Saturday, August 31, 2013

Further Conversations With The Kid

The mosquitoes are terrible here in the Fort, so bad that they're actually finding their way into our shack of a house; I haven't yet decided how.  But I'll be sitting in my battered white chair battering away on the latest short story, or prepping for class, when suddenly one is whinging in my ear, or crouching on my forearm stinging away.

Tonight, when the kid and I were out for our walk -- even later than usual, because it was a high of 101 degrees with blazing sunlight all day -- mosquitoes bit me non-stop.

Me: (Cussing a great deal) #!@#& Mosquitoes.

The Kid: They don't bite me.

Me: Oh shut up.

The Kid: No, I'm just saying -- why do they bite you and not me?

Me: Because I am so sweet.

The Kid: --- ---

Me: I am sweet.  That is why.

The Kid: Um. Yeah.

Me: Are you saying I am not --

The Kid: Sweet is just not the adjective I would exactly pick to--

Me: Oh, fine, great, your mother's a harridan, that's just a lovely thing to --

The Kid: Intelligent, sure. Focused, maybe.  But sweet? Meh.

Me: Maybe they don't bite you because you're not ripe yet.  Did you think of that?  Kind of -- raw? And unseasoned?  Could that be it?

The Kid: And you're ripe?  Really, really ripe?

Me: Hey now.

The Kid: Yeah.  That makes sense.

P.S. The kid just wandered by and says: "Are you going to tell them about how I ran into the door?"

So here is the other bit of the conversation we had out on our walk.

The Kid: Did I tell how how I ran into a glass door that one time?

Me: No.  What?

The Kid: I thought it was open.

Me: (With sympathy): Ow.

The Kid: (Seeing that I had totally missed the point.)  No.  I mean I stood there and looked at it for about a minute, and decided it was open.  And then I took off running and BAM!

At which point I began laughing hysterically.

The Kid: I know, right?

Me: (Still laughing)

The Kid: It really hurt my nose, too.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Ocean at The End of The Lane: Review

It's the start of the semester, and not only am I teaching an overload, and not only am I finishing revisions of the novel, I am also going up for promotion to full professor (why, why WHY? Don't ask me.  I forget why).

So I have no business reading for fun.


In my experience if you don't read for fun, very soon you stop being able to be a writer at all.

This is probably just an excuse, since the whole reason for my existence, since I was two or three, I think, has been reading for fun.  (No, I'm serious! One of my first memories is sitting on the floor of our trailer [yes, I was born in a trailer] with a book in my lap, trying as fiercely as I could to read it.  I couldn't, because I was maybe two years old, but I still remember the letters.  One was a lower-case g.  And I remember walking into the Children's Room of the public library when I was about six, the utter joy that filled me, knowing I could have any book in there, that I would have any book in there, that all the books were mine.)

Anyway.  Though I have no time, and too much to do, I spent a large portion of Tuesday reading Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

My take: it's readable and fun -- I read it straight through -- and, like most Gaiman novels, if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like.

It's Gaiman, in other words.  Mix of mythology and magic (here we have the Crone, mother, maiden) and sad middle-class misunderstood white boy loner who gets rescued (or maybe not, in this case) by the mythic whoevers.  I mean, it's fun, and it's readable, but it kind of always leaves me empty at the end.

And this may be Gaiman's point.  This review certainly seems to think so.

And certainly( as Ben Folds tells us) it's way tough being male, middle-class and white.  I don't mean to make light of the Gaimanesque hero's constant angst.

And there are lots of lovely bits.  The mythic house is nicely done, and there is a great scene at the end where our hero has to stand firm against the monster, inside a magic circle -- and given that our hero is seven, he does really well; and the shifting nature of reality, so that our hero (who is never given a name, something that sort of irks me, I have to admit here) never is clear on what truly has happened in his life, is also very well done.

But, while I can technically appreciate the book, I didn't really feel anything through most of it.

Maybe I'm just not the target audience for this particular class of novel?

So -- recommended, but with reservations.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

MLK Jr Speaks

Here's a side of MLK Jr you don't hear Conservatives quoting all that often.

Great clip though.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Oh But This Black Lady Looked At Me Funny Once, So...

Yesterday Bardiac linked an excellent Upworthy video, which you may already have seen, illustrating white privilege and what can be done to combat it.

(Here it is if you haven't seen it.)

I liked it so much I linked it on my FB page.

Whereupon one of my students watched it and commented (promptly) that the exact same thing had happened to him, except, see, he had been the only white guy in a black grocery store, and the black clerk had been very mean to him, plus all the black people in line had been mean to him too, but he hadn't whined about it, because the way to solve racism was for everyone to just stop talking about it.

About 90 comments later (not just me, but several other people trying to explain to him what he was getting wrong here) I just gave up.

This is my new policy, by the way: there are people who want to understand, who want to learn, and there are people who are determined not to understand -- they do not, in other words, want to learn anything new.  They are not engaging you to hear anything, but to yell their own words louder and louder.  Once you have identified the second category, there's no real point in talking at them anymore.

Anyway!  My point!  And I do have one.

The people who are determined to make a comparison between the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the shooting of Christopher Lane fall, I have got to believe, into the second category.

Because, seriously, how can anyone who is self-aware and thinking critically not see a difference between these two shootings?

(1) In Florida, a stand-your-ground state, George Zimmerman chases down and shoots Trayvon Martin, on what seems to a lot of people a very dicey excuse.  The police barely question him, do not charge him, and do nothing until overwhelming national media exposure force the state to file charges. Further, Martin is a black teenager; Zimmerman is a white-identifying adult male, with all the white privilege that accrues to that. In other words, all of the racist history of our country comes down on Zimmerman's side. All around the country, conservatives and others rush to Zimmerman's defense.  All around the country, conservatives immediately begin attacking Martin -- portraying him as a thug and a criminal who deserved to die. (This behavior, by the way, continues to this day.) Any progressive who argues that maybe shooting a child on his way home from a convenience store is a crime is called an idiot -- for instance, I personally was called an idiot for suggesting Martin was a child.  (My kid is fifteen and if in two years she was to be shot down in the street by someone, believe me, I would consider that shooting a child.)

