Monday, January 28, 2013


Wisdom of the Cade takes my suggestion & writes about Roe v. Wade -- results (part 1, anyway) here.

I suggested this topic to Dustin because I was shocked to learn, recently, that only 44% of those under 30 even know what the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade concerns.  (5% thought it had to do with environmental protection. 7% thought it was about school desegregation.)

And most people in America now think abortion -- a woman's right to choose -- is not an important issue, which I guess could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on which side of the ditch you're looking at it from.

Education, according to the Pew Research Center, makes the difference between who understands Roe v. Wade and who does not.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hey! Look Here!

One of my students has started a blog.

And I'm impressed.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Every couple of months, I swear, some major publisher will put out one of these Mommy War pieces, so that this subset of women will spend the next couple of months shouting at that subset of women.

You'd think we'd stop falling for it eventually.

(Hey -- look over there.  That girl wants part of your cookie.)

Here's Some...Better News, I Guess?

The Moroccan government is considering changing a law that allows men who have raped girl children from avoiding being prosecuted for that rape.

How did these men avoid prosecution in the past?

They forced their rape victims (with the collusion of the girls' own families, apparently) to marry them.

Then it's not rape, see.  So no harm, no foul, I guess.

Yeah, that's a law I'd change, dudes.  (I'm going out on a limb and guess we're talking dude here.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Here below are a couple of conservative blogs I have been reading lately which are less infuriating than the usual run of conservative blogs (although still occasionally unfuriating!):

Because I like to share, that's why.

The American Conservative, with Rod Dreher.

And The Boar's Head, a sausage factory, which is a kind of religious chat room, as far as I can tell.  Who knew chat rooms still existed?

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Kid Does A Webcomic

And she has finally let me link it.

It's so good: Two-Faced.

The Kid says that she is letting me link this under protest.

But she's just modest.  Don't listen to her.  It's wonderful.

(For those not familiar with deviantArt, you get to the next page by going down past the page to the description and clicking on the links that say next (or previous if you want to go back).

Here's the whole gallery if you want to read it that way.

What Year Is This Again?

One of my best students (who has since gone off to graduate school) FB'd me today to tell me about this guy she is dating.

He's kind of okay, she says, in that he's polite, and generous.


"But?" I FB back.

"But," she FBs, "he's a Republican."

"OH NO YOU DIDN'T," I say.

"No," she says, "that's not the bad part.  The other night, he tells me he's not anti-Feminist.  He's anti-stupid."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Primer: Review

So in between prepping for class and writing today, I got around to watching Primer, which I'd been hearing a lot about lately.

It's this odd low-budget time-travel movie that scored big at Sundance this year.

And I do see why -- there's a lot to like about it (and some things to dislike, I'll add).  On the whole, it left me unsatisfied, but it's worth watching.

What's good -- I really liked the first half or so, when the geeks are kind of accidentally building a time machine in their garage.  The movie sold this really well.  They talk like and act like scientists/inventors, and the pacing is great.

The dialogue for the first half is also really well done.  No explaining to the audience, no dumbing it down.  It feels and sounds authentic.  You keep up or you don't.  It's nice.

The actors are good, too.

Sadly, once the time machine is built, well, it's like our writer/director (Shane Carruth) couldn't think of what to do next; though according to Wikipedia he says that was the point: these guys accidentally have a time machine and they haven't considered the ethical implications, blah blah.  But the movie doesn't do anything with the time machine, first, (except We'll Get Rich Playing the Stock Market!!); and second, in the last 10 minutes or so or the movie, after we spend about 20 minutes muddling around doing not much with the time machine, about 11 abortive plots come out of nowhere and go nowhere.  The End.

Also: Women.  We have basically one and a half women in this movie.  One woman is one of our hero's wives.  She spends the entire movie cleaning and cooking.  I wish I was kidding.  This is all we see her doing, clean, clean, clean.  Cook, cook, cook.  She calls our hero once on the phone, MAYBE causing a paradox.  Why is she calling?  News about what she's cooking for dinner.

This is what women are for.  To cook.  And to clean.

The half a woman is the daughter of the possible funding source.  She exists only a plot point.

