Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Wev–are these really new issues?

Nirvana - NevermindThose smart gals over at Women in Higher Education are talking ’bout my generation.  (Sorry for the generationally inappropriate reference there–should I say, “Oh well, whatever, nevermind?”)  In an article called “A Perfect Storm:  Gen X and Today’s Academic Culture,” in which they warn that “[s]ea change is coming. Retirements and growing enrollments mean colleges and universities will need to hire new faculty in the next 8 to 10 years. Where will the talent come from? With all the choices available, will the best and brightest be attracted to an academic career?”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before!  A lot of us Gen X’ers fell for that line around 1989-90 and marched off to grad school confident that this time, the great wave of retirements would actually happen, and that universities would hire tenure-track faculty to replace the retirees, which would bring us to the promised land of bountiful employment opportunities!  (And this time, Lucy would let Charlie Brown kick that damn football.)  But, the article continues:

Demands on junior faculty have increased in recent decades. Young people’s expectations have shifted in the opposite direction; they fully expect a career and a life, with flexibility for both parents to spend time with the kids. Unless universities adapt, they may lose potential candidates to the private sector.

What???  The private sector?  Why didn’t I think of that before?  I’m sure there are loads of opportunities for physical anthropologists, medieval Chinese historians, continental philosophers, and experts in seventeenth-century French drama in the go-go, for-profit private sector! (I’m sure that you engineers, biomedical researchers, and business school people have those options–don’t rub it in.  My point is that these articles imagine that anyone with a Ph.D. can still work in their field in “the private sector,” but for most Liberal Arts faculty members that is not a realistic Plan B.) 

The rest of the article raises some interesting points about the clash of generational cultures in the academy–between the Traditionalists (born before 1943), the Baby Boomers (1943-1960), Gen X’ers (1961-81), and Gen Y (born since 1981).  (I thought the Baby Boomers were 1946-64, and that Gen X was 1965-80ish?  Wev.)  However, I wonder if the generational differences the researchers found has more to do with life stage than with generational expectations.  For example:

• Hierarchy. Traditionalists like a top-down organizational structure and boomers accept it. Gen X prefers a flat one.

• Job changing. For traditionalists, changing jobs carries a stigma. For boomers it’s a setback on the career ladder. Gen Xers expect to change jobs again and again; it’s the only way to be where they want.

• Motivation. Traditionalists are motivated by a job well done. Baby boomers work for money, title and promotion. For Gen X the motive is self-fulfillment, freedom and fun—leaving older folks aghast or scratching their heads.

• Performance review. If no one’s yelling, a traditionalist thinks all is well. Baby-boomers want a well-documented annual evaluation. Gen X wants constant feedback: “Sorry to interrupt again: How am I doing?”

• Work hours. Traditionalists think it’s prudent to put in the required hours and wonder who’ll do the work if flextime creeps in. Boomers hope long hours will pay off in money and promotions. Gen X says, get a life!

But–shouldn’t we expect older faculty who have stayed in the academy and have successfully progressed up the academic ladder to “like a top-down organizational structure” or at least to “accept it?”  Shouldn’t we expect that junior faculty, who happen mostly to be Gen X’ers at this point, to be more mobile, to need more feedback, and to prefer a flatter organizational hierarchy?  These preferences seem to reflect one’s self-interest given one’s relative age and status in the hierarchy, rather than any preexisting generational attitudes. Continue reading

"Dr. Colorado" on the 1908 DNC in Denver; sister Jan on early modern women's labor history

Tom Noel, who teaches at the University of Colorado, Denver, and is known locally as “Dr. Colorado,” has a nice overview of the 1908 Democratic National Convention the last time it was in Denver.  There, Democrats officially nominated William Jennings Bryan for the third time, only to see him go down to defeat again in November.  Noel notes in his article that women’s suffrage was a major issue at the convention, since Colorado white women’s right to vote had been recognized since 1893.  Women from Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming attended the 1908 convention for the first time as delegates.

