Archive for September, 2009

September 10th 2009
On patriarchy

Posted under American history & class & Gender & Intersectionality & race & the body & women's history

thelmalouiseSquadratomagico has an interesting post (and discussion in the comments) about patriarchy:  What is it?  Where does it come from?  And perhaps most urgently, who’s enforcing it?  She writes:

What is at stake when a rhetorical dichotomy between “patriarchy” and “women” is posited? The way this opposition is used seems to me to suggest the following things:

1. If “patriarchy” and “women” are on opposite sides of a dichotomy, then patriarchy must be an all-male thing.

2. Thus, women are not a part of patriarchy, but fall somewhere outside it. Women may be acted upon by patriarchy in ways that either victimize or benefit them (depending on the women’s status and position vis-a-vis particular men), but they do not themselves perpetuate patriarchy, participate in it, or drive it.

3. If a woman suggests that women sometimes do perpetuate, participate within, or drive patriarchy, then she herself is acting as an agent of patriarchy by blaming women and undermining female solidarity, rather than attacking the real enemy, patriarchy, which is composed of men only. Oh, but wait: huh? Please review the tendentious aspects of this reasoning. I think it boils down to this: women are not part of patriarchy, except when the commenter disagrees with said women. In that case, indignantly accusing your opponent of being an agent of patriarchy, or of “blaming women,” is a convenient means of bludgeoning them into silence while declaiming your own impeccable feminist credentials as a supporter of women. Hence, the tactic poses a false dichotomy between “blaming women” versus “supporting women,” while simultaneously defining debate itself as inherently divisive.

4. Following upon the previous point: feminist politics, for these commenters, appears to be predicated upon strict solidarity for both sexes. The feminist first principle is for women to stick together without dissension or debate, in order to best advance their own collective interests, which are presumed to be self-evident. Feminism thus conceived constitutes a neat counterpoint to patriarchy which, as we already have seen, is presented as an all-male formation existing to best advance men’s collective interests.

I especially like that point in #2:  talking about patriarchy this way erases the complexity of patriarchy (and not incidentally, women’s agency too).  We don’t think this way about other systems–capitalism, or colonialism, and divide the entire world arbitrarily into either victims or agents thereof.  Why do this with patriarchy?  Continue Reading »


September 9th 2009
History as political argument: Unleash your inner Harry, Barry (please!)

Posted under American history & class & race

Victory from the jaws of defeat!

Victory from the jaws of defeat!

Last week, Michael Lind published a thought-provoking article that urges Barack Obama to uncover his inner FDR or Harry Truman.  (“Give ‘em hell, Barry?”  I’ll take it!  H/t to The Daily Howler.)  Lind has some interesting things to say about how Democrats today fail to use the compelling power of their own history and of the great movements for social justice in American history to make the case for the main progressive concerns in our times:

Last but not least, you need a narrative in which today’s campaign is not an isolated technocratic attempt to solve a particular public policy problem, but part of the ongoing story of progressive reform in America. In his 1964 Democratic convention speech, Lyndon Johnson invoked American history in laying out the vision of the Great Society: “The Founding Fathers dreamed America before it was. The pioneers dreamed of great cities on the wilderness that they crossed.” It’s hard to make that appeal if you agree with elements of the academic left that the Founders were self-seeking crooks, that the pioneers were genocidal monsters and that great cities on the wilderness are ecological disasters. The consensus liberals of the mid-20th century and the multicultural liberals of the late 20th century have been too busy exaggerating the anti-Semitism of 19th-century populists or emphasizing the racist attitudes of the 19th-century labor movement to invoke the ideals those precursors share with post-racist 21st-century liberals. But we can be inspired by the universal ideals that we share with our predecessors without endorsing or excusing their parochial prejudices.

Now, I seriously think Lind overstates the influence of professional historians, who might in fact be “busy exaggerating the anti-Semitism of 19th-century populists or emphasizing the racist attitudes of the 19th-century labor movement.”  After all–with print runs of 800 or 1,000, university press books have a limited audience, and those of us who read (or write) those books aren’t a large or terribly influential part of the Democratic party’s coalition.   Continue Reading »


September 8th 2009
Captivity, Rape, and Concubinage, 1492-1800: sensationalizing your curriculum!

Posted under American history & captivity & Gender & Intersectionality & jobs & race & students & the body & women's history


"Death of Jane McRae," John Vanderlyn, 1804

Via Inside Higher Ed, the Boston Globe says that faculty at local colleges and universities are sexing up their course titles.  So, at Boston College, “German Literature of the High Middle Ages” becomes “Knights, Castles, and Dragons,” Middlebury College’s Economics Department now offers “Economics of Sin,” and at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst one can enroll in “The Light Fantastic: Wonders of Biology Under the Microscope.”  Why the outburst of creativity this year?

“The dean’s office monitors enrollment, and humanities tend to suffer,’’ said Nicolas de Warren, philosophy professor at Wellesley College who is coteaching The Stars and the Sages: Philosophy and the Cosmos. “With such a rich offering of courses, there’s a kind of competition, and titles that speak immediately to students can make a difference.’’

