Last week, Kate Raphael of Pacifica’s Women’s Magazine (KFPA 94.1) contacted me to see if I would let her interview me about Stephanie Camp and the importance of her scholarship. Kate put together a series of commemorations of the lives of feminist women who have died recently–Maya Angelou, Sandra Bem, and Stephanie. The show also features a lengthy interview with Stacy Russo, who edited Life as Activism: June Jordan’s essays in the Progressive. Russo shares her memory of Jordan as a teacher as well as reviews the importance of her work.
I won’t be at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women this year, but I wanted to alert you to a few sessions in particular that focus on women’s history and public history, the National Women’s History Museum controversy, and finally, the winner of the first Peg Strobel travel grant competition.
First, Sonya Michel has informed me that she has posted a number of relevant responses to the breakdown between Joan Wages, President and CEO of the NWHM, and professional historians at the Coordinating Council for Women in History website.
Second, there are two events that will interest folks gathering in Toronto at the Berks that pertain to the NWHM fracas:
- Session 123: “Women’s History Meets Public History,” Saturday May 24, 8-10 a.m., University College 144
- Open Meeting re: Historians and the Women’s History Museum in Washington, DC, Sunday May 25, 9:30-11:30 a.m., University College 44 (lower level)
Third, congratulations to Tracey Hanshew, a Ph.D. student at Oklahoma State University, who won the Peg Strobel Berkshire Conference Travel Grant! And you will not believe what she’s writing about, friends: cowgirls! Continue reading
Junot Diaz, an alum of the Cornell University MFA program, on MFA vs. POC: “Lately I’ve been reading about MFA vs NYC. But for many of us it’s MFA vs POC.” He continues,
I didn’t have a great workshop experience. Not at all. In fact by the start of my second year I was like: get me the fuck out of here.
So what was the problem?
Oh just the standard problem of MFA programs.
That shit was too white.
Some of you understand completely. And some of you ask: Too white … how?
Too white as in Cornell had almost no POC—no people of color—in it. Too white as in the MFA had no faculty of color in the fiction program—like none—and neither the faculty nor the administration saw that lack of color as a big problem. (At least the students are diverse, they told us.) Too white as in my workshop reproduced exactly the dominant culture’s blind spots and assumptions around race and racism (and sexism and heteronormativity, etc). In my workshop there was an almost lunatical belief that race was no longer a major social force (it’s class!). In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all. Shit, in my workshop we never talked about race except on the rare occasion someone wanted to argue that “race discussions” were exactly the discussion a serious writer should not be having.
. . . . .
In my workshop what was defended was not the writing of people of color but the right of the white writer to write about people of color without considering the critiques of people of color.
Oh, yes: too white indeed. I could write pages on the unbearable too-whiteness of my workshop—I could write folio, octavo and duodecimo on its terrible whiteness—but you get the idea.
How’s that for irony? That’s what the Scholarly Advisory Council was told by the National Women’s History Museum’s President and CEO Joan Wages last month, according to former SAC member Sonya Michel. (You can see the NMWH’s announcement of the SAC’s walking papers here.) Michel, for those of you who don’t know her or her work, is an eminent scholar of gender, povery, and social welfare. She writes:
Last month’s dismissal of the scholars followed yet another example of a museum offering that embarrassed those of us who were trying to ensure that the institution was adhering to the highest standards in our field. In mid-March, the museum announced that it had launched a new online exhibit, “Pathways to Equality: The U.S. Women’s Rights Movement Emerges,” in conjunction with the Google Cultural Institute. Never informed that the exhibit was in the works, much less given an opportunity to vet it, we were appalled to discover that it was riddled with historical errors and inaccuracies. To pick just one example: Harriet Beecher Stowe was described as having been “born into a family of abolitionists” when, from the time of her birth through her young adulthood in the 1830s, her family actively opposed the abolitionist movement. “Pathways to Equality,” noted Kathryn Kish Sklar, the nineteenth-century specialist who pointed out the error, “could have been written by a middle-school student.”
Actually, if I were Sklar, I would have said that “a middle-school student who had consulted my prizewinning biography of Catherine Beecher could have put together a stronger online presentation.” Continue reading
Steven Hayward, The University of Colorado-Boulder’s first Visiting Scholar of Conservative Thought and Policy, has worked to ingratiate himself with his students and faculty colleagues. By “ingratiate,” I mean he wrote an assy blog post for the
noted conservative policy journal non peer-reviewed blog Powerline called “Off on a Gender Bender,” in which he complained about and ridiculed some diversity training in which professors were instructed to ask students which pronouns they prefer:
I’m more curious to learn whether there have been many students—or any students, ever—who have demanded to be addressed in class by a different gender pronoun, or called by a different gender name . . . , let alone turn up in class in wardrobe by Corporal Klinger. My guess is the actual number of such students approaches zero.
So why is this gender-bending diversity mandate so prominent at universities these days? The most likely explanation is that it (sic) is simply yielding to the demands of the folks who dislike any constraint of human nature in what goes by the LGBTQRSTUW (or whatever letters have been added lately) “community.” I place “community” in quotation marks here because the very idea of community requires a certain commonality based ultimately in nature, while the premise behind gender-bending is resolutely to deny any such nature, including especially human nature.
Did Professor Hayward ever participate in a study abroad program, or take an anthropology class? Has he never been introduced to the concept of observing politely the customs of the locals before insulting and belittling them? Continue reading
Claire Potter (aka Tenured Radical) has an interesting post on her book blog about the assumptions that audiences make about the politics of historians based on their subject matter choices. She writes:
It isn’t uncommon that, when hearing about the research I have done on the history of anti-pornography feminism, audiences assume that I must be an anti-pornography feminist too.But do you know that? Do you even have the right to ask? Should I tell you?
My hope for this book is that you will be so compelled by my scholarship that you will never know my private views on this question.
I found the assumption really interesting, in that the vast, vast, vast majority of feminist intellectuals I know and have worked with are far from anti-porn feminists. Maybe my experiences are idiosyncratic, but in my experience academic feminists–much as most of us are disgusted by mainstream pornography–tend also to be First Amendment absolutists.
Potter continues with a meditation about identity politics and historical subject matter that is really worth the read:
Making assumptions about intellectuals based on superficial knowledge of their research interests is fairly common, but honestly? I think it happens to women, queers and people of color more often. I have a friend and colleague who is African-American, and writing a history of African-American conservative thought. That colleague is frequently assumed to be a conservative, much as I am often presumed, on the basis of nothing, to be an anti-pornography feminist. Continue reading
Here’s my brief summary of Margaret Wente’s predictable, by-the-numbers shot at the academic study of pornography:
Provocative lede! Bad puns. Academics write only jargon-filled articles that no one will ever read. Also: the stupid feminists used to be against porn, but now they’re pro-porn, but they’re still stupid (duh). Irrelevant academics can’t even make porn interesting. But you should be very alarmed by this trend! Academic research on porn will take over our universities! This research is trivial and therefore all higher education is unworthy of public support. All college students should watch porn, just not for college credit.
I don’t carry any water for porn studies here, but I also don’t think it’s the most irrelevant thing ever studied in an academic setting. (Because the internet. Continue reading