Archive for March, 2008

March 22nd 2008
Curiouser and curiouser: Malice in Tenureland

Posted under Gender & jobs & unhappy endings & wankers

“Have some wine,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.  Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.  “I don’t see any wine,” she remarked.  “There isn’t any,” said the March Hare.  “Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,” said Alice angrily.  “It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited,” said the March Hare.

alice-in-tenureland.jpgThis is a follow-up to my super-cheerful post on Wednesday, “Tenure:  What is it good for?  (Absolutely nothing?)”  Hear now the tale of Sheri Klouda, a faculty member who was told she wouldn’t be tenured at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary because the good men of SBTS “believe women are biblically forbidden from teaching men.”  (Yes–you read that correctly.  I know it doesn’t make any sense, but bear with me.)  Her contract wasn’t renewed in 2006, so she took them to court.  She’s in the news this week because a judge dismissed her lawsuit, claiming that their “religious beliefs” make it all nice’n’legal (on First Amendment grounds, natch.)  This ruling doesn’t make any sense at all.  Their “religious beliefs” prevent women from teaching men at all, so–why was she hired?  Other women remain on the faculty–apparently they have no rights as employees which SBTS is bound to respect.  How disturbing that U.S. District Judge John McBryde doesn’t find it troubling that these deeply held “religious beliefs” are checked at the door until they’re needed to block a woman’s promotion.  Disturbing, but not surprising–after all, this is characteristic of that crazy, mixed-up, through-the-looking-glass place called Tenureland, where nothing is as it seems!


March 21st 2008
Three fab dresses and one bad haircut

Posted under Bodily modification & Dolls & fluff


Because I got so worked up over that post on Wednesday (quel bummer!), I had to take a break to play with my Barbies again.  Here’s another Barbie photo shoot, this one featuring three different sleeve lengths on the same coctail dress model.  (Susan:  do you like any of these, or do you still prefer the black-and-silver number?)  Barbie 1958 is in the red short sleeves, Barbie 1962 is in the blue 3/4 length sleeves, and Barbie ca. 1977 is in the seafoam sleeveless dress.  Barbie ca. 1977 is having a bad hair day every day for the rest of her life.  In my efforts to save the hair, it seems that I have destroyed the hair.  Barbie hair is really difficult to cut in any flattering way, because of the weird design of the rooting.  It’s just not designed for short hair or layering, I’m afraid!  Here’s a horrifying closeup of the damage:



March 20th 2008
New York Times article on Prof blogs, Facebook/MySpace pages

Posted under book reviews & Gender & jobs & women's history

nutty-professor.jpgRead and discuss.

Does anyone else have a problem with the fact that they illustrate this story with a still of John Houseman from The Paper Chase?  (How many of you XX types have been told, especially in your younger years, that “you don’t look like a Professor!” by someone who meant it as a compliment?)

Please note that the only people interviewed for this article are male professors, and they rhapsodize about the opportunity to “humanize” themselves in their students’ eyes.  Somehow, this reminds me of the discussion in January over at New Kid on the Hallway about clothing, and the fact that many male professors are clueless that the liberty they have to dress as they like in the classroom is a gendered privilege.  I don’t really think my students need to see me as more “human.”  That just gives them more information about me outside of my professional life, and my professional life is the only thing my students need to know about.

As it happens, I’m reading Leslie Bennetts’ The Feminine Mistake (which I recommend highly) and she’s got all kind of depressing facts and studies that show how women’s work is devalued, but in particular, the ways in which women are paid even less than other women and viewed as less competent if they’re mothers.  As you all know, Historiann has a sex, but as far as most of you know, she is otherwise like the Publick Universal Friend, Jemima Wilkinson–a wife to none, and a mother to all humankind.  Thanks, but no Facebook “friends” for me–I’d rather be a Professor Universal Friend.


March 19th 2008
Tenure: what is it good for? (Absolutely nothing?)

