Archive for April, 2008

April 22nd 2008
All the best marriages are queer

Posted under American history & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality

Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Profs points us to a new article by Marc R. Poirier offering an innovative argument against the opponents of same-sex marriage.  Called “The Cultural Property Claim Within the Same-Sex Marriage Controversy,” Poirier argues that “traditionalist” opponents of same-sex marriage rights are in effect making an illegitamate cultural property claim on the definition and performance of marriage.  From the abstract:  “The protection of shared cultural symbols, rituals and traditions can be approached doctrinally and understood culturally in several ways in addition to a cultural property claim, including trademark dilution (especially trademark tarnishment), intellectual property rights that protect against unauthorized performance, laws against blasphemy and desecration, and environmental prohibitions of pollution and contagion. The article examines each of these, shedding light on the unexplored mechanics of the signal congestion that often lies at the heart of the traditionalist concern.”  And in a nice Judith Butlerian way, the article “focuses not only on the name and status of marriage, but also on the daily performances of gender roles that marriage authorizes and facilitates, and that same sex marriage apparently threatens to dilute or disrupt. The article thus applies both property concepts and gender performance theory to the same sex marriage controversy.”  See especially his discussion of “Marriage as Ongoing Gender Performance” on p. 38, the headline of section IV of his essay.  (Download it here.  Poirier loves him some cultural studies–you’ll find Mary Douglas in his footnotes too.)

Poirier’s analysis offers several fruitful ways to beat the argument about the so-called “threat to traditional marriage” posed by same-sex marriage.  Historiann wishes we would return to traditional marriage, American-style, and define it the way that John Winthrop and Cotton Mather did:  as a civil contract because marriage is a human invention.  (Adam and Eve were merely “shacking up,” in Dr. Laura’s inestimable formulation.)  Remember, folks, desacralizing marriage was one of the indisputably great things to come out of the Protestant Reformation.  This is probably the one area of agreement between John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and Historiann.  Americans have redefined marriage throughout history–for example, revising marriage in the mid-19th century so that it didn’t rob women of their property rights; first prohibiting interracial marriage (ca. 1660-1720 in most English colonies), then permitting interracial marriage (in 1967, in Loving v. Virginia); and of course, the no-fault divorce revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, just to name a few of the major revolutions in American marriage history.  On p. 14 of his essay, Poirier indicates too how the legal definition of marriage varies not just across time, but across jurisdictional lines, from state-to-state.  So, including same-sexers in the fun seems like only a minimal revision of the potpourri of rules that we’re already re-writing constantly anyway. 

Poirier gets at the truth of people’s discomfort with same-sex marriage–at least the truth as I’ve always seen it, and explains why gay marriage is seen as a “threat” to “traditional marriage.”  He writes on p. 50, “[T]he injury traditionalists percieve, whether or not they would themselves describe it this way, comes in significant part from the fact that the gender binary is reaffirmed or challenged in the microperformance of couples everywhere, day in, day out. . . . When many people engage in similar gender performance, the normative components of their lived experience around gender, sex roles, and heterosexual components, are reinforced; indeed, they come to seem quite natural and unperformed.”  In other words, without a narrow, state-enforced definition of marriage, how will we know who wears the pants?  How will we know who’s supposed to mow the lawn and who’s supposed to keep the kitchen tidy?  How will we know whose last name the children will have, and who should be paid more for the same work?  (Freedom!  Horrible, horrible freedom!)   Queering marriage means not just permitting same-sexers to motor on down to any Las Vegas wedding chapel, but it also necessarily shatters the illusion that heterosexual marriage is a stable and natural institution.  It doesn’t threaten any marriage in particular, but it does threaten to expose “traditionalist” marriage as something that’s just as constructed and artificial as any other kind of marriage.

I’ve got all kinds of opinions about straight marriages and where they go wrong and where they’re hopelessly screwed up, and I’m sure you do, too.  I probably wouldn’t approve of your ongoing gender performance of marriage (straight or gay), and you probably wouldn’t approve of Historiann’s performance or marriage, if she is married.  So let’s agree to just bitch and gossip about each other privately like we always have, deal with our own happy and/or screwed-up (or happily screwed-up) marriages, and get out of the way of other people’s civil rights–the way adults do in a free society.  M’kay? 


