"I loved Nubbins"

Last weekend’s This American Life featured a story by Elna Baker that reminded me of the old days when TAL was brand-new and didn’t sound like anything else in the broadcast media.  In an excerpt at TAL called “Babies Buying Babies” (click here and scroll up until you get to 40:17 in the show) Baker tells about a job she took as an aspiring actor in New York at FAO Schwartz, where she wore a nurse’s costume and faciliatated “adoptions” of “newborn” Lee Middleton Dolls.  After the dolls were featured on a television show, they sold out quickly–of the white baby dolls, anyway–so the “nurses” were left to deal with hoards of irritated, wealthy white parents, most of whom resented paying $120 for a Latino, African American, or Asian baby doll.  (The little girls were more flexible about loving a doll that looked different from them.)

I don’t want to say much more lest I spoil the story for you.  I can say that it sheds light on disability issues as well as race and (disturbingly) sexuality, and the news is not good, folks.  (Baker herself sets up an invidious comparison of a “factory reject [white] monster baby” versus “a nursery full of perfectly cute black babies,” as though a “disabled” doll was unworthy of adoption compared to perfectly formed dolls.)


Equally interesting for me, Baker’s story also speaks powerfully to the mysterious power of dolls that other inanimate objects or toys don’t have.  Because they’re so clearly and recognizeably human, and because they’re generally representations of babies and young children, they demand not just to be preserved or displayed, but cared for.  But as those of us who have played with dolls know, we also feel aggression and take out our anger on dolls.  Baker speaks eloquently about these contradictory impulses:  of not wanting to let a factory-damaged doll go to a nasty family, although this was a doll that she and the other nurses had jokingly named “Nubbins,” and merrily dropped him on the floor and banged him into furniture to make each other laugh.

My guess is that most of you who used to play with dolls will recognize what Baker is talking about.

Women bullying women

Yesterday the New York Times featured an article on workplace bullying and the (according to the author) “pink elephant. . . lurking in the room” is the fact that female bullies target other women much more often that not.  In the article, “A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting,” leadership coach Peggy Klaus says that “female bullies aim at other women more than 70 percent of the time,” whereas male bullies are more “equal-opportunity tormentors” (h/t to regular commenter Indyanna for bringing this article to my attention.)  Klaus recites a number of reasons why women may target other women for abuse:

I’ve heard plenty of theories on why women undermine one another at work. Probably the most popular one is the scarcity excuse — the idea that there are too few spots at the top, so women at more senior levels are unwilling to assist female colleagues who could potentially replace them.

Another explanation is what I call the “D.I.Y. Bootstrap Theory,” which goes like this: “If I had to pull myself up by the bootstraps to get ahead with no one to help me, why should I help you? Do it yourself!”

Some people argue that women aren’t intentionally undermining one another; rather, they don’t want to be accused of showing favoritism toward other women.

I agree that these first three reasons, while wrong-headed, are excuses that people offer to explain bad behavior.  I’ve never understood the zero-sum mentality of “scarcity,” especially in the academic workplace.  Unlike people outside of academia, who are vulnerable to layoffs and being replaced by younger and cheaper employees, tenured faculty are safe.  They’re made men and women, so they have nothing to lose when their junior colleagues succeed, and if they have even a glimmer of civic-mindedness about their jobs they’ll be happy that their colleagues are thriving and making the department look good.  (Besides, rational Deans reward departments that are good at hiring and promoting good people, and they tend to look askance at departments who keep asking for lines to search because they keep firing the people they’ve recently hired.  Or so I like to think, in my dreamy dreamworld–those of you with administrative experience, please weigh in here!) 

Here’s where I disagree with Klaus: Continue reading

Kennedy's friends (and ponies) speak, so she doesn't have to

From an AP article published in the Denver Post online yesterday about La Dauphine (which, interestingly enough, didn’t make the cut of stories published in the paper edition this morning):

In a series of interviews with The Associated Press, friends and colleagues of [Caroline] Kennedy painted a picture of a reserved but intelligent and tenacious woman who writes her own speeches and who, despite her vast wealth, still takes the subway.

Those interviewed did not provide an impartial view — but, with several speaking publicly for the first time about their relationship, they offered a rare look inside the private world of a woman America fell in love with decades ago as she rode her pony over the White House lawn.

Yes, because this is America, where we choose our leaders on the basis of cute photo-ops of their overprivileged childhoods. Continue reading

And the envelopes, please…

Last week, in the midst of a discussion about “coverage” and its many abuses in faculty life and history curricula in general, I suggested that we draw dates from a hat and design a curriculum out of randomly generated start and end datesIn the ensuing post, I proposed a series of dates spanning 5,500 years of human history, and said that I’d pick the best ones and highlight them in a post this weekend.  So, here are the winners of this very special history curriculum challenge–thanks to all who participated! Continue reading

Campus visit and job talk advice

WOC Ph.D. is back, baby, with a couple of boffo posts about 1) what to expect on a campus visit, 2) how to prepare for and deliver a successful academic job talk, and 3) how to dress for a campus interview.  (There’s an extended dance mix version for the devoted fashionistas, or a hit single that will probably suit most academics.)