Posted under Gender & Intersectionality & jobs & race & unhappy endings & women's history

Well, it’s Spring Break, and the letters will soon rain down from Provost Offices everywhere on assistant professors in their sixth year of employment.  The lucky duckies who get the news that they’re tenured and promoted. . . are permitted to do the same job next year, in perpetuity, and to change their rank to “Associate Professor” on their CVs as of July 1.  The unlucky duckies get heaping doses of shame and humiliation to shovel out of their mental Augean Stables for the rest of their lives.

Inspired by this post at Slaves of Academe, about the apparently outrageous decision to deny Andrea Smith tenure at the University of Michigan, Tenured Radical brilliantly sums up a lot of the rage and frustration that many of us feel about the system we’ve created for ourselves.  The Andrea Smith case is especially vexing for us Women’s Studies types, because she is a Native American scholar and activist with a dual appointment in two departments whose tenure case was approved by American Culture but denied by Women’s Studies.  (With friends like that. . . who needs History departments?)  The Radical One makes the point that unions might serve us better in protecting our right to free speech and the pursuit of scholarship, and several commenters agree.  (By the way, don’t miss the Radical One’s This American Life-worthy story about a short but disturbing conversation with a random dog-walker in New York City.  You’ll never look at dog butt-sniffing the same way again!)  Marc Bousquet has made the point at How the University Works that tenure really isn’t that great of a prize–people in unions get better job protection and benefits than tenured people, without being put through the humiliations that the tenure process dishes out with impunity.  As he puts it, “today’s tenured faculty-and their unions-still have a lot to learn from the people who carry their trash, organize their files, teach their children, and put out their fires.”

One of the things about tenure is that most of us are in denial about its costs, even (or especially?) those of us who are casualties of destructive work environments and/or bruising tenure battles.  It seems like every woman faculty member I know has been brutalized by the system at some point–if not as a junior faculty member, at the point of tenure and promotion to Associate; if not at that point, then they get it when they go up for their next promotion to Professor.  Both institutions that I’ve been affiliated with as a regular faculty member have suddenly and arbitrarily invented higher tenure standards when a generation of women Assistant Professors came up for tenure and promotion.  Example:  In my former department, there were men promoted to Associate Professor before they were tenured (and then tenured easily as a matter of course), but just a few years later when a handful of women came up for tenure, they were offered the pink-collar designation of tenured Assistant Professor.  Nice, huh?

And yet, we don’t talk about this.  Although feminist intellectuals who have sophisticated understandings about how power works, we still feel shame about our own experiences.  We still see them–to one degree or another–as personal failures, rather than the fault of the system and of the people who interpret and enforce the system’s rules.  We don’t want to discourage our graduate students or new junior colleages.  After all, who among them wants to hear that “the evil claw of patriarchy will get you too, my pretty!”  It’s easier for all of us to assume that the roughed-up or ultimately untenured must have done something to deserve it, because we don’t want to believe that it could happen to us.  We’re good girls, we did everything right, we went to conferences and had publications on our CVs when we were graduate students.  We’ve won national fellowships.  We’re protected.  We’re bulletproof. 

Maybe we should all get T-shirts, like the “I had an abortion” T-shirts, that read, “I was denied tenure,” or “I had to go up for tenure twice,” or “I was told that I ‘intimidate’ senior faculty members,” or “I sued my department,” or, “I was told to shut up and take it.”  That’s frequently the advice that junior faculty get, especially from senior faculty who took it, and “won” the glorious prize of tenure. 

Tenure is also on Historiann’s mind because there is apparently a new Hollywood movie in the works called Tenure, starring Luke Wilson, with David Koechner as his goofball Anthropologist sidekick.  It will be filmed at Bryn Mawr College (so cleverly renamed in the movie “Grey College.”)  Here comes the icky part:  the plot is that the character played by Wilson comes up for tenure “and fac[es] off against a female rival who recently arrived” to teach at the same institution.  Other media reports suggest that Wilson’s character “competes for tenure with an impressive new female colleague.”  Ugh.  Just perfect:  the tenure drama reduced to a boys-versus-the-girl paranoid masculine fantasy, made all the more disgusting by the fact that Bryn Mawr is a women’s college that hasn’t been terribly progressive in hiring women faculty members in the past twenty years.  Maybe Tenure will be a clever comedy, and maybe it will surprise me–but so far, the plot sounds backlashy, or at best a weak “cute meet” setup.  For those of us who have been sounding the alarms about the re-masculinization of academia, this movie will be one to watch (like a trainwreck?)  Then again, maybe it will just be the faculty version of Old School, which also featured Wilson:  stupid, but kinda funny.

