Archive for May, 2010

This post doesn’t get a trigger warning, exactly – just a sticker for minor TMI and, well, a bit of ickiness.

Yesterday Hitler went into his bunker one more time. By the time my lecture ended at 2 p.m., he had died again – and not a moment too soon. While we’ve still got another week of classes, I must say it’s a mighty relief to know that Hitler is now charred beyond recognition. For all the satisfactions I’ve found in teaching this course, it has been emotionally and intellectually arduous. (And of course, my own struggles are a trifle, compared with those who were actually, historically victimized by the Third Reich.)

But this is not a post about Hitler. Indeed, now that Hitler is out of the picture – and just in time for the three-day weekend, too! – I finally feel free to take some time to sticky-tack my own life back together. For instance? Long-deferred trips to the doctor, including my first-ever visit to the dermatologist. If you’ve checked out my little Sungold pic, it’s obvious that surveillance for skin cancer ought to have started with me still in the womb. And indeed, the doc agreed that two of the spots I’d identified as potential trouble were precisely that. Out came the portable deep freeze, which spritzed all points of suspicion with liquid nitrogen. Those trouble spots now look far worse than ever, but I’ve been assured that any rogue cells have been killed dead, and that the dark-brown spots will eventually fade, rather than being the first step toward dressing as a Sexy Dalmatian next Halloween.

But then there was a third spot, not nearly so suspicious, but quite uncomfortable whenever I leaned back against a hard wooden chair. My doc said no problem, we can remove that mole, too. This trick, however, required a signed consent form, a shot of lidocaine, and a few stitches.

Afterward, I asked to see the “specimen,” now floating in a jar, which would be sent to pathology. It looked remarkably like a very pale pencil eraser. It look like a pencil eraser had mated with a fetal pig preserved in formaldehyde. Yes, I do see the biological implausibility of this. I’m going for the aesthetic point while realizing that this is – at best – the opposite of aesthetic.

I am not grossed out by things floating in glass jars. For that, I spent far too much time reading historical medical journals while working on my dissertation. I was just fascinated at how this plug of tissue, barely reddened and fringe-y where it had moments earlier nestled near my spine, had gone within seconds from being me to not-me.

All of which brought me back to a theme that has preoccupied me ever since, some weeks ago, I was looking through some college-era pictures. Those quarter-century old pictures were also, emphatically, me/not-me, though mostly on a symbolic level.

Nestled among the photos was an old braid of hair. My hair. It wasn’t a mere representation. This braid? It was physically me. I had grown it, brushed it, more or less tenderly cared for it. And then one day, soon after I met my someday-husband, I needed lightness, and so off went my locks. (This was before anyone was aware of Locks of Love. From today’s vantage point, I suspect my braid is too short to donate. Anyway, the vintage of my braid (1992!) hardly makes me a fab donor candidate.)

This braid is still tangible. You can pick it up and stroke it, marveling at how much softer my hair was in my youth, back when I rarely blowdried it and never colored it.

It is a piece of my youth, transported, whole and unfaded, into my increasingly middle-aged present.

Mostly, though, I almost feel as though this disembodied piece of me should be able to bear witness. It cannot, of course. But it should, dammit! Nothing else in my life has stayed inert since 1992. I’ve married, borne two children, moved from Germany back to the U.S., bought a house, finished a dissertation, embarked on a teaching career, seen my husband through two forms of cancer, and learned to like horseradish.

I think similar thoughts about my kids’ teeth as they lose them. I have no dignified way to keep them. They pile up in plastic ziplocs like tiny pawns for a game as yet to be determined. These little gamepieces are both of my children and yet wholly other. I do not know why I keep them. I couldn’t bear to thrown the in the trash. They’d require a solemn burial.

I guess there are two aspects of our permeable, detachable, deconstructable bodies that perturb me.

One is that these lost teeth remind me of aging, and I don’t just mean my own. As he approaches his seventh birthday, the Tiger now has only half of his top teeth. When his permanent teech ease into place, his little-boy grin will be gone forever. Actually, it already is. When that little boy is gone, he’s gone for good. He’s essentially dead, apart from those fragments of memory we carry with us. They are never enough.

The other thing? All these loose part – these spare parts – remind me that it’s not just the body that’s permeable. Our selves are permeable and unstable. Call me a postmodernist, but I think this is both true, and deeply unsettling.

Or maybe I’m just my mother’s daughter. For years after her gallbladder removal, she kept a vial of her stones in the medicine cabinet. I’m guessing they’re still there.

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Happy Kitten Caturday

Often my kids are a lot like this:

Crabby sibling kittehs from ICHC?

But today my kittens have been getting along just beautifully. It helps that they’ve had friends over this afternoon … Lucky them, and lucky me.

Happy Caturday! May all your kittehs coexist in peace.

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First, my very serious answer is that we deserve to know a whole heck of a lot more about her judicial philosophy, etc. than we already know. On this, I’m 100% on board with ballgame. (I’m on board with Greenwald, too, and you really should read his analysis of why Diane Wood was the better choice. But only ballgame gives you the link to serious batshittery á là Ann Althouse.) Compared to Wood’s robust record, we have only a teensy bouquet of tealeaves from Kagan. Leaving aside my usual “I’m no lawyer” disclaimer, I don’t think SCOTUS members should be picked that way. Tarot might serve us better. Or if we’re talking bouquets: I know a source of four-leaf clovers down by the river. Yes, they’re mutants, but they might be as informative as anything on Kagan’s judicial philosophy.