(2) Two black kids and a white kid in Oklahoma shoot down a white Australian jogger for what seems to a lot of people a horrific reason -- reports say it was the kids claim they did it because they were bored.  Given Oklahoma's reputation for God & Guns, people worldwide are ready to believe that Oklahoma's culture probably has something to do with why these kids behave this way.  The kids are immediately arrested, charged, and kept in custody.  All over Conservative blogosphere this is at once widely reported as three blacks (or other racial terms) shooting a white man -- even before any races of the kids are released, this is what is being reported -- and once the actual races of the kids are released, very few Conservative sites correct themselves.

Worse, of course, nearly every single Conservative insists this is "Just like Trayvon!"  Because -- well, why?  Because these kids didn't get charged?  Because the progressive sites are rallying around them and calling them heroes?  Because progressive sites are hunting through the jogger's life and finding ways to criminalize him and make him a thug and say he deserved to die for jogging through that neighborhood? "Those kids had a right to protect themselves!" Because there are 450 years of white joggers getting lynched and shot down and killed in Oklahoma and the black legal establishment doing nothing about it?

Yeah.  It's exactly the same.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Women's Literature World-Wide

Come the spring, I'll be teaching a women's world literature class for our Literature of Diverse Cultures class.

I have some (very vague) ideas about what I want to teach and what I don't want to teach also.

Kind of essentially, I don't want to teach most of the books I taught in Woman's Lit last spring, which ended up being these:

  • Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own
  • Joanna Russ, A Female Man
  • Kameron Hurley, God's War
  • bell hooks, bone black
  • Janet Mitchell, Creepy Girl and Other Stories
  • Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
  • Michelle Tea, Rent Girl
  • Charlotte Gilman, Herland
  • Our Bodies, Ourselves
Also, obviously, I want this one to be a great deal less Western / American, and a great deal more multi-cultural.  

Maybe less 20th/21st century too.

Anyway!  I have a few ideas of my own, but I'd love a wider range.

Anyone having brilliant suggestions, drop them in comments, please!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"...nature est VULVISSIME!"

One of my ex-students linked me this.

She thought these photographs were well nang.

Which, wow, they are.

(Maybe NSFW, though, just saying.)

I'm sure there's some explanation for why this pattern, too.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

True Story at Historiann

Over at Historiann, good points being made: "Looking for sexism in coverage of women candidates? Trying looking in the mirror." 

Until “the left” reckons with its own misogyny, it’s really not credible to say that the “War on Women” is being prosecuted only by Republicans and right-wingers.

I particularly like the guy who cites his wife as cover for his sexist belief. "Hey, I gotta woman right here, she says I'm right."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

You Are Hurting Me With Your WORDS!!!1!1!!

Conversation at the delagar household:

Me: Your cat is going cray-cray in that box in there.

The Kid: Jesus.  It's like I don't even know you.

Me: What?

The Kid: Stop saying THOSE WORDS.  Please.  Just stop.

Me: You just can't take it that your parental unit is cooler than you.  In fact, I am well nang.

The Kid: Just stop.

Me: You can't make me.

The Kid: What if I cry every time you say THOSE WORDS?  What then?

Me: You will be crying because I am so nang.  Innit?

The Kid: You are hurting me with YOUR WORDS!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Laura and Lena On The Prairie

Okay, this is sort of getting out of control now.

I ordered The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder this week, which -- get this, y'all -- it's a book of poems by Sharon McCartney, each poem written from the POV of some character or object or (ahem) bit of a character from the Little House books.

(Bit because one of the poems, page 36, is "Pa's Penis."  PA'S PENIS, Y'ALL!! )

Anyway -- I like the collection a lot, and the titular poem a whole lot --

Let us go then, Lena and I, on black ponies,
Half-wild, bareback, like straddling locomotives, 
Surging across the prairie steppes, Cossacks,
Fourth of July stunt-riders, skirts up,
Worsted drawers damp, dappled with horse sweat.

(Oh yes, this is going exactly where you think it is.)

I've also spent this week finishing Fellman's book, reading Wendy McClure's The Wilder Life, and ordering about a dozen other books, most of which (luckily) my local library has.

This could quickly get to be an expensive obsession.

Wendy McClure's book was great, by the way: she also got obsessed with Wilder, only she also got obsessed with visiting all the houses and homesteads.  Her book is half a narration of her obsession with Laura and half a travelogue of her visits to the Laura Houses. (I've only visited one of these places, the Little House just outside Independence, Kansas, a few years ago.)

Now I'm waiting for the rest of my books to arrive.

I tell you what, if I do teach a class on Major Authors: Laura Ingalls Wilder, the big problem I'll have is keeping the reading list manageable.

See also this.  Because BWAHAHA.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Paperwork, ARGH

Spent the entire afternoon and evening, after getting out of the pre-semester timesuck, doing paperwork for the fall semester -- revising syllabi for various classes, blocking out reading schedules for the two lit classes I'm teaching (World Lit II and Working Class Lit), revising paper handouts, that sort of thing.

I had done all this already, in the last week of Summer II, but then last week I picked up a fifth class, an overload, which means I have to do a bunch of shifting around and re-adjusting.  Nothing major, but almost every bit of paperwork has to be changed. Gah.

Also the kid and I went out for an evening walk, over to Creekmore Park, which was lovely.  We're having a strangely cool August here in the Fort.  This evening it was eighty degrees, clear and breezy.  The park was full of dog-walkers and joggers and toddlers with their parents in tow.  The train ran round and round and every time it passed us the little kids in the caboose would wave at me with exactly the same boundless glee as they had on the previous round.  (I waved happily back. The kid ignored them with gloomy adolescent angst.)

Tomorrow it is back to the u. for more exciting meetings.


They call it University Days at my school.

They used to call it the Pre-School Conference, and it used to be four days long.

Now it is only a day and a half. (Which I guess that's something.)