April 21st 2008
Feminist Art, Feminist History, and Public History: Friction in the Archives?

Posted under American history & art & Bodily modification & women's history

While on vacation last week, I had a chance to visit the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco with a friend who’s a student at the San Francisco Art Institute.  (Sorry–no photos available!)  I had been mulling over a post on the exhibition we saw, which is called The Way That We Rhyme:  Women, Art, & PoliticsMy friend has a Ph.D. and taught feminist philosophy for several years, and our shared interest in feminist issues (historically and in the world today) is how we met and bonded.  Now today, Tenured Radical has a post raving about a similar-sounding exhibition in New York called WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution at P.S. 1.  So, thanks to TR’s initiative (also cross-posted at her new location, Cliopatria), it seems like a good opportunity to draw some attention to these efforts to engage both feminist art and the history of feminist activism that seems to be the raison d’être of both of these exhibitions.

Oh, and have you heard about that senior Aliza Shvarts’s “Abortion Art” thesis at Yale that everyone was frothing about late last week?  Yale claims that the supposed abortions were a “creative fiction” in the service of her performance art, but the student has stuck to her story and published this explanation of the ideas behind her repeated self-insemination and medical abortion.  From her statement, I get what she’s doing politically, but I really don’t see the artistry in her political expression.

This was my reaction to The Way That We Rhyme, too.  It was interesting and it documented some important moments in the history of “second-wave” feminism, but I was unclear where exactly the art was.  (Just to be clear:  I know a little art history but I’m no art critic, and I live at a distance from contemporary art galleries and museums, so my friend had to fill me in on some of the new trends in art.  So, it’s quite possible that my reaction is a result of me being untutored and unsophisticated.  Heck, I just recently took down the “Big Eye” pictures in my bedroom–example on the right.)  From what my friend said, the trends on display here were that art is now anti-aesthetic and seem to fetishize “outsider”-style art.  So, much of The Way That We Rhyme was either video, installations that involved found objects, and needlecrafts (knitting in particular), and usually two out of three.  There were no paintings and no drawings, although I think some paint and drawn images were used in some of the installations. 

Most interestingly, many of the installations were explicitly historical, and it made me wonder how exactly a reasonably creative contemporary public historian’s approach to the materials and subject matter would differ, if at all, from the artists’ installations.  One of the featured installations was literally of an archive of the art of two second-wave generation artists.  The archive boxes were stacked up on steel shelves right on the gallery wall, and interspersed between the boxes were about a dozen video screens (with headphones attached for your listening pleasure) showing different interviews with Gen-X and Gen-Y women artists leafing through and commenting on various items they found in the said archives.  Another display was simply some old issues of a feminist ‘zine from the 1980s laid out on a wooden table and secured by chains to the table so that they didn’t walk away.  Aside from the hatchet prankishly stuck in the tabletop, it was your basic method of display at even the sleepiest small-town historical society, a “featured publications from our collections”-type display.  Another installation was based on an archive of letters written in the 1960s and early 1970s by women seeking information about how to procure a safe abortion.  It featured inartful photocopies of the letters arranged on the walls of the installation, and a TV set showing videos of actresses reading the same letters.  Where, exactly, was the artist’s intervention in presenting these archival sources?  I was much more engaged as a historian than I was impressed by the artistry of it all.  Many of the installations were clever–but I didn’t necessarily think they were art.

Based on the Radical’s description of the WACK! exhibition, that show sounds much more like an exploration of the art of second-wave feminism, based as it is on art by women artists who achieved reknown back in the day, whereas The Way That We Rhyme is more of an exploration of second- and third-wave feminism by contemporary artists.  I’m not entirely sure of what to make of Aliza Shvarts’s “Abortion Art” project, other than to say that it’s irrelevant to me whether or not the blood she used included aborted embryos or not–the project itself sounds pretty silly and derivative.  But, the spectacle she created was a brilliant exercise in the art of drawing attention to oneself as a so-called artist.  Was the whole thing a meta-meta commentary on the abortion outrage machine that happily ginned itself up when the story broke, or on the world of contemporary art, or both?  Again, I get (and share) the politics.  But is it art…?