I especially liked the post about the job talks.  I have also made colossal mistakes in my job talks, but let’s not dwell on the past, shall we?  Prof. bw tells you everything you need to know.  Please listen to her advice, especially the part about practicing it alone, practicing it in front of friends who can critique you, and make sure you’ve got your timing down.  She offers an extremely useful model for a 30-minute talk–disciplinary conventions vary, but you can probably adapt it to your needs.  (And by the way, even if they say you can have 40 or 45 minutes, aim for 30.  You want them to be clamoring for more, MORE after you finish, not checking their watches and ready to bolt after a token three questions.)

Prepping the Talk:

  • 5 minutes – what are you going to do and why is it important: you should outline the contribution your work makes without putting it in opposition to any major theorists. You never who is in your audience, they could be those theorists, married to/dating/partnered to or otherwise friends with those theorists or they could love their work. Best to state simply and clearly what contribution you are making to the field.
  • 7-10 minutes – methods and theories: so we know who influenced you, what you are working with, and how you did your work
  • 10-13 minutes – findings
  • 5 minutes – state what you did again and give us a wow factor including where you are going with your work in the future and/or how your work fits into interests at our uni

Your paper should be jargon free, written for lay people not experts, be conversational in tone (not monotonous or dry), and should resonate with the areas we are looking for. If it is a R1 you should also point to places for further research as you talk or at the end, if it is a teaching college try to work in brief comments about aspects of the research that feed into teaching while you talk or at the end.

Bring useful visuals. No one wants to watch you read for 30 minutes.

I would add: Continue reading

Ski resort "Christian" murderer update

In a post last week called “‘Christian’ imperialism,” inspired by yet another shooting spree by a disturbed young, white man in Colorado, I advanced the argument that the peculiarly ahistorical and narrow definition of Christianity that contemporary evangelical sects use may be to blame for the murder of a professed Catholic man.  There was some follow-up reporting published yesterday.  According to court documents filed recently, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain Newsreported yesterday that killer Derik Bonestroo’s intention was to kill non-Christians.  So says the Post:

One of the employees at the meeting, April Wilson, told investigators that Bonestroo walked in dressed in black, carrying a gun, and fired into the ceiling, according to the documents.

He then declared: “If you’re not Christian, you’re going to die,” Wilson said.

Strangely, the Post story doesn’t make any mention of the fact that the victim told the murderer he was Catholic before being shot.  The Rocky says, “Witnesses said when Bonestroo asked [Brian] Mahon’s religion, Mahon said ‘Catholic’ and Bonestroo shot him in the chest and head.”

While we can probably never know what was going through Bonestroo’s mind that morning (unless someone familiar with his thinking comes forward to provide some context), the language here suggests that it’s quite possible that Brian Mahon was killed because he told Bonestroo “I’m a Catholic,” instead of “I’m a Christian.”  So, while mental illness and ready access to firearms are the more proximate causes of Bonestroo’s murderous rampage and Mahon’s death, it appears also to be linked to the exclusive definition of “Christian” that evangelicals promulgate.  Bonestroo’s mind was clearly deranged in a number of ways, but it may well have been Bonestroo’s ignorance of Christian history that doomed Mahon in particular.  What a tragic, tragic waste.

Random history course generator

La Historiann guidant le peuple

In my exchange with Tom in the comments to the previous post, “A manifesto against ‘coverage,'” I said fliply, “I have an idea: let’s just pick dates out of a hat, and design courses that way. How much more random could it get?”  There must be a better way, right?  So, mad genius that I am, I went to random.org, and used their random sequence generator.  I plugged in the dates of recorded human history:  -7,000 for 7,000 B.C.E., and +2009 for the end point of our common era (so far).  I then went down the list (starting with the first number, 687), and found the next number on the list that was higher than that number (in this case, 1855). 

So, herewith are some randomly generated timespans for possible future history courses:

Course #1:  687-1855

Course #2:  788-1786

Course #3:  3470 B.C.E.-1751

Now, realistically, most university-level history courses don’t spend too much time on the years before 3,000 B.C.E., and since most departments have only one ancient historian (if that) and one or two medievalists, most faculty specialize in post-1400 history.  So let’s plug in the dates where we’ll find the majority of undergraduate history courses right now, 1400-2009, and see what we get:

Course #4:  1917-1940 (I think there’s a course at Baa Ram U. with almost these exact dates!)

Course #5:  1536-1915

Courses #6 and #7, a two-semester sequence:  1824-1964 and 1964-1970

Readers, the rest is up to you.  You must select one of the random time spans above and craft a title and a short course description for what that course would cover (geographically, thematically, topically, etc.)  Bonus points for offering a sample short bilbiography of primary and secondary sources, films, artifacts, etc.!  If you really outdo yourselves, I’ll do a follow-up post to highlight the best answers. 

Friends, I smell a revolution coming.  Can you smell it too?  (Or is that just the toast burning?)