Archive for May, 2010

May 10th 2010
Betty Draper is a bad mommy

Posted under American history & art & childhood & Gender & women's history

She's no Donna Reed

In Clio Bluestocking’s “Not a Post about Mother’s Day,” she offers some interesting observations on the oddly vehement feelings about the Betty Draper character in Mad Men:

I’m not sure what to think of Mother’s Day, probably because I am not one nor care to be one. Mostly, I’m not sure what to think of Mother’s Day because the concept seems so divorced from reality. I know that it started as a day to protest war by politicizing motherhood, but the commodification and sentimentalization of Mother’s Day since World War I seems to have done more harm than good to everyone — mothers, perhaps, the most of all. Who wants to live in the shadow of that monster of an angel, the Perfect Mother?

I think, oddly, of Betty Draper on Mad Men. Not so much her as the reactions to her that I read on such blogs as What Alan’s Watching and Tom and Lorenzo. I don’t personally like the character; yet, at the same time, I also find her and the reactions to her fascinating. While the writers have her make decisions that fit her character — she, for instance, did not leave Don in the first season after she found out that he was spying on her psychotherapy, instead using that knowledge to manipulate him — most people who comment on the show project their own experiences as a mother or as a child onto her. People who respond to her with sympathy identify with her as a trapped woman who hasn’t bought into the romanticism of motherhood. People who loathe her respond to her as children who were raised by an unhappy mother.

I don’t think the connection Clio B. makes is so odd.  I’ve noticed the same bi-polar reactions to her character.  I also find that Betty gets judged by viewers according to the range of possible choices available to women in 2010 rather than 1963.  Continue Reading »


May 9th 2010
Contraception before The Pill

Posted under American history & book reviews & Gender & women's history

The coincidence of the fiftieth anniversary of FDA approval of the birth-control pill occurring on Mother’s Day this year is just too much for major media outlets to resist.  The Denver Post has a decent story with a local history angle, and Gail Collins’s column on this subject is at the top of the most e-mailed and viewed stories of the day over at The New York Times as of 8 a.m. MDT (that’s 10 a.m. for you provincial easterners.)  While I think it’s great that Elaine Tyler May’s new book America and The Pill is getting all of this publicity, if you read only the publicity for her book and the various media representations of the history of birth control in North America, you’d think that it began with Margaret Sanger and the vulcanization of rubber, and ended with The Pill.  This is a disturbingly technologically-driven narrative of the history of contraception, which as any women’s historian who knows about anything before the twentieth century can tell you is extremely short-sighted and ignores the efforts of women to control their fertility before (male) scientists and (male) physicians decided to help the girls out.

Susan Klepp, author of Revolutionary Conceptions:  Women, Fertility, and Family Limitation in America, 1760-1820, explained on The Page 99 Test blog in January that the narrative of contraceptive history that starts with Margaret Sanger is merely a “supply-side version–there was a demand for contraception that Sanger supplied”  She continued:

But when did women and men begin to demand access to birth control information? When did they come to prefer small family sizes? After all for most of history large numbers of children were seen as valuable assets–bringing parents free labor, prestige, support in old age and more.

Revolutionary Conceptions traces that change in attitudes on family size to the era of the American Revolution. Americans were vowing not to be the slaves of Britain, they demanded liberty and independence. These ideas spread, not just among politicians, but among rich and poor, free and slave, men and women. Women came to seek equality in marriage, more options in life, and better treatment of children, especially daughters–goals that could be accomplished through family planning. Continue Reading »


May 8th 2010
Exam week fluff: Happy Working Song!

Posted under art & fluff & happy endings & women's history

Here’s a little tune to get you in the mood for either taking exams or marking them! (Warning: this tune is extremely catchy–if you click on it, you may find this song in your head for the rest of the day.)

My favorite part? Continue Reading »


May 7th 2010
This looks like a job for Downer Prof.

Posted under jobs & students

The Bittersweet One needs a little support and encouragement, if you’re at all inclined to provide any.  She had to put the boots to a student who is seriously stalled in her work:

But somewhere along the way Jane fell victim to the perils that afflict so many graduate students: anxiety, self-doubt, fear, paralysis, and shame. I’ve seen this many, many times (hell, I was in that same black hole for most of my own graduate career!) but I just hadn’t expected this for Jane — and, frankly, it took me a while to figure out just how serious the situation was. Jane is not making the progress she needs to make — I can no longer say with any confidence that she can finish her degree in the time frame we had planned — and, obviously, there are serious consequences for the next stage of her career.

There’s a lot more to be said about why even brilliant, self-motivated students get stuck in the grad school black hole — and there are other details about Jane’s situation that I am not including which would explain why this is an all-or-nothing moment — but this is a post about me so please excuse the one-sided-ness of this discussion.

At our last meeting, I found myself really struggling to break out of the established pattern of our relationship — the one in which we are very friendly, I am very upbeat and supportive, and in which I tell her there is no question she can do it all — and shift gears to this new reality — in which I express concern about her progress, start to talk to her about alternatives (deferring the PhD program; taking some time off; considering other careers), and basically convey that our relationship was going to have a different flavor. I really didn’t want to give up being Supportive Prof because that is such a positive role — it feels good to be Supportive Prof. I didn’t want to have to be the one to break the bad news, force Jane to acknowledge the situation she’s in — be Downer Prof. Downer Prof sucks. Continue Reading »


May 6th 2010
Arizona’s Fugitive Immigrant Act of 2010

Posted under American history & race & unhappy endings & wankers

We here at the Hell’s Half-Acre Ranch have been following avidly the alternately sarcastic and disbelieving commentary on what I call Arizona’s Fugitive Immigrant Act (SB 1070) by GayProf at Center of Gravitas and Big Tent Democrat at TalkLeft over the past few weeks.  Yes, this is the law that gives state and local law enforcement in Arizona to apprehend and detain anyone suspected of being an “illegal” immigrant, and makes it a crime not to carry one’s freedom papersimmigration documents or proof of U.S. citizenship.  This linky round-up is overdue, so I’ll pass along some highlights:


May 5th 2010
College Inc.

