Archive for the 'Society' Category

19
Nov
16

What he said

He’s right. We as a country are trying to do something that might go against our tribal natures. And I see so much evidence of people standing together and trying to do it better. Like the adage says — if you’re going through hell, keep going. Let’s do this, together, and come out that much better on the other end.

11
Nov
16

Now what?

Many of us are horrified by the news of the racist attacks and brutality being visited now on people of color, gays, immigrants. What has the election of this man unleashed? We saw the videos of his rallies, and were appalled and frightened by the no-longer-latent racism, cruelty, hatred, that we heard coming out of the mouths of our fellow Americans. Donald Trump’s petulance, xenophobia, misogyny, racism, has given people permission to say things we have spent the last 50? 100? Years telling them they can’t say. And people who haven’t learned the lessons of civility, history — that there are, in fact, things that should never be said in civilized society, that there is no actual difference between you and any other person based on the color of their skin, that the world is actually safer when we work together (Alliances, people! Every good board game knows this, why don’t we?) — want to drag us back to some good old day where men were strong and women were good looking (and if not were dismissed as being unworthy of sexual harassment, #nowthereisagift #IhopeIama7) and knew their place and kept their mouths shut, and everybody they knew looked like everybody else. 

Hatreds and bigotries and horrible acts are being perpetrated, now, many like we haven’t seen in a long time. It is my hope that these are the death throes of a dying culture. We’ve spent the last eight years building — gay rights, protesting brutality against unarmed blacks, providing insurance for people who need it — and we can still fight against tearing it down. We must. People may feel they have permission to behave like animals, but they don’t. We can’t allow it. We must stand together, make sure our fellow Americans and the people in the world who are watching very closely right now, many with great fear and trepidation, that this does not represent all of us. We’re better than this. We must show it. And if we do, maybe we can actually make something good, and lasting, out of this debacle.

What to do if you see someone being harassed.

Part 2

#Warren2020



Shame on us


23
Feb
15

The future is not yet now

On my Facebook newsfeed today

PatriciaArquette

And just below it

VSecAd

Discuss.

05
Dec
14

horrifying

I read an article once in a newspaper about what was wrong with the article — that too much time is spent telling people the things they already know before they Get To The Point. So I’m going to get to the point as quickly as possible.

We all know what’s been going on in the past couple of weeks with lacks of indictments of officers (white) using deadly force against unarmed black “suspects.”

This makes me feel that the situation, our future, any chance of us ever living in what might be considered an “enlightened” society, is doomed; hopeless.

And I’m not saying that there isn’t some shared responsibility. I don’t know what happened with Michael Brown — did he attack? Did the officer actually feel threatened, or was this a story concocted later to cover his actions? The problem is, without a trial and the transparency that ensues, we will probably never know.

I also believe that a part of an officer’s training addresses exactly this, at least it should — how to avoid CREATING the situation in the first place.

I’m reminded of the movie Fruitvale Station, (excellent, btw), and realize how the situation STARTED out of control.

And yes, we should all be polite and respectful to police men and women; we should answer their questions calmly and keep our hands in plain view and not make sudden or violent moves. We should ALL do that. But how is it that someone can hold someone in a chokehold, for MINUTES, while the person is audibly gasping and saying he can’t breathe; that the death can be ruled a HOMICIDE, and yet no one is accountable?

How can we believe that we can trust the people who WE are hiring to be OUR public servants to keep US safe when they are also the people with guns, and apparently, omnipotence?

We’re supposed to be smarter than this. We know enough about biology to know that there are no differences in intelligence or capacity between different races. We know enough about society to know that we’re ALL better off if we take care of each other, trust each other, work together. We know that racism is learned not innate. We know that we all want the same things: safety, shelter, sustenance, love.

Yet, even knowing all of this, it still seems too difficult.

Even knowing all of this, it still seems impossible.

25
Aug
14

It’s not (just) about sex

Beyoncé is frequently touted for her championing of women’s causes. She flaunts her curves, speaks her mind, and fosters an attitude of empowerment and strength.

Am I the only one, though, to whom it seems that her message is mostly about sex?

A blogger on BlogHer wrote recently, vehemently praising Beyonce’s “Divine Feminism*,” vaunted on MVA’s award show, and posted a clip of the medley she performed as evidence.

I watched it, and I just don’t see it.

I want to like her (Beyoncé), and I do admire her strength and physicality combined with a definitively female form, but I don’t particularly care for her singing, and her videos/dance routines sidle and strut right up to the borderline of pornography (right around minute 7 of the video).

http://www.mtv.com/videos/misc/1066933/mtv-vma-video-vanguard-medley.jhtml#id=1729744

The banner “Feminist” at the end, with her standing triumphantly in front of it bothers me in particular. Are you truly a feminist if the primary methods you use to proclaim your message is your beauty and your body? Are you a feminist just because you say you are? Is it just me?

***

I’ve actually struggled with this dichotomy a little bit before, for two different reasons.

First, and most obviously, is the desire for women to have the right to appreciate/value their own bodies, to embrace their curves, to take agency for their own lives and choices, to own and be proud of their sexuality, etc. etc. BUT it seems that we should be able to do that without being expected to wear clothes that are skin-tight, expose our midriff, slit up to here or down to there, with shoes that are bad for our backs at best and possibly outright harmful to our feet, ankles, or knees. At the same time, it seems that we should be able to wear whatever we want without necessarily broadcasting ourselves as “available,” which might be construed as “asking for it,” and for which women are then blamed.

Wet Seal/Sex Kitten ad

Wet Seal/Sex Kitten ad

I have to teach my daughter how to dress not because there is anything inherently wrong with what she wants to wear, but because of the possible perceived message that might be received by an unknown and unidentified Other Person (male) and the risk that he then might act on his misperceived message without taking steps to appropriately verify it with the supposed sender. This doesn’t really seem fair to me. It also seems that men should know that a women wearing high heels and a short skirt aren’t “asking for it,” unless they actually, well, ask for it. Wow. The dichotomy just got even more complicated, and now seems to be a trichotomy. Or worse.