Whatever they call it and no matter how long it lasts it is a giant (and almost totally useless) time suck, at a time in the semester when faculty have no time to waste -- right here before our semester begins.

To be fair, some of what is being done, the university has no choice about.  We are federally mandated to have Title IX and ADA training, and now (apparently?) Emergency Response training, and when else can you herd the cats that are university faculty all into one space and time, except in these few days between semesters before fall classes begin?

But (at least at my university) the mandated shit is not all they force us to sit through.  That would take, maybe, two hours.  Three at the outside. Then we could be done, and get back to work doing real work.

But not so -- we get six to ten hours of other speeches.  Introduction of new faculty.  State of the university.  How the endowment is doing.  How the sports program is doing.

And it's not like any of this is unimportant, exactly.  I'm not saying that.

But no one is listening to any of it either -- I look around the giant auditorium, and everyone is on their handheld, everyone is on their phones or at work prepping syllabuses; no one is watching the current speaker, no one except (maybe) the Chancellor is paying attention.

And all of it could be better communicated through a nice email, frankly.

/end rant.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Oh, C. S. Lewis, F*ck Off

From Surprised By Joy:

"You may add that in the hive and the anthill we see fully realized the two things that some of us most dread for our own species -- the dominance of the female and the dominance of the collective."

"Traditional" Is An Interesting Word For Master

Re my earlier post, this article up at the Nation, "How The 'Opt-Out Revolution Changed Men," makes some interesting points.

Lots of caveats here, of course, since our sample size is a handful of hyper-wealthy het women married (I am willing to bet) to Xtian guys in East Coast cities, and all from the same sort of WASPy Park Slope culture: but.

It turns out that before the women opt-out, or "choose" to stay home with their kids (at least one woman mentioned "chooses" to do so under pressure from her husband), their husbands treat them as intellectual and moral equals, more or less expecting to share household chores and family responsibilities with them.


Not so much.

It seems...that the actual circumstance of having a wife stay home changes men from being egalitarian to being far more traditional in their expectations of what they should get from their wives. 

After, the men have apparently been convinced -- at least partly by the women's own actions -- that women's lives have less importance than their own; and that, therefore, men can adjust their behavior accordingly, and expect women to do all or most of the shit work around the house.

This is an especially interesting paragraph, by the way:

Researchers found that boys who grow up just with sisters are 15 percent more likely to be conservative in their views of women’s roles. Why? They speculate that these boys grow up watching their sisters be assigned more housework, thus learning that chores are women’s work. Boys who just grow up with brothers share the load. Family structure when these boys are young informs how they view women later in life.

I'm No Feminist, I Just Think Women Should Have Equal Rights

Over at Unfogged, Heebie put up a post that I thought I wanted to talk about, except I misread it entirely.

The post, which actually concerns two separate Crooked Timber posts, deals with why racism has become the big taboo of American public life, in that to say something racist will damage a public figure badly.

As Belle Waring argues in her Crooked Timber post this is a bit less true in Southern (semi)-public life, which I have also found to be the case.  Certainly the racist shit I heard growing up and which I continue to hear (to a lesser extent) to this day ranges from mildly to wildly appalling.

But!  Not what I want to talk about here.

John Holbo said this: "Why isn't 'the civil rights struggle' kind of like 'feminism': a thing you are allowed to hate on publicly?"

Which during my first hasty read I understood as something this: "Why hasn't feminism ever gotten the kind of power and respect which we now accord the civil rights struggle?  Why aren't people as afraid to be accused of being anti-feminist as they are afraid of being accused of racism?"

Which -- you know -- that's an interesting and troubling question.

Nor does a clear or easy answer presents itself.

Over in the comments on Unfogged, I noted that in some respects perhaps it's easier to convince people of the evil  of racism than it is to convince them of the evils of sexism, given that with racism you can point to slavery and lynchings, to fire-hoses being turned on kids, to unequal treatment in public life (i.e. segregation in the schools, lunch counters, separate entrances and seating in theaters and buses; so on).

Whereas with sexism, while men rape women and beat their wives, while unequal pay continues, and while  there is still some lack of access to some areas of higher education and positions of power, well, it is possible to explain these away (if you're determined to do so) as the results of women's choices, or as the results of bad choices by individuals.

That is, unlike slavery, which was the system working as it was constructed to work, wife-beating and rape are bad men doing bad things.  (And probably slutty women getting what they deserve for drinking too much and going to parties with vaginas or whatever.) Good men acting right don't do those things.  Good women acting right don't have those things happen to them.  

Or, well, very rarely.  Not often enough that we need to change the system in response.

And the same for all the other issues feminism frets its pretty head over.

That is, some women do want to be engineers, of course, and some women want to be Senators, or CEOs, or lawyers, but most women (claim people opposed to feminism) want to let the men do all that work, while they take care of babies and gardens and volunteer for the church. 

It just doesn't make sense to upend the world for the tiny percent of women who are cranky malcontents.

Also, wow, how can anyone claim that women are oppressed?  Jeez!  Who wouldn't want that life!  Someone else doing all the work while you got to stay home like a pampered kitten, weeding the garden and playing with babies!

(Note that in other constructions of this argument, of course, this job is described as the hardest job in the world.)

So that's one problem.

Another, I think, is that women don't have a voice.

Stay with me here, now.

In Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, she has a passage near the end of Chapter One where she compares the two dinners she is served at each university she visits during the course of one day, the men's university and the women's. The meal at the men's university is wonderful, multi-course, with various lovely wines, excellent soup, a couple sorts of meat, and an amazing pudding, fluffy and piquant.  The women's meal is gravy soup, water, prunes for dessert. She also considers the differences between their physical plant, their libraries, their dress, their funding.

What is the deal, she wonders eventually.  Why are the men so rich, and the women so poor?  Well, obviously because for generations, men have been endowing the men's university, pouring tons of money into it; and continue to do so.  Whereas, although women have been funding the women's university for about a hundred years, they have comparatively little money, and can fund it only scantily.

