Archive for the 'women’s history' Category

April 15th 2014
Aux Armes, Citoyennes! Sign the National Women’s History Museum petition.

Posted under American history & women's history

libertyleadingdelacroixFormez vos bataillons!  Via a fired-before-she-could-quit board member, I was alerted to the petition to reform S. 398 in the service of creating the National Women’s History Museum.  (If you missed my post on the NWHM Women’s History Month massacree last week, click here.)  It is addressed to the women of the U.S. Senate and asks them to rewrite S. 398 to require that actual women’s historians and actual museum experts be appointed to the board.  To wit:

[W]e are concerned that the bill, as currently written, does not mandate a place for women’s historians on the Commission. This is a serious oversight. Thus we call upon you to consider submitting an amendment or amendments to improve your bill.

We are aware that amending a bill that you have already supported is an unusual step for members of the Senate to take, but we believe that it is warranted because the project as currently constituted is at risk of failure. The non-profit National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) has, over the past 16 years, done a great deal to publicize the need for a museum of women’s history; indeed, without their persistence, there would be no bills in Congress today. Nevertheless, we fear that, under its continued leadership, the project will not come to fruition because NWHM’s conceptualization and mode of presentation of U.S. women’s history is unprofessional, inaccurate, and incomplete. Since the time when many of you agreed to co-sponsor the bill, the NWHM has dissolved its Scholars Advisory Council, thus barring a distinguished group of professional women’s historians from participating in the project at the outset and making sure that it reflects the highest standards of scholarship in the field. Continue Reading »

26 Comments »

April 8th 2014
Women’s historians told “you’re history” during Women’s History Month by the National Women’s History Museum

Posted under American history & class & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & jobs & race & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness & women's history

cowgirlcensoreddumbHow’s that for irony?  That’s what the Scholarly Advisory Council was told by the National Women’s History Museum’s President and CEO Joan Wages last month, according to former SAC member Sonya Michel.  (You can see the NMWH’s announcement of the SAC’s walking papers here.)  Michel, for those of you who don’t know her or her work, is an eminent scholar of gender, povery, and social welfare.  She writes:

Last month’s dismissal of the scholars followed yet another example of a museum offering that embarrassed those of us who were trying to ensure that the institution was adhering to the highest standards in our field. In mid-March, the museum announced that it had launched a new online exhibit, “Pathways to Equality: The U.S. Women’s Rights Movement Emerges,” in conjunction with the Google Cultural Institute. Never informed that the exhibit was in the works, much less given an opportunity to vet it, we were appalled to discover that it was riddled with historical errors and inaccuracies. To pick just one example: Harriet Beecher Stowe was described as having been “born into a family of abolitionists” when, from the time of her birth through her young adulthood in the 1830s, her family actively opposed the abolitionist movement. “Pathways to Equality,” noted Kathryn Kish Sklar, the nineteenth-century specialist who pointed out the error, “could have been written by a middle-school student.”

Actually, if I were Sklar, I would have said that “a middle-school student who had consulted my prizewinning biography of Catherine Beecher could have put together a stronger online presentation.”  Continue Reading »

23 Comments »

April 3rd 2014
The author, the work, and “the objectivity question.”

Posted under American history & book reviews & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & jobs & race & students & weirdness & women's history

Claire Potter (aka Tenured Radical) has an interesting post on her book blog about the assumptions that audiences make about the politics of historians based on their subject matter choices.  She writes:

It isn’t uncommon that, when hearing about the research I have done on the history of anti-pornography feminism, audiences assume that I must be an anti-pornography feminist too.But do you know that? Do you even have the right to ask? Should I tell you?

My hope for this book is that you will be so compelled by my scholarship that you will never know my private views on this question.

I found the assumption really interesting, in that the vast, vast, vast majority of feminist intellectuals I know and have worked with are far from anti-porn feminists.  Maybe my experiences are idiosyncratic, but in my experience academic feminists–much as most of us are disgusted by mainstream pornography–tend also to be First Amendment absolutists.

Potter continues with a meditation about identity politics and historical subject matter that is really worth the read:

Making assumptions about intellectuals based on superficial knowledge of their research interests is fairly common, but honestly? I think it happens to women, queers and people of color more often. I have a friend and colleague who is African-American, and writing a history of African-American conservative thought. That colleague is frequently assumed to be a conservative, much as I am often presumed, on the basis of nothing, to be an anti-pornography feminist. Continue Reading »

17 Comments »

March 30th 2014
Shorter Margaret Wente: porn fine by me, just leave it unexamined.

Posted under American history & art & bad language & Bodily modification & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & O Canada & students & the body & wankers & women's history

craftmasterHere’s my brief summary of Margaret Wente’s predictable, by-the-numbers shot at the academic study of pornography:

Provocative lede!  Bad puns.  Academics write only jargon-filled articles that no one will ever read.  Also:  the stupid feminists used to be against porn, but now they’re pro-porn, but they’re still stupid (duh).  Irrelevant academics can’t even make porn interesting.  But you should be very alarmed by this trend!  Academic research on porn will take over our universities!  This research is trivial and therefore all higher education is unworthy of public support.  All college students should watch porn, just not for college credit.