I’ve been wondering if the generation of us women faculty who were hired between 1992-2002 will witness the further re-masculinization of our departments over the course of our careers.  Like the generations of women faculty who dominated women’s colleges from the 1920s through the 1950s, we could find ourselves patronized and edged out by younger men who will then run our institutions for the next forty years (at least.)  There was a story I heard while still a Bryn Mawr undergraduate about one of the last of the grandes dames from that generation of scholars.  The faculty vote to tenure one of the first young men hired in the 1950s wasn’t going his way; the grande dame acknowledged that he wasn’t much of a scholar, but urged her colleagues to tenure him nevertheless so that they wouldn’t look like they were prejudiced against men.  That was a pretty funny punchline back in the 1980s when I was an undergrad–twenty years later as a faculty member, the best I can offer a rueful grimace.


March 17th 2008
Can you play short, ugly, and second-worst?

Posted under American history & wankers

giamatti-adams.jpgIf your name is Paul Giamatti, the answer is yes!  Giamatti is starring in HBO’s docudrama on the life of John Adamsofficially the second-worst President in American history.  Ari over at Edge of the American West finds the casting unconvincing, mostly because he doesn’t think Giamatti’s John Adams captures Adams’ truly monumental asshattery.  According to Ari, Giamatti’s portrayal “extends from neurotic to nerdy, with occasional detours into petulant,” and he concludes that Giamatti “seemingly has no clue how to embody a man like Adams.”  (Yes, Ari finds that even this portrayal is too flattering to Adams!) 

Jill Lepore expresses frustrations similar to Ari’s in her review of the HBO movie, which appears in The New Yorker this week.  Entitling her review “The Divider,” she writes that minor quibbles about the movie aside, “the bigger problem is how far the writing has to go to make Adams both more important and more virtuous than everyone around him except his wife, as if to justify his prodigious self-regard and disdain for his contemporaries. Adams didn’t ‘unite the states of America,’ but he accomplished a hell of a lot. He was bold. He was brilliant. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t also a heel.”  She rightly reminds us of his outsized outrage after reading Mercy Otis Warren’s history of the American Revolution.  “Adams wrote Warren ten letters-some more than twenty pages long-of petty, rambling vituperation,” protesting her portrayal of him in her book.  “But his reading of Warren’s ‘History’ was paranoid and hysterical,” Lepore aptly observes, “and his letters to her are the rantings of a bully:  she is unladylike; there are things he could say about her if he weren’t such a gentleman.”  This was certainly a side of Adams that was ignored or downplayed in David McCullough’s John Adams, which was the inspiration for the HBO movie.

Historiann is just relieved that HBO didn’t cast George Clooney or Colin Firth in the service of flattering Adams even further.  Unattractive actors still get work in Hollywood–some of the most unattractive (Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman, for example, and they’re dumpy too!) are offered really interesting roles that win them big awards and fabulous reviews.  (By the way:  in real life, alcoholic junior high school teachers who are also failed writers and look like Giamatti don’t get to run away with Virginia Madsen!  Interestingly, Laura Linney has been cast with both Giamatti and Hoffman recently–John Adams, 2008, and The Savages, 2007, perhaps because she’s about as average-looking as any successful actress is allowed to be these days, and she’s of course gorgeous compared to actual humans.)  When directors need to cast an unattractive woman, they pop an ugly prosthetic nose on Nicole Kidman, or they make Charlize Theron wear weird dentures and a fat suit, or Renee Zellweger gains twenty whole pounds, because there are apparently no plain or even average-looking good actresses.  (Or actresses who have eaten a cheeseburger since the 1990s).  Full employment is only for sylph-like goddesses between the ages of 24 and 39–remember, makeup artists can do amazing things putting wrinkles on gorgeous young things, instead of having to employ a has-been like that old bag Julia Roberts.  (Happy 40th, Julia!  Love ya!)