And it's not like there weren't other characters in the movie.  There were.  Minor characters existed. Scientists.  Lab workers.  Officer workers.  All men.

2013.  It's getting a little wearing, guys.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

I Am Writing Lecture Notes....

Here's my draft for tomorrow's lecture on Women's Lit (SO FAR!!!):

Women’s Lit: Lecture One

“The International Olympic Committee announced Wednesday that it would add women’s ski jumping to the program for the Sochi Games in 2014, a victory for athletes who had fought for inclusion for years.”

“The I.O.C. had ruled that women’s ski jumping had too few elite competitors to qualify for the Olympics.”

“In 2005, Gian Franco Kasper, the president of the International Ski Federation, told an NPR reporter that ski jumping “seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”

This is how it works.  First, we’re told women can’t do it because they’re just incapable of it – it’s literally impossible.  

Then, we’re told, well, maybe you could do it, but it would be wrong to let you.  

It would harm women to do it (mentally or physically).  You’re too weak to do it (mentally or physically).  

Then we’re told, well, maybe SOME of you are capable of doing it – but look! There just aren’t ENOUGH of you doing it.  See?  Why bother making a special fuss for the few freaks of you who want to do it?

(Why weren’t there hundreds of Olympic-class women skiers in 1998, or 1978, do you suppose? Why weren’t there hundreds of women writing brilliant plays in Shakespearean England?)

Then, once we have fought for the right to do it, we’re told “we let you do it, stop whining now” – though “now” generally equals less funding, less access, less time, inferior tools, and a world which continues to ignore us/take us less seriously (see WNBA, or ANY women’s sport, frankly).

So – Women and Literature.

Virginia Wolfe gave a famous series of lectures in 1929, which were later reworked and published as a book, called A Room of One’s Own, in which she attempted to explain why there have been no women writers. (We’ll be reading bits of it.)

Her basic thesis, though, is that women have never written great works because they have never been educated, they have never been given the time, and they have never been taken seriously.  The creation of art, Woolf says, requires those things – knowledge, leisure, respect as an artist.

There are problems with Woolf’s text (she’s way classicist, for one thing), but her basic thesis is valid.

Where are the women artists?

Where are the women cartoonists?

Where are all the women SF writers?

Where are the women fantasy writers?  (Oh – wait.  BTW, do you know when Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Nevill Coghill and the rest of the Inklings were holding their meetings at Oxford, they banned women from their writing group?  In fact, one of their favorite activities at their meetings was reading books written by women outloud for fun – mocking women’s writing.)
Where are all the women poets?  (Again, this is one that used to be true – it used to be believed that women could not write poetry – and is no longer.  But – as with fantasy writing – when men write poetry, it is often [usually, always] taken more seriously than when women write poetry / fantasy.)
Where are all the women bloggers / novelists / screenwriters / directors / essayists….  

VIDA: An organization which each year looks at important publications (Nation, Granta, Atlantic Monthly, etc) and counts how many women they publish/review v. how many men they publish review.  Spoilers: Each year the news is the same, and extremely depressing.

Starting in 2009, when VIDA first published their counts, the publishing world, and the blogosphere in general, reacted to this news as you would expect – if women did not get published and reviewed in equal numbers with men, obviously the blame for this lay at the feet of women.

(Also in 2009, by the way, a blogstorm was happening in the SF world concerning women, LGBTQ, and people of color not being published and not being written about in anything like a representational number with white cismales.  Called Racefail09, it had the same reaction – if gay people, PoC, and women were not getting published in SF/F, or written about properly in SF/F, well, that was their own fault, and not the fault of the editors and publishing houses in the SF/F world.)

Excuses, I mean, reasons that are given for why fewer women get published/reviewed:

(1) Fewer women submit their work

(2)                Women don’t write the “right” kind of stories – who wants to read that stuff?

(3)                Women give up too easily – they’re quitters.  Men stick it out!

(4)                Editors are just publishing what’s good.  Men are better writers.

On examination, none of these turn out to be valid.  (They’re all the same reasons that were given in the RaceFail09  storm too.)  

·        That is, while fewer women do submit, the quality of work being submitted by women is higher – men tend to be over-confident (due to how they’re nurtured in modern society) and women tend to be under-confident; so men send work out quickly, in early draft stages, and women send it out later, when it’s been polished.

