Archive for October, 2009

October 29th 2009
Sexuality and cancer surgeries: what’s mine is yours, apparently

Posted under Bodily modification & Gender & happy endings & the body & women's history

DePaul-ReplacingHere’s an interesting article in Salon by Ann Bauer, “Sex Without Nipples,” about the differential between counseling and treatment offered to cancer patients about sexual issues in men’s versus women’s cancer surgeries.  Sadly, I’m not surprised–as we’ve seen before, somehow it’s all about teh menz and their feelings and their sexual satisfaction, no matter whose body has the cancer.  Whereas prostate cancer patients are counseled heavily about the sexual side-effects of their cancer treatments, women who opt for mastectomies are never advised about the possible consequences to their sex lives.  Bauer writes:

This is particularly true, it seems, when the topic is nipples. Virtually none of the literature or education around the topic of breast cancer covers the sudden disappearance of erotic sensation in the breast. There is no attempt, as there is in a prostatectomy, to preserve the nerves. Modern mastectomy simply hacks off the offending tissue and creates a blank area where there once was tingling current.

There are also body-image issues after breast cancer surgery and reconstruction, for patients and their partners.  But, one young woman who tested positive for BRCA1 and chose to have a preventive double mastectomy makes it sound like her partner’s discomfort and even disgust with her surgery, recuperation, and new body were another problem for her to solve, a problem she didn’t handle well enough.  “Jessie”‘s own mother had died at age 30, and she had five other maternal relatives die from the disease–so she figured, why take the chance?  Continue Reading »


October 28th 2009
Keeping up appearances: what about you?

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

madmen_fullbodyamlIt was interesting to me that nobody in yesterday’s comments talked about how a job candidate’s appearance and/or choice of clothing might affect the ways in which she or he is evaluated from their own experience, either as a candidate or as someone on a search committee or part of the hiring organization.  Fortunately, I’ve never heard anything untoward said about any job candidate’s appearance in any department I’ve been a part of–and I’ve never had anyone make any comments whatsoever about my own appearance while interviewing for a job.  I have heard people in other history departments complain about the inappropriate clothing choices of some job candidates–along the lines of either too casual or too revealing, for the most part.

There are a few instances I can think of where my physical appearance might explain a few (un)professional encounters.  For example, when I was younger (late 20s, early 30s), I was subjected to greater disrespect at conferences and professional meetings, especially by men who were old enough to be my father (or older).  I should note that some of my earliest writings were on masculinity, and the ways in which men’s authority (in my period and field) was built upon their their “mastery” of a household and on the labor of subordinates like wives, daughters, sons, servants, and slaves.  (Hey, it was the 1990s–it seemed new then!) 

When I gave seminars and conference papers that took this perspective for granted, I had a number of middle-aged and older male interlocutors who were just really, really angry with me.  Continue Reading »


October 27th 2009
Physical beauty and professional competence in women

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

eyesnotdownhereIt’s not just sexist men who judge physically attractive women who presume to compete for jobs–it’s pretty much everyone, apparently.  Go read this strange missive on “Cleavage and the Job Market,” straight from Laurie Fendrich’s disturbed psyche about a young woman who recently got a job for which there were 500 applicants:

The article reports that Mr. Kelsey was “immediately impressed” when Ms. B[****] came in on the second day of interviews. “Dressed in a conservative business suit, Ms. B[****] patiently answered all of the 100-plus questions,” we learn. Mr. Kelsey “liked that she remained consistent in her answers and showed independence.”

Uh, anybody ever heard about how a picture tells a thousand words? Forget reading the article. Instead, click “Enlarge” on the Times’ photograph of Ms. B[****] — who is facing us — sitting across from Mr. Kelsey, whom we see only from the back.

Does anyone need to have me point out the obvious? That’s a spicy bit of cleavage peaking up above what looks like a nice tight black Lycra top—the kind that clings to the chest the way Cling Wrap hugs a cheese ball. Note the body language (being female, I hereby assert my expertise in interpreting females). Ms. B[****] is leaning ever so slightly forward toward Mr. Kelsey, smiling a big, feisty, all-American smile. And why not? She got the job. Not for Mr. Kelsey any of those lumpy-looking men in the other picture (to see what I mean.

(H/t reader Lance.)  Huh?  “[A] spicy bit of cleavage peaking up above what looks like a nice tight black Lycra top—the kind that clings to the chest the way Cling Wrap hugs a cheese ball.”  (Is anyone else creeped out by the fact that this writer uses all of this gustatory language, as though she’s serving this young woman up for us like a canape?)  Continue Reading »


October 26th 2009
We love the 90s?

