Archive for June, 2009

June 6th 2009
Caroline Knapp on professor-student relationships

Posted under American history & book reviews & Gender & students & the body & unhappy endings & weirdness & women's history

drinkingalovestoryA good friend of mine recently recommended Caroline Knapp’s Drinking:  A Love Story (1996), which I somehow missed when it first came out.  It was a great recommendation–a funny and touching memoir of alcoholism by a writer for The Boston Phoenix, the king of indy media back in the day.  (Since I too had lived in Boston in my teens and then again in my twenties in the 1980s and 1990s, we shared some of the same stomping grounds.)  She takes you minute by minute into her alcoholic thinking and into her very messed-up life.  For example:  she points out that one of the problems with drinking to excess is the recycling bin, something that had never occurred to me.  But Knapp explains that recycling bins reminded her of exactly how much she was drinking, and describes her elaborate schemes for stashing and then dumping bottles in various trash bins and recycling containers around town in order to hide the extent of her drinking.  This is just one of the ways that drinking came to structure and organize her life.

One of the chapters that really interested me was her chapter 6, “Sex,” in which she describes the way that alcohol served to alienate her from her body and her sexuality.  At first it alleviated teenage anxieties about her developing body and relationships with boys, but alcohol rather than boyfriends is really her primary relationship.  One passage in particular will interest readers who followed the last post, “Just call him ‘Dr. Love‘,” on professor-student sexual relationships.  Knapp writes about an experience she had shortly after graduation:

Brown was famous for its lack of distribution requirements and I’d foundered there for my first few years, taking an absurdly random, disconnected collection of courses before settling into a combined major in English and History, and choosing that not because it tapped into some deep reservoir of intellectual interest on my part but because it was a small, new program in which I could stand out.  A man named Roger headed that program.  He was in his forties, an immensely popular member of the English department, and he had a razor-sharp intellect, and he was the first professor at Brown who made me feel special.

I’d wanted that feeling desperately–it’s another classic impulse among alcoholics, to seek validation from the outside in–and I hadn’t found it in college. . . . Academic achievement was something I’d always sought as a form of reward:  good grades pleased my parents, good grades pleased my teachers; you got them in order to sew up approval.

Roger, whom I met as a junior, gave me precisely that brand of approval, and I’d found it familiar and reassuring:  he gave me a purpose, someone to please.  In my senior year I narrowed my major down to eighteenth-century British literature and history because those were his areas of expertise.  He became my advisor, and under his direction I wrote a prizewinning thesis, graduating from Brown with honors.

Two days after my graduation I went out to lunch with Roger, a celebratory gesture on his part.  He’d suggested this after the graduation ceremony . . . and he’d called the next day and arranged to pick me up at my apartment.

We drove to a small, sunny restaurant about ten minutes away from campus, and he ordered us martinis.  Then he ordered wine with lunch.  We ate lobster salads and talked about writing.  Continue Reading »


June 4th 2009
Just call him “Dr. Love?”

Posted under childhood & Gender & students & weirdness

Hey, young layyyyydeeeee!

Hey, young layyyyydeeeee!

In the thread on a recent post about how faculty men’s and women’s personal lives compare in these times, some commenters observed that they have male colleagues or professors who date young students.  Deborah Judge wrote,

My college also has the pattern of young male faculty ‘grooming’ wives for themselves by marrying former students or recent college graduates. It makes me seriously grumpy, not least because it makes socializing with male junior faculty really, really challenging.

Maude also wrote here,

As I was finishing up my Ph.D. in grad city, I noticed many male profs getting engaged to, marrying, or dating undergrads, or recently graduated undergraduate women, which kind of disgusts me. Not to say that these women are not smart or intelligent or do not have any aspirations, but what it seemed to me was that these male profs were grooming academic wives for themselves so that they could “have it all.” They liked their jobs, wanted to stay where they were, you know, which is fine, but I find it hard to ignore the power dynamics there, too–a) former prof in most cases; b) significant age difference–on average about a 13 year age difference. It honestly mad[e] me lose a lot of respect for both the profs and their girlfriends.

life of a fool chimed in, “I have also seen plenty of what maude and others have commented on — faculty men marrying (recently) former students, and it creeps me out for the same power dynamic issues already mentioned.”