But that only takes the question a bit further back.  Why do women have so little money?

Woolf says:

What had our mothers been doing then that they had no wealth to leave us? Powdering their noses? Looking in at shop windows? Flaunting in the sun at Monte Carlo? There were some photographs on the mantelpiece. Mary’s mother... if she had gone into business; had become a manufacturer of artificial silk or a magnate on the Stock Exchange; if she had left two or three hundred thousand pounds to Fernham, we could have been sitting at our ease to-night and the subject of our talk might have been archaeology, botany, anthropology, physics, the nature of the atom, mathematics, astronomy, relativity, geography. If only Mrs Seton and her mother and her mother before her had learnt the great art of making money and had left their money, like their fathers and their grandfathers before them, to found fellowships and lectureships and prizes and scholarships appropriated to the use of their own sex, we might have dined very tolerably up here alone off a bird and a bottle of wine; we might have looked forward without undue confidence to a pleasant and honourable lifetime spent in the shelter of one of the liberally endowed professions. We might have been exploring or writing; mooning about the venerable places of the earth; sitting contemplative on the steps of the Parthenon, or. going at ten to an office and coming home comfortably at half-past four to write a little poetry. 


Moreover, it is equally useless to ask what might have happened if Mrs Seton and her mother and her mother before her had amassed great wealth and laid it under the foundations of college and library, because, in the first place, to earn money was impossible for them, and in the second, had it been possible, the law denied them the right to possess what money they earned. It is only for the last forty-eight years that Mrs Seton has had a penny of her own. For all the centuries before that it would have been her husband’s property — a thought which, perhaps, may have had its share in keeping Mrs Seton and her mothers off the Stock Exchange. Every penny I earn, they may have said, will be taken from me and disposed of according to my husband’s wisdom — perhaps to found a scholarship or to endow a fellowship in Balliol or Kings.

This is a continuing problem.  Women produce half the world's food, work 3/4 of the world's working hours, and yet earn less than 10% of the world's income, and own almost nothing. In the developed world, these percentages are somewhat better, but there is still a substantial gap, and that gap leads to an effective silencing of women.

People of Color used to be silenced as well.

As got argued over on Unfogged, an enormous factor in the Civil Rights Movement winning how they did and when they did was the arrival of the technology of television and photography.  TV and photography gave the leaders of the Movement a voice in a way they had never really had before.  Writing that the police attacked black marchers with dogs, or that they knocked black children down with fire hoses, is one thing; seeing a white policeman roll a little black girl down the road with a powerful jet from a fire hose, or another sic his dog on a peaceful black man marching down the street, is quite another.

And -- as we all know -- hearing Martin Luther King, Jr, speak was quite a different thing from reading what he wrote. Not to mention hearing him in the context of all those marchers who had come to testify.

Women have not (not really) been able to speak, not in that way.  

Think of when Wendy Davis took her crowds to Texas.

We got some positive press, particularly when the grandmothers were dragged out by the police, and over the ridiculous confiscation of tampons and menstrual pads.  

But often the press seems unsure: is this oppression.  Are these women, in fact, uppity bitches? I mean, you know, Dan, it's a tough call!  What do they really have to whine about? Just because the State thinks it knows better than they do what should be done with their bodies? Jeez!

And women don't own any platform from which to argue back. We don't have a Martin Luther King, Jr.  We don't have a media -- though we have occasional liberal voices, such as Rachel Maddow and John Stewart -- and we don't have resources to get our message out.  (Contrast, for instance, the astro-turfing of -- say -- Erik Erikson's talking points, or Ann Coulter's books, which end up being endlessly puffed all over the Right Wing media.)

Finally, I think, with racism, the enemy was not (for lots of Americans, anyway) us.

It was those other Americans, down in Mississippi, Alabama, New Orleans.  Those ignorant crackers in Arkansas who shut their school rather than let their kids sit next to black children.

Whereas with feminism -- well.  All of us either are women or have one in the family.  

Those of us who are women -- many of us were not raised as the equal of our brothers. 

Many of us saw our mothers treated as subordinate to our fathers.  

Many saw our brothers get privileges we did not get; many were given more work for less reward and less respect; many got less freedom at a later age.  

Many were told that we were wrong (somehow) because of the body we were born in. 

We were told -- by our parents, by our brothers, by our teachers, by the books we read and the world we lived in -- that we were not as capable or important or as interesting as our brothers, and that we would never, ever come to as much as they would.

When we encountered feminism, many of us were ready for it. We seized upon it. 

Others weren't as pleased.

And this includes many men -- some of them aren't happy at the ideas feminism brings to the world either; and why would they be? 

Why would my racist cousins be happy at the civil rights movement, which means they have to lose all the special privileges they, as white guys in the South, get?  An automatic better shot at any job that comes along, automatic respect from 90% of the population, automatic certainty that they are the genetic and moral superior to most of the people around them...

Well, shit, obviously they should want to quit this filthy worldview.  Let's be clear.  This is an immoral and awful way to live your life.  And it's just as awful whether you're thinking this way about people of color or women.  These men have wives and daughters and sisters and mothers.  If they love the women in their lives, they should be feminists.  They should want these women in their lives to have an equal shot at the best life possible.  And any decent man is, in my experience, does want that. Furthermore, in my opinion, any woman who doesn't support feminism either doesn't understand what it is, or is equally immoral.

On the other hand: What, exactly, is wrong with that guy and his wife having a relationship in which one is dependent on the other, if that relationship is one they (both) want to have?


I'm not speaking of stay-at-home parents here.  Dr. Skull stayed at home with our kid when she was little. It's often a practical solution to our (kind of) broken social structure.

(An unbroken social structure would provide some way for both parents to work and for children to be cared for, because frankly that's how it's supposed to be.  But you need intact extended families -- plenty of aunts and grandmas, granddas, uncles, cousins, and buddies -- for this to work; and instead in America what we tend to have are isolated nuclear families locked in single housing units far from their support system, with one to three young children each, which is just untenable, but that's another blog rant.) 

