Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Can Men Be Feminists?

I asked this question of my new favorite blogger, Hugo Schwyzer, yesterday. I noticed he referred to himself as a pro-feminist man and I got curious. I know that in many of my graduate courses this debate came up. And, I sort of have a hazy memory of that time. My new life as a professor at a liberal arts college, wherein the students are vaguely conservative, and it's hard enough to get the women to claim themselves as feminsts, has made me appreciative when male students or colleagues call themselves feminists.

My reader humbition pointed out that some people refer to themselves as "allies," thereby avoiding the complicated questions of identity, but nonetheless demonstrating their commitment to feminist causes.

I guess my concern over the complicated semantics involved in whether or not a man can be a feminist, is that it makes men who are quite committed to these causes will be fearful of participating more fully. I have had many men out with me while I protest, or helping me with the NOW chapter. I have quite a few male colleagues who are probably more attuned to the nuances of gender discrimination than I tend to be. I would trust those men to challenge male students to consider their own privilege. I also worked with a man who runs NOVIS, a non-profit that works with male batterers. These men are feminists.

If we attach feminism to 'women,' which I think is part of why some men hesitate to identify themselves as feminists, then I think we are inevitably going to run up against the problem of essentialism. It is no easy trick to define what a woman is. De Beauvoir started that project, as a phenomenologist, in The Second Sex, and Judith Butler quite convincingly shut that door in Gender Trouble. I still get headaches when I think about the debates over who should be alllowed to play in the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. Can transsexuals (man-to-woman) play? Can woman-to-man trans play? What do we make of transsexuals anyway? What sex are they? Can we neatly divide sex up into two after Anne Fausto-Sterling?

I had left many of these questions behind me because they so resemble the metaphysical questions that folks have been knocking their heads against forever: Am I awake or dreaming? How can there be a God when there is so much unbearable suffering and evil? What constitutes my identity?

So, rather than pretend to have an answer to these questions, I turn it over to you: Can Men Be Feminists?

P.S. You should read this post "Feminist Men": Oxymoron or Simply Morons? at girlbomb.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day: The Limits of Tyrants

I just returned from a lovely Memorial Day Ceremony at the Lincoln Cemetery in Gettysburg. The Lincoln Cemetery is a treasure in our town, for it holds the fallen soilders of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Since 1992, thanks to Mary Patrick, the Chair of the Memorial Day Committee, the Lincoln Cemetery has held a memorial service. I had never been to a service on any of the battlefields, and I have lived in Gettysburg for 7 years, so this year I decided to attend the ceremony commemorating the USCT.

I have no relatives, that I know of, who fought in Gettysburg, or in the Civil War. So, I have a hard time relating to the battlefields in the ways that thousands of tourists do every year in my town. I ride by them on my bike, or walk my dog around the monuments. I appreciate the large swathes of land in my town that will forever be protected from tract homes because of these battlefields. I even went on a Civil War kick my first summer here, and read all about the 20th Maine because I admired Joshua Chamberlin. But, somehow, I have never felt a connection to this place.

In fact, when my Dad visited me here, the first time, we went on a tour and my Dad teared up when he saw Pickett's Charge. I kept wondering what it was about this place or my psychology that prevented me from relating to these hallowed grounds. I think some of that became a bit more clear today as I sat listening to the speaker, Karen James, who is the Coordinator of Underground Railroad History with the Bureau of Archives and History of the Pennsylvania Historical and Musem Commission. She spoke directly to the audience, many of which are direct descendants of the fallen soilders buried in the Lincoln Cemetery.

Ms. James did a nice job connecting the people in the audience to the significance of the USCT and why memorializing these men is important for all Americans. They risked their lives, none of them allowed to be citizens, many of them slaves, to fight for their freedom. Their deaths were essential to the Civil Rights Movement; they gave their lives to a future that they would not yet realize.

The service helped me mediate further on the words of Frederick Douglass that my UU minister read to us today:

"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."

"This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others."

I highlighted the portion of his words that really resonated with me. I found, for the first time, my way to connect to this place and to feel authentic about memorializing the battlefields. I found the story, the vision, and the sacrifice that I could really embrace, understand and, surprisingly, feel quite passionate about. I have all too often been a rather conciliatory girl, looking for peaceful, or at least, less stressful ways to resolve conflicts. I roll my eyes all too often when I listen to someone voicing that such a policy or decision was unfair, mostly because I don't want to sit in a long meeting. I rarely take the time to think about how much some people are willing to risk--not just their reputation to eye rollers like me--but their lives to impose the limits of tyrants.

I would like to think of myself as more a pacifist than anything, but I cannot ignore how crucial human struggle is sometimes. I don't embrace it the way Hegel does in the Lectures on the Philosophy of History, wherein he sees all bloody struggles redeemed through geist bringing freedom through those conflicts to all people. I don't think that all conflicts can be redeemed. I am not sure we will be able to redeem the lives of so many young people lost in Iraq (not to mention mothers, fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers). But, I have to acknowledge, after this memorial service, that fallen soilders are sometimes sacrifices that have to be offered up to draw the line to those in power.

Power concedes nothing without a demand.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Insight Driven

I hadn't planned to write a post today, but I am awaiting my Amatriciana sauce to spice up and decided to fill that time sending my unsolicited thoughts into the blogosphere. I want to write more about the act of telling your story. I was thinking about this ever since the interesting conversation that followed my In Medias Res post. My reader Human asked me a set of questions that required me to speak more intelligently about what I think I am doing in the classroom than I had planned to while I was writing that piece. I had no idea where I was headed when I embarked on that post, but the discussion that ensued got me thinking a great deal about how I approach texts.

SteveG and I had a brief conversation about this on Friday, wherein I refined his juxtaposition of "content" vs. "structure" as governing teaching styles to "insight" vs. "big picture." I am not sure that is a perfect way of capturing what I strive for, as opposed to SteveG and Human, but I like the emphasis on "insight." This really hit me last night as I curled up reading several of Alice Munro's short stories from her collection Runaway (I highly recommend!). The short story genre always appeals to me because it is constrained to a short sliver of time, a moment, or an event. Munro's stories sometimes feel like they are ending too abruptly, and yet that is part of what really appeals to me about this genre. It doesn't sum it up. The story doesn't end with "and in that moment she realized that this event had shaped her whole life . . ."

The abrupt endings mimic more accurately they way we live. We make a rather uncharacteristic decision, or an unexpected death jars us from our doldrums, and the landscape of our lives takes on a dramatically different hue. We are set free from a course we had settled quite nicely into. We search for ways to integrate this halting interruption into what we take to be our identity. The process of making sense, of telling our stories, is unending. There is never--I hope--a point wherein I will say, "and those were the moments that defined me." Instead, what I search for is "insights." I find these often in ficition, memoirs, and the kind of philosophy I love most: phenomenology.

Last night I stumbled upon one of those passages that I press students to find in the readings I assign them, you know, the ones that give some shape to our otherwise ineffable experiences. I thought I would share the passage with you that profoundly resonated with me and gave me a way of making sense of much of my own behavior.

Juliet knew that, to many people, she might seem to be odd and solitary--and so, in a way, she was. But she had also had the experience, for much of her life, of feeling surrounded by people who wanted to drain away her attention and her time and her soul. And usually, she let them. Be available, be friendly (especially if you are not popular)--that was what you learned in a small town and also in a girls' dormitory. Be accommodating to anybody who wants to suck you dry, even if they know nothing about who you are.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Frightening, Frightening, Frightening

Libby alerted me to this post over at the Huffington Post by Joan Blades, one of the founding members of Blades discusses Elizabeth Vargas' choice to take time off to raise her child and the pitfalls commonly associated with taking time off from your career to raise children.

