Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Well, I don’t know if she’s truly the best, since by definition I’m unfamiliar with the other composers I’ve never heard of. But Marion Bauer is pretty amazing, and it’s a damn shame she’s nearly forgotten. This post is my little contribution to publicizing a piece of newly recovered music history.

I encountered Marion Bauer via one of my students, who discovered Bauer through her research. She went on to rewrite the Wikipedia entry on her, which had previously been a mere stub. (If Wikipedia’s articles were always this good, no one would ever disparage it.) In short, Bauer made a life for herself through composing and teaching music at a time when women were absolute outsiders.

My student also featured Bauer’s work at her senior recital. She had to seek out the sheet music through interlibrary loan, since it’s out of print. Recordings of Bauer’s music remain scarce, so these YouTube clips of her “Fantasia quasi una Sonata” (Opus 18) are a step toward restoring Bauer to history. Plus, I thought my student and her accompanist presented a stirring performance. Put on your headphones and enjoy!

I. Moderato romantico

II. Ben ritmico e vivace

III. Lento espressivo-allegro con moto

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I continue to be transfixed by the situation in Japan, where technology has shown its best and worst face in the past few days. “Best,” I say, because the terrible human losses would have been greater yet, had builders not prepared for violent earthquakes. There were certainly gaps in planning for the tsunami, in particular, but overall Japan’s construction technology saved untold lives – tens of thousands.

The nuclear plants partly had bad luck, but then again, the chain of power failures that’s now leading to overheated radioactive fuel rods was fairly predictable. I don’t know enough about the technology to give an explainer. Rachel Maddow continues to have good coverage. But essentially, you don’t have to be a nuclear engineer to know that highly radioactive spent fuel presents a problem for decades at a minimum, even under controlled circumstances. How many civilizations have survived for tens of thousands of years – long enough to keep ploutonium contained? And yes, some of the fuel rods (about 6%) at the Daiichi plant contain some plutonium.

Then again, with some technologies you really don’t need to be an expert in order to say: this is stupid. A case in point is the use of hormones to stunt girls’ growth lest they grow too tall to catch a husband. I knew that this was a fairly common practice in the 1950s. A recent study reports that the estrogen used to stop growth also mucked with these girls’ fertility, and as adults they have had trouble conceiving. Not all that surprising. What did shock me? The fact that this practice continues today.

This use for estrogen gained popularity about 50 years ago after researchers found it might limit the growth of girls who were much taller than their peers in adolescence. According to one estimate, up to 5,000 girls in the U.S. were treated with estrogen, and many more in Europe.

At that time, “women were basically supposed to get married and have children, and that would be harder if you were a very tall woman, everybody believed,” Christine Cosgrove, co-author of Normal at Any Cost: Tall Girls, Short Boys, and the Medical Industry’s Quest to Manipulate Height, told Reuters Health.

“There were so many parents, mostly mothers probably, who just feared that their daughters’ lives would be ruined if they ended up being six feet tall, because they’d never have a husband and a family,” she said.

Some tall girls are still treated with estrogen today — more in Europe than in the United States — and estrogen is currently given to these girls in about the same dose that is in a birth control pill, Cosgrove said. In the past, it might have been given at 100 times that dose before doctors realized the potential dangers, she said.

[Cosgrove is co-author of Normal at Any Cost: Tall Girls, Short Boys, and the Medical Industry's Quest to Manipulate Height, speaking here to Reuters.]

Two very different scenarios – one a matter of life-and-death, the other “merely” a matter of life foregone through infertility. Yet both reflect the foolhardiness of humans when it comes to technology. I’m no Luddite (my laptop is a cyborg extension of my brain), but could we just cut it out with the human experimentation? Because that’s what nuclear plants are, at bottom, too – an uncontrolled experiment with far too many uncontrollable variables. Also, perhaps friend-of-the-blog Hydraargyrum will chime in on this: humanity will never win against CORROSION, which is basically what I understand to be happening at lightning speed in those uncooled fuel rods.

Can’t we humans please learn for once, and put an end to the techno-hubris?

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Back in the good old days of the Cold War, when I was a kid and all the Soviet missiles were aimed at me and my kin in North Dakota, the domino theory held that if one nation fell to communism, so too would all of its neighbors. The process was liable to end with Minnesota toppling, and then bringing down North Dakota.

I snark, but the domino theory was used to justify all kins of hideous mischief, from American involvement in the Vietnam War to our endless meddling in Latin America.

It strikes me as a huge irony of history that the most notable instance of a regional domino effect is the wave of democratization that swept through eastern Europe in 1989/90. And now the desire for democracy seems to be doing the same in North Africa and the Middle East.

I don’t buy into any teleological approach to history. Democracy is still far from a foregone conclusion in Tunisia or Egypt, never mind Bahrain or Yemen. Still, it’s fascinating to see that the domino dynamic is so much stronger for nascent democracies than it ever was for authoritarian communist states.

Maybe the theory would have been more accurate if we’d added some Legos to it?

(Image by Flickr user John-Morgan, used under a Creative Commons license. I do love those Legos!)

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With my partner a whole ocean away from me, I’m not in a very lovey-dovey mood for Valentine’s Day. That leaves plenty of time to think about what allowed Love to sneak out of courtly ballads and Shakespearean plays and into the hearts of average Americans. And no, it’s not chick lit or rom-coms.

The long answer would involve reading Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage – the story of how marriage made the historical shift from an economic arrangement to a partnership from which we expect love and companionship..

Oh, and by now we also expect hot sex for more years than humans used to live, period, from birth to death. Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther set us down this road when he rejected the Catholic insistence on procreative sex, and instead embraced pleasure in marriage. Luther liked marriage. He termed it a “hospital for lust.” Bear in mind that in those days, hospitals weren’t in the business of curing; they took the poor and the insane and the unwed-but-pregnant off the streets. They were a way of containing social problems. Bear in mind, too, that Luther thought women’s lot was to be wives and mothers, undoing some of Eve’s screw-up in the garden. Still, there’s a solid though wavy line from Luther to Susie Bright.

The short answer: If we feel free to love today – or to lust outside of of the old “hospital” – we can thank two things: 1) the right to say no to sex, the key prerequisite for sighing a breathy, enthusiastic YES, and 2) reliable birth control with legal abortion as a safe backup. From the Ohio Statehouse to the House of Representatives, these rights are under more ferocious fire than I can recall in the post-Roe era.

But it’s a holiday, and so instead of gloom, let there be satire! It’s the more festive response – and maybe more effective , too. Here’s Kristen Schaal of the Daily Show, mocking the piss out of the “No Taxpayer Money for Abortions” crowd.

I used this in class last week to illuminate rape myths, and students got it like never before. (Does this mean college administrators will one day replace me with a semi-random mix off the tubes?)

And I knew I liked Felicity Huffman anyway (Lynnette is my favorite housewife, of course) but now I’m besotted:

(Via Rachel at Women’s Health NewsIf you can’t see either clip from your blog reader, click on through and say hey while you’re here.)

Take that to your next Tea Party, and sip it!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all, especially to those of you who are celebrating it alone with chocolate, champagne, or blogging. (I’ve only got two out of three but am wondering why I am too cheap to open the champagne sans partner. Wandering off to the kitchen now to rectify what I can …)

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Just for the record: I would not care to samba with Julian Assange. Anything more intimate that square dancing, and I’d wonder what tricky step he might try … bareback, of course. Hmm, maybe “dosido your partner” means something different to Australian men of mystery?

Anyway, Gayle Force posted this irresistible clip. (Don’t see it? Go here.)