No, what's immoral is one parent being subordinated to the other parent.

Subordinated: put into the power of.  This can be done in a number of ways.  One parent can have all the money, for instance.  

Or he (it's almost always he, though it's just as bad if it's she) can have all the power.  Sometimes he gets that power from religion -- God says I'm in charge, so you have to obey; sometimes he gets it from being physically large: do what I say or I'll beat you up/kill you; sometimes he gets it from psychological terrorism: do what I say or I'll take the kids; kill myself; leave.

No matter how it's played out, using force to keep another person under our power is evil.

I'm going to say that even if they agree to it, it's evil.

(Though people are free to disagree with me on that one.)

I say this last, because I know how people can be taught to believe destructive things -- that he hits you because he loves you, for instance; that black people really are inferior, for instance -- and so I think that if you take advantage of an oppressive social system, just because it benefits you, that's, well, it's kind of evil.

My point -- and I do have one -- is that being anti-feminist, which is to say, being against equal rights for women, is not yet seen as a deal-breaker, as a third-rail moment, because we, as a society, are in fact not quite convinced that women are equal creatures.

This is still a culture, and a world, in which people can say that women just don't want to treated like equal citizens; that women just really aren't as smart as men; that they don't actually deserve equal treatment under the law; and have no problem recovering from these statements.  No problem getting elected, no problem keeping their jobs, no problem being accepted socially.

The reasons for this being true are multiple, I think; the ones I cover here are probably only a few of them.  But women's powerlessness as a group lie at the root of them all.

Until we have power -- via the media, via money, via the government, via corporations or any other route -- it's unlikely that we'll have any real effect on any of this.

Update: Yeah, shit.  See also this, over at Shakesville. Depressing.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Internet Ecosystem: Explained, With Diagrams

How the Internet Ecosystem Works.

"Scientists have attempted to explain this phenomenon, but for unexplainable reasons, they "can't even""

Shameless stolen from Tree of Knowledge, who stole it from somewhere else, so whatevs.

(The Kid informs me whatevs is no longer cool, MA.  Whatevs, Kid.)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Going Galt On The Prairie

So I've been reading Little House, Long Shadow, by Anita Clair Fellman, ever since it got mentioned over on Histioriann's Blog (See here), which is intriguing me to such a degree that I am considering pitching a class to our university, Major Authors: Laura Ingalls Wilder.

All we need to justify one of these classes is to make the argument that an author had a major influence on American or world literature, and Fellman is making that argument in her text.

Contrariwise, I could do it as a Special Topics class.


That's not what this post is about.  As I'm reading, I'm scrounging up all the books and articles that Fellman references, or as many of them as I can find, via my limited venues (we have shiny new libraries here at our working class university and our ex-factory town, but not so many books or journals). Recently I was pleased to find that our public library had a copy of Let the Hurricane Roar, the novel which Rose Wilder Lane wrote, based on stories she gleaned (borrowed) out of her mother's manuscript Pioneer Girl.

Published in 1932, Lane's novel is a reactionary rejection of Roosevelt's New Deal, much more nakedly so than The Little House Books, though it is treading very much the same ground.  Its main characters even have Ma and Pa's names -- Charles and Caroline -- and their dug-out cabin is on (Wild) Plum Creek; Charles goes into debt in anticipation of a bumper wheat crop which -- yes -- is destroyed by grasshoppers; and the nearest neighbors are Swedes, who speak no English.

But Lane speaks through Caroline's point of view, and she has one message to make clear, which she spends the book banging like a drum.

(This is not to say the book is not enjoyable -- it is.  As most of us know by now, Lane and Wilder created the Little House books together; reading Let The Hurricane Roar shows two things.  First, Lane had plenty of talent as a writer.  Second, Wilder must have had plenty as well.  This book is not half the book her mother's were.)

Early in the story, as Charles and Caroline set out for the West -- alone, traveling all alone by themselves in a wagon, across the prairie -- Lane makes the point of telling us that whenever they need food, Charles shoots game, and whenever they need sugar or flour or tea they stop at a town, and he gets a job and works until he's earned enough to buy it for them.

(Not like those slackers in 1930, who expect soup kitchens and the dole!)

Then he gets a job driving for the railroad, and Caroline keeps house in a sod shanty he builds for her, by himself, in two days.  She doesn't like the women in town, who have cut their hair short and don't wear corsets, and run the cookhouse, "coarse, blowzy women," so she stays away from them.

At the end of the summer, the working men on the railroad are bitter, because their wages have all gone back to the company store.  There are riots.  "Men were killed."

(I love that passive verb.)

"But Caroline knew Charles could take care of himself.  He had earned enough money for the winter's supplies and for tools and seed."

How is that Charles has managed to earn money above what they need to live on, while the other workers have not?

Well, Lane elides right past that point, which is basically how she's going to handle every sticky point we encounter.

For instance: Caroline is pregnant.  When Mrs. Baker, the woman who runs the cookhouse, finds that Charles intends to take his pregnant 16 year old wife off to winter all alone on the prairie, she tells him he's crazy.

"That child, in her condition? You want to kill her?"

Caroline, realizing they'll lose the land if they go East at this point, rejects Mrs. Baker's intervention firmly.  After all, Mrs. Baker is a floozy who doesn't even wear corsets.  And that short hair. Tsk.

Also, obviously they don't need doctors.  "Childbirth is natural," Caroline says firmly.

So off they go.  And of course despite the blizzards and the wolves and the locusts and the outlaws and Charles having to go East to get work, everything is fine.

Caroline does not die in childbirth.

No outlaw finds her alone in her cabin while Charles is gone for a year and rapes or kills her and her infant son. (Luckily she has a gun, y'all!)

She doesn't freeze or starve.

Charles isn't lost trying to find his way home across the prairie in a blizzard.

And they never need anyone's help -- or, well, no help they don't pay for.

For instance: Caroline gives the nice cowboy who gives her a lift home from town a dollar for the ride.  And she lets Mr. Svenson cut her hay for "shares" in payment for taking her letter to town.  And so on.