The responses to this post are what really frighten me. Here are a few samples:

As a working stiff in a cubicle jungle I have seen people come and people go. It has not escaped my notice that when a young person gets pregnant and has a child it changes them. It changes their body, it changes their brain chemistry, it changes their attitude. These changes cannot be foreseen because each individual reacts to these biological changes differently. In 5 out of 6 cases, a person having a baby assures us all that they will return after a suitable amount of time. They do not. Years of training and much monetary investment is lost. One child, I have noticed, is usually followed by another. The person never returns. The building and maintaining of a society should be our first priority. Parents should be supported by society in this endovor. It is, however, their choice to give birth. Not mine. If it were up to me, I would never hire a potential mother for any serious job. It is a waste of time and money. Biology will not be defeated by law. Mothers have a biological bond with their children that cannot be matched by fathers. Hire the father, free the mother, enrich the child. Face it, nature is sexist. By: Noodle on May 25, 2006 at 11:51am

Actually having a child is a personal choice. Use the pill or not? Use the condom or not? What about non-mothers? Single women suffer as much or more because we're left to pick up the slack, and then we're looked upon with suspicion because "it's only a matter of time".

If you want to be a breeder, great, but people need to take responsibility for their choices (which having a baby is), and not expect everyone else to help them get by. You think we should pay mothers for having kids? What about women who can't or choose not to have kids? We have FMLA for a reason so as to give everyone a chance to take time off, without losing their jobs, for whatever family situations may arise.

Women want to have their cake and eat it too. Therein lies the downfall of the feminist movement. Women say they want equality, but they don't. They want to get treated better. What about paid time off for new fathers? What about paid time off for single people or couples without children after picking up the slack? Are you for those measures too? While I agree that women (mothers or not) are an integral part in business, having a child is a personal choice and everyone else should be beholden to pay someone for a specific choice they've made. By: luaxanaevila on May 25, 2006 at 11:58am

Sorry, no sympathy here from me. I'm very tired of women holding up their children as a silver cross to avoid doing the barest minimum beyond their job descriptions. They can't stay late. (Have to pick up the spawn from day care.) They arrive late and leave early using the kids as their excuse while the single folks in the office are stuck covering responsibilities for them. The workplace resentment too many inconsiderate working mothers create is detrimental to any workplace. Yet, they're the first to whine about glass ceilings and the "Mommy track" when they are (rightly) passed over for promotion.

As my sainted Algebra II teacher used to say, "You pays your nickel, you gets your cup of coffee." By: buckbuck11 on May 25, 2006 at 01:43pm

If these folks represent the left-of-center views on motherhood and work, then we are screwed, people. I hope these are just flippin' freepers who invaded the Huffington Post with this kind of neanderthal thinking. Shit, if left-of-center attitudes on motherhood are: "too bad, it's your choice" and right-of-center attitudes are "submit to thy Christian duty," then the chances of sensible, enlightened policies designed to invest in the future citizenry is a pipe dream.

In Medias Res

I have always admired the skill with which my colleague SteveG is able to give the "big picture" version of events. He is legendary at taking a philosophical or political insight and weaving it into a larger whole, and thereby helping students or his readers make sense of the part in the whole.

I, on the other hand, have always felt myself to be wrestling with minutiae, in the middle of some story of which I cannot quite figure out the beginning or the end. I am not even sure that I have told a story from beginning to end in my life. I get caught up in the details and the digressions. I am captivated by the little things people say or the odd, seemingly insiginificant sentence in the middle of a passage. I can't help it. I just get stuck.

I know what it is like when students sit in our classes and get lost in perhaps a stray word we used or an image that sent them to another place. I just don't seem to be a "big idea" person. I am far too anxious to make perfect sense out of bits and pieces here and there, as if they all amount to some coherent theme that I can masterfully summarize for students.

Last semester I had a tiff with the Women's Studies curriculum folks because they rejected my course as an appropriate substitute for their theory course. I was absolutely offended. I am, afterall, an expert in feminist theory. The grounds for their objection to my course was that I didn't present the 'canon' of feminist theory in an historical sense, and that I had left out large swathes of theoretical paradigms. I laughed at the letter. Here I had a group of social scientists tell me, the only theorist of the bunch, that my course would simply not count as theory because I wasn't teaching it in the way that they, as social scientists, would teach it.

I have always hated the approach to feminist theory, whereby you create artificial camps and put each theorist in one of these camps, e.g., marxist feminism, materialist feminism, difference feminism, post-modern feminism, or liberal feminism. The list could go on. While I imagine that my social scientist friends find this a useful heuristic device for teaching, and gives students a way of organizing what might seem like a welter of knowledge, such an approach never rings true to me.

What I see when I look at countless essays written by feminist theorists is a set of insights, debates, responses and explorations that are not easily teased apart. I love getting students to immerse themselves in the writings, the insights, and ask them if these writers resonate with their own experience. Do these writers give you a helpful lens through which to better grasp your own incoherent and often confused memories?

Granted, this is demanding a different kind of labor from my students, and perhaps one not best suited for diseminating knowledge in the good old fashion way. I also don't do a good job of giving them the big picture. I sort of leave them dangling, searching for some sort of story that might tidy up all of this mess.

Perhaps I am just sadistic, pushing my students toward some existential breaking point whereby they have to start telling their own story. I dunno. Probably that is giving myself too much credit.

In all truth, I just don't think I see the big picture. I don't always trust that this story can be told in a way that gives a place and role to each event. So much is a mystery to me. And, so I just start somewhere in the middle, hoping that others will help me get to a place of distance, of evaluation, and thereby a place where I can make sense of it all.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Working Moms Are Healthier

So says this NYTimes piece:

Patterns: Exploring Women's Health and Double Duty


For women, combining work and family may be a healthier choice than staying home, recent research in Britain suggests.

The researchers studied 1,171 women born in 1946, interviewing them in each decade from their 20's on to collect information about their health, work, marriage and children. They then had the women report their state of health at 54.

The study found that women who had taken on multiple roles as mothers, wives, and employees over those years were significantly healthier than those who had not.

"Our question," said Anne McMunn, the lead author of the findings, "was whether women were working and having families because of their good health or whether their health was relatively good because of multiple role occupation."

The answer, the study found, is that taking on extra roles was itself associated with good health, and that initial good health was not a predictor of taking on extra roles.

Dr. McMunn is a senior research fellow in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London.

According to background information in the paper, which appears in the June issue of The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, it has been well known for some time that women who both work and maintain families are healthier than those who do not.

But it had not been clear that that was not simply because healthier women were inclined to take on both work and other roles.

The authors acknowledged the difficulty of generalizing beyond the specific group of British women included in the study. Examining other populations may produce different findings.

Nevertheless, they concluded, "Our results suggest that good health is more likely to be the result, rather than the cause" of taking on work along with family and child-rearing obligations.

Alas, an article not designed to make working moms feel like shit.

UPDATE: Via Bitch Ph.D. I discovered this excellent Salon article "The Maternal is Political," which highlights the work of two MoveOn activists who have started a new mother's movement called Moms Rising.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

'The Jefferson Scandal': How Does One of These Things Fit With the Other?

I spent most of my afternoon yesterday reading a book that calls into question how the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is framed (Moving Beyond Prozac, DSM, and the New Psychiatry by Bradley Lewis). The book does not argue that psychiatrists should not consider mental disorders to be akin to diseases, but it does stress that the choice to frame mental disorder in this mainstream medical language is something to study. That is, how did the DSM come to be a set of inclusive and excluding criteria for diagnosing mental disorders? The answer lies in a very human story, wherein a few key players, deeply invested in bringing psychiatry in line with other medical specialities and thereby expunging any remnants of its Freudian heritage, reconceive mental disorders as clusters of signs and symptoms. What was taken out of the DSM was any 'theoretical account' of how on might have become depressed, for example and what was left were 'atheoretical descriptions' in the form of checklists. I am leaving a lot out of the story, but this is not the story I am interested in.

Rather, what captivated me about Lewis' book was how skillfully he made use of Michel Foucault's notion of the episteme. One way to clarify what Foucault means by an episteme is to think of it as a frame of reference (hence why I kept using the word 'frame' above). The opening paragraph to Foucault's The Order of Things, does a fantastic job demonstrating what he means by an episteme, and more importantly that how we make sense of the world is bound up with prior concepts and perhaps intutions about our landscapes--what some philosophers call conceptual schemes--that help us make sense of information.

This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laugther that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought-our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography-breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame,(d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies’. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.

