert makes a distinction between being entertained and relaxing. The former is what I seek most of the time after a grueling day. But, what I have found during this bizarre Maui visit is true relaxation. It is just too bad that a few houses, cars, and trees had to be smashed up to give me this gift.
Posted by Aspazia at Friday, December 07, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Back in the Fall of 2003, I was at a conference in NYC and arranged to meet up with a good friend from college, who was a NYTimes journalist. Over fancy cocktails in a Sex in the City like enclave in the West Village, I told her what really bugged me about the Bush Administration's appropriation of feminist rhetoric to justify their invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. All of a sudden, US foreign policy cared about how women were treated under radical factions of Islam like the Taliban. (Never mind that the US was all too happy to support warlords and the Taliban to drive out the Russians in Afghanistan). My friend told me I should write something about this. I was flattered, but demurred, figuring that what I was saying was obvious.
I was reminded of this episode today as I read over an article from FOX News sent to me for comment. The article is about a British teacher who incited the wrath of Sudanese Muslim Clerics for allowing a young boy to call his teddy bear Mohammad. The point of view of the article is outrage for the backward way in which Muslim clerics treat this innocent teacher and exasperation in general for how Islam treats women. Then, toward the end of the story, the following line of analysis shows up:
In the U.S., a spokeswoman for the National Organization for Women said the situation is definitely on the radar, and N.O.W. is not ignoring it.
But she added that the U.S.-based organization is not putting out a statement or taking a position.
Radio personality Tammy Bruce, former president of the Los Angles chapter of the National Organization for Women and past member of their board of directors, criticized the organization for not taking a stand.
“We have a duty to make a difference for women around the world,” Bruce told FOX News. “The supposed feminist establishment is refusing to take a position in this regard because they have no sensibility of what is right anymore. They're afraid of offending people. They are bound by political correctness.”
“The American feminist movement has not taken one stand to support the women of Iraq, the women of Afghanistan, the women of Iran,” she said. “It is the United States Marines who have been doing the feminist work by liberating women and children around the world.”
So this comes at the end of a news article and turns it into a denouncement of U.S. Feminism. How does that happen? Enter Tammy Bruce, the Fox News correspondent, who pretends to be a progressive feminist who hates NOW. Who is Tammy Bruce? A good place to start is to read this account of her at the Daily Howler. Essentially she is a shock jock, with Don Imusesque racist tendencies, who has been propped up by Fox News as a token progressive in the pathetic effort to appear "fair and balanced."
Of course, as the basis of my idea for an article that I never wrote, I was going to demonstrate how the U.S. feminist movement and organizations like Feminist Majority and magazines such as Ms. Magazine had been decrying the treatment of women under horrific regimes such as the Taliban for a decade before "W" decided to bomb them. Did anyone listen? Did US foreign policy give a fig about the dire situation of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban or other Warlords who we supported in our fight against Russia?
What has been the main US foreign policy contribution to aiding women's plight by the Right Wing? The global gag rule. That is right. Women find themselves beaten, raped, kidnapped, tortured and sequestered by ruthless regimes and we tell prevent NGOs from mentioning abortion as an option for a woman who was brutally raped.
It pains me to know how many well-meaning folks get their propaganda from Fox News. I so rarely read or listen to Fox that I lose sight of how insidious their influence is. History, facts, real balance and journalistic ethics are abandoned by these folks in order to spin a particular world view that denounces all they disagree with.
If you are a Fox News reader/listener and find yourself here, then do yourself a favor and spend a few minutes studying what U.S. Feminist organizations have been doing for women around the globe for decades.
Posted by Aspazia at Thursday, November 29, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
SteveG tackled a rather interesting issue yesterday concerning the unconscious sexism wielded by our students when they refer to female professors as Mrs., Ms. or Miss. I am calling this behavior "unconscious sexism" for a specific reason. It has always been my belief that students do this because from an early age they have had female teachers, starting with pre-Kindergarten. By the time they arrive at college they most likely have had far more female teachers than male teachers and the etiquette of elementary, middle and high school dictates that they call these teachers by Miss or Mrs. There is another component involved in why it is more "natural" for students to call female profs by these titles: the cultural image of a college professor is still stereotypically male (as SteveG described himself). So the unconscious sexism stems from the lingering effects of overt sexism that segregated the education field.
The far more interesting question is whether female professors should insist that students refer to them as Dr. Like SteveG I have always found this etiquette to be outmoded , if not silly. Our department culture is casual on purpose: it is more successful for educating. Steve is right to point out that we have moved beyond pedagogical models that erect Herr Doktor Professor above the class and force the underlings to bow to his authority. This model is horrible for good teaching outcomes, except in cases where the student doesn't really need a teacher because he or she is quite bright and self-sufficient.
I always aim to create a community in my classroom. I want students to know each others' name, feel safe and comfortable about asking me a question (so many are too intimidated to ask questions for fear of looking stupid). I also want my students--particularly my female students--to be able to imagine themselves in my role. Perhaps more of them will attempt a PhD if they can relate to me personally . I also agree with Steve that you shouldn't earn students' respect simply because you got a PhD; that accomplishment says nothing about whether or not you are a good teacher. So I do not insist or care if they call me Dr. Aspazia.
Having said that, I do agree that SteveG often gets more instant respect from students. Probably what is more important, however, is that students do not challenge SteveG's policies, arguments, and assignments as much as they do female professors. I am sure he gets this stuff, but not in the same numbers that female professors do. What is at the base of well-meaning advice from the more seasoned female faculty suggestion to insist on the title Dr. is a clear reminder to students who is the expert in the room and who has the skill to design the course and assignments.
I especially wonder about this advice coming from academic feminists, one of the central concerns of the field being the corrupting epistemological influence of uneven power structures. I fully get the irony that just when these women reach positions of power and prestige, we want to eliminate power and prestige; but the further irony is that their works document the harm from alienation based on power and prestige of being in a socially elite group which surely includes holders of a Ph.D., if it includes anyone. I'm not arguing that any professor doesn't deserve respect for their work and accomplishments, but to flaunt the title as a marker of superiority strikes me as unhelpful in getting students, who are just people (well, some of them anyway) like us to a place where it is most likely that they will see the world in new, wondrous, and disturbing ways. It seems to be emblematic of the old order where professors professed from behind a lectern, pouring their wisdom into the minds of those hearing their lectures -- a model of learning none of us thinks works very well.
The only--ever so slight--disagreement that I have with his assessment here is that what feminists are after is the right to be included in the socially elite group of PhDs. As I said above, I think they are looking for ways to remind students that these women are competent and knowledgeable.
I have chosen to ignore this well-meaning advice because I don't think that insisting on the title is the best way to clue students into my qualifications for being their professor. I have found that students are far more likely to give you respect if you actually show that you care about them. This means you are careful to explain well the point of assignments, the goal of the course, and offer help if they seem to be struggling. You also try to understand a little bit about their situation (I mean this is in the good old Existentialist way); you see these students as embedded in a world. Our students have all sorts of fears and obstacles about learning hard material. They also have real constraints on their time as well as resources. Acknowledging these realities while still being really clear about your expectations, your policies, and your goals is--to my mind--the best way to earn respect.