My less serious answer? I don’t really think we need or deserve to know Kagan’s sexual orientation. We do, however, have a right to understand how she’d approach DADT and the approaching Olsen/Boies juggernaut on gay marriage. I do not care if Kagan is as boringly straight as I – or if she keeps a harem of 30 lovely ladies – or has a long-term partner and a couple of dogs. I only care about where she stands on questions likely to come before the court. Yes, the political = the personal and all that jazz, but my goodness! People deserve some privacy, especially when the Judgie McJudgers of America are going to be quick to condemn a public figure’s personal life.

Greenwald makes the compelling point that her sexual orientation is not, primarily, about her sexual desires, tastes, or potential peccadilloes. It’s about who she is. It’s about her identity. And that identity may have an impact on how she’d rule on, say, marriage equality.

I agree that it’s important to separate these things out analytically. Even my straight little self might have fetishes involving marshmallows, silk scarves, and cat costumes. (I do, in fact, own all three of these items. Make of that what you will.) Those hypothetical fetishes have nothing to do with the fact that I basically identify as straight. Well, maybe I’d lean more toward large, broad-shouldered dog costumes, were I lesbian. Or Marlene Dietrich get-ups. But really! Sexual orientation is only very loosely coupled to the sexual acts people enjoy. (See also figleaf on this.)

So I agree with Glenn up to that point. Where we part ways is on the significance of sexual orientation as a component of one’s identity. To take a less loaded (?!?) category: I am a mother. I identify as a mother. In many social situations, that makes my life simpler. There’s no one asking when I plan to have kids. Other times, someone’s demanding to know if I was the mom of the small person playing with his penis on the soccer field, and, um, yes, that was indeed me. (A long, long time ago, I hasten to add – just in case the kids ever read this!)

But there are also scenarios where being a mother is stigmatized. Applying for high-powered jobs? Better make sure your wallet won’t flip open to that photo of your adorable nine-month-old. Hmm, you might want to leave your wedding ring home, too. Your future employer doesn’t have a right to know that you have sprouts at home that might render you less than a 24/7 salaried slave. Maybe you don’t want to risk sabotaging your chances before you’ve even answered the first interview question.

Of course, compared to being a mama, being non-hetero is considerably riskier in the ordinary job market, and I would imagine the Supremes take that risk and put it on steroids. So why should Kagan come under the gun to disclose a potentially stigmatized identity? Why shouldn’t she expect to be judged by her merits, instead of on who she tends to love?

More pointedly, to Andrew and Glenn: Why shouldn’t Kagan be able to pick and choose her battles? (Personally, I’d like to know much more about what she hasn’t helped dismantle the unitary executive.) Why do we evem assume there is a battle to be fought? Yes, there are rumors, but all this media attention is only fanning them. They might be plain wrong. After all, Kagan might be straight, bi, or asexual – or just very, very busy at work.

I have the feeling Andrew Sullivan is jonesing for a high-powered pol to come busting out of the closet and break down a few more doors. Sure, it would be awesomest to have an out-and-proud Justice. But that person – whoever she or he will be – gets to decide. Not Andrew. Not Glenn. Not your humble pundit, Sungold.

Honestly, I can see just two scenarios where I’d warm to Kagan being questioned about her orientation in full Senate hearings:

1) The nominee gets to flip around the questions and direct them back at some of the oafs posing them.

I personally would like to see David Vitter grilled on his orientation. “How long have you been straight? What evidence is there fpr your 100% straightness? How would you categorize your alleged diaper fetish? Doesn’t that sort of kink render you queer?”

“Senator Craig, we all know that you’re on record as being unimpeachably straight. Can you demonstrate your famous wide stance and explain how it embodies your heteronormative manhood? Also, isn’t it messy to pee that way? Do you consider that a bug or a feature?”

Unforntuately, neither of these illustrious lawmakers sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Craig is now out of office, such luck!) And I just don’t have the heart to pick on Lindsey Graham, who does sit on that committee, and who hasn’t persecuted gays from the security of his (alleged) closet. Heck, Daisy can hardly stand to needle Graham, and she lives practically down the road from the man.

2) Kagan proudly embraces a lesbian identity – and America yawns.

The folks who froth at the mouth at the mention of “them homos” – why, they’ve largely gone the way of the Edsel, and of the people who knew firsthand what the Edsel was. Sure, there are still lots of haters, but their ranks are thinning, especially among the younger crowd.

I’m afraid we’re not yet at the point when a declaration of proud out-ness will leave Americans reaching for the snooze alarm. But we’re within a decade or two of it, I think. I hope James Dobson and his cronies will still be around to watch their lifework melting, melting, melting.

Still, even now I find myself fantasizing: What if Kagan is lesbian? What if she made a public announcement to that end? And what if neither Glenn Beck nor Bill O’Reilly is able to froth up a mob mentality? What if America were to say, “Oh, that’s interesting,” (in the vaguely disparaging way that phrase can be used in the Upper Midwest), and then we all turned the channel?

Because if a post is about sexuality – especially female sexuality – there’s gotta be a flower from my garden! This is a columbine I grew from seed last year. This is its first year flowering. You see that leaf miners have besieged this plant, but it’ll probably muddle through just fine.

I am inordinately pleased with how this perennial turned out – from seed!

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I would just like to state for the record that although my younger son (aka the Tiger) may never play in the World Cup, today on the soccer fields he distinguished himself as no other player has done in the illustrious history of the game.

