May 8th 2014
“Marginalized, sexualized, and pitted against each other since time began”

Posted under: American history, book reviews, Gender, unhappy endings, women's history

Rebecca Traister, who wrote Big Girls Don’t Cry, the single best book about the 2008 Democratic primary contest, has written about Monica Lewinsky’s essay in Vanity Fair, and has supersmart things to say about our tendency to cherchez les femmes instead of placing the blame for men’s poor behavior where it belongs–on the men.  Instead of antagonists, she writes, Lewinsky and Hillary Clinton are doppelgangers:

In the fervid investigation and coverage of it, both women got hammered—as slutty and frigid, overweight and ugly, dumb and monstrous. They each became cartoons of dismissible femininity—the sexually defined naïf and the calculating, sexless aggressor, characters who illustrated the ways that sex—sex that’s had by men as well—always redounds negatively on women. These two women weren’t at odds; they were in it together.

.       .       .       .       .

The reason that, no matter what they do, neither woman can ever shake this old story is that it is never-ending; and it is important. It is the story of women in the United States: marginalized, sexualized, and pitted against each other since time began in an attempt to keep them at the fringes of a power structure and very far from the top of it.

Go read the whole thing.  (Why isn’t this woman a staff writer at a legacy magazine like The New Republic, The Nation, or The New Yorker?  I sure as $hit would rather read her than Adam “let me sell tell you about my adorably precocious children” Gopnik, or some of the other very predictable writers at those publications.)  Continue Reading »

16 Comments »

May 6th 2014
On philanthropy: why must no good deed go unpunished?

Posted under: American history, bad language, jobs, local news, unhappy endings, wankers, weirdness

cowgirlguitardoremiThis is a brief coda to the previous post, in which several commenters noted that they support selective special causes on their campuses.  I have in fact done this too–for example there’s a “school is cool”  program coordinated through Baa Ram U. I’ve supported in the past, which provides local needy schoolchildren with new backpacks loaded with the necessary supplies.  I’ve also donated to several memorial funds and fellowships coordinated through other universities, but have been frustrated by the ongoing begging that goes on for years and years, meaning that the University of Whatever Foundation ends up spending at least the amount of my donation on paper and postage.

For example:  In 2003, I made a one-time donation to the University of Colorado for a scholarship in honor of the late Jackson Turner Main, an emeritus professor there, and the University of Colorado Foundation still sends me invitations and solicitations.  Eleven years later!  It leads me to ask:  who did I kill to deserve this?
Continue Reading »

10 Comments »

May 4th 2014
Giving to the office at the office: are you f^(king kidding me?

Posted under: American history, bad language, jobs, local news, unhappy endings, wankers

excellenceI just received a telephone solicitation from a student at Baa Ram U. to donate money to support programs at Baa Ram U.  I realize that because the Democratic politicians in my state (who have been running the show for the last nine years!) are so gonad-free that state colleges and universities are literally going begging.  I also get it that “development” is all the rage.  Everyone’s got their hat out these days.

But I still feel pretty goddamned miffed about being asked to donate to my own damn employer.  The steady stream of solicitations had been until tonight confined to paper and email pleas for support.  (Curse you, stupid land line!)  I’m really interested to hear how the rest of you university and college employees feel about being solicited for donations by your employers, because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.

Here’s my thinking:  Continue Reading »

43 Comments »

May 3rd 2014
All you need to know about music in the 1990s in fewer than 2-1/2 minutes

Posted under: American history, art, happy endings

Awesome!!! (H/t Slate, Dave Shumka, and the CBC.)

6 Comments »

May 2nd 2014
Donald Sterling

Posted under: American history, art, bad language, Gender, race, wankers, weirdness

madmen_fullbodyniteoutDoes anyone else feel like he’s a Mad Men character (Donald Draper/Roger Sterling) who showed up forty years late with ideas that are seventy years out of date?  Every time I hear his name it’s like I’m in a meeting at Sterling Cooper Draper Price.

6 Comments »

May 1st 2014
Junot Diaz on MFA vs. POC

Posted under: American history, art, bad language, Gender, GLBTQ, Intersectionality, race, students, unhappy endings

Junot Diaz, an alum of the Cornell University MFA program, on MFA vs. POC:  “Lately I’ve been reading about MFA vs NYC. But for many of us it’s MFA vs POC.”  He continues,

I didn’t have a great workshop experience. Not at all. In fact by the start of my second year I was like: get me the fuck out of here.

So what was the problem?

Oh just the standard problem of MFA programs.

That shit was too white.

3

Some of you understand completely. And some of you ask: Too white … how?