Apparently, historical talent runs in the Noel family, as his sister Jan Noel is a leading Canadian women’s historian at the University of Toronto, and one of the few who works on Francophone and pre-Confederation women’s history.  She’ll be on a panel at the Berkshire Conference next month called Women and Work in Preindustrial Europe and America, presenting a paper called “Alice (Clark) and the Looking Glass:  Searching for ‘Golden Ages’ among French, English, and American women, 1600-1800.”  English feminist Alice Clark (1874-1934) was one of the first women’s historians ever–her Working Life of Women in the Seventeenth Century was first published in 1919, and because it was so highly regarded (and the bibliography on women’s history remained so thin for 50 years) it was reprinted in 1968, 1982, and 1992.  (Thanks to Early Modern Notes for this excellent overview of Clark’s life and work.)  Along with Ivy Pinchbeck (1898-1982), whose Women Workers and the Industrial Revolution, 1750-1850 was first published in 1930 but reprinted again in 1969 and 1981, these pioneering authors owned the topic of English women’s labor history in the early modern period.  I read their books in graduate school in the early 1990s, and anyone working in early modern European women’s labor history has to grapple with them, so Noel’s re-visitation of Clark’s work is highly appropriate given the theme of the 2008 conference, “Continuities and Changes.”

I wonder if many women’s history researchers are (like me) indebted to women historians of Clark’s and Pinchbeck’s era.  Most of these women weren’t professionally trained, but with great intelligence and sensitivity, they invented social and cultural history in the late nineteenth century, and were arguably more widely read and are still better remembered than male historians writing within the conventions of the academy.  (See Bonnie G. Smith’s The Gender of History:  Men, Women, and Historical Practice for an eye-opening review of historiography and historians over the past 250 years.)  I could not have written my books* without the dogged research and guidance of amateur historians like C. Alice Baker (1833-1909, pictured at right), her younger protege Emma Lewis Coleman (1853-1942), and the unbelievably prolific Alice Morse Earle (1851-1911).  When my first book received its Library of Congress call number (F7.L68), I was extremely gratified and proud that my book will be shelved very near many of Earle’s books.  (She owns the F7.E section!) 

*(The second book is still a work in progress–alas!)

Clinton's toughness

One of the things I came to admire this season about Hillary Clinton is her undeniable toughness.  When I reflected on all of the rotten, mean, and outrageous things that were said about her during her husband’s Presidential campaign and his Presidency (when after all she had no real power and yet was subject to the same calumny as her husband), it would have been understandable if she had decided to withdraw into retirement in 2001 after they left the White House.  But, she decided she was ready for more, running for the Senate in 2000, cruising to an easy re-election in 2006, and then running for the Presidency in 2007-08.  Her toughness is one of the reasons I caucused for her instead of Obama in February:  there’s nothing we don’t know about her, and she’s proved her ability to take a punch and swing right back.  That was a fatal flaw in John Kerry’s campaign in 2004:  he assumed his biography as a war hero and then war resister would give him an unchallengeable advantage over the lazy frat-boy President.  But, he was wrong, and because he didn’t hit back at Bush and against the Swift Boaters, he came close to beating Bush, but not close enough.  (And as they say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.) 

In a New York Times column yesterday that I didn’t see until last night, Susan Faludi argues that it’s perhaps this toughness that has caused Clinton’s stock to rise among white male voters over the past few months, while Obama’s support from the same demographic has declined (h/t Talk Left.)  Now, let me say that I find the pundit class’s obsession with white male voters to be unseemly, especially in Democratic primaries when women are the majority of voters.  But it’s also offensive and obnoxious in general elections, too–as though white men (a minority in this country) are the only “regular people” (as Chris Matthews would have it), and the rest of us (who are after all the majority of Americans) are somehow irregular or abnormal Americans.  Faludi argues that Clinton’s success with white men is due to her shedding of the Carrie (or Carry) Nation-style of women-led political reform, which was in many ways an explicit attack on men’s rights and prerogatives.  If Faludi is right, then Clinton has indeed made a mark on American politics:  Her “strategy has certainly remade the political world for future female politicians, who may now cast off the assumption that when the going gets tough, the tough girl will resort to unilateral rectitude. When a woman does ascend through the glass ceiling into the White House, it will be, in part, because of the race of 2008, when Hillary Clinton broke through the glass floor and got down with the boys.”