And, in fact, the one time that Caroline turns to the community for help, she receives a nightmare of rejection.

This is toward the end of the book: after the grasshoppers, after Charles has gone East to find work, after  she learns that her Swedish neighbors are not "real" Americans (bitterly disappointed because the country won't feed them with a spoon, as Lane puts it, they are giving up and going East to be "hired men," the losers).

She goes to town, thinking she will board with someone.  Everyone treats her -- well -- like a customer.  Like someone trying to rent a room.

Somehow she is shocked by this.  Though I can't think why.  She has no community with these people -- she's never even met them.  Why should they treat her like part of their community?

She retreats to her dugout and survives the winter on grit and backbone, like a good Ayn Rand heroine.

Charles shows up in the nick of time, for a heart-warming closing scene, complete with the baby popping out of the woodbox, little curl so cute on his forehead.

                                                          ****   ******    ******

The thing is, this is a nice Randian fantasy, but it is fantasy.

In fact, those farmers who went out to the territories went in groups, in wagon trains, for obvious reasons.

In fact, farms were seldom far from towns, and again for obvious reasons; and were dependent on the towns.

In fact, farm houses were built close to other houses, again, for obvious reasons. (Fellman speaks of how four farm families would locate their houses at the adjacent corners of their quarter sections, in order to be near one another.)

In fact, farmers were a close-knit community, working together to break the land, to raise their houses and barns, to care for their animals and each other.  No one "did it alone" except lunatics, crazy hermits living up in the woods. Those were the people you heard tell about.

In fact, as Mrs. Baker made clear, only a fool would take his pregnant 16 year old wife off alone to winter on the prairie. In fact, without a midwife or a doctor to help, a woman stood a good chance of dying in childbirth. (Hell, even with the midwife.)

But Rose Wilder Lane wasn't writing history; she was writing a myth: a story she wanted, in 1932, to get us to believe, which was the myth of the independent American, pulling himself up by his bootstraps, who didn't need anyone's help, much less the government's, who would only be lured off the true path, and weakened, and destroyed, by taking that help.

That's the smoke she's selling in this story; and in the Little House books too; and the audience loved it, then as now.  This book was well received at the time; and it's still on the shelf at my hometown library.

Looks pretty well read, too.

The problem with the story she was selling was the country she was selling it to.  Like our country now, it was seriously broken.  The Great Depression was really just getting started; the New Deal, which would dig us out and keep us out (until the GOP broke the country again), was also just getting started.

If Lane and her fellow Libertarians could get enough people to believe that not only shouldn't you and your community work together, but y'all couldn't work together, they could crush that new world under their heels properly.

And -- to give them credit -- they managed the task, though it did take them some time.

Update:  Something I meant to mention & forgot: Indians.  In Wilder's books, the treatment of American Indians is at times problematic. (Fellman's book deals with this in some detail.)  Lane's novel erases them. If there is any mention of Indians at all in the novel, I missed it. Caroline worries about outlaws and claim jumpers, wolves and the cold; Lane describes the railroad and the horrible rude people in the town and the bizarre behavior of those foreign Swedes; but Indians?

Not a word.

You would think those Dakota prairies had been as empty of people as the moon.

Update II: See also this article by Christine Woodside at the Boston Globe (via Feministing): "Little Libertarians on the Prairie"

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Evan Dahm Is Planning THIS

An illustrated Wizard of Oz.

I want it now.

Granted, Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.

And granted, usually this is a good thing.

But just now -- not.


Last day of Summer II!

Now all I have to do...

  • Finish revising my novel
  • Prep my Working Class Lit class (which I start teaching in ONE WEEK)
  • Finish (okay, start working on) my promotion portfolio (I'm going up for Full Professor this year)
  • Get the kid registered for home-schooling 9th grade
  • Prep my other three classes which I start teaching in ONE WEEK
  • mow the fucking lawn (has not been mowed since July 4th)
  • Clean my horrible house
Yeah.  That should be a snap.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Oh Ogden Nash NO

(The Kid and I are putting away groceries and she is humming to herself when all of a sudden she stops and stares at me, stricken.)

The Kid: Oh no.

Me: What?

The Kid: I just realized....

Me: What?

The Kid: The Ogden Nash...I just realized what it was about...

Me: What poem?

The Kid: Candy is dandy / but liquor is quicker.

(She stares at me)

The Kid:  Mom.

Me:  Yep.  Wasn't the world cool back when men thought date rape was funny?

The Kid: But...Odgen Nash?

Me: Here.  Put the apples away.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Speaks on America as a White Supremacist Nation

Over on his blog, Ta-Nehisi Coates links to a speech he gave at the American Library in Paris right after the Trayvon Martin verdict came out.

It's about forty minutes long, but well worth the time. Not only is Coates excellent at the informal lecture, he knows his stuff.  Here, he talks about how America's early commitment to slavery as a labor source tied it to white supremacy, and how that stayed with us, and continues to stay with us.

It's an important lecture.

What's This? Chocolate Gravy?

Until I moved to NW Arkansas, I had never heard of chocolate gravy.

Here's a recipe for it, up at Cooking With Delagar: Chocolate Gravy.

Monday, August 05, 2013

It's Only Natural! Or: Why Would You Take A Pill When You're Not Sick?

Recently one of my ex-students, someone I respect(ed) intellectually, linked to this, which, in case you don't want to click through, is an anti-choice propaganda piece in which an pro-choice woman, seeing that it's a really true baby in there being torn to pieces for shits and giggles, coverts on the spot.

Though I have learned better than to argue on FB, I objected, pointing out the errors in the post; a lively debate ensued; very quickly one of his friends called me "angry" and wanted to know how long I had been taking "that pill"  She went onto say that the pill "causes cancer and is a known abortifacient. Are you happy about that?"

And here, of course, is where the radical anti-choice crowd always tip their hand.

They pretend it all about the babies (by which they mean the fetuses and zygotes, in fact) but in fact, as they show by quickly reverting to their core belief -- which is forced pregnancy for women -- this fuss about babies is only a ruse.