April 20th 2008
We all know what works–but who will pay for it?

Posted under class & jobs & local news

The Denver Post has a curious and lengthy front-page article today on the failure of higher ed in Colorado to serve and graduate Latino/a students.  This is a serious concern, because more and more of our college-age population are Latino/a.  To wit,      “[s]tatistics show Latino students are less likely than any other group to graduate from high school, and at most Colorado four-year and community colleges, they are more likely to leave before finishing a degree than their white counterparts.”  David Longanecker, the “executive director for the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and former assistant education secretary under President Clinton, said the higher education system has to change.  ‘In many respects, it’s provided a sieve to differentiate the able from the less-able students,’ he said. ‘We need to take students and teach them what they need to know rather than weed out the wheat from the chaff.’”

The curious part of the article is in the discussion of possible solutions to the problem.  For the most part, universities tout special mentoring programs, but however well intended, we all know that those are “solutions” run on the cheap and that they have more PR value than actual value.  (The effective pre-college mentoring programs the article discusses look good–but the people who run them admit that they can’t serve the tremendous need in the state.)  The article claims–without any documentation, and apparently, without any actual research–that “[g]one are the days of 250-person lecture halls.”  Oh really?  Historiann’s lower-level surveys are capped at 123, and she has to make-do with only one graduate TA (and that, friends, is a very new development.  Most of our survey courses have been taught by people without TAs or graders, and most often by adjuncts or “special faculty” who teach two or three sections of their surveys per semester, in addition perhaps to one or two upper-level courses for a total of 300-400 students per semester.)  Does that sound much more hands-on and student-centered than 250-person lectures?

We all know what works, but I’m quite confident the people of my good state won’t want to pay for it.  What works is what Amherst College and other elite liberal arts colleges have done for 200+ years–small classes where faculty and students can hold each other accountable for their work.  Capping all classes at 30, especially lower-level introductory classes, centering courses more on reading, writing, and disucssion rather than on passive listening to lectures, and asking faculty to teach no more than 2 classes per semester, will ensure that students at all levels of the curriculum will get the attention and mentoring they need and deserve.  No responsible faculty member ever said, “I think teaching works best when I’m in an auditorium on a stage where I can’t see past the third row of students, and where students are very confident that I don’t know them and won’t notice that they’re not attending class.”  In my career, I’ve never heard someone make the argument that that style of teaching was their pedagogical ideal.

Education at large state universities is higher education on the cheap, and quite frankly, you get what you pay for.  This system works acceptably well for middle-class and upper-class students who went to good high schools and whose parents attended college, because they have an educational background and parental expectations and resources to help them get through Freshman and Sophomore years when they’re in the large, impersonal General Education classes.  (The system certainly isn’t ideal for them either, but they’ve got a cultural and material cushion that most first-generation college students don’t have.)  And by the way–paying faculty a living wage for teaching two classes capped at 30 students each also means that universities would have to wean themselves of adjunct and “special” faculty who teach four or five classes per semester, plus the equivalent load over the summer.  It goes without saying that faculty teaching four or five classes of thirty students each will be stretched too thin to offer the kind of support that their students need.  Reading, thinking, writing, and discussing should be at the center of higher education, and they are activities that technology can enhance sometimes, but can never replace.  And there’s no way to do it on the cheap unless you’re satisfied with Wal-Mart results.

The fact is that our current regime of higher education works for the wealthy, who can always pay $40,000-$50,000 a year for private colleges and elite universities for their children.  In fact, by refusing to allow state universities to offer a comparable education and forcing them to operate on the cheap, the system enhances the value attached to a private college or university education.  The privilege they’re paying for, in part, is the exclusivity of their degrees.  Why should state governments enhance the caché of Amherst College or of Stanford University, instead of trying to offer the students at their state universities a comparable experience?  Enough of this welfare for the wealthy!  Enough!


April 19th 2008
What would you do for $5 million a year? (Or, are you using that last shred of dignity, Chris?)