Foucault's last lines "the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that," poetically captures the sense that we make sense of the world through conceptual schemes, through lenses, if you will, that bring into focus certain objects and concepts, while blurring others. Foucault makes clear that these lenses through which we peer into the world are not something hard-wired, or even universal to all onlookers, but they are conditioned through specific historical events, wherein competing "theories" of what is lead to one view eclipsing all others.

Now, many readers out there might want to argue that this epistemological view is deeply flawed, making all knowledge seem radically contingent to historical and political circumstance, thereby making all we know a mere product of 'might makes right.' So be it. I will entertain these arguments. I am not interested in defending Foucault's theory of knowledge here. What I am really interested in is extending Foucault's insight of the episteme to yesterday's news--you know, the story about Rep. William Jefferson from LA and the videotape of him taking bribe money.

I had read about this story first over at Shakespeare's Sister. Then, as I was packing up for the day, I heard the NPR coverage, which committed the same sin that annoyed Paul the Spud, namely that Jefferson's corruption would weaken the Democratic strategy to defeat Republicans in the mid-term elections by calling them the party of corruption. I became interested in the pervasiveness of this particular way of presenting the Jefferson scandal. So, I did some digging this morning to look at how various new sources first ran this story. Nearly every story included a paragraph such as the Yahoo story does, that Paul the Spud takes apart:

Congressman Caught on Tape, Documents Say By MATTHEW BARAKAT,
Associated Press Writer
Mon May 22, 7:39 AM ET HEADLINE
( . . .)
The Jefferson investigation has provided some cover for Republicans who have suffered black eyes in the investigations of current and former GOP lawmakers, including Tom DeLay of Texas, the former majority leader.

Now, let's consider a few other news sources, in no particular order.

1. From the NYTimes:
For Democrats, a Scandal of Their Own

WASHINGTON, May 22 — Democrats' plans to make Republican corruption a theme of their election strategy this year have been complicated by accusations of wrongdoing in their own ranks, leading the party to try on Monday to blunt the political effects of the unfolding case against Representative William J. Jefferson.

The constitutional question aside, some Democrats acknowledged that the headline-grabbing case involving a colleague they know as Jeff had the potential to dilute one of their core political arguments against the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
( . . .)

2. Fox News

Allege Rep. Jefferson Caught on Tape Taking Bribe Monday , May 22, 2006
( . . .)
The Jefferson investigation has provided fodder for Republicans who have suffered black eyes in the investigations of current and former GOP lawmakers, including Tom DeLay and Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

3. CNN
Affidavit: $90,000 found in congressman's freezer style
FBI wraps up search of Jefferson's office in bribery probe
( . . .)
With midterm elections in November, Democrats are trying to highlight GOP ties to the influence-peddling investigation surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in a Texas court, and last year's guilty plea of California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now serving an eight-year stretch for taking bribes from defense contractors.

4. LATimes:

Lawmaker, Democrats Feel the Chill
A probe notable for its freezer search makes it tougher for the party to use the corruption issue.
By Faye Fiore, Times Staff Writer
May 23, 2006

The idea that a member of Congress may have been caught in a bribery scandal is certainly nothing new. Lawmakers of old were known to walk the marbled halls, their briefcases bulging with cash.

Even the amount isn't particularly extraordinary. After all, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the disgraced former Republican representative from Rancho Santa Fe, recently was convicted of accepting almost 27 times as much in illegal gifts and graft.

But what stands out about the contents of the freezer belonging to Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson, as described in an FBI affidavit released Sunday, is the old-style simplicity of what investigators found: bundles of C-notes, wrapped tightly like leftover lasagna.

"Why the freezer? Why not the mattress?" asked Lara Brown, a political scientist at Cal State Channel Islands, who has studied 30 years' worth of modern House ethics scandals. She noted that 2006 was yielding a "bumper crop" of congressional embarrassments.

The fallout from the latest alleged wrongdoing could be politically costly — one more thing to cement voters' low opinion of Congress in an election year.

Democrats have been using the ethics storm swirling around the Republican Party as election-year fodder: Cunningham is now serving eight years for bribery and tax evasion. And the once-powerful and well-connected GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff has pleaded guilty to defrauding clients and conspiring to bribe lawmakers in one of the most sweeping political scandals of modern times.

5. The Guardian Unlimited: (Same AP story as Yahoo).

Congressman Caught on Tape, Documents Say
Monday May 22, 2006 10:01 PM Associated Press Writer
( . . .)
The Jefferson investigation has provided some cover for Republicans who have suffered black eyes in the investigations of current and former GOP lawmakers, including Tom DeLay of Texas, the former majority leader.

Many of the newspapers ran AP writer, Matthew Barakat's piece, which included what I am calling the 'frame' of the newsarticle. The fact that the story is reported in relation to the upcoming midterm elections and Republican scandals is not in any way material to the 'facts' of the story. And yet, most major news outlets included this commentary as a means of informing the public of Jefferson's graft.

This is political story was immediately incorporated into a larger narrative that has been running in the newspapers since the Abramoff scandal: namely, both parties are corrupt and therefore there is nothing distinctive or important about the K Street Project.

While we can debate the usefulness of Foucault for larger epistemological debates, his insight that some interpretive frameworks are selected at the exclusion of others, and to further the political interests of those promoting such a framework is invaluable for decoding the Jefferson scandal.

UPDATE: Via Majikthise, I discovered this little nugget. A blogger telling you exactly how the think tanks pull this sort of crap off.

Cross-posted at The Reaction.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Jean Rohe Speaking Up

We had an excellent speaker this year--Bruce Gordon, the President and C.E.O. of the NAACP. The New School, however, decided to invite John McCain (hello?). Anyway, via The (Liberal) Girl Next Door, I discovered this articulate, newly graduated student's pre-emptive speech discrediting McCain's remarks: Jean Rohe: Why I Spoke Up (at the Huffington Post).

Here is an excerpt from her remarks:

Right now, I'm going to be who I am and digress from my previously prepared remarks. I am disappointed that I have to abandon the things I had wanted to speak about, but I feel that it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge the fact that this ceremony has become something other than the celebratory gathering that it was intended to be due to all the media attention surrounding John Mc Cain's presence here today, and the student and faculty outrage generated by his invitation to speak here. The senator does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded. Not only this, but his invitation was a top-down decision that did not take into account the desires and interests of the student body on an occasion that is supposed to honor us above all, and to commemorate our achievements.

What is interesting and bizarre about this whole situation is that Senator Mc Cain has stated that he will be giving the same speech at all three universities where he has been invited to speak recently, of which ours is the last; those being Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, Columbia University, and finally here at the New School. For this reason I have unusual foresight concerning the themes of his address today. Based on the speech he gave at the other institutions, Senator Mc Cain will tell us today that dissent and disagreement are our "civic and moral obligation" in times of crisis. I consider this a time of crisis and I feel obligated to speak. Senator Mc Cain will also tell us about his cocky self-assuredness in his youth, which prevented him from hearing the ideas of others. In so doing, he will imply that those of us who are young are too naïve to have valid opinions and open ears. I am young, and although I don't profess to possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that preemptive war is dangerous and wrong, that George Bush's agenda in Iraq is not worth the many lives lost. And I know that despite all the havoc that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Osama bin Laden still has not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction.

Finally, Senator Mc Cain will tell us that we, those of us who are Americans, "have nothing to fear from each other." I agree strongly with this, but I take it one step further. We have nothing to fear from anyone on this living planet. Fear is the greatest impediment to the achievement of peace. We have nothing to fear from people who are different from us, from people who live in other countries, even from the people who run our government--and this we should have learned from our educations here. We can speak truth to power, we can allow our humanity always to come before our nationality, we can refuse to let fear invade our lives and to goad us on to destroy the lives of others. These words I speak do not reflect the arrogance of a young strong-headed woman, but belong to a line of great progressive thought, a history in which the founders of this institution play an important part. I speak today, even through my nervousness, out of a need to honor those voices that came before me, and I hope that we graduates can all strive to do the same.