I don’t carry any water for porn studies here, but I also don’t think it’s the most irrelevant thing ever studied in an academic setting.  (Because the internetContinue Reading »

10 Comments »

March 19th 2014
Memo to Dems and CSU-P faculty: you need a little F.U.

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & Gender & jobs & local news & race & women's history

Much prettier than Kevin Spacey

Much prettier than Kevin Spacey.

Hilarious headline at The Daily Beast by Dean Obeidallah:  “Dems Need to Channel ‘House of Cards’ Frank Underwood” in order to try to avoid electoral disaster this fall.  Actually, the headline was the only amusing part of that article; if only we had Democrats as tough as Frank!  The rest of the article is full of predictable and sensible advice like “turn out your base!” and “crank up the fear factor” about the Republicans!  Well, duh.  That might work, but it sure is a lot less fun to watch than House of Cards.

I was hoping that the article was itself a brilliant, murderous plot full of twists, turns, and of course SPOILER ALERT Continue Reading »

2 Comments »

March 7th 2014
How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail? The “big questions” and women’s history.

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

alicecrocodile“How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail, and pour the waters of the Nile on every golden scale?” It’s that time of the year, friends. Why does every spring semester feel so damn busy? Is it the graduate exams, the lectures and colloquia, or the inviting, deep, deep snow in the mountains? All of the above? Other concatenations of obligations, pleasures, and near-disasters?

I was chairing a Master’s exam committee yesterday, and my student (who did brilliantly, natch) made a comment about the ways in which women’s history was always viewed as narrow or of limited relevance to the rest of the profession, when traditional topics in men’s history (the new imperial history, for example, which seems almost exactly like the old imperial history) are viewed as “big” topics of universal importance. Size matters, right? So why do male topics always seem bigger than women’s histories, even when they’re based on a much narrower source base written only by a tiny sliver of elites? (Bonnie Smith’s arguments in The Gender of History seem inescapable.) Continue Reading »

22 Comments »

February 28th 2014
What I learned from the comments thread at Tenured Radical

Posted under American history & bad language & Bodily modification & class & Dolls & Gender & GLBTQ & jobs & the body & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness & women's history

barbies31508

Why weren’t we on the cover?

Did any of you see Tenured Radical’s post yesterday about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue 2014, “Happiness is a Cold, Plastic Doll?”  This year it features Barbie on the cover, but the same old soft-core porn inside.

The point of TR’s post was to comment on the cultural significance of SI’s annual swimsuit issue.  She noted her confusion when she first saw it in the 1970s, a decade in which porn was pushing into the mainstream, and Playboy had come to her campus to take some photos for “Girls of the Ivy League.”  (This was 1978; recall that most Ivies hadn’t admitted women until the early 1970s.  Welcome to campus, ladies!)  TR writes that the swimsuit issue wasn’t porn, but yet it “wasn’t not porn, because everything was exposed except, as Monty Python would say, the ‘naughty bits.’”  And yet–

The women were definitely chosen for their porny qualities. No model was included who didn’t have (as they used to say back in the 1970s) a “great rack,”  or was not able to spread her legs, tip her butt up alluringly for potential rear entry, or cock her head back in that time-honored fashion that says, “Come and get it, Buster Brown.”

But like those who reject changing the name of the Washington Football Team, the swimsuit issue is spoken of as a tradition. Hence it is harmless, right? Wrong. The swimsuit issue is the porn that gets circulated in public, as if it were not really porn, which to me – makes it more sexist than the tabletop magazines that just say brightly: “we’re all about porn!” It’s the porn that gets delivered at the office, and it’s the porn that people think it’s ok for little boys to have, like the Charlie’s Angels and Farrah Fawcett posters that were so popular back in the day, because it helps them not grow up to be fags.

This is not what all but four or five of us commenting on the post learned.  Instead, several porndogs wanted to turn the comments thread on this post into a strange personal porny fantasy involving fetishizing women’s bodies and insulting feminists and feminism at the same time.  This is a fair summary of their threadjack: Continue Reading »

31 Comments »

February 13th 2014
Free speech and bad art at Wellesley

Posted under American history & art & Gender & students & the body & weirdness & women's history

Wake up!!!

Wake up!!!

Have any of you been following the fracas over the temporary installation of Tony Matelli’s “Sleepwalker” statue on the Wellesley College campus?  Lenore Skenazy published a faux-outraged commentary in the Wall Street Journal that summarizes the controversy and predictably makes fun of the campus feminists who object to the statue, rather than questioning the aesthetic judgment of the art museum director who decided to put up this crummy piece of art in the first place:

“Wellesley should be a safe place for their students, not a triggering one,” wrote one petition-signer, as if the statue actually made the campus dangerous. That’s a brand-new way of looking at—and trying to legislate—the world. So I checked in with Robert Shibley, senior vice president at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, about the Wellesley panic. “It’s the idea that any kind of discomfort is a form of assault,” he noted.

Once we equate making people feel bad with actually attacking them, free expression is basically obsolete, since anything a person does, makes or says could be interpreted as abuse.

