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Archive for February, 2010

At Feministe, a guest post by Rachel Hills (originally published at her own blog) ignited an acrimonious discussion on rape, gender, and the stereotype that women can’t rape men. Rachel’s post drew on a story that Pluralist recounted on Feministing’s community blog:

Since November by best friend has been having relationship problems. She is cis and het as is her boyfriend and they’ve been a committed and monogamous relationship for about 4 years now. The whole story is too long to recount, but as of a week ago they began a “break they need in order to stay together”.

Suffice it to say the first two days were hellish as I talked to one of the loves my life breaking down over the phone. But during one of the more lucid moments, she told me that – among a lot of alleged grievances – she had (unknowingly) forced her boyfriend into sex.

Apparently he had said things along the lines of “I’m too tired right now, let’s just go to sleep” and she had continued to proposition him thinking “welll, this will help you sleep better!” My immediate reaction was that there was no way she had coerced or pressured him into sex. After all, he should’ve just said “No really, I don’t want to do this right now” if she kept at it. It was his fault for not stopping the encounter.

And then I realised that had this been a woman in his place – not to mention my best friend – I would never have given this consideration. I was victim-blaming, basing my assumptions in tropes of male hypersexuality and female passivity. She didn’t handcuff him to a heater and force-feed him viagra . She’s a nice girl, she couldn’t have done that !

(More here.)

The main point of Rachel’s commentary was that yes, women can rape men, and yes, they can commit many other lesser forms of sexual violation. However, she wasn’t willing to say that Pluralist’s friend was guilty of rape:

Now, I know at least one woman who has physically forced sex upon a man who had repeatedly told her he didn’t want to have sex with her and was pretty pissed off with her afterwards – rape in no uncertain terms, if the genders were reversed. But the situation Pluralist talks about is a little less obvious than that. It’s unethical, certainly, and inconsiderate, and you shouldn’t do it, but I’d argue it’s technically not classified as sexual assault (if you disagree, please debate it in the comments).

(Lots more here, plus the aforementioned acrimonious comment thread.)

The comments degenerated into a lot of name-calling, along with lots of valid and important arguments. Among the polarized comments (which made up the bulk of the thread), some folks were arguing that of course it’s rape and if you didn’t agree, well you must be a RAPE APOLOGIST! (Yelling with caps, the quickest way to get my old eyes to tune out!) People at the other pole said well, in an long-term, ongoing relationship, wheedling can be coercive, but it’s often a normal part of negotiating about sex. The thread at Feministing was similarly polarized.

Stepping back from the shouting for a moment, I think it’s helpful to clarify some terms. Each state defines rape and sexual assault, so for purposes of discussion I’ll draw on my own state’s laws, since I don’t know where Pluralist’s friend lives, and Ohio tends to a pretty good barometer of middle-of-the-road America.

In Ohio, “rape” is defined as follows (in the absence of statutory rape, intoxication, or other mental factors that could impair consent):

No person shall engage in sexual conduct with another when the offender purposely compels the other person to submit by force or threat of force.

(Ohio Revised Code 2907.02, Rape)

Note that this definition doesn’t define rape narrowly as penetration. So yes, under this definition, a woman can definitely rape a man. (I’m going to set aside trans issues just because I don’t know enough about how the law would be applied. However, note that the law doesn’t specify gender, so it evidently ought to apply to woman-on-woman assaults, cis-woman-on-trans-man assault, and any other imaginable combination.)

Now, back to Pluralist’s friend. At no point does Pluralist describe anything that can be described as “force or threat of force.”

But doesn’t “no mean no”? Well, Ohio law doesn’t recognize a simple “no” as adequate unless the other person uses at least “threat of force” to override it. So in Ohio, at least, the law does not categorize an act as “rape” every time there’s a lack of consent, nor even when the lack of consent has been clearly and explicitly communicated. (Other states are liable to vary on this point.) Perhaps we’d like to reform the law to include any instance where one person persists in ignoring the other’s “no!” but current law doesn’t go that far.

Instead, Ohio law defines additional crimes that fall under the rubric of “sex offenses.” Among these are sexual battery, gross sexual imposition, and sexual imposition. All of these crimes make provisions for underage victims, intoxication, mental incapacitation, and abuse of power by such authority figures as therapists, clergy, etc. I’ll set those aside here because they don’t apply to the case Pluralist raised.

Sexual battery must include an element of coercion:

(1) The offender knowingly coerces the other person to submit by any means that would prevent resistance by a person of ordinary resolution.

(2) The offender knows that the other person’s ability to appraise the nature of or control the other person’s own conduct is substantially impaired.

(ORC 2907.03, Sexual Battery)

Part (2) might well apply to some of the experiences people described in the Feministe thread of feeling unable to say no to their partners due to prior trauma or abuse. However, it only would apply if the partner knew about the problem. The law doesn’t expect people to be mind-readers. Based on Pluralist’s account, “sexual battery” wouldn’t apply to her friend’s actions, as there’s no indication that her boyfriend wasn’t “a person of ordinary resolution.”

Gross sexual imposition (ORC 2907.05), like rape, again requires “force or threat of force,” so it too fails to match Pluralist’s friend’s actions. But what about simple sexual imposition? Now we’re getting warmer:

(A) No person shall have sexual contact with another, not the spouse of the offender; cause another, not the spouse of the offender, to have sexual contact with the offender; or cause two or more other persons to have sexual contact when any of the following applies:

(1) The offender knows that the sexual contact is offensive to the other person, or one of the other persons, or is reckless in that regard.

(2) The offender knows that the other person’s, or one of the other person’s, ability to appraise the nature of or control the offender’s or touching person’s conduct is substantially impaired.

(3) The offender knows that the other person, or one of the other persons, submits because of being unaware of the sexual contact.