My favorite lyric?

Don’t corner Merkel, she’ll become tenacious

She’s risk-averse and rarely creative.

When I still lived in Germany, we regarded her as the Spawn of Helmut Kohl for her tenacity, risk aversion, and political acumen. Rather immaturely but accurately, we called her the Pillsbury Dough Girl. Back in the mid-1990s she honestly looked like she would end her career as a puff pastry; since then, she’s discovered tanning beds. I generally disapprove of tanning beds, but Merkel truthfully looks a whole lot less dowdy – unlike her mentor Kohl, who grew ever more dumpling-esque over time.

Here’s Merkel and mentor Kohl circa 1992:

(via the Editrix’ Roncesvalles)

And today? Why, it’s Merkel Barbie! (Or do the other dolls just call her Angie?)

(Image from Mattel. Don’t miss the flag on the left, or Angie’s pink accessories. Yeah, I know – I’m just spiteful because I want a Sungold Barbie!)

Had I been in the State Department, Wikicables would be a lot more embarrassing. Just imagine if diplomats and snarky bloggers magically traded places for a day! Oh, the places we’d go! The scandals we’d sow! Mmmmm, I feel some Seuss coming on: The Cat in the Hat Comes to the U.N.! The North-Going Zax and the South-Going Zax meet on that disputed Korean island! The Star-Bellied Sneetches Rock Paris! The Butter Battle and the Big Boy Boomeroo – coming soon to a dictatorial Middle Eastern nation near you!

On second thought, maybe we bloggers ought to stay home and start poring through those cables ourselves. We might yet uncover a Big Boy Boomeroo. I hear Iran is building one.

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Betty Draper of “Mad Men,” played by January Jones. Photo from examiner.com (Columbus). I claim fair use.

Confession: I find lists of trendy baby names fascinating. If you share this mildly guilty pleasure (“guilty” because it’s so easy to snark and criticize), the list for 2010 is up at Babycenter.com. But what caught my eye this time around was the “Mad Men” trend that Babycenter spotted: “Betty” has emerged from almost total obscurity, landing at number 868.

Of course that’s still pretty obscure. Of course there’s nothing inherently bad about “Betty.” It’s a perfectly nice name. It’s even the name of an iconic second-wave feminist, Betty Friedan. But new parents are not finding inspiration in Betty Friedan; they’re evidently borrowing the name from Betty Draper. (Then again, Betty Friedan had issues of her own, failing to adequately recognize her class and racial privilege, and accusing lesbian feminists of constituting a “lavender menace” to the rest of the women’s movement.)

In case you’ve never watched Mad Men, the first thing you need to know is that you’re missing out on a real treat. I was a real latecomer, but once I started, I was practically hypnotized from the first episode onward. For you Mad Men virgins, I promise no major spoilers below! (But do get your hands on season one!)

The second thing you need to know is that the show brilliantly portrays the sexism of American society in the early 1960s. Betty Draper is the wife of a handsome but philandering ad executive, Don Draper. While there’s plenty of sexism to go around at Don’s agency, too, Betty exemplifies everything that was wrong with the upper-middle-class housewife role in the early 1960s.

At the outset of the series, Betty’s life revolves around keeping a perfect suburban home, drinking coffee and cocktails, and waiting for her husband to come home. She’s spoiled and childish, seemingly stunted by her beauty and social privilege. In her marriage to Don, she’s lonely and depressed. She’s not a very likable character; her demeanor is mostly cool and passive, though she does seem to feel passion for her husband. Although her life is organized around homemaking, she typically appears detached from her children. In one early episode, she scolds her daughter Sally for putting a big plastic dry-cleaner’s bag over her head. Betty’s not worried about Sally’s safety, she’s just angry that her dry-cleaned clothes might be soiled.

In short, Betty Draper evokes more pity than sympathy. She’s a dramatic embodiment of what Betty Friedan called “the problem that has no name” – the anomie, depression, and disorientation of highly educated, affluent suburban housewives of the early 1960s:

Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a woman would say “I feel empty somehow . . . incomplete.” Or she would say, “I feel as if I don’t exist.” Sometimes she blotted out the feeling with a tranquilizer. Sometimes she thought the problem was with her husband or her children, or that what she really needed was to redecorate her house, or move to a better neighborhood, or have an affair, or another baby. Sometimes, she went to a doctor with symptoms she could hardly describe: “A tired feeling. . . I get so angry with the children it scares me . . . I feel like crying without any reason.” (A Cleveland doctor called it “the housewife’s syndrome.”) A number of women told me about great bleeding blisters that break out on their hands and arms. “I call it the house wife’s blight” said a family doctor in Pennsylvania. “I see it so often lately in these young women with four, five and six children who bury themselves in their dishpans. But it isn’t caused by detergent and it isn’t cured by cortisone.”

Sometimes a woman would tell me that the feeling gets so strong she runs out of the house and walks through the streets. Or she stays inside her house and cries. Or her children tell her a joke, and she doesn’t laugh because she doesn’t hear it. I talked to women who had spent years on the analyst’s couch, working out their “adjustment to the feminine role,” their blocks to “fulfillment as a wife and mother.” But the desperate tone in these women’s voices, and the look in their eyes, was the same as the tone and the look of other women, who were sure they had no problem, even though they did have a strange feeling of desperation.

(You can read the whole first chapter of Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique here.)

And new parents are saddling their infant girls with a name honoring this legacy? Sure, Betty has a chilly glamour reminiscent of Grace Kelly, but it’s swamped by all her negative baggage.

Babycenter suggests that we may be craving “a simpler, Betty Crockeresque way of life.” but that just doesn’t compute if you’ve watched Mad Men even once. Nothing is simple about the Drapers’ world, despite all their privilege. Kennedy is assassinated. Racial tensions simmer, and casual racism is as common and unremarkable as sexism. People betray their colleagues and their lovers. The show features some strong women, but all of them suffer real injuries from sexism. That’s not simplicity; it’s oppression. Funny how people tend to confuse the two.

(Then again, Babycenter reports a surge in Bristol, Willow, and Piper, too. As I said, it’s way too easy to criticize and snark.)

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It’s possible that John Boehner cries easily for the reason I do: he’s easily touched and not so hot at self-control. But I’m not buying that. As Rachel Maddow pointed out in her excellent segment on Boehner’s waterworks, if the fate of America’s children reduces him to tears, he could actually take steps to improve their future!

Boehner’s not the first pol to cry easily and often in public; he’s just the most unexpected and the least discriminating when it comes to his triggers. Rachel traces the history of weeping politicians back to Edmund Muskie, whose alleged tears in New Hampshire allegedly derailed his 1972 Democratic primary. (Muskie’s damp cheeks – and the weird media reaction – are among my earliest political memories. He won that primary but lost the nomination.)

Rachel argues,

There’s nothing wrong with politicians showing emotion. There’s nothing wrong with politicians crying in public. It demonstrably does not hurt them with voters, but it shows us what they feel passionately about, and what’s wrong with that?

So true. And yet, while you can find military giants shedding tears in the ancient world, here in the U.S. we’ve liked our men tough and dry-eyed. For a political leader to cry publicly was pretty well verboten from the end of WWII until the closing years of the Cold War. The same probably holds true all the way back to George Washington and his unruffled wig, but this is a blog post, not a book. So let us think of our post-war presidents! Truman was gruff and bluff. Eisenhower never lost his military bearing. JFK drew much of his power from his aristocratic cool. (Did he ever once cry publicly over the loss of his infant son, Patrick?) LBJ couldn’t afford to look soft while playing hardball with Congress.