Posted under American history & Gender & wankers


Chris Matthews is obviously a total buffoon, his ratings stink, and he has absolutely zero credibility as a journalist because he says things like this on his TV show:  “Hillary Clinton bugs a lot of guys, I mean, really bugs people like maybe me on occasion. I’m not going to take a firm position here, because the election is not coming up yet. But let me just say this, she drives some of us absolutely nuts.”  (Wow–it’s a good thing that sober objectivity kicked in!  “She drives some of us absolutely nuts” is obviously just the facts.)

Why is this man pulling down five million a year from NBC?  Eric Bohlert explains:  “Matthews is hot because he dumps all over Hillary Clinton, saying rude, sexist, and demeaning things about her week after week, and the Beltway media crowd thinks its edgy and insightful and loves to watch.”  (H/t Melissa McEwan at Shakesville.)  But, if you point this out, you’re the problem!  In fact, you might be one of the Worst Persons in the World if you call out this vile Hillary hatefest for what it is.

Oh, and for a real laugh, you’ll be interested to hear that according to Mark Leibovitch, the author of the New York Times Magazine piece linked to above, that “Matthews fashions himself a blend of big-think historian and little-guy populist.”  I don’t know which is funnier–that Matthews thinks he’s a historian of any sort at all (big-think, little-think, whatever), or that Matthews seriously believes he’s a $5 million a year populist.  But it must be true–at least the historian part–because according to Leibovitch, Matthews “also mentioned — more than once — that he has heard that the historian David McCullough watches ‘Hardball’ every night and that ‘Arthur Schlesinger watched ‘Hardball’’ and that sometimes ‘Joan Didion watched ‘Hardball’ with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, before he died.’”  Wow–that would have been amazing if Dunne had arranged to watch “Hardball” with Didion after he died, so that he could enjoy Matthews’ vicious brand of misogyny in the afterlife!  (By the way, that was a joke about how stupid Chris Matthews is, not a joke about Dunne’s supposed enjoyment of misogyny or enjoyment of Matthews, of which Historiann knows nothing, one way or the other.)  And David McCullough–wowee!  I guess Matthews thinks he must be a pretty important historian because he’s seen him on TV, and that’s where everyone who’s anyone is.

Historiann is a big fan of Reno 911–does that make Dangle, Junior, Rayneesha, Garcia, Jonesey, Clemmy, and Weigel all historians?  Just wondering.

UPDATE, this afternoonCheck out this funny (and yet totally unsurprising) story via Digby about Maureen Dowd, in which the punchline is, “And to make the horror complete, Chris Matthews was also at this dinner.”  The story about Dowd sheds some light on her hatred of Hillary Clinton, in any case:  jealous much, Maureen?

UPDATE, 4/20/08:  Over at Corrente, VastLeft has a rundown of Matthews’s appearance on Bill Maher’s show this week.  In response to Maher’s comment that he’s been accused of sexism in his campaign coverage, Matthews counters that “She (Clinton) has a problem with a lot of us. . . . She’s been tough on the media.”  Kind of like those violent men who beat up their wives and girlfriends, and then claim that they’re the ones being abused when the cops show up?


April 18th 2008
Damn ye, cur: Richard’s Poor Almanack is spoil’d!

Posted under American history

Ortho at Baudrillard’s Bastard asks us to help him analyze the image of the peeing dog in many of the iconic prints from the American Revolution.  (There’s one above, to the right of the baby under the table, releasing a stream onto a tea caddy in “A Society of Patroitic Ladies.”)  Just click on the link and check it out–he has assembled an impressive collection of examples from both the Whig and Tory perspetives.  This is the funniest and most clever use of a blog I’ve seen this year.  Once you start seeing the peeing dogs, you just can’t stop!

Seriously, this is awesome doggy bloggy goodness.  Well done, Ortho!  Your future in academia is very bright. 


