Obama: bowls like a girl. Clinton: girl.

If like Historiann you’re concerned about the longer-term effects of bias in the media and the left blogosphere against Senator Clinton, check out Susie Madrak’s posts about Escacon ’08 last weekend at Suburban Guerrila.  Madrak reports on revealing conversations about Hillary hatred with Eric Bohlert of Media Matters, and with Paulie the K., Princeton’s coolest Professor/Columnist/Blogger extraordinaire.  (Apparently, Paulie dished about former student and top Obama advisor Austan Goolsbee over spring rolls and nam pla.  Yum!)  See also this analysis of how the orgy of Clinton-bashing works to keep all of us mouthy broads in our places, and this one too.

I think we need to consider that while Obama’s candidacy benefits now from both Dem-on-Dem insults and media bias, these gendered and sexuality-based insults and press coverage will be used to demean Obama too.  Let’s take a trip down memory lane to recall what damage this kind of bully-boy towel-snapping did to The Breck Girl, or Al Gore and his allegedly feminized Earth Tones.  Now, let’s see what washed up on the beach today:  Yes, Joe Scarborough called Obama “prissy” and “dainty” on the basis of watching Obama bowl, and contrasted his performance with other politicians who looked like “real men.”  (Bowling?  Did I miss Clinton’s “Candlepin Smackdown” in New Hampshire that assured her victory with that state’s voters?)  And let’s not forget that one of Scarborough’s sparring partners today was Congressman Harold Ford (D-TN), who in his Senate run in 2006 was the target of smarmy ads calling him “Fancy Ford” and used race, sexuality, and gender to smear him.

Indulge me in a little nostalgia, in the service of making a larger point:  Historiann attended a women’s college in the 1980s and 90s, and then I taught at one briefly right after I finished my Ph.D. in the late 1990s  One commonality of being affiliated with a women’s college is that as soon as you step off of the campus–and some jerk driving by sees you do it–you’re greeted with hostile screams of “Lezzie!”  “Dyke!”  Now, it didn’t matter if you were alone or with a crowd.  It didn’t matter if you were a femmy girlygirl with long hair and a miniskirt, or if you were a “Dyke to Watch Out For” in a flannel shirt and jeans.  And as I learned when I was briefly a faculty member at a women’s college, it didn’t matter if you were obviously a professor leading a group of students on a field trip to look at headstones in a local cemetery.  More often than not, we got screamed at, and occasionally, some people had objects thrown at them.  To jerks driving by in cars, the fact that we were affiliated with that campus was the only distinguising feature that mattered, and that distinguishing feature meant that we were subject to constant verbal harassment.

So, I’d like to remind all Democrats that to the rest of the country, it looks like we all live and work on a relatively small campus.  To the rest of the world, we look pretty much the same–when the jerks drive by, they can’t see if it’s a Clinton or an Obama for President button that we’re wearing.  And so, for some of us to tolerate–or even perpetrate–ugly insults based on gender and sexuality–it endangers all of us and our chances for electoral victory.  Because if it’s OK for some of us to be targets, it’s OK for all of us to be targets.

UPDATE, 4/2/08:  Via Suburban Guerilla, here’s an interesting look at what happened with blog traffic last month at 2 pro-Obama blogs, 2 pro-Clinton blogs, and one neutral blog.  Bottom line:   the 2 pro-Obama blogs, which have been the leaders in misogynist invective against Clinton, have seen a drop in unique visits, while the neutral and 2 pro-Clinton blogs have had relatively stable traffic without the noticeable declines that the pro-Obama blogs had.  (This may be because from my observations, the “pro-Obama” blogs are more anti-Clinton, whereas the 2 pro-Clinton blogs really are pro-Clinton rather than anti-Obama, and most Democrats like both candidates and don’t bear extreme animus against one or the other.)

UPDATE, afternoon 4/2/08:  Check out this post by Tom Watson called “MoDo Sets her Gaydar to Stun.”  Money quote:  “Liberals are just so gay. Wink freaking wink. Hillary’s been a lesbian since she first came to public attention. Gore and Kerry – well, a couple of sissy boys. Now it’s Obama’s turn.”

Tenure, again? Oh, noes!