What is sad, but true, is that very few of our students care if we have published in the last year, or if we have been invited as a plenary speaker at a conference. They do often get wide-eyed if they find out we have written a book, but that stems more from the fact that they cannot imagine writing something that long, let alone getting published. They respect the hardwork, not so much the fame. I think if we landed on Oprah, Survivors, or Jeopardy, they might respect us more.
The old ways of earning respect just don't, in my view, apply. We are teaching a new generation of students and we have to adapt in ways that will really show them that we deserve their respect.
I should add that my post in no way should be construed as being "soft" or "squishy" when it comes to students. I am sure that my students who read this blog can attest to that. I think it is important to be consistent, clear, and firm. But, those qualities alone are not what makes students respect you.
Posted by Aspazia at Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
Za called me up a few days ago with a rather interesting ethical dilemma I thought I would share (I especially want to hear from Dean Dad and Lesboprof on this one). The situation is this: he teaches at a very small Catholic women's college that extends partial scholarships to some of the poorest women from a very urban area (hence, the majority of these women are African-American). The scholarship gives these women just enough money to interest them to attend this college, but not enough to fully cover tuition. Hence, most of these women have to work one or two jobs on top of attending classes to cover all of their expenses.
Za learned about this situation while having a conversation with some of colleagues about why some of his students are doing so poorly. He gave them two chances to take an examination that really required putting in the hours to memorize bones. The only way to do well on this exam, unless you have an amazing memory is to sit there and work with flash cards or whatever mnemonic device to know your bones. After two exams, a great portion of the African American students failed. He was surprised since many of them seem engaged in class, hard working . . . rather than accept the racist explanation that these women were not intelligent enough, or the default explanation that they did not have study skills, he sought out the real explanation. All of these students have to work so many hours that they literally do not have enough time to be good, or even average, students.
Za really sees this as an ethical dilemma for the college (one for the nation as well!). One could argue that the ethical good here is getting these women a college degree, regardless of their G.P.A. or level of mastery of the material (hat tip to SteveG on this). On the other hand, the college is admitting students that they know full well will be unable to really excel or just do average work because they will have to work so many hours to pay for their education. So, they are paying thousands of dollars to the institution and barely passing their classes. I should add that the college is wholly committed to its mission to educate women from impoverished backgrounds and stresses diversity. 45% of their student population is diverse (a statistic that my LAC wishes it could accomplish).
Given that this (and many) institutions simply do not have enough money to give these women full rides, they stick to their mission by giving these partial scholarships that force them to work. Is this really living the commitment to their mission?
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I don't like to "emote." I probably wouldn't have chosen to use the word "emote"; I would've said that I don't like to throw tantrums, bully people into agreeing with me, employ guilt, or blow off steam when I am frustrated. But, let's stick with "emote," since its the word that my mom and I agreed on. We had a conversation about how much my family likes to "emote," except for me. Another "psychobabble" way to talk about it is my family likes to "externalize" emotions, while I prefer to "internalize" them. The difference is they express anger and frustration quite well; I just get sad and depressed.
Anyway, what interested me in this psychological evaluation of how I differ from my family was how it related to my decision to study philosophy. I remember when I first read Plato--it was the Meno. I was taking a course on Metaphysics while studying in Rome and rather than cut class to head up to Amsterdam or Berlin (to chip away at the wall, which had just come down), I wanted to read Plato. I found myself totally in love with Socrates. I especially liked how he put the stubborn, arrogant Meno in his place. He had a way of sticking to reason, consistency, and logic that I found to be safe.
I was telling my mom the other day that the reason I studied Philosophy was because I found the way of argument to be a refuge from the way things got hashed out in my family. I never could "win" an argument in my family because to do so, you had to either out "emote" everyone else, or know how to hit below the belt.
My mom was intrigued by this revelation. She pointed out that she used to worry about my "emotional" development when I was a teenager and younger. I was enthralled with science and math, which she found to be unusual in a young girl. I think I just enjoyed that these subjects had nothing to do with being able to shout down your opponent. I guess my move from science and math to Philosophy was "fated in the stars." Philosophy gave me the ability to argue about things that mattered to me--emotional things--in a way that required careful deliberation, soul searching, evidence, and moral courage. Sure, plenty of students of philosophy still "emote"; we are human after all. But, at base, there are rules and principles for fair discussion.
What I admire about my family and their ability to "emote," however is that they all seemed rather anchored to the world. They feel passionately about their worldview and will defend it with abandon. I think it is important for us to begin from somewhere. We need some fixed point of reference from which to begin to make sense of the world. I am not saying that I don't have such a standpoint. I fear, however, that mine is constantly under revision based on new evidence, better arguments . . .
What I don't like about those who feel so free to "emote" is how out of control they can get. I found myself victimized by the rants and tantrums of my family when I was younger. I don't think they were always setting out to terrorize me. They just felt less inhibited to express anger, frustration, or passion. The effect, however, was that I felt it was my duty to calm the situation; to stay cool headed--to help soothe them all to a calmer state of mind. But being the self-appointed peace keeper takes its toll. My heart always races when people start to get wildly emotional. Moreover, I have always been terrified of mentally ill people out in the world, fearing they would explode their rage upon me and I would be trapped by them, heart racing and panic attacks setting in (this, by the way, is partially why I am so interested in the Philosophy of Psychiatry).
The bottom line is that I escaped to philosophy because I wanted to find spaces where rules counted and one couldn't win just by shouting down the rest. Philosophy became my refuge from those who like to "emote."
Sunday, November 11, 2007
. . . at least that is my new ranking according to The Truth Laid Bear. How did I fall so low you might wonder? Well, its pretty plain to me. If you don't generate content, you lose traffic. I am not surprised at this plummet in the ecosystem, but it has given me occasion to consider how concretely motherhood has affected my ability to write, think, and generate ideas.
Studies on how motherhood affects the lives of academic women have become routine, most often focusing on women in the sciences (thanks to Larry Summers). The recent issue of the APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy focuses specifically on how to balance--or just survive--as a philosopher and a mother or a commuting spouse. (I recommend reading these pieces; they are fascinating and very well written).
I realize that blogging is not the same as academic research. But, for me the regularity with which I can blog is correlated with how much I am thinking, reading, and writing research oriented projects. So, becoming an insignificant microbe is a telling indication of how far I am from the kind of productivity that I have enjoyed for a decade. I am grateful that I am already tenured; I really cannot imagine how mothers without tenure survived, unless they had lots of lots of resources that enabled them to get round-the-clock child care.
I am definitely starting to feel a great deal of anxiety as January approaches and I am heading back to work. I have not yet figured out the day care situation and if I cannot do so, I will be really struggling to get my classes prepared and grade papers and whatnot. I am starting to fantasize about just bringing my baby girl with me everywhere rather than drop her off at some group care facility. I wonder if my students would be as distracted by her as they are by my colleagues' beagle? The thought is partly motivated by a wish to really challenge the system. Why not let women bring their children to work? After all, every time I eat lunch at the local tacqueria, the woman running the cash register has her little daughter with her, who loves to come and play with Maddie.
