“Who can you trust?”

Stressed out?  At the end of your rope?  You have to hear this story by Mary-Claire King on the Moth.  King is the American Cancer Society Professor in the Department of Medicine and the Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.  Her name probably sounds familiar to you because she was the discoverer of BRCA1, the gene she named that proves that breast cancer is inherited in some families.

I had the honor of meeting King a few times in the 1990s because one of my best friends from college was her microbiology Ph.D. student.  We had a fascinating conversation about mitochondrial DNA (the kind you get from your mother & can use to trace the maternal line), and the possibilities it opened for learning more about Native American history and early American history in general. Continue reading

Books for babes, and more SoCal beauty for those of you still suffering from the Alberta Clipper

children'sbookshelfToday’s post is a query from a reader about children’s books related to one’s field of history.

Dear Historiann,

I don’t know if this would interest you, but I’m stumped on my own. A colleague is having a baby, and another colleague is hosting a department shower. The host has requested that we each, in addition to any other gift, bring a book for the baby’s library. Specifically, something related to our field of history.

I think it is a lovely idea, but I have no idea if there are good, current children’s books in my field, which, broadly construed, is American Women’s History. Do you think your blog readers would have ideas?  

Would this interest me?  It’s been a subject that, for a number of mundane reasons, has been at the front of my mind for at least the last decade. Continue reading

A little slice of Yellowstone on Wilshire Boulevard

labreaI took a little break from thinking about history yesterday to think about prehistory instead with a visit to the LaBrea Tar Pits and the Page Museum.  The photo above shows what a dig there looks like–a jumble of different animal bones encased in solidified tar.

The open, ongoing digs were interesting, but I had no idea how active the site still is.  The Page Museum’s perimeter is full of bubbling tar seeps that will still entrap small animals and permit your children to cover themselves in tar!  For realz.  Keep an eye out for traffic cones on the lawn alerting you to an open seep.  It’s extra-cool, because this Yellowstone National Park-like seismic activity is all happening on Wilshire Boulevard in the middle of Los Angeles, on the same campus as the LACMA. Continue reading

When what to my wondering ears did appear. . .

nicholassyrettbut my BFF (and this year, my housesitter), Nick Syrett, who was interviewed on Morning Edition by Renee Montagne on college fraternities sexual assault over the  longue durée.  That guy gets more free media for his book, The Company He Keeps:  A History of White College Fraternities (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 2009) than any university press author I know.  UNC Press must love him.  I was impressed by how scholarly the interview itself was–you can see a transcript here, or listen to the interview yourself.

I don’t think it’s just the commenters at the NPR website, but what is it with the need for members of the general public to tell scholars that their research is either unnecessary or irrelevant?  (I’ll leave aside the commenters who resent “the PC odor around this collective guilt-mongering.”  That’s sadly predictable!)  The majority of the commenters today at NPR (so far!) are appreciative of story and seem to agree with Nick that the connections between fraternities and sexual violence is both longstanding and robust, but then someone like Theresa Younis writes, “Research?  Everybody knows that.”  (Eyeroll implied?) Continue reading

“Only after a man” called Bill Cosby a rapist did anyone listen: on rape, history, and epistemology

Barbara Bowman says that Bill Cosby raped her in the 1980s, when she was seventeen years old. When she told people about the assaults at the time, she was told that she was crazy, or a liar:

Back then, the incident was so horrifying that I had trouble admitting it to myself, let alone to others. But I first told my agent, who did nothing. (Cosby sometimes came to her office to interview people for “The Cosby Show” and other acting jobs.) A girlfriend took me to a lawyer, but he accused me of making the story up. Their dismissive responses crushed any hope I had of getting help; I was convinced no one would listen to me. That feeling of futility is what ultimately kept me from going to the police. . . .

I didn’t stay entirely quiet, though: I’ve been telling my story publicly for nearly 10 years. When Constand brought her lawsuit, I found renewed confidence. I was determined to not be silent any more. In 2006, I was interviewed by Robert Huber for Philadelphia Magazine, and Alycia Lane for KYW-TV news in Philadelphia. A reporter wrote about my experience in the December 2006 issue of People Magazine. And last February, Katie Baker interviewed me for Newsweek. Bloggers and columnists wrote about that story for several months after it was published. Still, my complaint didn’t seem to take hold.

Only after a man, Hannibal Buress, called Bill Cosby a rapist in a comedy act last month did the public outcry begin in earnest. The original video of Buress’s performance went viral. This week, Twitter turned against him, too, with a meme that emblazoned rape scenarios across pictures of his face.

While I am grateful for the new attention to Cosby’s crimes, I must ask my own questions: Why wasn’t I believed? Why didn’t I get the same reaction of shock and revulsion when I originally reported it? Why was I, a victim of sexual assault, further wronged by victim blaming when I came forward? The women victimized by Bill Cosby have been talking about his crimes for more than a decade. Why didn’t our stories go viral?

Unfortunately, our experience isn’t unique. The entertainment world is rife with famous men who use their power to victimize and then silence young women who look up to them. Even when their victims speak out, the industry and the public turn blind eyes; these men’s celebrity, careers, and public adulation continue to thrive.

So little changes in the history of sexual assault that it’s almost like it’s impervious to change over time, and it’s not just in the entertainment industry of course.  Powerful men exploit their access to young, powerless women, girls, and boys.  On the rare occasion that a young, powerless person speaks up, she’s told that she’s crazy, she misunderstood, she’s to blame, and omigod do you know what this might do to his career?  Continue reading

The scariest of them all? Little boys who want to dress up as girls for Halloween

gayprof2

What would we do without GayProf?

Kate Cohen writes that the most terrifying costume on Halloween is a little boy who dresses up as a Disney Princess or Wonder Woman, at least in the minds of his parents or other adults in his community:

 Would you let your son be Frozen’s Elsa for Halloween? Care.com reports that 65 percent of people it surveyed (note: this could mean 20 people) said “no” to letting a boy wear a girl costume. Or, as a CaféMom commenter put it, “NO WAY AND HE WOULDN’T WANT TO ANYWAY.”

I wish I could dismiss the horror-struck momosphere with sympathetic condescension—man, it must be hard to live in a red state—but I can’t. My dining room table is a progressive enclave within a liberal bastion within the state of New York, and yet, it was there that my 5-year-old son’s declaration that he wanted to be Wonder Woman for Halloween was met with the shocked gasps and nervous laughter of our dinner guests. No one spoke. And then a friend—trembling but determined, like the one kid in the horror movie brave enough to move toward the scary sound behind the door—ventured, “Wouldn’t you rather be Spiderman?”

Sadly, I’m sure she’s right.  I have a nephew who was bullied by neighborhood pre-K toughs because at age three he liked to play dressup and sometimes wore a dress.  Age three!  

Liberal Americans congratulate themselves too much for being gay- or trans-friendly if the notion of five-year old boys dressed as Wonder Woman causes anyone to say anything other than “She is AWESOME!  Who wouldn’t want to be Wonder Woman  Which accessory do you like better:  the bulletproof bracelets, or  the rockin’ boots?”  (I’ll take the bracelets for daywear, but who can resist those boots?)  The only costumes these days that scare me are those asinine male superhero costumes that are padded to make preadolescent children look absurdly muscular.  Would most of us permit our preteen girls to wear giant false boobs in their costumes?  The fake muscles are the masculine equivalent, I say. Continue reading