He started doing the Chicken Dance during the quarter break. He continued with it while trotting around the field. And he performed the Chicken Dance while executing a pretty decent corner kick. I know Maradona and Ronaldo were bad-asses – but did they ever pull off a Chicken Dance? (The question doesn’t even arise for the German contingent: Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthäus, Rudi Völler. These men don’t dance. They scowl, and then they win.)

Anyway, this pretty well kills my theory that the Tiger made a massive developmental leap over the winter. Or not? He did kick a goal early in the season – his first and only – and he now generally runs toward the ball, not away from it. His reading is approaching a tipover point: he’s just starting to read Junie B. Jones, albeit with middlin’ comprehension and the lisp of a Toothless Tiger. This weekend, he vacuumed my beloved porch furniture with alacrity and pride. He hasn’t broken any limbs since, um, January.

But back to the beautiful game. I don’t know if you can be a chicken dancer while missing four front teeth, though I’m positive it’s no hindrance to a soccer career. (Or so I remember earlier British teams, anyway.) Fortunately a six-year-old charmer can be beautiful even while his smile asymptotically approaches a jack-o-lantern’s.

I’m less certain about the fate of loser Tooth Fairies. The Tiger lost so many teeth so fast that I once again became the world’s worst tooth fairy. Uff da! I  spaced out on the dollar-for-tooth swap after he lost tooth #3 (out of four). Sadly, loser tooth fairydom is well-trodden ground for me. Amends were made the next night.

Luckily the Tiger has a soft spot for LOLcats …

From ICHC?

(Note the striking resemblance to a purrito. Or maybe this is just a Scottish fold kitteh, as my older son proposed.)

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Megan Carpentier, whose usual blogging gig is at Jezebel, just published a scathing critique of Women’s Studies at the Huffington Post. Her piece is misleading and unfair. It represents her one bad experience as standing in for the entire field of Women’s and Gender Studies. It paints WGS as a bastion of intolerance, authoritarianism, white privilege, and regressive body politics. Full disclosure for those of you who aren’t regular Kittywampus readers: I teach in WGS. But my investment in academic feminism doesn’t nullify Carpentier’s biases.

First off, if Carpentier’s goal was constructive criticism, why on earth would she publish this piece at HuffPo? She has a big platform at Jezebel. Not as big as the HuffPo, granted, but plenty big. The Jezebel commentariat includes lots of people who’ve taken a class or two in WGS. They would have discussed Carpentier’s complaints in productive ways. The HuffPo commentariat are much more of a mixed bag, including many who are outright hostile to feminism. (The same can be said for other progressive online communities, sad to say; Salon’s letter section can be a real cesspool of misogyny.) So far, Carpentier’s post has attracted remarkably constructive responses – nearly all of them from people who teach in WGS! Funny thing: none of them bear any resemblance to the rigid ideologue Carpentier blames for alienating her from feminism.

There’s only one plausible reason for publishing this piece on HuffPo instead of Jezebel: page views. And bashing feminism (in any of its variants) has proven to be a great way to advance one’s career. At least, it’s currently working pretty well for Susannah Breslin, as it has for Camille Paglia, Katie Roiphe, and countless other ambitious women writers.

But back to to Carpentier. The heart of her beef is the professor who taught the one and only WGS course she took in college. Let’s take as given that her prof was every bit as awful as Carpentier claims. Some people are authoritarian when they get in front of a classroom. Some don’t like it when their students ask hard questions. Apparently Carpentier’s prof had more than her share of insecurities:

For my professor, the challenge [of dissenting opinions] seemed to be more than she was willing to take. There was no Socratic give-and-take that I’d come to love about my other classes; I was supposed to accept that she was right, I was wrong and that what she said was feminist gospel.

Of course it’s not good practice to shut down students. Very occasionally it may be necessary. I’ve done it a few times when people insisted that racism is dead, or that rape victims bring it on themselves. I won’t allow outright hate speech in the classroom, and I won’t allow intolerance to go unchallenged. Over the years I’ve had a smattering of complaints in my course evaluations that I don’t recognize students’ opinions as equal to my own; for every such gripe, I get at least 20 statements like, “Professor is so open to students’ ideas.” Generally speaking, those who complain are likely to be the same folks who aren’t willing to entertain the idea that sexism – or even more so, racism – still exists.

I assume that wasn’t Carpentier’s problem. She paints herself as much more progressive than her professor. But her single experience is not typical. The irony is that WGS classes tend to be far more discussion-oriented than most classes in other disciplines!

To be sure, Carpentier describes her own, personal experience, but its publication on HuffPo – rather than, say, a personal blog – implies that her experience indicates larger issues within WGS as a field. Otherwise, why bother telling her story to the world? Yet it’s absurd to suggest that this one professor stands in for all. As Shira Tarrant points out in comments:

But the experience of “Rich White Lady” feminism taught by your college professor draws from a very small sample size: N=1. No doubt there are problems of competence across all academic disciplines. And none are above critique. However — and with all due respect — it doesn’t take much digging around to know that feminist politics and theory is also taught more deeply and intelligently than what you’ve described.

Exactly! Surely Carpentier knows other people whose experiences vary from her own! Surely she interacts with them all the time on Jezebel! So why not include even a brief “your mileage may vary” disclaimer?

Instead, Carpentier takes the opposite tack by comparing her WGS course to other college classes she’d taken:

A rigorous introduction to feminist theory — where was Friedan? Steinem? Even Paglia ? — was replaced by rambling lectures about personal experience from the professor and books about “Important Women”(mostly white) that ran counter to my academic experiences with structural history in the history department and my increasing interest in stratification theory — and the intersection of race, class and gender in society — that I found so fascinating in the sociology department.