In any case, I am going to have to re-enter the academic workforce while still tending to a tiny infant that needs me. And, I am freaking out. It is not so much that I am so infected by mommy mush brain that I don't have things to say, but rather I don't have time to write them down. An hour or two to myself is such a luxury that I really have to prioritize what I want to get done in that hour and intellectual work hardly makes it to the top of the list.
Ok, I am going to play with my daughter. I hardly think this post is going to return me to the popularity I once enjoyed.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
A recent email exchange with Hanno got me thinking more about self-deception. In particular I was thinking about how we tend to construct the narrative of our lives very differently at different stages in our history. What I mean by this becomes clear, I hope, when you think of how you tend to reevaluate your own life history in the face of someone that you despise. Let's say you despise someone--if you are being really honest--not because they are evil, bad, hurtful, or any other good reason, but because they have hurt you/you are jealous/or you feel rejected. I think these latter psychological processes are more interesting in relation to self-conceptions and self-deceptions (again, something Nietzsche was quite brilliant on in The Genealogy of Morals).
Back to my hypothesis. So you despise someone because they are a threat to you and the first thing it seems you do is redo your self-conception in a way that maximally highlights the ways in which you are different from the despised one. An example might make this clearer. Let's say that I despise Jane because she has successfully won the affections of a man who I have been pining over for months. I have never confessed my feelings to--let's call him--Dick. I was passive, waited for Dick to notice me, etc. But, Jane seduced Dick. I am hurt that Dick has chosen Jane rather than me and I grow to despise Jane.
Perhaps one of the first things I do is represent Jane as a big ole' Ho. She has no decorum, is unladylike, and requires male affection and attention to feel better about herself. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that there is some truth to this view of Jane. However, a more compassionate person might find a way to relate to Jane's behavior and acknowledge her own weaknesses. But, a person hurt by Jane can only see these traits in the most negative light and then quickly work to build a self-conception that sees herself as the antithesis of Jane. I either omit, delete, or forget the parts of me that are like her and/or I trump up the moments in my life where I behaved better than Jane.
The reason I have been mulling over this is because Hanno suggested to me that perhaps our entire self-conception is nothing but fiction (or lies). We reinvent ourselves all the time given new events, challenges, or losses. My sense was if this is true, then we are likely to find relationships to others almost impossible and a downright miracle when they succeed. The capacity for truth-telling that is required, in my view, to foster needed compassion to approach people without fear and loathing is either non-existent (which I think is Hanno's view) or only certain angels can have this kind of moral courage and intellectual honesty.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Not too long I wrote an article for a newsletter aimed at psychiatrists interested in a dialogue with philosophers. In this article I acknowledged that those of us trained as philosophers might seem rather cold and heartless to clinical psychiatrists when we start to talk about case studies. We often think in hypotheticals or we talk about mental diagnoses or illnesses in rather abstract terms and belie our lack of day to day interaction with those suffering from crippling illnesses.
I am not sure I want to justify what we do, but what I did say was that we aren't the only ones doing this. In fact, these days psychiatry has plenty of critics--perhaps those critics should take aim at the pharmaceutical industry. One of the regular features of the new criticism of psychiatry is the claim that mental illnesses diagnoses are fuzzy, are too inclusive of normal people, and that the DSM is an unfortunate compendium of mental illness diagnoses that the pharmaceutical companies exploit to sell new illnesses such as social anxiety disorder. I pointed this out to my colleagues in psychiatry in order to point to how philosophers might be helpful to psychiatrists these days when so many critics--ranging from scientologists to well-respected psychopharmacologists--are trying to delegitimize--once again--the profession of psychiatry. Philosophers might be able to clarify what it means to define a disorder, how classification works, why the DSM is not as evil as the critics want us to believe it is, and more importantly, how clinical psychiatrists differ from Big Pharma marketers.
Many of the psychiatrists responding to my article tended to dismiss my concerns as overblown or of little value to their "real" work. Perhaps they are right. But, when I found this article today over at the Wall Street Journal, I couldn't help but think that I was right. Unless someone steps in to explain why mental illness classification is not simply driven by Big Pharma, is not wholly arbitrary, or is not pseudo-scientific, we are likely to see many regular Americans totally turned off to the profession (even though they happily demand the drugs they see in TV ads).
Consider this book excerpt from Christopher Lane, an English Professor and author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness.
Not all of what Lane says is wrong. But what is unfortunate is how easily these criticisms of mental illness diagnosis, mental illness classification, and Big Pharma venality tend to get conflated with what clinical psychiatrists do. No matter how hard psychiatry tries to make itself legitimate--such as jettisoning Freudian psychoanalysis and embracing neuroscience--critics always turn up to depict the psychiatrist as one who finds abnormality everywhere. Meanwhile clinicians are seeing people who are really suffering from disorders that they scramble to label, such as social anxiety disorder. These folks didn't just go knocking on doors to tell shy people they were abnormal. Rather, they spent hours with patients who were miserable, suffering, and found their life crippled. This story gets left out of the critics' sweeping condemnations.
One reason for the skyrocketing diagnoses is that doctors and psychiatrists require a very low burden of proof. They say social anxiety runs the gamut from stage fright to paralyzing fears of criticism and embarrassment. (The most common nightmare scenarios are eating alone in restaurants, with fear of hand-trembling a close second, and avoidance of public restrooms third.) Some doctors also include, as symptoms of the disorder, fears of sounding foolish and of being stumped when asked questions in social settings—fears that doubtless afflict almost everyone on the planet. Considering these elastic guidelines, we can grasp quite easily why the "illness" is so widely diagnosed, but it's harder to say why so many take the diagnosis seriously, much less accept its judgment of mental debility. The transformation of shyness into a disease occurred behind the closed doors of carefully vetted committee meetings. Over the course of six years, a small group of self-selecting American psychiatrists built a sweeping new consensus: shyness and a host of comparable traits were anxiety and personality disorders. And they stemmed not from psychological conflicts or social tensions, but rather from a chemical imbalance or faulty neurotransmitters in the brain.
Beginning in 1980, with much fanfare and confidence in its revised diagnoses, the American Psychiatric Association added "social phobia," "avoidant personality disorder," and several similar conditions to the third edition of its massively expanded Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In this five-hundred-page volume, the bible of psychiatrists the world over, the introverted individual morphed into the mildly psychotic person whose symptoms included being aloof, being dull, and simply "being alone."
The fact that psychiatrists often playfully call this reference manual their bible doesn't offset the reality that they follow its pronouncements chapter and verse. The influence of the DSM also extends far beyond psychiatry, to a vast network of healthcare agencies, social services, medical insurers, courts, prisons, and universities. It took the psychiatrists in question just a few years to update their manual and turn routine emotions into medical conditions, but their discussions—detailed here for the first time—rarely dwelled on the lasting consequences of their momentous decisions. Those expecting deep ruminations on what it means to call half the country mentally ill (the chief conclusion of the latest national survey), may be surprised to learn that the psychiatrists' fundamental concerns included how best to keep the Freudians out of the room, how to reward the work of allies, and who should get credit for plucking a term out of a dictionary. Tackling a vast array of human experience, the DSM drains it of complexity and boils it down to blunt assertions that daily determine the fate of millions of lives, in this country as in many others.