Posted under American history & jobs & students & unhappy endings & wankers

Did any of you catch the Frontline last night, College Inc.It was pretty simplistic, but it underscored the fatuousness of all of the scrutiny on traditional public higher ed when contrasted with the total absence of regulation of for-profit institutions that are essentially mechanisms for defrauding the federal student loan program.  Yes, friends–that’s where the profit is.  These “universities” admit students who are unprepared or unqualified for college-level work, hook them up with student loans, take that money, and then spend 20-25% of their budget on advertising and promotions to lure in new marks (and only 10-15% of their budget on instruction!)  Then they spit the students out with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, and few if any real job prospects.

Nice.  But, it’s the American way. Continue Reading »


May 4th 2010
Notes on class

Posted under American history & class & local news & students

With respect to the issue of “concurrent enrollment” discussed below (and apologies to Susan Sontag), I thought I’d report an interesting conversation I had yesterday during my last class meeting with my senior research seminar students. (All History majors at Baa Ram U. are required to take a one-semester course in which they write a primary-source based research paper.  This is our “capstone” course–I’m sure a number of you are familiar with the concept.)  In order to wrap things up on a reflective note (and do more than just pass out course evaluations), I asked them in advance of class to come ready to talk about the most interesting thing they had learned in my class and/or in the course of researching their papers.  Many of them had surprisingly thoughtful things to say about their college educations and experiences as History majors in general.

I was amazed by the level of reflection on their educations as a whole at Baa Ram U. and in my department in particular.  My students said things like, “I learned how to read books as a history major,” and “I learned that I had really learned something in college in the course of researching my paper.”  They commented that they learned to see history differently than they had before, and that they saw real value in their work here.  One man who is a double major in business and History said that his work as history major seemed more “real” and “hands-on” than his business courses, because the book learning he did as a business major felt incomplete without being out in the working world and having an opportunity to try our different ideas.  Another student said that he learned what footnotes were and how useful they could be, when before he had just seen them as “filler.”  Many students commented that they learned valuable skills for using libraries, which as it turns out are still more useful than the Google for higher-level historical research.  Continue Reading »


May 3rd 2010
Teh Monday morning funny

Posted under art & fluff & unhappy endings

No kittens were harmed in the making of this funny. does not condone the execution of tiny creatures. Continue Reading »


May 2nd 2010
Sheep dip from Baa Ram U.

Posted under American history & jobs & local news & students & unhappy endings

Someone's going to take a bath, alright!

I’ve got a question for all of you proffies out there, in any and all disciplines:  do any of your departments give credit from your university to high school students taking “approved” courses for college credit in their high schools?  As in, they’ll take an advanced class taught by a high school teacher (like perhaps an AP or IB class, or maybe not), and it will show up on their transcripts as a course taken at your university. (And they’ll get this credit without having taken the AP exam, for which usually students need to get a 4 or a 5 in order to have it accepted for college credit.)  This apparently is the Colorado legislature’s brilliant scheme for “saving money”–as in, the money of parents of high school students who would otherwise need to be accepted into and enrolled at a university (or at least pay for an AP exam) and pay tuition in order to receive college credit for the course. 

Is it really in our best interests to send the message that college is a tedious hassle that should be gotten over with as soon as possible?  Do we agree that there’s little difference between high school and college classes, and anyone can teach them?  How does this not turn us into Wal-Mart in the long run?  I’m not saying we’re Barney’s here, but I think we hold our own as a dependable Sears or J.C. Penny of higher education. Continue Reading »


May 1st 2010
Gerda Lerner is 90 years old

Posted under the body & women's history

Via Echidne, we learn that Gerda Lerner turned 90 yesterday.  See her interesting essay, “Reflections on Aging,” from her 2009 book of essays, Living with History/Making Social Change(The essay on aging can be read in its entirety by following the links on the UNC Press blog.)  (Be sure to see the well-wishers in the comments, which is an all-star list of senior women’s historians–Ruth Rosen, Leslie Schwalm, Estelle Freedman, and others.)  From Lerner’s essay:

[Aging] is part of life, and yet it is more difficult than anything that came before it.  It presents us daily with new challenges and demands.  When one is younger, one goes through various life stages, all of which are culturally recognized and supported.  Childhood, adolescence, adulthood, the stage of nurturing one’s own family and children, maturity in work and social relations–these stages following predictable succession. . . . If we fail to make good choices in one stage, there is always the next stage in which we can do better.  But in old age there is only one next stage and that is death.  Aging is the way to do it, and it poses its own inexorable demands.

In old age we cannot take for granted that we will be able to enjoy the luxury of making good choices; we often have to choose the lesser of two evils.  Our body, which we have always trusted as a reliable, familiar friend, now confronts us with its weaknesses and limitations.  We have to develop a new relationship with it, adapting to its slow decline in capacity and strength.  Pain and physical impairments become our steady companions.  We have to get used to them, respect them and adjust to them, as best we can.  Without pain and impairments nobody would ever be ready to die.

That’s a really fascinating observation.  I’m sure the prospect of imminent death would be much more difficult if one felt terrific through old age.  Death would arrive as an outrage, an insufferable imposition.  Continue Reading »


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