Wednesday, January 31, 2007

It's All You

I have nothing people. Nothing. I am just too damn busy to come up with something interesting today. So, please, tell me what I should be reading or what the hell is going on in the world. If I get some hint of inspiration later, I promise to post.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Spare me the Snark

Dude, Where's My Enlightenment decided to take me to task for my post on the hidden costs of female professors because my post is purely anecdotal and because I don't present the "data" backing up my claims that women, due to gender discrimination, suffer more "challenging" students while equally being called upon to nurture said students. Wiseacre writes:

The post claims that much of this has been studied and documented but doesn't cite any of it and the post is based entirely on anecdotal evidence. I'm going to do the politically incorrect thing here and call bullshit on this kind of armchair feminist speculating. Now, I don't know what studies she's referring to, but I'd like to know if they took into account syllabi and experiences like mine into account. Young instructors and nontenured professors are all subject to stress, anxiety, fatigue, etc. more than tenured faculty. I'm dubious of the claim that young, non-tenured, female professors experience more of this than their male peers.


Fair enough. I didn't dutifully produce a bibliography of the studies, data and scholarship on this question. In my defense, it is a blog. But, sense Wiseacre reasons from his own experience that men and women are equally burdened, and hence denies gender discrimination in Academia, I will link to some helpful resources:

1. Chilly Climate for Women Faculty in Academe (website with useful bibliography).
2. Women-Related Higher Education Sites (links to reports from AAUP, National Academy of Sciences, Association for Women in Science,
3. National Council for Research on Women (sponsored by AAC&U, references to studies such as how gender influences classroom dynamics)
4. Gender and Student Evaluations of Teaching, Political Science and Politics, Kristi Andersen and Elizabeth D. Miller (on JSTOR).
5. Who Will Do the Science of the Future? (National Academy of the Sciences Report).
6. WaPo article on Ben Barres (reporting on Nature Article).
7. Why So Slow? Virginia Valian.
8. Women in Science, Yu Xie and Kimberlee Shauman (Harvard UP)

I have to go teach, so this is the best I could come up with for the moment. But, I am sure readers out there can add more references.

While I wrote my post in an anecdotal, personal way, I foolishly thought that by now most people are aware of the growing body of literature substantiating my core claim. I thought it was as untrivial as African Americans are subject to racial profiling. Hence, my aim was not to rehearse all the research out there on this issue, but to give a personal account of women's experiences in the classroom.

I should also note that while I do believe that women experience all sorts of gender discrimination in higher ed, that doesn't mean I don't think faculty at large universities aren't overburdened, overworked, or just plain screwed over by the system. I can easily see how Wiseacre gets challenged by students, is overworked by the administration etc., but this does not lead me to conclude that women aren't suffering from gender discrimination. To reach that conclusion would require studies and comparing apples to apples.

The Season of Maternal Politics

Always good for a "trend story," the NYTimes tracks the new politically savvy move for women politicians: play up the maternal. The days of hiding one's softer side are gone. While I should be grateful that in 2007 a female leader doesn't have to work so hard to show her toughness that she has to play down the fact that she is a mother, something doesn't sit right with this new marketing trend. The impetus for it seems to come from the past 7 years of the dominance of Right Wing politics. The figure of motherhood has been mobilized again and again as a figure of protest, i.e. Cindy Sheehan or CODEPINK. Don't get my wrong, not all of this is inauthentic; surely mothers have from time immemorial protested wars and struggled for saner policies for their children. It's just that when you see a truly successful product of Second Wave Feminism, Hilary Clinton, playing up her role as mother and announcing her candidacy from her living room couch, you realize that the figure of the maternal is a highly stylized packaging, built to siphon off some of the "security mom" voters who put G.W. in power.

The Right Wing use of the maternal figure has been genius; Bush made stay-at-home mothers feel important, valued, and entrusted with important civic work. This was a salve to some women who have felt persecuted--whether this persecution is real or imagined--by "feminists" who devalue motherhood. And yet, the Right Wing doesn't really care about mommies. It likes to keep mommies at home; it likes to enshroud women in the 19th Century cult of the "eternal feminine," but its acutal policies hurt mothers and children. It has always been progressive women, whether they were mothers or not,(think Eleanor Roosevelt or Jane Addams and the Settlement Houses tradition) that have made real, concrete changes for women and children in American Civil society.

So, I wonder which tradition of invoking maternal virtues is being drawn upon when Clinton and Pelosi self-consciously drawn portrait of themselves as mothers? Are they invoking the "eternal feminine" or the progressive tradition? The question is even more complicated when you look back on to Dianne Feinstein and Condi Rice's exchange in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wherein Rice takes umbrage at Feinstein's "unfeminist" suggestion that a childless woman cannot be trusted to make important political decisions. One of the most powerful women on the right invokes the 2nd wave view that women are more than their ovaries (even though Feinstein was certainly not making the converse point).