The fourth edition appeared in 1994 with four hundred more pages and dozens of new disorders. It sold over a million copies, in part because insurance companies require a DSM diagnosis before they will authorize reimbursement, while defense attorneys cite it as gospel when trying to explain or mitigate the charges against their clients. Until the 1990s, moreover, the DSM competed with a rival diagnostic system: the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), published by the World Health Organization in Geneva, is more favorably disposed to psychoanalysis and less reliant on ambiguous narrative. Since the publication of DSM-IV, however, the European system has lost some of its cachet. The DSM has by contrast assumed global authority, an outcome greatly increasing the importance of its once-local arguments about social anxiety and related disorders. Indeed, with managed care and the pharmaceutical industry, this reference manual has begun to transform how the world thinks about mental health. As one psychoanalyst recently lamented to me, "We used to have a word for sufferers of adhd. We called them boys."
I am somewhat sympathetic to Lane's project, and would like to read the rest of his book. However, when I talk critically about contemporary psychopharmacological usage, I see it as a new moral dilemma over the permissibility of enhancement. If shy people want to take Paxil, should they be denied it? I worry less that the psychiatrists are pushing this on patients. I would worry far more about the drug company marketers.
What do you think?
Saturday, October 27, 2007
My husband never gets sick. He goes years without seeing a doctor, taking a day to rest from a cold, or even take an aspirin. When he returned from his annual exam with a new physician, he delighted in rubbing it in that his doctor was hard pressed to find anything wrong with him. (I am the opposite; I get sick a lot.) When Za does get sick, boy, does he just hit it out of the park.
I awoke at 1:30 am last night to find Za collapsed (yet conscious) on the bathroom floor throwing up every few minutes. It appeared to me that he was suffering from food poisoning. I asked him if he needed to get to the hospital and, to my surprise, he asked, very calmly, if I would call an ambulance since he could not walk. He was very dehydrated and shivering. He had come downstairs to find more blankets and could not move beyond the bucket (which I leave in the bathroom to soak Maddie's clothes), which he clung to for fear another wave of nausea would hit. I had never seen Za this utterly helpless.
I had never called an ambulance before so he had to walk me through it. [I have to say that I was blown away by how utterly calm he was while suffering from this much pain.] The medics got him onto a stretcher and put him in the back of the ambulance. I got Maddie bundled, in her car seat, grabbed some clothes, Za's wallet and followed them to the hospital. While they got him onto a bed, I registered him.
When I walked back to the ER and saw Za lying on a gurney, with warmed blankets barely covering his naked body and groaning in pain. Maddie was just staring at him with perplex. Za intuitively knew that she was upset and whispered to me, with whatever strength he had, to pick up the baby and hold her because she knows something is wrong. Za asked for more blankets since he was shivering and some water. The nurse complied with the first request, but told him he could not have any water since he was nauseous. He did give me a swab and I kept moistening his lips, tongue and cheeks. Eventually they got an IV in him and gave him some anti-nausea medicine.
While they were putting the IV in him, he grabbed my hand and said, "I really don't like being in this hospital." He was as vulnerable as I have ever seen him. He couldn't speak enough to get what he needed. He couldn't keep himself warm. And, he couldn't relax for fear another wave of nausea would hit him.
Seeing Za this way, it finally hit me why most men do whatever they can to avoid seeking any medical help. Being that physically vulnerable is at complete odds with what masculinity demands from men. So, it takes being that ill for Za to finally break down and get himself to the hospital. (I realize now that he probably gets sick more than he admits, but works through it rather than submit himself to medical care.)
It was not 4 months ago that I lay in the same hospital, recovering from my C-section. I too was as vulnerable and pained as he was last night, but for me being in a hospital, surrounded by nurses and family was comforting. Being that vulnerable actually gave me a break from my life, where I have to take care of others and rarely get to be the one who needs tending.
Seeking medical help simply does not threaten my identity in any way. We hear daily the statistics that report how men have higher suicide rates or higher heart attack rates. Both of these, the experts say, follow from men's failure to seek medical attention way before a problem presents itself so that it does not develop into something life threatening. I have heard this stuff and studied this stuff for years. But it took me seeing Za that helpless to really get it emotionally.
Part of the reason I think I got it--if I am honest with myself--is because it was scary for me to see him that vulnerable. I felt uncomfortable by the prospect that he couldn't stand up, walk to the car, or help himself in any way. I too have internalized what men are supposed to be like and when they deviate from this, I get a bit frightened.
I was listening today to a podcast of Fresh Air, where Terry Gross discussed Shalom Auslander's Foreskin Lament: A Memoir, wherein he recounts his attempt to will away the frightening God that he grew up with in his Orthodox home. What hit me, listening to him explain the difference between being religious and being observant, was how similar the effects of a powerful religious upbringing are to gender roles. No matter how much Auslander has renounced theology and the practices of his orthodox upbringing, emotionally he cannot cast out this God from his childhood. He claims to be crippled by his belief in God. Auslander shared with Terry a eerie Jesuit saying: "give me the boy for 7 years and you will see the man." The intensity with which we train children in religion, or gender roles, is such that no matter how much intellectual work we do--for the rest of our lives--we are crippled by these beliefs that have been emotionally, not intellectually, implanted in us.
So, we face a crisis that men generally do not seek help from medical professionals in this country. We throw all sorts of information at men in public service announcements. But, at the end of the day, getting men to put themselves in a position of helplessness is not something to be achieved by intellectual means.
P.S. Za is fine and resting.
Posted by Aspazia at Saturday, October 27, 2007
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Oh Hallelujah, how I enjoyed this little piece on co-sleeping with your baby from Tuesday's Science Times section. I admit that before having Maddie I was suspicious of co-sleeping, but that is because I am far too conventional. I haven't embraced a lot of the parenting techniques that have become vogue, inspired by anthropologists and attachment parents. This, by the way, is odd to my mother who is an expert on attachment theory and bought me Dr. Sears' book. I guess I just wanted to imagine that I could get my baby to sleep on her own in the crib and thereby give me back some of my own time and space. I couldn't have been more wrong.
In a paper last month in Infant and Child Development, Dr. Dyer proposed that co-sleeping families fall into three distinct categories. There are intentional co-sleepers — those who sleep with their children because they want to breast-feed for a long stretch and believe bed sharing is good for a child’s well-being and emotional development. Another group is reactive co-sleepers, those parents who don’t really want to sleep with their kids, but do so because they can’t get their children to sleep any other way or because financial hardship requires them to share a room with a child.
And then there is a third group that she tentatively calls circumstantial co-sleepers — parents who sleep with their children occasionally because of circumstances like sharing a bed on a family vacation, during a thunderstorm or because the child is sick.
Bed sharing is most likely of greatest concern among reactive co-sleepers, Dr. Dyer says, because the practice is essentially forced on parents. In those cases, the practice is likely to be stressful for both parent and child.
My opening bit should make it clear that I am not an intentional co-sleeper. But, I am happy to say that I am neither a reactive co-sleeper. I think I fit into the circumstantial co-sleeper slot, but I am not sure. Maybe there is a fourth category, intermittent co-sleeper or what-else-are-you-going-to-do-if-you-are-sleep-deprived co-sleeper?