·        And “right” kind of stories, obviously, depends on what sort of audience we’re thinking about.  Given that most readers turn out to be women (and this holds true for almost all genres of fiction and many genres of non-fiction as well), it turns out to be not the case that women won’t read women’s writing. True, they will also often read most men’s writing -- unlike many men, who refuse to read any women’s writing.  

·        Number 3, sadly, is valid.  Many women, having huge demands on their time from family and their men and their jobs, if they don’t see some success in the publishing world within a reasonable period, will quit trying.  This is even more likely to be true if their family, their men, and their jobs do not support them as writers and if the publishing world tells them (as it currently does) that women aren’t worth taking seriously  as writers.  (Twilight!  What crap!  Harry Potter!  That’s for kids!  But Joss Whedon!  He’s a GENIUS!)

·        Number 4 is one of those points that can’t be argued with in this world.  In a hypothetical world, we can argue the crap out of it.  Or we can argue by analogy.  It used to be said, for instance, that women could not be classical musicians.  (We’re still told that they just can’t be composers.) And we knew women couldn’t be classical musicians because look – no women classical musicians!  Every time a woman auditioned, pssh!  No symphony took her.  Because she was crap, obviously, compared to the guys auditioning.  Then here’s an odd thing.  Let’s try this, one symphony said.  Let’s let the musician audition behind a curtain, so the judges can’t see anything about them, not what they look like, or how they dress, or – you know – what gender they are.  And when that started happening, oddly enough, we started having classical musicians who were women.  Amazing.  Same thing with classics journals, btw.  Used to be, no articles (or very few) being published in classics journals were by women.  Because – you know – women just couldn’t think critically.  Or do Latin.  Or whatever.  Then they went to blind submissions.  Now?  Very nearly half of all publications in classics are by women.  Well, in the publishing world we’re not ready to take such a radical leap, because (here’s news that will shock you) publishers and editors don’t actually go into any edition blind – they actually solicit writers.  That is, they often choose who they publish before an anthology or edition is put together, asking writers they know to send work to them.  (Two guesses whether they are going to choose writers who are already famous or not.  One guess about what sex that writer is most likely to be.)  We do have information, however, about what happens when a woman writer chooses a male name and submits work under that – George Eliot did it in the 19th century, Alice Sheldon did it in the 1950s, J.K. Rowling did it in the 1990s, James Chartrand did it on Craigslist.  (1) You get published more readily.  (2) You make more money  (3) You get taken more seriously.   (Alice Sheldon (as James Tiptree Jr) won dozens of awards and touched off a firestorm in the SF world when it was revealed (at last) that she was not a reclusive man but a woman scientist.  The (male) SF writers who had lauded her work were infuriated.)

This will be a class, not on how evil men are and how they have oppressed women and how much we hates them, precious – but on women’s writing.  On women’s literature.  How it gets created.  How it gets silenced.  Why it is important.  And why we cannot quit.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Carbon Dreams: Science and Fiction

I've been reading (well, re-reading) Carbon Dreams these past few days, by Susan Gaines, another of my favorite books.

This isn't science fiction at all.  It's science and fiction -- a book about a scientist, a geochemist, Tina Arenas, who is working with a newly discovered lifeform, picoplankton, using them to plot temperature changes during the Cretaceous era  and the Eocene.

All this really heats up, however, when Arenas's work turns out to have implications for the global warming debate.  (The book is set in the early 80's.)  Arenas is initially not much interested in this debate, since it has little to do with her research area -- she is interested in the picoplankton, after all, and the temperature changes in the Cretaceous era. These minor fluctuations over these brief few years in this century here, this is none of her affair; she is not up on that literature, and has no opinion on it.

This is the main reasons to love this book: the picture it gives of academic life is so perfectly accurate.  This is what life among academics is like.  (Even the politics -- yes, this is how we bumble and back-stab and plot.)  And this is how we work, too.

This brings in the novel's other plot strand -- Arenas's life outside the academy.  Her father wants her to marry and have children; her boyfriend, Chip, a lovely man, an organic farmer, involved (intensely) in his community (it is Chip who pushes Arenas to take global warming more seriously, though it is also clear that he doesn't really know what he's talking about most of the time -- that's another thing I like about the book, how sweetly it gives is the scientist's view of the non-scientist) Chip wants Arenas to give just a little less time to her science and a little more time to her life with him and his farm.