You have to love the guts of this woman. Sure, my more conservative readers are going to tell me that her pre-emptive strike was "immature" or "rude." But, since when does being polite trump articulating your convinctions, especially on an issue as important and devastating as the on-going war in Iraq and the utter disregard of genocide in Darfur? I particularly like how she deconstructs McCain's call to openmindedness amounting to nothing more than listening to those who are older and wiser. Nice!

Melancholy Monday: Graduation

I strolled through campus today and watched the grounds crew put away all of the chairs, take apart the scaffolding, and take down the college flags. Graduation is over and I am back in my office after a semester long sabbatical. I have three glorious months ahead of me to do some research before a new crop of first year students show up in September with their parents and start unloading the family cars. Graduation is always an important moment in my academic life. My small liberal arts college has embellished it with many fine traditions that really give a sense of accomplishment, hope, and closure to the students receiving their diplomas.

I cherish the rituals of graduation. So much occurs in a year and it is so easy to just turn what we do into a "job." But teaching is so much more than a job. Many of us have seen such promise in our students, and we give to them knowing that we might play some small role in their transformation into future citizens. We hope that we have given them some guidance about how to be a truly great human, how to have integrity, and perhaps, more importantly, how to dream. So much of our lives can be limited by our own stunted imagination. Our students won't necessarily remember what Hegel wrote or how to do a regression. But, all they really need to remember is that there is a world of possibility out there and they have all the resources they need to figure out how to make a contribution. If they don't know the answers, they should now know how to find them. If they entered this college uncertain of their talents, they should leave here now knowing they can accomplish a great many things they never thought they were capable of doing.

This last graduation was particularly bittersweet. Every year it gets a little harder saying goodbye to students you have seen grow so much over the four years you knew them. I showed up to meet parents like I always do, but I realized this time something about my students I have never taken the time to notice before: they are going to be parents some day. Perhaps many of them will choose to not have children, but I imagine that most of them will. And, you glimpse something of what matters most about your students when you see them with their families. You see that no matter how much they agreed me you, or how much they were persuaded by my arguments, or how much they will care about the things I care about, most of my students will be truly fine parents.

We spend so much time thinking about issues that divide us: religion, politics, or even musical taste. But families are remarkable things in that they often can weather all those differences. I still love my family even though I find myself radically at odds with many of their views. My bond to these people is far more important than what I take to be the right answer on any given question. I think this is true of our students as well. They have spent the last four years challenging some of their most deeply held positions, interacting with people they would've never passed on a street before, or travelling to countries that give them an entirely different perspective on the world. They have become different people than perhaps their sisters, brother, mothers or fathers. And yet, all those changes, all those nuances to their identity do not necessarily tear them from their family. In fact, perhaps we have helped our students connect their families to new adventures, new ideas, and new horizons.

One father thanked me for caring for his son. I was truly moved by this gesture. He was grateful that his son entered this place, explored religion, philosophy, gender issues and international economics. Marvelous. His father struck me as someone who had not attended college, had not travelled far from his home town, but had worked very hard to ensure his son would have the opportunities that this place gave him. And, what mattered most to him, at the end of the day, was that his son had seen and experienced a world that was so different from where he came and might alter forever the path he would take. Families can be truly remarkable in they way they can absorb so much difference, without ripping apart at the seams.

So, I think I indulged myself this year by thinking that perhaps what I contribute to my students is a bit more than a sharp mind. If I am lucky I have helped them become great parents. I watched my students take their diplomas, shake the president's hand, and then march off the stage toward their future.

Carnival of Feminists XV

I have been behind in linking to the excellent Carnival of Feminists. The 15th installment is over at Self Portrait As. Antheia's fine piece on "Rape Conversations" made it in.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Rate Your Students: Post-Grading Pick Me Up

Hugo put me on the trail of this hilarious blog called Rate Your Students. Damn, I wish I would've thought of doing this.

I love their mission: "Welcome to Rate Your Students, a public forum where faculty and students can work out the tricky dynamic of the modern classroom. Students can tell us why they won't take the iPod out during a lecture, and professors can tell us why their clothes are so frumpy."

Someone Give Bush a Blowjob

Rethinking Feminism Series: On Victims

So, I've been thinking a lot lately about how people who act the victim are quite often the abusive one.

For the past two years I taught a Gender and Identity course, wherein several students would intern at NOVIS (Non-Violent Intervention Services). NOVIS is a program aimed for helping perpetrators of intimate partner violence (batterers/emotional abusives) take responsibility for their actions, give them insight into why they try to control their partners, and how to stop the cycle of violence. NOVIS uses the Duluth Model. The students who work with NOVIS spend a great deal of time in classes with the batterers and what they universally report back about the abusers is that they see themselves as victims. These men (the program is aimed at men who make up the majority of abusers) simply take no responsibility for their actions. They consistently blame their girlfriends or wives for causing them to get angry because they suspect them having affairs, ignoring them, not spending enough time with the children, etc.

I used to be bewildered when I heard the students' presentations of these men. I had a hard time imaging these men (who were mere stereotypes in my mind) portraying themselves as victims. I pictured tall, burly, biker dudes who look like at any minute they will break a beer bottle and try to swipe you if you look at him crosswise. I was wrong. What is interesting about being wrong is how easy it is for many good natured people to feel sorry for the abuser in a relationship. The one who is always claiming that he or she has been mistreated, has been misunderstood, who believes his or her partner was uncaring, attracted to others. Many of us well-meaning types are likely to feel sorry for the "victim" at first. We believe their accounts of their partner or the others who are "hurting" them, and we try to leap in and protect them. This is usually their first move of manipulation. Abusers get others to do their bidding by presenting themselves as helpless and broken.

In thinking about the way "victims" behave, I am sort of struck by how many women I know who embody this role. While I don't know (at least that I am aware of) any women who are beating the crap out of their partners, I know plenty of women who manipulate their partners and others around them by playing the victim. I have often assumed that they play this role because they don't perceive they have any real power to ask for and work for what they want. For example, many of these women might have grown up in an era where no one gave a rats ass what a woman thought, never mind what their wives thought, and so they developed these passive aggressive strategies for manipulating people. Moreover, many "victims" have actually been victimized by a parent or some other adult who they trusted and then abused that trust. The problem is "victims" turn their victimization into abuse. They feel entitled to manipulate and undermine others because they were treated badly by life.

Victims think everyone is out to get them; they are "misunderstood." They convince themselves that they need to keep track of everything their partner does in order to protect themselves: they control the money, they control who is allowed to come over to the house and when, and they often stalk their partners, either by tracking their email, hiring spies to keep tabs on them, or even hiring detectives. "Victims" are often very controlling people, although they refuse to recognize it because after all they are the victims: they are the ones being mistreated, and because they are, they need to keep watch of their partner's or children's activities.

What is even more tricky about female "victims" is that they can manipulate the law and police to help them control their partner as well. With all of the important awareness of domestic violence, and the incorporation of these programs into law enforcement, a very cunning and manipulative female "victim" can accuse her partner of being the abuser and immediately get an order of protection. Playing the helpless, frightened, weak woman, she can call upon some strong men to protect her from her partner, who is in fact the real abused one in the relationship.

I know that I have been writing a lot on issues such as rape and abuse from what some might call the "non-feminist perspective." But, as I said to one reader in an email, I hope that feminism is mature enough now to admit that women can be abusive, hurtful, malicious, and manipulative. Moreover, women should have no less excuse for this behavior than the male abusers out there. The fact is that abusive people were often abused themselves. But adults have the capacity to do something about their behavior. Everytime I write about these issues I fear that I will soon be marginalized to the fringes of the feminist blogosphere. Yet, I cannot help pointing these things out.

If feminists don't step up and look carefully at how some of our important legislative and political gains have been used to harm some men, then we will have become exactly what the right wing accuses us of. We need to be able to admit that some of the systems out there set up to protect women against horrific and very real violence at the hands of their partners have worked also to empower abusive women to use the state to control their partners. This doesn't just happen in heterosexual relationships, but in lesbian relationships as well.

A former roomate of mine, who is a social worker, talked frequently about the problem her domestic violence shelter faced when it took in lesbians. Often both partners in the couple, the perpetrator of violence and the abused partner, would show up at the shelter claiming that she was abused. The therapist would have a difficult time sorting out the dynamics of the relationship and the story, since the paradigm they worked with was that women are victims at the hands of patriarchal violence.