Maybe I’m over-thinking it.

Secondly (?), and probably more importantly: isn’t feminism (supposed to be) about more than sex? Equal pay for equal work, equal opportunities, family dynamics that don’t expect women to be primary maid/chef/dishwasher/child rearer while also employed outside the home? How about battling for the possibility that what might be construed as a “feminine” approach to leadership (cooperation, team-building), combined with acceptance of women who display “masculine” traits (assertiveness, confidence), might actually be just the thing that many businesses/academic departments/governments need?

At one point in the BlogHer post, the author writes: “Beyoncé consistently puts forward a message of female empowerment that is firmly centered on the feminine divine*, holding up women as powerful sexual agents of their own (forgive me) destinies, talents and desires. . .What’s more, she positioned her sexual empowerment as ‘feminist’ with the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoken word interlude and text background affirming the feminist message that girls be allowed to own and control their sexuality, just as boys are, without worrying that they are threatening men.”

Fine, yes, fantastic, I totally agree. But is that really the first and most important thing that most of us are talking about when we say we’re feminists?

Maybe at one point in the medley Beyoncé actually did get into the topics of “. . .all roles of the divine feminine*, from seductress to lover to mother to teacher, presented it as Capital F feminist. . .”  but I just couldn’t get that far.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a prude. I’m proud of my cleavage, I’m proud of my curves, I love sex, and can curse like a sailor when the situation warrants it (dropped plates, knitting problems, bad drivers).  I just think there are more layers to feminism than sexual empowerment. Besides wishing more of our discourse could revolve around these layers, I actually think it’s harmful that so many of the discussions seem to need to start with sexual empowerment issues and hardly, if at all, go beyond.

As women we need to learn to stand up for ourselves, to be proud of the qualities that make us who we are, no matter whether those qualities are “masculine” or “feminine.”  Everyone needs to learn acceptance of those qualities in everyone else — nurturing, assertiveness, thoughtfulness, ambition. Everyone needs to stop labeling things by gender — no such thing as “toys for girls” vs. “toys for boys” or “jobs for girls” vs. “jobs for boys.” Jobs need to be awarded according to someone’s ability to fulfill them; household tasks need to be divided fairly; boys need to be taught it’s okay to express their feelings or to cry and that they need to cook and do dishes and clean the bathroom just as much as the girls do; girls that it’s okay to be proud of their accomplishments, to assert their opinions or ask questions without apologizing, not necessarily to have children.

Then everyone can call themselves a “feminist,” except we won’t need that word anymore.

(*gag; I feel the same way about this expression as I do about “Bucket List” and “panties.”)

18
Aug
14

a sociological study, of a sort

I’m looking for an image of a woman carrying a tray to use as a cutout for a feminist-inspired art piece I’m considering. It will portray a woman going through life, weaving her way through images of things that cause her to lose little slivers of herself — children staring at computer screens, bosses scolding , husbands staring at football games on television, domestic chores competing with individual and/or professional pursuits, etc. I’d tell you more but I don’t want to give away my idea.

So I search for images at bing (trying to avoid being tracked, although bing seems to be as bad as google these days).

Just do this:

Go to bing.com, click on images, and then search for “waitress.”

If that isn’t revealing enough (pun unintended, but appreciated for its irony at this point), now go back and search for “waiter.”

It’s hopeless.

***

I’d feel badly for myself, but if you live in any number of regions around the world (Syria, Gaza, West Africa, Ferguson, Missouri)* you’re likely to be a victim of persecution, violence, ebola, etc. etc. First world problems, mine, although the (mis)treatment, exploitation and unappreciation of women, extended backwards, can lead to some pretty horrifying acts. Beyond the obvious problems of rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, one must include forced/child marriage, exploitative pornography, clitoral circumcision, requiring women to cover their hair or their bodies or their entire selves

womaninburka

This creeps me out. And makes me angry. Very, very angry.

or forbidding them from going out in public without a male relative as an escort. How about the right to raise a child without worrying about them being kidnapped or forced to become a child soldier or to die of some easily treatable disease? What about the right NOT to give birth to a child when so much of society seems bent on forcing you to, without helping with any of the things that come after.

Compare those things to fighting for equal pay for equal work? Equal opportunities for professional advancement? Equal distribution of household or child rearing chores? Who am I to complain?

But let’s go back to those images for a moment. Most of the women are in scanty “uniforms,” standing in provocative positions, gazing lasciviously at the camera. That’s funny, I thought I was searching for “waitress” — you know, someone who delivers food on a tray? I didn’t realize (duh) that “waitress” was a euphemism for seductress, slut, woman-who-exists-purely-for-the-pleasure-of-the-male-gaze.

Am I the only one who thinks this is a problem?

*We tell ourselves we’re made “in God’s image” to make ourselves feel better, but I just don’t see what could be further from the truth. As a species we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

08
Aug
14

Even we* are getting it wrong

A friend, who is also a friend of mine on Facebook, struggles with many congenital health issues. She seems strong and fearless, and is clearly smart and funny and basically quite a happy person, despite what many would see as a myriad of “disabilities.”

Today on Facebook she posted a picture of herself in a beautiful dress with the statement “Feminists are ugly? Me thinks misogyny lies….”

The comments are about how pretty her dress is, where did she get it, she’s “rockin’ it,” etc.

***

Yesterday, Only Daughter came to me with yet another question about her appearance: does her hair look longer? should she get plastic surgery to create a crease in her eyelid? (NO!!!) does she have long legs? I told her, with more than a bit of exasperation in my voice, that I was putting a 6-hour moratorium on any statements, pronouncements, observations, or questions having anything to do with her appearance.

***

Last week Only Daughter was given a bit of a hard time for not being interested in a young man (?) despite the fact that he’s “so cute!!!!”

***

Am I the only one who thinks that THESE AREN’T THE THINGS THAT MATTER?!?!?!?!?!?

The other day I stumbled across something along the lines of “It’s not my job to have you find me beautiful.” Or something like that.

And I thought, “[word I can’t say] yes!”

Feminism has nothing, abso@#$inglutely NOTHING to do with how we look.