So I ask, what mother is being pandered to voters? Linda Hirshman in the WaPo, furthermore, takes a real swipe at stay-at-home voting mommies (well, it's not clear if that is her target or all women?):

In every election, there's a chance that women will be the decisive force that will elect someone who embraces their views. Yet they seem never to have done so, and I've never seen a satisfactory answer as to why. My own theory is that women don't decide elections because they're not rational political actors -- they don't make firm policy commitments and back the candidates who will move society in the direction they want it to go. Instead, they vote on impulse, and on elusive factors such as personality.
With friends like that, who needs enemies? But, seriously, it seems that what makes the mobilization of the maternal so objectionable is that we have no real, 3-dimensional sense of what mothers are in U.S. society. At least, politically, motherhood is nothing but a metaphor, either for a brand of "family values," or as an indication that tough women leaders are not just ball breakers, but mothers. The lack of a real 3-dimensional represenation--if that is even possible--of motherhood is why Clinton scrambling to appropriate it, while Rice is disavowing it.

Mothers have few 3-D roles models in the popular media. In fact, what the popular media gives them is largely a figure that is impossible to emulate: the supermom who can handle wayward board members, and still make it home in time to cook a nutrious meal. With such an alienating image stirring up mommy guilt for both the stay-at-home moms and working moms (and everything in between), it is no wonder that one-dimensional feel good images of motherhood bring some comfort. Maybe its not so much that women aren't rational actors, as Hirshman argues, but that women are so overwhelmed with what their role really is that anyone who seems to do it proud plays well with them.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

When Will Men Be Charged Like Women at the Salon?

Yesterday Za and I went to get haircuts. My hair is pretty thin, while his is curly and thick. My haircut, therefore, took about 15 minutes, while his took the full 30 minutes. When the hairdresser left the bill up front to pay, I pointed out to Za that his haircut was 30 dollars cheaper, even though his took more time and effort. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to post an interesting philosophical blog discussion, Za and I started imagining scenarios in which I could get a cheaper haircut or a man would be charged more.

Before launching into such questions, I will throw a guess out as to why, as a rule, women have to pay more for a haircut than men: men simply won't enter the doors of a real hair salon unless they are given some incentive. Left to their own devices, men will shave their hair off, ignore haircuts, or have their mothers/girlfriends/wives cut their hair. To get a man into the seat of a hairdresser, and not a Barber, you have to charge them less. I could be wrong, but this is what I came up with. (Somebody out there surely knows the real reason for gendered pricing).

So, back to the questions. Za asked an interesting one: what if a man has long hair? Does he have to pay more? Or, what if a woman walked into a salon and requested a "man's haircut," could she reasonably denied such a request? If so, on what grounds? Finally, at what point will the disparity between the cost of a woman's haircut and a man's haircut disappear?

Friday, January 26, 2007

What Younger Women Faculty Face

Many of you might know that young women professors have to adapt completely different strategies in the classroom than young men. Women faculty will often have stricter policies on attendance, when assignments are due, when a student can have access to her (i.e. email policies or strictly observed office hours), strictly observed caps on course enrollment, and very carefully worked out grading rubrics. If you put the syllabi of women faculty next to men's, the women's will be longer, more detailed, and probably include a great many pages devoted to policies and procedures. Maybe you haven't noticed this. Or, maybe you have and thought the women were far more uptight than their male counterparts.

What many people don't notice, including the colleagues of women faculty who are young and untenured (although tenure doesn't always solve the problem), is that these same women are physically and emotionally exhausted most of the time. Women faculty spend many more hours, on average, prepping for their classes. They also have to spend a great deal of time handling complaints from students that male faculty cannot even fathom. Why do women faculty have such strict policies? Why do they have grading rubrics that spell out with painstaking detail how they graded your work? Because women faculty get challenged on everything. Why do they spend hours prepping? Because if a woman walks into the classroom and doesn't appear to be an expert, which is proven by total mastery of the subject matter, the students will challenge her all semester.

I am writing this post because I have both been that exhausted female faculty member (insomnia, midsemester breakdown, two surgeries, depression) and I have seen how male faculty look with bewilderment upon the practies of female faculty. Several years ago, two of my friends decided to co-teach on a period of literature they both shared. The male faculty member remarked to me how blown away he was by how overprepared the female faculty was: typed lecture notes, texts marked up, etc. He said: "I just walk in and bullshit." Now, this guy is no idiot. He knows his stuff. And, his comment was sort of disengenous in that way. But, in another way it was very true. He probably did just walk in and bullshit (elegant, thoughtful bullshit that is). But, what he didn't realize was that he could and the students would still perceive him as an expert and worth listening to. He would still have command of the classroom, probably even more so than his overly prepared female colleague.

When younger female facutly aren't getting challenged on everything: i.e., when they scheduled tests, why so much work, why they grade so hard, or why they assign so much reading, they are, conversely, sought out for all sorts of nurturing. Students automatically assume that these women are waiting to drop everything to help them not only with their questions about how to do X, but about their personal lives. Many female faculty also get more easily roped into informal committee work that takes away their time. If you add all this up, it's not surprising why they are so damn stressed out. If they don't establish clear policies and guidelines, they get crushed.

While much of this has been studied and documented, especially since Larry Summer's famous speech, I think that daily people forget this reality. I am writing this today in part because I so regularly have conversations with untenured women about this and I wish that this problem was not only better recognized, but that their were institutional supports to protect younger faculty women from being so drained. Moreover, I should point out that this sort of stuff doesn't only happen to women, it happens to men with accents, and men and women of color. Without institutional recognition of the problem and support for these faculty, some might not make tenure or if they do, will have a hard time getting promoted. (And, I haven't even brought up how having children affects this whole process.)