(4) The other person, or one of the other persons, is thirteen years of age or older but less than sixteen years of age, whether or not the offender knows the age of such person, and the offender is at least eighteen years of age and four or more years older than such other person.

(5) The offender is a mental health professional, the other person or one of the other persons is a mental health client or patient of the offender, and the offender induces the other person who is the client or patient to submit by falsely representing to the other person who is the client or patient that the sexual contact is necessary for mental health treatment purposes.

(B) No person shall be convicted of a violation of this section solely upon the victim’s testimony unsupported by other evidence.

(C) Whoever violates this section is guilty of sexual imposition, a misdemeanor of the third degree. If the offender previously has been convicted of a violation of this section or of section 2907.02, 2907.03, 2907.04, 2907.05, or 2907.12 of the Revised Code, a violation of this section is a misdemeanor of the first degree.

(ORC 2907.06, Sexual Imposition – unabridged so you can judge for yourself)

It looks like Pluralist’s friend might well have violated (1), by engaging in conduct she knew to be “offfensive to the other person.” She might well have been “reckless in that regard.”

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that she was indeed reckless. I’m skeptical of definitive judgments, because we haven’t heard directly from Pluralist’s friend or her boyfriend, but let’s just take the story at face value. We now have a name for the act – sexual imposition. We have a penalty that can theoretically be imposed. In this particular case, though, it likely would be impossible to prosecute on account of (B), which requires other evidence – most likely, a third party – to substantiate the charge.

So it’s possible that a form of sexual assault occurred, but it certainly wasn’t rape. (And while state laws vary, I’d be surprised if any state in the U.S. would consider this incident rape. If you know of exceptions, please post about them in comments, and please include citations.)

Is this just legal hair-splitting? Well, no. It clarifies a basis for Rachel Hills’ position and the common-sense reaction that lots of commenters articulated at Feministe: Pluralist’s friend wronged her boyfriend and maybe that wrong rises to the level of sexual assault, but we don’t know enough to say for sure. However, it’s definitely overblown to brand Pluralist’s friend a rapist. The law draws these distinctions because very few of us – including most feminists, I’d wager – really want to imprison someone for twenty-to-life for the behavior she exhibited. In addition, calling her behavior “rape” trivializes the experiences of those who’ve actually been pressed into unwanted sexual activities by force or the threat thereof. (For the record, this is not a blanket endorsement of the law in its current form. I’m merely affirming that it’s legally and ethically appropriate to distinguish different forms of sex crimes of varying severity.)

I’d say the same, by the way, if the offender were a man and his partner a woman. This is not a gendered argument, in legal terms. I do think that sexual assault is gendered culturally, in at least two ways: 1) Women as a class suffer from a kind of “sexual terrorism” – an ongoing fear of rape – that doesn’t affect most men as a class. 2) We’ve been socialized to think that men are unrapeable because they’re supposedly always up for it. As a result, we’ve got a new rape myth: no never means no, coming from a man. However, the legal standard needs to be consistent for men and women alike, as well as for cis and trans people.

But even if Pluralist’s friend didn’t commit sexual assault, that doesn’t mean that we should condone her actions, either. At a minimum she appears to have acted manipulatively. At a minimum she behaved like an asshole. Just because there’s no legal term for “assholery” doesn’t make it okay.

Instead, stories like this show that the law is a necessary but not sufficient instrument for transforming sexual relations. We need a feminist sexual ethics as well. To that end, I teach my students about the importance of enthusiastic consent. If they take it to heart, their chances of committing a crime ought to be nil.

And yet, as the discussion at Feministe shows, there’s an area between sexual assault and enthusiastic consent. I don’t want to call it a gray area, because I don’t want to endorse the notion of “gray rape” (which is just a euphemism for defining acquaintance rape out of existence). Still, people are going to continue having sex under conditions of consent that’s defective or problematic or just lukewarm. We need to find ways to discuss this problem without either trivializing it or calling it “rape” or “assault.” In other words, we need a feminist sexual ethics that recognizes the complexity of social and sexual relations, affirms pleasure and autonomy, and emphasizes compassion and communication. “Yes means yes” is a good start, but it’s only a start.

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Crazy Caturladyday

So I took the Crazy Cat Lady quiz (via the Smirking Cat). Key question for me:

Do you bring your boyfriends home so the cats can meet them?

That’s past tense for me, but yes, I brought him home, and yes, Grey Kitty approved. Reader, I married him.

I scored 67%, well above average. This is cause for grave concern, given that I haven’t actually had a cat of my own since 2001.

From ICHC?

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That’s the headline of a new study I chanced upon today.** My gut reaction: Excuse me, but I thought the most important goal was the safety of mother and child!

This is not a screed against epidurals. I had a planned epidural with both of my babies. The article appears to be touting the benefits of an epidural plus nitrous oxide. (Hey, it’s a British study. For decades, the Brits have gone in for laughing gas in labos. For why it’s not caught on here, see OBOG) I’ve got no fundamental problem with representing epidurals’ advantages, as long as women aren’t being buffaloed into interventions they don’t want.

What I find profoundly odd is how the title of the study harnesses the values and language of the natural childbirth movement while actually arguing for a highly technocratic approach to pain. I realize hospitals have been co-opting “natural” approaches since they started introducing homey birthing suites in the 1980s. However, this article strikes me as at least a local high point in the co-optation process.

Patient satisfaction actually strikes me as only a tertiary goal – albeit one that’s important for a hospital’s bottom line, as well as a woman’s well-being. Along with assuring safety, birth attendants should honor the agency and personhood of the laboring woman. That doesn’t mean every birth plan will be followed, for instance; labor isn’t that predictable. It does mean treating women as subjects, not as objects. It means taking their needs and wishes seriously. It means not infantilizing them. If birth attendants accord women this basic respect, “satisfaction” should follow.