I bring these topics up because I know that many others would like to write or speak about this, but fear the wrath they would get from feminists. But, if we don't pay attention to these realities, then we are making a mockery of the important and necessary movements to empower women and fight sexism. I know that many political battles rely upon simple narratives---men abuse women, so we need VAWA. But, when we reduce the complexity of abuse into these narratives, we are inevitably protecting some at the expense of others.

Response to Critics: Student Evaluations

My colleague Char wrote this brilliant post, responding to his "critics", aka the student evaluations. I am so psyched he put this post up. I mean, students have Where do we get to weigh in on the students' performance, but our own blogs.

Char's post, however, is Jon Stewart-esque.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Grading Season

Many of my colleagues have just finished up grading for the semester. I tried to get in contact with one of them during this grading frenzy only to be reminded that it was grading season. Because I haven't had to grade this semester, I have taken some time to think about the incredible amount of energy and time goes into grading.

Grading is draining work. Grading papers requires a great deal of patience, focus and, oddly, courage. If you care about teaching your students how to write well, then you need to spend a good deal of time figuring out how they write now and what they need to learn. No one student has the same writing problems. While, sure, most students write too quickly and carelessly, the real writing challenges for students are multi-varied. Some students have something really interesting to say, but they haven't yet figured out how to explain it to someone else. Some students are terrified of taking a stance on an issue, fearing the inevitable consequence that someone will tell them they are just plain wrong. Some students haven't taken the time to think about what to say. Today I heard an interview with the writer/editor Roger Angell from the New Yorker, who said: "Writing is hard work. Writing is thinking." I think that was the truest statement I have ever heard. Sometimes students just don't want to think.

I see my job as one in which I push students to think, to care about what they say, and to develop the courage to defend their own views. This is not just technical work, it is emotional work. And that emotional work demands a great deal of courage from me as well. In particular, I have to care more about making my students better writers and thinkers than winning their affection. This is not as easy a task as it might sound. Students are quite adept at "playing" their profs. A great many of them grade grub. They see education as some sort of endurance race, whereby if they worked hard and showed up to every class, then they deserve an A. Students' egos are also undeniably bound up with their writing. Isn't that true for all of us? When we criticize student work, we have to always be careful to deliver the criticism in a way that inspires them to improve, rather than whither in the face of red ink. To that end, I often try to not write on the paper and instead type comments that treat the papers as a whole. This is extremely time consuming, but at least prevents students from simply correcting grammatical errors.

When students rewrite papers, they rarely rewrite. They just clean up the careless spelling and sentence structure. This of course does nothing to make a better paper. I think that most students intuitively know this, but to admit this to themselves would require them to have to give more of themselves than they are willing to give. But, can we really blame them? How can we lose sight of the fact that we too find ourselves in an emotional turmoil the minute we are required to write. Writing demands that we slow down, care about our reader, and clarify, clarify, clarify what it is we want to say. I can't think of any writing job I have done that didn't make me want to scream, throw things, find a less stressful day job, or clean my stove with a toothbrush. I try to remember this everytime I work through a paper with a student. I know how hard it is to write well and I have to find a way to make the student want to willingly put him or herself in that emotional turmoil.

I am usually brain dead this time of the year. I can barely function for the first few weeks after grades are due. I am grateful that my college refuses to offer summer school classes (for I would be tempted to teach for the $). If we didn't have summers to recharge ourselves, to spend sometime working on our own ideas, then we would never be able to go back to doing the hard work of teaching.

To all of you who have just turned your grades in: congratulations. Probably very few of our students fully grasp the amount of energy we put into their intellectual development. I swear if I hear one more student say "Well, you could just give us all A's" I will start beating my head against the wall. Sure, I could give everyone As. What would be even better is if I just don't show up to teach them at all. I could just give them a list of things to read and then walk away for the rest of the semester.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Let a Thousand Female Bloggers Bloom

Belatedly, I discovered that The(liberal)Girl Next Door paid me a very nice compliment on her blog. She counted me among some of her favorite female bloggers, following the lead of Jane Hamsher over at firedoglake. What spurred this nice compliment was a meditation on the number of women reading blogs vs. men, and how the liberal blogosphere might influence politics/elections. What strikes me as an interesting issue in both of these posts is the fact that women's voices are underrepresented in policy and political debates. The shrill Ann Coulter or Yes-gal Kate O'Beirne are the "token" female pundits out there in the MSM. In the blogosphere, however, I have discovered a great number of powerful female voices, writers who I regularly rely upon to help me think through a great number of current issues.

What I have been in denial about for months is that women's voices in the blogosphere are marginalized. I have read other female bloggers on this issue, and I have found this interesting, but I quickly dismisssed it as I continued on with my eccentric posts. However, the longer I have blogged here, the more I am conscious of how differently many women, such as myself, write. If you read my blog, then you know that I rarely write blog entries that deconstruct news stories, or that follow closely breaking stories. Many excellent bloggers--male and female--already do this work, and frankly, much better than I could.

Perhaps by not keeping my finger on the pulse of political news, scandals, wonky talk and policy, I have not attracted a huge base of male readers. I could bring myself to see this as an obstacle, keeping me from more effectively impacting public discourse, and therefore aim to restyle my blog. But, to do so would be to betray my own voice. Everytime I have had the inkling to become more news junky-like, I am overcome by a sense of inauthenticity. Sure, I debate political issues all day long in the hallways of work. I follow what's going on in the world with the intense passion of the other lefty bloggers. But, I just don't think my particular talent lies in authoritatively speaking on why this official is bat shit crazy, or this agency failed, or why the Dems continue to fail in the polls. Speaking with such authority would suggest that I am some sort of insider, or that I have a better grasp on these issues than most people.

That is not me.

I see myself wading through these issues with the same questions, doubts, or concerns that I imagine most Americans who pay attention have. So, my blog entries are often long-winded open questions, soliciting views from readers. I write in as personal as a voice as I can, trying to avoid being too self-indulgent, while underscoring to my readers that I am writing from a point of view. Sometimes I take a more decided stance on a position--such as my blog entries on my own college's sexual misconduct policies or abortion debates--but overall, I see this blog space as a mental space: a place for dialogue, exploration and hopefully some insight.

What fascinates me is that my attraction to memoirish, explorative, open-ended questioning blogs is somehow a mark of my femininity. Whether I have been nurtured toward this style or its rooted in my hormones, I am at a complete loss why "voice" is such a gendered issue. Certainly many literary theorists or linguists have smarter things to say on this than I do. While most people would say that I tend to introduce "gender" into every conversation, I have tried to ignore, for as long as possible, the idea that how one writes and what one writes about is gendered. Yet, I cannot deny that while I seek out male bloggers for technical details on a particular issue, i.e. the legality of phone companies handing over call records to the NSA, I am far more satisfied by the "personal is political style" of most of my favorite female bloggers. I have always found that people's stories tend to resonate with me and inform me more than narrow, technical discussions.

I had a debate several years ago on this issue with a friend who hated the New Yorker because of its long, drawn out style, which, he believed, took way too long to get to the meat. He preferred the terse, concise pieces in the Economist. I realized in the middle of that conversation that had the New Yorker not existed, I probably would not be as informed on many issues--national and international--as I am. I need to relate to people when I am trying to understand policy. I rely heavily on empathy to make sense of any political position.

I just cannot bring myself to feel inferior about the way I write. I guess if my livelihood depended on attracting more readers I might care more. But, I don't see the point of changing the way I write or the direction of my blog (not that anyone suggested that mind you). I do think that we should embrace the distinctive gender style--if it does truly exist--of women bloggers writing and use this to energize more women to get involved in politics. I hope that I do play some part in this.

If connecting politics to real people, and particularly their stories, will turn out more female voters, then I say: Let a Thousand (or more) Female Bloggers Bloom!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Lawrence Lader Dies

I woke up this morning to my brother's espresso and the LA Times. Flipping through the front pages, I discovered the Obituary for Lawrence Lader, who was one of our most outspoken and effective activists for abortion rights. His quest to secure legal and safe abortions began shortly after writing a biography on Margaret Sanger's life in 1955, entitled The Margaret Sanger Story. After finishing this book, he became interested in abortion, a topic that the LA Times obit notes was unspeakable at the time, and wrote the pioneer work Abortion. Upon completing this work, many women contacted him about how to get a safe abortion and NARAL was born. His book was cited several times in the Roe decision.