This is the part of the article that really resonated with me. Maddie starts off nice and snug in her crib these days. She even falls asleep in it without much incident (I am proud that we made it cozy). However, more nights than not she wakes up in the middle of the night and if we both fail to get her back to sleep, she ends up in the bed with us. Last night she woke up around 11:00pm and I was going on three days of little sleep, so I just scooped her up, put her in the bed, and started to nurse her to sleep. I was certain that I was becoming an insomniac again since I could not relax enough to sleep and within a minute of nursing her I was sleeping like a baby (what an odd expression that is to parents!)
Ask parents if they sleep with their kids, and most will say no. But there is evidence that the prevalence of bed sharing is far greater than reported. Many parents are “closet co-sleepers,” fearful of disapproval if anyone finds out, notes James J. McKenna, professor of anthropology and director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame.
“They’re tired of being censured or criticized,” Dr. McKenna said. “It’s not just that their babies are being judged negatively for not being a good baby compared to the baby who sleeps by himself, but they’re being judged badly for having these babies and being needy.”
In fact, research shows that parents often talk about their children’s sleep habits in terms of where the child starts off the night or where the child is supposed to sleep — not necessarily where the child usually ends up sleeping.
I tend to downplay that Maddie ends up in the bed at some point in the night because you wouldn't believe how many people ask about sleep. Sometimes it is because they are about to have a baby, anxious that they will never sleep again, and therefore want some sign that it is possible to get your baby to sleep snugly. Other times it is the judgmental set. I used to just say up front that we end up with Maddie in the bed a lot because it is the only way we all get sleep. But, I quickly learned that if I said that to the wrong person I would get a sassy quip from him or her like: "well you'll be breastfeeding that baby in bed for 3 years." There are some people for whom that comment would be a delight. But not me--the very conventional girl who wanted to follow all the right rules for getting my baby to sleep without needing my boob.
Anyway, what I like about this article is that it makes plain that there are a lot of us closet co-sleepers. We hide this for a variety of reasons--in my case a combination of not wanting to appear a hypocrite, fearing judgmental sneers, and distinguishing myself from intentional co-sleepers.
I also like how this article points to a phenomenon that I have been trying to better articulate since becoming a parent. I guess it is the pervasive moralism directed at parents, and particularly mothers. (I say particularly mothers because almost every time Za is out with Maddie women and other by-standers are so impressed that he is alone with his daughter that he just gets showered with compliments). I was shocked by how shrill and tendentious most books on babies and sleep are. There are clearly drawn battle lines and no author seems capable of promoting his or her approach without making a strawperson out of the other approach. Moreover, all baby and sleep books need to paint the opposing camp as heretics; I am not kidding. The moralism in parenting manuals seems to resemble religious wars more than reasoned debate.
So, I will continue to be happy as a closeted circumstantial co-sleeper. While I foresee that Maddie will end up in the bed less and less, both Za and I are a little wistful that we won't have our little girl to cuddle up with each night. In fact, what probably drags this process out the most is our needs more than hers. She is showing all sorts of signs that she is happy in her crib and seeking independence from our bed. But, letting her go is hard . . .
Sunday, October 21, 2007
If there is something that has dogged me about feminism in general, it has been the lack of precision about what feminists mean when they are criticizing patriarchy. In fact, I believe that equivocating on what 'patriarchy' means has been at the root of much of the vitriolic backlash against feminism. What often happens is that feminist will use 'sexism' and 'patriarchy' interchangeably and never define either terms.
A few weeks ago, I laid out what I thought was a helpful definition of patriarchy, put forth by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an anthropologist/socio-biologist. Hrdy distinguishes between patrilines and patriarchies, both of which occur in animal nature as well as human nature. Patrilines reckon descent through the father. Patriarchies are kinship arrangements in patrilineal societies set up to guard against misattributed paternity. Patriarchies thereby "gain control over the resources that mothers need to survive and produce." In human societies, one tool that men employ to gain control over resources is to disseminate and perpetuate sexism. Sexism, therefore, is a worldview that considers women to be inferior to men. It should be clear that one can be sexist without being a patriarch or living in a patriarchal society. Sexism can linger long after kinship arrangements have changed, as they have in the United States at various points in history.
Having made this distinction, I think one era in U.S. history in which sexism was a part and parcel of patriarchal rule was post WWII. And, the fantastic TV series that has really brought home how bad things were for women, ethnic minorities, and racial minorities is AMC's Mad Men. I haven't watched the whole series (since I am downloading them from iTunes and watching when I can), but from what I have seen, I am convinced Matthew Weiner's fundamental motivation for producing this series is to remind the post-feminist/reverse discrimination era why exactly the women's movement and civil rights movements took place. While the cultural wars abound in print and the blogosphere--deriding feminists, gay rights activists, and civil rights groups fighting institutionalized racism (read: Jena 6), it seems that few of these pundits--particularly the women and racial/ethnic minorities-- have really taken stock of what their life chances would have been in the 50s. Would Ann Coulter exist in 1960? What about Condolezza Rice?
If you haven't seen Mad Men, I highly recommend that you download it soon. One of the important benefits of this show is to clarify what the nature of our feminist criticisms of sexism are now. We are not living in that era, but surely there are fringe right wingnut groups--the kind of folks that Amanda at Pandagon excels in taking on--that would love to return to those good old days. I think that any young women who have thrown their lot in with such fringe groups should watch Mad Men and ask themselves if that is the world to which they want to return. Some might. But, I bet the majority would not. We can also use Mad Men as a touchstone for making more nuanced arguments about persisting sexism, e.g. where it comes from and why it lingers, without mistakenly referring to our era as patriarchal (with the exception of some subcultures).
Who else is as addicted to Mad Men as I am?
Thursday, October 18, 2007
The tragedy of most moral debates in the political realm or even the classroom is that they are always construed in abstract and absolute terms. This is especially true when it comes to abortion. It has been my experience that those who take the most absolutist stances (with the exception of Rick Santorum) have never faced any of the real situations in which a woman (and her partner) must make the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy. Sadly, I found out yesterday that a friend of mine is facing a very difficult decision regarding her pregnancy and I want to share it with my readers to stress--once again--that the decision to terminate a pregnancy belongs to the parents, not the politicians, churches, or even the medical establishment.
Fiona is 41 years old. A month ago her husband called us to let us know they were expecting their first child! We were excited for them and looking forward to our children growing up together. Because of Fiona's age, she and her husband underwent genetic counseling and prenatal tests. Unfortunately, the laboratory took their own sweet time to return the results of these tests and now, 5 months into her pregnancy, she has discovered that her husband is recessive for Tay-Sachs disease and the tests to determine whether or not she was came back inconclusive.
Tay-Sachs is a horrible genetic disease that has no cure and always results in death by age 4. Here is an excerpt from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:
Infants with Tay-Sachs disease appear to develop normally for the first few months of life. Then, as nerve cells become distended with fatty material, a relentless deterioration of mental and physical abilities occurs. The child becomes blind, deaf, and unable to swallow. Muscles begin to atrophy and paralysis sets in. Other neurological symptoms include dementia, seizures, and an increased startle reflex to noise.So here is the situation the couple find themselves in. Fiona is 5 months pregnant, very attached and excited about her baby girl, but knows that there is a greater than normal risk that this child will be born with Tay-Sachs. In order to better determine what that risk is, she needs to undergo another screening, but the results take even longer this time because they involve cell cultures. By the time she gets the results, she will most likely be in her third trimester or near her third trimester. If the tests show her child has Tay-Sachs, then she has to figure out how to get a late term abortion or choose to have the child and watch it suffer a horrible demise and death. Neither of these choices are easy to make.