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

ilove90sWell, I loved them in spite of the stuttering insanity that gripped the mainstream media.  This little reminder is courtesy of Joan Walsh’s recent review of Taylor Branch’s The Clinton Tapes:

It’s always seemed to me no accident that the mainstream media began to lose its market share, its revenues and its respect in those years, when they slighted an embattled president’s worthy if controversial initiatives on Middle East peace, Bosnia, welfare reform, making work pay and building a U.S. social democracy, in favor of gossip about his character, his marriage, his taste in women and even the distinguishing characteristics of the presidential penis.

Against this historical backdrop of childish media snickering, the sharp, accomplished Branch comes off as a naif and even a rube in some of his stories, consistently flummoxed by the enmity among Washington media players, some of them his friends, as they savaged Clinton beyond proportion. He writes, bewildered, about a spate of vicious headlines at the end of 1996: The Times’ Abe Rosenthal accused the Clintons of “giving militant Islam its first beachhead in Bosnia,” while Maureen Dowd dubbed Clinton the trivia-obsessed “President Pothole” and the “Limbo President,” sinking ever lower. For good measure she added: “We pretty much know the Clintons did something wrong in Whitewater,” when in fact, 12 years later, we know no such thing. Wen Ho Lee at least got an apology from the Times; the Clintons are still waiting. (Clark Hoyt, is it too late to take that factual error up with Dowd?) Continue Reading »


October 24th 2009
Good diagnosis, but prescription FAIL

Posted under American history & Gender & women's history

I’m at a conference this weekend, so while I’m out, go read Joanne Lipman’s interesting commentary in The New York Times today, “The Mismeasure of Woman.”  (H/t to Indyanna for alerting me.)  Lipman writes, “[c]ertainly, when you look at the numbers, women have made tremendous strides over the past 25 years. But in the process, we lost sight of something important. After focusing for so long on better jobs and higher pay, maybe the best thing — the enduring thing — we can do is make sure respect is part of the equation too.”  She traces the decline in women’s status to 9/11 and the simultaneous rise of rampant misogyny on the web.  (There may be a causal link there, or just a correlation–Lipman doesn’t say, and I’m hard pressed to try to disentangle the two phenomenae.)  “The conversation online about women, as about so many other topics, degenerated from silly and snarky to just plain ugly — and it seeped into the mainstream.”

I’m glad the status of women in American society is getting attention in the opinion pages of the Times, but her prescriptions seem like extremely weak tea.  (Well, she was a magazine editor–even so, these are surprising for their glibness.)  For example:  Continue Reading »


October 23rd 2009
Classy Claude frets about his job talk strategy

Posted under jobs

grantbringingupbabyFrom the mailbag, again.  Some of you may recall Classy Claude’s report from the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in New York in January.  Well, Claude is a hyper-prepared, very exacting kind of a guy who is selectively on the market, so he’s already worrying about prospective job talks this winter.  Like a Boy Scout, Claude wants to “Be Prepared.”  Dear readers, can you help? 

Dear Historiann,

I’m on the market this year again, hoping to move to a more favorable geographic location.  I think I’m in a good position as a newish Assistant Professor with a book out.  A friend of mine told me that so long as I am an Assistant Professor, I should never consider talking about anything but my book, but that seems rather cautious.  (And not to mention, really boring for me.)  I’d like to talk about my next project, but I’ve only just started to research it, and my friend warned me against talking about such a new project. 

What’s your advice?  What would your readers suggest?

I too have heard this advice about job talks–at least, the part about how one shouldn’t ever give a job talk about a research project one hadn’t pretty much wrapped up and decorated with a bow.  But, I feel your pain:  you published that book already, so if anyone wants to see what you think about your book topic, they can just read your damn book, right?

But, no one reads anything any more, for any reason.  (They’re all reading stupid blogs like this one!  It’s so much easier and more immediately gratifying than work, isn’t it?)   Continue Reading »


October 22nd 2009
Phoney complaint

Posted under jobs & students

dunceOver at Inside Higher Ed’s “Survival Guide,” a nervous grad student and adjunct instructor writes:

Dear Survival Guide:

I am a graduate student and also teach as an adjunct. I was recently made aware a student may be filing a formal complaint against me because I sternly told him he was not allowed to leave the class to take a phone call. He is not disputing the rule or my enforcement of it, rather claiming abuse because of my tone.

What should I do to prepare? Should I seek legal representation? I’m not sure what steps to take and I don’t want to do anything in the beginning that could jeopardize my chances for an acceptable resolution.

C. K. Gunslaus replies with a lot of helpful general advice–stay calm, try to recall the incident clearly and honestly, know your institution’s grievance procedures, etc., and the commenters have other good ideas (make your telephone and class disruptions policies clear on your syllabus, for example) but it doesn’t sound to me like there’s a lot of there there in this particular story.  Continue Reading »


October 21st 2009
WWT”FF”T? And who wants to live in their world, anyway?