Last summer I read his book, Abortion II, where I read about some of the pioneer abortion doctors and quickly became interested in doing research on why one of these men, in particular, would do something so bold as provide abortions to his rural community from 1938-1961 (when he was put in jail).

What worries me now is that all of these amazing pioneers are dying, and before we get a chance to really learn from them and remember the history of the abortion rights movement in this country. We need pioneers like Lader again, given the radical assault on women's rights in states like South Dakota. Apparently Lader's last act was to take out an ad in the Sioux Falls newspaper protesting South Dakota's new law. What a shame that the leaders of this movement are departing this earth, and younger women and men have grown up in a time where back alley abortions are a bad memory of the past. We desperately need people to tell us the stories of life before Roe.

I wish I would've known that Lader was still fighting in NYC. I would've tried to contact him, and now feel regret that I couldn't interview him about his work. Do any of my readers know about interviews or works written on Lader?

You can read several obituaries: NYTimes, WaPo, LATimes are among some of them.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Love Sickness and Writing Blocks

The day before I left for the West Coast, I had my friend Alessia over and we were talking about typical girl things. Alessia got me thinking about the relationship between self-esteem, gender identity, and love sickness. So, beware for a somewhat self-indulgent post to follow.

I spent a lot of time thinking about Freud's notion of melancholia in my dissertation, and why it seems to resonate with so many women that I know. Before I write another word, I should disclaim that I don't think that Freud's notion
only speaks to women, particularly those ravaged by unrequited love. It just so happens that this was the sample of folks I had in mind when I embarked on my dissertation work. In any case, what I found alluring about Freud's theory of melancholia was how closely it was tied to self-esteem, and particularly the need many people have to boost their fragile ego by gaining the love of someone who they think is better than they are. Freud talks about melancholia as a process that ensues after we have lost a love-object, and particular one in whom we invested so much of our energy. We most likely chose this lover because he/she represented what we saw ourselves lacking.

Another essay that captures what I think are excellent gender dimensions of that dynamic is Simone de Beauvoir's "The Woman in Love," from the
Second Sex. De Beauvoir's chapter is a devastating look at how women, in particular, at least in the era she was writing, sought to almagamate themselves with a powerful man in order to gain some sort of importance. She admonishes women for evading their metaphysical task to claim their own worth, their own liberty, without attaching oneself to the male sex as a kind of ascendancy into fame, importance and success. The danger in needing the love of a man to find your own self-worth, argues De Beauvoir, is that you have forsaken your own responsibiltity to strive toward self-definition. I have always loved this particular analysis, because De Beauvoir captures what is really at the heart of love-sickness in women who fear that their lovers are 'better' than they are: the fear of succeeding on one's own terms, or risk-taking.

Now, I am going to restrict my comments to observations about myself and women who I am close to. But, countless times I have listened to very smart, very accomplished women bewail over a lost lover, and particularly one who they believed left them for someone better. The more I would probe the nature of the love sickness--in my best impersonation of a therapist-- the more I would discover that the real source of grief was a profound sense that
she was worthless. In fact, given my small world, the source of my girlfriend's depression lied in the failure to write, particularly write something of importance: a dissertation or an article. The failed romance became the mechanism by which to avoid the metaphysical task of claiming one's own liberty. More particularly, the love affair was a way of distracting oneself from the brutal task of putting oneself out in the public domain, and risk being jeered, rejected, dismissed for one's ideas.

Now, I know this fear exists among male and female academics. But, rarely have I heard a male academic say--outloud--that his girlfriend, or wife was "better" than him. Nor have I heard a male academic express fears that he is simply not up to the task of being a philosopher (for example). It doesn't mean this never occurs. But, I found it interesting at the time that the women around me, fighting to make it in a very male dominated profession, felt themselves profoundly inadequate to the task, and avoided it by subverting their energy into a narcissistic man, who was perhaps just as afraid, but masked it by exuding a great deal of confidence in his abilities.

One thing I have observed about my own tendency toward melancholia is that the more professional validation I have gotten, the less vulnerable I have been to the kind of self-abnegating, passions that leave me destitute, broken, and bleeding on the floor. The more I dared to write and speak, and particularly to put it out in the public domain and then withstand criticism, and earn some respect, the less I went for the "narcissitic dude." (I love that phrase, just made it up. My friend Yehudi would call this guy, 'poet dude.') The object of my affection has simply transformed as I dared to define my self-worth independently, that is, without relying on an important Other to invest me with worth by loving little ole me.

Anyway, I
wanted to put this out there today, and see if any of this resonates with my readers, or if it is all too obvious, or perhaps trite. Is female melancholia, in part, fear of risking oneself, one's ideas to the world? Is love sickness really just a writing block?

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Just flew across the country to visit my mom for a week. I am adjusting to West Coast time and sleep deprivation (I got up at 3 am). But, lots mulling around in my feminista brain. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Finally, an Anti-Abortion Pill. Hooray for the Team Pro-Life!

Anti-abortion advocates, many of whom had petitioned the FDA to approve UR-86 while the drug was still in the research-and-development stage, also reacted warmly to the FDA's decision. Randall Terry, founder of the pro-life organization Operation Rescue, praised the new pharmaceutical for its potential use in cases of rape and incest, saying it could help end the shame and humiliation of such trauma while saving the life of the fetus.

"Victims of sexual assault can feel trapped, like they've got nowhere to turn," Terry said. "Now, they can solve their deep, internal problems once and for all, without unfairly condemning their children."

Damn Ironic Lefties.

Low Polls and Gerrymandering Blues

While waking up to read more good stuff on how Bush is tanking in the polls across the board, I cannot help but ask: what does Bush's unpopularity have to do with Dem success in 2006? Redistricting has ensured that Republican and Democrat seats are going to remain Republican and Democrat seats. Every time I get an email from a progressive organization telling me that now is the time for the Dems to take back Congress, my pesky academic skepticism creeps in.

The NYT reports:

Although the composition of Congressional districts will make it hard for the Democrats to recapture control of Congress in the fall, the poll suggested that the trend was moving in their direction. Just 23 percent said they approved of the job Congress was doing, down from 29 percent in January. That is about the same level of support for Congress as in the fall of 1994, when Republicans seized control of the House.

Americans said Democrats would do a better job dealing with Iraq, gasoline prices, immigration, taxes, prescription drug prices and civil liberties.

Fifty percent said Democrats came closer than Republicans to sharing their moral values, compared with 37 percent who said Republicans shared their values. A majority said Republican members of Congress were more likely to be financially corrupt than Democratic members of Congress, suggesting that Democrats may be making headway in their efforts to portray Republicans as having created a "culture of corruption" in Washington.

By better than two to one, Democrats were seen as having more new ideas than Republicans. And half of respondents, the highest number yet, said it was better when different parties controlled the two branches of Congress, reflecting one of the major arguments being laid out by Congressional Democrats in their bid to win back the House or the Senate.

The bolded text being the material point here. What would the polls have to say in order for hardcore Republican districts to all of a sudden vote a Democrat into office? How many seats are really at play (that is not a rhetorical question)? Someone explain to me how the Dems can take back Congress given the effects of gerrymandering?

UPDATE: Scott answers my question over at LGM. Read it and weep.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Let Them Eat Viagra: Impotence Epidemic on College Campuses

Lindsay also tackles Big Pharma today in her piece "Human Rights Cause Impotence." This health trend story in the WaPo--impotence epidemic among college boys--is creepy. Her theory is that this is a set up to pave the way for prescribing Viagra to college boys to keep up with those insatiable college women.

Amanda deftly challenges the neanderthal undertones of this piece:

It would seem then that the problem might not be so much women’s equality; it appears the real problem is framing sex as an act of domination in the first place. And luckily, the author speaks to a young man who got over his problems. What worked? Did his girlfriend learn to shut up and start faking orgasms? Did he get to be in a gang bang and have all his friends high five his hard-on ability?