Whether we are interested in another person romantically, or in terms of friendship, or trust, or respect, should have NOTHING to do with how THEY look.

We, ALL OF US, have to stop this.

Starting now.

*we meaning feminists; even us. Sigh.

21
Jul
14

Self-Surveillance Anyone?

Ugh.

Forget about Big Brother watching us.

We’re doing it ourselves.

I’m not doing anything wrong but STOP WATCHING ME.

11
Apr
13

Homeless and ______________

homelessAlmost every time I get off the highway when I drive into “my” city there is a person standing at the top of the off ramp holding a “Homeless and _____ “sign (Homeless Vet, Homeless and Hungry, Homeless with Children, Homeless and Unemployed). The other day 3 out of the 4 off ramps had someone standing there.

I hate this.

I used to give them a dollar or two, handed out the barely-opened window of my locked car door, until I was told (by someone who is fairly cynical, but also probably right) that these are usually people who are not actually homeless, but who do this as their “part time job,” and that there are plenty of services in Our Fair City designed to help them,  of which most of them do not avail themselves.

But even when I would give them money I hated it.

I would like to give them cards for the organizations that will help them find homes, or jobs. I would like to give them a sandwich and a bottle of water. I don’t believe they want these things from me.

And I hate it.

I hate being confronted by my guilt, and my luck, every single time I drive into town. I sit there in my nice car, drinking coffee from newly-roasted beans out of a well-made insulated coffee mug with a full belly and a nice coat around my shoulders and a house to come home to that has electricity and heat and running water. I know I’ve worked for all of this, but I also know that I have been amazingly lucky — born to good parents who fed and housed me and expected me to do well in school and an exceptional education and some natural talent that I had the good sense to utilize and a husband with a good job. Some of it I’ve earned, and some of it I’ve tripped and fallen over.

It’s even worse with Only Daughter in the car. She hates that she has so much and so many have so little (and by so much I mean a full belly and a coat around her shoulders and a house to come home to that has electricity and heat and running water; we’re not rich, unless you compare us to the rest of the world). She feels terribly guilty and sad every time we encounter someone on the street or on one of these off ramps. She hates the idea that people sleep on sidewalks or park benches and pee in doorways and eat the stuff they find in garbage cans. She sees them and lets out this short little groan of despair; and I tell her “don’t make eye contact.”

(I’m such a good mom.)(I never have kleenex in my purse, either.)

There was this homeless person in the town I used to live in in central Illinois. Everybody knew him — his family had money, he struggled with mental illness, he didn’t want to be hospitalized and couldn’t live with his family so he lived on the streets, wearing his tattered coat and pushing his little shopping cart around and mumbling to himself. He was gentle and completely harmless, and I used to try to bring him coffee and sandwiches when I saw him, but invariably by the time I returned with the coffee and sandwiches he would have moved on.

I’m not heartless, but you can’t help everyone, and some of what I do professionally raises money for these very agencies which are there to help these people, but I still hate it.

Is it just me? Are we being manipulated by these people, standing there on off ramps with their not-as-tattered-as-might-be-expected coats and their pathetic little cardboard signs? Are they using our guilt, and our awareness of our own luck, against us? Or is that just the cynical me talking?

Why do I hate this so much?

23
Mar
13

my take, takes, or lack thereof, on the Steubenville rape and trial

nomeansno

Just read this excellent article by Jessica Valenti in The Nation.

Have been thinking about this case all week, trying to figure out how I really feel about all this.

The thought process goes something like this:

How awful!

How could she be so drunk that she’s throwing up repeatedly and passing out, and no one’s helping her?

How could they take such advantage of her in such a compromised condition?

Teenage guys want sex, and will take advantage of any opportunity to get it.

But how could they take such advantage of her in such a compromised condition?

Why didn’t someone take care of her? She was clearly incapacitated, a true friend would have taken her home.

But remember those parties in high school, when ________ would always drink too much and end up in bed with someone? None of us did anything, we didn’t think it was our business.

Yeah, but none of us took pictures with our cell phones and posted them on facebook either.

We didn’t have facebook or cell phones, and _______ took that one Polaroid that one time.

Yeah, but __________ grabbed it from him and tore it up. Besides, we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about this.

Where were the parents? How did these kids get so much alcohol? And has no one taught this girl not to drink so much that she loses her ability to make decisions? And what’s up with the coach brushing this off? Was he really so callous? He must not have understood what was really going on.

But has no one taught these boys that it’s inappropriate to take advantage of someone who has clearly drunk so much that are incapacitated?

But they’re teenage boys, they’re suffering from hormone-induced mental illness.

But they still should know better. And how could they continue to be so heartless that really the only thing they are worried about is their reputation and their football career? What about her reputation?

And does he really think that texting her trying to talk her out of pressing charges because he “took care of her” is a valid argument? Really? How well was he taking care of her when he was raping her?

But they’re all young and oversexed and half of them probably go to these parties expecting to get drunk and have sex with someone.

But it’s clearly wrong, they clearly raped her, as she was in no condition to grant or deny consent.

But how could she let herself get into that condition?

How can these boys not know the difference between sex and rape?

etc. etc. etc.

They’re children. They have no judgment skills. Maybe the best solution is to not let anyone out of a parent’s sight until they’ve recovered from adolescence-induced hormone poisoning — girls around 18, boys, I hear, around 26 (sigh). I know that as a parent I have tried to teach my children everything they need to know to be good, kind, considerate, contributing members of society. That no always means no. That they should respect themselves, and everyone else.  I also know that they have, and will, do things on occasion that I don’t agree with (although I am pretty sure none of my children have done anything even remotely like this). I also look back on my 16-year old self and shudder. The only criterion for me liking a boy was if he liked me; I drank too much wine with a friend, whose dad made it himself and stored it in vast carboys, almost every Friday night, we would go to school dances drunk, and throw up on the tennis courts after; I had this other friend I already  mentioned who would always get too drunk at parties, and go to bed with any number of the “popular,” “in” guys. We didn’t do anything to stop it. WE DIDN’T THINK IT WAS OUR BUSINESS.