But then came Nixon. Tricky Dick did emotion, all right. He knew how to project self-pity all the way back in ’62, when, in his purported “last press conference,” he announced his withdrawal from politics, telling reporters, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” By the early 1970s, he projected anger and paranoia pretty well, too. Indeed, Muskie’s destruction can be laid at the feet of Nixon’s henchmen and their ratfucking.

Even when forced to resign in disgrace, Nixon controlled his grief – in public. His resignation speech was calm and even resolute. (You can listen to his speech here.) My ten-year-old self felt sorry for him as I watched it, and I distinctly recalled tearing up despite knowing he was a crook and needed to go. Disgrace and shame push my empathy buttons even when that shame is richly deserved. But Nixon held it together, even launching into a policy disquisition toward the end. The WaPo described Nixon’s public composure but also the gap between the private and public man:

Mr. Nixon’s brief speech was delivered in firm tones and he appeared to be complete control of his emotions. The absence of rancor contrasted sharply with the “farewell” he delivered in 1962 after being defeated for the governorship of California.

An hour before the speech, however, the President broke down during a meeting with old congressional friends and had to leave the room.

He had invited 20 senators and 26 representatives for a farewell meeting in the Cabinet room. Later, Sen. Barry M. Goldwater (R-Ariz.), one of those present, said Mr. Nixon said to them very much what he said in his speech.

“He just told us that the country couldn’t operate with a half-time President,” Goldwater reported. “Then he broke down and cried and he had to leave the room. Then the rest of us broke down and cried.”

(Carroll Kilpatrick, Washington Post, 9 August 1974)

Goldwater is yet another guy who’s hard to imagine weeping.

In the wake of Watergate, the whole country felt emotionally ravaged. We found respite in blandness: Gerald Ford’s good-natured bumbling and Jimmy Carter’s be-sweatered earnestness. But we did not find collective catharsis. That would wait until 1980.

The defining moment in presidential emoting came with the election of Ronald Reagan, who – though not much of a weeper – brought his entire actor’s armamentarium to the office. At the time, critics gleefully described Reagan as merely a “B-movie actor.” No matter. His acting skillz, modest as they were, earned him his “Great Communicator” moniker and enabled him to transform American politics in both substance and style. (Peggy Noonan had a hand in all this, of course, but her lines would have flopped, had Reagan been unable to fill them with warmth and passion.)

And yet, Reagan wasn’t much of a weeper. Serious presidential tears came into their own with the first Gulf War. International relations scholar Steve Niva views the end of the Cold War as a watershed in public political expressions  of hegemonic masculinity. Suddenly, General Colin Powell was weeping at his high school reunion. General Norman Schwarzkopf raved about his love for opera. In an America that had shed much of its Vietnam Syndrome through Rambo and Reagan, it became possible, Niva argues, for American masculinity to be both tough and tender. (See Steve Niva, “”Tough and Tender: New World Order Masculinity and the Gulf War,” in The “Man” Question in International Relations, ed. Marysia Zalewski and Jane Parpart (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998), 109–28.)

The floodwaters sprung all the dams in 1992, as Bill Clinton teared up at every tale of woe on the campaign trail. He wept his way through his presidency, and we’ve never been the same since.

Niva’s excellent article explains just part of this transition. Reagan laid the groundwork. The first Gulf War expiated the shame of Vietnam and allowed American men to claim their manliness again as long as it was cloaked in khaki. But the “tender” part of Niva’s equation requires further explanation. Men like Clinton were simply of a new generation. They had defied conventional masculinity by growing their hair long, questioning the corporate rat race, fantasizing of careers in rock and roll – or at least playing the tenor sax on the Arsenio Hall Show. They had tuned in, turned on, and dropped out – or at least, they “didn’t inhale.” Perhaps most significantly, many men of Clinton’s generation had married a new generation of women. Some were feminists. A larger number were too timid for “women’s lib” but still warm toward egalitarianism. Most of these women expected and honored male emotion, though still within constraints.

The Boomers and subsequent generations are thus willing to grant our male leaders some slack in expressing public emotions, as long as it’s for a serious cause. Rachel’s clip shows how both Bushes and Mitch McConnell – powerful Republicans all – cry in public without losing face.

But none of them are crying about TARP. And that brings us back to Boehner’s tears, which are quite extraordinary even for a tough-and-tender post-Cold War leader.

Go to about 8:30 in Rachel’s clip. You’ll see him beg tearfully for the big-bank failout bailout known as “TARP.” He has subsequently attacked those who voted for it, conveniently forgetting his own damp-eyed support.

Rachel nails him for hypocrisy:

As Americans we react to someone crying about children’s welfare because we think that it implies strength of his commitment to improve children’s welfare. It doesn’t always. When the new congress convenes and John Boehner is Speaker of the House, remember this: just because he’s crying about something doesn’t mean he’s going to fix that thing. Crying in public is neat. I’m all in favor. Crying in public, however, is not the same thing as fixing the thing that makes you cry.

(This and the previous transcript via Business Insider.)

I, too, think hypocrisy is the most likely explanation for the cavernous gap between Boehner’s tearful public pronouncements and his Grover-Norquistian actual policymaking.

But there’s an alternate explanation, and it’s a doozy. A few weeks back, Gregory House, M.D. (the TV doctor played by Hugh Laurie, my next-husband-in-spe) had a patient whose emotional expression was the exact opposite of what most people would feel. The “case” was medically incoherent, but it nudged the two brain cells in my head where I’d stored the concept of pseudobulbar affect. I’d read about this phenomenon – the expression of inappropriate emotions – when I was diagnosed with MS. (New readers: that diagnosis was later overturned, though it’s still my sword of Damocles.)

So could Boehner have pseudobulbar affect? If so, there’s a short list of conditions that can cause it. Multiple sclerosis. Amyloid lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Stroke. Parkinson’s and Alzheimers’. Traumatic brain injury.

To put it bluntly: Pseudobulbar affect only occurs in a brain that has suffered considerable damage. If Boehner has any of the conditions I mentioned, he merits your sympathy and mine, no matter what his politics. But he also might not be capable of serving as the third in command. People can suffer from pseudobulbar affect without having impaired judgment. I’d want to be sure of that, however, and not just assume it.

I still lean toward hypocrisy and manipulative tactics as the most parsimonious explanation of Boehner’s tears. I just wouldn’t rule out brain damage.

Either way, I question his fitness for the office of Speaker of the House.

No word tonight on where Glenn Beck gets his waterworks. At least he’s not President – yet.

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The controversy about the term “birth rape” has ebbed in the blogosphere (which has a shorter attention span than my seven-year-old son). But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking about it. Nor, it appears, have other people. A reader named Ann took the time today to disagree with me vehemently:

To me there is not the slightest smidgeren of doubt that the women who state that they were raped, indeed were raped. Rape is NOT, absolutely definitely NOT only about sexuality. It is mainly about power and dominance. You will find very few among the BDSM community who are not aware of this.

Rape can – also – occur in the total absence of a feeling of guilt of the perpetrator. Whether a nurse, midwife or doctor think their deeds are justified because they have a right to go home early, or that woman birthing is too dumb or distraught to know what she wants, or whether a pedophile reasons that the 5 year old boy “wants it” because he happened to leave his knickers off, or whether the husband holds his wife down, thinking she’ll eventually come around, it all does not matter. It still is rape.

(Read the whole comment here.)

I fully agree that rape is not just about sex but about power. However, by its very definition, rape is about sexualized power. The abuse of medical power has to do with power too, but it has little or nothing to do with sexuality. (An exception would be a doctor who subjects patients to sexual touching – which most definitely belongs on the continuum of sexual assault, and which happens with distressing frequency.)