Teaching is one of the best jobs out there, but if teachers aren't properly supported by colleagues and administration, it can become one of the hardest, most draining jobs around.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

At What Point Is It Her Fault?

All my great ideas come to me during breakfast. Today I didn't so much as have an epiphany, but rather I started formulating a question that I thought would be good to ask my readership. I don't have the answer yet, but I imagine that serious reflection on the question might inspire me to write a paper on this issue.

So, here goes: Radical feminist critiques of patriarchy and its institutions, such as the traditional family structure, assert that women are concretely harmed not only by the ideology of patriarchy, but by the roles they are assigned, and the behavior of many men towards women. The men can be fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, boyfriends, or husbands. Each of these men, empowered by patriarchy to see themselves as more valuable and hence deserving to be served. Women, under this arrangement, develop low self-esteem and become self-sacrificing to the point of not only harming themselves, but perhaps putting their loved ones in danger out of fear of worse consequences, i.e. not properly protecting their children from an abusive spouse.

The question is coming, I promise. Anyway, this kind of radical critique leads to a rethinking of moral responsibility. Many women, rightly, are not condemned for not leaving an abusive relationship or stopping abuse of their children. The explanation, generally, is that oppressive structures crippled the otherwise healthy self-esteem and moral agency of the woman, to the point of exonerating her from blame. Now, I don't necessarily disagree that in some cases women (or any other abused person) have been so profoundly harmed that they either cannot act, or do not know how to act. But, like most reasonable people, I wonder how far this kind of account of women's behavior can go.

The contrast to this account is the radical libertarian account that claims all and everyone is responsible for him or herself in all situations. Neither of these sweeping claims--social institutions are to blame or only individual are to blame--really carry the day. And yet, it seems that our systems of punishment only work with one or the other. In the case of the radical feminist critique, all men become suspect unless they consciously and actively denounce their male privilege. It is here that my question arises. How do we think about this in a more nuanced way? Is it really the case that we can exonerate women's ill behavior as the unfortunate scar of patriarchy? Are men who enjoy privilege without any conscious recognition that there may be something wrong with that privilege necessarily suspect?

Until we start sorting these questions out, we are left with a protectionist legal system that assumes women are victims and men are perpetrators of violence.

UPDATE: An astute commenter below pointed out how ambiguous my phrase "ill behavior" was. I didn't mean to suggest that the ill behavior was not protecting their children from abuse. What I had in mind is the everyday ill behavior that you might experience from a person who either grew up in abusive home or a home with an overbearing parent (father). Sometimes we label ill behavior a "personality disorder" like "borderline personality disorder" or "narcissistic personality disorder." When we label it we diminish moral agency as well. But, can a woman, growing up in patriarchy and enduring scars from patriarchy, nonetheless be an "asshole"? That was my question.

Moreover, SteveG helped flesh out the other part of the question that interests me. If someone is benefitting from a privilege, in this case a man, is he necessarily "guilty" if he doesn't call into question this privilege? If a man believes, for example, that women are just too emotional or better at taking care of the home, but he isn't exactly someone who is enforcing his privilege via physical punishment or controlling behaviors, is he a sexist pig who is damaging the women he comes into contact with?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Say What You Want . . .

about Speaker Pelosi, but this picture just gives me goosebumps (the good kind). Not only is a Democrat sitting behind the President, but a woman.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Warning Signs That You Should Not Date Him

Dear Readers:

Unfortunately in my day job as a Philosophy professor, students misread the sign and think I am a therapist. So, they regularly whine to me about their boy troubles (and sometimes girl troubles, but mostly boy troubles). So, rather than have to repeat myself endlessly, I am typing up this list, posting it in every public venue, and hereby renounce my role as therapist.

(1) His house is so messy that you cannot find a single safe spot to sit.

(2) He always has to have the last word in a disagreement.

(3) You look like all of his other girlfriends.

(4) He takes no interest in your friends, your favorite restaurants, your favorite books, your favorite movies, or your hobbies. In a word: he takes no interest in you.

(5) His friends berate him for being "pussy whipped."

(6) He removes you from social circulation, certain that if you are allowed to have a social life without him, you will leave him.

(7) He doesn't clean the toilet before you come over and there are funky growths in the bathroom bigger than your dog.

(8) His favorite show is "Girls Gone Wild."

(9) He can only have sex while simultaneously watching porn.

(10) His friends worship him as the "ultimate player."

(11) He has a bumper sticker that reads: "Real Men Love Jesus."

(12) He refuses to acknowledge the needs and interests of others.

(13) He refuses to use condoms.

(14) He shows more affection to his pets than you.

(15) He is a Mama's boy.

(16) _________________ (Fill in the blank readers!)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Happy 34th Birthday Roe!


Today is the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and hence I am joining the chorus of blogger's voices on the importance of this landmark decision. I have written extensively on the issue of abortion on this blog. Either I have told you of my research on a pre-Roe abortion physician, or I have debated with you the morality of abortion.

Today, I want to emphasize why I believe the legalization of abortion is crucial to the equality and dignity of American women. Roe v. Wade gave American women important rights to bodily integrity. It told the state that it could not impose a pregnancy on a woman, and it affirmed that the state cannot mandate medical procedures on another person's body. Above all, the value of Roe is that it made clear that women are full, autonomous human beings who are to be trusted to make the very best decisions for their own well-being and the well-being for whom they care.