It is precisely these real life decisions that have committed me to reproductive freedom for women. The idea that someone besides Fiona and her husband could make a better decision about what to do in this situation is just plain insane.
It is also worth noting here how inhumane the lab was in not getting this result back to her in a timely manner. When physicians or lab technicians screw up in delivering information during a pregnancy, it sets up unbelievably difficult moral dilemmas. One would hope that if the wacko anti-choice politicians are going to decide who can get an abortion, that at least the medical establishment would not bungle prenatal care in such a way that makes it extremely difficult to have any real choices to make.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
I've only watched the Sarah Silverman Show on Comedy Central once. It was pretty lame as far as I was concerned. She plays a self-involved, narcissistic, potty mouth. Some people find this funny, but I don't. I have a name for her kind of humor: orifice humor. I usually associate it with comedies aimed at men where there is all sorts of farts, burps, and random references to anal sex with animals or whatnot. Most men laugh hysterically at orifice humor, but I need something else.
But, my post is not about why I don't really like Sarah Silverman. Instead, I am sort of curious about how a couple of men I know reacted to her show and why I finally get the problem with women breaking into comedy. Last year Kate Clinton came to speak at my college, invited by the Women's Studies program. She mentioned how few women really make it in comedy, let alone get their own show. And then there was that provocative piece written by Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair, back in January, that claimed that women have more important things to do (read: reproduction) than be funny. Hitchens agrees with my assessment that men are into "orifice humor," although he doesn't put it that way:
The plain fact is that the physical structure of the human being is a joke in itself: a flat, crude, unanswerable disproof of any nonsense about "intelligent design." The reproductive and eliminating functions (the closeness of which is the origin of all obscenity) were obviously wired together in hell by some subcommittee that was giggling cruelly as it went about its work. ("Think they'd wear this? Well, they're gonna have to.") The resulting confusion is the source of perhaps 50 percent of all humor. Filth. That's what the customers want, as we occasional stand-up performers all know. Filth, and plenty of it. Filth in lavish, heaping quantities. And there's another principle that helps exclude the fair sex. "Men obviously like gross stuff," says Fran Lebowitz. "Why? Because it's childish." Keep your eye on that last word. Women's appetite for talk about that fine product known as Depend is limited. So is their relish for gags about premature ejaculation. ("Premature for whom?" as a friend of mine indignantly demands to know.)So, Hitchens would argue that men are funny because they are allowed to be childish. Clinton, on the other hand, would point to some sexism and double standards operating in comedy.
Alessia and I were partial to Clinton's explanation. After all, Silverman's humor is the classic guy filth humor that Hitchens is describing. So why does her act deep bother a lot of men? Could it be that she is crossing the line of what is acceptable humor for women? She is not just making fun of women's issues/stuff, but acting in all sorts of ways like the male jack ass comedians on Comedy Central and elsewhere. Alessia and I even compared her outrageousness to Andrew Dice Clay; she is shocking--pushing peoples' comfort levels.
So what do the rest of you think of Silverman? Is she funny? If you find her offensive, why? Would you find a male comedian making similar jokes equally offensive?
Posted by Aspazia at Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Hanno forwarded me this gem from ESPN:
LUBBOCK, Texas -- Texas Tech has banned the sale of a T-shirt bearing the likeness of Michael Vick hanging the dog mascot of rival Texas A&M.
The red and black shirts, with text that says "VICK 'EM" on the front in an apparent reference to the Aggies' slogan "Gig 'em," was created by a Tech student who was trying to sell them before Saturday's game in Lubbock.
The back of the shirt shows a football player wearing the No. 7 Vick jersey holding a rope with an image of the mascot Reveille at the end of a noose. Vick, who faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to a federal dogfighting charge, is suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
Tech officials late Tuesday announced the fraternity that sold the shirts was suspended temporarily and will face judicial review for allegedly violating the solicitation section of the students' code of conduct.
The school said it wouldn't allow the sale on campus of items that are "derogatory, inflammatory, insensitive, or in such bad taste."
No more shirts are being produced, the school said in a release.
A&M officials, in a statement, thanked Tech administrators for "their response and action regarding this matter."
Geoffrey Candia, the creator of the shirts who is with the Theta Chi fraternity, told The Associated Press they were taking full responsibility. "We realize the shirts shouldn't have been printed," he said.
He told The Battalion, A&M's newspaper, for Tuesday's editions that the university prohibited sale of the shirts on campus through his fraternity. He said he originally had wanted to give 50 percent of the proceeds to an animal defense league in Lubbock "because we knew there would be a controversy about the shirts, you know, animal rights, stuff like that."
Candia told the newspaper about 300 had been sold. He had hoped 500 would be sold before Saturday's game.
In a posting on his Facebook site at about 4 a.m. Tuesday, Candia wrote: "a little tshirt get aggies all worked up... its a t-shirt people!"
The controversy comes about 2½ months after Gerald Myers, Tech's athletic director, announced a campaign to promote good sportsmanship across the campus and at athletic events. The words used in the effort are honor, respect, pride and tradition.
Myers did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
"You can't make light of a situation like that," Tech media relations spokesman Chris Cook said. "That is in poor taste and poor judgment."
Robyn Katz, president of Tech's chapter of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, said her organization "wouldn't take a dime" from Candia.
"If he really wanted to help promote anti-animal cruelty then he would donate time" at a no-kill shelter," she said. "He's really doing the Tech community a disservice. There's plenty of other ways to promote a rivalry."
Hanno then made a very interesting analogy: "Sure some girls get raped at frats... but we donate money to women's shelters, too! Why dont you report that!"
What goes through these kids' minds when they offer up ridiculous justifications like that?
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Money is tight--really tight. Every pay check is dedicated to living expenses, debt, mortgage and insurance. There is always a little left over, but not much. I have to remember, however, that I am fairly privileged. I am not rich--not by a long shot--but I have a home, retirement, insurance, and very steady employment. Still money is tight.
Given this reality, I feel torn each time I am presented with a request for charity. There are lots of organizations to which that I like to give money. I get regular requests to do so from those same organizations almost daily. And, given the tight money situation, I am not giving. I couldn't help but really analyze how sincere my wish to be charitable was given my behavior.
There are lots of ways to give, to help others who or more needy, who are in a tough spot, or who want to build an organization to improve conditions for others. But, what I find is that most of us give only when it is convenient for us. So much about charity is about the self. Think about the dreaded pledge drives on NPR. How to the fundraisers motivate us? They tell us we can get a tax break or that we will get a membership or gifts. Or, take another example, fundraising for a college. How do you do it? You appeal to the vanity of those with money. You figure out what they want to give and tell them you will memorialize them by naming a building after them or a endowed chair or a scholarship prize. The point here is to get those with a great deal of money to give, you have to convince them that there is something in it for them.