**I haven’t read the whole thing because the article’s not yet available through my libaray. But this is one case where the title and abstract suffice, since I’m concerned with rhetoric, not science.

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… so why, then, did my whole Women’s and Gender Studies faculty laugh ourselves silly over this clip at today’s lunch meeting?

Seriously! It’s not just an inside joke, though it’s extra precious for us who recall the era of womyn-identified-womyn. If you’ve ever been involved in leftish politics, or lived in a co-op house run by consensus, or hung out with hippies in Northern California, or just survived the late 1970s and early 1980s,** this should tickle you. (Don’t be deterred by the 30-second intro.)

Trouble viewing the clip? Click here.

** All stuff from my personal history, by the way. That co-op house had 45 members, not counting the backyard chickens.

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LOLsnowdaze

The kids got back to school today, after a stretch of nine schooldays that featured two delayed starts and seven outright snow days. And just in time!

From ICHC?

Actually the kids weren’t on the verge of fratricide, but they have been way too cooped up. The Tiger’s arm is still in a cast that must stay dry. Ergo, throwing them both outside wasn’t the default option.

I’m getting by with the help of my neighbors, whose wonderful 12-year-old babysat when I had to go teach. The rest of the time it’s been mostly me holding down the home fort. My husband had dozens of meetings last week (he has massive advising obligations). He carried the load Monday, then flew off to Germany for a conference.

Last night I finally finished grading 75 bluebook exams, which only took until 2 a.m. because I plugged my kids directly into the TV for four hours yesterday and fed them McDonald’s for dinner.

Thank goodness for my sitter, because the alternative would’ve been to take my kids to my classes where the topics this week were contraception, abortion, sex work, pornography, and violent images of masculinity. Usually my husband and I schedule our classes such that one parent is always available for emergencies. But once, when the Bear took ill suddenly and his dad was out of town, I schlepped him to two back-to-back two-hour intro to WGS classes. He dutifully watched Mary Poppins on my laptop with headphones while I showed a film on the plight of Afghan women under the Taliban. No way the Tiger would sit still for that. I can just imagine the questions: “Mama, what’s Two Girls and a Cup?” (If you’re wondering along at home, I will just say: Google at your own risk. It is gross. Not funny gross. Not satirically gross. It is vile. After a student brought it up today, one of the girls said she’d seen it without knowing what to expect, and it made her sprint for the toilet. Consider this fair warning.)

Anyway, I’m still disgracefully behind on grading, so if I’m scarce for a while yet, that’s why.

In the meantime, please join me in petitioning the Ceiling Cat to keep that cold white fluffy stuff in the ceiling, where it belongs.

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What if the Senate Finance Committee – Max Baucus’ baby – weren’t obstructing “Obamacare”?

What if Obama had instead designated Baucus’ committee as ground zero for crafting the deal – the incubator for the winning legislation?

What if Obama’s campaign promise to reform health care was just a prelude to cozy deals with the pharmaceutical industry?

Cenk Uygur has the whole story, and it’s depressing as all hell. I’m betting there’s a drug to make us feel better. Too bad lots of recent studies have found anti-depressants to be no better than placebo.

(Via the wonderful Holly of Self-Portrait As.)

This is a much longer video than I’d normally post. It’s wonkish, ranty, and somewhat rambling. It also feels excruciating truthful. If you don’t need blood pressure meds by the end of it, you probably have undergone a conscience-ectomy.

Aargh.  I feel a Rahm Emanuel rant coming on. Time for my meds!

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I have a good friend from my time in Berlin who teaches at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. When I was pregnant for the first time, she helped instigate a baby shower for me. Last fall, she had a baby of her own.

When I heard about the murders at UA-Huntsville yesterday, I was nauseated with fear for her. I checked her Facebook. She’s okay. Never thought I’d be so grateful for Facebook.

But six other people are not okay. A biology professor, Harvard-trained Amy Bishop, is charged with murder after opening fire at a faculty meeting in her department. Three of her colleagues are dead, including her chair. Of the survivors, two others are in critical condition, and one is hospitalized in fair condition. My thoughts are very much with them today, and with their grieving and frightened families and friends.

Two aspects of this atrocity are unusual (and really, it’s sick that we should be so accustomed to shootings that there are actually norms for them, however twisted). Unlike most other university or school killings, the shooter was female. At Montreal’s Polytechnique, Virginia Tech, and Northern Illinois, the perpetrators were all men (and in Montreal, the motives were explicitly misogynist). As far as I could tell from Wikipedia’s information on school shootings, there are two less famous cases – at Penn State and Louisiana Technical College – where the shooters were female students.

Prior to release of the suspect’s name, many media reports referred to a “female shooter” or “female faculty member.” They don’t as often discuss “male shooters” because anyone armed with a gun is presumed to be male. Historically, that’s proven to be a pretty sound presumption. But it wouldn’t be bad if the term “male shooter” were commonly used; it could underscore that in most cases, the perp is a man or boy. Current practice generally erases the gender of the shooter, except when she’s female, thus obscuring how gender functions in most of these mass murders.

The second, more surprising oddity in the Huntsville atrocity is that Bishop is a faculty member. I don’t know of other instances where a faculty member of either gender has opened fire at work (though there are cases of professors committing murder, for sure). [Addition, 2/14/10: I got schooled in comments! Jennifer E. points out that back in 1992, a (male) engineering prof at Concordia University shot and killed fellow co-workers over workplace issues.]

