Archive for March, 2009

March 11th 2009
The Van Dykes, and the generation gap among lesbians

Posted under American history & book reviews & Gender & GLBTQ & women's history

The author on her (lesbian) wedding day

The author on her (lesbian) wedding day

Ariel Levy is now a staff writer for The New Yorker.  (When did this happen?  Why wasn’t I told first?)  Let’s face it:  The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books–they’re still Sausage Parties, but they seem to be even moreso with a vengeance in the past decade or so.  So, it’s big news that the New Yorker has hired a feminist writer to write professionally about feminism and gender issues.  Hooray! 

A few weeks back, Levy had a great article about women’s history and LGBTQ history that is a must-read for women’s history month.  She writes about a band of lesbian separatists who imagined a different kind of life and family for themselves, and lived their dreams (out of a van, so they called themselves the Van Dykes) for a few years in the 1970s on the road in North America.  It’s a familiar story to anyone with any familiarity with American utopian movements–from the Shakers, to the Oneida community, to Battle Creek, and so on:  idealism and a real hope for a different world succeeds for a while, but then fails because they lose the zeal of the founding generation and/or they’re driven apart by sexual jealously.  The charismatic leader of the Van Dykes, Lamar Van Dyke, admits that modern lesbianism seems mystifyingly conformist, while Van Dyke’s determination to live her life on her own terms elicits Levy’s admiration: Continue Reading »

16 Comments »

March 10th 2009
Lawrence Stone: classy, classy guy!

Posted under book reviews & European history & Gender & wankers & women's history

1985In case any of you doubted my judgment of Lawrence Stone as a complete tool, you can decide for yourself.  Close your eyes, and imagine it’s 1985.  You’re wearing a tube skirt and tights and an oversized sweater (or, if you’re really lucky, a big leather jacket like the one Molly Ringwald wore in The Breakfast Club.)  You’re listening to Madonna’s latest hit single, reading about her upcoming wedding to Sean Penn, and wondering if Boris Becker really has a shot at the Wimbledon men’s singles championship at age 17.  Then, you open up your latest copy of the New York Review of Books–what can I say?  You were a precocious teenager, right?–and you see this review of The Weaker Vessel by Antonia Fraser and Women in English Society, 1500–1800, a collection of essays edited by Mary Prior.  Stone begins his review like this:

Before beginning a discussion of the books under review, I must first set out the ten commandments which should, in my opinion, govern the writing of women’s history at any time and in any place:

1. Thou shalt not write about women except in relation to men and children. Women are not a distinct caste, and their history is a story of complex interactions;

2. Thou shalt strive not to distort the evidence and the conclusions to support modern feminist ideology: social change is by no means always the product of an activist minority, and all change is relative not absolute; Continue Reading »

62 Comments »

March 9th 2009
Who indeed is afraid of the distant past (and who says it’s distant, anyway)? A call to arms.

Posted under American history & Berkshire Conference & book reviews & European history & Gender & happy endings & publication & students & women's history

bennetthistorymatters1Part II of Judith Bennett’s “History Matters” Women’s History Month book club.  If you haven’t seen it already, go read Part I here.

When my copy of Judith Bennett’s History Matters:  Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (2006) arrived on the doorstep earlier this winter, I sat down and devoured it.  Yes, it was my constant companion, and even bedtime reading.  At times in the initial chapters, it read like a feminist version of Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream,with bits of gossip dropped here and there (although, frustratingly, I wished that Bennett had dished more than she does–she doesn’t always provide citations when she suggests that people wrote or did something she disapproves of.  However, if you’d like to know what a complete tool Lawrence Stone was, I can direct your attention to p. 14, footnote 36.  The cited condescending book review is available by subscription only on-line, but you can get some of the flava by reading Joan Scott’s angry response here.)  I love Bennett’s passionate, informed conviction that as women’s history has become more institutionalized and thus more distant from the women’s movement, it has lost something vital.

Last week over at Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar, several of us got into a discussion about the generational angle of Bennett’s book.  In History Matters, Bennett writes about the excitement of being a graduate student in Toronto in the 1970s at the height of the modern women’s movement, coming out as a lesbian, and helping to invent women’s history all at the same time.  She also writes about her keen disappointment that succeeding generations of women’s historians have lost the founders’ zeal–and although she doesn’t say specifically, my guess is that Generation X women like me are a big part of her disappointment.  Continue Reading »

118 Comments »

March 8th 2009
How to be a successful junior colleague

Posted under happy endings & jobs & publication

Dr. Crazy and GayProf show you how it's done

Dr. Crazy and GayProf show you how it's done

Go read GayProf’s latest bons mots on the job search process, “Advice for the Newly Hired.”  I wish I could be GayProf’s colleague–if only Big Midwestern U. would relocate to the sunny West!  He explains in a few thousand words how to be successful, and why it’s essential to remain generous and humane in the process.  Dr. Crazy has a companion post up at her blog called “Advice for the Newly Hired:  Regional Comprehensive Addition Edition,” since GayProf’s advice was tailored more for people at R-1 universities.