But it seems that true charity hurts the giver a bit. Maybe it means you give up things you want to give to others--you have less money for entertainment, travel, clothes, or even food. You realize that it is more important to help someone in need or an organization you care about than it is to spend that money on yourself or family. Moreover, it seems that true charity is to give without expectation for a return or glory or even thanks.
In fact, true charity really exposes what the whole point of a gift is or should be. A gift. But how often do we ever really give to others without some expectation of thanks, or reciprocation, or acknowledgment of our greatness. Too much of giving is about power or self interest. This is what is concerning. And yet, let's face it, the only way so many charitable organizations can function is to appeal to vanity and self-interest.
I think a lot about the whole Republican view that we should shrink government and let charitable organizations do the work of a large, inefficient, unwieldy bureaucracy. Why should not be coerced to pay taxes, so the argument goes, but rather we should be free to choose who we want to give to and how. Hell, in theory this sounds great. But that is the whole problem with the "party of ideas"--sounds great on paper, but never works in practice. Why? Because people need incentives to do what is not immediately in their self-interest.
Very few of us are truly capable of charity. In fact, I would argue that charity is almost impossible in such a highly driven consumer culture like ours. For example, I caught a bit of the Extreme Home Makeover television show last Sunday. The purported motivation of the show is to give back--in the form of a luxurious home--to people who have struggled and scarified for others. Again, on paper, a good idea. But, I was haunted by the episode I saw where the gift to a young girl suffering from cancer was to build her a room that was like a shopping spree. They gave her a huge closet filled with clothes and shoes and accessories so "she can finally be a kid who can play." So, charity is giving a shopping spree to a young girl--giving her an addiction to material goods. Maybe I am being too harsh, but it seems to me that with so many people unable to feed their families across the world, we can do better than conceive of charity as giving people luxurious homes with the top of the line consumer goods, right?
In any case, this is my preoccupation today. What do the rest of you think?
Friday, October 05, 2007
No, I am not going to write about the difficulties inherent to raising children, or proposals for renumeration for mothers, or the lack of respect given to mothers who do the important work of raising children. Nope. What I am going to write about today is the new plastic surgery craze--the "Mommy Job" described yesterday in the Fashion & Style (!?!) of the NYTimes.
Look, I am pretty ambivalent about plastic surgery. I don't tend to take the hardline against plastic surgery, claiming that it is micropolitical enactment of patriarchy (see, for example, Sandra Bartky, "Foucault, femininity and the modernization of patriarchal power" in I. Diamond & L. Quinby (eds), Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on Resistance, Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988 ). Nor do I take up what I think is a rather silly and naive view of feminism as 'all about choice." (See Echidne on this). I can't really say I have a coherent position on this, other than it being a rather pervasive technological innovation to the age old human quest for human perfectability.
Having put that disclaimer out there, I am pretty pissed off at the "mommy job." I agree wholeheartedly with this assessment of the procedure:
Many women struggle with the impact of aging and pregnancy on their bodies. But the marketing of the “mommy makeover” seeks to pathologize the postpartum body, characterizing pregnancy and childbirth as maladies with disfiguring aftereffects that can be repaired with the help of scalpels and cannulae.
“The message is that, after having children, women’s bodies change for the worse,” said Diana Zuckerman, the president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, a nonprofit group in Washington. If marketing could turn the postpregnancy body “into a socially unacceptable thing, think of how big your audience would be and how many surgeries you could sell them,” she said.
Like I have enough shit to worry about that I have to now endure the remaking of the postpregnancy body as repugnant. Don't new mommies have enough to worry about?
But, what is also so odd to me about this story and the phenomena of the "mommy job," is how damn expensive it is: between $10,000 and $30,000. Who can afford this but the Paris Hilton (or should I say Nicole Ritchie?) set or others willing to put themselves in needless debt--robbing their children's college fund--to combat a fictionalized malady.
Is there anything left in this culture that doesn't need to be fixed, remade, or reinvented? Is everything really for sale? That is what is dawning on me now, more than ever. Sure, lots of other people wised up to the horrors of our consumer society. It took me having a child and facing the anxieties associated with new motherhood--not to mention too much time to watch TV and its self-esteem robbing advertisements--to finally get to the point where enough is enough. We don't need so much damn shit. And, we don't need to turn our postpartum bodies into a new kind of commodity either.
Ok, I am done with my rant.
Posted by Aspazia at Friday, October 05, 2007
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
I discovered that I can download podcasts of Fresh Air from iTunes and this has been my savior on mega walks with daughter. I was listening to Terry's interview with Jeffrey Toobin about his new book, The Nine. The book sounds utterly fascinating, especially to someone like me who is obsessed with the direction of the Supreme Court. But, this is not really what I want to write about. What really got me thinking was something he said in his long discussion of Sandra Day O'Connor. He suggested that after she cast her vote in the Gore v. Bush case, on the side of Bush, that the public outcry really challenged her self-conception. O'Connor, Toobin argues, prided herself on her "fairness" which the public outcry really pushed her to look at honestly.
The idea that our self-conceptions are often self-deceptions really stuck with me for the rest of the day and into the night. I kept thinking about how much of our political and ethical judgments are both an expression of and justified by what we think our self-conception is. I think this insight is really the key to understanding those who seem so full of shit to us. We listen to people whose politics couldn't be more widely divergent from our own and they say things that seem so wholly disingenuous when you compare them to what they actually do--what causes they support, who they vote for, and how they live their lives and treat others--that it is hard to make sense of them. The problem is always assuming that what they say about themselves--how they fashion their self-conception--is in fact true or, better yet, honest.
As someone who has spent many years teaching both ethics and feminism, I have heard a lot of bullshit in the classroom. I have listen to young women talk about themselves as tough, empowered, and independent, while they wore the uniform of their sorority, giggled like flirty school girls when a man spoke up and said something inane, and put themselves in risky and dangerous sexual situations. I have also listened to students champion the "boot straps" myth of selfhood and success, while knowing full well that everything they currently have was a gift from very rich and indulgent parents. I witness a lot of self-deception in students' self-conception.
And for me, what you really need to do to teach ethics or political philosophy well, is get at peoples' self-conceptions and get them to be honest with themselves. This is not only ridiculously hard work, but it is downright draining. No one likes to have a mirror held up to them and the defenses against taking a good look are mighty powerful. But, this is what good teaching is. I reject any notion that the idea behind teaching philosophy--especially ethics--is to help students clarify the right principles and apply them consistently. This is just a game and doesn't really get at the more important question: what kind of person am I? What do I really value? And, how do my actions match those values? This is a lot tougher and not something that can easily be achieved in a semester or even four years for that matter.
I am constantly evaluating my self--wondering how credible criticisms against me are and taking them too painfully to heart. I am sure that I am not a good example of what you should do to achieve intellectual honesty. But, I will say that I try damn hard to keep it real.
And yet, what really haunts me about the powerful ways that our self-conceptions are really self-deceptions is that we are unable to ever fully be honest about who we are. In fact, I wonder if we could really live without a lot of self-delusions; perhaps they are even healthy? But, if it is the case that we can't be fully honest about who we are, then to what extent can we ever live without hypocrisy?