Those of us who teach at large, allegedly “public” universities probably don’t have a problem with getting the butts in the seats this year–my classes remain mysteriously full of apparently attentive students, for some reason, although I’m doing everything in my power to drive them away.  But, let’s have some fun, shall we?  Continue Reading »


September 7th 2009
Labor Day 2009: will work for internet connection and library card?

Posted under American history & jobs

wpamenHappy Labor Day!  One of the interesting things about this Labor Day is that nearly 10% of us Americans are more interested in finding work than in avoiding work over a  3-day weekend.  Since Labor Day coincides with the beginning of the academic job market, as a public service I thought I’d link to a series of really smart posts from some of my comrades-in-blogs last year.  GayProf and Squadratomagico both had lots of thoughtful advice both for academic job seekers and the departments that interview them.  (Be sure to read the comments too!)

The GayProf collected works:  Hire with Wisdom, Interview with Kindness, Advice for the Newly Hired, and as a special treat, The Good, the Bad, and the Crazy, a guide to your new colleagues!

Squadratomagico had a series on campus interviews, parts I-V.  1) The talk, and some missteps, 2) Appearance, 3) Demeanor, 4) Their Demeanor, and 5) Social Events.

Continue Reading »


September 5th 2009
Breast is best…for patriarchal equilibrium?

Posted under class & Gender & the body & women's history

Feed me!

Feed me!

Squadratomagico (in a recent e-mail exchange) reminded me recently of an article in The Atlantic magazine last spring that may shed some light on this patriarchal equilibrium thingy we’ve been puzzling on for the last six months or so.  (This post may have some interesting connections to some of the conversations going on over at Reassigned Time with Dr. Crazy this week, at least for the heterosexualists and breeder types.)  Hanna Rosin wrote (very bravely, I think) about what appears to be the very shaky evidence that breast milk is the Holy Grail of All Health and Wellness for babies, and about her very fraught experience with it herself.  After two babies, she had had enough!

One afternoon at the playground last summer, shortly after the birth of my third child, I made the mistake of idly musing about breast-feeding to a group of new mothers I’d just met. This time around, I said, I was considering cutting it off after a month or so. At this remark, the air of insta-friendship we had established cooled into an icy politeness, and the mothers shortly wandered away to chase little Emma or Liam onto the slide. Just to be perverse, over the next few weeks I tried this experiment again several more times. The reaction was always the same: circles were redrawn such that I ended up in the class of mom who, in a pinch, might feed her baby mashed-up Chicken McNuggets.

Scandalous!  What kind of mother are you, Hanna Rosin?  Friends of mine have told me their stories of being terrorized by people they refer to as “the nursing Nazis,” who are beyond evangelical in their insistence that “breast is best,” and that “anyone can do it!”  Continue Reading »


September 4th 2009
Scandal in BarbieWorld! New Barbie book plagiarizes title from 1995

Posted under American history & Dolls & publication & unhappy endings & wankers & women's history

Plagiarism? Quel horreur!

Go read Tenured Radical.  She tells us all about Robin Gerber, the author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.  The galley proofs for this new book were sent out to a reviewer, M. G. Lord, whose book Forever Barbie Gerber quotes in Barbie and Ruth, directly, repeatedly, and without attribution!  Tenured Radical writes,

[H]istorians. . . know about plagiarism. We talk about it a lot, and we have seen enough high-profile cases in the last decade to make it of grave concern, whether it appears in a work intended primarily for scholars or in something intended for the educated reader and/or enthusiast. This is why, other than the possibility of an old friend being ripped off, I think questions about plagiarism raised by Lord about Ms. Gerber’s book need to be aired in a scholarly setting. Lord’s assertion is that Gerber has taken quotes from primary sources published in Forever Barbie and failed to note that Lord did that research and, in the case of interviews, actually generated the source in the first place.

In this piece, published in the Los Angeles Times over the weekend, Lord explains that when asked to review Gerber’s book:

I found quotations from my research, verbatim and without specific attribution.

I showed the passages to my assigning editor. He had sent me a galley proof, not the finished book, and we both thought it likely that endnotes would appear in the final volume. But then the finished book came in, and though “Forever Barbie” was mentioned in the bibliography, there were no endnotes. I felt violated.

Histories do not grow on trees. The first person to cobble out a definitive narrative has to do a ton of work. You interview hundreds of people and hunt down documents, which can be especially elusive if influential people would prefer that they stay hidden. You separate truth from hearsay. Then — with endnotes — you meticulously source all your quotations and odd facts so future scholars will know whence they came.

Reached for comment by The Times, Gerber wrote in an e-mail: Continue Reading »


September 3rd 2009
Hooray! A win for the good guys.

Posted under happy endings & jobs & students

facultyprocessionalLet’s all give the faculty of the University of Illinois a round of applause for standing up for academic values over commercial values!  They shut down their bogus online “global campus” via Inside Higher Ed.  (Paging Baa Ram U. “global”:  are you listening?  Good…)

The initial vision for Global Campus was akin to that of the most successful of private for-profit institutions: The project would appropriate syllabuses and course materials from its professors, reorganize them into its course management system, then hire outside instructors totally off the tenure track to teach. But that plan was rejected by the faculty senate at each of the three campuses. The professors insisted on a not-for-profit model that would not seek independent accreditation and would offer courses through existing programs on the university campuses; they also insisted on supervising their courses.