Why could push a professor over the edge? Academia has lots of weird pressures, but one of the harshest is the race to earn tenure. Before much news was out, I was already wondering if tenure was part of the mess. And sure enough,  Bishop allegedly had just learned that she’d been denied tenure, according to the New York Times:

The shootings opened a window into the pressure-cooker world of biotechnology start-ups, where scientists often depend on their association with academia for a leg up. Ms. Bishop was part of a startup that had won an early round of funding in a highly competitive environment, but people who knew her said she had learned shortly before the shooting that she had been denied tenure at the university.

On Friday, Ms. Bishop presided over her regular class before going to a biology faculty meeting where she sat quietly for about 30 or 40 minutes, said one University of Alabama faculty member who had spoken to people that were in the room. Then, she pulled out a gun and began shooting, firing several rounds before her gun either jammed or ran out of bullets, the faculty member said.

Why was Bishop denied tenure? Her scientific credentials seem to be sound. She was involved in creating an award-winning new mobile cell-culturing system that was being marketed through a start-up. Her university would almost certainly have been a beneficiary of the patent. Usually a scientifically productive professor doesn’t need stellar teaching evaluations to gain tenure. Oddly, her page is still up at RateMyProfessor.com. The scores at this site likely skew toward malcontents who are motivated to get some revenge, the sample is definitely not representative. For what it’s worth, her ratings were mostly bifurcated between enthusastic students and those who advised avoiding Professor Bishop. I don’t see any red flags for truly abysmal teaching.

So the question remains: why was Bishop refused tenure? This is obviously speculative, but I wonder if “collegiality” was a factor. Some departments allow collegiality to enter into decisions; it covers everything from being a good team player to, well, not being a danger to one’s colleagues. In light of her apparent psychotic break (she has made statements denying that anyone is really dead), it seems likely that Bishop was already displaying erratic behavior before the shooting.

My friend wrote on Facebook:

I cannot mourn yet, but knowing who did this, and knowing how incredibly unsurprising it is, makes me want to vomit and scream both. I cannot move past rage right now to any kind of grief.

Clarification  from my friend via email, 2/14/10, 5:30 p.m.:

I would never have expected her to be violent.  Yet, discovering that there had been an act of violence on that floor of that building, my thoughts immediately went to her.  So, by unsurprised, I did not mean that I or anybody else had expected or feared violence from her, just that she was “off” enough and obsessed enough with her tenure case that it wasn’t hard to make the mental leap once one heard violence was underway.

So there appears to have been warnings, and yet no one realized the full extent of the threat.

Like any workplace, academia has its share of unstable people. While most people denied tenure find ways to rebuild their lives, it’s not uncommon for tenure battles to get ugly. From grad school onward, young professors make huge sacrifices of time, foregone income (compared to other fields), and often family and personal life. Junior people are frequently saddled with unreasonable workloads and impossible expectations. It’s devastating to anyone when that investment doesn’t yield the reward of tenure. Denial of tenure – which often means the end of a career – comes as an existential threat. If someone is already losing their grip on sanity, violence might well feel like self-defense.

Seen from that angle, it’s not so surprising that a faculty member went postal. The surprise is that it hasn’t happened until now.

Here in Ohio, there’s virtually nothing to stop a determined shooter. No registration of weapons. No permit required. No license. Down you go to Wal-Mart, where you can buy a handgun on the spot! The law does require a permit for concealed-carry, and it bans guns from college campuses. Oh, and it prohibits shooting a gun off in a cemetery. In other words, if someone loses their grip on reality, the state of Ohio will happily hand them a firearm.

It’s hard not to feel a little jittery at the possibility of copycat shootings.

The solution, obviously, isn’t a return to the Wild West. A year ago, I argued against a pistol-packin’ professoriate. Historiann comes to the same conclusion today.

We need, instead, to be aware. To realize it can happen here, no matter how idyllic the campus. To trust our instincts. In Bishop’s case, someone might have been able to see a red flag the size of a stadium, had it not been hushed up two decades ago. When she was 20, Bishop shot and killed her younger brother, aged 18. The current police chief is suggesting that procedural rules were unconscionably broken in the aftermath of this killing. Bishop was released to her mother without being fully booked. The case file went missing. The matter was quietly dropped

Whatever the truth about that incident in 1987, this much seems clear: Bishop has not just allegedly killed three (and maybe more) innocent people. She has left her four children motherless (if she’s convicted). She has squandered her scientific talents, including her research on ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. She has left the families of her victims bereft and grieving. She has deprived the world of her colleagues’ gifts. Remember, these were research scientists in biology! They studied life! What a cruel irony that in pursuing the secrets of life, they became vulnerable to a violent and early death. I’m praying, in my own odd agnostic way, that the survivors of this atrocity will find peace and healing.

Update, 2/14/10, 5:45 p.m.: My friend in Huntsville keeps sending links.

Eric Seemann, a psych professor at UAH, has given an interview (against the wishes of the university) that confirms my speculations about why Bishop lost her tenure case:

Despite her excellent research ability, Seemann was not surprised she struggled to obtain tenure.

“Amy was kind of hard to get along with,” he said. “I’ve talked to people who said, ‘Wow, she can be really arrogant,’ or be really headstrong. I knew that to be true. But at the same time she was brilliant. She was really one of UAH’s rising research stars. People I know in biological sciences would say, ‘She’s a great researcher, but she’s lousy to work with.’ ”

She was brilliant and she knew it.

“At one meeting I was with Amy, she was complaining to a group of us. She said she was denied tenure not because she was a lousy researcher — she’s not, quite the opposite — and not because she didn’t have good classes, she believed she did — I think some might say otherwise — but because she was accused of being arrogant, aloof and superior. And she said, ‘I am.’

“She said, ‘I am arrogant, I am aloof and I am superior in my attitude. But it doesn’t mean I don’t want to get along with people.’ “

Obviously academia is home to lots of arrogant assholes. Most of them never inflict more than psychological misery.

