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

Wednesday round-up: What I saw at the OAH

Attending a big conference like the Organization of American Historians is fun, especially when it’s in an pleasant place like San Francisco in the spring in mid-April.  What I do is so marginal to the OAH conference that I’ve got lots of free time to attend panels and hear how experts in other subfields talk about their work, explore the city with old friends, and go to parties!  Here are some observations and lessons learned, in no particular order:

  • No matter how big the conference, you will never see some people, and you will continue to run into the same people again and again.  Aside from the few early American feminists I kept running into at some of the same panels, over the course of three days every time I strolled through the hotel lobby or some of the other open spaces I saw either Roy Ritchie or Alice Kessler-Harris.  I also never saw a colleague of mine who was there the whole time–not even at a distance.
  • “Early America” now goes through most of the antebellum period, at least according to the OAH.  Stop fighting it, Historiann and others who specialize in anything before the nineteenth century!  I think I witnessed the single paper that included anything on the seventeenth century.  These are now like the Dodo–and not even in much greater evidence at conferences like the Omohundro Institute annual conference.  (Speaking of which:  did you hear that they cancelled their party scheduled for Friday night when they learned that they had booked it in a club that doesn’t offer membership to women?  Good for them, but that’s quite a huge loss on the party, in addition to what’s surely a major donor problem now.)
  • (Aside on the temporal issue:  I keep hearing that The Sixteenth Century Society is a fun group, and their understanding of the long sixteenth century is pretty long, from 1450 to 1660.  Your thoughts?  I was becoming kind of a semi-regular at the Western Society for French History and French Historical Studies, so I’m all for going European if that’s what it will take.)
  • My source inside the Journal of American History editorial board meeting said Continue reading

Best. Response. Ever.

Donna Brazile to marriage concern trolls:

Perhaps, if I’d had Ms. Patton’s wisdom and foresight about what really matters in college, I wouldn’t have taken so many pesky classes, and instead concentrated on designing my hair, makeup, attire and personality to create the perfect man-catching machine.

Perhaps it would have all worked out exactly as Ms. Patton implies — the perfect house, kids, husband and future. And yet I’m skeptical. I made a lot of stupid decisions in college; I’m really glad the choice of life partner wasn’t one of them. How many people, do you think, could choose a tattoo at 22 years old and still be happy with it by the time they are 50? Let’s be generous here: maybe a quarter of all people? And tattoos don’t even talk. Continue reading

Check check check: is this blog even on?

Howdy, friends!  I’m sorry about the extended blog silence–apparently, several of you have noticed the absence of posts here over the past few weeks, and are maybe a little concerned.  Some of you have gingerly emailed me links and ideas for other posts–thanks!  But my reasons for not-posting are even more trivial than being out of ideas:  too much travel and too many RL command performances = too little time, energy, and/or reliable internet access for me to blog at all.  (And then there’s my day job, after all.)

Other bloggers are on the ball.  If you’re interested in intelligent commentary on marriage, civil unions, and the circus last week at the U.S. Supreme Court, then go see what Madwoman with a Laptop has to say about her visit to the famous marble steps last week, complete with photos and other interesting links.  See also Tenured Radical‘s inaugural post post-Spring Break and her discussion about the economic and cultural privilege it takes for her and her partner to resist marriage while ensuring that they’re economically and legally protected otherwise.  Smart stuff.

In any case:  I’ll be back on the high plains real soon, and will resume regular posting post-haste.  In the meantime:  Continue reading

Rob Portman is still a Pharisee. In other news: Spring Break!

I’ve been thinking about marriage today–gay, straight, what have you.  Fratguy and I have been in a civil union for 15 years.  I think that’s the right term, as we were “married” by a notary (you can do that in Maine), but because we’re an opposite-sex couple, everyone calls us “married,” although neither of us wanted to darken the door of any church in the service of enacting our civil union.

But you get used to this kind of thing when you’re in a straight union–a lot of the time you benefit from other people’s assumptions about you.  It means (for example) that you don’t have to carry around your marriage license as proof of your legal relationship.  The words “husband” and “wife” really are magic in that respect–I’ve never been asked to prove it.  My husband’s agreement about our status suffices.