Posted under American history & Gender & race & unhappy endings

What would the “Founding Fathers” think? Newt Gingrich thinks they’re all rolling over in their graves because of President Barack Obama’s policies:

Says Gingrich (via The Daily Beast):  “I think all of the ‘Founding Fathers’ would have said, if you have government this big, it’s going to be really dumb, it’s going to have large sections of corruption, it’s going to waste a lot of money, and it’s going to be a threat to your freedom, and I think all of the ‘Founding Fathers’ would be appalled.”

I get it that Gingrich is making a political point rather than a serious point in a graduate seminar, but it really grinds my gears to hear comments like these that denature and flatten the early Republic to a period of ideological and political consensus, rather than the vicious brawl that it was (with some duels tossed in for good measure).  “I think all of the ‘Founding Fathers’ would be appalled.”  As if.  Isn’t this the guy who’s supposed to have a Pee Aitch Dee in History? 

My bet is that Alexander Hamilton and most of the Federalists would be well pleased by the firehose of government money flooding Wall Street in the past year under both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama.  Continue Reading »


October 20th 2009
A Guide to Modern Manners, by Mistress Historiann

Posted under Gender & GLBTQ & jobs & students & women's history

Recently, Nancy Gibbs claimed in Time that true liberation is not caring what people call you, Miss, Ms., or Mrs.:

Whether my children’s friends call me Ms. Gibbs or Mrs. May or any combination of the two, I view it as a sign of respect and don’t worry about the particulars. My husband never remotely suggested that he was bothered by my not taking his name; in fact, he’s accustomed to occasionally answering to Mr. Gibbs. My late father, a fine writer, thrilled to see that name in the pages of this magazine. All these identities are me: Ms. when I’m out slaying dragons, Mrs. when I’m in the company of those I love most, Miss when I want to stay home under the covers and daydream. Feminists a generation ago fought for the title and dreamed of Freedom and Choice and Opportunity; maybe the surest sign that they’ve won is not which title we pick, but that we can have them all at once.


Historiann knows best!

(Don’t you just love those lectures about how feminists in the dreary, ideologically rigid Soviet-era of feminism got it so very wrong?  Me neither.)  Salon’s Judy Berman begs to differ too, noting the position of heteronormative married and maternal privilege from which Gibbs writes that “As a (potentially permanently) unmarried woman,” she doesn’t have access to “Mrs.,” and may never.  “And even if I were, the title’s connotations — that I was someone’s counterpart, that I had taken my husband’s name — would get to me.  The problems with ‘Miss’ are the same as its advantages: Just as it conveys youth and freedom, it also suggests inexperience. On a very basic level, it feels diminutive.”  She concludes:  “As long as we still have ‘Mrs.’ and ‘Miss,’ then ‘Ms.’ will never be the same as ‘Mr.’”

The early Americanist in me wants to remind everyone that these are just abbreviations for “Master” and “Mistress,” and that “Mrs.” was a term applied to women on the basis of family status, not marital status.  (My students always find it freaky to see a baby or a young child referred to as “Mrs.” in primary sources, as they occasionally were in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.)  Wouldn’t that put a fun spin on social relations if everyone starting addressing everyone else as “Master” or “Mistress?”  Would-be language purists who think they’re standing up for a timeless tradition should keep this in mind–”Mrs.” and “Miss” are thoroughly modern innovations.

I’ve never heard a male colleague of mine complain about what his students call him, but this is a matter of constant frustration for many of my women colleagues, especially those who are unmarried and/or non-heterosexualists, who understandably really hate being called “Mrs.”  Continue Reading »


October 19th 2009
Scent of a woman’s ISBN number?

Posted under book reviews & Gender & jobs


Frans van Mieris, "A Woman Writing a Letter" (1680)

Mama Ph.D. has a suggestive post today about book reviews and the sex of the authors whose books are under review:

One of my clients has written a book that is about to be published. It is an excellent book — beautifully written, with intertwined themes that reverberate long after the narrative ends. The book was recently reviewed in a distinguished publication with an online presence, and my client sent me a link to the review. It was outstandingly positive, the sort of review that makes you want to run out and buy the book, and I congratulated her heartily.

“I don’t want to seem ungrateful,” she responded, “but look at this.” She showed me another review from the same publication, of a male colleague’s book. While my client’s book had been described enthusiastically as an engaging, fast-moving read (which it is), her colleague’s was discussed in respectful terms, lauded for its profundity and depth — descriptors which also apply to my client’s book.

“It’s because he’s male,” she said. And a perusal of other positive reviews seemed to support that. Continue Reading »


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