Here her single experience is posed against the history and sociology departments. It’s this comparison that directs Carpentier’s criticisms at WGS as a field. It’s this comparison that frames her individual experience with one apparently disastrous professor as typical of WGS. She never took additional classes in WGS (not that I blame her), but nowhere does she admit that it’s disingenuous to hold up this one professor as representative.

In fact, most of Carpentier’s experiences are remarkable for their extreme atypicality. She tells one anecdote that’s so bizarre it almost defies credulity. If it happened just as she describes it, her professor was not just unpleasant but completely incompetent:

But it was when the professor told us that, one day, when sexism is over, the government could make abortion illegal again, that I truly lost it — both my patience and, as it turns out, the A that I’d been biting my tongue to earn. She presented this nugget of information not as an idiosyncratic view of her feelings about abortion, but as a tenet of feminist thinking about abortion, and it was one that stood in opposition to everything I understood about abortion and its importance to the feminist movement.

If this is accurate, then her former professor really has no business teaching WGS. If Carpentier truly missed an A only due to this incident, she’d have strong grounds to appeal her grade. But it’s precisely this anecdote that shows how unrepresentative this class must have been!

The same is true for the other appalling incident she relates:

We learned about rape culture in a mandatory group discussion of our experiences with sexual assault that didn’t take into account that the survivors in the group might not be ready, willing or able to relate to a group of students and a professor those experiences.

The very act of teaching about sexual assault in any form can be triggering. If someone asks to opt out of class on a day when sexual violence is on the agenda, I’ll always agree – though I’ll also ask to make sure they’re getting the help and support they need. It’s unconscionable to mandate discussion of individuals’ experience. But again, this incident is an extreme outlier. None of my colleagues would ever act this way. It’s just plain unethical.

In one area, Carpentier’s experience does point to a broader problem. She faults her professor for not taking an adequately intersectional perspective. People working in WGS have had their blind spots when it comes to race, class, disability, and so on – which makes them an awful lot like feminists outside the academy. Most of us are trying to do better. Speaking for myself, I’m still growing and learning. I continue to revise my syllabus. I’m still trying to figure out the most effective ways to help students gain an intersectional perspective. I’m a white gal working in a very white institution, so it’s hard, and I don’t pretend that I’ve got all the answers. Humility is the first step toward improvement. But I will also say that I don’t know anyone who teaches WGS by assigning books about Important (mostly white) Women, as Carpentier describes.

As for Carpentier’s other gripes, they’re pretty thin. Not enough theory at the intro level? Well, in my program, we have a whole course devoted to theory. That’s where we read Friedan – not in the intro, where we assign a mix of theory and more accessible texts. Some of my colleagues use Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate” in the intro class. Frankly, Steinem is not a theorist! She’s a journalist and a leader. Paglia is not a theorist, either. She’s a self-promoter. Whether you consider her a feminist is a judgment call. If I wanted to assign a critic of WGS, I might consider using a chapter from one of Daphne Patai’s books, I wouldn’t pick Paglia. Her writing is unfocused; she too often goes off on tangents and rants.

Carpentier also hated the journal she was asked to keep. I have some sympathy. I don’t assign student journals, myself. From my perspective, they require an awful lot of reading. They can devolve into navel-gazing unless you specify a lot of structure – at which point, I’d rather use a different form. But even when I give an assignment that requires reflection on one’s own values, I would never grade on “feministiness,” as Carpentier alleges her professor did. My colleagues who assign journals similarly don’t require students to toe a particular political line; they grade on students’ engagement with texts and ideas, or they simply assign a check for work completed. Not one of them uses “feministiness” as a criterion. If Carpentier created a “series of faux-incidents with which to populate” her journal, well, that was her choice, and I’m not sure she can blame her prof for that.

I’m glad that Carpentier reconnected with feminism through activism and blogging. I’m sorry she had a crappy professor. Like Shira, I’m all in favor of discussing how WGS do better in our research and teaching. Self-examination is an excellent thing. But if Carpentier is really interested in improving WGS as a field – and thus advancing feminism – she might start by expanding beyond her sample size of one. Otherwise, she’s only bashing it, not criticizing it constructively. Which, come to think of it, is exactly how anti-feminists respond to feminism in general, including – not least – feminist bloggers.

Update 6/8/10 (very belated!): In comments, Erniebufflo notes that Carpentier’s piece was first published at On the Issues Magazine – a more serious venue than HuffPo, to be sure – and that Carpentier is no longer a full-time editor at Jezebel. She’s still got a platform there, however, and she used it to discuss the HuffPo/On the Issues piece. Her emphasis at Jezebel was markedly different:

I thought she was cracked, but I was 19 and didn’t realize that “feminism” meant many different things to many different people, or that there was more than one way to be a feminist. Having been raised in a religious environment in which we were taught that there was one gospel, one Church and one way of looking at a set of issues, it didn’t occur to me that a political and social movement would or could be more multifaceted. I figured if she was a feminist, and feminists believed that about abortion, then I was obviously not a feminist.

Here, Carpentier makes clear that this prof in fact doesn’t represent feminism-as-a-whole. She observes the difference between her 19-year-old self and the woman she’s become, who now draws finer distinctions. That’s precisely what her original piece needed to do, but didn’t. The tone of discussion at Jezebel was very different, as a result, with the focus shifted off of Carpentier’s “cracked” professor and onto the commenters’ personal evolution toward feminism.