Granted, my parents didn’t talk to me much about any of these things. They were either too uncomfortable to, or too clueless to know that they should.

There’s a disconnect, probably partially borne of being adolescent and having no judgment skills; of being children who want to believe they’re adults; of living in a society where a blow job is referred to as a “good night kiss” and everyone’s violating their own privacy daily on social media. But don’t we all look back at things we did at 16, and realize how incredibly stupid we were? And maybe most of us were just lucky. Really, really lucky.

I hope you all realize that I am not making excuses for these two boys, nor for all of the people who stood around and not only let it happen, but documented it. I’m also not really making an excuse for this girl. We want her to be respected, she has a right not to be violated, but she didn’t respect herself, either, and removed her own agency by allowing herself to become so incapacitated that she couldn’t even say no. They were all very, very in the wrong. My question is, how far from that wrong were many of us at the same age? Probably (hopefully) not on par with the rapists, but what about the rest?

**********

Is this only me? Am I the only one who sees this this way? I feel/fear that there is something wrong with me, that I’m not so willing just to point my finger and shout “You! You rapists!” Why is this issue, that is usually so black and white for me, giving me so much trouble in this case?

*********

In a strange mental connection (my mind works in mysterious ways), one of the rapist’s claims of being a “nice guy” and “taking care of her” reminded me of this discussion of “nice guys”:

Some of the language is a little raw, but I like his points overall. I think he’s probably a really nice guy.

15
Mar
13

to engage, or not to engage, that is the question

A friend and professional colleague (someone who works in the same field, and with whom I have performed in the past) recently posted a query on facebook, seeking advice to give a student who was considering getting a nose piercing. Specifically, the student wanted to know if it might adversely affect his/her audition outcomes, apparently by causing those judging the audition to prejudicially form an opinion of their merit or respectability.

A long series of comments ensued, including this, from me: “I’m 48 (omg!) and have a nose piercing, and it has had, as far as I can tell, no negative impact whatsoever. I think it makes some of my younger students think I’m possibly still at least a little bit cool, but that might just be in my imagination.”

Some more comments follow, of the “sure why not” or “if they’re going to teach parents might find it threatening” (really?) persuasion, and then this: “Well refined and well educated and well mannered people don’t do all the body piercing. To me, it’s a psychological thing to draw attention to oneself, for reasons I don’t understand.”

Wow. Judgement, dismissal, and insult, all in one sentence. Seems, if she doesn’t understand, she should refrain from commenting. . .

But now for my question: would you engage this person (I don’t know her from, as my former father-in-law used to say, $6 a week), telling her that she is being judgmental and dismissive and insulting, or does one just let her continue on down her path of willful negativity and ignorance?

16
Jan
13

Jon Stewart and the real reason we can’t seem to negotiate reasonable gun control laws in this country

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-january-8-2013/scapegoat-hunter—gun-control

13
Nov
12

post-election woes

No, I don’t miss the constant bickering (as if!) or persistent phone calls; I don’t miss the extremist messages or political infighting.

Nope, I don’t miss them because first of all, who would, and second of all, who says it’s stopped? (Ann Coulter, Karl Rove, JUST IGNORE THEM AND THEY’LL GO AWAY)

But I just finally listened to my voice mail from the past two weeks (If you called, Deb, Only Daughter, sorry; I can’t seem to remember to actually check my voice mail. My one personality flaw. Glad you each had my cell phone number).

11 voice mail messages, 2 from actual people, 1 a robo call recorded by Bill Clinton (that’s right, Bill Clinton’s voice on my voicemail) and 8 from some version of the Republican Party.

Is it a result of the if-I’m-really-really-irritatingly-persistent-I-might-just-get-my-way tactic tried by 4-year olds everywhere?

And I must be missing something. . .Patraeus having an affair makes him unfit to head the CIA because. . . ? At first we thought there must have been some kind of security breach, but apparently the problem is that his mistress was jealous of some other woman. (Is THAT ironic?)

Whatever. I just don’t get it. We’re living in what is purported to be the “freest” country on the planet, but actually live in the the most puritanical, provincial one. God bless us, every one.

21
Jun
12

We can all, actually, have it all (but who wants it?)

Kristin Howterton posted recently on the underlying tension of gender roles in the pursuit of an egalitarian marriage. You can read it here.

The underlying premise is that, despite our (meaning, mostly women’s) efforts to find equality in both the home and the workplace, many women still feel guilty getting home to see their husbands cooking dinner with a crying toddler on his hip or wonder whether it’s fair to expect that men should PROBABLY contribute to the household chores if their wives are working outside the home.

I know, right?

Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but this kind of thing does not make me feel guilty.

I responded at length, including replies to other commenters.

Most substantially:

I think we all learned the lessons of our childhood, and watching our parents, and have to struggle with these lessons, maybe just a little. But when I read these two sentences:

“When I walk though the door and see him cooking dinner with a crying toddler on this hip, I get a gut check that says, ‘Oh dear. I should be doing that.'”

and

“I think people our age have wised up to the idea that if a woman works, then the husband should probably step it up and help with some of the domestic duties as well.”

I just want to weep.

You think you should be doing that, but he shouldn’t? And the husband should PROBABLY step up? Ugh.

It’s his household as much as yours, his children as much as yours; and even if they’re not “his” children, but, say, maybe even “only” his stepchildren, his marriage to you makes him an equal partner in domestic needs if he wants to be an equal partner in domestic bliss.

I think there are ways people can balance things. I knew a couple once where the mom stayed at home, so the “housework” was her job, but when he was home, the childrearing was shared. That seemed fair. I guess you could do a proportional thing: he works 40 hours per week to her 30 so she does 60% of the housework. I guess you could even divide it proportionally to reflect the amount of money brought in, but I think that’s a terrible idea and think I shouldn’t even suggest it. (The jury will disregard the last statement.) My husband make 50% more money than I do, but my scheduled work time far exceeds his, so he does most of the cooking, laundry, and shopping. I clean when I can get to it. It works for us.

No shoulds, no probablys about it.

