Ditch the “women’s stories” and give us real women’s lives, please.

Anna North nails it in this admirably brief but accurate analysis of the “women’s stories” peddled by the mainstream media:

These stories, in mainstream American media, tend to fall into certain categories. There are the ones about when women should get married. There are the ones about how women balance work and their children, told with no discussion of these women’s race or class, and with a strange disregard for the possibility that said children might also have fathers. And then there are the ones about hookup culture.

Hookup culture stories are extremely popular. The latest, Kate Taylor’s “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too” sits as of this writing at the top of the New York Times’ most-emailed list. It is about women at Penn, but it is essentially the same story as this one about women at UNC, and though less overtly polemical, it is also essentially the same story as this and this and this. It’s not hard to see why these stories succeed: They are about very young women having lots of sex with multiple partners. They’re a lot like porn, except that instead of an orgasm you get a vague sense of free-floating anxiety. Continue reading

Sexuality and power in recent novels and recent history

Oh, professor!

In a review of two recent novels that feature professor-student affairs, reviewer Michelle Dean asks where is the frank discussion of power?  She writes,

The professor-student romance debate similarly breaks down, for the most part, to two opposing views. In one corner you have your Roiphes and your Paglias, who style themselves as revolutionaries for celebrating the power dynamics of the status quo. In the other you have feminists more aligned with Andrea Dworkin who seem to believe one can remove power from relationships entirely.

(Presumably, she meant to write instead “feminists more aligned with Andrea Dworkin who seem to believe one can’t remove power from relationships entirely.  At least, I’ve never read a word of Dworkin to mean that there was any such thing as sexuality without power.  This is a woman who was closely aligned with Catherine Mackinnon, the woman who wrote “man f^(ks woman, subject verb object.”)

So what do these new novelistic treatments of professor-student sexual relationships have to say about them?  Continue reading

Bleg update: Introduction to Historical Practice



Thanks to your many fantastic suggestions way back at the beginning of the summer, I’ve finally made some decisions (and perhaps more importantly, submitted my book orders) for my fall 2013 Introduction to Historical Practice, which all of our incoming M.A. students must take.  Here’s the book list I’ve settled on for my focus on “history scandals:”

  1. Michael Bellesiles, Arming America:  The Origins of a National Gun Culture (2000), either the Knopf original hardcover or paper editions or the 2003 Soft Skull Press edition.
  2. Contesting Archives:  Finding Women in the Sources, eds. Nupur Chaudhuri, Sherry J. Katz, and Mary Elizabeth Perry (2010)
  3. Shelley Ruth Butler, Contested Representations: Revisiting Into the Heart of Africa (1999; 2007)
  4. Anthony Grafton, The Footnote:  A Curious History (1997)
  5. Saidiya Hartman. Lose Your Mother:  A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (2008)
  6. Peter Hoffer, Past Imperfect:  Facts, Fiction, Fraud—American History from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin (2004)
  7. NEW–Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek (2013)
  8. Bonnie G. Smith, The Gender of History:  Men, Women, & Historical Practice, 2nd edition (2000)
  9. Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past:  Power and the Production of History (1997)
  10. Deborah Gray White, Telling Histories:  Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (2008) Continue reading

Why they only need little houses on the prairie now: reproduction politics in South Dakota

Charles Ingalls (1836-1902), hipster

You might have wondered why I found myself driving across South Dakota recently.  I’ve heard for years about the DeSmet annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant, in which the townspeople put on a play based on one of the Little House series of books.  Unsurprisingly, their play rotation focus on the books set partially or completely in DeSmet–By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter and Little Town on the Prairie.  This year’s production was Little Town, and I have to say that I was impressed.  The talent is mostly local, with the major roles played by high school or college students.  Local younger children and adults played some of the smaller roles.  The permanently installed stage sets, lights, and sound are not small-town at all, and the setting on the South Dakota prairie is beautiful and memorable.  The show was timed so that complete darkness finally fell just as the play ended, so the mosquitoes held off until the curtain call.  I strongly and enthusiastically recommend a visit.

My only criticism?  I don’t mind seeing a high schooler play Charles Ingalls, but he really should try to cultivate Pa’s crazy ugly hipster beard.  They’re back in style these days.

Those of you who know the books will remember that DeSmet is the place where the Ingalls family finally settled after Pa’s restless and relentlessly unsuccessful attempts at homesteading in Wisconsin, Kansas, and Minnesota.  Continue reading

What is the function of “flat?”


I’ve just driven 2,615 miles over eight days, from Potterville to Minnesota and Wisconsin and back, and I have been wondering about the function of the insult “flat” that’s leveled against much, if not most, of the interior of the United States.  After having driven across the prairie states of Nebraska (two different ways), Iowa, Minnesota (two different ways), Wisconsin (two different ways), South Dakota, and tagging Wyoming on the way back home, very little of the land we traversed could accurately be described as “flat.”

I once had a roommate in college who referred to me as a “flatlander” because I was a native of Ohio, one state west of us in Pennsylvania.  Most of Ohio is, however, luxuriously green, lush, and hilly, sited as it is on the Ohio River and neighbor to the Appalachian Mountains.  I started to wonder more about this descriptor “flat” as I drove from Ohio to Colorado on I-70 nearly a dozen years ago.  I had dreaded the drive across Kansas especially because everyone in Ohio had sympathized with me about enduring “flat” Kansas.  “It’s so flat,” they all said. But I-70 across Kansas in August, I found, was mostly lovely rolling green hills dotted with round hay bales and sunflower fields worthy of a Vincent VanGogh painting. Continue reading