Virtually Me  I’m posting briefly here to direct you to this discussion of the tenure debate at Inside Higher Ed featuring Tenured Radical, which also mentions Lumpenprofessoriat‘s rebuttal and Slaves of Academe‘s discussion of tenure as hazing.  (The article totally neglects the brilliantly informed disucssions of this subject at Historiann, and Professor Zero‘s ongoing meditations on the topic of tenure, however!  Shocking!)  I love this quote from the Radical about why transparency is so threatening to the tenure regime:  “A private institution is like an allegory for the WASP family when it comes to talking about tenure — it’s like you’re not supposed to say that Mommy’s drinking. Whatever happens, the real crime is talking about it.”  I think it works pretty much the same way in public institutions too, but that quote struck me because I used to have a tenure-track job at a private university, and I regularly compared my department to an alcoholic family, where I was cast as the “bad daughter” for talking about and questioning the abuse.

Stay tuned–Prof. Zero and I may be cooking up a Modest Proposal for tenure reform. 

RED ALERT UPDATE, 4/1/08:  Click here to read about the insanity at Baylor, where administrators have applied new tenure standards that were apparently pulled out of their a**es after this year’s tenure candidates submitted their dossiers!  And guess what, boys and girls?  The 40% rejection rate this year worked disproportionately to disadvantage female tenure candidates–six of the nine women up for tenure were denied.  Surprise!  My favorite part of the article is where President of the Faculty Senate Matt Cordon suggests that he’s worried that this will hurt faculty recruiting, a worthy point, especially considering that you’ve already got to recruit people to WACO, TEXAS!  Come on, people–you’ve already got a weak hand to play.  Abusing people and denying them tenure is bad enough, but the ones you “reward” with tenure have to live in Waco, Texas.

History and astronomy lessons from They Might Be Giant Plagiarists

Check this out, via Corrente, to see a most undeserved tribute to our eleventh President, “Mr. James K. Polk, the Napoleon of the Stump,” by They Might Be Giants.

stars.JPGIncidentally, a close family member of mine has discovered that TMBG has tried this schtick of “borrowing” from textbooks before. When perusing an old astronomy primer (don’t ask!), he discovered that the first line of their song “Why Does the Sun Shine?” was cribbed directly from Stars: A Guide to the Constellations, Sun, Moon, Planets, and Other Features of the Heavens, a Golden Nature Guide (Western Publishing Company, 1951, 1956), shown here on the left (click for larger view). Below, you can see the proof on page 16–note the first sentence in the second paragraph shown here:


That’s OK–writing new song lyrics is hard, so why not turn to used bookstores for inspiration? (Don’t you?)

It's your misfortune, and none of my own

cowboy-heart.jpgIn a sad and thought-provoking article in High Country News called My Crazy Brother, Ray Ring writes about the fact that the West has the highest suicide rates in the U.S.  He writes, “for suicide, nine of the top 11 states are in the West, a trend that holds year after year, decade after decade.  And the degree of the lethal regional difference is stunning:  Nevada, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Oregon range from 19 to 15 suicides per 100,000 people–more than twice as high as New York and Washington, D.C. . . . . Some 8,000 Westerners will kill themselves this year, a hefty portion of the national total of more than 30,000 suicides.”  His brother John killed himself in 1993 at age 46, after nearly a lifetime of struggling with mental illness.

The worthy purpose of the article is to urge us to make mental health treatment as much of a priority as other health care needs, and it features photographs from an interesting traveling exhibition called “Nothing to Hide:  Mental Illness in the Family,” sponsored by Family Diversity Projects.)  But, since the article appears in High Country News, a magazine dedicated to environmental issues in the West, I wish Ring had offered more analysis for why Westerners have such high suicide rates.  (Historiann’s first guess is that it must be the high rates of gun ownership out here–but, while household firearm ownership is strongly associated with higher suicide rates, the South is the region with the most heavily armed householders, followed by the Midwest, according to this 2005 Gallup Poll.)  The vast majority of Westerners are now urban dwellers, so it’s not the stark isolation of ranch life or mining camps that does it.  Ring offers only the High Plains Gothic musings of historian Patricia Limerick, who says that Westerners “won’t admit our sorrows until they become cataclysmic,” but he doesn’t follow up on those comments, or explore their meaning further.  (H/t to historian Richard White, whose 1993 book title It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own:  A New History of the American West I cribbed for this post.  Said title was itself cribbed of course from the song, “Git Along Little Dogies,” and for all of you living at 4,000-foot elevation or below, it’s “dogies,” not “doggies.”)