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Carol Burnett was recently interviewed on public radio by Bob Edwards. She said CBS executives told her that variety shows were a guy thing, and she only got her chance because she was under contract and they had to let her do something.

Good thing, too. Here, she foresees the future of commercial aviation back when flight attendants were still called stewardesses.

(Click here if you can’t see the clip.)

I still think she and Tim Conway are hilarious. And heaven help me, I still let the term “stewardess” slip from time to time. Maybe it stuck because that was my career aspiration when I was in fifth grade. I wanted to travel and see the world. I eventually figured out that grad school would let me do just that. Lucky thing, because the main difference between this sketch and flying today is that no one gets to smoke anymore.

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I might just be in a pickle.

Technically speaking, I don’t teach ethnic studies. I teach women’s and gender studies, now with a smattering of history on the side.

And yet, if I were located in Arizona, I might just violate their newly-minted ban on teaching about “ethnic groups” (h/t to The Nation for the summary):

The bill bans classes that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.”

Also prohibited: all those classes that “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.”

I haven’t promoted the overthrow of the U.S. government recently, but if anyone’s forming a cell of the Arizona Underground Liberation Movement for Disgusted College Teachers? Sign me right up!

I do teach about ethnicity, and ethnic resentments, and white privilege, and historical crimes against subordinated ethnic groups. That’s part of taking an intersectional approach to studying women and gender. Some of what I do could be construed as “advocating ethnic solidarity,” since even mentioning race is now a violation of the New Colorblind World Order. For instance, I teach Patricia Hill Collins and bell hooks, both of whom call for black solidarity while also reaching out to white allies.

But while teaching about race as an often-virulent social construction may promote ethnic solidarity – and even fully understandable resentment! – I don’t stop there. I try to challenge my white students to think about how one can be an ally. And none of this stops me from “treating pupils as individuals.”

Pitting solidarity against respect for individuals is just the sort of false dichotomy that one ought to expect, though, from people whose thinking is permanently impaired by black-and-white categories. Prejudice and hate are such a rotten match for critical thinking!

Consider the other class I’m teaching this quarter: Nazi Germany. Just today, I spent an hour lecturing on the myriad ways Jews were marginalized in the 1930s, from the ban on kosher butchering to the assault on Jewish artists and authors. You’d better believe I praised the solidarity Jews showed under fire! Otherwise it’s only a story of their victimization (which can become an instance of re-victimization). Would this advocacy of ethnic solidarity put me at odds with the Arizona law? The Nation reports that it wouldn’t – but why not?

Arizona seems to be creating good victims (European Jews) and bad victims (aspiring immigrants from Mexico). Most of the “good” victims are, of course, geographically distant and conveniently dead, while the “bad” ones are turning up in Arizona schools, curious about their own history.

But maybe the real question is: Does anything in this Arizona law (or its notorious predecessor) put it at odds with Nazi policies toward the Jews? Let’s see: A racially-specific requirement to carry identity papers? Check. Scapegoating of an ethnic group? Check. Limiting the role of that ethnic group in education? Check.

I don’t want to indulge in pat historical analogies. I do not think that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer intends to set up concentration camps – though the wall along the border is bad enough. I do not think she intends to issue shirts with a big fabric “I” patch – I for immigrant, I for illegal. I do not suspect her of planning to conscript anyone into forced labor, though she seems sanguine enough at the hypocritical status quo that allows Americans to eat cheap lettuce picked for dirt-cheap wages by precisely those people targeted by the new laws. Nor do I imagine she’s plotting to declare war against Mexico in order to radicalize Arizona’s policies under cover of war.

And yet, there’s plenty troubling about the Arizona laws. Scapegoating and marginalizing are cruel and unethical even if that’s where the damage ends. But they tend to take on their own dynamic. History doesn’t predict how, exactly, scapegoating will claim flesh-and-blood victims. History does teach that once scapegoating spreads, it’s unlikely to fade away without violence.

Also: I am just infuriated at a bunch of no-nothing legislators telling professors what they may teach!

Today, as I was in the midst of lecturing on the November Pogrom, massive thunderclaps shook my well-insulated lecture hall. It was occasion for a rare laugh, in a class where giggles are mighty scarce. It seemed as though an angry god was speaking straight to the topic. I don’t believe in divine intervention – not at all. But as a Republican, odds are that Governor Brewer does, and if so, I’m happy to say that an angry god left a message for her: The angels are on the side of ethnic studies. They sing praises of glory to solidarity. They abide righteously in academic freedom. And they see the hideous stain in your soul when you scapegoat fellow humans.

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So I’m purple with envy (yep, that’s one stage beyond green) at the folks who were lucky enough to attend the Rethinking Virginity conference at Harvard last week. I’m no longer a practical expert – why, my virginal days lie deep in the previous millennium – but I’d be a virgin at this sort of conference, one that straddles the academic, activist, and bloggy worlds. Oh, and it’s not just that I’d be mildly starstruck, though I’d love to meet Shelby Knox. The less famous folk had equally smart things to say. If you too want to feel mopey about staying home, Therese has got a very nice link farm from the conference.

Anyway, I’ve been mulling over those posts and triangulating them (hexatulating?) with Hanna Blank’s marvelous essay on process-oriented virginity in Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape. I’m basically on board with Blank’s suggestion that the world wouldn’t end if each person demarcated their virginity on their own terms. I especially love her idea (going back to St. Augustine, I shit you not!) that a rape survivor can define for herself whether she still wants to claim the title of virgin.