Fortuitously, Anne-Marie Slaughter writes in the issue of The Atlantic about “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

It’s a very good article. It’s long, but worth it. Some of the best stuff is at the end.

Her arguments could be summarized thusly:

Women can have it all, but only if there is a radical paradigm shift, including if men start demanding the right to have it all, too. Meaning that it’s not a sign of unprofessionalism or a lack of commitment for ANYONE to want to take time to take care of their children, their aging/ailing parents, or even, GASP, themselves.

The idea that women who take a different track so as to raise their own children are NOT less ambitious; the realization that one of the biggest challenges is that the hours of a school day continue not to coincide with the hours of a work day (we won’t even talk about the havoc wreaked by snow days and 2-hour delays); the fact that women have to make trade-offs that men do not — these are realizations that can and should trigger real change, change that requires an effort by the majority of us out there, male AND female, or they won’t.

Ms. Slaughter ends with a goal, if not a challenge:

I continually push the young women in my classes to speak more. They must gain the confidence to value their own insights and questions, and to present them readily. My husband agrees, but he actually tries to get the young men in his classes to act more like the women–to speak less and listen more. If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing besides us.

We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women. We may need to put a woman in the White House before we are able to change the conditions of the women working at Walmart. But when we do, we will stop talking about whether women can have it all. We will properly focus on how we can help all Americans have healthy, happy, productive lives, valuing the people they love as much as the success they seek.

That’s the ticket.

Where do I sign?

26
May
12

what she said

Here.

25
May
12

who would *you* rather talk to?

Me, in my childhood and adolescence:

Now; and I interpolate, based on the “tone” of the commercials, supposedly to be seen as a perfectly suitable replacement:

Maybe it’s just me, but I would much rather talk to, OIdon’tknow, maybe an actual person, and walk around and get to know my neighborhood so as to find the perfect coffee bar/restaurant/bookstore/resale shop, or have Husband tell me that joke about the bear on the roof again (tell me if you’ve heard this one–the punch line goes: “And if for some reason the bear falls off the roof, shoot the dog.”)

Are we so far gone that an obviously-studied-and-manufactured-so-as-to-be-interesting-and-soothing-without-being-threatening BUT STILL A WORDICAN’TSAY ROBOTIC  voice is our new best friend?

Sheesh.

13
Sep
11

where’s my class?

The middle class is shrinking.

I’m not even sure I’m still in it.

We all know this: While corporations aiming for high- and low-end consumers at the expense of middle-class earners appears to be a new development, the income gap has been growing in America for at least three decades. While wages and productivity rose in tandem during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, they become decoupled in about 1980, as productivity continued to climb while wages slumped and then recovered only modestly. And the gap between rich and poor grew more pronounced during the late-2000s recession, according to Timothy Noah at Slate, due to a jump in the poverty rate that was the highest in over a decade.

But did you know that the “Gini” coefficient — a measure of a country’s income inequality — was at 0.468 in 2009, nearly halfway up the Gini scale that ranges from zero (most equal) to one (least equal)? A high Gini coefficient is often associated with political instability and a poor standard of living, and most first-world countries rank lower on the Gini scale than the U.S. Some other nations that have had Gini coefficients similar to the United States’ include the Philippines, Ecuador and Rwanda.

I’m not making this up.

The Philippines, Ecuador, and Rwanda.

That’s just terrific.

 

 

08
Sep
11

call me perpetually perplexed, just don’t call me late for dinner

#Can someone explain Twitter to me?

That’s all.

Just curious.

It seems to be something a lot of people do, and I just don’t get it.

 

01
Sep
11

what happens to the girls?

We’ve all noticed this; don’t pretend you haven’t.

Yeah, girls might be snarky, and obsessed with their hair/skin/clothes, and whisper behind their hands about someone else’s hair/skin/clothes, but they at least know how to behave in public and can tell you how something makes them feel beyond “sad” or “mad.”

Okay, sometimes we wish they’d talk a little less, but that’s my mother’s curse raining down on my head (“May you have a child exactly like you.” And I didn’t stop talking until I was 27. I would like to impose a rule at home that no words be spoken before 8 a.m. unless Absolutely Necessary, but I fear Only Daughter would explode.)

So a girl, from a young age, is more disciplined, and more organized, and more conscientious, and can read social cues, and can communicate effectively (!), and can eat a meal without drooling or picking her nose or putting ketchup on everything; of course, a lot of this (except maybe the ketchup) is because she Cares a Great Deal What Other People Think (okay, maybe the ketchup, too). And this, I fear, is her, our, downfall.

Men run the world, while we worry about whether people like us or not.

(Sorry, youtube removed my original clip; fast forward to 3:33; try not to gag)

And if we’re smart, and capable, and strong, we’re considered to be bitches (Hilary), and we’d rather be liked.

Husband and I had a long conversation today about whether that problem is solved by sending girls to all-girls schools, but I think the desire to be liked is as strong regarding our desire to be liked by other women/girls as it is to be liked by men/boys.

I’m not sure what, if anything, we can do about this. I would like for women to be happier, and to be nourished in our strengths while being nurtured in our needs, and to feel that we are beautiful even if we don’t look like the world tells us we should look, and that sociability and communicability were seen as strengths rather than weaknesses, and that our capabilities were honored rather than viewed as threats.

That’s all.

12
Aug
11

Xanadu

I would like to see this sign posted everywhere.

That one and the one below are really all we need for utopia, don’t you think?

Actually, I think we need one more, so I’m opening up a contest. Please submit your entries which iconically demonstrate the banning of stupid drivers of SUVs without working turn signals transporting fewer than 15 passengers, talking on his or her cell phone.

THEN we’d have Xanadu.

(Ah, the 80s. The hair, the shoulder pads.)

22
Jul
11

the weirdness of facebook

I posted about this just the other day, but now it’s getting even weirder.

My dentist wants me to “like” him on facebook.

I guess I could look at it as a member of a misunderstood and unappreciated profession trying to redeem himself — “I’m likable, really I am!” — as no one really seems to like to go to the dentist, myself included. And even if I liked him, (which I don’t, really, I barely know him), does that mean I have to “like” him?