Before Roe, women were infantalized by the law; they were considered untrustworthy and incapable of making sound moral decisions. If a pre-Roe woman wanted an abortion performed by a real physician, she had to confirm the unspoken view that women were mentally weak, morally corrupt and thereby unfit to be trusted to raise children. The humiliation of these women was unconscionable, especially after the 100 year struggle for women's citizenship and the right to vote. To grant women the right to vote is to grant that women are full and equal participants in a democracy; women are considered morally capable of making their own moral choices without the state mandating what they can and cannot do.

Perhaps an analogy will help illuminate my point. Recently, I was privy to a custody negotiation between a non-custodial father and custodial mother. The father is in no way a poor father, had no history of violent or dangerous behavior. He has a good job, a promising future, and makes valuable contributions to his community. He was petitioning for the right to see his children at Christmas and in the summers. The mother, not wanting to give the father this "right," found all sorts of ways to infantalize him in the process. The most egregious example was to tack on a laundry list of rules: e.g. you must always use car seats, you must allow the children to call the other parent, you must not drink to excess, you must keep them on the same sleeping and eating schedule ad infinitum. This laundry list of rules struck me as precisely what was primarily objectionable about the Comstock Laws before Roe: they enshrine the incompetence and moral weakness of the targeted group in the law; they infantalize.

To legislate what is a matter of good judgment is to suggest that the class for whom these laws apply are incapable of making good decisions independently from the state.

Abortion will always be a moral debate in this country and there will always be those who oppose it as the worst of sins. Abortion, moreover, will always be a complicated moral decision with no clear or absolutist answer. The protection of Roe is crucial for affirming a woman's innate ability to make this difficult moral decision on their own, without the imposition of those who are the least familiar with the details and contours of her life. Roe affirms that abortion is a woman's right in so far as she is the master of her body. It does more than just allow her to choose to terminate a pregnancy if she is not ready to be a mother. It also prohibits physicians from giving her a C-section against her will or demanding she stay up on her feet for 9 months. Roe affirms every human being's right to bodily integrity.

So, in this vein, I am thankful for this 34th anniversary and will fight to see the 35th.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fathering

I am long overdue for a melancholy post and I am in a melancholy mood, so readers beware. Ages ago I reported on Carol Gilligan and Kyle Pruett's "slam" of Rev. Dobson. An ensuing discussion with "justme" piqued my interest in Dr. Pruett's work and so I ordered his book Fatherneed from Amazon. Today I decided to read carefully Pruett's chapter on divorce and its affect on fathers and their children, especially boys. I read this chapter because I am engaged to a man who has been essentially cut off from any meaningful relationship to his boys by an acrimonious divorce. I have grappled with understanding the decisions that he and his ex-wife came to in setting up their custody agreement, and quite honestly, I don't understand how separating, by miles and miles, a father from his children is ever in the interest of children. Dr. Pruett only confirmed my haunting suspicions.

Like many American, my parents divorced. I was almost done with college and I had no home to return to upon graduation. The actual graduation ceremony was painful as I tried to figure out how to both talk to my father and my mother in the midst of the usual mayhem. Neither wanted anything to do with the other, and having been away from them during their intense fighting, I hadn't really internalized the reality of their separation. It was on graduation day that the truth revealed itself. Shortly after graduation, I boarded a plane with three suitcases and moved to Boston. At the time, that was as far away as I could possibly get from my parents. I was heartbroken and I couldn't handle trying to figure out how to negotiate relationships with either of them as a separated and bitterly fighting couple. I did what I have always done best, I just ignored it and focused on rather ethereal matters such as Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind.

Overtime, my mother sort of won over my affection at my father's expense. For over 10 years I barely had a relationship with him. My mother had tapped into my growing enthusiasm for feminism, and understandably, sought me out as an ally to understand how stifled she was in a marriage to a man who was unable to commit or value her. My father, totally disconnected from any family, or stability, totally disintegrated. I was terrified to see him when I did, and calling him was out of the question since he was almost always drunk beyond comprehension. By the time I earned my Ph.D. I had convinced myself that my father had played no meaningful role in my life. This was, of course, a toxic lie.

During my intellectual journey in graduate school, my father underwent his own emotional and spiritual journey. He gave up drinking, he started to volunteer to serve the least privileged, he suffered a heart attack, and he built up a supportive community. When I allowed myself to really reconnect with him, shortly after meeting Za and reflecting deeply on a father's loss in divorce, I started to remember how profoundly he shaped the very person I am. While I endured my share of pain and suffering from both of my parents, particularly when they were screaming at each other or dragging me and my brother into their squabbles, I also benefitted immensely from having both of them actively and passionately involved in my life.

My father nurtured my intellectual curiosty from birth. His compassion for others and his spiritual hungering is an undisputable aspect of my identity. My father also taught me to take risks, to push myself harder that I would normally do, and to believe in my capacity to succeed. Even though I didn't talk to him from age 22-34, his affect on me was real.