Ring also briefly discusses the Wallace Stegner’s 1943 novel, Big Rock Candy Mountain, which hints at an interesting analysis.  Stegner’s father was an erswhile farmer and bootlegger who moved his family 20 times in 10 years, and ultimately killed a mistress and then himself in a Salt Lake City hotel in 1939.  A character in the novel, supposedly based on Stegner’s father, is described as someone who was perpetually disappointed by his failures in life because “people had been before him.  The cream, he said, was gone.  He should have lived a hundred years earlier.  Yet he would never quite grant that all the good places were filled up.  There was somewhere, if you knew where to find it, some place where money could be made like drawing water from a well, some Big Rock Candy Mountain where life was effortless and rich and unrestrained and full of adventure and action, where something could be had for nothing.”  To me, Stegner’s description of the Westerner’s attitude really rings true, although I don’t know if it’s necessarily connected with mental illness. 

Stegner’s description of a man who expected a life that was “effortless and rich and unrestrained and full of adventure and action” seems to suggest something about Western culture that endures.  This is the region of the country that was only opened for intensive development by Anglo-American migrants with massive infusions of federal dollars:  the Frontier Army, irrigation, railroads, and federal grants of land, grazing, and mineral rights.  Those infusions of cash, water, and infrastructure worked–in fact, the West remains the fastest growing region of the U.S.  While Westerners are happy beneficiaries of national tax dollars, they are allergic to payting taxes and claim to be suspicious of the “big government” that won the West for them.  All of the Western states (except California, Washington, and Utah) are in the top twenty states with the lowest state and local tax burdens:  Colorado (#30), Arizona (#31), Idaho (#35), Nevada (#36), Oregon (#37), New Mexico (#40), Montana (#41), and Wyoming (#42).  This suggests that Westerners think that they’re entitled to something, if not for nothing, then at least for less than the average going rate.  Perhaps this is because so many people are recent arrivals and they don’t feel rooted in the West (if they ever will), and so many “native” Westerners are resentful of the immigrants, whether they’re from Texas, California, New Jersey, or Mexico, that they don’t feel the need to pay taxes to educate or vaccinate the newcomers’ children.  (A popular bumper sticker in Colorado sports the white-outlined green mountains of the old Colorado license plates, with the word “NATIVE” spelled out as an aggressive boast.)

Perhaps the most fragile and despondent among us are caught up in the crush of new migrants, old hopes, and fresh disappointments and can’t see any way out.  Communities of new migrants aren’t necessarily stable or supportive, and people cut off from their families and native communities may be prone to despair if their big dreams don’t work out.  Then again, they may live for a while on the hope that their luck will change with the next move, and that the next Big Thing will lead them to their Big Rock Candy Mountain.  (If you’re interested in contemporary Western issues, especially having to do with the environment, land use, development, and industry, then consider a subscription to High Country Newsit’s an excellent publication that reports stories you’ll see nowhere else in either the local or the national media.)

And, sorry about all of the buzzkills at Historiann.com lately–suicide, bullies, the gendered wage gap, and the mendacity of tenure review–you’d think it was still midwinter, instead of a lovely early spring.  I promise to lighten things up around here with a little Barbie blogging this week. 

Workplace bullies and the academy

potter.jpgCheck out this brief article in the New York Times about bullies in the workplace, their strategies and the toll they take on individuals and the productivity of the organizations they work for.  In response to this article’s request to hear stories of workplace bullying, there are 466 comments, and they’re still being posted this morning as I write.  (Don’t miss comment #53 from Liz, an attorney and Army Reservist who said she has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder not from her tour of duty in Iraq, but rather from her civililan job!)  I read the first one hundred comments, and have noticed some interesting themes:

  1. While careers in medicine and the law are heavily represented in the incidents reported here, the academic workplace is specifically mentioned in ten out of the first 100 complaints:  see comments 2, 17, 25, 30, 44, 55, 64, 70, 86, and 96.  Yep, folks, read ’em and weep:  Chairs bullying junior faculty, Deans bullying tenured faculty, professors bullying students, and in one case, students bullying a professor, so there’s something for everyone.
  2. The article notes that “a large share of the problem involves women victimizing women. The Zogby survey showed that 40 percent of workplace bullies are women,” and the comments bear this out.  Comment 55 from Dana, a graduate student, writes that the faculty member making her life miserable “was awarded her doctorate in the late 1960s, when women had a tougher go of it in higher education. I’m convinced through my experience with her and others that that generation of feminists approach their careers with a grand chip on their shoulders – and take it out on those of us who came in through the next feminist wave of a decade later.”
  3. Just looking at the syntax and writing style of the comments, you can see the toll that workplace bullying takes on people.  So many of the comments are in all lower-case letters (people reporting bullying seem to refer to themselves as “i” instead of “I”), and they are full of run-on sentences.  I couldn’t read more than 100–my guts were churning and bile was rising in my throat, and there’s only so much rank injustice that a girl can take on a sunny, spring morning!
  4. There are a few commenters who try to jolly the others out of their misery (“try making friends!”), and others who claim that bullying victims are just whiners who can’t take criticism.  But, those reactions seem naive on the one hand, and cruel on the other.  The clear lesson is that people who are being bullied need to leave those jobs in order to preserve whatever’s left of their health and sanity.

On the question of women bullying other women:  I don’t think it’s fair at all to tar a whole generation with that brush–after all, some of the most supportive, nurturing people who have mentored me and many other junior women are from that generation.  Until fairly recently, it was only that generation of women faculty who were senior enough to engage in bullying.  Sadly, Historiann is familiar with women bullying women–it was considered not a bug, but rather a feature of her former department.  The bullying women were “useful idiots” who could be relied on to police junior women; the senior men could then hide behind their skirts and deny that gender bias was an issue.  I don’t think this kind of behavior can be pinned on the generation of women who earned their degrees in the 60s and 70s–I’ve seen it in people whose degrees are from the 1980s and 1990s, too.  The critical issue is power, not generation, and most regular faculty with 1990s Ph.D.’s are tenured now and therefore have at least a small purchase on power and influence in their departments.

The one advantage that academics have over people in other lines of work is that bullies aren’t as able to affect our prospects for other employment the way that bullying bosses in private industry can.  If we keep publishing and maintain connections with supportive scholars outside of our institutions, we can get out of a bad job.  We don’t need letters of recommendation from our department chairs–if you’re an Assistant Professor, a letter from a supportive Associate Professor will do nicely to testify implicitly, if not explicitly, that you’re not a troublemaking malcontent but rather an excellent colleage with limitless potential.  The only exception to this is if your bully happens to be someone of importance in your field–but this is probably unusual:  by definition, people who are important in their field spend their time writing books, working with students, and hobnobbing at conferences with other people important in their field.  In general, they don’t have the time, let alone the inclination, to try to mess with someone else’s career.  In my experience, the bullies weren’t exactly the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, to put it charitably.  They weren’t terribly productive scholars or successful teachers, which is probably why they felt so intimidated by smart young things who were clearly going places.  So, they chose to make their post-tenure careers as hall monitors rather than as scholars.

Et vous, mes amis?  Any thoughts as to why the groves of academe are such fertile fields for bullies?  (Or, conversely, why academics are such thin-skinned, overly sensistive complainers?)  Do you have your own stories to share?  Discuss.

Steven Pinker, like, I'm so sure!

bitchin-camaro.jpgCheck this out from a story this morning about children and swearing that aired on NPR’s Morning Edition:

“When it comes to choosing words, our society has a bent toward novelty. Pinker explains we’re forever coming up with new ways to express that things are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  He says there’s always a little “semantic inflation” going on.  For instance, if members of Generation X hear a song they like, they may say, ‘It’s awesome.’ A teen of today may say, ‘It’s bitchin’.’ If the song is lousy, they may say, ‘It sucks.'”

A teen of today may say, “it’s bitchin’?”  Maybe if he wanted to get beat up for sounding like his fortysomething parents and teachers.  (And, guess what?  The 80s sucked too.  Fer sure.)  I’m a colonial historian who spent the 1990s and most of the 2000s in the library, so no one has accused me of being too up to date on youth culture, but I think the kids of today have come up with language tics that are even more annoying.  What’s it called?  Oh, yeah–“texting.”  ZOMG!  Kewl.  L8tr!

Does no one remember that bitchin’ was a Valley Girl compliment, ca. 1982?  (“Encino is like so bitchin’!”)  And what about this classic band from the 1980s whose big hit was Bitchin’ Camaro?  How can American culture survive if we are so heedless about our own recent past?  Man, I so totally want to do some donuts on Steven Pinker’s lawn.  In this: