Sunday round-up: friends & neighbors edition

Me & my best friend!

Howdy, friends!  It’s lovely, sunny, and warm, so I’m off on a run.  Here are some interesting tidbits I found elsewhere on the world-wide timewasting web for those of you not enjoying perfect autumn weather today:

  • Via RealClearBooks, Eleanor Barkhorn on “What Jeffrey Eugenidies Doesn’t Understand About Women,” after reading his new book, The Marriage Plot:  “There’s one way, however, in which [the protagonist] Madeleine defies believability: She has no true female friends. Yes, she has roommates and a sister with whom she once had ‘heavy’ emotional conversations, but these relationships are characterized more by spite than affection. And, sadly, The Marriage Plot is just the latest story to forget to give its heroine friends. There are countless other Madeleines in modern-day literature and film: smart, self-assured women who have all the trappings of contemporary womanhood except a group of friends to confide in.”  Have you noticed this about recent books and films?  I have to say that I hadn’t until Barkhorn pointed it out.  She concludes, “The great irony, of course, is that the old-fashioned, marriage-plot-bound books that Eugenides attempts to modernize in his new novel actually do a better job of portraying female friendship than The Marriage Plot.”  I think I may read this anyway–a library codex copy of the book, of course–because I’m a huge fan of “marriage plot” authors like Jane Austen and the many Brontes, but Barkhorn makes an interesting argument here.
  • Isn’t it cute when right-wing religious nuts start condemning each other to hell?  Robert Jeffress vs. Bill Donahue, plus all Catholics, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims, of course.  Taking victimology to new heights, Anita Perry cries that her handsome husband Rick has been “brutalized . . . because of his faith.”  Mark my words:  the majority of Americans will not reward this kind of religious pride, which just stinks of hubris and un-neighborliness.  Even if they privately agree with him, Americans are fundamentally uncomfortable with the Jeffress style of public religious condemnation.
  • 1970s flashback:  Do any of you remember the sensational book Sybil, about the girl with multiple personality disorder?  Continue reading

American ingenuity: Steve Jobbed?

Has the over-the-top coverage of the sadly premature death of Steve Jobs (1955-2011) struck anyone as perhaps a telling sign of anxiety over the prospect of American decline?  Specifically, I’m writing about the decline in technological innovation, but I think it speaks to anxities about the future of the United States in all kinds of global leadership questions as well as the current state of the U.S. economy.

From my perspective, Jobs is an odd person to lionize.  Don’t get me wrong–he helped develop and sell a number of remarkably nifty gadgets, but he wasn’t the inventor.  He was the CEO of Apple–a company that moved most of its manufacturing to China.  Continue reading

Sexism at The Nation? Surely not!

UPDATED MARCH 23: POLLITT RESPONDS, HISTORIANN RETRACTS SNARKY BITS

Then don't bother writing for The Nation, darling!

Via TalkLeft, we learn that Katha Pollitt is (once again) shocked, shocked to find there’s sexism at the house organ of the so-called American “Left,”  The Nation magazine!

It’s been a long time since anyone seriously maintained that women in power, simply by virtue of their gender, are reliably less warlike than men—how could they be, given that men set up and control the system through which those women must rise? But apparently Nation blogger Robert Dreyfuss has just noticed this fact.

In a post entitled “Obama’s Women Advisers Pushed War Against Libya” (originally titled “Obama’s Women” tout court) he’s shocked-shocked-shocked that UN Ambassador Susan Rice, human-rights adviser Samantha Power and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were keen on intervening militarily in Libya. The piece is dotted with arch and sexist language—the advisers are a “troika,” a “trio” who “rode roughshod over the realists in the administration” (all men) and “pushed Obama to war.” Now it’s up to the henpecked President to “reign (sic) in his warrior women.” Interestingly, the same trope—ballbreaking women ganging up on a weak president—is all over the rightwing blogosphere.

.       .       .       .      .       .      .       .      

[C]an you imagine a piece in The Nation titled “Black President Opts for Bombs” or “Qaddafi, a Man, Threatens to Massacre Rebels, Most of Whom Are Also Men”?

Misogyny—it’s the last acceptable prejudice of the left.  Continue reading

History and humor

Sit down and let me pour you a cup!

As you may have noticed if you are a regular reader of this blog, I like teh funny, and even if my sense of humor ain’t exactly your cuppa joe, I like to write to amuse myself, at least.  My problem now is that I can’t find a lot of humor in the book I’m writing.  I wrote a book about guys and guns and warfare in the Northeastern borderlands of what’s now the U.S. and Canada, so although that wasn’t a happy story for most of the people I wrote about, there were a lot of really fatuous English men and women I could mock in that book.  I realize it’s a low trick, but having a mockable bad guy or set of bad guys in your book is one way to leaven the story and add a little humor.  After writing about warfare for the better part of a decade, I looked forward to what I imagined to be a retreat into the relative safety and comfort of the cloister in order to write about a little English girl (Esther Wheelwright, 1696-1780) who was taken captive by the Indians at 7 and wound up in the Ursuline convent in Quebec at the age of 12, where she remained for the rest of her life.  

