Obligatory comment on this week’s outrage that broke the internets.

Historiann1990Once upon a time, a privileged white guy with writing gigs at various legacy mags and a prominent perch now at New York Magazine wrote an essay warning darkly of today’s “P.C. Police” on our college campuses and the internet because people sometimes say mean things about him and his writer friends (who also have sweet gigs at legacy magazines) on Twitter or in the comments on his articles.  (Or something.)  Full disclosure:  I’ve mentioned his work exactly once on this blog, and it was only to give him a nod of agreement.

There have been a number of serious and productive responses that point out the folly of Jonathan Chait’s claims about the “dangers” of “liberal P.C.,” but also agree with him that arguments among putative liberal allies can be aggravating and sometimes turn on absurdities á la “the Judean People’s Front” or the “People’s Front of Judea,” such as Megan Garber at The Atlantic, or J. Bryan Lowder at Slate.  In other words, they grant that yes, people on the internet are sometimes major jerks.

Yes, people are a-holes in general, and people with blogs are probably on average bigger a-holes than most.  But, for the most part, straight, white guys on campus or on the internet just get criticized or maybe called names, or get told to “check your privilege.”  White men don’t (for example) regularly get calls for their rape and murder, or death threats if they show up to give a speech on a U.S. college campus, which is the kind of thing that happens to feminist women writers on the internet.  A lot. Continue reading

A Letter About a Good Management under the Distemper of the MEASLES, at this time Spreading in the Country

Mather1713measles

Because there are so many people here in California who are as hostile to vaccinating their children as many of Cotton Mather’s neighbors in Boston at the turn of the eighteenth century were hostile to inoculation, I thought I’d do a little research on three-hundred year old measles medical management.  There was no such thing as a vaccination or inoculation for measles then, so let’s see what Mather’s 1713 advice on nursing a patient through measles looks like.  (You can click on the link to see the full PDF of his pamphlet–it’s only four pages long.)

Mather offers loads of natural remedies for the symptoms of measles.  Above all, he is against the “pernicious Method of Over-doing and Over-heating, and giving things to force Nature out of its own orderly way of proceeding.  Before we go any further, let this Advice for the Sick, be principally attended to; Don’t kill ’em!  That is to say, with mischevous Kindness.  Indeed, if we stopt here and said no more, this were enough to save more Lives, than our Wars have destroy’d,” 1.   Continue reading

Anti-abortion legislation failed because Republicans aren’t really “pro-life.”

reallyuglybabyI’m sure most of you have heard that the new congress failed to pass their anti-abortion bill Wednesday:

They almost made it, but then the GOP coalition fell apart—not on wavering opposition to abortion overall, but on the technicalities. Like many such proposals, the bill would have allowed for exceptions in a few limited cases, such as rape. This bill made rape an exception, but only if a woman reported it to law enforcement. As Ed O’Keefe reports, that set off alarms for a bloc of female Republican lawmakers. They worried that the rape-reporting restriction was too strict, and that the bill would alienate young voters and women from the party. And so Wednesday evening, GOP leaders abruptly yanked the bill. Instead, the House passed a less restrictive bill Thursday, permanently banning federal money from going to pay for abortions. A ban already exists, but it has to be renewed every year.

The rape exemptions always mystify me:  if fetal life is worth preserving, then isn’t all fetal life worth saving, regardless of the circumstances of its conception?  Why should we hold innocent fetuses responsible for their fathers’ crimes?  I have taught at more than one Catholic university, so I’ve heard and seen it all when it comes to “pro-life” arguments, but this question always struck me as really, really simple:  if you’re “pro-life,” how does a rape exemption make sense unless you believe somehow that fetuses are evil and deserve the death penalty because their fathers are rapists?  (Most Americans gave up on original sin, like 200 years ago or so.  Get with the program, “pro-lifers!”) Continue reading

There are no founding mothers, just embarassing aunties and cleaner-uppers: the care work we demand of women and no one else

ensler

Eve Ensler

This story, of Mount Holyoke College cancelling a performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues because it was deemed exclusive of transwomen’s experiences, is a perfect example of the care work we expect of women, their institutions, and feminism, and of no one else.  We never demand that men’s or male-dominated political movements or institutions serve absolutely every other social justice issue first, second, or third, before they can work on their announced and preferred issue or issues.  This is only a demand we make of women and their institutions and political movements, because we expect this kind of care work from women and not from men.

On a related note:  the message here is just shut up.  Stop talking.  Stop acting like your experience is relevant to anyone else.  Shut up, already!!!  Stop talking about vaginas!  As though any one monologue–get it?–could presume to represent everyone’s experience.  The title of the play is very intentionally The Vagina Monologues, with the “s” indicating that there is more than one experience recounted here.  But somehow, we see the word Vagina, and we stop thinking and start screaming “SHUT UP!!!” Continue reading

Single-blind, double-gendered study reveals sex bias in student evaluations

taintorimaginarymenThis is brilliant! (Well, more like a LOLsob). From Amanda Marcotte at Slate:

One of the problems with simply assuming that sexism drives the tendency of students to giving higher ratings to men than women [in students’ course evaluations] is that students are evaluating professors as a whole, making it hard to separate the impact of gender from other factors, like teaching style and coursework. But North Carolina researcher Lillian MacNell, along with co-authors Dr. Adam Driscoll and Dr. Andrea Hunt, found a way to blind students to the actual gender of instructors by focusing on online course studies. The researchers took two online course instructors, one male and one female, and gave them two classes to teach. Each professor presented as his or her own gender to one class and the opposite to the other.

The results were astonishing. Students gave professors they thought were male much higher student evaluations across the board than they did professors they thought were female, regardless of what gender the professors actually were. When they told students they were men, both the male and female professors got a bump in ratings. When they told the students they were women, they took a hit in ratings. Because everything else was the same about them, this difference has to be the result of gender bias.

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