Not quite.

He sat down with his best friend, Josh Rolf, and spilled his guts. Rolf told him no one is a stud every time. Almost immediately, his talents returned.

“The day after I talked to Josh, everything went back to normal,” he says. He also credits his girlfriend. They had been dating a year, and “I didn’t think she’d walk out on me. That was incredibly helpful.”

So he got over thinking that it was a sign of his power to have an erection at will and he put sex into the context of the affection in his relationship. And no one had to give up any rights. Too bad the article didn’t start off telling the truth, that it’s male dominance that psychs men out, not women’s equality.

Don't miss Scott's deconstruction of this WaPo piece over at LGM:

The most obvious conclusion to this story, then, is "young men, as they always have, suffer from impotence, which can result from unhealthy habits, and a natural anxiety about pleasing sexual partners. People in caring relationships can generally work through it." But if you can't blame feminism for something, there's no story! And note that the anti-feminist approach is also much more contemptuous of men that the better-defended null hypothesis. Despite the inability of this article to cherry-pick them very effectively, there are certainly men who are threatened by female sexuality and want to dominate their partners. But what we see here for the most part are not young men complaining about women who want to have mutually pleasurable sex--indeed, they seem to like it--but simply have utterly ordinary problems and insecurities. The tendency of style writers to turn such banalities into something that can be blamed on feminism, and doing so in ways that also make the men in question look worse, is just bizarre.

Big Pharma is Watching You

Daniel Carlat, a professor at Tufts Medical School, wrote a brave op-ed in today's NYT, exposing that Big Pharma is paying physicians to write bad articles on perfectly good drugs. For those of you not aware of the tactics that Big Pharma uses to block generic drugs, market "me too" drugs directly to consumers, fail to report negative clinical trial results, or ghost write articles promoting their drugs, you need to take a look at :

(1) Marcia Angell's The Truth about the Drug Companies.
(2) David Healy's Let Them Eat Prozac
(3) Fran Hawthorne's The Merck Juggernaut.

Carlat's focuses specifically on how Big Pharma is paying physicians to write bad articles about Trazodone, an effective and cheap sleep aid (10 cents a pill), in order to push the newer and more expensive Lunesta and Ambien CR ($3+ a pill). The market for sleeping pills is now huge: 42 million prescriptions written a day. Big Pharma wants to make sure to capitalize on that market with unfair tactics.

While I could write this whole post on the social implications of a huge insomina drug market (can we say OVERWORKED), I will focus on how this sort of corporate thievery should be exactly the kind of issues that the Dems should be focusing on in the 2008 elections. While Health Care is becoming a phenomenal crisis, the Republicans gave huge handouts to the Pharmaceutical Industry with Medicare D. And, with Big Pharma writing smear articles on perfectly safe, effective and cheap generic drugs, it ensures that our tax dollars will further line their pockets. The amount of money that Americans spend on Pharmaceutical drugs is pathetic, and usually because of lots of politicking in the background: deals made between insurance companies' formularies and Big Pharma. The consumer is screwed in the process, usually for drugs that really treat the ailments of a ridiculous American work ethic, rather than preventive care. What gets pushed on TV? Drugs that make us more effective and productive workers: anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, insomnia drugs, allergy medications, and pain killers. Perhaps what we need more than all of these artificially inflated medications is time.

How about making the Dems the "take back your time" party.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Rethinking Feminism Series: Consent

I cannot resist writing about college conduct policies, specifically what constitutes consent in sexual relations. While at some point in the future, I might very much like to write a piece where I compare various college "consent policies," today I will write what I know. My own college policy reads as follows:

The Director of Student Rights & Responsibilities receives all incident reports and refers cases to the appropriate investigators and hearing bodies. Charges of misconduct which, in the judgment of the Director, could lead to separation from the Institution (Suspension or Expulsion) will be handled through the formal hearing process which will include the Student Conduct Review Board. Factors to be considered will be the present demeanor and past disciplinary record of the offender, as well as the nature of the offense and the severity of any damage,injury, or harm resulting from it. Repeated or aggravatedviolations of any section of this code may also result in expulsion or suspension or in the imposition of such lesser sanctions as may be appropriate.

1. Sexual Misconduct
Sexual Misconduct is defined as a threat of a sexual nature or deliberate physical contact of a sexual nature without the other person's consent. Examples of such behavior include, but are not limited to, 1) deliberate or reckless threat, actual or implied; 2) physical contact of a lewd type such as brushing, touching, grabbing, pinching, patting, hugging, and kissing; 3) physical contact of a sexual nature that results in reasonable apprehension of a sexual assault or physical harm; and 4) coerced sexual activities, including rape.

All sexual interaction between any two people must be consensual. Each individual has a responsibility to obtain consent before engaging in sexual interaction. Consent is defined as the act of willingly and verbally agreeing (for example, by stating "yes") to engage in specific sexual conduct. If either person at any point in a sexual encounter does not give continuing and active consent, all sexual contact must cease, even if consent was given earlier. A person who is impaired by consumption of alcohol or drugs is considered unable to give consent.

To initiate sexual contact with someone whose judgment is impaired by alcohol or drugs, who is unable to give verbal consent (sleeping or unconscious), or who is threatened, coerced, or intimidated is a violation of Code of Conduct. To coerce a person to consume alcohol or other drugs for the purpose of inducing sexual activity is a violation of the Code of Conduct.

Students are reminded that the conduct covered in this policy may also result in criminal prosecution under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is the practice of the College to encourage all persons reporting a serious violation of this policy to also report the incident to the local authorities.

I have highlighted what I think are two very important aspects of this policy, and why our college policy ends up failing to truly protect our campus from rape. First of all, the behavior included in the definition of sexual misconduct (which is, btw, our college's clever way of renaming sexual assualt or rape)--physical contact of a lewd type such as brushing, touching, grabbing, pinching, patting, hugging, and kissing--is behavior that is quite typical and normal in most sexual relationships. The phrase however includes the word "lewd," which is purposely ambiguous. It allows the jury to not find a student guilty of sexual misconduct if they believe that he or she was not lewdly doing these behaviors. And yet, it's not clear what counts as lewd kissing or lewd touching? What special extra behavior or words need to be present in order to demonstrate that someone was not being lewd or that someone was being lewd when kissing another student.

For example, let's say that a very well brought up, gentlemanly student--let's call him Kurt-- has been dating his girlfriend for three months. So far their dates have consisted of hand holding (without getting verbal consent, btw), going out to campus events together, and attending a formal. Our couple has not yet kissed, slept in the same bed, or engaged in any "petting." One night after the formal, Kurt is walking his girlfriend--Lana--back to her dorm room, and Lana grabs Kurt behind the neck, draws him closer to her, and begins to kiss him like he has never been kissed. Before he knows it, Lana has put her tongue in Kurt's mouth and he is shocked by how forward and lewd this behavior is. Kurt has every right to file charges against Lana for sexual misconduct in this case. What the jury will have to decide is if Lana was being lewd or not.

Now for another example: let's say that Sally--a self-possessed, friendly, trickster--walks by Sam, a boy on her floor, who has just left the shower and is wearing nothing but a towel. She runs up behind Sam and pinches his bare bottom. Sally has just violated Sam for this lewd pinching, right?

I chose these two innocuous examples to get at what is problematic about a conduct code like this, why I think such a code is a betrayal of feminism, and then I will explain how a college like mine actually uses this code.

What is Problematic About this Code

First of all, this code allows the campus to suspend students for the behaviors that I listed above. Each of the scenarios I illustrated is an instance of not getting verbal consent, and thereby the student should be found responsible for sexual misconduct. If and when such a student is found responsible, the charge will be placed on his or her record and must be disclosed to many post-graduate jobs, graduate schools, or fellowships, like the Peace Corps. Perhaps, what is more upsetting, however, is that when a student rapes another student, he (or she?) is found responsible of sexual misconduct, the same charge that would be applied to the two other cases above. Sure, rape might be the fourth level of sexual misconduct, but the sentencing seems to be the same for levels 1-4.