But part of me wants to say, Fuck virginity! What did it ever do for me, anyway? And can we cut out all this silly rhetoric about “losing” virginity? Grooving on my newfound sexual experience was pure win for me. I’m leaving out a few messy stories, sure, but on balance: pure fucking win.

And maybe we could just ditch virginity. Let it go up in smoke. Maybe we could talk instead about desires and acts and those particular people who set us humming.

But there is something important about “coming of age” sexually, and I wouldn’t want to lose that. Lux Alptraum’s wonderful Jezebel post on her conference panel provides the killer argument for why we still need “virginity.”

During the queer virginity panel, we examined how the notion of virginity—traditionally correlated with penis-in-vagina intercourse—transforms when mapped onto a queer identity. Though one panelist felt that the idea of virginity lost its meaning outside of a heterosexual relationship, I still feel that the experience of one’s first sexual relationship (however you define that) is significant enough to transcend gender, sexuality, and identity. In fact, in a queer space, loss of virginity can sometimes be more significant, as its that first sexual experience that solidifies an identity that might initially have been considered “questioning” or “curious.”

(More goodness here.)

My own coming-of-age story was relentlessly heterocentric, yet I totally get what Lux is saying about the formation of identity. Our first really significant sexual encounter shapes our sense of self – not immutably, but importantly. And it’s not just a matter of sexual-orientation as identity, though that’s obviously a huge deal. The demise of virginity can also be about claiming adulthood, learning a serious new way to play as an adult, relating differently to one’s body, moving a relationship to a deeper level, realizing that sex isn’t always linked to love. And that’s a short list of how our early sexual experiences may mold our identities and body-mind loops; maybe you’ve got more? If so, please bring ‘em up in comments.

So how would I redefine virginity? As much as I like Blank’s model, I think it’s too purely personal. We also need a more interpersonal way of understanding virginity. That is, unless we want to say masturbation counts as unravelling virginity – but I don’t want to go there, not least because I value the interpersonal dimension. Masturbation also opens the door to virginity loss among the under-three set. This seriously squicks me. The small people need to freedom to discover boyparts and girlparts without the baggage of innocence and experience. (Baby Jesus, for instance!) Let’s just stipulate: no virginity loss for the sippy-cup crowd.

For the rest of us? Well, I sort of like the idea of seeing a “first orgasm” (also from Blank) as the watershed. But for some of us, the orgasm gap could mean we’ll be in our forties when we shed our virginity. Great for Hollywood, just not what I sought at age 20.

So how about this: Virginity ends the first time you engage in partnered sexual activity and have an epiphany – either during or after – with orgasm or without – when you suddenly know: “Oh, this is what all the fuss is about!” This needn’t be penetrative sex; anything that makes you seriously swoon could count.

Alternative definitions, refinements, personal stories – all are welcome in comments!

Every sex post deserves a tulip, wouldn’t you say? I’m sure I’ve already recycled Luce Irigaray’s pun on “two-lips” (that meet as one). Photo from in front of my house about ten days ago.

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I just read Heather Hewitt’s wonderful Mother’s Day wishlist on Girl w/Pen. She’s got some wishes that would do Julia Ward Howe proud: global peace, diminishing inequality, freedom from gendered violence. I’m on board with all of ‘em.

But I have to admit I’m really a sucker for these four items:

1. A morning spent reading the newspaper and drinking coffee without constant interruption from the kids. …

3. A house overflowing with peace (no screaming fights over Lego pieces, etc.). …

9. Sufficient time to play with kids, talk with husband and friends, and care for self (read, exercise, shower, write in journal, and meditate). …

10. Ability to do the above with a sense of abundance instead of stress.

(Read her whole lovely list.)

Yep, you saw that right. I just ticked every last one of the selfish wishes. May the newpaper be the Sunday Times (which I’ve not read in paper form since 2001). Let the “journal” be my blog. Let the “exercise” = um, sex. (Because a bike ride still can’t compete.) And the meditation? Wow, it would be awesome if I weren’t always on a schedule with that too.

This morning (Saturday) started at 4 a.m. with the Tiger announcing that his favorite stuffed animal, Mama Tiger, had gone rogue. At 4 a.m.! I had to flip on all the lights, put on my glasses, and launch a cathunt. I found the prodigal Tigress in the bathroom, perched upon the counter, looking far more chipper than I.

This evening ended with the Bear in tears because he was trying to make some little bears out of pompoms and pipecleaners. There were no bears in sight. However, the pompoms were about to wash away in a river of glue, tears, and snot.

Tomorrow I am to be showered with homemade gifts, or so I’ve been told. That is, unless my beloved sons start to pummel each other with them first. Whatever the sequence of events, I’m prepared to be touched to tears.

But I’m also prepared for this:

Stuck kitteh from ICHC?

And yes, if this happens, I’ll run to my kittehs, comfort whoever’s snoot is stuck (probably the Tiger), try to stay calm.

And then, because it is Mother’s Day, I’ll yell VERY LOUDLY for their father to please bring a crowbar and a bottle of olive oil (for our distressed kitteh), and a small piece of very dark chocolate (for me). And he will come, but not just because it’s Mother’s Day. He’ll come because he’s far cooler and more competent than I in such situations. And because he loves our miraculous, crazy-making kids every bit as much as I do.