While it made economic sense to take course content from top-flight professors and hire outsiders to deliver it for less than half the price, it did not make pedagogical sense in the eyes of the faculty, Burbules said. “Teaching is not a delivery system, and I think most faculty were just not interested in giving up their course content to be ‘delivered’ by adjuncts with whom they might have little to no contact,” he said. “…You can’t divorce the syllabus from the delivery.”

Read that second sentence in the first paragraph again:  The project would appropriate syllabuses and course materials from its professors, reorganize them into its course management system. . .  What the heck does that mean?  Oh, I guess it means Continue Reading »


September 2nd 2009
Where are my mountains?

Posted under American history & fluff & local news & unhappy endings

nomountainsLost in a haze of California wild fire smoke!  I took this photo from my dashboard with my cell phone camera as I drove West to work today.  Ordinarily on a cloudless September morning I would see a whole swath of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains behind the lower shadows of the foothills as the sun rose.  As you can see–or can’t see–I got nothin’ today or yesterday, and the haze was clearly perceptible in the late afternoon yesterday just walking around town.  The darker mass of foothills is apparent, but above that is just a haze of smoke.  A few bits of snowy peaks might periodically emerge–but otherwise, it looked like I was driving across northern Indiana. Continue Reading »


September 2nd 2009
What’s a “good university?”

Posted under American history & class & Gender & jobs & race & wankers

Help!  I'm smothered in ivy!

Help! I'm smothered in ivy!

Inside Higher Ed recently published an article purporting to take us “Inside a Search,” by Lou Marinoff, in which he relates the story of how the Philosophy Department at City College of New York filled a position last year.  It’s mostly what you’d expect, except for the fact that they decided to run an open search–any field.  For a job in New York City.  And he seems surprised that they were overwhelmed by 637 applications!  Duh.  Who ever could have predicted. . . ?

Anyhoo.  Here’s the part of Marinoff’s article that really raised my left eyebrow:

How did we prune our field from 637 to 27? An important selection criterion was holding a Ph.D. from a good university. Members of our department earned their Ph.D.s at Columbia, Harvard, Oxford, and University of London. Additionally, City College is known as the “Harvard of the Proletariat,” with distinguished alumni that include nine Nobel Laureates, more than any other public institution in America. Our faculty members are expected to live up to this legacy.

Wow–the superscientific method of divining the “good” Ph.D.s from all of the others.  Shockingly, they decided that the universities they attended all qualify as “good” universities.  I like that part too about how “our faculty members are expected to live up to this legacy.”  So modest!  And how many Nobel prizes has your department reeled in so far, perfesser?  Huh?  We’re waiting….

Fortunately, most of the commenters at IHE beat me to the punchContinue Reading »


September 1st 2009
Casualties of academia, or casualties of patriarchy?

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

I'll get you, my pretties--and your little girls, too!

I'll get you, my pretties--and your little girls, too!

Dr. Crazy has a fascinating and raw post, “Casualties of Academia,” evaluating her life and career and those of her peers on the occasion of turning 35 this summer.  She writes,

I know only a handful of women who’ve managed to have long-term partnerships and to have children and to have the career that they dreamed of having, and worked so hard to achieve. I know maybe two handfuls of women who’ve managed to have long-term partnerships where they consciously chose (as a couple) not to have children. But at the end of the day, I really believe that success in this profession is hostile to a full life, particularly for the women I know. I think it’s possible, don’t get me wrong, but I think the profession actively resists it.

I’m thinking about this a lot lately, because I’ve been reflecting a lot about the choices I’ve made in my life and the life that I’ve managed to make for myself as a 35-year-old person. I can’t imagine, really, leaving my job for kids and a husband. But at the same time, I want kids and a husband. And yet, time is running out. Biologically. I’d never really considered that this is where I’d be at 35. I never imagined that I’d have published a book (a) and that I wouldn’t have a kid (b). I never thought that my clock would actually be ticking. What a freaking cliche for the modern career girl! What a ridiculous way to feel! But the reality is that no matter how cliche and ridiculous it is, this is my reality. I’m 35 and I’m not in a relationship that would lead to a kid, and I’d want that relationship and I would want a kid. But I’ve worked really hard at getting the career that I have, and it really matters to me. On the other hand, I’ve got friends who have chosen the kids/family thing over the career, and I don’t want their lives either.

. . . . [T]his profession offers us very little latitude for negotiation, when it comes to fitting the personal in with the profession. And by “us” I mostly mean “women.” The casualties of this profession aren’t slackers, or people who didn’t know better, or people who didn’t care enough, or people who were workaholics. The causalties are women. And sure, there are exceptions. But I’m willing to venture that the exceptions prove the rule.

I have to say, she surprised me with this post, since she has in the past cheerfully reported working with so many women colleagues with children, and has spoken up for their ability to live full lives on a par with that of their male colleagues.  Continue Reading »


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