Archive for May, 2009

May 31st 2009
Two more lessons for girls: you can say no, and don’t peak early

Posted under childhood & Gender

tonibasilmickeyWe’ve had a few more additions to Lessons for Girls in the past week, which I would like to highlight here.  First, Tiffany at Disclosures of a Dirty Feminist reminds us in lesson #9 that “You can say no.”  She writes, “[w]e have been brought up to be caretakers, but that doesn’t mean we are solely responsible for making sure that the world runs smoothly and that everyone gets exactly what they want.”  And guess what happens when she says no?  “[N]othing.  My friends . . . .find it completely normal. They weren’t even aware, most of the time, that I was feeling overworked, stressed, or like a lot was being demanded of me.”  Yes–your real friends will understand.  Users are the only ones who will be angry.  (And remember Lesson Number One, girls:  It’s okay to make other people angry.)  Pretty wise for a nineteen year-old, Tiffany!

Minnesota Matron, in her lesson #10 “Don’t peak early,” writes about one Deirdre G., “superstar of the 10th grade” whose life sadly was stalled immediately thereafter.  She warns, “[r]ely on your physical appearance for life’s goodies—recognition, success, confidence, achievement — and you will find yourself washed up against that shore of age, without recourse. A well-fueled brain and sense of justice constitute a much stronger lifeboat: they can carry you for decades.”

I had a Deirdre G. in my life too, only her name was StephanieContinue Reading »


May 30th 2009
The silliest grade I ever assigned, with apologies to Mr. D+

Posted under jobs & students & unhappy endings


Rope 'em up & brand 'em

Baa Ram U. last year eliminated the distinctions on the lower end of the grade scale:  C-, D+, and D-.  (I can’t believe we ever had a D-.  What’s the point of assigning a grade that’s less than 1.0?)  I completely support these changes:  once you’re operating at a C level or below, the shades of grey between C, D, and F become indistinguishable.

Once upon a time, when I was a first-year graduate T.A. at Ben Franklin U. (and all of 22 years old myself), I was assigned to T.A. an upper-division course in U.S. foreign policy, and this course required a research paper.  Yes, this professor decided that a course with 360 students and 6 T.A.s with 60 students each should have a 10-15 page research paper, despite the fact that plagiarism was rampant among the students.  (Two friends + two different T.A.s = half the work!  Several cases had been detected the previous year only because some of the T.A.s happened to share a house, and one walked by a stack of papers belonging to the other T.A. and thought that the top paper looked awfully familiar.  And, one of the plagiarists caught that year was a Master’s degree candidate!)  In any case, one of my high flyers (who was honest, to his credit) approached me a day before the paper was due, and told me he hadn’t started his research.  I worked with him on finding a topic, but of course, warned him that this paper would be very difficult to pull together in 24 hours.  He turned something in–something that was obviously the product of an all-nighter of fevered typing of random quotations from the several books spread out on his lap.  It was a terrible paper and made no sense, but I thought I had to throw the kid a bone for turning something in. Continue Reading »


May 29th 2009
Elite vs. not-so-elite universities

Posted under class & jobs & the body

Here’s one possible difference:

Tonight I met a woman who’s the officer manager for a large dental practice. She told me when she gets resumes from Penn Dental grads, “I throw them right in the trash.”

Why? I asked, surprised.  Continue Reading »


May 28th 2009
No more photos from Abu Ghraib because of rape scenes?

Posted under American history & book reviews & captivity & Gender & unhappy endings & women's history


That’s what the Daily Telegraph says that Major General Antonio Taguba told them!  (Hat tip The Daily Beast.)  How utterly predictable!

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.

 What–you thought that invasion and occupation were going to be easy?  Continue Reading »


May 27th 2009
Brooke Shields, you’re the biggest slut ever, and we’ll never let you forget it.

Posted under childhood & Gender & the body

brookeshieldsBrooke Shields gave an interview recently in which she suggested that her “greatest health regret” is that she had a poor body image as an adolescent and young adult, and that this inhibited her sexually:

Q: What’s your biggest health regret?
Not learning to love the way I looked earlier. And I think I would have had sex a lot earlier! [Laughs.] I think I would have lost my virginity earlier than I did at 22. I had the public and all this pressure, and I wish I had just gotten it over with in the beginning when it was sort of OK. I think I would have been much more in touch with myself. I think I wouldn’t have had issues with weight—I carried this protective 20 pounds [in college]. It was all connected. And to me, that’s a health regret.