Being with Za and watching him suffer, usually in stoic silence, because he is no longer involved in his children's life has forced me to really look at how badly father's fare in divorce. One of my best friend's is dating a recently divorced man as well. She finally met his eldest daughter and was astounded by how horribly she treated her Dad. She yelled at him for being a "misogynist" and not attending her sports events or school functions. Hearing Emma tell me this transported me back in time to the conversations my mother and I had about my father when they divorced. I knew instantly that this 16 year old's insults were really the plaints of her mother. Children of divorce ineluctably become footballs between their parents. And, what is worse, the father almost always gets sacked.

Look a lot of Dads are schmucks, no doubt. But, let's be honest so are mothers. And above all, the real dirty little secret is that neither parent is usually a saint or a martyr. Neither parent was solely the victim of a menacing partner. Humans fail each other. They fail to be compassionate, understanding and giving. They become selfish, insecure, and mean. And the children are the casualties of these all-too-human wars.

I realize this post is almost never-ending today and if I were to write everything on my mind it would turn into an epic. So let me just leave you with my honest assessment of what divorce does to Dads. It takes a little bit of their heart away. It confuses them about their role in their children's lives. Are they supposed to entertain them for the few precious days they get to see them (whether it be a week, a month, or over a year)? Dads pay out a lot of child support because the court mandates it. This is money that they otherwise (at least the ones I know) are happy to spend on their children to enrich their lives. But, when they must send a check every month and conversely have little to no relationship to their children, it is alienating. Divorced Dads are treated as too incompetent to be the custodial parent by the court system. The entrenched gender roles feed an antiquated and harmful view that all Dads are really supposed to do is provide materially for their children.

Fathers love their children indistinguishably from their mothers, with the same intensity of love never before felt for another human. And, when their children are gone from their lives, they ache, perhaps over time it becomes a dull ache, but nonetheless a constant pain gnaws at them everyday. When my father dropped me off at college, I will never forget the tears in his eyes as he said goodbye. He realized that he would never have a physical closeness to me again; he would never be in my day every day, living with me, and seeing me grow. When Za's children moved across country, he collapsed into quiet sobbing in my arms for hours until he passed out. I will never forget that moment, particularly because it was so intensely authentic. We never spoke about that night again. And, when he is asleep and smiling, I hope that his dreams are filled with the technicolor memories of raising his boys.

There is so little I can do to ever fill the empty space in his heart, but to honor it by acknowledging its very real existence and loving with renewed energy my own father.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Futzing with the Blog Template

For whatever reason I am tinkering around with my blog today. I just added a Guestbook, which I think is super cool, so click on the Guestbook button on the right so I know whose visited MMF.

I will probably add a bunch of other doodads, and if SteveR is lucky, I might figure out, finally, how to add an RSS feed button.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Guest Post: What Do Men Get from Promotimg the Image of Man-as-Beast?

Recent comments that trade on the notion that men are not remotely trustworthy when it comes to sex touches on an issue that continues to amaze and disturb me. Why do men want to promote the stereotype that they are wholly selfish, contantly rutting, testosterone machines who have no sense of morally binding constraints, to say nothing of human empathy, compassion, or love? I think I understand why some women feel this way (which doesn't mean I find it justified), but I'd think men would be defending themselves against this perverse image, not supporting it. So what do men have to gain? Why do they invest in this stereotype?

It always seems to go like this, I make some claim about how men seem to be motivated by something other than their dicks, and some man inevitably chuckles knowingly, and condescendingly reassures me that I'm wrong, naïve, and being misled by ingeniously manipulative men. How can I now dispute this? He's a man, after all. He must know. But this supposition is a load of crap. All any given man has direct knowledge of is his own motivations, urges, and preoccupations (if he even has this). To generalize from that to all men is hasty indeed. They can't know how all men feel any more than I can know how all women feel. Spaz and I, for example, are very similar in some ways, but very different in others, and I would never assume that we are both, deep down, motivated by the same desires. And that's just two of us. I have no idea what "all women want."

So WHY do men want to promote this image of themselves as slavering animals only barely controlled by a civilizing society? Why are there so many spam/urban legend e-mails that trade on women's fears of being raped? You know, the sterilization-drug one, the parking lot flyer one? Even the legitimate warnings about the date-rape drug seem to want to make women constantly afraid that the second they let down their guard they will be attacked. (By the way, I always get sent these e-mails by a man, never by a woman.) No doubt, there are some real louses out there, and even some monsters, but if this were the make up of the majority of men, society would not function at all.

I'm sure that there are important differences between men and women's concerns about pregnancy, and for obvious reasons. That is not the essence of my concern. My question is specifically, what do men gain from promoting the image of man-as-beast? It seems to have something to do with keeping women in self-doubt and fear, maybe not deliberately, but the effect is there. So what's that about?

Written by *I*

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Enough of the 'Naughty Sex' Explanations for Poverty

If you go and watch the 30 days episode that I recommended yesterday, "Minimum Wage," you too can mull over one of Spurlock's insights: the reason that so many families living below the poverty level fall apart is because of the stress of living in constant crisis. Yes, there are a lot of single mothers living below the poverty level. There are less traditional families living the working poor, minimum wage earning, lifestyle that Spurlock and his girlfriend tried to live.