(In a barely related story, I actually think dentistry is quite possibly one of the most ingenious scams ever visited upon mankind, as a dentist can tell you, for example, that your child has “suspicious” areas on his or her teeth which really should be tended to, as the dentist points at ambiguous gray spots on your child’s Xrays that look an awful lot like a lot of other spots on other of your child’s teeth on the Xrays, and you nod sagely [the emperor has no clothes] and agree because god forbid you look stupid or be an inadequate parent and cynically refuse to take care of your child’s teeth.

I also think that dental insurance has been the one of the worst things that could happen to the average consumer — have any of you been given a reduced rate for procedures because you don’t have insurance? They try to spin this as aren’t-they-considerate-they-are-giving-you-a-break, but it seems to be more like stores that mark their goods up 25% and then have a 15% off sale. Some insurance companies are countering the possibility that they’re being scammed by limiting what they’re willing to pay for a given procedure, but the last two dentists I’ve dealt with merely passed the excess on to me.)

Anyway.

What I really see it as, (remember what “it” was?), is a perversion of what most of us understand to be facebook’s “mission,”* and a descent into rampant and shameless self-promotion/advertising. You know how most people can’t stand to watch network TV anymore, because for every 19.3 minutes of “entertainment” (and I’m using that term loosely, considering the state of 99.99999% of what’s on television) you have to slog through 11.7 minutes of commercials? Pretty soon we won’t be able to check what our barely-acquaintances are eating for dinner without paging through 3 pages of status updates from our dentists, acupuncturists, internists, and the postman.

Do you think, if I do “like” them on facebook, they’ll at least stop scamming/overcharging me?

*Have any of you actually seen facebook’s mission statement? Maybe I’m missing the point entirely, and it was just to make a boatload of money, in which case it’s not a perversion at all.

12
Jul
11

Will You Be My friend?

When I take my daughter out to places like the beach, the pool, the zoo, and there are any other children girls there approximately her age, she’ll hang out around the perimeter, play a little, look at them again, play a little closer, etc., until she finally gets up the courage to go and ask if they want to play with her. Sometimes names are exchanged right away, sometimes later, but, almost always, they become her “friend,” just for that little while of shared experience and entertainment.

I envy her her ease and confidence while hoping that it persists in the face of the disappointments and frustrations of school friendships and cliques.

When I logged in to facebook yesterday, where I have 135 carefully chosen friends, (meaning people I actually know and care to have a conversation with, and who survived a recent “pruning”) I noticed that I had, as usual, some friend “suggestions.” And, as I do every few months or so, I decided to click on the link and see who facebook thought I wanted to be friends with.

There are, currently, 1,860 people facebook is suggesting I might want to be “friends” with. And the most frustrating thing is, I believe I have to delete them individually.

Without going through the laborious task of doing an actual count, I’m going to make some estimates.

92% of them I don’t know at all.

5% I know but don’t really want to know what they’re going to eat today or where they are on vacation or how many laps their child swam at swim practice or which political party they are a member of.

The other 3% would be downright weird to be “friends” with, including my former husband, my husband’s former wife’s new husband, and the woman who made darn sure I wouldn’t be interviewed for the permanent position I had been filling for two years already, contracted by her.

Now I understand that the algorithm is a simple one — if you’re “friends” with this person, there’s a chance you might want to be “friends” with their “friends,” and every once in a while someone does pop up who I had kind of forgotten about and would like to catch up with, like, say an old college roommate. (Although it has happened more than once that, once I do “reconnect,” I remember why we had lost touch with each other in the first place.) I’m not really blaming facebook for this; the algorithm has to function and the network has to grow somehow, and many people see the number in their “friends” column as some kind of indicator of their social viability.

It does make me ponder the nature of friendship itself.

An article from NPR on July 12 points out that sociologists have determined that most people can’t actually keep track of more than 150 people at once, and can facially recognize no more than 1,500. These numbers actually seem a little high, but maybe that’s because I have ADD some kind of name recall/facial recognition disorder which sometimes prevents me from remembering the name of a student I had in a 15-week class the previous semester.

I am currently following Jeff Nunokawa on facebook, a professor at Princeton who writes a short daily contemplation on a quote from literature, and who I discovered from a mention in a New Yorker article. I like his page, and his contemplations, very much, but wonder if his work is better suited to a blog. Plus facebook is going to cut him off at 5,000 friends, and he’s already at 3,991, so someone someday soon is going to be disappointed.

We also read warnings, and rebuttals of warnings, about children under the age of 13 using social networking sites like facebook.

Only Daughter wants three things right now, and keep in mind that she’s 10: 1) a cell phone, 2) a facebook page, and 3) a boyfriend.

Sigh.

What I want for her is a friend. A real friend. A GIRL friend. Someone she can tell anything to*, with whom she can be completely herself*, who thinks she’s funny and smart and beautiful and strong, and vice versa*. Who is there when she needs her, and accepts her help when she offers it.* Not “friends” who will manipulate her, or use her, or boss her around, or cut her down to make themselves feel better. Who can tell her if her butt actually DOES look big in her pants (fat chance; ha!), if that dress IS too short (if you have to ask, it probably is), if she SHOULD get that pink streak in her hair. I don’t want her bullied, or cyberbullied, texting during class, or sexting, ever, anywhere. But to grow up and have friends like the friends that I am so lucky to have. Who have shared life’s experiences with you, who call you as you reach for the phone to call them, who you can talk to after 6 months and pick up like you just hung up the phone yesterday.

On facebook we post about an interesting article we read, or what we ate for dinner, or what movie we’re going to see, and we post pictures of our kids or our cats or our vacations. But we don’t really talk about anything, because what we talk about depends on who we’re talking to, and there we’re talking to everyone. It’s kind of like trying to be the most popular kid in school, or a popular musician, or a politician. We want everyone to like what they hear, we want everyone to like us, so we can’t really come out and completely be ourselves.

What’s lost, then, in those “relationships”? And what do we lose of ourselves?