The difference here? A long-standing propensity for violence. It’s not just her killing her brother (though that would be quite enough). Back in 1993, while still a grad student, Bishop was suspected in an attempt to mail-bomb a Harvard prof with supervisory authority over her dissertation. Wow. I’m astonished that her husband didn’t wonder more about her stability. Well, maybe he did, but just kept his worries to himself. Publicly, he is saying that he had no inkling.

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So I’m assuming most of you saw the Dodge Superbowl commercial, in all its vile misogyny? If not, watch this steaming pile of stereotypes first …

and then proceed to see it cleverly deconstructed. These women clearly have way more humor in their pinkie toes than the men who made the Dodge ad have in their whole brains! (Mmmm, same goes for brains … more of that in the gals’ pinkie toes, too.)

(I saw this a bunch of places but first at sexgenderbody. Here’s hoping it’s new to a few of you!)

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And no, it’s not because they can’t get a date. This is total bogosity, and Echnidne nails it. Just anecdotally, despite men outnumbering women 55:45 when I was in college, I only had two dates, both total duds. We didn’t have a dating culture, we had back-of-the-bus hookups on band trips, which resulted in at least one happy marriage of 20 years (just among the readers of this blog!), and who knows how many others.

Anyway. There are some serious reasons to get upset about skewed sex ratios, and they have nothing to do with what happens in the back of the bus.

One is that, as Echidne mentions at the very end of her post, the real story lies in the intersections of masculinity with race and class. I don’t have stats handy for college attendance rates by race and gender. My own university tracks these things, and I bet someone in Institutional Research knows how many more African-American women than men are enrolled here, but if so, those figures are not publicly available. My university has made a good-faith and modestly successful effort to render this campus less lily-white. Just a half hour spent sitting outside the cafe at the Student Center makes it really obvious, though, that they’ve recruited far more African-American women than men.

However, we know that nearly one in four college-age black men is incarcerated. Studies have also shown more black men in this age group are in prison than in college. That is the real crisis.

A preponderance of women matters in other ways, too. In 2006, the Dean of Admissions at Kenyon College, Jennifer Delahunty Britz, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times explaining why boys are becoming the recipients of affirmative action in the admissions process. (And admission ratios are strikingly different for men and women at some schools, as the L.A. Times recently noted.) When the sex ratio of women to men rises above 60:40, Britz wrote, colleges become less attractive to men and women alike.

Declining numbers of male applications isn’t just an institutional problem, though colleges are desperate to boost overall enrollment to bolster their catastrophic budgets. What matters to the students and professors at these colleges is the progressive weakening of the applicant pool. Exposure to some really smart classmates is just as integral to a good education as having effective, dedicated professors. Holding all other factors equal, you simply won’t get as many strong students in the pool at colleges with highly skewed enrollment. (This cuts both ways: I remember getting recruitment material from Caltech my senior year of high school, and I tossed it when I saw there were seven boys for every girl.)

Specific programs and departments can become feminized, even if an university is close to a 50:50 ratio overall. Journalism, for example, skews pretty heavily female at my university, which is a bit ironic when you look at the sex-ratio among the profession’s heavy hitters, and especially among pundits. Historically, the feminization of a profession hasn’t necessarily been good news for the women in it. As women took over the profession of medicine in the Soviet Union, for instance, doctors’ prestige dropped.

You can argue that we shouldn’t be endorsing the sexism behind the degradation of female-dominated professions. You’d be right. And yet, as long as we live in a sexist society, we can expect colleges and programs to drop in prestige if they skew heavily female.

And then there’s the problem of anti-intellectualism, which in the post-Dubya era characterizes certain forms of masculinity. Guys who rush through their schoolwork to play xbox and drink beer obviously hurt themselves, first and foremost. These young men will be less likely to attend college, and less apt to excel if they do.

But the damage doesn’t stop with individual boys. The idea that studying is uncool for boys keeps getting propagated from the older kids to the younger.  School athletic programs often uphold academic standards, but often the real message that boys learn from sports is that the quarterback impress girls more than the valedictorian.

Worst, anti-intellectualism contributes to a cultural climate in which no-nothings play well in politics. I’m not blaming young men for the teabaggers. And yet, if our men grow up with few critical thinking skills and even less intellectual curiosity, then Teabagger Nation may well be our future.

I not only think the college sex ratio is a problem, I don’t see the trends changing anytime soon. I’m not optimistic that this is “minor generational fishtailing” that will stabilize over time. Unfortunately, cultural factors (anti-intellectualism and the perceived opportunities for young men with a high-school diploma) – combined with the maturity gap that persists between most boys and girls at age 18 – will tend to exacerbate the feminization of certain disciplines and universities.

What to do? I’m certainly not advocating that girls make way for boys. I want to reframe the issue as not a zero-sum game, and advocate for raising male enrollments while not restricting women. As I mentioned, colleges are greedy for more warm, tuition-paying bodies (except in the Cal State system, which is a bloody mess).The only problem is finding enough boys who meet admission standards, because in the short run, girls are going to continue to be stronger candidates.

In the longer run, what I’d like to see is more boys being encouraged and expected to excel academically, or at least work up to their potential. I’d like to see more of them applying for college, and not just assume that they’ll find a well-paying blue-collar or IT job without a degree. I’d like to see a cultural climate where both girls and boys aspire to become as smart, well educated, and perceptive as possible. And I’d love to see them educated to be citizens of a democracy, not mere consumers.

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This comes from a local friend, with permission to print it – on the condition that I not refer to the superintendant as her boyfriend, too.

What is the most important part of a child’s education?

A.  Piano lessons
B.  Choir
C.  Going to School
D.  Play Practice

So which of these things should continue in case of bad weather?  One would think that school would persevere past play practice and piano lessons.  Alas, here in Athens, all of the extra curricular activities continue on through the occasional flakes with no disturbance.  The schools however, have been closed for three full days this week so far!