If you peruse any Wingnut publication, you are bound to find some stentorian blowhard point to out of wedlock births as the #1 reason for poverty. In fact, this is the common right winger and libertarian conservative explanation for why Black people are poor. It is a brilliant rhetorical move. It takes an issue (poverty) that really isn't about who is fucking who and makes it all about immoral sex. It works for a couple of reasons: (1) no one wants to really take a look at how complicated poverty is (e.g. the real roots, the policy blunders, the greed of corporations); (2) if people did take a look at how complicated poverty is, it might (guess what!) implicate YOU; (3) and, it's an American sport to get on the moralizing bandwagon, to demonize those who are struggling and blame them for their situation.

But, Spurlock makes a good point: being poor, living from pay check to pay check, not having enough money to have a life outside of just surviving--this is some stressful shit. How many couples fight about money as it is? Try living in an extremely stressful situation. It's almost impossible. Even during the 30 days that Spurlock and his girlfriend tried the lifestyle, they fought a lot about pennies.

So, you see, the reason why there are so many single parents struggling below the poverty level cannot be wholly explained by naughty sex. Everytime a Wingnut makes that argument, it makes me want to scream. Not only is it moralistic, which I HATE. But, it is just stupid. And, frankly, that is what really insults me about these arguments: they never deal with data, with studies, nor are they built from real stories and real experiences of people. They are trite, hate-mongering platitudes and they serve the ultimate agenda of those who put them forward: to not have to give a damn about their fellow human beings.

Today the NYTimes ran another one of their "trend stories" on how most women will spend half of their adult life outside of marriage. The gist of the story is that women find themselves much happier and fulfilled outside of marriage. The story features mostly upper-class women and hence says little about why so many women with less means choose not to marry. The article does feature Prof. Stephanie Coontz, director of public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, who tries to point out the pointlessness of conservative policies to strengthen marriage:

“Although we can help people ‘do’ marriage better, it is simply delusional to construct social policy or make personal life decisions on the basis that you can count on people spending most of their adult lives in marriage,” said Professor Coontz, the author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.”

Yet, overall, I think the article misses the point. Many marriages break apart because people are just struggling to make it. They don't have enough stability to weather difficult times; they lack support networks. Again, living in constant crisis: worrying about how to pay for medical bills, make rent, paying utilities, these things will eat away at even the best of us.

While I am no banner carrier for traditional marriage, I do think the Times can do better at making sense of why women don't marry--outside of the privileged women's reasons.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Making Good on MLK's Legacy

SteveG has written a thoughtful piece today on how we "flatten" our nation's heros. Not wanting to participate in such a trite reminiscience of the important legacy of MLK, I want to briefly talk about minimum wage and the working poor. MLK's work, his striving for the beloved community, continues to demand our attention, energy and hearts. We are a country besieged by a large class of the working poor, who even with the increase in the minimum wage, are unable to make ends meet, to secure quality healthcare, to build equity, and to secure a better future for their children.

We still need to take seriously what kind of a country we are if we allow the working poor to continually be on the verge of crushing, demoralizing and dehumanizing poverty. The nation caught a glimpse of this kind of poverty in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but I fear that we haven't really internalized the lessons of that national tragedy. We give lip service to economic development, empowerment and community building, but our answers are far from comprehensive. In my own little town, the most "creative" proposal on the table for economic development was a Casino. Yikes.

How far we have fallen from King's hopes for our future. We think we can lift people out of poverty either by addicting part of population to gambling or by giving workers opportunities at McDonald's and Wal-mart. We need to do better.

A week ago, Jeff Maynes alerted me to an episode of Morgan Spurlock's (the guy who did SuperSize Me) show 30 days, entitled Minimum Wage. Spurlock and his girlfriend decide to live like 30 million Americans (e.g. Working Poor/Living Below the Poverty Level). The episode is eye-opening! Oprah did a segment on it (see here). You can buy the episode on iTunes for $1.99. Go watch it.

UPDATE: If you didn't catch this segment on NPR today, it is worth listening to especially in light of what *I* says in the comments below.

Dutiful to Deadlines

The semester starts Thursday. I am in my office trying to put together a syllabus for a new course I am teaching, but the misty fog outside makes me want to go home and crawl up on the couch with Marty (my beagle). I have never understood how other people get their syllabi done ahead of time. Nor, have I understood how people teach the same classes every year so that they don't have to put together a whole new syllabus. And yet, here I am, almost at the last minute, trying to get myself to write this syllabus.

The fact is that I have always been most productive with deadlines looming. If I absolutely have to produce something by a deadline, I will get it done and do a darn good job. If I have nothing but time and flexibility, I flounder. I have a co-author for my major publishing projects. The reason why is that I never want to disappoint her by getting things in late or doing a half-ass job. This has worked wonders for me getting major deadlines met.

I can't help but be in awe by people who are completely self-organizing, who follow strict schedules and who get major projects done without the fear of deadlines or co-authors. What makes such people tick? And why, conversly, do I need to scare the bejeebus out of myself to get anything done?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

About Male Contraception

A few days ago I was talking to a geneticist who is working on developing oral contraception for men. I remember years ago, in my Freshman biology course, my professor told me that the only reason oral contraception for men hadn't been invented was economic: no money in it.

