Archive for the 'women’s history' Category

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 »

12 Comments »

January 15th 2014
An update (and lessons learned) on the Liturgy of the Book

Posted under American history & happy endings & jobs & local news & O Canada & publication & women's history

I would have made a poor nun!

Last autumn I wrote a blog post in which I described my plan to finish a draft of my book by the end of 2013.  My scheme involved waking up at 4 a.m. several days a week to write for a few hours while the house was dark and quiet.  Well friends, I have failed to do that, but in many respects I consider the experiment a success.  Furthermore, I learned some things that may be of use to the rest of you.  To wit:

  • I did not complete a draft of the entire six-chapter book, but I produced a pretty polished draft of chapter 4 and I have something called chapter 5, which is probably better  than I would have done without even trying this early morning experiment.  So, I would say that I have about 5/6 of the book drafted, and would therefore give myself a B for effort and a B-/C+ for achievement.
  • The main reason I didn’t finish all six chapters is that I pooped out after about five weeks of very steady writing and engagement.  I caught a cold in early October, went to a conference, and then midterm papers and exams came in.  In early November I had a trip out of town, and then it was Thanksgiving and I caught another cold, and that’s where October and November went.  And then December, with final exams and papers and grading, not to mention the rest of the holidays and family visiting?  You can imagine.
  • Biggest lesson learned?  The 4 to 6 a.m. writing experiment is a great thing to do for two weeks or a month at a time, but expecting to keep up that schedule amidst the demands of my day job was unrealistic.  Continue Reading »

15 Comments »

January 12th 2014
Effective history teaching: passion and deep knowledge (and stay classy!)

Posted under American history & childhood & Gender & happy endings & jobs & students & women's history

Eric Foner, a distinguished historian of the Reconstruction-era of the United States, makes a terrific point in an interview with David Cutler at The Atlantic.  (My apologies if the title of the article is his takeaway point:  “‘You Have to Know History to Actually Teach It.’” ) To wit, Foner says:

I tell my students nowadays who are in graduate school and going on to become teachers—the number one thing is to have a real passion for your subject and to be able to convey that to your students. Obviously the content is important, but that’s not as unusual as being able to really convey why you think history is important. I think that’s what inspires students.

In a follow-up question, Foner explains this in terms of the deficits in historical education he sees at the high school level:

The first thing I would say is that we have to get away from the idea that any old person can teach history. A lot of the history teachers in this country are actually athletic coaches. I mention this in class, and students always say, “Oh yeah, Coach Smith, he taught my history course.” Why? Well, Coach Smith is the football coach, and in the spring he’s not doing much, and they say, “Well, put him in the history course, he can do that.”

They wouldn’t put him in a French course, or a physics course. The number-one thing is, you have to know history to actually teach it. That seems like an obvious point, but sometimes it’s ignored in schools. Even more than that, I think it’s important that people who are teaching history do have training in history. A lot of times people have education degrees, which have not actually provided them with a lot of training in the subject. Continue Reading »

17 Comments »

January 8th 2014
What I saw at the AHA 2014: Who are the ladies?

Posted under American history & conferences & European history & Gender & GLBTQ & happy endings & Intersectionality & jobs & students & technoskepticism & the body & women's history

elvgrenartistHowdy, friends!  I spent last weekend at the American Historical Association’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.  Here’s what I saw & did, at least the not-unbloglich parts.

  • Tenured Radical and I had coffee on Friday and then dinner on Saturday and spent the whole time figuring out how to silence and oppress more junior scholars, in-between her multiple appearances on the program and her incessant blogging and tweeting about the conference.  Honestly, those of you who want to take her on had better stock up on your Power Bars and Emergen-C, because her energy and enthusiasm for her work online and as a public intellectual are utterly overwhelming.  I’m ten years younger than she is, and I’m already at least a week behind her!  For those of you who are interested, see her three blog reports:  AHA Day 1:  Digital History Workshopalooza, AHA Day 2:  Fun With the Humanities, AHA Day 3:  Remember the Women, and her always lively Twitter feed.  (Excuse me–I have to go have a lie down after just linking to all of that activity.)
  • Clever readers will hear echoes of Abigail Adams’s counsel to John Adams in Tenured Radical’s “Remember the Women” blog post.  I also keep thinking of that scene from Lena Dunham’s Girls in which the character she plays, Hannah, asks the other women, “Who are the ladies?”  (Shosh has been quoting a heterosexual dating advice book aimed at “the ladies,” and Hannah’s question implies that “ladies” is a stupid, made-up, narrow way to talk to real women, who come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and sexualities, etc., and both Hannah and Jessa resent being lumped into the notional category of “ladies”–just click the embedded video below.)  That was the essence of Tenured Radical’s question for the women on the “Generations of History” panel she writes about in her AHA Day 3 post when she asked what the panel would have looked like if it had included a lesbian, for example, or even some women for whom marriage and children were never a part of their life plan.
  • Continue Reading »

32 Comments »

January 4th 2014
What’s wrong with this vision of American history?

Posted under American history & class & Gender & race & unhappy endings & women's history

John Judis lists his top ten American history books.  “They’re my favorites; they’re not the best books, because I haven’t read comprehensively, especially in certain periods. It’s much heavier on the history of religion than on social history, and on the Progressive Era than on, say, the Civil War.” Everyone is entitled to her favorite writers and periods of history.  Fair enough.

See if you can guess why Historiann has a problem with this list (aside from the fact that the latest publication date on his list is 1988!):

  1. Perry Miller, Errand into the Wilderness, (1956).
  2. William McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakenings and Reform, (1978).
  3. Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, (1969).
  4. Michael Paul Rogin, Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian, (1988).
  5. Herbert Croly, The Promise of American Life, (1909). Continue Reading »

17 Comments »

November 27th 2013
Occasions for thanksgiving, 2013

Posted under American history & happy endings & women's history

thanksgivinggreetingsAn incomplete list:

Who or what is on your list?

10 Comments »

November 23rd 2013
JFK puts the zap on Peggy Noonan’s brain

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

Peggy Noonan desperately tries to find something nice to say about John F. Kennedy, because he was assassinated and because he was the only Roman Catholic U.S. President:

Two small points. It is interesting that JFK was celebrated as the first modern president, the first truly hip president, and yet the parts of him we celebrate most are actually the old virtues. He lied to get into the military, not to get out of it. He was sick, claimed to be well, and served as a naval officer in the war. In the postwar years he was in fairly constant physical pain, but he got up every day and did his demanding jobs. He played hurt. He was from a big, seemingly close family and seemed very much the family man himself. What we liked most about him wasn’t hip.

And he was contained. He operated within his own physical space and was not florid or mawkish or creepily domineering in his physical aspect. Continue Reading »

10 Comments »

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