But, I don’t see another woman candidate coming as close as Clinton did to a major party nomination, let alone the Presidency, for at least another twenty years.  I think Clinton was the last best hope for a woman President in my lifetime, and I’m not even 40 yet.  (American lives are all about second acts, so perhaps we haven’t seen the last of Clinton as Presidential candidate.  But, Democrats are cruel to their losers, and don’t give them second chances.)  I hope I’m wrong about everything I’ve written so far in this paragraph, but this primary season has been extremely discouraging because of the misogyny that has been revealed among so-called “progressives” and Democrats.  Clinton was a flawed candidate–so are they all.  Clinton made some early mistakes in strategy that in the end were probably unrecoverable.  But, it’s also undeniable that she has been treated with more contempt, derision, and condescension than any other candidate for the Presidency in recent American history.  And that really, really, really sucks. 

How do all of you mothers of daughters (and other feminists) feel about that?

Soylent Green…it's historians!

No matter how much academics in the blogosphere bitch and moan amongst themselves, those crazy, cockeyed, optimistic kids keep signing up for graduate school in ever greater numbers!  According to this report at Inside Higher Ed, “More Historians on the Way,” based on this report by the American Historical Association, applications and enrollment in Ph.D. programs are up, but so is attrition from said programs.  Only 49 percent of graduate students have finished their degrees in under 10 years.

Historiann could have told you this was going to happen, as it has in every economic downturn over the past 20 years.  I started graduate school just before the 1990-91 recession drove up applications in my graduate department (Après moi, le deluge!), and I’m sure that the current recession is a good part of what drove applications up this year.  Twenty-two year-olds with liberal arts degrees look around and say, “whereas we used to be able to count on working at Whole Foods or Barnes and Noble with our B.A.’s while we decided what we wanted to do in life, now we can’t even count on getting a boring retail job.”  (Well, that was Historiann’s choice, anyway–while most of the rest of her generation became slacker baristas ca. 1990-94, and then became internet millionaires in 1998-99, she got a Ph.D. instead.)  Compared to unemployment, working in a library for five to ten years looks pretty good, and I’m sure most will stay long enough to get their Master’s degrees, and maybe even figure out their true calling.  And there are worse things than spending a year or two achieving a greater knowledge of history, even if you don’t become a professional historian, so long as you’re not racking up too much debt.  You’ll lower your lifetime risk of skin cancer, at the very least, and learn how to pronounce “Michel Foucault” the fancy French way.  (The only downside of graduate history education is that every U.S. Civil War buff at every party you’ll attend for the rest of your lives will find you and want to get your opinion on his pet theory on the Battle of Waxahatchmo Crick, even if you studied monastic communities in medieval Flanders.)

The author of the AHA report, Robert Townsend, will appear at the 2008 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women at our opening night plenary session, “The Changing (?) Status of Women in the Historical Profession,” Thursday June 12 at 7 p.m. at the Ted Mann Concert Hall on the campus of the University of Minnesota.  Along with Noralee Frankel (also from the AHA), he will provide the statistics, Paula Sanders will speak to best practices, Elizabeth Lunbeck will speak about women’s experiences in the academy over the past 40 years, and Muriel McClendon will address the experiences of faculty of color.  The session will be chaired by Mary Maples Dunn, a longtime member of the Berkshire Conference and whose professional interest in this issue over a nearly 50 year career as a faculty member and administrator is legendary.  Stop by to ask them some tough questions.  I’m not sure they’ll necessarily have all the answers–or the answers you’ll want to hear–but it should make for a lively conversation.  (See the links on the left sidebar for conference details and a PDF of the program.)