A doctor who violates consent is not acting from the same motivations as the pedophile. He or she is supported by our cultural values in ways that a pedophile is not. Yes, we live in a rape culture, but you would find very few defenders of a pedophile. By contrast, medicine enjoys partial immunity from criticism because of assumptions that lay people cannot understand it, that medical personnel always hold humanitarian values, and that they will always act in the best interests of the patient.

Of course, this isn’t true. Consider another truly vile category of gynecological violation: forced sterilizations. Doctors in Nazi Germany sterilized about 400,000 women and men, the vast majority of them against their will. About half of the victims were women. The Nazi program was inspired by smaller-scale compulsory sterilization programs in the United States, whose legality the Supreme Court affirmed in its 1927 decision in Buck v. Bell. Compulsory sterilization declined after 1942 in the U.S., but poor women of color have still been subjected to it in the post-war era, most notably in Puerto Rico and on Indian reservations.

There seems to be a common conception that if declining to recognize a phenomenon as rape is the same as trivializing it. And yet, we don’t call forced sterilization “rape,” nor should we. Doing so would obscure its specific nature. It would draw attention to the particular values that legitimated it: the pseudoscience of eugenics, contempt for disabled people, and society’s exaggerated deference to medical authority.

In short: something can still be an atrocity if it’s not called rape.

Insisting on accurate naming is not “language policing,” contrary to what Cara argued at The Curvature:

I also thought that a big part of anti-rape activism was about broadening our definition of rape, not narrowing it — throwing out the stranger jumping from the bushes with a knife as the only model of rape, and recreating a model that encompasses a wide variety violent experiences and promotes affirmative, enthusiastic, meaningful consent as minimum standard of decency rather than a nice bonus if you can get it. I thought that anti-rape activism was about acknowledging that rape is not just one thing, that there is more than one way to violate a person and to be violated, and that whether consent was given was more important than how much force was used. Especially in this context, the posts in question come off as nothing more than language policing, against particularly marginalized populations, no less.

(The rest of the post is here.)

First, I think we should be able to discuss the applicability of “rape” to specific phenomena without shaming other feminists as rape apologists, or saying that they are acting as oppressors, or blaming their words for harming victims. That happened in both Cara’s post and the comments to it. Critique is good; disagreement is healthy. But shaming only leads to groupthink, as the comment thread to that post shows. Only one commenter deviated even slightly from Cara’s position.

I actually don’t think that anti-rape activism is “about broadening our definition of rape” – not if this means extending the term into entirely different realms of violence that are not basically sexual. Of course I strongly support recognizing acquaintance rape, or marital rape, and other instances of sexual violence as just as real, traumatizing, and illegal as the “stranger in the bushes.” But “rape” is not an infinitely elastic term, nor should it be.

Specific names for specific violations are politically and analytically important because they push us to understand the roots of different forms of violence. In cases of medicalized violence, we need to consider the values that enable a scenario like this one, described at the blog Forever in Hell:

The problem isn’t that women in labor are uniquely in a position to be victimized by medical professionals. The victims of such medical professionals are not uniquely women in labor. In other words, you don’t have to be a woman in labor to be victimized by a medical professional. You simply have to be in a room with certain medical professionals.

Case in point: a friend of mine needed a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) in order to tell if he had Multiple Sclerosis or Lyme Disease. These two diseases can cause similar symptoms and similar MRI results, but have vastly different treatments, so distinguishing between the two is necessary. My friend is a large man, so he needed to have the lumbar puncture done at the hospital by a doctor.

Before the procedure began, the nurse told the doctor that the needle they had was too large, they needed to get another. “Too bad,” snapped the doctor. He had a schedule to keep, he had a golf game to get to. Waiting for someone to get the correct needle would take too long, so, before my friend could object, doctor forced the needle into my friend’s spine. When I say “forced”, I mean forced.

I could hear him scream from down the hall.

Then, to add insult to injury, the doctor refused to draw enough cerebral spinal fluid to allow for two tests. “We’ve got enough to test for MS, what more do we need?” he said.

That’s right. This doctor tortured a man so as not delay a golf game and didn’t even get the damn test done.

(The whole post is here.)

I don’t agree that doctors are the only offenders (as this post goes on to argue). The potential for abuse is greater among those who are more powerful, but other medical personnel aren’t outside the value system that enables medical battery.

But this example does show that the problem really is primarily with the values that underlie medicine. Yes, we’ve come a long way from the days when a white coat commanded automatic obedience. We have the patients’ rights movement to thank for that, which was driven in large part by feminist critics of medicine. However, as long as medical personnel remain unaccountable for violations of consent, some practitioners will abuse their power.

If we want to stop battery of women in childbirth, we’re not going to make much headway by combating rape culture. We need to call for more humane and democratic medicine. We need to demand medical education that would weed out arrogant abusers and reinforce respect for the patient. We need to insist that doctors hold each other and their subordinates responsible – and if they can’t, or won’t, the law needs to intervene, with civil or criminal remedies as appropriate.

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Clarissa posted this on her blog a few days ago, and I just loved it. I don’t quite think I can use it in my religion and sexuality class (it’s a bit too flippant) but I may yet change my mind.

In the meantime, enjoy some theologically accurate apostasy! Oh, wouldn’t NOM just love to teleport us all back to the Old Testament?

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

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A whole bunch of feminist blogs commemorated the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment today – that’s 90 years of American women having the constitutional right to vote. Of course, Jim Crow laws kept a lot of black women from exercising that right, and well into my childhood it was common for wives to follow their husband’s lead in voting. Mad Men gets that right: Betty Draper’s response to the candidacy of JFK is that she doesn’t yet know how “we” (she and husband Don) are voting.

I suppose I could have done a nerdy post on the history of woman suffrage (though I couldn’t top Christine Stansell’s op-ed on it in the New York Times), or I could have posted on how women’s political participation has exploded just in my lifetime.

Instead I spent most of the day away from the computer – first at the eye doctor, then trying to refocus my dilated pupils, and finally volunteering for the re-election campaign of my state representative, Debbie Phillips, who also happens to be my friend and neighbor. I helped with collecting donations (and cleaning up after the event) at a dinner where Senator Sherrod Brown was the keynote speaker. He shook my hand afterward. How did Ohio ever deserve such a progressive senator?

My little stint as a volunteer turned out to be a pretty apt way to celebrate what Obama declared “Women’s Equality Day.” Debbie wouldn’t have been able to run for office 100 years ago. As she was speaking, I scanned the room and noticed that the attendees were at least half female. Ditto for her key aides. She’s a fabulous, smart, progressive candidate who’s done a great job as a freshman in the Statehouse.

All of this was unimaginable a century ago – except for a few visionaries who believed woman suffrage could be the first step towards true equal rights.

P.S. Not that we’re quite there yet! But slowly, incrementally, we’re moving along the long long path toward equality.

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The prospect of marriage equality raises basic questions of what marriage is, how it came to be that way, and how it’s evolving. Here’s how Judge Vaughn Walker addressed those questions in his smackdown of Proposition 8:

The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household. Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage. Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouses’ obligations to each other and to their dependents. Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.

(From Perry v. Schwarzenegger, via Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish; the whole decision is here, in pdf format)

It’s a marvelous vision of marriage as degendered – one I’m happy to sign onto. But he harks back to a history of marriage that never existed. If we rely on a rosy view of the past, it’s gonna be harder to move into the future.