Yet the media coverage of this interview doesn’t pause to consider that her early acting and modeling career may have in fact been the cause of her poor body image and her fear of sexuality. 

Brooke Shields may have taken on sexually mature roles at a young age, but the actress reveals that she was much more reserved off-screen.

Shields, who portrayed a child prostitute in “Pretty Baby” at age 12, tells Health magazine that she wishes she had been the pinup girl that she portrayed* but that her bad body image kept her from losing her virginity until age 22. Continue Reading »


May 26th 2009
Art, history, colonialism, and violence: my weekend in the O.C.

Posted under American history & art & conferences & Gender & race & women's history


Not this "O.C."

At the end of my trip to “Disneyland for Scholars,” I met up with Notorious Ph.D, Girl Scholar for an excellent lunch in Little India, where I learned all of the fascinating details about her research interests that she’s dying to share with the rest of you.  (Trust me–it’s really smart stuff, very innovative, and the product of lots and lots of original archival research.  Aren’t you all jealous?)  You can’t know what her book is about specifically, but she’s asking for help in choosing an image for the cover, so go over and share your two cents. 

Then, I spent the weekend in Orange County with Rad Readr and his family:  Mrs. Readr, Mini-Rad, Marxist Deluxe, and their rescued greyhound Marcus.  (The Readrs are old friends from back when Rad and I were on our first jobs.  And yes, we ran on the beach twice, two mornings in a row–what fun it is to run at sea level since I train at 4,875 feet elevation!)  The Readr family took me to an exhibition at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, “Of Rage and Redemption:  the Art of Oswaldo Guayasamín” (1919-1999), an Ecuadorean artist whose works were filled with images of suffering human bodies in an effort to express the violence of colonialism:

Non-academic in style and subject matter, Guayasamín established his signature style of indigenismo which is especially recognized for its dramatic representation of the human figure. Defined in powerfully exaggerated proportions and forms, Guayasamín figures are charged with a range of emotions—from human dignity to grief, loss and anguish. Guayasamin said about his art, “My painting is to hurt, to scratch and hit inside people’s hearts. To show what Man does against Man.”


"Mother and Child 1," 1941

(Rad is originally from Ecuador and has a print signed by Guayasamín, whom he was introduced to once by a family member.)  This exhibition was really fascinating to view in light of the “Territorial Crossings” conference I attended last week, which was broadly conceived as a conversation about broad comparative frameworks for the history of the colonial Americas, in which we were asked to consider “[w]hat kinds of questions are made possible only by thinking across territories, and what subjects of analysis best suit comparative or more broadly contextualized scholarship?”  It seemed to me that the (obvious, perhaps) price of broad comparative histories is the loss of detail about the people who worked, suffered, and died–and the Guayasamín exhibition served as a reminder of this finer-grained side of the story of colonialism. Continue Reading »


May 23rd 2009
Weekend round-up: who’s misbehavin’? edition

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

cowgirllassofenceHey there, dudes and city slickers–I’m still in the Golden State, but fortunately, other bloggers are hard at work keeping the internets crackling with fabulousness.  I’m still recovering from the very intense conference I was a part of this week, but here are a few goodies I’ve lassoed and tied up for you:

  • Tenured Radical on Clarence Walker and his new book, Mongrel Nation:  the American Begotten by Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.  She says that Walker calls out “historians and other guardians of the White Republic” have been central to the denial that “racial amalgamation was foundational to the making of the United States. . . . Among the assumptions he takes on are: that people always mean what they say (Jefferson’s writings about his revulsion for miscegenation, particularly in Notes On The State Of Virginia, have been a constant rebuttal to an alternative history of Monticello); that the history of family is the history of order and respectability (equally strong evidence suggests that respectable families remain respectable in part by lying about and condoning the sexual escapades of family members); that private convictions are consistent with public evidence (I have two words for you — Strom Thurmond); and that one can usually frame and interpret evidence by generalizing about historical phenomena, identities or power relations (all sex between white men and black women was rape; mixed-race people always identified, and were identified as, socially and culturally black; white men who established the foundational principles of democracy told the truth, kept their promises, and were ruled by reason, not lust.)”
  • GayProf’s advice to queer scholars on the job market.  To summarize:  Continue Reading »


May 20th 2009
Sure wish I could be a California girl…

Posted under American history & conferences

cowgirlbikiniHowdy, friends!  I turned in my last few grades yesterday, so I’m on a little early summer trip to the Golden State for a little R & R (“Research and wRitin’,” that is), and a conference later this week..  I’ll be checking in occasionally but otherwise am trying to stay mostly off-line and outdoors as much as I can for the next few days.