 UPDATE:  See also Marc Bousquet’s review of the movie at How the University Works, where he constructs John Adams as an exemplar of the revolt of the “professional-managerial class.”  Bousquet writes, “Giamatti’s performance as Adams didn’t quite do it for me. His note for Adams seems to be ‘every revolution needs good management.’  Still I found many moments to like. Gruesomely cool was the inoculation of  the Adams family against smallpox.”  (Alert for PalMD!)

 UPDATE II, 3/19/08:  A clever and funny local yokel columnist for the Denver Post, Ed Quillen, published a column this morning called “Adams Deserves Obscurity.”  Like Historiann, he wonders why Adams gets the fawning treatment by HBO.  The money quote:  “John Adams had many virtues. But he also gave America the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a crime to criticize the federal government or its officers. A revolutionary who betrays his ideals has little right to complain about his treatment by history.”


March 16th 2008
Sunday Barbie blogging, eccentric outfits edition

Posted under Dolls & fluff


Thanks for all of your kind wishes about family funerals.  Since I was back in the ancestral homelands, I had the opportunity to play with my Barbies again, and so can furnish you with more photographs of the couture knitwear collection I introduced to you a few weeks ago.  Here, from left to right, are some of the more eccentric items in the collection:  Barbie 1962 is wearing my all-time favorite in the collection, the sparky black and silver coctail dress; Barbie 1958 is wearing the swimsuit, Barbie ca. 1977 is wearing the ice skating outfit with angora trim, and Malibu Barbie 1966 is wearing the caftan.  I’ve got sad news to report:  in the course of dressing up Malibu B., I wrenched off her remaining leg, so she’s a paraplegic an amputee now!  All of them except Barbie 1962 have pretty significant health and/or aesthetic flaws–but more on that later next week.  We’re all getting older, after all.


March 12th 2008
Family funeral blogging, redux

Posted under Uncategorized


You won’t believe it, but my grandmother died Monday morning, so it’s back to the ancestral homelands again with me.  My grandmother was, for less than a month, the widow of the grandfather who died in February.  They were each other’s second spouses–both had been widowed–but were married 33 years, which is a pretty good run for a first marriage, even.  Many older couples slip away in close succession, especially in cases where one may have been holding on in order to take care of the other.  She had a good death (praise be to Morpheus).  She really enjoyed seeing her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren again at Grampa’s funeral last month.  She’s my last grandparent to go, so it’s an end to an era of family life.  Back next week. 


March 12th 2008
A-hem! A-men.

Posted under American history & women's history

On this very blog Tuesday, March 4, at 11:32 a.m., Ari from Edge of the American West wrote this in the comments to my post called, “What is wrong with Maureen Dowd?”:

“If you can arrange for do-over in MI and FL, I’ll agree to campaign for Hillary from this point forward. Seriously, I’d love to see it. But it’s not going to happen.”  (This was in response to Historiann’s comment that she “would strongly support [a re-vote in Michigan and Florida], rather than the seating of the Clinton delegates from those two states, which would indeed be unfair.”)  If you recall, in the Michigan primary Clinton was the only candidate on the ballot.  In Florida both Clinton and Obama were on the ballot, but they had agreed not to campaign there, and Florida Democrats were told their votes in that primary wouldn’t count.

Well, Ari, Historiann has personally arranged for this, along with my BFF’s Ed Rendell, Jon Corzine, all of the Democrats in Florida and Michigan, and Clinton campiagn manager Maggie Williams.  We’ve just about cinched the deal.  According to this letter from Williams, the Clinton campaign is go-go for a re-vote.  Now, it’s true that we haven’t sealed the deal yet.  When that happens, you may sign up to start making phone calls on behalf of Senator Clinton in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida at  (To which address should I send you the tee-shirts and campaign buttons?)

UPDATE, this afternoon:  Obama Michigan campaign co-Chair rejects a re-vote; Obama campaign rejects mail-in vote in Florida and Michigan.