I taught at a comprehensive university, and now I teach at what’s officially an R-1, although the College of Liberal Arts has always been something of the red-headed stepchild of the university:  there to teach service courses, but not to produce Ph.D. students.  (Some departments have Ph.D. programs, but mine has just an M.A. program.)  I still think that this part of GayProf’s advice is relevant to everyone:  “Manage your career for the expectations of your field, not your current university or your department.”  Dr. Crazy is right that comprehensive universities will look for different things at tenure than faculty and administrators at R-1s, but in my (admittedly brief) years of observing this process, 1) if you publish, you’ll be difficult to fire from whatever college or university you work at, and 2) if you publish, you’ll have other opportunities if you want or need them.  Dr. Crazy says that “it makes sense to be happy where you are,” and I agree–especially in today’s tough job market, we should all try to bloom where we’re planted.  But there’s nothing wrong with being prepared for another opportunity down the road.

13 Comments »

March 7th 2009
Tales from the Backlash: Blogging Women’s History Month edition

Posted under American history & art & Gender & unhappy endings & wankers & women's history

This just in last night from the Historiann mailbag, from Jen Kirkman, the comedian who narrated “Drunk History, vol. 3,” the women’s history edition featuring the story of Oney Judge and her relationship with her owners, George and Martha Washington.  Jen left a comment on that post from December, 2008:

Hey ladies,
This is Jen – the narrator from Drunk History. I thought you would find it interesting that I have received death threats, mean emails and countless comments directed at me being a woman, stupid, ugly, “this is what happens when bitches drink” etc. etc. for this episode.

My other male friends who narrated the other ones have received almost NO negative feedback – except for the occassional person who asks them, “Were you REALLY drunk?”

My comments are strictly to do with gender and young boys seem angry that when I got drunk – I got mad about slavery. I’ve had my patriotism questioned, and lots of boys write to me about how my facts are wrong – when many of the facts are spot on and I had a document in front of me that I was referring to. Continue Reading »

22 Comments »

March 6th 2009
Do you really want to know “How Professors Think?”

Posted under jobs

Sure you do!  Check out this new book (via Inside Higher Ed) by Michèle Lamont, How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment.  The author, a sociologist, was permitted to observe the review of grant applications at several different and prominent funding agencies, and she has concluded that:

As for excellence, that quality that peer review theoretically promotes, Lamont isn’t so sure it exists. It may be invoked all the time, she said in an interview, but her examination of the process suggests no way to measure it. “I think excellence means nothing,” she said, suggesting that panels be honest about the criteria they use. “I think you have to give the criteria. Typically it’s originality, feasibility, and also the social and intellectual significance.” There is nothing wrong with those definitions per se, she said, but people shouldn’t pretend they equate with some scientific measure of excellence, as other criteria could be used as well.

The most common flaw she documents is a pattern of professors applying very personal interests to evaluating the work before them. “People define what is exciting as what speaks to their own personal interest, and their own research,” she said.

That’s probably not so surprising–most of us who win grants probably didn’t write proposals that were all that much better than the unfunded proposals–we just got luckier in terms of who read our applications and helped move them on up the line.  There are an awful lot of smart, hardworking people out there (like my commenters!), and there aren’t all that many grant programs or fellowships.  Perhaps more interestingly, Lamont found that “professors in different disciplines take very different approaches to decision making.  The gap between humanities and social sciences scholars is as large as anything C.P. Snow saw between the humanities and the hard sciences.”   

Many humanities professors, she writes, “rank what promises to be ‘fascinating’ above what may turn out to be ‘true.’ ” She quotes an English professor she observed explaining the value of a particular project: “My thing is, even if it doesn’t work, I think it will provoke really fascinating conversations. So I was really not interested in whether it’s true or not.”

In contrast, Lamont quotes a political scientist on what he values in proposals he reviews: “Validity is one, and you might say parsimony is another, I think that’s relatively important, but not nearly as important as validity. It’s the notion that a good theory is one that maximizes the ratio between the information that is captured in the independent variable and the information that is captured in the prediction, in the dependent variable.”

Uhhh. . . yeah.  Who the hell talks about their research this way?  I don’t know if she quoted this guy because she (as a social scientist) admired his clear and precise language (hint:  I’m kidding here!), or because she thought his statement is laughable on its face, but I’d like to stand up for supporting interesting projects that may or may not lead directly to the exact research findings and arguments as laid out in the proposal.  Yes, I value the “fascinating” over the “true,” because I assume that we’re all adults here, and that we understand that the nature of “truth” is contingent and consensual.  I don’t go looking for “truth” in scholarship–just for arguments that are backed up by deep and creative research and due diligence with the historiography.  It is entirely responsible and reasonable to change one’s argument as one completes more research–in fact, that’s the only honest way for a scholar to proceed–even if it doesn’t “maximize the ratio between the information that is captured in the independent variable and the information that is captured in the prediction, in the dependent variable.”  People who ask “fascinating” questions tend to come up with fascinating answers, even if they’re not the ones they thought they’d come up with originally.  And that’s the “truth.”