Once marriage equality is achieved as a constitutional right, then, yes, gender will no longer form “an essential part of marriage” – but we’re not there yet. We are still groaning under the yoke of history. And throughout history, at least since the dawn of agriculture and civilization, marriage has been saturated with gender inequality. Indeed, marriage was unthinkable outside of gender inequality, and one of its primary purposes was to preserve a gendered hierarchy. (I’ll leave aside racism, because “race” is a relatively modern invention; suffice it to say that membership in tribes, religions, nations, and various other in- and out-groups has never been irrelevant to marriage.)

From its outset, marriage was a thoroughly patriarchal institution. It raose along with civilization to assure men that their children were, in fact, their heirs – and not the progeny of another man. The only way to guarantee this was to control women’s sexuality. And that control spread into every facet of respectable women’s lives. (The disreputable could be prostitutes or concubines. They, too, remained subject to male power, just in a different key.)

Love, of course, was beside the point. Consider the good ole days in ancient Assyria. Men could sell their wives (and children) into slavery, or pawn them in cases of debt. Husbands could legally kill their wives under certain circumstances. A daughter’s virginity had considerable monetary worth. Men could have sex with concubines with impunity, while women who committed adultery faced the death penalty. The woman’s illicit partner risked the same fate, but don’t mistake this for gender equality; it just nailed down the principle that a respectable woman’s sexuality always belonged to a man, whether her husband or father. It also signals that not all men wielded equal power under early patriarchy. As in today’s fundamentalist Mormon sects, lower-status men could be excluded from power and possession. Patriarchy was a sweet deal for the patriarchs – the high-status, property-owning men. It sucked for everyone else.

Christianity and Islam both initially enhanced women’s status, but neither made marriage egalitarian. Christian women were allowed to choose sacred virginity over marriage, but the woman who chose to marry was still subject to her husband’s rule. Islam reduced the number of wives to four – which was an improvement over the massive harems that rich men held in the Prophet’s day. However, like Christianity, Islam proclaimed men the head of the household.

Even a century ago in the U.S., most women had little choice but to marry for economic survival. Legally and economically, most found it difficult to leave a bad marriage before the 1970s. The concept of rape within marriage was unrecognized forty years ago. Companionate marriage – the practice of marrying for love and friendship – only took firm hold in post-WWII America. The new ideal didn’t erase millennia of patriarchy, but love started to undermine the notion of the husband as head of the household. So did the nascent feminist movement of the 1960s. Both love and feminism required that a husband view his wife as his equal, not as an object.

So far, love and feminism haven’t been quite enough to revolutionize marriage. Some men – and not a few women – remain deeply invested in patriarchal arrangements. For instance, Sam Schulman at the Christian Science Monitor knows exactly what marriage is for: “protecting” women’s sexuality:

Among the many different versions of marriage in human history, very few of them have supplied the high-minded qualities [intimacy, inclusion, etc.] that the plaintiffs feel is their right. The vast majority of marriages in the past, perhaps a majority even now, were dictated by families, clans, holy men or magicians, and enforced on the bride and groom by social pressure, enforced if necessary with brutality and violence.

True, many marriages promote loving intimacy and enduring fidelity, but that’s an outcome of the relationship itself – not the raison d’etre for the institution. In primordial terms, marriage only exists at all – in all of its permutations, pleasant or barbaric – because of the nature of human heterosexuality. As a species, we need to protect female sexuality in order to assure ourselves of a future.

Marriage is a necessary defense of a woman’s sexuality and her human liberty from determined assault by men who would turn her into a slave, a concubine – something less than fully human. Human communities need to give women some additional degree of protection – through law, custom, religious decree, or sacrament – generally some combination of all three, neatly summarized by the plaintiffs, who demanded the sacred and the eternal from the state of California.

Of course, marriage’s power to protect women is far from perfect, but no human institution is. Parents, too, sometimes do awful things to their children. …

Heterosexual relationships need marriage because of inferiority: the physical inferiority of sexual defenders to sexual attackers and the moral inferiority of male sexual attackers

Marriage is not about couples or lovers – it’s about the physical and moral integrity of women. When a woman’s sexuality is involved, human communities must deal with a malign force that an individual woman and her family cannot control or protect.

Modern marriage is only the least worst version of marriage that has emerged from all this – but it is still necessary for women. What protects women, ultimately, is that marriage laws and customs confer upon her independence something extra – dignity, protection, sacredness – that others must respect. And if this quality can be bestowed upon anyone, even those not in intersexual relationships – it reduces, even dissolves its force.

(The rest of the trainwreck is here. Via Melissa McEwan of Shakesville.)

What’s another word for “protect”? Yup: C-O-N-T-R-O-L.

The rest of Schulman’s argument is simply incoherent. So women’s sexuality needs protection, and marriage will do the trick? Um … protection from what, exactly? Schulman never spells out the nature of the threat. Let’s assume it’s not mere slut-shaming but outright rape. How, precisely, can a husband protect his wife from being raped? Are husbands to accompany their wives everywhere, Uzi in hand? How do we explain rapists’ propensity for targeting both single and married women willy-nilly? Does my wedding ring function as kryptonite, cleverly disguised as bling?

As if he (and we) weren’t already hopelessly confused, Schulman also states that an individual family cannot adequately protect women from “a malign force.” How, then, is marriage supposed to protect women at all? It’s not as though the whole community encircles the houses of married ladies while throwing the single gals to the wolves.

Then there’s Schulman’s odd obsession with dignity. Why would marriage bestow dignity on women (but not men)? Could it just possibly have something to do with women being presumptively sluts if they’re not married? (That’s the point where I became pretty sure that Schulman wasn’t about to shield women from slut-shaming.) Why is my dignity as a married woman incompatible with the dignity of men and LGBT people? Aren’t they threatened by violence, too?

And sacredness, for pete’s sake! Why is this only accessible to heterosexual women? Why link sacredness to marriage, rather than that historically venerated state – motherhood – unless it’s assumed that all wives will automatically be mothers, too? (Note: I’m not arguing for motherhood as sacred. I’m just pointing out a likely elision in Schulman’s worldview.) And how do I get my chunk of sacredness, given that I only go to church on Christmas Eve?

Bizarrely, Schulman seems to be pining for old fashioned patriarchy, minus the polygamy, plus a little bit of feel-good “dignity.” That particular combination was born in the ashes of WWII and expired between 1963 and 1967. It’s not our world. As Amanda Marcotte points out at Pandagon, these days “we allow single women to live alone and they don’t slip into concubinage …”

Schulman can only picture (respectable) women as sexual victims or saints; he can’t imagine autonomous female sexuality. No word from him, either, on how patriarchal marriage has always co-existed like pigs in the mud with prostitution and/or concubinage. In fact, maintaining “respectable” women along with male sexual license logically requires prostitution.

Schulman got one thing right. Since the advent of civilization, marriage has been “enforced” by “brutality and violence.” The past forty years are a ginormous anomaly in the history of marriage. So we really can’t look for a usable history of marriage rooted in tradition. All we’ll find, instead, is a long trail of cautionary messages.

The only usable history is one that starts in the nineteenth century, tracing the evolution of marriage away from its patriarchal roots and toward equality of both partners. Linda McClain at Feminist Law Professors explains how the testimony of Nancy Cott – a renowned historian of marriage and gender roles – helped shape the Perry v. Schwarzenegger ruling:

Aided by expert testimony of historian Nancy Cott, Judge Walker carefully reviews how marriage laws used to mandate different roles for men and women and how California, like other states, has abolished all such restrictions EXCEPT the one requiring that civil marriage be the union of one man and one woman. This provides a powerful line of argument because the U.S. Supreme Court has previously struck down laws rooted in gender role stereotypes rather than ‘real’ differences between the sexes. And it has made clear (for example, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey) that coverture and other gendered rules of marriage do not reflect contemporary understandings of the federal constitution, the family, or of the rights of women and men.