Their real goal is reactionary, as Marcotte, over at Pandagon, argues in this post.

That is, previous to the woman's liberation movement, men had a secure source of inferiors, right there in his home, and everywhere around him.  Women were always right there, to be subservient.

He knew they were inferior, because everything showed him that -- they were smaller, they were weaker, they were always pregnant and burdened with children, he could beat them up whenever he liked -- and further, his religion and his culture told him they were his inferior. Plus, thanks to all that child-bearing, they kept dying on him.  And, thanks to the laws he had written, all the money they made belonged to him.  

But then women fought for changes in the laws, and some of them worked to create these medicines, and now what's happened?  They've changed the world!  They don't have to have ten or fifteen babies!  They can get educated and get jobs!  Lots of them have decided to start ignoring the priests and not do Natural Family planning!  Lots of them don't believe the Mens who tell them Natural Family Planning actually works!  (Spoilers: It doesn't.) 

Instead, they decide to use IUDs and take that evil pill (which does not in fact cause cancer or kill babies). 

Why would women do such a thing?

And why does it make (some men) so angry?

That's the real question, and in fact it's not so hard to answer, is it?

And let's be clear about just why it is important that women have access to contraception and be allowed to choose when and if to bear children.

A woman who can't control her fertility can't choose to get educated.  For those of you who have never been a mother, I'll just make this clear: a child takes all of your time.  A child needs every bit of every hour of your time.  That's every hour of every day and every night.  Two kids need 48 hours of your 24 hours.  And so on.

If you're lucky enough to have an extended family around you (I wasn't), which is the way humans are meant to raise kids (see Mothers and Others by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, a book I cannot recommend highly enough) this work of raising a child, and it is work, dear reader, it is the hardest work you will ever do, however much you may love your child, and I love mine more than anything, but don't fool yourself about what you're getting into, it's work.  With an extended family around you, the work will be a bit easier, but it's still work.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  With contraception, women can control their fertility.  We can decide when and if we have children.  This allowed me to put off having kids until I had finished my PhD.  This allows women to keep their families to one or two or three children, so that they can get jobs, or get degrees.  This allows (many) women not to have children at all, so that they can have the lives they want to have -- be scientists, be marathon runners, be linguists, be writers.

Why would this upset (some) men so much?

Well, it's because women are not supposed to be people, isn't it?

We're supposed to be servants.  We're supposed to be there to help men be people.

Oh, sure, a few of us can break out of the ranks and be people -- Joan of Arc.  Mother Theresa.  What's her name, that scientist who helped her husband be a person.

But most of us girls are happy being servants.  Right?

Anyway that's what these guys keep telling each other.

To a certain kind of person -- usually male -- losing these subservient ranks is very disturbing.  Virginia Woolf, I think it was, said it was because these men counted on the woman to reflect him, to be his mirror, to constantly tell him he was twice as big as he actually was, and if he lost that -- if he had to see himself as he actually was, just a regular human being, not that smart, not that brilliant, not that tough or special...just fucking mortal...well, how could he bear it?

Maybe that's it.

But you know what?

It's 2013.  Time to grow up, fellas.

We don't have time to wipe your bottoms anymore.

We've got work to do.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

A Joke From the Kid

I am sitting in the white chair, writing and listening to Rile Kiley sing "A Better Son/Daughter."

The Kid rushes into the room.

The Kid: Mom! Mom!

Me: (Pulling off my earphone, patiently.  Being a mother who is a writer means constant interruptions. Especially when you have two cats and a dog as well as a Kid.)

The Kid: What do you get when you cross a potato with a penis?

Me: (smiling a little): What?


(The Kid laughs hysterically and rushes back to her room.)

Friday, August 02, 2013

Smile, Sunshine! Good Manners And Girls

I was nineteen and away at college, kind of depressed, frankly, I was walking down the street in Ruston, Louisiana, gloomy, my head down, my backpack on, and this older man, a total stranger, suddenly lurched into my path. "Smile, sunshine!" he commanded.

I stepped back, startled.

"Smile!" he ordered.

I smiled, terrified.

"There!  Was that so hard?" he demanded.  It wasn't a friendly question, either.  It was like he was my father, and he was setting me straight on the way to behave in public.  He kept staring at me fiercely for another few seconds, and then he went back across the street -- he had crossed the fucking street to correct my aberrant behavior -- and strode off into the hardware store: a man in his mid-forties, dressed in khaki pants and a white shirt, his dark hair cut short, wearing work boots and red suspenders.  I stood where I was, watching him out of sight.

Why do I tell you this story now?

This story showed up in the NYTimes recently.

It's a parenting tale, about a woman who was raised, as I was, and as many of us were, to be good girls -- to be compliant, to please everyone: to smile.

I remember, for instance, when I was sixteen, on one of my first dates, how when I didn't want to "make out," as we called it then, and he did, how the guy shoved me up against the door of my parents' house and shoved his hands into my shirt, forced his tongue into my mouth, shoved himself against me -- how this went on for what seemed like a very long time.  How when it was done, I went inside and cried.  How I told no one, not for years.  Because he was a nice guy.  Because our parents were friends.  Because I didn't want to make trouble.

I remember, for instance, out running one evening in New Orleans after dark -- I often ran after dark, because running during the day was impossible, due to the vicious heat.  I was very near to home, only five or six blocks away, when this light-colored Chevy began following me.  I watched it side-eyed, being, by this time (17 or so) no stranger at all to fuckwads in cars shouting rude shit at me while I ran (Hey, babe, nice tits being the least of it).

When I was less than a block from home, the car pulled up beside me.  "Hey," the guy in it said.  "Hey.  Hey.  Want to get in?  Come home with me.  Come on.  We'll go back to my place and fuck."

"No, thank you," I said.  Politely.

I remember, for instance, this time when I was standing at a bus stop, twenty years old, on my way to work.  It was raining, and I had an umbrella.  This guy came up to me.  Young.  Smirking.  Setting off my perv alarms.  "Hey," he said.  "I forgot my umbrella.  Okay if I share yours?"