Whether you’re a biomom, an adoptive mom, a stepmom; whether you’re an other mother or an “auntie”; whether your a mom or a dad; whether you’re an adult child whose mama helped you extricate your snoot from some tight spots (and eventually learn to avoid them) … Happy Mother’s Day to all!

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Confession: I’ve had a few mornings lately when I’ve gotten the kids off to school and then dove back into my bed for an hour or so, sleeping the almost narcotic sleep of the exhausted and circadianally challenged. Last Tuesday was the most recent such catnap. I’d been up past two, finishing my lecture in case the Tiger had to spend the next day home sick from school. He work up feeling better, and so I collapsed back into bed once he was at school.

But every time I’ve done this, I feel these twinges of guilt. Intellectually, I realize that I worked until the wee hours, and so only a fool would call me a slacker. I know I’m having these episodes of collapse because overall I’m spending way more than forty hours a week working. Which is also why my blogging has been rather anemic – too little time, too little energy, too many Nazis. I even know that I cope a lot better with my health issues when I sleep long and well enough. (Latest medical theory: I may have fibromyalgia. I’m not really sure if my pain is the right kind or severe enough. I also have other weird neuro symptoms such as tingling lips that I don’t think fit the bill either.)

And yet, how my conscience twinges!

So I just loved this post on “The Cult of Busy” by Anna at FWD Forward. The title alone! If it’s not a cult, then Jim Jones was a friendly small-town minister. Anna starts like this:

The first time I noticed the correlation between “busy” and “important” was when a friend of mine boasted of her first “cardiac incident” at the age of 27. She was a very important person, after all. So important that she had to be on call 24 hours a day for her workplace, had to arrange everything around the schedule of her workplace, and rushed back to work after being released from the hospital, in case anything had happened that needed only her to fix.

Since I judge my worth the same way, I don’t really blame her. The Cult of Busy tells us that worthwhile people have full daytimers, with every minute packed. Want to do lunch with friends? I’ll have to plan that week in advance. Coffee date? Only if I can fit it in between my full-time job and my hours of volunteering. And I simply can’t agree to anything else right now, have I told you how busy and overwhelmed I am with all my important things to do?

There are things I think are wrong with this pace of life for everyone (including me, but as I said, I totally buy into it), but it’s especially difficult when it comes to people with disabilities. When you value someone’s worth as a human being on how much they can squeeze into a day, what value do you place on someone who cannotdo all of that? And what value do you place on people who attempt to do enough to keep up with everyone else, but fail?

(Please read the whole thing here – it came out last winter, but it’s sadly in no danger of becoming outdated.)

Now I’ve long scoffed at the idea that a full calendar is a sign of virtue. I don’t own a Blackberry. I don’t have much respect for busy = important. In fact, I’m deeply skeptical of how our society and culture rank “importance” and who even qualifies for it. I soaked up a fair amount of the grad-student work ethic, enough that I overcame my slacker-self and eventually finished my Ph.D. thesis. The operative work is “eventually.” I set no speed records.

So why can’t I just go back to bed and feel great about it?

Wise lazy kitteh from ICHC?

Cats have got it all figured out. They don’t work hard. As the old cliche says, they hardly work. While we labor, they nap with the angels, untroubled by our work-ethic-on-steroids.

Then again, they’ve taught us to bring home the catnip.

And now … it’s back to my lecture prep. At 10:30 on a Saturday night.

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Provoked by the discussion here, I’ve been thinking about how “evenhandedness” and “mediation” can become their opposites – how invoking these highminded concepts can inadvertently or deliberately undermine fairness.

I’m reminded of four instances where precisely that has happened.

1. Journalism: When science journalists give equal time to evolutionists and creationists, they are enhancing the credibility of creationists. They are not engaging in responsible, ethical journalism. There are not two valid sides to that dispute. Ditto for global warming scientists and the denialists. Ditto for opposition researchers who manage to slime their agenda into the mainstream media.

2. Academic integrity: Some years ago, my university’s Judiciaries recommended “mediation” instead of a university judicial hearing for a plagiarism case. A brand-new, untenured professor had caught a grad student who submitted a paper that was 90% copied directly from a book. The student’s well-connected, very senior advisor lobbied for him. The young professor started getting not-so-subtle pressure from his superior, who ironically taught an ethics course! This was not a situation where mediation was remotely applicable: One party had behaved ethically, while the other had blatantly broken the rules. (The untenured professor prevailed, a hearing was held, and the student was unanimously found to have plagiarized. Disclosure: I was not the prof in question, but I did say, “Wow, that student’s writing sure sounds like a book’s jacket blurb !” Lo and behold, it was.) “Mediation” in this case was a form of professional blackmail.

3. Workplace bullying: University officials are similarly pressing for “mediation” in a current situation where one faculty member has already been found by an internal investigation to have intimidated, bullied, and threatened three of his colleagues. I’m reluctant to link to the coverage of this case (I’m cowed too, and I don’t even work with him!), but I’ll do it anyway: this article at Inside Higher Education tells his side of the story, while trivializing the experience of his colleagues who were threatened. “Mediation” in this instance is a fig leaf for a university administration that’s unwilling to penalize the offender for fear he’ll sue.

4. Marriage and divorce: A couple I know are splitting up. The have a young child. He initially pushed hard for mediation to arrange for civilized, shared parenting. She refused. Her subsequent tactics have not been civilized. They’ve been dirty. “Scorched earth” points toward the general neighborhood. Now she is publicly complaining to the court that he is unwilling to enter into mediation. Here, “mediation” is a cudgel being used to make him look like he’s the intransigent party.

