Thoughts while perusing the tabloids in line at the supermarket

Hollywood publicists really have a brilliant grasp of the necessarily gendered nature of narratives about celebrity lives.  Although I only read the covers of tabloids and celebrity weeklies (except when I visit my hair stylist every month), I’ve long thought that Jennifer Aniston has one of the best publicists around for managing to keep selling the “Poor Heartbroken Jen/Poor Childless Jen” story line for all of these years since her divorce from Brad Pitt. 

Maybe it’s because I’m such an ideological Marxist feminist, but I just assume that she’s living the (unmarried, child-free) life she wants to live, and it looks like a pretty damn good life to me:  she’s financially independent, free to enjoy sexual and/or romantic entanglements with whomever she likes, free to leave them whenever she likes, and she doesn’t have any obligations beyond career and body maintenance.  But every time she’s photographed with a new boy toy, “He’s the One, and He Wants to Start a Family!” until they break up, and it’s “Poor Heartbroken Jen” again.

Compare this to the narrative about George Clooney, Continue reading

Dear out-of-towners,

There are a number of you in town this week for the world’s largest Independence Day rodeo, and we welcome you and your spending money.  Potterville is the place to be for PRCA action this week!

But, please:  if you stop a local to ask for directions, try to listen to us and answer our questions so that we can help you find your way around.  Some urban planning genius back in the ninteenth century decided that it was a terrific idea to name our avenues (the North-South axes) and streets (the East-West axes) by the same damn numbers, so when we ask you which “twentieth” you want, don’t scream at us “Twentieth!  The road!” as though we’re daft.  Continue reading

The breast milk "cure:" how can something so miraculous and cheap be resisted by women worldwide?

Nicholas Kristof asks, “What if nutritionists came up with a miracle cure for childhood malnutrition? A protein-rich substance that doesn’t require refrigeration? One that is free and is available even in remote towns like this one in Niger where babies routinely die of hunger-related causes?  Impossible, you say? Actually, this miracle cure already exists. It’s breast milk.” 

The belief that breast milk has nearly magical healing properties is at least 300 years old, and probably a lot older than that.  I have a Master’s student who’s working on a thesis about the rhetoric and beliefs about breastfeeding in the early U.S. Republic, and her research in the prescriptive literature by English and American physicians in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries has revealed a pretty static set of beliefs in breast milk’s power not just to ensure the health of infants, but also its uses in curing a variety of maladies in all sufferers, children and adults.  Breast milk was recommended both topically and internally for a variety of complaints in the eighteenth century, so it’s interesting to see Kristof reaching for the same language of healing and “cures” when touting breastfeeding in developing countries.   

While I think in general that Kristof is correct that promoting breastfeeding is a good thing, I also find that his column treats women’s bodies as mere vessels for the feeding of infants, and their time therefore as worthless.  Continue reading

Gender and performance in grad school

Via Canada-Supporting Women in Geography, I found this article by Duke University Literature Professor Toril Moi, “Discussion or Aggression? Arrogance and Despair in Graduate School.”  In it she writes about speech, authority, and power dynamics in the graduate seminar, specifically about the gendered nature of these dynamics:

Every year some female graduate students tell me that they feel overlooked, marginalized, silenced in some seminars. They paint a picture of classrooms where the alpha males—so-called “theory boys”—are encouraged to hold forth in impossibly obscure language, but where their own interventions elicit no response. These women, in short, say that they are not listened to, that they are not taken seriously, and that they get the impression that their perceptions of the matter at hand are of no interest to anyone else. 

Such experiences tend to reproduce a particularly clichéd ideology in which theory and abstract thought are thought to belong to men and masculinity, and women are imagined to be the bearers of emotional, personal, practical concerns. In a system that grants far more symbolic capital, far more intellectual power, to abstract theorizing than to, say, concrete investigations of particular cases, these women lose out in the battle for symbolic capital. This is bad for their relationship to the field they love, and it is bad for their careers in and out of graduate school. This is sexism, and all this goes to show that sexist effects often arise from the interactions of people who have no sexist intentions at all.

But there is another side to this. Sometimes I have a conversation with someone who has been described to me as a theory boy. Then I invariably discover that the theory boy doesn’t at all sound like an intellectual terrorist. He is, simply, profoundly and passionately interested in ideas. He loves theory and precisely because he loves it, he has strong theoretical views.

Moi concludes that faculty play a critical role in encouraging dialogic conversation rather than monologic performance, and that “[s]ome of us—professors and graduate students—need to learn to stop being so touchy, vain and self-regarding, so that we can listen to well-founded criticism without becoming defensive. Others need to learn to become more assertive and how to stand their ground when their views come under pressure. We all need to care more about formulating our thought precisely and less about the impression we make on others.”  But the point about faculty leadership is key, I think–it’s fun to engage in a lively discussion with passionate students, but we need to consider why some may not want to engage in the conversation, and how we can ensure that the ideas of those students get a full and fair hearing.

Moi’s article struck me as relevant because I’ve had a few interesting conversations recently that suggest that faculty play a role in perpetuating this division by using different language and different standards in evaluating their women versus men graduate students.  Continue reading

What can I do my dear to catch your ear?

I ran to the library to check out a few Willa Cather novels for my summer light reading and this earworm has been running through my head for the past hour:

(You’re welcome! Enjoy that bouncy 2/2 time as you pedal your bike or walk to your car this afternoon.)

But I’ve also been preoccupied by quite another model of educational leadership, as I’ve been wondering how fast can I run to a theater to see Bad Teacher?  Continue reading

I just went gay all of a sudden!

Maybe it wasn’t all of a sudden–maybe it’s a process that has happened over the last few years, or maybe I was born this way, but I find myself wanting to align myself with the queer bloggers ever more closelyThe queer bloggers I read and feel a comradeship with don’t think that there is only one way to be a good lesbian or gay man.  They don’t police the language that other gays and lesbians use to write about or talk about their own experiences.  We sometimes disagree, but they don’t feel the need to lecture me about daring to write about queerness or question the authenticity of my queer sensibilities. 

Some of you heterosexualists, especially some of you who identify online as mothers:  not so much!  Continue reading