April 17th 2008
Historiann exclusive: Hillary Clinton at Haverford College today

Posted under American history & women's history

Our embed at Bryn Mawr, E.H., has reported back on the Clinton campaign event this afternoon at Haverford College.  Last night, she tipped her hand a bit:  “The event’s theme is something about women through different generations and particularly mother-daughter stuff, I think. The campaign asked that a mother-daughter pair from the community to introduce Chelsea at the beginning of the event. Turns out, I’m the only bi-co student for Hillary they could find whose mother lives close to campus (not to mention my mother is BMC ’70). Hence, my mother and I are introducing Chelsea!”  She added, “I’m so excited that I may not sleep!”  (Photo below borrowed from the Haverford College Democrats.)

This afternoon, she filed a complete report on the event:  “I have to say first that I was surprised how spontaneous and disorganized the event felt from my perspective. My friends who were in the audience said they didn’t get that impression at all and I suppose most campaign events happen that way, but I was still a little surprised. Once my mother and I were finally put in contact with the right person, our instructions were to welcome everyone. We were also told that we’d be welcoming everyone to Haverford and then more music would play before the event really got started. I think we were probably meant to quell the crowd and focus their attention so that Hillary could make her big entrance (almost 15 minutes after we spoke).

“Despite any initial awkwardness, my mom and I had a lot of fun. I guess this was our fifteen minutes of fame. There was so much cheering for almost every sentence we said. I’m pretty sure the cheering was general hype and excitement rather than for us, but I enjoyed it anyways. If someone had told me a month ago that I’d be on stage in front of hundreds of people speaking in support of my political hero, I really would not have believed them.

“When the event started, Hillary came on stage with her mother, Dorothy, and daughter, Chelsea. A woman with a daughter clinging to her neck introduced the family and handed the mic to Chelsea. Chelsea did a quick overview of her support of her mom and then handed the mic over.

“Senator Clinton discussed improving our federal laws to support families.  She said something along the lines of not just saying we support family values, but instead we should value family. She spoke on several specific issues including the Family Medical Leave Act and creating programs that inform parents about educating their children from the earliest age. It was clear that the focus of her message was family, family, family in terms of the economy, federal policies, and education (there was a question about literacy).

“After speaking for twenty minutes or so, she opened the discussion up for questions. I’ll try to remember what they were all about and list them here: (can’t remember the first), literacy, the kyoto protocol, immigration, and that may have been all of them.

“Hillary and Chelsea both stayed to greet audience members who had fought their way to the front of the room. We told Hillary we had done the welcome speech earlier and she pulled us to her side of the security rope so we could wait to see her later. After waiting for a while, however, she was out of time and was being rushed by her staff to leave quickly.

“We got two quick pictures with her and didn’t get to have a conversation at all. I wouldn’t have been disappointed, but it seemed to me that she had wanted to speak to us. (I’m sure she didn’t hear us when we spoke earlier).”

Thanks, E.H., and congratulations and well done to you and your mother!  Readers, let me know if you have any questions for E.H., and I can see that she responds in the comments.  For other news reports, please see the Haverford College Democrats, and this news report from a local ABC news affiliate that features some video from the Haverford event.  E.H. promises to send photos, but she’s got a midterm tomorrow.  (Love that Bryn Mawr work ethic, don’t’cha?)  If she gets a chance to file them, I’ll update this post.


April 17th 2008
Major League cool: John Waters! Plus a “Tenure” update.

Posted under fluff

Well, everyone’s a “citizen journalist” now, aren’t we?  Historiann has some more movie news to report!  While she and her entire family were visiting this city (pictured at right)

a member of her family, who was in this neighborhood (pictured at left) happened to see one morning that a movie was being filmed there.  Last Sunday morning, strolling back up the hill, this family member walked by John Waters.  (I know!  How cool is that?)  He was carrying a newspaper and talking on the phone about movie business.  Some members of the Historiann family used to live in Baltimore, and claim to have seen Waters there twice, although I myself was never so fortunate.   And now–damn and blast–he has eluded me again!  (The only movie Historiann ever saw being filmed was in Baltimore, although, tragically, not a Waters movie.  Nothing to brag about–it was Major League II!)