NPR concern trolls women who delay pregnancy until after age 22

Seriously–and just in time for Mother’s Day!  Listen here, or read the story.  “Fertility seems to peak at about age 22, says Marcel Cedars, director of reproductive endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco. After that, it gradually declines, and past the age of 35, pregnancy is much harder to achieve.” 

The whole story is so utterly idiotic that I don’t have the time or energy to cover it all.  Let’s focus on the fact that it is framed as a comparison of women’s reproductive lives in prehistorical hunter-gatherer societies and today, skipping at least 7,000 years of recorded human history as though we walked out of our caves in 1960 and started popping the pill:

Women may want to have the option of delaying motherhood. But Helen Fisher, a Rutgers University anthropologist, says biologically we’re programmed to do what our prehuman ancestors did when they climbed down from the trees millions of years ago: reproduce.

Girls in hunter-gatherer societies probably did not reach puberty until 16 or 17, Fisher says. “They couldn’t get pregnant. They were very thin. They got a great deal of exercise. It’s thought that we were probably built to have about 10 years of practice at sex and love without the cost and risks of pregnancy.

“Women are no longer marrying the boy they met in high school,” Fisher says. “They’re concerned with getting a career before they marry. This takes time.”

But this is time on the biological clock that cannot be recaptured.

Commenter ej called out this idiocy a few weeks ago, but let’s take a whack at it again.  (And I’ll even leave alone this rhapsodic nostalgia for family life among the cavemen.  How many of those 22-year old Lucies lost their babies and their lives giving birth the “natural” way, not to mention the senseless deaths from minor infections, toothaches, or tetanus?  Give Historiann the most invasive, most anesthetized, evidence-based allopathic medicine, please!)  The funny thing is that this concern trolling about older mothers only started happening in the mid-twentieth century, not coincidentally with the invention of the pill, the revolutionary birth control technology that didn’t require the cooperation or consent of a male partner and which guaranteed the enticing prospect of years of “practice at sex and love without the cost and risks of pregnancy.”  (Never mind that, as Stephanie Coontz argued conclusively in The Way We Never Were, ch. 2, women only married “the boy they met in high school” ca. 1946-1960 anyway, in an era distinct in all of American history for its extremely low age at first marriage.)

Yes, friends, the “discovery” of the “problem” of “older mothers” didn’t happen until women could postpone a first pregnancy indefinitely.  Women in colonial and nineteenth-century America regularly gave birth in their 30s and well into their 40s, and through the eighteenth century “older mothers” were even celebrated as evidence of a woman’s health and vigor.  They key difference is that most of these women had of course started having children in their twenties.  Funny how that works, isn’t it?  When women can make the decision themselves, without consulting a male partner or relying on his cooperation in family planning, we see the invention of the “geriatric primip” (or the even more horrifyingly vivid “advanced maternal age”) as women over the age of 30 are referred to when they’re giving birth to a first child. 

Pregnancy becomes less likely over time as a woman ages, but the question is, compared to what?  Moreover, why is the timing and experience of motherhood always framed as a problem that only women face?  A 22-year old who is an obese diabetic, or whose fallopian tubes were scarred by disease, probably has a lower chance of conceiving than a healthy 30 or 35-year old.  But, taking into account all of the contributing variables to a woman’s fertility would be really, really, hard, and it might suggest that women are all different, when it’s so much easier to assume that women are all alike and all have the same urge to become mothers, so let’s just give them simplistic advice like don’t delay childbearing past age 22. 