So, this morning I was talking to Skrutt (Za's visiting Norweigian Fish Woman), Za and Alessia about the possibility of a male contraceptive showing up on the market. Skrutt immediately rejected this idea. I was surprised and pressed her a little bit. She said: "look, if a guy tells me, when we're drunk and getting down, not to worry because he is on the 'pill' there is no way I am going to believe him." Alessia added that giving the pill to men makes them even more likely to be cads. Za agreed that men would lie about being on the pill because the woman has more to lose.

This depressed me. Great! We finally get the technology to take the burden off women to prevent a pregnancy and we cannot trust the men to do a good job; the incentive is just not there.

What do you think?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Speaking of Sex Selection . . .

IsThatLatin clued me into this interesting piece from the BBC on the shortage of Chinese wives. The one child policy lead to a preference for boy babies, and of course, this is going to be a real problem for the population if there aren't enough women around for marriage. The article points out:

"The increasing difficulties men face finding wives may lead to social instability," the report said.

The report went on: "We need to develop a 'movement to embrace girls'... and effectively contain the trend towards greater gender imbalances."


I found these two sentences rather puzzling. On the one hand, the shortage of women is a problem for social stability. And, on the other hand, the state needs to encourage more gender equity and "girl power" to counteract this threatening state of affairs. The first sentiment is largely patriarchal: embracing heterosexual marriage as the cornerstone of social stability. While the second is rather feminist.

What a dilemma India will find itself in too with the tradition of female feticide. I wonder how they will tackle the looming social problem. Moreover, it seems that gender equity is a far easier goal to obtain in Communist China than in India.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Game Theory Wife Murderer

Did any of you catch this murder story, regarding an economist from U Penn?

The professor is charged in the Dec. 22 slaying of his wife largely based on circumstantial evidence, his attorney says, while the affidavit shoots back with, "Dr. Robb lied to the police about an obvious motive for this murder, his knowledge of his wife's recent plans to divorce him and obtain a significant portion of his wealth."
I have seen the word "wealth" used in almost every news story. What's the story? Did he inherit the wealth? Or is U Penn paying a lot better than my college?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Would You Want to Know?

I had an interesting discussion last night over whether or not one would want to know the sex of their baby before delivery. This is a common question asked of pregnant women. While there are lots of things I focus my attention on, this is not one of them. So, when I find people having a lively debate on this issue, I feel a bit like a foreigner watching people interpret a local custom.

One woman at my dinner table argued, compellingly, that she didn't want to know what sex her baby was because she believed strongly in abortion and to know the sex is to start to think of names and once you think of names, well, . . . If one had to make the hard decision to terminate a pregnancy, she believed it was less painful if one had not yet named the child.

Another woman thought that not knowing the sex was sort of an antiquated ritual. With all the advances in technology, why not?

Others pointed out the "feminist" angle on this question: namely, what difference would it make if you had a boy or girl? The idea here is that those who would prepare for the new child by painting the baby's room pink or blue are buying into a rather silly cultural practice (which apparently has something to do with Nazi Germany, go figure?). It's not like "pink" says, independently of culture, "girl."

What do you think? Is this a moral dilemma? Is it a curiousity? Should feminists (or anyone, for that matter) think long and hard before asking themselves what the sex of the baby is?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Koufax Nominations

It's that special time of the year where we nominate our favorite bloggers for a Koufax Award. This little blog made it into the finalist rounds of "Best New Blog" last year. This year it is time to tip your hat to Steve G at Philosopher's Playground. Over the weekend, I will compile my list of "picks" for all categories.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Selling out to the (Wo)man.

Yes, I know. I haven't posted anything stunning, smart, or worth discussing in days. The reason is I have been in a hotel room in Phoenix trying to put together an anthology. I got back last night, and was at work again all day. All that is swimming around my mind is whether or not "French Feminism" is a legitimate field or an invention by U.S. feminists? I am supposed to put together 4 anthologies on the French feminist theorists. The interesting thing about this, is 3 of the 4 (Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, and Helen Cixous) denounce Feminism and are not at all considered crucial players in the women's movement in France. I was intoxicated by the work of Luce Irigaray in graduate school, but as one grows older, one's tastes change.

In fact, I always consider my relationship to Irigaray as bittersweet. It is like meeting up again with a lover who you were passionate about and discovering that you don't have any traces of that old feeeling again. Worse, when I read the scholarship on these three French theorists, I feel so far removed from that tiny corner of Continental Philosophy that talks about the (im)possibility of a woman speaker and the inevitableness of the symbolic order. So, I have to swallow my doubts and dutifully produce a massive work that will perpetuate the illusion that these thinkers are to be reckoned with Internationally. I am, perhaps, participating in the cultural construction of 'French feminism."

How to get through it?

Friday, January 05, 2007

30 Years is Enough!

Women's eNews has a great article on the departure of Henry Hyde, the architect of the Hyde Amendment, from the House. The Hyde Amendment basically made the Roe decision meaningless for millions of women in poverty, prison, or working for Government agencies.


In 1976 Hyde spearheaded the "Hyde Amendment," which inspired later laws that expanded the funding ban to additional federal health care programs. Collectively, those laws affect female members of the military and their families, Peace Corps volunteers, federal prisoners, Native Americans, women who receive federal disability payments and some federal employees through restrictions on their health coverage.

While a new Democratic Congress is good news for Pro-choice, it is doubtful that they will have the ability to repeal this amendment. Nonetheless, it is heartening to see this issue on the table and energized by so many women's organizations. For more information on this campaign, go to here.

