The best way to prevent pregnancy

Re: the recent silly advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about women and alcoholRebecca Solnit says:  alcohol does not cause pregnancy, so obviously women should avoid men, not alcohol.  “A woman can be fertile as the Tigris Valley in the time of Abraham and she’s not going to get pregnant absent consort with a seed-bearing man. But if you listened to the way it’s often framed, you might believe that women get pregnant on their own.”  Also, if anyone should lay off the sauce, it’s men. because drunk men, not drunk women, are the source of greatest harm to others.

So why the panic over women tying one on?

I wish all this telling women alcohol is dangerous was a manifestation of a country that loves babies so much it’s all over lead contamination from New Orleans to Baltimore to Flint and the lousy nitrate-contaminated water of Iowa and carcinogenic pesticides and the links between sugary junk food and a host of health conditions and the need for universal access to healthcare and daycare and good and adequate food. You know it’s not. It’s just about hating on women. Hating on women requires narratives that make men vanish and make women magicians producing babies out of thin air and dissolute habits. This is an interesting narrative for the power it affords women, but I would rather have an accurate one. And maybe a broader one talking about all the ecological and economic factors that impact the well-being of children. But then the guilty party becomes us, not them.

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Women and politics: the REALLY longue durée

annetaintorladypresidentLet’s settle in for  a nice, long story, shall we?

Globally in the historical era–the past 7,000 or so years of recorded history, that is–politics and leadership has traditionally been gendered male, and power has also usually descended genealogically through patriarchal lines. (Except in cases of military conquest or revolution, when it has been seized by brute force by other men.)  When we have seen exceptions to the male exercise of political leadership–but what about Cleopatra?!? you’re thinking, or Queen Elizabeth I of England?!?–they are the exceptions that prove the rule.  They also came to power–as their brothers did–by being the children of kings.

Upon emergence of the liberal state around 1800, in which a select portion of citizens elect their political leaders to one degree or another, women’s opportunities to lead and rule were actually diminished, because democracies in this era restricted both voting rights and eligibility for public office to men only.  It is an uncomfortable fact for we Americans, we evangelists of democracy, that populism is not liberationist.  In fact, it ratifies contemporary prejudices and stereotypes–religious, racial, and of course, gender.  In the past century, Western democracies enfranchised women, but women in elective office have remained a tiny or merely small minority compared to men in elective office. Continue reading

ICYMI, Hillary Clinton in Bejing, 1995: “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”

So many voters this year weren’t even alive for most of the 1990s, so–as the kids say on the internets–in case you missed it, here’s Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech at the United Nations’ Fourth Women’s Conference in Bejing, China on September 5, 1995.  At the time, it was a pretty big deal for a sitting U.S. first lady to speak publicly and boldly as a feminist, and unfortunately, I still think this performance is still singular although we’ve seen twenty more years and two more first ladies.

You can find the full text of her rotten, craven, neoliberal, baby-killing, Goldman-Sachs approved totally right wing and corrupt speech here.  (The excerpted part of the speech from 11:30-15:00, for those of you with short attention spans.)  A little flava: Continue reading

“Hillary, can you excite us?” The unresolved mommy problem of feminist politics, plus the return of the Whiggies!

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Copyright Anne Taintor

Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times and a woman who has has her own struggles straddling the line between “revolutionary” and “the establishment,” has an interesting article in The Guardian about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s troubles “exciting” young women.  “The ‘I’m a woman and it’s OK to vote with your uterus’ message is tired,” according to a Harvard students quoted in Abramson’s article.

So tired!  Yes, that’s right:  it’s so much more revolutionary to elect an older man president.  Hillary Clinton has already run for president, like twice, so we’re SO over it.  It’s almost like she actually got elected, or something.  Can we just move on, already?   (And has anyone in history ever accused American men of voting with their d!cks because they have elected a man for president 44 times in a row since 1788?)

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The Whig of Illusory Progress goes to. . .young feminists, always.

Ah, well:  it’s the same old feminist story we’ve seen for the past 200 years, isn’t it?  As I have argued here before repeatedly, feminism is always the hapless frump of social justice movements.   I used to have a semi-regular feature here awarding people with flawed understandings of how history works the Whig of Illusory Progress.  Let’s just give young feminists of every generation a lifetime achievement award, shall we?