6 Comments »

March 5th 2009
This one’s for Dr. Crazy

Posted under Gender & wankers

This is for Dr. Crazy, in light of her recent post entitled “It Must Be Nice to Have a Penis,” because I can’t take her out for a drink and laugh with her about this in real life. Just go read it and weep–and enjoy the video.

9 Comments »

March 4th 2009
How does this stuff get past an editor?

Posted under class & Gender & Intersectionality & wankers

Check out this extremely misogynistic, unfunny glimpse into the crumpled wad of Kleenex that is the soul of Lee Siegel.  Supposedly a parody of the next Sex and the City movie, it’s an ugly collection of fantasies of sexual and economic humiliation involving the main characters in SATC.  (Ha-ha?)  Here are just a few super-hilarious excerpts.  Do you notice any recurring themes, especially the one involving the one main character who happily remains unmarried and unpartnered with a man?

Samantha, who now works for a federally funded agency that offers oral sex to unemployed bankers. . . .

Tragedy hits Small (the girls’ new nickname for Big, who hasn’t had an erection since September 2008) when Bronx Community College cuts off his financial aid and puts an end to his dream of becoming a refrigerator repairman. . . . Samantha thinks she might be able to get Small an administrative position at her new job, a federally funded agency that offers oral sex to unemployed auto-industry executives. . . .

Miranda catches herself before wondering aloud whether Small’s daily dose of 1000 milligrams of Viagra will affect his concentration when he takes the dishwasher-maintenance exams next month. . . .

leesiegelSamantha, now administering oral sex to unemployed newspaper editors under an emergency provision in the stimulus package, . . . .

I had heard this guy was a piece of work, with the rather sad (or should I say limp?) legacy of career ending sock-puppetry, but this “parody” is just so super classy.  (Yeah, this is the same guy who published a book about the dangerous lack of civility on the web last year!)  What an ugly brew of aggression, fear, and loathing–I guess he thought he’d throw in the misogyny for free!

21 Comments »

March 4th 2009
Call the Pope, it’s happened again!

Posted under European history & technoskepticism

popetomasses1A miracle!  No, not another virgin birth:  Historiann and Pope Benedict XVI agree on something!  Actually, Historiann recommends that you give up Facebook and texting forever–not just for Lent.  Here’s the part I loved:

Pope Benedict also has personal experience of the distractions of obsessive texting. President Sarkozy of France, a renowned technophile, came in for withering criticism for checking his mobile for text messages during a personal audience with the Pontiff.

Now, I loves me some Sarko–I’m sure his BlackBerry came in really handy while solving one international hostage crisis after another lately.  (Maybe he’s also working on global climate change and doing something about that wolf at our doors lately?  We can only hope.)  And if I’m ever abducted by the FARC, the Basque separatists, or anyone else, please see if you can get Sarko on the case for me.  Nevertheless, constantly checking your phone for incoming messages in an audience with the Pope is really de trop.

17 Comments »

March 3rd 2009
Tuesday feminist funnies: you’re dead to me!

Posted under fluff & Gender & women's history

I don’t watch crap reality TV–is it redundant to say “crap reality TV,” when it all looks like heavily processed bullcrap?–but TalkLeft has been following the traiwreck of the Bachelor this season and linked to this hillarious review by Kristen Baldwin at Entertainment Weekly.  (BTW, Jason is “The Bachelor,” and Molly is one of his two putative bride finalists.  I can’t believe I just typed the phrase “putative bride finalists.”)  Get a load of Jason’s mother:

But can [Molly] convince Jason’s mom? Mama Mesnick, unlike her son, has a pretty inscrutable poker face. During her couch time with Molly, she’s not giving up anything other than a steely gaze — especially when Molly says she’s fine to move because ”I can still have my career in Seattle.” Later, when a weepy Jason asks her for help with his decision, mom defrosts a piece of advice that she’s been keeping in the family freezer since the 1950s: ”Here’s a young lady who says she loves you to pieces, and yet she has a career, and career’s important to her. But I think foremost for you, you want somebody who is family oriented, and who’s going to be there for Ty and you.” Yes, that’s right, Donna Reed: Never mind that your son is making his second (soon-to-be-failed) attempt to find a stepmom for Ty on a reality TV show — the real threat to his future happiness is that he may marry a woman who works outside the home.

Say goodnight, Dr.  Laura!  I find the people who go on these shows mostly loathsome, but I can almost forgive the cute 20-somethings who are desperate for love (and a modeling or endorsement contract) for giving them a whirl.  But, seriously:  who are these parents who appear on these shows and presume to judge the contestants and pretend like they’re such serious and superior judges of someone else’s character?  They’re old enough to know better, and they really ought to be ashamed of themselves.  If Historiann had a child who turned out to have judgment as stupendously bad as Jason’s, you can be damned sure that I wouldn’t be caught dead on camera.  I’d sit shivah for the little bastard–I’m not even Jewish, but I appreciate the ritual!

6 Comments »

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