Judge Walker further concludes that appeals to ‘tradition’ alone cannot justify the continued application of this different genders rule. This is a potentially powerful argument since, as his opinion points out, both bars on interracial marriage and fixed gender roles in marriage were defended at the time as central to marriage and yet were also repudiated as inconsistent with evolving understandings of marriage.

(Her whole post is here.)

Exactly. Coverture is dead; women now remain legal persons even after they marriage. (So take that, Sam Schulman!) We live in a world where gender roles are fluid in hetero marriage – where men change diapers and women frequently outearn their husbands.

Granting marriage equality indeed threatens traditional marriage. It undermines husbands’ patriarchal right to lord it over wives and children. It delegitimizes the control of women’s sexual and reproductive lives. Those changes won’t hurt my marriage one bit, but they sure pose a challenge to the guy who thinks he ought to be able to hit his wife as long as he’s the primary breadwinner.

We are not returning to some pure, unsullied history of gender equality. That history never existed. What we’re really doing is moving forward into a new era where marriage will cease to be a tool of oppression. This is a revolution.

No wonder some folks are nervous. To them, I would say: We are about to make history. Dare enough – trust enough – to relinquish control, embrace love, and see how much richer our lives will be when, as Judge Walker writes, “marriage under law is a union of equals.” Dare enough – trust enough – to help make history.

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Digby posted this quotation under the heading “Crazy Left Wing Hippie,” along with a challenge to guess who said it:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires,and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

I am feeling a bit smug because I guessed it correctly in one.

Also, I loved that last line: “Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” Too bad only the second assertion still holds true.

I’m curious what y’all come up with, so please drop your best (or worst!) guess in comments.

The correct answer is here (also via Digby).

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Most likely, you’ve already heard that an Israeli court last week convicted a Palestinian man, Sabbar Kashur, of “rape by deception.” He met a Jewish woman on the street outside a Jerusalem grocery store. They struck up a conversation. She assumed he was Jewish due to his nickname, “Dudu,” which apparently is common among Jewish men. Within 15 minutes, the two adjourned to a nearby building and had sex. Afterward, he took off before she even was dressed. She believed he was a Jewish bachelor who was seeking a long-term relationship.

The woman then filed forcible rape charges. Later, she stated that the sex had been consensual but on false premises, and the charge was downgraded to “rape by deception.”

I’d prefer to table the fundamental problems with “rape by deception” to another post. Here, I just want to say that the notion of purity expressed by the presiding judges in this case is deeply troubling. As Haaretz reported:

In the verdict, deputy president of the Jerusalem district court Tzvi Segal, along with fellow judges Moshe Drori and Yoram Noam, wrote that although this wasn’t “a classical rape by force,” and the sex was consensual, the consent itself was obtained through deception and under false pretenses.

“If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated,” the judges wrote. …

“The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls,” Segal wrote.

“When the very basis of trust between human beings drops, especially when the matters at hand are so intimate, sensitive and fateful, the court is required to stand firmly at the side of the victims … otherwise, they will be used, manipulated and misled, while paying only a tolerable and symbolic price,” he wrote.

The parallel that pops into my mind is one that I realize may be offensive to some folks: the charge of “race defilement” in Nazi Germany. No, I’m not equating these judges (much less all of Israel) with the Nazis. But there’s a notion of racial purity behind this verdict that is reminiscent of Nazi ideas about racial purity as expressed in the Nuremberg Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor (the Blood Protection Law, for short).

Under the Blood Protection Law, only men could be charged. That went for both “Aryan” and Jewish men, though the primary targets were of course Jewish. Women were interrogated and their privacy and reputations destroyed, but “Aryan” women were also viewed as victims. This legal practice followed Hitler’s bilious depiction of male Jewish sexuality in Mein Kampf:

The black-haired Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end, satanically glaring at and spying on the unsuspicious girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood and removing her from the bosom of her own people.

(p. 270 in the James Murphy translation of Mein Kampf that’s freely available on the Web)

Compare this with the language in Segal’s opinion:

The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls.

In both instances, men in the out-group are envisioned as predatory and deceptive; they’re sexual beasts, but they’re also terribly clever. In both instances, women belonging to the in-group are portrayed as passive, innocent, and unsuspecting. In neither case are women conceived – or even conceivable – as sexual agents. In both cases, women will be despoiled if the state fails to protect them. In both cases, community, honor, and racial purity are at stake.

You see the assertion and protection of honor, too, in Segal’s insistence that the woman would not have consented to sex with Kashur if she had not imagined him to be 1) Jewish, 2) a bachelor, and 3) interested in a long-term relationship. While it’s crucial not to slut-shame women (and that includes the woman in this case), let’s not forget that insisting on protecting purity enables slut-shaming in the first place. And when it comes to protection, the racial element in Segal’s reasoning is clear: He didn’t object to Kashur’s failure to disclose that he was married. He only emphasizes that the women was deceived into thinking Kashur was Jewish. (Never mind that Kashur apparently never made such a claim.)

Just for the record, I’m not defending Kashur’s actions as ethical. Not at all. He behaved like a complete cad toward the woman who brought charges, and he was an even bigger asshole toward his wife. I’m just trying to tease out the racial implications of his conviction.

Israel was born out of deep historical oppression and trauma. It’s not surprising that some Israelis overcompensate for this. It’s sad and disturbing, though, that any Israeli would support a rape conviction that rests on notions of race defilement similar to those used historically to oppress Jews.

Fortunately, some Jewish jurists are voicing their dissent (again via Haaretz):

Elkana Laist of the Public Defender’s Office yesterday said the Jerusalem District Court had gone too far in its application of the approach of the High Court, “opening the door to a rape conviction every time a person lies regarding details of his identity. Every time the court thinks a reasonable woman would not have had sex with a man based on that representation, the man will be charged with rape. That approach is not accepted around the world either.”

Laist needs to go further and condemn the racist aspects of the verdict (and perhaps she did but Haaretz didn’t quote it). Here in the U.S., Michelle Goldberg says all that needs to be said:

If such a verdict is allowed to stand, it will be evidence of the deep and corrosive racism menacing Israel. Earlier this year, Haaretz reported on a poll showing that 56 percent of Israeli high school students would ban the country’s Arab citizens from election to the Knesset. “Around half the respondents say Israeli Arabs should not receive the same rights as Israeli Jews,” the story said. We’ll soon see to what degree they get their wish.

(Her whole post is terrific – read it here.)

Like Goldberg, I too support Israel’s right to exist. But as she says, “It’s getting harder and harder to be a liberal Zionist.” If Israel is to continue to exist as a democracy, its leaders, judges, and citizens need to repudiate racist notions of blood and honor and reaffirm the humanity of everyone living within its borders.

Note to anyone who’s not a regular reader: My Ph.D. is in modern German history. While most of my teaching is in women’s and gender studies, I just taught a college course on the history of Nazi Germany. That’s why I happen to be acquainted with Mein Kampf - I’m not a neo-Nazi in disguise!

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In a recent interview at Salon, Cacilda Jetha and Christopher Ryan, authors of the new book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, conveniently tell us what sex is really like. They start with gay couples as their reference point, which is an interesting move, but then their theorizing goes straight down the Mars/Venus rabbit hole:

First of all, they’re both men, so they both know what it’s like to be a man. They both know from experience that love and sex are two very different things, and it seems that for women the experience of sexuality is much more embedded in narrative, in emotion, in emotional intimacy. But also it’s really hard to judge what women would be like if they hadn’t been persecuted for the last five or six thousand or ten thousand years for any hint of infidelity.