The novel has four women scientists as characters -- three as main characters: Tina Arenas, Sylvia Orloff, Katherine, and a woman who never appears, one of Orloff's graduate students.  This woman vanishes halfway through the novel -- she gets pregnant, and Orloff will not give her time off to have the child, so she drops out of graduate school.  Arenas is appalled, not at Orloff, but at the graduate student.  Katherine, on the other hand, notes that male scientists don't have to quit science to have kids.  (In fact, most of the highest ranking scientists at their institute are men with wives and children at home, a fact the novel notes in passing a few times.)

Katherine, Tina's best friend, also quits serious science to get married and take a job in a Navy lab -- a job that's not doing actual research, from Arenas's point of view, but one that will let her have a life.

Near the end of the book, Arenas gets pregnant; near the end of the book, she presents a groundbreaking paper at a scientific conference; near the end of the book, she is offered an amazing job, a continent away from Chip and his farm (the farm he has been building for ten years now, which he has finally gotten profitable).  This book asks hard questions, real questions, about what women have to do to have their own lives.

And -- though bear in mind that I am not a scientist -- it writes about science, what it is like to do science, what it like to be a scientist, wonderfully.

I am only sad that Susan Gaines has not (yet) written another book.

Sunday, January 06, 2013


The number of people who are willing to call themselves Republicans is shrinking daily.

I can't imagine why.

Friday, January 04, 2013

"I Will Always Know The Password"

Here's something that has bothered me more every time I see it on FB, and yes, I am probably wrong, but I saw it again today, and it's down my neck again.

It's one of those posts where a parent is held up as a great example to us all because she (or he, but it is usually a mother) announces to the world (well, okay, FB) the exact degree to which she allows her child (who is usually actual an adolescent) no privacy.

His (or her, though in this case it's a boy of about fourteen) internet or phone or FB or computer is open to Mom, and must be.  "I own it, I paid for it, you're mine," Mom says.  "I'll read every file, I'll see everything you're doing, I'll browse your every chatline, I will always have your passwords."

And everyone on FB cheers her on.

Because sexual predators or whatever.

And yes, I know sexual predators and horrible people exist online.  I was involved not that long ago (a couple years ago) when the kid's best friend talked to some filth while playing online games.

OTOH: Is the solution actually to give your child no privacy whatsoever?  To make her live in a Panopticon?

I suppose some kids might need such an approach, obviously -- if your kid won't tell you anything, even when he is approached by a child-rapist...but yow.  How did you raise a child who distrusts you that much?

I guess my point here is, if you don't make your child into your enemy, if you don't create an adversarial relationship between you and your child, if you don't create a household in which your child is afraid to come to you about problems because you'll react like he's a criminal, then he will come talk to you (my kid does) when he has questions about whether this person's reaction is okay; about how he ought to react to this comment on this site; about what he ought to tell this person.

I mean, that's how my kid handled the event two years ago: she came to me about her friend.  She knew she could come to me about her friend, is what I am saying, that she could trust me to react in a useful, rather than in a punitive, manner -- to be on her side, to help her, not to harm her.  Imagine if she had not been able to do that.  (Her friend, notice, did not approach her mother about it.)

This is why I dislike so intensely the authoritarian approach to parenting -- the policeman approach, the I've got the big stick and I can make you do what I say because my stick is so big.  From the time my kid was little, and I mean tiny, we've always been Socratic parents.  Come, let us reason together.

And guess what: she's a reasonable child.

Okay, okay.  End of rant.

For now.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Crystal Bridges in Winter

We drove up the mountain to Crystal Bridges today, mainly to see this exhibit, lithograph prints through history, which was well worth it.  My favorites were several from the WPA years, deeply political, very lovely.

Can you imagine if Obama paid artists to create political art about striking miners today?  Or prints showing Wall Street bankers as demons devouring the country? Ai.

Yet FDR did it (creating those jobs among hundreds of thousands of other jobs) as part of the New Deal, and there's the art, still on the wall.