Classy Claude's report from the Berks

Good morning, friends.  Although I didn’t make it to the Fifteenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, my faithful reporter Classy Claude did.  (Does this guy get around, or what?  Some of you may remember Claude’s other reports of recent AHA and OAH meetings.) 

I’m back!  In light of Historiann’s absence from the Berks – and needless to say, she was missed by many – her faithful conference reporter Classy Claude is happy to offer readers a snapshot of one conference-goer’s experience. Obviously a conference is different for different people, depending on sessions attended and so forth, but I will recount some highlights. 

This Berks quite literally got off to start with a bang.  There was a crazy thunderous storm on Thursday afternoon (hail in some places!) as the first sessions were getting underway, as many attendees were taking advantage of tours through local historical sites, and as Classy Claude was doing a little work at the Sophia Smith Collection at nearby Smith College.  All of these opportunities had been coordinated with, or organized by, the conference planners.  Thus, one real highlight of the conference was the opportunity to take advantage of these nearby historic sites and local archives. 

The conference was located on the UMass-Amherst campus, primarily in the Campus Center, which itself houses a hotel (where many of us stayed, though rumor has it that rooms booked up quickly) and was connected via various passageways to the Student Union and a parking garage.  Because the weather was rainy on a couple days (Saturday also), this had the effect of making sessions not in the central complex more sparsely attended.  I found this to be so in a session I chaired and one I attended about young women and premarital pregnancy (which included Historiann’s blogging pal, Knitting Clio).  Continue reading

Physicians "opting out:" gender and medical education as a privilege, not an entitlement

Karen S. Sibert, MD, a Los Angeles anesthesiologist, raises the alarm about the looming shortage of doctors in the U.S., and notes that this is especially alarming given the trend among younger women doctors to work part-time at a moment when they’ve become more than half of all primary care physicians in the U.S.  (H/t to commenter Susan for this one.)  Sibert writes in the New York Times this morning:

[I]ncreasing numbers of doctors — mostly women — decide to work part time or leave the profession. Since 2005 the part-time physician workforce has expanded by 62 percent, according to recent survey data from the American Medical Group Association, with nearly 4 in 10 female doctors between the ages of 35 and 44 reporting in 2010 that they worked part time.

This may seem like a personal decision, but it has serious consequences for patients and the public.

Medical education is supported by federal and state tax money both at the university level — student tuition doesn’t come close to covering the schools’ costs — and at the teaching hospitals where residents are trained. So if doctors aren’t making full use of their training, taxpayers are losing their investment. With a growing shortage of doctors in America, we can no longer afford to continue training doctors who don’t spend their careers in the full-time practice of medicine.

It isn’t fashionable (and certainly isn’t politically correct) to criticize “work-life balance” or part-time employment options. How can anyone deny people the right to change their minds about a career path and choose to spend more time with their families? I have great respect for stay-at-home parents, and I think it’s fine if journalists or chefs or lawyers choose to work part time or quit their jobs altogether. But it’s different for doctors. Someone needs to take care of the patients.

I think she makes a number of great points, but I wonder why she casts this as purely a problem of female fecklessness?  Continue reading

Why I had to skip the Berks

Thanks for your kind comments and e-mails–our family emergency has been resolved.  I’m sure you’re wondering what on earth could keep me away from the Berkshire Conference 2011, especially considering that there won’t be another one until 2014!  Well, friends–there isn’t a lot that would keep me away from it, but there’s something I haven’t told you about Famille Historiann before that might put this into perspective:  Continue reading

Off to the Berks!

And don’t expect me to liveblog it–I’ve got too much to do meeting up with old friends and making new ones in the meat world this weekend.  It looks like central Massachusetts is going to be a stinkbox today–with drier and cooler weather on the way for the weekend.  Yay!  Tenured Radical has a nice preview of what’s going on, and I’m sure she’ll have lots to report about the weekend after it’s (mostly) all said and done.

For those of you who will be joining us at the Berks:  watch for the cowgirl boots, and say “hi” if you feel like it!  Continue reading

It's your misfortune, and none of my own

Check out this pickup from Flavia last week featuring some public boo-hoo-hooing by one of suburban Philadelphia’s tragically overlooked and underprivileged, those who didn’t get into their top choice college:

The following letter appeared on today’s NYT letters page in response to a recent Times article about the lack of economic diversity at elite colleges and universities:

To the Editor:

David Leonhardt forgot about me. I grew up in suburban Pennsylvania and attended private school before Bryn Mawr College, the University of Pennsylvania and now the University of Oxford. And yes, my parents paid for it all.

I realize that not needing to work at 7-Eleven afforded me more time to study, read and learn. But I used it. Acceptance letters don’t come because my parents foot the bill; kids like me get in because we are responsible, passionate and talented.

In theory, hard-working, low-income kids deserve help; in practice, their 1,250 SAT scores’ counting for more than my 1,300 doesn’t reflect meritocracy.

College admissions are a zero-sum game. Universities putting their “thumb on the scale” for a South Bronx applicant’s 1,250 lessens the weight of my achievements. His 1,250’s win is my loss.  Continue reading

The intellectual value of being wrong

I’m off to a conference this week, and I’ve been thinking about some of the wacky papers I’ve given over the years.  I’ve always looked at conferences as opportunities to test out new ideas, and the best times I’ve had at conferences have been times when I’ve delivered a paper that offers a fresh–some would say dubious–new interpretation or argument.  After all, most conference papers are 10 pages long and should take no more than 20 minutes of the audience’s time–it’s not like we’re going to be able to clobber them with a truly convincing pile of evidence, so why not focus more on the specific interventions we’re making?

I once gave a conferece paper titled “Fields of Screams,” after an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon on an old episode of The Simpsons.  It was about borderlands warfare and masculinity, and although I discarded the specific argument in that paper it helped me work out some ideas about space and gender.  Recently, I’ve been having fun shocking people with Judith Bennett’s “lesbian-like” interpretive frame for understanding eighteenth-century Ursulines.  I’m not sure where this idea is going, but it’s fascinating to see some people react so strongly and so negatively to the use of the word “lesbian” to talk about the eighteenth century!  Continue reading

Material culture, feminist activism, and the future of feminism

Rational dress reform

Jessica Valenti’s discussion of the grassroots feminism on display recently in SlutWalks is pretty good–but I thought she buried one of her more interesting points at the end of the article:

In the past, clothing designed to generate controversy has served to emphasize the message that women have a right to feel safe and participate fully in society. Suffragists wore pants called “bloomers,” named for the women’s rights activist Amelia Bloomer. They were meant to be more practical than the confining dresses of the times. But, echoing the criticism of SlutWalk participants today, the media did not take kindly to women wearing pants. The November 1851 issue of International Monthly called the outfits “ridiculous and indecent,” deriding the suffragists as “vulgar women whose inordinate love of notoriety is apt to display itself in ways that induce their exclusion from respectable society.”

I don’t wade into the toxic swamp of the comments sections of mainstream newspapers, but I’m sure you’ll find even uglier language condemning the SlutWalkers for (some of) their attention-seeking attire. 

Valenti also evokes the (historically untrue) spectre of “bra-burners” in her lede, but that too speaks to the symbolic power of women’s clothing in the history of feminism.  This is a history that gets overlooked or ignored because of recent debates in the West over garments-as-oppression for other women–you know, Afghani women in burkhas, or other Muslim women covered by the hijab or la voile.  As though Western women’s clothing has never been an issue in their citizenship or their feminism!  Continue reading