I’ll say it again, in the event you’re a 24-year old who’s fearful that she’s over the hill:  All of Historiannn’s friends who wanted children had their children in their mid-30s and early 40s (anecdotal sample size approximately 25).  Everyone is happy and healthy.  I’ve got only one friend who did IVF, and two friends who took ovluation-enhancing drugs (but nothing more invasive or expensive).  I’ve also got friends who don’t have children, and have perfectly interesting and fulfilling lives.  None of this is to say that infertility doesn’t exist, or that it’s not painful and heartbreaking for those who want children.  But, let’s take a look at the reality of situation, which is that there is no “crisis of infertility,” and that children are not in jeopardy if their mothers are 35 or 40 and in the paid workforce.  Rather, it’s children whose mothers are young, undereducated, and unemployed, who are at a much greater risk of not having health insurance, of living in an abusive environment, and poverty.

How do we beat the Hitch?

Although they haven’t yet figured out how to “beat the bitch” yet, the misogynist troglodytes in the national media are busy roughing up Michelle Obama already.  Historiann has said all along that in the event that Michelle Obama and her husband are the only Democrats left standing after the primaries, that they’ll enjoy the Clinton treatment (ca. 1991-present) all the same.  (The Clintons aren’t uniquely divisive–they’re just uniquely successful in the Democratic party, which made them uniquely annoying to Republicans and right-wingers.)  Exhibit A, we have ex-liberal Mr. Christopher Hitchens, who has all of the drunken charm of Irving Kristol on PCP.  He’s been deeply, deeply troubled by Jeremiah Wright and his role in Barack Obama’s life.  Yesterday, Hitch picked his head up off of his keyboard long enough to type the following (h/t to Chet Scoville at Shakesville for warning us about this steaming turd):

All right, then, how is it that the loathsome Wright married him, baptized his children, and received donations from him? Could it possibly have anything, I wonder, to do with Mrs. Obama?

This obvious question is now becoming inescapable, and there is an inexcusable unwillingness among reporters to be the one to ask it.

Inexcusable!  So Hitch hitched up his plus-fours, picked up a phone, and contacted people at the Obama campaign himself, right?  He, the only reporter tough enough for the job, demanded an interview with Mrs. Obama and asked her, right?

Um, well, no.  He simply continued to type along happily in his ignorance.  Why didn’t he ask this “inescapable” question?

(One can picture Obama looking pained and sensitive and saying, “Keep my wife out of it,” or words to that effect, as Clinton tried to do in 1992 when Jerry Brown and Ralph Nader quite correctly inquired about his spouse’s influence.) If there is a reason why the potential nominee has been keeping what he himself now admits to be very bad company—and if the rest of his character seems to make this improbable—then either he is hiding something and/or it is legitimate.

Right.  And yet, apparently we’re supposed to believe that making up stuff in his head is credible journalism.  He apparently didn’t ask any questions or do any, you know, reporting, because he “picture[d]” in his mind that Barack Obama wouldn’t like the question, and then says that this phantom Obama in his brain “either. . . is hiding something and/or it is legitimate to ask him about his partner.”  (Friends, I think we can all agree right now that Hitch needs help!  Remember, at this point, Hitch has done no actual reporting.  He hasn’t talked to anyone named Obama except an imaginary one.) 

Hitch did some reporting, didn’t he?  Well, to get to the heart of the matter, he did what all good reporters do when they have a question they need to ask a prominent public figure:  he looked up her Senior thesis in sociology from 1985, “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community.”  He then pronounces that “[t]o describe it as hard to read would be a mistake; the thesis cannot be ‘read’ at all, in the strict sense of the verb. This is because it wasn’t written in any known language.”  What could he mean by that comment?  Ebonics?  Blinglish?  And isn’t it amazing that Princeton granted her a degree, and that she went to Harvard law school despite her poor communication skills outside of “any known language!”

Side note:  isn’t it funny how Republican politicians like George W. Bush–drunk until age 40– and Henry Hyde (he of the “youthful indiscretions”) get a pass on anything immoral, untoward, or stupid they did up until their early 40s.  And yet, somehow a senior thesis written at age 21 or 22 is supposed to be the dernier crie of Michelle Obama’s intellect, politics, and judgment?  We’re supposed to think that the fact that she wrote a senior thesis and graduated from Princeton is somehow disreputable, rather than commendable.  (Funny about that double standard, isn’t it?)  Women of color succeeding in the dominant culture’s institutions, and on the dominant culture’s own terms?  Very suspicious.  White men wasting their lives into middle-age with booze and girls–just high-spirited fun, you know, the kind that makes you think you’d like sit down and have a beer with the guy.