Does this really still happen?  I assumed that this went out with the 1960s or 1970s, what with the increasing tenure standards and decreasing libertinism that have characterized faculty life over the past 30 years.  Unlike my aforementioned commenters, I haven’t seen it among my peers.  Am I just completely out to lunchContinue Reading »


June 3rd 2009
The hidden agenda of “marriage promotion?”

Posted under American history & childhood & Gender & the body & unhappy endings & women's history

weddingcakedisasterIndie journalist Amy DePaul has published a story about those bad-old George W. Bush-era programs that push marriage as a magic solution to poverty and family discord.  In “Bush Era Moral Crusaders Still Pushing Marriage on the Rest of Us,” she reports that now they’re Obama-era programs, too!

The recently released Obama budget would preserve the five-year marriage initiative, although Congress still could eliminate it in appropriations. The initiative awards grants to demystify wedlock to teens, low-income populations, the public at large, married couples, singles looking to marry, engaged couples and couples who recently had or are expecting a baby. One program even targets incarcerated parents.

The programs do not provide individualized couples therapy but rather are seminar-type events conducted in classroom settings, using curricula that emphasize relationship staples such as communication, compromise and romance.

Who is winning these grants, and what are they doing with the money?  Continue Reading »


June 2nd 2009
Another lesson for girls: love your body

Posted under American history & childhood & Gender & the body & women's history


Historiann and Knitting Clio, ca. 1982

The doyenne of adolescent and college student health history, Knitting Clio, has written an utterly appropriate lesson for girls, number 11:  “Love your body.”  She adds some thoughts too about Brooke Shields, and even scares up one of those scandalous old magazine advertisements for Calvin Klein Jeans.  (Just click here to see it–go on, click–I know you’re curious.  Doesn’t Shields look incredibly young to be wearing all of that makeup?  It was the 1980s, friends–that’s how we rolled when we were in our early teens.)  KC writes,  “I both hated and emulated [Shields] for those Calvin Klein ads — they were one of the (many) reasons I disliked my body.  I dieted strenuously and got real skinny so I could fit into my pair of CKs.  Other girls in my high school went further and were hospitalized for anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders.”  She continues: 

In graduate school, I worked with Joan Jacobs Brumberg, and found that what she calls  “bad body fever”  has been a problem that has plagued women for at least a century.  Now that I’m approaching middle age, I’m more tolerant about what my body looks like, even though women of a certain age — like Brooke — who still look fabulous have raised the bar considerably.

Right on, sister.  (She reminds us of the “Love your body” campaign, an adjunct of the National Organization for Women.)  How much of my teens and twenties did I waste obsessing about this body part or that feature?  (How much time when you were young and gorgeous did you waste?  How much time are you wasting right now?)  Continue Reading »


June 1st 2009
To have it all, get a wife

Posted under Gender & happy endings & jobs & women's history

caketopper-fishingThe Blog Mama Ph.D. at Inside Higher Ed features a letter today requesting guidance on how to “have it all” as a woman in academia:

It’s still early for me, as I have no baby prospects and I’m nowhere close to finishing my PhD. But I’m a 28-year old female, halfway through my PhD, who feels a little bit isolated in an academic department that seems full of men who ‘have it all’ and a) very, very few women who have succeeded in landing a tenure-track position, and b) even less who have succeeded in doing so with children.

I am considering a career in the academy, but I also want children. I am just getting into the literature written on this topic and feeling very intimidated by the statistics that seemed very stacked against my hope to also have everything I want! I do know it’s possible, but….

I’m not sure if you’re the right person to contact, but just looking for direction or help or support. Also wondering if you know of any universities that acknowledge this issue and have taken steps to take on suggestions put forward by people (ie. Mason and Goulden)? Are there any universities in particular I should consider (in a few years, when applying for jobs) who do take motherhood into consideration for getting and/or achieving tenure?



Susan A. O’Doherty offers some helpful advice, which boils down to 1) “[K]eep tabs on universities that are working to make life manageable for parents,” and 2) “become active, now, in organizations and movements that advocate for parents of young children, both in your current institution and nationally.”  The first point is good advice for collecting information and strategies to put to work in #2–but one of the things about the academic job market to keep in mind is that few of us get to choose either the geographic region we work in much less the institution we work for.

In the service of coping with this fact–the lack of choice in most academic careers–Historiann would like to offer some of her own advice to all of the Mirandas out there who, midway through their Ph.D. programs, have looked at their professors’ lives and realize that women and men with Ph.D.s still have very different career and family paths.  Continue Reading »


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