Today I volunteered to give my WJ Bryan Henrie talk at an International Women's Day celebration in a small town near Gettysburg. The talk is sponsored by a feminist organization--the YWCA (admittedly, many board members have lost sight of the fact it is a feminist organization). The motto is "Empowering Women and Eliminating Racism." And yet, the director made plain that the board would never approve of a talk about abortion, whether or not it was pro-life or pro-choice. While I wasn't surprised that the board wouldn't approve the talk, I am nonetheless outraged that this organization won't even consider how central of an issue reproductive rights is to women worldwide.

It seems that precisely because our small towns are conservative that they need to be better educated on the affects of the Hyde Amendment and the Global Gag rule on women worldwide. Why is it that we have to pick and choose which issues are "safe" to discuss on such a day? Apparently domestic violence is an OK issue, but women seeking abortions who have been abused is not. Go figure.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

What Makes a Right Legitimate?

Prepare to be deluged by some thoughts arising from my feverish work on an Anthology of French Feminism. I am buried in work for the rest of this month, so if my posts have a flare of French theory bear with me. Today I was inspired to think aloud about the "abortion" issue still raging in this country. I was reading an essay by Michele Le Doeuff entitled "Towards a Friendly, Transatlantic Critique of The Second Sex," in which she gives the reader the political context in which de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex.

Just after World War II, the French Government decided to give Women the right to vote and run for public office. This was worked out while the government was in exile in Algeria and it was not the product of a women's movement, agitation for the suffrage (unlike our own situation in the U.S.). According te Le Doeuff, formal equality was conferred on women because at the time, the French government believed that if women were more active in politics, peace would be more likely (a rather essentialist view, but whatever).

So when De Beauvoir begins the Second Sex (read here) with an analysis of the current hostility toward feminism, the context is that women have been given the vote (something that they didn't necessarily ask for, at least not in the organized way that the U.S. feminists did), and the misogynists are decrying what a waste it is to give women this formal equality. Hence, the Second Sex explores a rather odd question: why are the men so heated about giving us nothing but equality? Furthermore, why do we deserve this rancor when the vote was given to us and not the product of a long political struggle?

While these questions are interesting in themselves, I couldn't help but turn my mind to the abortion issue in this country. One of the most common arguments, proposed by the so-called libertarian or moderate republican wing , for why we should overturn Roe v. Wade is that it has never been considered legitimate since it was not fought out state by state in the legislatures. The Supreme Court just handed this right to women--it, like the vote in France, was as "gift" from the government, not really the product of a true political struggle. (Now, let me be clear, I think there certainly was a real political struggle and that it was carried out in legislatures all over the country, but for the purposes of my post, I am characterizing the state's rights position on abortion).


Anyway, let's assume that the right to a legal abortion was a "gift" in the same way that the vote was for French women. Does the fact that the government decided to give more rights to women, and thereby take a huge step toward formal equality and liberation, mean that it is necessarily illegitimate? Is a right only legitimate if it is the result of a long, protracted and painful struggle (i.e. the Suffrage Movement in the U.S.)?

If the answer is "yes," does that then mean that French Women should lose the right to vote and run for office since it was a "gift" from the Government?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I Heart Spitzer

From the NYTimes today:

In his first annual address to the Legislature, Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed to overhaul almost every corner of the state’s operations and policies, saying he would move swiftly to guarantee health insurance for all children in the state, publicly finance state elections, rein in spending and draft a constitutional amendment to overhaul the state’s courts.

He also said that he would seek to broadly overhaul the state’s ethics and lobbying rules, to make pre-kindergarten available to all four-year-olds by the end of his four-year term, to overhaul the public authorities that control most of the state’s debt and to make New York more palatable to business by changing the state’s approach to policies, like workers’ compensation.

It warms my heart to see a real liberal in charge of big state like New York. It almost makes me want to move to New York. It's refreshing to see what Spitzer puts forward as his priorities: health insurance for all children and ensured pre-kindergarten. That's some real family values. Of course, it's inevitable that he will be fought by the "small government" Republicans, you know the ones: those who bloat the government to fight the war on terror, but cut and slash any program aimed to make real peoples lives better. He will probably be opposed by the holy rollers who don't want the government messing with their children's education, or worse, offering up socialized medicine.

But, I trust Spitzer knows what and who he is up against. So, I will just smile and continue to root for him.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Libertarians Will Be the Ones to Freak This Time

The NYTimes has a great overview of the issue of free will and how new developments in brain science are forcing us to seriously consider whether or not we can maintain the belief in free will. Michael Silberstein points out:

“If people freak at evolution, etc.,” he wrote in an e-mail message, “how much more will they freak if scientists and philosophers tell them they are nothing more than sophisticated meat machines, and is that conclusion now clearly warranted or is it premature?”

What has always occurred to me is that the folks worst hit by the developments in neuroscience are the hard core Libertarians: those that believe in some radical notion of free will, that is rather mystical and unscientific. What is even more interesting about the blow to Libertarians that neuroscience promises is that the Libertarians like to believe themselves to be more "rational" than your Religious Right types. What we will soon discover from the likes of the Cato Institute or Ayn Rand devotees is that neuroscience is a leftist (communist) plot to do away with human excellence.