So, Hitch gives us the amazing revelation that “at quite an early stage in the text, Michelle Obama announces that she’s much influenced by the definition of black ‘separationism’ offered by Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton in their 1967 screed Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America.”  (Apparently, Hitch had to take a nap at that point–this is the only information he gleaned from consulting M. Obama’s thesis that he cites in the article.  He doesn’t actually say what the definition is, nor does he explain why this makes M. Obama a disreputable scholar or bad person today, beyond the fact that white people are supposed to be scared by the mere invokation of the words “Stokely Carmichael” and “Black Power” in one sentence.)  After that, we’re treated to a pointless anecdote about the last time Hitch saw Carmichael, in which he gets to scare white people again by saying “Louis Farrakhan.”  (Also, you’d think that Hitch would be about the last person to want to be held to this standard, because he used to be wrong about everything until 6 years ago, but now he’s got it all worked out–finally!) 

At the end, Hitch gets to the point of this ramble through his fevered brain and his vomit-stained copy of a 23-year old senior thesis:  “I have the distinct feeling that the Obama campaign can’t go on much longer without an answer to the question: ‘Are we getting two for one?'”  And, he helpfully reminds those of us who can’t remember 1992, “This time we should find out before it’s too late to ask.”  Because Bill and Hillary Clinton have been such a freakin’ disaster for their party and this nation, apparently, and there’s not enough hate in the world for Hillary Clinton.  And now it’s too late!  Too late, I say!

Everyone jump on the meme chain

Courtesy of James at Patriots & Peoples, I’ve been tagged with a getting-to-know-you meme.  It’s nearly summer break for those of us still working according to the agricultural calendar, and there’s water running in the No. 3 ditch so I’ve got to get my sugar beets and onions in the ground soon here in Potterville.  But, I can take a few minutes to answer the quiz.  Think of it as a fun divertissement until the polls close tonight and the screams for Hillary to “take her boobs and go home” are renewed again with manly vigor:

1) What was I doing 10 years ago?

Same thing, different univeristy, and different book.

2) What are 5 things on my to-do list for today (not in any particular order):

  1. Drink coffee
  2. Read the Denver Post
  3. Tidy Up
  4. Answer e-mail
  5. (I’m doin’ it now.)

3) Snacks I enjoy:

What is this, preschool?  (Sorry, James–that’s just silly.)

4) Things I would do if I were a billionaire:

  1. Drink coffee someone else makes for me.
  2. Read the Denver Post someone else brings to me.
  3. Tell someone else to tidy up.
  4. Answer e-mail using only LOLCat-speak, just to annoy people, and just because I could  (U no U wud ansr me if I hd $1B!)
  5. Hire someone else to mow my damn grass.

5) Three of my bad habits:

  1. My triathlalon times are so incredible they’re intimidating my workout buddies.
  2. I haven’t had time to bake homemade bread to give to the Food Bank since I’ve been volunteering so many hours with Save the Children.
  3. The terrible mess on my desk has cost me numberless offers of endowed chairs at prestigious universities because I keep losing the contracts.

6) 5 places I have lived:

  1. Philadelphia
  2. Baltimore
  3. Washington, D.C.
  4. Somerville/Cambridge, Mass.
  5. Oxford, Ohio

7) 5 jobs I have had:

  1. Produce department clerk in a supermarket
  2. Evening/weekend receptionist at an inn on a college campus
  3. “Fly Girl” dancer on the TV show In Living Color (1989-1991)
  4. Dry mount press operator at a frame shop
  5. Historian

But, instead of passing this along to other bloggers, I’d like to invite my commenters to answer one or more of the questions above, either on their own blogs or in the comments.  Have at it, friends!