The students are taught this code the first week of new orientation. We break men and women up into two different groups and go over the code. Each time I have participated in this, students have peppered me with lots of questions, in particular, the women have pointed out that the examples taught of sexual misconduct are always men preying on drunk women. And, they wonder if this code puts the onus on the boy to get verbal consent rather than the woman. I have never had a satisfactory answer to this. The last two levels of sexual misconduct--(3) physical contact of a sexual nature that results in reasonable apprehension of a sexual assault or physical harm and (4) coerced sexual activities, including rape--have often struck many of the young women students that I am educating as likely to find only men guilty of sexual misconduct rather than women. I wasn't sure I necessarily agreed, until I sat through my own Student Conduct Review Board (SCRB) hearing. During that hearing, where two students, who had been dating, engaging in regular sexual activity (except intercourse), the female student was in no way found responsible for violating the sexual misconduct policy, even though she admitted to initiating much of the activity, nor had she gotten his verbal consent at any point of the sexual experience.

This Code is a Betrayal of Feminism

What I find insulting about this conduct code, and the way that the SCRB board enforces it, is that it suggests that women are helpless, passive, sexual victims. First of all, many of the behaviors that constitute "sexual misconduct" are so ambiguous as to make a mockery of the seriousness of sexual assualt. This code threatens to teach women to adopt a rather puritan, Victorian view of their sexuality, rather than embolden them to embrace and own their sexuality. If you don't want a boy to kiss you, then tell him to stop and walk away. Women are perfectly capable of setting boundaries of what is acceptable sexual behavior and speaking up when they don't want to do something. Women are, afterall, moral agents aren't they? Do we want to assume that anyone who makes a pass is violating something sacred? Good lord, do we want to perpetuate that sort of view of our personhood?

These policies are deeply protectionist in nature; it regulates all sexual action because it assumes--IMHO--that male sexuality on college campuses is predatory and women are at great risk the minute they get here. The justification for such a protectionist conduct code is because you have a great deal of problems with rape and sexual assualt on campus. That is absolutely true. But, this code doesn't really get to the heart of the culture that leads to higher instances of rape and sexual assault. The women who are raped at a fraternity party are not going to go forward to College Life and then face the man (men) who assaulted her in a kangaroo court, where the social consequences of outing the rapists are massive. Women who are raped generally never go forward and report what happened, especially on a college campus where their friends might side with the rapist to maintain good relations with his fraternity. These women rarely get a rape kit, or press charges with the local police. Many of the female students who are raped or assaulted on my campus are, oddly, not even sure if they were assualted or victimized, because after all they were drunk, dressed sexy, and at a party. (See the Happy Feminist on this issue.) This code is far more likely to produce false positives, especially since no real investigation takes place.

I used to get annoyed by male students who would tell me that their deepest fear is to be falsely accused of rape. I would point out to them, over and over again, how rarely women who were raped go forward. I pointed out how horrific rape cases are for victims. And all of that is true. But, then I saw first hand my first false accusation case. And, I learned exactly why men are terrified by false accusations. I don't think that they occur alot. Nor, do I think that this problem is more pressing than actual rapes (don't put me PLEASE in the MRA camp!). But, it is a fact that we have created college policies and employment policies that make it easy to get an accused off campus or off the work premises without any real investigation. Once a student is accused, his reputation is forever ruined; there is no innocence until proven guilty. While the credibility of rape victims continues to be a serious issue (i.e. Duke case), our policies to give more credibility to women victims has made the mistake of leading to a great deal of false accusations.

I would applaud a serious effort on the part of my college to challenge the institutions--sports teams and fraternities--wherein sexual assualt of women seems like a rite of passage, but the fact is that the college, deep down doesn't really want to do that. Why?

If we want to take rape and sexual assualt seriously on campus, then we need to convict rapists, we need to vigorously challenge sexist practices--which are often part of sports team or fraternity hazing. If we establish a kangaroo court to get men falsely accused of rape off campus ASAP, without really investigating what happened, then we are making a mockery of any rape trial. You don't correct the past sins of not believing rape victims by wholly believing any claim that any woman makes against a man on campus.

How the College Misuses the Policy

All colleges are required to report the number of rapes, assaults, and thefts that occur on a campus. This information has to be made available to prospective students and their parents. And, no college wants to report the real number of rapes and assualt that takes place. The conduct code in place allows them to rename what happened as sexual misconduct. This prevents the charge from being an actual felony or crime according to the PA code. The conduct code also makes it easy to get any student who has been accused of rape off campus immediately, in order to protect the college from any liability. So, the code is not designed to really punish students and send a serious a message that rape and sexual assualt is not tolerated. It is a code designed to make it easier for the college to CYA.

There are no due process protections in place in this system. The hearing board is comprised of people hand picked by the same office that writes and enforces the code. Moreover, whether a student has actually raped another student or has just failed to get verbal consent before kissing his girlfriend, the student gets to return after having been dismissed for a semester. If the student actually raped another student, the college doesn't call it a rape, because to do so would mean they would have to disclose this statistic and hence bad P.R.

I am even cynical enough to believe--how sad is this--that the college is happy to take cases where it is clear that the young man did not rape the student, because they know the local borough won't press charges, hence this case will never make headlines. They get the male student off campus quietly, satisfying the parents, and prevent a P.R. headache that might deter future students from attending the college.

This post is part of my rethinking feminism series, because it highlights to me the ways in which institutions adopted what seemed to be "feminist friendly" policies, but only to serve their self-interest and not to actually prevent rape or sexual assault. My college has instituted an incredibly protectionist policy, that most conservatives would lambaste as the legacy of the P.C. era, but I believe there is something far more nefarious afoot. While the subtext of this college policy does suggest a 2nd wave view of woman's sexuality as passive and helpless to men's predatory sexual behavior, that is not the real problem with the code (although I do find it insulting). The real problem is that the college adopted this "feminist friendly" code, ultimately, to keep its rape statistics low and to protect itself from liability--either angry parents or the federal government. This policy does nothing to create a campus that is more respectful of women, nor does it promote healthy self-image or sexual behavior.

While conservatives love to point to codes like this as the fascist excesses of the femi-nazis, I think these codes work against the important democratic principle of transparency. The real problem is that we allow college campuses to ignore due process protections in order to improve their "image." And, the college doesn't actually want to take on the fraternities or sports teams, since it is precisely these college institutions that attract so many men--willing to pay high tuition costs--to a liberal arts college. We need these men, and so we aren't going to reform these institutions in a way that will turn away potential applicants to the college.

So, to you conservatives out there reading this: you should be offended by these policies because, frankly, they aren't fair. To feminists, you should be pissed off because they aren't really in place to make your campus safer.

Cross-posted at The Reaction.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I HEART Colbert

Many of you have probably caught Stephen Colbert's stunning and ballsy performance at the White House Correspondent's Association Dinner last saturday. It took the press several days before bothering to report this unprecedented event, most likely because Colbert took them on as much as he took on W.

Michael Scherer from Salon had this to say about Colbert's report. Ouch. But, thankfully many other fans, including myself, recognize the heroics in what he did. Greg Mitchell, from Editor and Publisher, had this to say. Ezra Klein has this retort to WaPo journalist, Richard Cohen's snotty response

Worse than being rude, Colbert was substantive. He "took a swipe at Bush's Iraq policy, at domestic eavesdropping, and he took a shot at the news corps for purportedly being nothing more than stenographers recording what the Bush White House said." In other words, he urinated on Richard Cohen's fire hydrant, and Cohen's not happy about it. Not just anyone, after all, can do substance. Let the jester jest and the blogger blog, but leave the heavy lifting to credentialed columnists. Colbert was out of line, an overhyped funnyman who darkened a light roast by disrupting the night's comity. "Bush," Cohen laments, "[had] to sit there and pretend to laugh at Colbert's lame and insulting jokes." Being president is hard work! I bet the chicken was rubbery, too, but Bush had to eat it in order to be polite. The man's a hero.

Media Matters has been tracking the press's lack of response, or wrong headed response (e.g. Lou Dobbs)

You can go here to see the entire Colbert speech. You really don't want to miss it if you haven't already seen it.