Sometimes those assumptions are annoying–such as when other people lay their trip about what marriage is on you, and judge your marriage by their standards, not yours.  (These assumptions are almost always about the behavior of women in marriages, not the men they’re married to.  Men usually benefit from the assumptions people make about them as married men, even if those assumptions are totally wrong.)

In any case, this is all just a windup to direct you to go read Madwoman with a Laptop‘s thoughts on her 29 years with the woman whose wife she will never be, along with a really thoughtful analysis of civil unions, gay marriage, and her very intentional rejection of marriage and wifedom although her state now permits same-sex marriage.  Continue reading

Mid-week roundup: it’s never to soon to start the Great Forgetting!

Up on my hobbyhorse, again!

Howdy, friends:  quick post today as I’m up to my commuter horse Revenue’s a$$ in meetings today and the rest of this week.  As we shall see, it’s never too soon to start the Great Forgetting!  (That is, the tendency of men and women both to choose to ignore, overlook, or hide the importance of women throughout history.)  Here goes:

  • NPR featured a story last night on two women’s efforts to combat the Great Forgetting of women’s role in the Seattle punk and grunge music scene in the early 1990s.  “[Gretta] Harley and [Sarah] Rudinoff also wanted to address the disconnect between the history they had lived and the histories they saw written. In 2011, the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind sparked numerous tributes to the grunge era that didn’t capture the Seattle music community they remembered. ‘We started looking at the books that were written by different authors, and the women were absent, almost completely absent,’ Harley says. ‘And we thought, ‘Wow, this is a story that really hasn’t happened yet.” ”  So, after recording more than 30 oral histories of women who were a part of the scene, they wrote a play called “These Streets” in order to document women’s presence in the grunge movement.
  • Speaking of oral history:  Temple graduate student Dan Royles describes his Kickstarter campaign to raise $6,000 to transcribe the oral histories he has done on AIDS activism in the African American community in the 1980s and 1990s.  As of this morning, he’s at $5,374–let’s raise a little coin for him in the next 36 hours, shall we?  Continue reading

CFP, Early American Studies: Beyond the Binaries

“The Publick Universal Friend”

Last week I received this call from Rachel Hope Cleves at the University of Victoria for a special issue of Early American Studies she’s editing on the subject of “Beyond the Binaries: Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America:”

Deadline for Proposal: 31 January 2013
            In a 1993 article in Sciences, biologist and historian Anne Fausto-Sterling provocatively argued that human sex could not be neatly divided into two simple categories, men and women. Instead, she recommended a five-part system of categorization, including men, women, merms, ferms, and herms. At the time of publication, Fausto-Sterling’s tongue-in-cheek proposal provoked more criticism than applause, but in the past two decades scholars in a wide range of disciplines, from neuroscience to gender studies, have added evidence to her assertion that binary sex categories are not a biological rule. With a few exceptions, however, historians of early America have been slow to question the binary of man and woman. In the uproar provoked by her proposal, few recall that Fausto-Sterling began her article not with a headline grabbed from the daily papers, but with an historical example dating to 1840s Connecticut.
            Now, recent work by historians including Elizabeth Reis, Clare Sears, and Peter Boag, indicates a growing attention to the instability of sex in early America. Their studies illuminate the existence and social knowledge of individuals whose bodies, gender identities, and desires defied neat divisions. Moreover, these works provoke questions about the coherence of the binary sex categories that historians assume as foundational. What did it mean to be a woman or a man in early America, if, as Reis points out, in 1764 a thirty-two year old woman named Deborah Lewis could change sex, becoming a man named Francis Lewis, and live for another six decades as an accepted patriarch within his community? How fixed were sex identities in early America? What possibilities existed for the expression of gender identities that stood at variance with embodied sex? What social practices created opportunities for the blending and rearrangement of sex identities? How did hierarchies of race and class destabilize or re-stabilize sex binaries? Should “men” and “women” be understood as variable rather than unitary categories?
          To encourage these questions, and others like them, Early American Studies invites proposals for essay submissions on the theme of “Beyond the Binaries: Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America” for a special issue to be published in fall 2014. Continue reading