I recently read that a blogger who wants to become popular should follow certain guidelines — not be too personal, be consistent (always earnest, say, or always political, or always funny), and not to write more than 600 words because you risk the reader being bored and going somewhere else for quicker, more accessible entertainment (oops; bored yet?).

That’s what facebook, and Twitter, offer. Recently in our city there was a series of tragic, violent acts, committed by a man who was bipolar, not taking his meds, and on cocaine. I tried the next day to read about it, and all I could find through my online news source was a series of twitter-type feeds. Is this the extent of our attention span? And do we have only ourselves to blame?

Roger Ebert posted recently on a bastardization of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The television news is a series of sound bytes that don’t really tell you anything. Our children’s teachers seem to feel that their first job is to be entertaining and their second job is to be fun.

What happened to the idea that the things worth having — skills, abilities, friends — might take work, effort, sustained attention? Instead we’re living in a speed-chess version of relationships, information, thought.

I’m thinking seriously about quitting facebook. I find the illusion of connection often makes me feel more lonely than I would otherwise, and maybe, when I’m just sitting alone in my house, I’d rather be reading a book, or the Sunday Times, or thinking about which friend to call or to invite over for dinner.

(that’s not me)

* Thank you, (you know who you are) — your friendships mean the world to me and I don’t know for sure what I’d do without them. I am so lucky, and can only hope that I’ve repaid you at least in part.

05
Jul
11

whose rights?

Hundreds of mentally ill people successfully petition the court each year to have their gun rights restored, often after a hearing that lasts less than 5 minutes and which does not always include the judge asking to see written reports from psychiatrists stating that the person has recovered from their mental illness.

Even when it does, the reports might be written by a general practitioner, or a psychiatrist who has just met the petitioner, and has been duped. Often friends and family who can testify to the instability of the petitioner are not questioned. Or the petitioner shows up in court, wearing full camouflage and muttering gibberish to himself, and has his gun rights restored anyway.

Why aren’t these cases being looked at more carefully?

I think the source of some of the problem is that the right to bear arms is a national one, but the regulations relating to the purchase and possession of firearms fall to the states to create and enforce. And states don’t always talk to each other, or mental health facilities don’t share their information with the state or the FBI, or when information is requested from a state or the FBI privacy laws may prevent its disclosure.

Who came up with this system?

And why is it more important to preserve the rights of those with mental illness than is it to preserve the rights of the rest of us not to die a violent death at the hands of someone who may be unable to discern fantasy (i.e. the voices in his head) from reality?

Judge Lookabill “. . .would feel a lot more comfortable if there were more safeguards.” Ya’ think?

There are concerns that this constitutional right must be upheld, and that if people can demonstrate that they have recovered from their mental illness the rest of us don’t have the right to refuse them. But that’s ridiculous. First of all, most mental illnesses seem to be of the chronic sort, and any recovery is more like a remission, and completely dependent on a) the patient staying on their meds and b) no extraneous emotional stresses in the patient’s life. Is the judge going to monitor that somehow? Is the patient going to come back in a few months and say, “Ya’ know, I was feeling pretty good, so I stopped taking my meds, and now I’m unemployed again and my ex-wife won’t let me see my kids because I’m hearing voices of the people that live in the walls of my house, so I think that, given the circumstances, I probably shouldn’t have these weapons available to me right now”?  Somehow I doubt it.

Secondly, I understand that it’s an illness, a disease, so I’m trying to come up with a comparison like a diabetic’s right to eat candy bars or someone in the final stages of lung cancer and their right to continue smoking, but in those cases they are only going to hurt themselves. We’re talking about guns, here. Guns. Guns that they might not only turn on themselves, but guns that are often turned on others: bystanders and coworkers and fellow students and teachers and completely random strangers.

We should be being more careful about this.

The Second Amendment was written right after the revolution, when our ability to become an independent country and write our own constitution and govern ourselves had been challenged and fought for. Any revolutions we want to fight now are supposed to be fought at the ballot box. Is there concern that we might need to fight one again? Maybe the poor and downtrodden, you know, the 90% of the country that holds only 28.5% of the country’s wealth, (are YOU one of the top 10%? I know I’m not) will decide THEY need to take THEIR country back. But somehow I doubt this will happen.

Sigh.

Maybe we should give it back. They took better care of it than we do, and were here first.

Yeah, let’s give it to this guy, he’ll know what to do with it:

(In my quest for the pictures above I ran across this:

Seriously? That’s offensive, reprehensible, irresponsible. Maybe if you want to be taken seriously you should try not to be such a wingnut. Although comparing Obama to Hitler might not interfere with your right to get your gun rights back, the racist implications alone are disturbing, not to mention that Hitler had millions of people killed because of their religious beliefs. So much for that basic right the conservatives are always harping about. And it’s interesting that when I look up Leninism on Wikipedia I find the theory explained that a communist revolution will only occur under a pre-condition of an economically exhausted industrialized nation, so maybe we should keep those gun rights available just in case.)

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent, not unrelated to what happens when I spend any time at all on youtube.

So. . .

. . .what is it about guns, anyway?  Can someone explain to me the fascination? If you’re not a hunter, or in law enforcement or the military (the last two of which, if no one had guns, we would maybe need less of), what’s the attraction? Can someone explain it to me? I know this is going to make it obvious that I’m a girl, as if you couldn’t tell that already, but I JUST DON’T GET IT.

04
Jul
11

My response to Circular Running’s Response to “functional illiteracy”

This blogger recently commented on this post and linked me to this post of his from last August.

Here’s my reply:

I actually remember reading the Atlantic article when it came out, and as an adjunct instructor at a community college (I omitted the for-profit because it seems redundant these days – aren’t all colleges actually FOR profit?) I feel the author’s pain. The difference is my adjunct job is my FIRST job, or tied with the private teaching I do at home at least, and definitely not the apex of the career path I had laid out for myself while in my 20s or even 30s. I also know that this has deterred some of my better students – they see what I’ve accomplished professionally as a performer, and with a Doctorate in my field, and how hard I have to work to make a living, and decide to do something else. I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve always said that if you don’t HAVE to be a musician, you should do something else, but this is certainly not the result I would have said I hoped for if anybody would have asked.