(The full interview is here.)

Nothing wrong with reversing the usual assumption that heterosexual couples are the norm and all other combinations deviant. This can help normalize same-sex relations, as well as shining a new light on heterosexuality. But Jetha and Ryan’s statement doesn’t do this. Instead, it’s swimming in oppositional sexism – the idea that men and women are opposites. It’s also traditionally sexist, in that it sets up a norm rooted in male experience, “know[ing] from experience that love and sex are two very different things.” Note that this compartmentalization is presented as knowledge, not as emotion, opinion, or preference.

It may well be true than on average, more men than women can easily separate love and sex. What to make, then, of the many women I’ve known who quite handily compartmentalize them? I know it’s possible, because I’ve done it (though I also couldn’t do it easily at this stage of my life). How are we to understand the men for whom sex is unthinkable, or at least quite hollow, ouside a context of caring and intimacy? I’ve known quite a few of those, too – more than enough to explode the dichotomy that Jetha and Ryan describe.

There’s a whiff of traditional sexism, too, in their last sentence, which positions men as a biological norm and women as different only due to the distortions of society. Yes, women have been persecuted and their sexuality brutally controlled by patriarchal forces. However, men’s sexuality is also molded by social and cultural forces, some of them highly repressive and cruel (see for instance the latest post in Richard Jeffrey Newman’s series on men’s bodies). It’s just silly to imply that men’s sexual desires and behavior simply reflect their biological drives, while women’s have been warped by culture.

At least in this interview (I can’t speak to the book), Jetha and Ryan appear to think that infidelity is mainly a male behavior. But how much do we really know about women’s capacity and propensity to be unfaithful? As I’ve argued here in the past, all those cheatin’ men have to be doing it with someone. Unless you accept the theory that there’s a huge pool of single women just panting after married dudes, it’s more logical to conclude that married/committed women systematically underreport their infidelity. In other words, women already engage in plenty of infidelity. By now, the impact of millennia of persecution is much reduced, in the Western world, anyway. We don’t stone women anymore for adultery. History casts a shadow of greater stigma on women who cheat, compared to men – and thus greater pressure to lie about it, even to researchers. Infidelity is no longer the province of men.

Regardless of whether monogamy is hard (it is), and regardless of whether women are naturally angels (we aren’t): Do we really want to work toward a new norm of keeping sex and love separate? Jetha and Ryan appear to be saying that since humans aren’t hard-wired for monogamy, the desire for sex-with-intimacy is not only confined to women, it’s also somehow aberrant. I’m not convinced. While I see nothing morally wrong with casual sex between two honest, enthusiastic partners, I recognize that getting to know a partner can enable wider arcs of pleasure. I’ve observed that casual sex with even a semi-regular partner tends to become less casual over time. Non-committed sex also has some built-in pitfalls that Lynn Gazis-Sax evocatively describes:

I also think that there are some drawbacks to having sex with people you don’t know well, that are worth talking about, and not brushing aside with “anything is fine as long as your both consenting.” Anything is not good if your consenting, and it’s fair to talk about why some initially consenting experiences turn out badly, as well as some turning out splendidly. Sometimes, the reasons those experiences turn out badly involve not knowing things about your lover that you might have found out if you’d waited a bit, or not realizing just how badly the two of you communicated, or overestimating your ability to be happy with more casual connections.

On the other hand … Sometimes it’s the relationship itself that’s bad, and those aren’t problems that are improved by making the sex more committed.

(Read the whole post here.)

In other words, sex can be toxic inside or outside of relationships. If “love” signifies manipulation, emotional indifference, or just a joyless shell of a marriage, of course sex won’t be any good either. And yet, we lose an awful lot if we assume that love always decays. Jetha and Ryan may well be correct that monogamy and decades-long love are not “natural,” but how much of our sexuality is merely “natural”? Isn’t it always shaped deeply by our culture? And even though we’re all creatures of biology and culture, don’t we all make choices – to be faithful, to tend the fires of lust over time, to value love – or not?

We lose even more if we replace the old imperative of sex-with-love with a new rule that’s simply its opposite. Because even if there’s nothing ethically wrong in principle with casual sex, in practice sex has the potential to be more rewarding with a partner who cares. If we don’t let it become humdrum, the rewards needn’t just be emotional either. Sex with a loving partner can be hotter – sexierwhen we dare to be to be our most naked selves. That’s not just a girly thing.

(Just because any post about sex and love deserves a flower. This one was blooming in my garden a few weeks ago. Photo by me, Sungold.)

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It’s one thing to be contrarian; it’s another to be just plain ignorant. Or, as Nigel Tufnel says in This Is Spinal Tap, “There’s a fine line between clever and stupid.” Camille Paglia had an op-ed on sex in Sunday’s New York Times. Guess on which side of the line she fell?

Paglia’s pretext for the op-ed is the failure of flibanserin (aka “pink Viagra”) to gain approval from the advisory panel of FDA. Really, though, this is just a platform for her to rant about a supposed “sexual malaise” that’s plaguing the U.S.:

The real culprit, originating in the 19th century, is bourgeois propriety. As respectability became the central middle-class value, censorship and repression became the norm. Victorian prudery ended the humorous sexual candor of both men and women during the agrarian era, a ribaldry chronicled from Shakespeare’s plays to the 18th-century novel. The priggish 1950s, which erased the liberated flappers of the Jazz Age from cultural memory, were simply a return to the norm. …

In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure.

… The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left.

(More of the same here.)

Ahem. For a scholar who wears her erudition so gaudily, Paglia shows an abysmal grasp of the history of gender and sexuality. First, anyone who’s read Foucault’s History of Sexuality realizes that the Victorian era wasn’t only about repression. Discourses of sexuality proliferated, creating new identities (“the homosexual”) and planting lots of naughty ideas in people’s minds.

Those “intriguingly separate worlds”? They were a product of the self-same industrial revolution that made men and women virtually interchangeable in the factory before we made the shift to mind-based work. Separate spheres were only ever achievable for a small minority of middle-class, white men and women, anyway. Within those middle classes, mystery didn’t reign so much as a discourse of shame that demonized both men’s and women’s pleasure, as Richard Jeffrey Newman persuasively shows at Alas! a Blog:

Sexual pleasure undermined a man’s ability to compete in this marketplace of manhood in two ways: First, as Graham, Kellogg [of the crackers and cereal, respectively] and others made clear, such pleasure constituted unadulterated self-indulgence, a characteristic precisely antithetical to the kind of man a self-made man was supposed to be. Second, the expenditure of sperm—and the thinkers of the nineteenth century saw ejaculation quite explicitly as a form of spending—was a waste of energy that a man could have, and should have, been putting to more productive uses elsewhere.

(Do read the whole thing; unlike Paglia, Newman won’t waste your time.)

For the working classes circa 1850 or 1900, never mind separate spheres – they were lucky if they could have separate bedrooms. From the children, that is. I don’t know about Prof. Paglia, but I don’t know too many people whose notion of a sexay time includes a bed full of children on the other side of the room. For a real bonus, throw in a boarder or two, no running water, and perhaps a few resident species of rodentia.

Ironically, the most recent apogee of separate spheres was the 1950s, which Paglia denounces for their priggishness. Plenty of couples who steamed up their car windows at the drive-in theater might beg to differ. To the extent people managed to get in on in the back seat, it was in spite of the ostensibly separate spheres of men and women – not because of them.