We love to blame feminists for everything they have done, and for everything they haven’t yet accomplished, and younger feminists are always eager to diss and dismiss their elders in the fight.  This was Carrie Chapman Catt’s move against Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; it was Alice Paul’s move against Catt a century ago; it was what the flapper generation did to both Catt and Paul after suffrage was achieved; it was what the so-called “Second Wave” did to the 1920s generation; it was what my generation in the 1980s and 90s did to the Second Wavers (with sometimes a literal attack on mothers and their politics and achievements, as in Katie versus Anne Roiphe; Rebecca versus Alice Walker), and now, it’s what the millennials and younger women are doing to my generation of feminists and to Second Wave feminists like Clinton. Continue reading

Attention premodern historians: Berkshire Conference CFP deadline extended to Feb. 5

It’s time to pull your Berkshire Conference proposals together, friends!  The deadline for papers and proposals for the June 1-4, 2017 conference at Hofstra University has been extended to February 5; see the call for papers and other information here.  The conference theme for the triennial conference is “Thinking and Talking About Women, Genders, and Sexualities Inside and Outside the Academy”

An email from former Berks President, the eminent European medievalist Ruth Karras, reaches out specifically to those of us working in histories before 1800:  “Proposals are coming in for the 2017 Berkshire conference, however we are beginning to notice some holes, specifically in the premodern period. Therefore, I am writing to ask for your help. Please consider submitting a proposal for a paper, panel, roundtable or one of our other sessions. In addition, please circulate this to your colleagues and networks.”  She continues:

The organizers of the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders and Sexualities have asked me to help publicize the extension of time on their Call for Papers, and to encourage medievalists and early modernists to submit proposals. They do very much want more premodern content. There has been some talk about how the conference theme doesn’t sound like it’s premodern-friendly, but it could be, and in any case not everything on the program needs to speak directly to the theme. Below is what I received from one of the organizers. If you feel moved to publicize this on your blog, I am sure they’d be grateful, and you might be helping fellow premodernists.

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Make America Great Again? A smackdown on #VastEarlyAmerica

JoshuaPiker

Joshua Piker, Editor, The William and Mary Quarterly

It’s an old-fashioned early American smackdown over at the Omohundro Institute blog:  William and Mary Quarterly editor Joshua Piker engages Gordon Wood’s critique of the journal–and the wider field of early American history and culture.  While waiting 11 months to respond to Wood’s comments is a rather leisurely pace for an online publication, Piker’s blog post suggests that waiting may have been a good thing.  In his comments on Wood’s vision for early American history, I see echoes of a contemporary political argument.

First, a reminder of Wood’s comments from last winter in The Weekly Standard:

Almost a year ago, . . Gordon Wood published a review of Bernard Bailyn’s Sometimes an Art: Nine Essays on History.  In this piece, Wood heaps praise on Bailyn and criticism on the field of early American history, including theQuarterly.  The review includes the following paragraph:

“For many [early Americanists], the United States is no longer the focus of interest. Under the influence of the burgeoning subject of Atlantic history, which Bailyn’s International Seminar on the Atlantic World greatly encouraged, the boundaries of the colonial period of America have become mushy and indistinct. The William and Mary Quarterly, the principal journal in early American history, now publishes articles on mestizos in 16th-century colonial Peru, patriarchal rule in post-revolutionary Montreal, the early life of Toussaint Louverture, and slaves in 16th-century Castile. The journal no longer concentrates exclusively on the origins of the United States. Without some kind of historical GPS, it is in danger of losing its way.”

Piker breaks down Wood’s cherry-picking like this: Continue reading

Chronology, “coverage,” and other pointless wastes of time for historians.

I’m not a traditional historian. I don’t give a fig about chronology except (maybe) in my “first half” (1492-1877) of the U.S. History survey class, and I never care about “coverage.” Maybe it’s my short attention span, but I go for books and ideas that intrigue me rather than the idea that I need to “cover” certain decades or themes in my classes.  The only kind of coverage I ever worry about is ensuring that my students are reading, hearing, and talking about as many different Americans as possible.  I try to ensure that we are reading and talking about women and men alike, and Americans of all classes and ethnic backgrounds.

More proof that I’m probably a bad professor: I write syllabi for the courses I wish I could have taken.  Selfish?  Guilty as charged.  But then I figure if I’m bored, how can my students not be bored too?  I’m just not that good of an actor.  Also, I’ve found that if it excites me (environmental history! material culture!), it’s probably going to interest the students more than a lecture or book I feel merely obligated to share with them.

Joseph Adelman has an interesting blog post over at The Junto about teaching a history course organized around four American autobiographies rather than rigid notions of “coverage” and chronology.  In a seminar for first-year students, I can see how it might be disorienting for them to jump from the 1670s (Mary Rowlandson) to the eighteenth century (Benjamin Franklin), and then to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with two African American autobiographies, Frederick Douglass and Melba Pattillo Beals.  (He very generously provides a link to his syllabus, too.) Continue reading