We all want to be reasonable people. (At least you all do, or you’d be reading a much more fiery blog!) I’m just deeply dismayed when “reasonable” and “fair” are warped into Social Darwinian weapons.

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You’re in front of the classroom. First day of school. You’re late for class, and then – suddenly – you realize you’re the teacher, not the student. Who the hell made that decision? And – oh, ooooops! – you’re teaching calculus.

Calculus!?! Which you passed with a shining A! Back in 1982!

Somehow, inexplicably, you’re outside the classroom again. You’ve got four hours to prepare. Then two. Oddly, the hours glide by as you bicycle up endless hills, ride circles on public transit, do anything to avoid cracking a book.

Finally, you arrive at the classroom. Thirty fresh-scrubbed faces turn to you, waiting for you to initiate them into the mysteries of the derivative.

You think: X axis. Y axis. You gulp.

Did I mention: you’re buck naked?


Every teacher has experienced some variant of this dream. Maybe you have, too, even if you don’t officially “teach.” Maybe your kids catch you out. Or maybe, like my mom, you’re years retired (in her case, from a career in teaching English), and you dream you still haven’t learned your lines for the play. Maybe in your nightmares you’re giving a major presentation to to the muckety-mucks at work – unprepared and, naturally, wearing your birthday suit.

Way back in February I started dreaming about the first day of class for the Nazi Germany history course I was scheduled to teach in the spring. Dreaming? Oh, no. These were wake-up-in-a-cold-sweat nightmares. Yes, German history was my major field in grad school, but I’ve taught women’s and gender studies unabated since 2002. I love WGS. I love being a historian, and I’ll forever think like one. But could I still teach history? And where did I leave my clothes, anyway?

The scenario repeated with variations: I’d stumble into the classroom, utterly unprepared. (That part never varied.) I’d start ad-libbing my worst impression of a cartoon women’s studies instructor: “So, how do you feel about Hitler?” “Certainly some aspect of your experience might resonate with women in the Third Reich! Can you imagine a sisterhood with them?”


Flash forward a few weeks, and it’s the first day of class. The wretched projector does not work. I am planning to show some maps, insurance that I will not start to mimic a demented group therapy leader. The maps will not project.

My clothes are on. They appear to be staying on. I call classroom services (cursing my colleagues who didn’t bother to fix this earlier in the day). Ted the tech guru shows up, the same Ted who knows a remarkable amount about the Albigensian heresy. I know Ted from my stress management class. I think “what would the Buddha do?” I breathe. The Buddha remains remote. But in my head, my instructor Bonnie says calmly, “This is just how things are right now.” I breathe. Ted tinkers. He  breathes the projector back to life.


Jump to the end of the first week. The students appear to be developing carpal tunnel – all 150 of them. I get the hint. I start to slow down.

Oh, the irony! I know too much! I’m trying to say too much! I’m amazed at how much I recall from 20 years ago. When I don’t know it, I know where to look. I’m thrilled at how much I’m learning along the way.

I’m not quite fully dressed after all, because the classroom tops out at 98 Fahrenheit the second week. My skirts are thin and rumpled. They’re suboptimally professional (but then again, my preferred look is nouveau hippie anyway). The main thing is: I’m not naked. And I realize I really know this stuff: the fatal conservative resentments of modernity, the violence of the SA men, the brutal logic of racial “science.”

Now I just need to hit my stride and hold a pace that works for everyone. I need to hold it even though I’ve been sick most of the quarter and my kids have soccer four night a week. I need to keep it up even when I occasionally burst into unscheduled tears while preparing a lecture. If you teach about the Nazis and never feel your soul split in two, you need to either cultivate compassion – or consider a career at Halliburton.


This class, this history of Nazi Germany, is a work in progress. So too am I. I spend a little too much eating marzipan at 1 a.m. while tinkering with my next lecture. Imposter syndrome lurks around every corner. But momentarily, at least, I really have conquered fear. I know I can do this. I know I know enough. I’ve delivered 18 lectures, with just 11 to go. And that will have to be enough – even if one day I appear in class and discover I’m utterly naked, after all.


I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s had to climb the cliffs of self-doubt. If you’re willing to share you similar story (naked dreams and all) I’d love to hear it.

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Socialist Caturday

When I lived in Berlin, May 1 always spurred the Autonomen (anarchists) to riot. They were dumb as dirt in their tactics. Their goals were clear as mud. And yet, I miss May 1 being a day of protest. Some of my colleagues spent today handing out flyers protesting the university’s bassackwards priorities. (Money for coaches, yes! Money for faculty? Nah, let’s cut ‘em, they’re overpaid anyway!) Me, I was embroiled in domestic responsibilities and got no farther than the post office.

But since the hardy-ever-right wing sees even lazy-ass me as a socialist, here’s a nice clip on the Spartacist Uprising in Berlin, 1919. It wasn’t on May Day and the German Communists were tactically and strategically not much better than the Autonomen. But Billy Bragg (who wasn’t on the spot, either) gives a surprisingly rousing rendition of “The Internationale.”

(Go here if you can’t see the clip.)

Of course, since this May Day also falls on a caturday, I’m obliged to say something about cats and politics. Cats are passionate socialists – with respect to humans, who are required to share everything with their kittehs. For themselves, they’re radical libertarians anarchists. Sort of like this:

Capitalist kitteh from I Can Haz Cheezburger?

Happy May Day, everyone!

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