"Oh, sure," I said: politely.

He crowded in close.  Very close.  It soon became apparent that he had a boner, and that he was rubbing it against me.

What did I do, dear readers?  Not a fucking thing.  Because it would be rude to scream and swear at him and hit him with my umbrella.  It would be making a fuss.

I remember, for instance, when one of my professors -- I was a senior -- hit on me, how I smiled, politely, politely, as I backed out of his office.  No, thank you.  No, thank you.  No, thank you.

That was me before I learned to be a feminist.  I can't believe now that I ever thought or acted that way, but I swear to you, dear readers, that all of that is true.

This is why this story in the NYTimes hits home for me.

My 10-year-old daughter, Birdy, is not nice, not exactly. She is deeply kind, profoundly compassionate and, probably, the most ethical person I know — but she will not smile at you unless either she is genuinely glad to see you or you’re telling her a joke that has something scatological for a punch line.


Birdy is polite in a “Can you please help me find my rain boots?” and “Thank you, I’d love another deviled egg” kind of way. But when strangers talk to her, she is like, “Whatever.” She looks away, scowling. She does not smile or encourage.

I bite my tongue so that I won’t hiss at her to be nice. I tell you this confessionally. Because do I think it is a good idea for girls to engage with zealously leering men, like the creepy guy in the hardware store who is telling her how pretty she is? I do not. “Say thank you to the nice man who wolf-whistled!” “Smile at the frat boy who’s date-raping you!” 

I want my daughter to be tough, to say no, to waste exactly zero of her God-given energy on the sexual, emotional and psychological demands of lame men — of lame anybodies. I don’t want her to accommodate and please. I don’t want her to wear her good nature like a gemstone, her body like an ornament.

Yes.  Yes.  That is what we want for our children -- not just girls, as Newman notes, but especially for girls, who do not have male privilege to protect them.

But -- no surprise -- those who are smugly ensconced in their fat wads of male privilege are made very sad indeed by Newman's post.

Here is Rod Dreher, being very disapproving:  "Catherine Newman is one strange mommy. She writes in the NYT that she does not want her daughter to be nice."

And while some of those in his comment stream push back, others, predictably, go after the evil feminist like rabid ferrets:

JB says:
We’re raising our daughter to be confident, to stand up for herself, and never to be intimidated or talked over by men or anyone else.

But this woman is a b*tch, pure and simple, and her daughter is becoming a strange, intolerant, easily angered little freak already. Was I clear enough?

Hector_St_Clare says:

What this witless whiner doesn’t seem to get is that cultural ideals of masculinity and femininity exist fora reason. I hope her daughter (ten years from now or whatever) has good luck finding a decent man (i.e. the kind who actually wants to take care of and provide for her needs, not use her for sex and then go back to the Playstation). Those sorts of men tend to be drawn to women who fit traditional ideals of femininity, not the feminist harridans.

Most decent men prefer to look for their future girlfriends and spouses at the evangelical coffee hour rather than at abortion rallies or feminist reading groups. When it comes to gender roles, behavioural ecology teaches similar lessons to the Bible.

The reality is, though, if your daughters are given freedom to be who they want to be, it’s more likely than not that they will choose to follow traditional gender norms. These norms exist for obvious evolutionary reasons, not because we are brainwashed by the dreaded patriarchy. It’s highly amusing that cultural liberals, who one would expect to believe in science and evolution, suddenly stop believeing in evolution when it comes to human behaviour.

And this one, which I include because it is a prime example of the very topic in question -- here we have a woman doing her best to please the Mens on the Blog (which it did: Rod gave her major Brownie points for this comment, as did at least one another fella commentor. You go girl!)

SusanKG says:
The author seems to espouse an ethic devoid of beauty or joy. I want my daughters to have freedom to explore and be who they want to be. Both are attracted to “girly” things, and they are also very athletic, especially our younger daughter. My husband has jokingly said she will be the first female linebacker in the NFL, and she will be wearing a pink skirt.

I tell my daughters every day that they are beautiful. I don’t mean to tell them they are merely physically beautiful, but they are beautiful because of their humanity. And you know what? They are not growing up conceited. I have never once heard them say, “I am beautiful, you are not.” Rather, they grow up telling everyone else they are beautiful, even our dog. “Breezy, you are so beautiful!” The feedback we have gotten back from preschool is that they show compassion to other children. They are loved, they love others, and enjoy life.

Does the author’s daughter enjoy life, or is she too obsessed with oppressive societal gender roles? Maybe the family needs more “Babette’s Feast,” less Puritanical feminism.

My point -- and I do have one -- this socialization of women to please not just the men in their lives, but everyone on their lives, is still on-going.

We're still meant to be caretakers to the world.

This is not just a problem (as long as we're doing all the unpaid, unacknowledged caretaking in the world, in our households, in the workplaces (if you're in the academy, you know what I'm talking about here), then we have so much less time and energy to get our work done); it is also a danger.

It is a danger because so long as we think we need to subsume our own needs, our own selves, in order to keep everyone else happy and safe, we are putting our selves, and teaching our daughters to put themselves, at risk.

I leave you with one last comment from Rod's blog:

Gina says:
I see your point–but even though I think Newman takes hers to an extreme, I understand it too.
Last week, I told my 4-year-old daughter that if she gets lost in the supermarket, she should sit down right where she is and scream. Her reply was “What if it disturbs other people?”

I was stunned. We do emphasize good manners in our family, but I realized she had dangerously internalized this as a be-all-and-end all–above her personal safety and the right to always protect herself by–yes–creating a loud, ugly (and CRUCIAL) disturbance when she felt threatened. I think that’s what Newman’s getting at, however clumsily.

Update: See also this post from NicoleandMaggie, over at Grumpy Rumblings of the (formerly!) Untenured, for other aspects of this issue: "The Bitch Face."

Update II:  Yeah, see this from Captain Awkward, also.  (H/T Nicole&Maggie again!)