But, the problem for me right now is that there just isn’t a lot of humor in the story of a little girl whose life was filled with warfare and trauma for her English family, and the starvation, disease, and eventual destrution of her Indian family.  She arrived safely at the monastery and lived to the age of 84, but early modern nuns are just so earnest with their apostolic missions, such do-gooders that I haven’t found a lot of humor or texture in that part of the story, either.  They were not late medieval mystics who wrote long, fantastic narratives or offered descriptions of the various ways in which they mortified their bodies.  They were not aristocratic European nuns who flaunted their wealth and had men jumping in and out of their cells in between secret plots to make another Borgia prince the Pope.  They were teachers!  I’m a teacher, and many of you reading this are teachers–you know how boring and earnest we all are!  Who wants to read about about a bunch of teachers?   

In short, I have a humor problem with this book, and no really obvious bad guys to target for the cheap yuks.  (At least I’m having a hard time making scurvy and smallpox variola take the fall for everything.) Continue reading

Christmas shopping for the kids just got a lot easier!

All kids love log!

Have you heard the pseudo-scientific news?  Human girls are biologically programmed to play with dollies like little mommies!  A recent study suggests that female juvenile chimps play with sticks and nurture them like babies, whereas male juveniles turn their sticks into weapons or other manly toys–it’s scientifically proven.  Echidne has the goods, as I knew she would.  She’s got an interesting follow-up post on a 2007 study of a Senagalese chimp community that found that female adult chimps led the way in tool-making and killing in their communities–but as she notes, that study didn’t go viral now, did it?  She writes, “[I]t’s every bit as significant as the new stick study, only it shows female chimps as tool makers and as killers. So are we going to draw conclusions about human society from that one, too?”

One of the aspects of these studies that purport to show the essential or biological basis for gendered behaviors in humans is how selective we are in looking to the non-human animal kingdom for justification of human behaviors.  After all, what is “natural” behavior?  $hitting outdoors, scratching our crotches, and smearing our scent everywhere is “natural,” I suppose.  Human societies have developed multiple different technologies and etiquettes for dealing with all of these “natural” needs and urges.  Continue reading

Historiann-thologized!

To paraphrase Sally Field when she won her Academy Award:  “They like me!  They really like me!”

I’ve been dying to tell you about this for more than 18 months now, but I’ve been waiting for the publication of Women’s America:  Refocusing the Past (7th edition) to announce that editors Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron DeHart, and Cornelia Hughes Dayton have included a substantial excerpt from chapter 4 of Abraham in Arms in this latest edition of their American women’s history reader. 

I’m especially pleased about this, not just because Women’s America is one of the top two women’s history readers*, and not just because I’m in the company of leaders in my field like Sara Evans, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Mary Beth Norton, Jennifer Morgan, Carol Karlsen, Carol Berkin, Annette Gordon-Reed, Sharon Block, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, and Jeanne Boydston, not to mention Dayton and Kerber themselves.  I’m also especially thrilled because they picked a chapter about women that I was particularly proud of, and which has gone largely unremarked upon by my reviewers, most of whom have been military historians who are much more interested in my chapters on guys and guns.  (Go figure!  They have all reviewed the book favorably, for which I am truly grateful.)  I wrote what I thought was some pretty interesting women’s history too–and I’m so gratified to know that top scholars in my field like Kerber and Dayton find value in my work.

From the editors’ introduction to “Captivity and Conversion:  Daughters of New England in French Canada,” p. 103:

Ann Little’s essay introduces us to the geopolitics of the second half of the colonial period.  Protestant England and Catholic France, along with their independent-minded Indian allies, engaged in a succession of imperial wars involving North American territory from the late seventeenth century through the Seven Years’ War of 1756-63.  In 1700, English settlers far outnumbered the 15,000 French soldiers, missionaries, fur traders, and habitants(farmers) clustered chiefly in settlements along the St. Lawrence River.  However, the English occupied only a narrow sliver along the eastern seaboard, while the French claimed authority (and established mutually adventageous relations with native groups) from Louisiana to Canada along the Mississippi River and around the Great Lakes.  It was not at all clear if one European power (France, Spain, orEngland) could gain ascendancy over the continent as a whole.

The author takes us on a detective’s journey to recover the voices of and find out what happened to the children, teenagers, and grown women who were captured from New England towns and farms in wartime raids by Abenaki allies of the French.  Continue reading