I understand that busses can’t run on every single road when a flurry is forecast.  Why is it not possible to have school for all who can make it there, unless it is likely that less than half the possible students can attend?  I’ve heard before that teachers teach at the level of the bottom 1/3 of the class.  Do we also cancel class for the small percentage of students who would be inconvenienced traveling to and from?  If choruses can harmonize without a few singers, and a play director still thinks it meaningful to practice even though a couple of cast members are missing, would the 4th grade math class be significantly hampered by the absence of a multiplier of two?

This past fall’s swine flu epidemic gave us policy that could be reinterpreted for weather.  Essentially, what we have in Athens is Snow Flu – some people get it, but not everyone is incapacitated.  When H1N1 was at the forefront of the news we were told to keep a kid with a runny nose or fever home for the day.  School wasn’t cancelled, they just went on without the missing parties and everyone understood this was for the benefit of the larger community.  I have no expectation that people who live at the end of 100 yard driveway at a 45 degree incline risk life and limb to arrive at school.  Just as those with flu symptoms were excused, the snow bound can be too, but the show can still go on.

Perhaps the superintendent should take his cue from the extracurricular leaders for a change.  Show up.  Work.  Proceed.

Addendum from Sungold: I was at said chorus rehearsal tonight, and I’d put attendance at about 95%. Just like any other week. I understand that the district worries about student safety, potential lawsuits, and social equity. But on the last point, it’s low-income parents who are most likely to lose a job over absenteeism. They depend on the schools not just for childcare but for nutritional support. The same grinding Appalachian poverty that hampers the county’s ability to clear the roads also puts these parents and kids at risk when the schools close unnecessarily.

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He calls me every day, often more than once – and sometimes at odd hours, like 5:30 a.m.

I can almost read his mind, by now.

Friends are discouraging me. One said, “But he doesn’t even go to work anymore” – as if that would break my connection to him!

My husband is unbothered on his own account. He’s not jealous in the least. He only worries for my happiness and sanity.

As for my boyfriend? He couldn’t care less about my feelings.

Oh, and I’m having to share this intimacy with hundreds of others.

Worried yet?

If you haven’t guess by now: I’m referring to our school district’s superintendent. And he really has been calling all the time, announcing that school will be canceled yet again. And I really have been channeling his thoughts, anticipating yet another day of scrambling to get any work done, lining up a sitter so I can at least teach my classes, and tuning out increasingly cranky kid noises.

Long-time readers of Kittywampus know that we weren’t going to get through this winter without another run of snow days – any more, and we’ll go into summer, having now eaten up every holiday except Memorial Day. Nor would the winter end without me bitching and moaning about how school is canceled for trivialities, like the “rain day” we had last Friday. (It seriously rained all day. Nothing froze.)

The kids, of course, are increasingly stir crazy, as are we all. I like to tell them no one ever died from boredom – though a recent study begs to differ. As do the LOLcats.

Bored Kitteh from ICHC?

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What if being gay is, in fact, a choice?

Figleaf, in a spirited attack on heteronormative privilege, wishes it would finally dawn on people: sexual orientation is innate!

What I really wish people would get is that heterosexuality is as real and durable an orientation as homosexuality. I mean, it’s a peculiar condition of imagining one’s self “the norm” that it’s hard to understand you’re the way you are for exactly the same reasons others aren’t. You’re that way by accident of birth a.k.a. nature.

And by not getting that you’re also going to miss that you’re not “normal” temporarily, you’re not “normal” by whim, you’re not “normal” because you were exposed to the “right” or “wrong” social influence, and you’re definitely not “normal” by choice.

Any more than any given sexual “the other” is.

And that’s the thing. Being gay isn’t a choice! And one of the coolest things about getting that is that if you just thought about it you’d get that your heterosexuality wasn’t a choice either.

And if more people got that they’d get that they really don’t need the media, the government, the clergy, U.S. Marines and the Canadian Mounties, and, especially, various posses of gay-panic-stricken vigilantes to protect their heterosexuality. Or anyone else’s.

(I nicked most of his post, but the rest is here.)

I appreciate figleaf’s post in the same way that I like the “Heterosexual Questionnaire,” which begins:

  1. What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
  2. When and how did you first decide you were a heterosexual?
  3. Is it possible your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?
  4. Is it possible your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?
  5. Isn’t it possible that all you need is a good Gay lover?
  6. (The rest is here.)

But what if heterosexuality and homosexuality are not cast in concrete at birth? Certainly most people report that their sexual orientation remains stable over a lifetime. Certainly most lesbians and gay men can name a time in childhood when they realized they were attracted to the same sex. Heteros probably can, too, it’s just that they’re so rarely asked to. I mean, I can tell you which boys I had crushes on in fourth through seventh grade, but the story would be all about their specific cuteness, not about the discovery or revelation of my heterosexuality!

Some people break the mold, though, by shifting their sexual orientations over their life course. One of my best friends identified fully as a lesbian in the 1980s and early 1990s. She and her partner shared a whole life, right down to dogs and a pickup truck. And yet, by the time I met her in the late 1990s, she was entirely interested in men. She’s now married to a guy and they have two kids. Where she once identified as lesbian, she now identifies as straight. You might be tempted to label her “bisexual,” but I’ve never heard her claim that identity.

Conversely, I know of more than one marriage of 20-plus years that broke up when the previously hetero-identified wife realized she wanted to be with another woman.