Keep your eyes peeled for Waters’ next movie, and if it was filmed in this city, you can say you heard it here first at

LATE BREAKING UPDATE ON TENUREE.H., our intrepid correspondent on the movie set at Bryn Mawr College, has been “super busy with midterms” lately, but sent in a recent update on the Luke Wilson movie.  She writes, “[T]he ‘whoa-they’re-filming-a-movie-here’ craze seems to be on the way out. I’ve overheard a few people saying they are already tired of having the big trucks and the film’s crew being around all the time.”  Those Bryn Mawr women–so worldly-wise, so seen-it-all, been-there-too.  (Then again, Luke Wilson is no George Clooney, if you know what I mean.  He’d be cute for a college professor or a congressman, but he’s not Hollywood’s top dreamboat, not even at a women’s college.)


April 16th 2008
Historiann exclusive: Big Dog in Indiana, PA today

Posted under American history

UPDATED BELOW correspondant Indyanna writes in today about a Clinton rally at Indiana University of Pennsylvania featuring the Big Dog himself.  Thanks, Indyanna, and keep us posted about other campaign happenings in your neighborhood!  (Photo below by Indyanna, via cellphone.)

“From your steadfast embed in Bitterminous Country: It was a luminous spring day, so different from the freak snowstorm that marked the VTech disaster exactly a year ago today.  Bubba ran about 50 minutes late, which gave the c. 2,500-3,000 locals (a mix of students and us old undereducated folks suspicious of change and clinging to nostalgic dreams of industrial revival) time to pass through surprisingly light security checks and assemble in the old time Field House.  After some remarks by local county and party officials, he bounded onto the stage like a terrier chasing his first ice cream truck in weeks. He gave a kind of discursive, not-polished but practiced and drawlingly-smooth rallying call for the Missus. His funniest line was that Hillary had been asking him to cover tons of ground in recent weeks, so he was glad this morning to find that he could be in Indiana and Pennsylvania at the same time!  It got an appreciative rolling chuckle from the crowd.  He read statistics, hit on talking points, pandered moderately where appropriate, and scored his best points on health care and, of course, tuition costs, student loans, and the future–spiced with quips about his own days with five outside jobs at Yale Law School.

“When he gave his third or fifth ‘finally,’ and said there were ‘a thousand stories’ he could tell, some folks flinched a bit, but he wound it down in good order and good humor.  It was fairly fascinating to see a town of this size turn out with the mixture of curiosity and excitement that the people displayed.  Times analysis today suggests that the two sides are dug in at about 49% (H) and 41% (O), which leaves a pretty good fluid factor, and those voters have tended to break for Hillary.  From here, he was off to about three more stops in this area, then I presume working his way east to Philly for the debate tonight.”
UPDATE, late Wednesday night, 4/16/08:  Our intrepid embed at Bryn Mawr College E.H. reports that Hillary and Chelsea Clinton will appear at Haverford College tomorrow at 2 p.m.  Her report promises to be seriously up close and personal–she’ll report back tomorrow afternoon!  Developing…


April 16th 2008
Please explain this to me. No, really.

Posted under Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & jobs & race & women's history

Once again, via Susie Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla, see this post on gender and intellectual authority by Rebecca Solnit called “Men Explain Things to Me,” in which she describes the experience of being condescended to by a man who patronizingly referred her to a book that she herself wrote.  It took more than one interjection from her companion–alas, another woman–telling him that she wrote that book before he got it, and shut up.  The nut:  “Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.  Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.” 

Solnit writes of another instance, in which she was lectured by a man (incorrectly) about the irrelevance of Women Strike for Peace in the fall of the HUAC (House Committee on Un-American Activities).  This anecdote is kind of a two-fer:  a man dismissing a woman intellectual by asserting (falsely) the irrelevance of women ‘s political activism in the Cold War.  Well done, Sir!  Or, as Solnit says, “Dude, if you’re reading this, you’re a carbuncle on the face of humanity and an obstacle to civilization. Feel the shame.”  Her essay will resonate with those of you who have been following the conversations here and at other blogs about bullying in acdemia.