Too white as in Cornell had almost no POC—no people of color—in it. Too white as in the MFA had no faculty of color in the fiction program—like none—and neither the faculty nor the administration saw that lack of color as a big problem. (At least the students are diverse, they told us.) Too white as in my workshop reproduced exactly the dominant culture’s blind spots and assumptions around race and racism (and sexism and heteronormativity, etc). In my workshop there was an almost lunatical belief that race was no longer a major social force (it’s class!). In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all. Shit, in my workshop we never talked about race except on the rare occasion someone wanted to argue that “race discussions” were exactly the discussion a serious writer should not be having.

.       .       .       .       .

In my workshop what was defended was not the writing of people of color but the right of the white writer to write about people of color without considering the critiques of people of color.

Oh, yes: too white indeed. I could write pages on the unbearable too-whiteness of my workshop—I could write folio, octavo and duodecimo on its terrible whiteness—but you get the idea.

Continue Reading »

9 Comments »

April 30th 2014
Four score and seven beers ago. . .

Posted under: American history, students

In seventeen years of teaching the U.S. History survey through the Civil War and Reconstruction, I have never failed to cry while reading the Gettysburg Address.

I feel like such a sentimental dork, but it’s one of the few times that you can hear a pin drop in the classroom as the students wait for me to pull myself back together.

16 Comments »

April 26th 2014
Being Cliven Bundy

Posted under: American history, bad language, Gender, Intersectionality, race, wankers, weirdness

cowgirlhaybarnModupe Labode, Assistant Professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, sent out a tweet yesterday: “Where are the analyses of Cliven Bundy & race from western and/or public historians? Was looking for my students and found v. little.”  This anti-racist, feminist, fake cowgirl has been looking around too and found little beyond stuff on political blogs and websites.

Now that the work week is officially over, it looks like I just might have to start mucking out this nasty little stall, as it seems to have a great deal to do with the stuff I’ve written a lot about from the other end of North American history:  guys, guns, whiteness, and gender.  You know what those cheese-eating surrender monkeys say, mes amis:  plus ca change. . . plus c’est le meme chose.  Or to quote William Faulkner, a dude who doesn’t get a lot of airplay on this blog, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”  Although I am loathe to direct any more attention to this failed rancher who nevertheless has figured out how to whip up the rubes to his defense, I have a few things to say about Bundy’s recent bout of whistling Dixie. Continue Reading »

25 Comments »

April 22nd 2014
From the land of WTF

Posted under: bad language, jobs, local news, students, unhappy endings, wankers, weirdness

wtfHere is the text of an email I received yesterday from my university. I honestly have no idea what it’s talking about. Does any part of this sound familiar to any of you? (Are there any palaeographers among you?)

This seminar will provide information about the university’s involvement in a national consortium that promises to enhance learning and teaching. The consortium, which includes several leading research universities, is exploring new directions in the use of instructional technologies. The intent is to facilitate and accelerate digital learning using the best integrated digital systems available that make it easy for faculty and enhance learning. The ecosystem consists of three components: a digital content repository/reflector, a service delivery platform, and a learning analytics service. The digital content repository/reflector will allow us to regain control over our digital learning objectives, allow faculty to choose to share/reuse digital content easily and seamlessly while preserving their digital rights. The service delivery platform is Canvas by Instructure, and has the characteristics of easier use by faculty and faster development of courses in it. The best learning analytics will be deployed and evolve apace as this area develops.

My first thought when I tried to read this email:  was this written by one of those software robots that allegedly can fairly grade essays? Continue Reading »

30 Comments »

April 21st 2014
Josephine Baker’s postwar/Cold War “rainbow tribe”

Posted under: American history, art, book reviews, childhood, European history, Intersectionality, race

The book that kept Matthew Pratt Guterl indoors all last summer was published last month by Harvard University’s Belknap Press.  Rebecca Onion gives it a nice rundown here at Slate:

Baker was born in St. Louis but moved to France in 1925. Her danse sauvage, famously performed in a banana skirt, brought her international fame. During World War II, she worked for the Red Cross and gathered intelligence for the French Resistance. After the war, married to her fourth husband, Jo Bouillon, she struggled to conceive a child. Meanwhile, her career waned. Guterl’s book is about this period of Baker’s life, as she built her large adopted family, became ever more active on behalf of the nascent civil rights movement in the United States, and re-emerged into fame.

Baker purchased her estate, known as Les Milandes, after marrying Bouillon in 1947. In addition to the chateau, the property boasted a motel, a bakery, cafés, a jazz club, a miniature golf course, and a wax museum telling the story of Baker’s life. As Guterl makes clear, the place was over-the-top, but its ostentation was a political statement. Les Milandes, with its fairy-tale setting, announced to the world that African-American girls born poor could transcend nation and race and find wealth and happiness.

Guterl makes it sound like Baker’s family was kind of a multicultural Trapp Family Singers or a Partridge Family, crossed with the Dionne QuintupletsContinue Reading »

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