And since I’m not interested in reifying the idea that only women’s sexuality can be fluid, I’ll mention a male friend who was questioning and bi-identified when I first met him in the early 1990s. He now calls himself gay (last I heard). Somewhere along the way, he managed to help a mutual (lesbian) friend get pregnant with a much-wanted child – and not through sperm donation, unless you count the full-skin-contact transfer of sperm during good ole PIV intercourse as a “donation.” Now that child is nearly grown, and his mother has left her female partner of 20 years and paired off with a man.

Some of these folks would call themselves bi or queer. Some would eschew labels.

None of them is boxed into a single sexual orientation for life.

Queer theory argues for the fluidity of sexuality, but I’m not terribly interested in theory here. I’m interested in the political and personal consequences that accrue when a person is clearly consciously choosing their orientation.

And I am increasingly sure that a liberation movement based on “oh, ze can’t help it, ze was born that way!” can only take us so far. That argument is still politically expedient – and necessary – when talking with people whose consciousness of polymorphous sexualities predates Kinsey. (Um, like my dad, who is gradually growing more tolerant in his old age.)

But those of us straight folk who came of age after Stonewall should be able to embrace sexualities that aren’t necessarily “innate.” We should be able to appreciate that bisexuals make choices (if they enter a monogamous relationship), and that nothing in their biology dictates those choices, though the social pressure to pass may well play a role. We should be able to handle the ambiguity of an identity shift from lesbian to straight – and maybe back again. My young students appear far better equipped mental agility of this sort than do my fortysomething peers.

In the end, a defense of LGBT rights that relies mainly on “oh, they can’t help it!” is bound to fail. It leaves out the experiences of too many real people. It shares the weakness of pro-abortion-rights arguments based on the lethality of illegal abortion. In both cases, it’s not enough to argue for a lesser evil. It’s crucial to argue that abortion – and non-normative sexualities – can be defended on positive grounds, as forces for good in society.

Most importantly, if allies defend non-normative orientations on the basis that orientation is inborn, we get cornered into making arguments for mere tolerance. We’re conceding that there’s something potentially wrong with every orientation except heterosexuality. Why, maybe being gay is a sin, but you should love the sinner! Never mind that such tolerance dooms people to subsist on the margins of society. It leaves don’t ask, don’t tell intact. And it fails to challenge retrograde church doctrine at its root.

Shouldn’t we be able to do better? Shouldn’t we celebrate and enjoy sexual differences? Shouldn’t we – straight allies and LGBT alike – insist that the goodness of people has nothing – zilch! – to do with our sexualities? Figleaf’s admonitions are a fine place to start. But we can’t end there if we’re committed to true equality.

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Not that I needed more reasons to despise Rush Limbaugh, but it turns out that among his many shortcomings, he’s clueless about cats and women. This gem (from last November, but still not stale) comes via figleaf:

LIMBAUGH: My cat — here’s how you can get fooled. My cat comes to me when she wants to be fed. I have learned this. I accept it for what it is. Many people in my position would think my cat’s coming to me because she loves me. Well, she likes me, and she is attached, but she comes to me when she wants to be fed. And after I feed her — guess what — she’s off to wherever she wants to be in the house, until the next time she gets hungry. She’s smart enough to know she can’t feed herself. She’s actually a very smart cat. She gets loved. She gets adoration. She gets petted. She gets fed. And she doesn’t have to do anything for it, which is why I say this cat’s taught me more about women, than anything my whole life. But we put voices in their mouths.

Figleaf comments that Rush apparently thinks “men are interested in women only for pussy.” And I can’t really top that for pithy insight.

But I gotta say: Rush doesn’t know cats. He might live with one who sees him as her meal ticket, but he’s still cat-illiterate.

Grey Kitty started her life as a traumatized little stray kitten who was separated from her mama too soon. She remained neurotic her whole life (and I say that in the most loving possible way). But she didn’t stay skittish forever. Over time, she responded to affection in her own way. She’d usually jump onto my lap if I draped a blanket or afghan over it – not at my will, but because she wanted to cuddle, and she pounced on the invitation.

GK wasn’t trained in some crude stimulus-response, behaviorist way. My mom discovered the blanket trick, but in retrospect it’s pretty clear that GK was training us, not vice versa. She sometimes chose not to jump on the blanket. When she did, she was responding of her own volition, like any good cat. That doesn’t mean her affection was an illusion; it means it was real.

Also, like any wise cat, she knew that a main purpose of her life was to clog my laptop’s keyboard with her hair, so blanket-plus-computer was well-nigh irresistible.

Funny thing. When men recognize women’s volition, they too might just respond warmly.

Cats can teach anyone, not just wingnutty dudes, a thing or two about balancing a sense of self with interdependence and love.

I guess Rush figures he’s an expert in love and women, having gone through three wives, plus a couple of high-profile girlfriends since his last divorce.**

Hmm. What if he’d stop putting “voices in their mouths” – be they women’s or cat’s – and just listen?

Bride-owning kitteh from ICHC?

** (In one of the great WTF moments in modern media history, Rush managed to attract my college classmate, Daryn Kagan, as one of his girlfriends. I didn’t know her, but it’s pretty evident she’s smarter, better-looking, and less politically retrograde than him.)

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The Tiger got his fracture rechecked yesterday in Columbus, and it was a good experience all around. They x-rayed him immediately, without any need for me to harass them into doing it. Then we finally met the doctor in charge, who’d been only a distant overseer in the hospital. He was sporting a walrus mustache and working on Basset hound jowls. He was kind and respectful. He managed not to scare my son. Best of all, he pronounced the Tiger’s humerus in good alignment.

“So,” I said, “are we out of the woods as far as surgery?”

“No. We like to follow breaks like this closely at first. You’ll need to come back again next Wednesday. Then, if all goes well, the cast can come off two weeks later.”

“So when will you know for sure about surgery?”

“By next week, the bone should sticky. There’s not much danger it could slip out of place after that.”