Monday, October 01, 2007
There is nothing that irritates me more than whining. I can tolerate it better from a 4 year-old than a 20 year-old, but I don't like it in either case. I started thinking about whining last night as I was kept awake by my daughter, who just seemed incapable of getting herself back to sleep. She wasn't really whining, since she can't really communicate any other way than to cry or sometimes scream. But, nonetheless, the effect of her crying got me thinking about how much I am turned off by whining. I am not sure why and so it seemed like as good an idea as any to write about whining today.
The iconic whiner, to me, is a college student who starts complaining about the amount of reading, or the length of the exam, or the stress of juggling several papers at once. It is usually a young woman, who has decided that I am her buddy more than her professor, and she starts expressing in baby-like whining language how freaked out she is, stressed out she is, and wants me to fix it for her. She usually does this in front of the entire class, since there is no problem presenting yourself as a ditsy, whining little girl on my campus. After all, many of these 18-22 year old women are donning ponytails with big grosgrain pink polka dot ribbons. Looking like a little girl is de rigeur around these parts.
My usual response is to immediately ban whining. I warn that if she continues to whine, then I will add more work. I know, not very kind of me, nor good disciplining, but, I do it nonetheless. I just want the whining to stop. Why? Why does it bug me so much?
Part of it might be that these young women are acting like babies to get their way. And, now that I have a baby, I know how effective crying/whining is. Maddie does, in the end, get her way. But, it seems to me that there should be much more sophisticated ways of getting your way as a young female than to resort to baby-like pouting. I can't imagine that these young women were indulged in their whining when they were 4 year-olds; didn't their parents say "use your words" or something similar?
Whining is a behavior adopted among many cutesy young women to bend people and institutions toward their will. The downside is that they lose all credibility as adults in the process. I mean, look at how annoyed I am at them. How will the professional world ever take these young women seriously if this is their only tool for getting help, attention, or a reprieve?
Bottom line: whining is a survival skill that tiny infants, incapable of speech, adopt to get the attention of their caretakers. Once speech becomes possible, whining has to go . . .
Posted by Aspazia at Monday, October 01, 2007
Thursday, September 27, 2007
According to a team of psychologists and an economist, the happiness gap between men and women is widening with, guess what?, women claiming to be less happy than men.
Two new research papers, using very different methods, have both come to this conclusion. Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, economists at the University of Pennsylvania (and a couple), have looked at the traditional happiness data, in which people are simply asked how satisfied they are with their overall lives. In the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. Today, the two have switched places.
Mr. Krueger, analyzing time-use studies over the last four decades, has found an even starker pattern. Since the 1960s, men have gradually cut back on activities they find unpleasant. They now work less and relax more.
Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work — and, as a result, are spending almost as much time doing things they don’t enjoy as in the past. Forty years ago, a typical woman spent about 23 hours a week in an activity considered unpleasant, or 40 more minutes than a typical man. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes.
Well that sucks, but there is no real new news here. We know that women are working double shifts. I didn't know, however, that men are relaxing more and working less. But, what really caught my eye about this study is the following:
These trends are reminiscent of the idea of “the second shift,” the name of a 1989 book by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild, arguing that modern women effectively had to hold down two jobs. The first shift was at the office, and the second at home.
But researchers who have looked at time-use data say the second-shift theory misses an important detail. Women are not actually working more than they were 30 or 40 years ago. They are instead doing different kinds of work. They’re spending more time on paid work and less on cleaning and cooking.
What has changed — and what seems to be the most likely explanation for the happiness trends — is that women now have a much longer to-do list than they once did (including helping their aging parents). They can’t possibly get it all done, and many end up feeling as if they are somehow falling short.
I do think its right to point out that women are not necessarily working more hours now, but rather are splitting their days into paid work and unpaid work. In fact, I am not sure that I have seen anyone else point out that out.
Mr. Krueger’s data, for instance, shows that the average time devoted to dusting has fallen significantly in recent decades. There haven’t been any dust-related technological breakthroughs, so houses are probably just dirtier than they used to be. I imagine that the new American dustiness affects women’s happiness more than men’s.
Ms. Stevenson was recently having drinks with a business school graduate who came up with a nice way of summarizing the problem. Her mother’s goals in life, the student said, were to have a beautiful garden, a well-kept house and well-adjusted children who did well in school. “I sort of want all those things, too,” the student said, as Ms. Stevenson recalled, “but I also want to have a great career and have an impact on the broader world.”
It’s telling that there is also a happiness gap between boys and girls in high school. As life has generally gotten better over the last generation — less crime, longer-living grandparents and much cooler gadgets — male high school seniors have gotten happier. About 25 percent say they are very satisfied with their lives, up from 16 percent in 1976. Roughly 22 percent of senior girls now give that answer, unchanged from the 1970s.
When Ms. Stevenson and I were talking last week about possible explanations, she mentioned her “hottie theory.” It’s based on an April article in this newspaper by Sara Rimer, about a group of incredibly impressive teenage girls in Newton, Mass. The girls were getting better grades than the boys, playing varsity sports, helping to run the student government and doing community service. Yet one girl who had gotten a perfect 2,400 on her college entrance exams noted that she and her friends still felt pressure to be “effortlessly hot.”
As Ms. Stevenson, who’s 36, said: “When I was in high school, it was clear being a hottie was the most important thing, and it’s not that it’s any less important today. It’s that other things have become more important. And, frankly, people spent a lot of time trying to be a hottie when I was in high school. So I don’t know where they find the time today.”
The two new papers — Mr. Krueger’s will be published in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity and the Stevenson-Wolfers one is still in draft form — are part of a burst of happiness research in recent years. There is no question that the research has its limitations. Happiness, of course, is highly subjective.
A big reason that women reported being happier three decades ago — despite far more discrimination — is probably that they had narrower ambitions, Ms. Stevenson says. Many compared themselves only to other women, rather than to men as well. This doesn’t mean they were better off back then.
But it does show just how incomplete the gender revolution has been. Although women have flooded into the work force, American society hasn’t fully come to grips with the change. The United States still doesn’t have universal preschool, and, in contrast to other industrialized countries, there is no guaranteed paid leave for new parents.
Government policy isn’t the only problem, either. Inside of families, men still haven’t figured out how to shoulder their fair share of the household burden. Instead, we’re spending more time on the phone and in front of the television.
I am not sure that in my lifetime we will see a massive shift in how men and women view housework. The only way that men are going to shoulder their fair share of the household burden is if they grow up seeing their fathers sharing these burdens with their mother. But, obviously, this isn't happening. And, mothers are still imparting to their children gender roles that dictate women manage the household. What women my age seem to have to do is nag their spouses to clean up. In my case it is not that Za is a lazy bastard, but rather his definition of clean is very different from mine. It is impossible, as far as I am concerned, to change this fact. I wish I could live in the same kind of disorder he can, but it drives me completely bat shit crazy, so I have to get him to help me do stuff. Happily, some of it he does without me nagging anymore. But, I doubt we will ever have a nag free situation and I am acutely aware that Maddie will learn that nice home=mother cleaning/managing.
What do y'all think?
UPDATE: Pandagon and Echidne point out why this study is full of shit and the happiness gap doesn't exist.