March 11th 2008
Wanted: a non-U.S. American for President

Posted under American history & wankers

martin-van-buren.JPGGo read this commentary by William K. Wolfrum over at Shakesville, a smart and spanky group blog.  He makes the fascinating point, long-overlooked by professional killjoys historians, that American-born presidents have been real losers compared to the British born ones.  “You need to go all the way to the eighth President – Martin Van Buren – to have a U.S. president that was born a bona fide American. And what is Van Buren best known for? The Panic of 1837 . . . . If Van Buren showed us anything, it was that true Americans were inept when it came to leading the country.”  (Kind of weird that his nickname was “The Little Magician,” no?  Compare that to “Old Hickory” or “Old Rough and Ready”–it just doesn’t inspire.)  Wolfrum makes exceptions for Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the other New York Democrat after Van Buren to be elected President.  As a professional killjoy historian, I’ve got a few quibbles with Wolfrum, natch:  The “no person except a natural born citizen” rule kept us from what would have been the early national nightmare of a President Alexander Hamilton, but we’ve amended the constitution considerably in the intervening 200 years since that would have been an issue.  And, you have to admit that this guy is definitely the second-worst President in American history despite being born in Massachusetts, which contrary to recent rumors, is not and never was a French colony.

When you think about it, considering only U.S.-born Americans for the job limits our options considerably.  We could have a President Jennifer Granholm (born in Canada) one of these days if we did away with that rule, or a President Mary Robinson.  (We also could have a President Kindergarten Cop, though–something to consider, my fellow Americans!) 

On a related note:  HNN is once again asking us professionals to rate and rank George W. Bush’s presidency.  (Guess who beats out that guy in Historiann’s book?  One guess only!)  Anyway, if you want to submit your own answers, have at it.  I think we almost need to adjust the rankings for the newest soon-to-be ex-president to create five or six spaces in between him and the next-worst.  It almost makes me feel a little sorry for this guy–but not really all that sorry.  After all, until January 20, 2009, he’s Number One!

p.s.  Please keep sending me nominations for quality women’s history blogs–read the post below!  And as long as I’m sending hugs and kisses out to Shakesville, read this excellent post by Jeff Fecke on Geraldine Ferraro’s egregious comment that Barack Obama is somehow benefiting (unfairly!) from being a black man.  It’s embarassing, and just dumber than a sack of hammers.  Don’t go all Ralph Nader, Gerry, saying and doing dumb things that undermine your historic achievements and make us hate you in spite of them!  Apologize now!  UPDATE 3/12/08:  Ferraro bows out of the Clinton campaign.  Kind of a whiny letter, but brief!


March 10th 2008
Free publicity for women’s history bloggers!

Posted under Berkshire Conference & Gender & Intersectionality & women's history

pat-steir-1981.jpgAs one of the Program Committee co-Chairs of the 2008 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, along with Peg Strobel and Susan Amussen, I sent out the following call for blogs (a CFB?) a few months ago:

“We on the 2008 Program Committee are assembling a links page for blogs that deal substantially with women’s history (both pedagogy as well as research and publications) and professional issues of interest to feminists both inside and outside of the historical profession.  While blogging is a free-form genre, and we understand that they will frequently offer a mixture of both serious concerns and humorous commentary, we cannot include blogs that focus predominantly on hobbies or other personal interests outside of women’s history and/or the aforementioned professional issues.”

Please let me know, in the comments below, if you have a blog you’d like us to list.  Just pop the link in your comment, and include a short list of the topics that you write about most frequently.  (You may also e-mail me if you have any questions.)  You do not have to be a professional historian or studying to become one in order to be listed–you just have to write a good blog that’s on point.  Also, I’d really appreciate recommendations for other people’s blogs you’d like to see on our links pages, which will appear on both this year’s conference website ( and on our main website (  For those of you with blogs, I’d appreciate it if you’d help me spread the message–please link to this post with abandon, and encourage your friends to contribute.

As we approach the conference on June 12-15, I’ll be doing more blogging about the Berks, and highlighting some of the sessions that I think will be standouts, perhaps some “liveblogging” at the conference, and follow-up through the summer.  (Did you know that one of the fun things this academic conference offers is a dance?  F’real!  Check out the program, page 88, at the bottom.) 


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