As for pre-industrial sex? Well, there was oodles of mystery in the “agrarian” world, as long as you perceive a lusty  difference between plowing a field (men’s work) and mucking out a stall (usually women’s work, at least in early modern Europe). O ho, that’s what the postmodern American libido lacks: the erotics of cow manure!

The farther back we go, the rosier Paglia’s nostalgia. Shakespeare’s era certainly was ribald, as we know from his plays. We also know from Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process (vol. 1: The History of Manners) that folks were also much more relaxed about bodily hygiene. And by “relaxed,” I mean that Europeans of the 1500s and 1600s would deliberately make their body odor more pungent. Also, pooping anywhere was okay. It was doubtless a super sexy era if coprophilia is your thing.

And then there’s one little detail that changes everything. You don’t need to be a historian to suss it out, either, because its advent falls within Paglia’s lifetime, and mine: women’s prerogative to say no. Paglia must be intentionally obtuse in failing to mention it. Echidne parodies this brilliantly in her take-down of Paglia’s op-ed:

Instead, give me the old Italian countryside, with haystacks and a violent rape of a peasant woman who really does like it after the bruises fade. Because sex is violence and violence is sex and all women like to be at the receiving end of that violence.

Except, of course, Camille Paglia.

(Another post to read in full, srsly.)

Exactly. Paglia can have the chastity belts, crowded beds, and literally shitty hygiene of the past. I’ll take the twenty-first century, which, for all its ills, offers birth control, hot showers, and the chance for a passionate yes – precisely because I’m free to say no.

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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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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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So Sue Lowden – the Republican challenger to Harry Reid – is waxing nostalgic for the days when we could barter for health care, instead of having to mess with all that expensive, bureaucratic health insurance. Here’s the money quote (or the bartered-chicken quote?) at Big Think:

“You know, before we all started having health care,” she recently said in an interview, “in the olden days our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor, they would say I’ll paint your house. I mean, that’s the old days of what people would do to get health care with your doctors. Doctors are very sympathetic people. I’m not backing down from that system.”

Badtux suggests paying Lowden in chickens, should she become the next senator from Nevada. What an excellent idea! She can run her budget like my paternal grandfather did.

My grandpa was one of those country doctors who did accept payment in kind. Born in 1879, he earned his M.D. from the University of Nebraska in 1907, one of a graduating class of 18 (including one woman). He wound up practicing in North Dakota – whether for humanitarian reasons or due to a love affair gone bad, we’ll likely never know – in a poor part of the state populated mostly by German-Russians. These folks were originally from southwest Germany, where inheritance patterns split landholdings into ever smaller, less sustainable parcels. They migrated to the Crimea in search of an easier life, and thence to North Dakota. I know, I know – they must have had a very flexible notion of the “easy life.”

Once tucked into their large but chilly homesteads, the German-Russians stayed. Where else would they go? They were still poor, for the most part. And they continued to catch smallpox, measles, cancer, and the occasional pregnancy.

My grandpa was the doctor for much of south-central North Dakota. There were a few midwives in the area, too, but over time he attended more of the births.

And yes, sometimes his patients paid him in chickens. My mom describes him thus:

He had a gruff exterior and a very soft heart. I know that the people in Streeter idolized him (some may have feared him a little), and nearly everyone could tell of a time that he came to their farm in the middle of the night and dstayed until the patient was out of danger and usually refused to take any payment, especially if they were poor.

There were days when a chicken was more than a family could spare.

At the end of his life, the town’s very modest public park was devoted to his memory. I like knowing it’s there, even if the play equipment is decrepit. I never knew him; he died in 1961, two years before I was born. It’s a lovely testimonial to his putting patients above profits, which really does seem quaint and almost saintly in the new millennium.

But here’s the trick. My grandpa could afford to work for chickens – or eggs – or even a big old goose egg only because he also had patients who paid him! What’s more, he had much more substantial savings than his neighbors, having invested in Standard Oil around 1900. He and my grandma lived modestly, despite her pretensions to being the town’s aristocracy. (Well, the town was small enough that she sort of was the queen bee.)

My grandma fought with my grandpa over his generosity. He saw the grinding need up close. She saw it at a remove, and only through the lens of a trying to maintain a reasonably bourgeois household on the prairie. They fought bitterly anyway, and the chickens (and all the other bartered goods) became just one more bone of contention.

My grandpa did quite a lot of good, I believe. But it was no way to run a practice, and even less so today, when new doctors may start out burdened with six-figure debts. It also was no way to nurture a marriage. The whole thing was unsustainable, even then. Add in an MRI and a CT and an angiogram … and my grandpa could never have worked for free.

I suspect, though, that he would have been fascinated by the new technologies. He was smart and curious – qualities solely need in the practice of medicine as well as in the debates over its reform.

Frankly, though? As much as I like chickens, I don’t see much of a place for them in Washington. We’re gonna need tougher critters than chickens to fix our broken health system. Unless, perhaps, they’re as fierce as this guy looks – yet not bird-brained.

“Black Rock chicken” from flickr user Todd434, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Every so often, history serves up an analogy that’s misleading, highly distracting, and only indirectly relevant.

Oops. That’s not what David Leonhardt wrote at the New York Times. Here’s what he actually said:

Every so often, history serves up an analogy that’s uncomfortable, a little distracting and yet still very relevant.

In the summer of 1933, just as they will do on Thursday, heads of government and their finance ministers met in London to talk about a global economic crisis. They accomplished little and went home to battle the crisis in their own ways.

More than any other country, Germany — Nazi Germany — then set out on a serious stimulus program. The government built up the military, expanded the autobahn, put up stadiums for the 1936 Berlin Olympics and built monuments to the Nazi Party across Munich and Berlin.

The economic benefits of this vast works program never flowed to most workers, because fascism doesn’t look kindly on collective bargaining. But Germany did escape the Great Depression faster than other countries. Corporate profits boomed, and unemployment sank (and not because of slave labor, which didn’t become widespread until later). Harold James, an economic historian, says that the young liberal economists studying under John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s began to debate whether Hitler had solved unemployment.

It’s true that government spending works to kick-start an economy. But you don’t have to resort to the Nazis to make this argument! Later in the post, Leonhardt acknowledges that Franklin D. Roosevelt also implemented stimulus programs, though later in the decade and more cautiously, thus with less stunning success.

So why, then, frame Obama’s advocacy of stimulus (as the article goes on to do) with the Nazi example? Did it not occur to Leonhardt that this article plays right into the teabaggers’ framing? Obama = socialist = Nazi!

Leonhardt doesn’t get his history quite right, either. While it’s absolutely true that the Nazis banned trade unions, organizing workers instead in the much more employer-friendly German Worker’s Front, that doesn’t negate the real benefits workers enjoyed as the economy bounced back. In 1932, six million Germans were out of work. The resurgent economy – together with the pressure and incentives drawing women out of the workforce – put many working-class men back on the job. Unemployment dropped, and Germans of all classes were able to purchase consumer goods.

Also, the folks subjected to slave labor? They weren’t, by and large, the same people who’d been unemployed in the early thirties. While some were German Jews, the majority of those enslaved were not German citizens.

I’m not arguing that history never holds lessons for the present. It would behoove us, though, to understand what actually happened in the past before we start mining it for analogies.

Perhaps the most important thing one can learn from studying history is that context is crucially important. Apparently the teabaggers equating Obama with Hitler aren’t sharp enough to grasp that. But Leonhardt writes for the Times. What’s his excuse?

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