Lisa Fischman, director of the art museum on campus, wrote an open letter to students explaining that, to her, the Matelli statue depicts a vulnerable, pathetic stranger. (He’s sleepwalking in his skivvies in the snow, after all.) But to the petition-signers, her point of view is apparently not worthy. One wrote that Ms. Fischman’s letter, like the sculpture itself, “should occupy a less intrusive place.”

Yet another wrote: “A school endorsing the decision to expose its female students to this . . . violates civil rights laws.” I’ll stop quoting these petition-signers now—their words are triggering some of my own fears.

Since when is it a “civil right” not to feel disturbed by a piece of art? And who gets to decide which art we chuck? You don’t like the “Sleepwalker,” but I don’t like “Winged Victory.” It stirs scary thoughts of decapitation. Dear Louvre, please stash that headless gal in the attic.

Yes, it’s over-the-top to describe an inanimate piece of sculpture as an assault.  But it’s also ridiculous to say that questioning Fischman’s judgment assaults liberty of speech as well.  (They submitted a petition; they didn’t occupy the museum and hold her at gunpoint in her office until she had the sculpture removed.  What the hell–it was a good effort to try to sell more copies of Skenazy’s four-year old book!) Continue Reading »

16 Comments »

February 9th 2014
Victorian Secrets by Sarah A. Chrisman (2013): perhaps some things are better kept under wraps.

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & Gender & the body & wankers & women's history

victoriansecretschrismanBecause of my clear fascination with historical shapewear and undergarments, a number of people have recommended that I read Victorian Secrets:  What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself by Sarah A. Chrisman (New York:  Skyhorse Publishing, 2013).  Although I am deeply interested in clothing and historical costume, and although I incorporate this kind of material culture into my work as a historian, I have never been tempted to become a historical re-enactor.  Ever.  Perhaps because of my utter disinterest in wearing historical clothing myself, I was eager to read Chrisman’s book, which is an autobiographical account of a relationship between a 30-year old woman  and her corset.  Chrisman is very insightful about the ways in which corseting herself forces changes in her body, posture, and wardrobe.  However, she is much less thoughtful about how the people of Seattle respond to her experiment in corsetry.

Chrisman and her husband Gabriel enjoy wearing real vintage clothing from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and she describes their growing involvement with the reenactor community in Washington state.  In wearing a corset, Chrisman reports that she was able to leave her tall, slouchy, not model-thin body behind and finally to feel at home in her body for the first time in her life.  Her breasts were relieved of the pressure of her bra straps, and for once her curves were flattering.  Furthermore, her corset limited the amount of food she could consume at any given time, removing another source of anxiety about her body:  “It was no longer a matter of biology, but of simple physics:  my stomach could not expand past the diameter of my corset.  If I started the day with my corset at twenty-eight, or twenty-four, or twenty inches, as long as I did not loosen it, I would have the exact same measurement at the end of the day, no matter what I ate or what I did in the interim.  I could eat until I was full at every meal,” (120-21).

However, Chrisman approaches her interests in corsetry and historical costume like a buff, not a historian.  And like many buffs, she displays an astonishing intolerance for any fellow buffs whose interest in historic costume isn’t as accurate as Chrisman believes it should be.  Continue Reading »

24 Comments »

January 26th 2014
Gender, marriage, labor, and the “American Dream”

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

wendydavis

Wendy Davis

The Republicans–they just can’t help themselves!  First, we hear of Two-Buck Huck’s “Uncle Sugar” comments, and then we see that other Republicans are accusing Texas Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis of dishonesty because although she lived in a trailer park with her eldest daughter, she didn’t live long enough in a trailer park; and because her second husband helped send her to law school, we shouldn’t buy her hard-luck tale of scrappy bootstrapping.  Liza Mundy has some thoughts on the Davis fracas in Politico:

The kerfuffle began last weekend, with the publication of a profile in the Dallas Morning News that filled out gaps in her story, and continued all week as Davis was spun by her critics as a social climber, an ingrate, a neglectful mother. She has been chastised for starting out in her marriage as a dependent (golddigger!), and finishing it as a lawyer so financially successful that she was the one paying child support to her ex-husband (careerist harpy!).

The exact same things could be said about Bill Clinton and Barack Obama but no one ever writes this way about male pols because our culture presumes that men are entitled to claim the benefit of women’s labor and pretend that everything they accomplish belongs to their efforts only.  Both Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton were the high-earning heavy-lifters in their marriages before their husbands ran for president.

Mundy concludes:

[Davis] is being subjected to a double standard. Behavior that would be unremarkable in a man—leaving your kids for prolonged periods in the capable hands of your spouse, as Barack Obama did, as did zillions of other fathers who campaigned for public office—is somehow suspect, even unnatural, in a mother. Following your fundamental nature; learning that there is a whole big world out there; adjusting your aspirations upward; getting some help from people who believe in you, people whose well-being is entangled with your own: this is the stuff of the typical American success story, the American dream. It’s a story we fall in love with, except, apparently, when the dreamer happens to be female. Continue Reading »

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