What are your plans for summer?


May 19th 2009 exclusive! Michelle Obama at UC Merced, by Susan Amussen

Posted under American history & Gender & happy endings & students & women's history

Today’s post is an eyewitness report by Susan Amussen, a historian and Professor in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts at the University of California, Merced, where Michelle Obama spoke at commencement on Sunday afternoon.  She is the author of a signal book in feminist early modern English history, An Ordered Society:  Gender and Class in Early Modern England (1988) and most recently, Caribbean Exchanges:  Slavery and the Transformation of English Society, 1640-1700 (2008).  Susan was among the Merced faculty  in full academic regalia this weekend in 98-degree heat as Obama spoke.

Michelle Obama at UC Merced, May 17, 2009

By now everyone has heard that Michelle Obama gave the Commencement address at UC Merced.   It’s possible that some of you have watched it, either live, or online.  The occasion was the graduation of the first class to go all the way through a new university.  Our students pulled this off.  They made a video, they organized sending valentines to the White House, they had a Facebook group, they sent letters to anyone who might help.  As she said, the students inspired her.  How could they not? They certainly inspire me.

When the First Lady of the United States accepted our invitation, we had to plan for 12,000 guests.   Water stations were everywhere, and EMTs were on hand: 850 volunteers made things happen.  The cost ballooned from $100,000 to $700,000 when Obama signed on.

Obama brought out the faculty: we had nearly 100% participation.   Many faculty members were joined by family: there were lots of people who didn’t know any students.  The city had a two day street festival, complete with Jumbotrons showing the speech.  Merchants were excited at the prospect of additional business.

The week before commencement different national media outlets featured stories about Merced daily.  And while they mentioned the local scene – the foreclosure crisis and high local unemployment – they focused on the university.   The media realized is that UC Merced is a good story.   But it is also a curiosity.  No one would have done such stories on better known or larger universities.  Why is she going there? We’re a new university, in the middle of the Central Valley.   The university was put here partly to provide economic stimulus and to increase college attendance rates in the Valley.   About half of our students are first generation college students, many are immigrants themselves or children of immigrants.   Our students are about 1/3 Latino, 1/3 Asian American, 25% white, and 10% African-American.

This is a feel-good story about the success of our students.   It is good to remind the public of the successes of education, not just its problems.  Continue Reading »


May 18th 2009
Abortion and American Catholic culture

Posted under American history & Gender & GLBTQ & technoskepticism & the body & women's history


Altnerate commencement at Notre Dame, 2009

Via Religion in American History, I found this brilliant essay by Georgetown political theorist Patrick Deneen, “Abortion and Catholic Culture.”  He argues that the fracas at Notre Dame over President Barack Obama’s appearance at graduation yesterday because of his position on abortion is a rear-guard action which,  “along with the opposition to gay marriage – this issue represents the last stand, the inner-most wall barely keeping the hordes from overrunning the sanctum.”  He continues:

The ferocity over [abortion] - and this issue almost to the exclusion of nearly every other issue that might be part of a rich fabric of Catholic culture – suggests to me that Catholic culture, where it existed, has been largely routed. And, in fact, it suggests further that it is precisely for this reason that this issue has become largely defined politically – and not culturally – with an emphasis on the way that the battle over abortion must be won or lost at the ballot box (and, by extension, Supreme Court appointments).

Why does Deneen think that abortion politics represents an end-game for conservative Catholics?  Because there is no such thing as a Catholic culture in the United States, and American Catholics are full participants in late capitalism’s culture of “choice” writ large:  materialism, individualism, hedonism, and mobility.  In other words, “American Catholics have largely assimilated into mainstream American society, and come to seek success and approval from that culture on its terms.”

A culture – Catholic or otherwise – that regarded abortion as well-nigh unthinkable would be profoundly different than the one we inhabit. First, such a culture would foster a strong sense of place. This is one of the central features of Catholicism, in strong distinction to Protestantism: we are members of parishes, which are located where one lives, and not according to the choice of minister or music or fellow churchgoers. . . .

Did you catch that dig at Protestantism?  Well, much of the scholarship on (in the words of one scholar) “the Democratization of American Christianity” supports Keenan’s thesis: Continue Reading »


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