How many of you have had this sort of experience–as a student, faculty member, or professional; in class, at an academic conference, or in your work environment?  I’ve been wondering about this issue in the blogosphere, especially surrounding Clinton v. Obama supporters and their blogs, but also more generally.  Women get pushed around and called names as women by men in the blogosphere on a regular basis.  Solnit writes only about gender, as though that’s the only operative variable when it comes to intellectual arrogance (or underconfidence), but it’s more complicated than simply gender.  Age and status seems to have put an end to most of the patronizing attitudes and comments that I was subjected to as a student in my twenties, although being in my thirties, having published a book, and being tenured hasn’t insulated me entirely.  (Age, of course, is something used against women on both ends–when we’re young, we’re patronized, and when we’re older, we’re dismissed as irrelevant and pathetic after age 50 or 55).  I’m sure that race is another critical variable in these intellectual foodfights.  Are faculty of color (men and women alike) more likely to be assumed to be students or staff by other faculty?  Do white men “explain things” to faculty men of color?  Are white women just as patronizing as men to women faculty of color?  Does sexuality affect this phenomenon–are gay men patronized as much as women by straight men, for example? 

How about y’all?  And how has this experience changed (if at all) for you as you got older and achieved greater professional stature?  Are you seeing the down-side of “maturity?”


April 15th 2008
A front-row seat at the “Compassion Forum”

Posted under American history & Gender & women's history

John Fea, an Associate Professor of History at Messiah College, has an interesting overview of the “Compassion Forum” held there on Sunday night at Religion in American History, a group blog to which he is a contributor.  (Fea’s book, The Way of Improvement Leads Home:  Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America is hot off of presses.)  He’s got some interesting observations, especially about the shallowness of the news media generally (and John Meacham in particular!  What a shallow jerk–it’s good to know that Historiann is not the only one unimpressed with his so-called erudition on the subject of, well, religion in American history.)  Fea writes, “Meacham had a particular fascination with asking strange and quirky questions and then chuckling like a giddy little kid who just stumped his fourth grade teacher.”

Bottom line for Fea:  “When faith and policy questions were addressed, Obama seemed to offer insights that were deeper and more theologically informed than Hillary. Clinton at times seemed to ramble on endlessly without making any real point.”  However, he admits that the college kids crowd seemed very pro-Obama, and writes that “it is hard not to get caught up in the traveling rock star spectacle that is the Obama campaign. The guy has charisma.”  Nevertheless, he notes that “[t]here were also many students who were disappointed with the candidates’ pro-choice answers to questions about abortion. This issue is still very important, even to younger evangelicals who are tired of the culture wars.”

I don’t question Fea’s assertion that anti-choice politics are still important to his students, even as they’re apparently energized by the appearance of pro-choice Democrats on their campus, and even as many of them are apparently excited in particular about Obama’s candidacy.  But, I wonder if overturning Roe v. Wade is also something that evangelical women in their 20s support more than women in their 30s or 40s, who may have had unwanted or complicated pregnancies and either sought an elective abortion or had to terminate a pregnancy for medical reasons.  Just as many younger women today don’t identify themselves as feminists because they’re confident (up to age 28 or so) that feminism is unnecessary because of its victories, it may be easier for younger women to believe that abortion is uncomplicated and only about fetal death.  Women in their 30s and 40s tend to have more complicated lives–and thus, the decision to get an abortion is usually done in a context that considers the living child or children they have already, their health and future fertility, the prognosis of the fetus, and the effects of continuing with a complicated, dangerous, and/or futile pregnancy on their families as a whole.

Before she moved out of state, one of Historiann’s best friends here was a woman who performed abortions at one of the few places in this state that provide abortions.  It was a revelation to me to learn that, in her estimation, about one-third of her patients had recorded moral or religious objections to the procedure they were seeking.  (Contrary to anti-choice propaganda, abortion clinics put patients through extensive counseling to ensure that an abortion is indeed what they want.)  So, it’s clear that evangelical women and Catholic women are seeking out and getting abortions–even though they still believe abortion is wrong–and that has got to have an effect on the way they view abortion politics.  If not–if they and their husbands or partners return to their parishes and megachurches and take up the banner against abortion–that’s got to be the most cowardly and morally offensive position:  safe and legal abortions for me, but not for thee. 


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