“If you had to give me odds of avoiding surgery, from this week to next week, what would you say? Just as a guess?”

“Oh, about 80%.”

I’m still jittery about that other 20%, but overall I think my sweet little stinker is going to be okay.

The really good news is that we learned that the break isn’t in a growth plate after all. That’s a huge relief. My niece’s fracture was complicated by its running through a growth plate, and my sister is plagued by a quiet simmering worry about proper growth in the years ahead. As an inveterate worrier myself (it runs in the family), I’ll rejoin her worry party now, knowing that the Tiger shouldn’t have any long-term issues beyond a very slight restriction in the elbow’s range of motion.

We also got rid of the ace bandage around his cast (seen above), which was looking increasingly grungy. It was replaced by another layer of the blue casting material, which means we can all sign it now. Yay!

Note that both stuffed tigers are also suffering from injuries. Daddy Tiger broke his foot. You can’t see Mama Tiger’s broken tail, but it’s being held up by the sling around her neck. Mama Tiger got her “cast” off yesterday and is feeling great, after some initial stiffness.

My apologies to anyone who was watching the calendar and realized I should have reported in yesterday already. It is true that I usually like to write a post every day. If I miss a couple of days, it means something is up, and you would be right to suppose I’m not gallivanting on a tropical beach. Most often it means that I’m overworked and underslept. (Stacks of student papers are calling to me this very moment!) Occasionally it means I have the blues. And there’s always the chance that something really awful has happened. Last night, though, I was just I was too depleted to write. I had nothing left after the trip to Columbus: rushing on the road, reassuring the Tiger, bathing in the relief. Funny how exhausting even good news can be.

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Careful readers of my last post – the one on my little Tiger’s accident – might have picked up on one aspect of the night that really messed with my mind: the circumstances under which we were discharged.

Here are the bald facts.

The Tiger and I were in Columbus. Our home in Athens is an hour and 45 minutes away. My husband returned to said home, with our one and only car, on the understanding that surgery was a virtual certainty, and knowing that our older son, the Bear, would need reassurance.

There is no public transportation between Columbus and Athens, unless you count the highway-robbery airport van (available by pre-order) or, well, hitchhiking.

Since surgery didn’t happen, we were discharged at 4:30 a.m. The Tiger was about two and a half hours out from being fully sedated. His arm hurt. A lot. We would have taken a cab to a hotel, assuming we could 1) get a cab at that hours (probable) and 2) pay for it via credit card (somewhat dicier).

Fortunately, a very kind and determined social worker persuaded the Ronald McDonald House across the street to take us in for the night’s remaining few hours.

But this posed another problem: How was I supposed to cash in the Tiger’s prescription for pain relievers? The ER doc had written it for Lortab (Vicodin syrup – definitely superior to codeine), but even heroin wouldn’t have helped without a place to fill it. I asked if the ER could give us a sample to get us through to morning. Nope! Their internal pharmacy closed at 11 p.m.! Their advice? I should take a cab to one of the 24-hour pharmacies. They handed me a list.

Children’s Hospital is in the sort of neighborhood where all the windows are boarded up. I’d be very wary there as a woman alone anytime after dark, and probably in broad daylight, too. And I was supposed to go to a Walgreen’s in the midst of this blight, at 5 a.m., with a groggy, frightened, pain-ridden six-year-old. Um, yeah.

We went to the Ronald McDonald House and the Tiger slept for all of three hours before the pain roused him. A couple hours later, his dad scooped us up and we got him the medicine he needed. I was FURIOUS that he had to suffer needlessly. No one is going to convince me that pain builds character. Especially not in a six-year-old.

Our experience isn’t an anomaly. You’ve surely heard about women discharged within hours of giving birth (laws have been changed to prevent this) or with mastectomy wounds still oozing and bleeding. Men often get one measly night in the hospital after prostate surgery and are sent home on the assumption that their partner will know how to deal with catheters and potential blood clots.

I was venting my rage to a friend of mine, and she had an even more harrowing story to tell. Her husband suffered some severe burns a few years ago. The hospital discharged him at 10 p.m. – though he’d been an inpatient – and he was still running a fever. The nurses measured it once at 99.8, and that was it for him – even though his fever rose again. She had four little kids at home and had to make the trek up to Columbus to rescue him from prowling the streets with third-degree burns and a fever!

I’m not sure exactly what’s behind this systematic cruelty. Insurance policies often drive patients out the door before they’re ready. My friend’s husband was likely displaced to make room for an incoming patient. Conversely, my husband once spent a full weekend hospitalized after his chest pains had been determined to be completely benign – just because no physician was available to run one final test, and they evidently didn’t need the bed.

In the Tiger’s case, no long-term harm was done. I’m still irate that in the short term, his pain was not humanely controlled. Beyond that, though, we may have gotten lucky. One possible complication of his particular injury (a supracondylar fracture of the humerus) is compartment syndrome. Basically, swelling disrupts circulation and nerves to such an extent that muscles and nerves may suffer permanent damage. One medical source (Orthopaedia) recommends observation overnight to ensure that compartment syndrome isn’t developing, and adds:

Casting these injuries as means of definitive treatment carries risk of compartment syndrome, as swelling is not allowed in the cast…this is especially true with the greater amount of flexion used to maintain the reduction [reduction = replacement of bone into its proper position].

So, while I didn’t know it at 4:30 a.m. in the ER, early discharge posed a real risk. I knew to look for additional swelling of fingers, tingling, poor blood flow, etc. I didn’t know that the Tiger was at greater risk due to being discharged. I didn’t know that having a hard cast upped his risk. I only knew that he was in pain.

Cruelty merges seamlessly with shortsightedness.

And this is the world’s greatest health system? I’ve gotta figure out Rush Limbaugh’s trick.

Mind you, we have good insurance.

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