Archive for September, 2009

September 21st 2009
Women are vital to national security

Posted under American history & class & Gender & jobs & race & students & women's history

The notion that “women are vital to national security” is an insight I had last week in discussing Theda Perdue’s Cherokee Women and Susan Sleeper-Smith’s Indian Women and French Men with my early American women’s history course.  Both books illustrate the importance of women (and women’s work) to the long-term stability and continuity of Indian survival and identity.  In reflecting on the history of early European settlement in the Americas, the settlements that are more stable are the ones that include a higher percentage of women.  All-male settlements tend to be extremely volatile and prone to violence, both intramural and extramural, and as Perdue and Sleeper-Smith illustrate, everyone was dependent on the 70-75% of calories that women’s agricultural work provide to their communities. 


A fradulent image of Mary Rowlandson invented for the 1773 edition of her captivity narrative

We don’t ordinarily think about women as critical to national security, because they rarely or never served as soldiers.  But all-male installations look threatening to other peoples, whereas communities that include women and children are likelier to be trusted as peaceful dwellers or travelers rather than regarded with suspicion as military installations or as invaders.  Juliana Barr’s recent book on the Texas frontier, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman, argues explicitly that Spanish missions and presidios were resented and mistrusted by Indian peoples because they were wary of these all- or overwhelmingly-male institutions. 

Whether in my field and time period we’re talking about Jamestown ca. 1609, Spanish presidios in eighteenth-century Texas, or late eighteenth-century British trading posts on Lake Michigan, they’re all strikingly vulnerable and miserable compared to early American communities (European or Indian) that include a mixture of people of all ages and sexes.  (Think about it:  would you rather make your way in seventeenth-century Cherokee country, or a seventeenth-century English town in Virginia?)  Continue Reading »


September 20th 2009
Schadenfreudelicious! Bennetts sticks it to the NYT

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & women's history

bennettsfemmistake1Oh, you know how I love to say I told you so–I love it so much that I love it when someone else whose work I admire can say it too!  And Leslie Bennetts told us all so, in her book The Feminine Mistake, in which she argued against the whole concept of “opting out” for reasons of economic security, as well as for the fact that one’s years of having young children in the house are fleeting, and the years of the empty-nesters are a lot longer (one hopes, in any case.)  Bennetts’s book was mentioned here briefly in passing last year and I highly recommended it to one and all.

Well, this weekend Bennetts is absolutely delighted that the New York Times has finally acknowledged the downside to quitting a good job and putting all of one’s eggs in one partner’s basket.  She writes:

In this case, however, the paper of record bears an unusual responsibility for setting the record straight—something it has taken an extraordinarily long time to do. Six years ago The Times published a Sunday magazine cover story that discovered what it deemed a happy new trend among affluent women and coined a catchy phrase—the Opt-Out Revolution—to describe the cushy lives of women who quit their careers to become full-time mothers. In what seemed an astonishing oversight, nowhere in that 2003 cover story did The Times investigate the economic challenges that the privileged Princeton graduates it portrayed might face should they ever lose their husbands—or their husbands lose their incomes.

Since then, of course, boom has turned to bust and a global financial cataclysm has claimed the jobs of millions of men. . . . but even now The Times seems loath to acknowledge the levels of suffering and hardship that prevail throughout the country. Not until two-thirds of the way through Saturday’s story does the reporter quote a lawyer whose ten-month search failed to produce a single job offer. “This has been the most humbling experience,” said the woman, who finally became an unpaid intern at a law firm. Even later in the story, The Times relegates the stunning financial penalties suffered by women who opted out to a parenthetical aside: “(Studies have found that for every two years a woman is out of the labor force, her earnings fall by 10 percent, a penalty that lasts throughout her career.)”

Yikes!  How’s that for an early pre-Halloween fright?  Continue Reading »


September 19th 2009
Race and Barack Obama’s political opposition

Posted under American history & Gender & jobs & race & unhappy endings

There is a passionate and (in my opinion) extremely stupid debate as to whether or not President Barack Obama’s political opponents are motivated primarily by racism.  President Jimmy Carter, for example, says yes:  “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African American,” said the former president.  (I have heard this all summer long on various “progressive” radio stations and blogs.)  Many, especially Republicans, disagree–like David Brooks, who wrote yesterday that “race is largely beside the point. There are other, equally important strains in American history that are far more germane to the current conflicts.”  There are probably a good number of people who refused to vote for Obama because he is African American–a good number of them Democrats as well as Republicans–but they are only a tiny minority of the opposition he’s facing now.  (Ask yourself:  who would be mobilizing race in their rhetoric if we were talking about Republican President Colin Powell getting close to enacting a major policy goal?)

In my view, the opposition Obama faces is pretty much the same that every Democratic president in recent history has faced:  conservatives who are skeptical about the expansion of government and who think “tax” is a dirty word, and the Republican party who’s angry that they’re no longer in control of the levers of power.  Continue Reading »


September 18th 2009
Is this going to be a discussion?

Posted under jobs & students

linusIn “Can We Discuss This (II),”  over at Inside Higher Ed, Rob Weir has some good ideas for herding students into a discussion, keeping discussions on track, and tips for recognizing and dealing with student personality types.  You should go read the whole thing–I think he’s got a lot of great ideas for people across multiple disciplines–you’ll just have to decide what works for your discipline, your classes, and your teaching style.

Here’s Weir’s sensible advice:

Some students exude how little they wish to participate. I generally deliver gentle-but-firm out-of-class warnings to these students. I periodically remind everyone of the percentage of their grade that rides on discussion and that I apply those standards to everyone. I encourage each to contribute and I take shy students aside and brainstorm ways they can experiment with being more vocal. (Some of you will disagree, but I think we do students a disservice if we allow them to plead shyness. Moreover, unless a “shy” student has a documented psychological malady we’re not allowed to grant special dispensation!) Tell the lazy and clueless to step up their efforts and don’t waste your breath with the attitude-laden unless they become defiant. But if you best efforts fail, dispense an F for class participation and let grades suffer accordingly. (Because my criteria are written down I’ve never had a discussion grade successfully challenged.)

I agree–I always explain to my students that communicating their ideas in groups is going to be a skill they will need in the vast majority of careers open to college graduates:  Continue Reading »


September 17th 2009
You never can tell

Posted under jobs & students

Barbara Bradley Hagerty had a commentary on NPR last night about one of her professors who recently died, and her acquaintance with him over the years after she graduated.  Fred Stocking was a legendary Shakespeare scholar at Williams College; he died in July at the age of 94, 29 years after his retirement.  Just listen, or read here.  Pass the tissues!

Most of our students don’t care that much about our classes–and that’s probably the natural order of things.  But you never know how or why you might be important to a student.  Continue Reading »


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