And I agree that what seems to be holding students back is to some degree innate (talent), and possibly to a much greater degree, apathy (the desire for ease). We could address the first point by NOT requiring college educations for certain types of work – packaging for example, or “soil science.”  Here are some examples of academic programs at a typical large American university that seem to me would possibly be better delivered via trade school:

Accounting
Advertising
Apparel and Textile Design
Apparel and Textiles
Athletic Training

Construction Management
Crop and Soil Sciences
Dietetics
Food Industry Management
Food Science
General Management
Interior Design

Landscape Architecture
Natural Resource Recreation and Tourism
Packaging
Professional Writing
Supply Chain Management

While there might be relevance for some of these topics as graduate programs  — somebody has to be doing research into the science of soil, for example, or someone has to have the breadth and depth of knowledge to TRAIN budding dietitians or maybe even aerobics instructors or a golf-course maintenance crew, but is it a good use of time and resources to require the dietitians or aerobics instructors or golf-course maintainers to spend time and money taking two semesters of social science, two semesters of English composition and/or literature, etc. etc.?

But let’s get to the real problem(s).

1.  Students can’t write complete, coherent sentences. Many of them can’t even speak complete, coherent sentences, even if you remove all of the “like”s. Most are unfamiliar with the rudiments of spelling and punctuation, and can’t see why they should have to change that, as they are planning on going into, oh, I don’t know, the police academy, or nursing, and can’t see what writing has to do with anything. (Ummm, duh?) But even if this is something which should be required of all citizens (except for the mentally disadvantaged, of course), is college really the time to be doing it? Shouldn’t this problem be being addressed in their elementary through high school years? Why isn’t it? Maybe we should stop focusing on “creative” writing and spelling things whatever-which-way and actually teach children how to write a sentence first. Or at least sooner. Or at least at all.

2.  Students have spent their elementary, middle, and high school years being patted on the head for showing up, for bringing a pencil, for turning in their work no matter how poorly done. Parents hover, bail them out of difficulty (you forgot your lunch? Your library book? Your homework? I’ll be right there sugar pie), try to get coaches fired for teaching them to behave decently, complain if little Johnny or Susie got the prize or the award or the trophy and their little Jimmy or Sally did not.  The ironic thing is, these acts of support don’t actually help little Jimmy or Sally be any happier when they’re adults, possibly even the opposite. The teacher can’t “criticize” the student because that would make the student feel badly about him/her self, but must couch “critical” terms in “would you like to try it this way?” or “very good, you really tried hard, let’s go ahead and do the next one.” If the teacher really does challenge the student, the student can pay them back by ripping them to shreds on the student evaluation forms, an evaluative tool which has taken on way too much significance in the evaluative process of the teacher by administration.

One of the most powerful and effective experiences I had as a piano student was when I played something for my teacher, and she looked at me with a look of bewilderment, and said, as if she knew I was already in agreement with her, “well, that wasn’t very good, was it?” The compliment of her treating me as capable of identifying that paired with the challenge of making it better was all I needed.

I have very few students I could be that frank with, even if I thought it was exactly what they needed to hear.

3.  College = business. Grant proposal obligations, a slash-and-burn approach to tenure-track positions with replacement by overworked, underpaid, un-benefited adjuncts, coerced residence of undergraduates in dormitories and required overpriced meal plans, raises based on student-as-customer evaluation forms. And while the student is the “customer” who is being catered to, sometimes blatantly so, their needs are not being met. The prominence of the student-as-customer evaluation forms is most disturbing, as it seems to be based on the premise that students know what they need, when most of them really, really don’t.  And the self-esteem-boosting, let’s-pave-the-way-for-you-and-make-it-as-painless-as-possible approach seems to be institutionalized, and not just at community colleges. I actually had a student tell me once, in the midst of a very disrespectful and plaintive email exchange where I was being berated for being too “tough,” that her adviser had recommended she take the class (Music Appreciation), because it would be “easy,” and that she felt ripped off and betrayed when it wasn’t. First of all, it’s not easy, and if it’s being offered as a college class it should NEVER be easy; second of all, what a ridiculous thing for an adviser to be telling a student.

The blurring of the line between student and teacher doesn’t help. There is no ingrained sense of respect, of deferrence. The plaintive email exchange I mentioned in the previous paragraph is an example of that. I would never have even thought much less dared to speak to my professors in any circumstance the way some of my students speak to me, both in person – calling me by my first name, for example – or via email, where I’m addressed as “hey” if addressed at all, written to in txtspk, told that he/she doesn’t like my attitude. If I thought a class was too hard, I might have complained to a colleague, or my roommate, I would never have complained to the teacher. (It was inappropriate then, and it’s inappropriate now, and teachers who cave to complaints about work load or difficulty of material only make it worse. If you as the teacher have thought carefully about what the students need to know and the best way for them to learn it, then the only thing left for you to do is stick to it. If you haven’t, and you don’t, well, then, maybe you shouldn’t be teaching.)

I have a few policies in place now which really seem to have helped draw this line for them.

1. If a student emails me in txtspk, or lacking the rudiments of formal written communication, the student gets this message in reply:

Dear Student:

It is my policy not to reply to emails unless they are written in a formal style. If you would like a response, please reformat your message to include a greeting, complete sentences including appropriate capitalization and punctuation, and a signature.

Thank you.

2. I do not reply to emails sent between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. I state this in my syllabus, and encourage the students to network with their colleagues in case they have emergency questions. I have a life, too. I think it’s good for them to know this.

3. The use, no, the appearance of ANY electronic device — laptop, cell phone, etc. — is expressly forbidden while class is in session, and earns the student a “0” for the day.

4. I graciously refuse friend requests on facebook from any student who is currently attending the college where I teach. I write back: Thank you for your friend request. Unfortunately, I am unable to accept, as it is my policy not to be “Friends” with people who are currently students. Please feel free to follow me on my professional page: ____________________.

Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with Circular Running’s statement: In fact, in most cases, you have to pay for the abuse being heaped on you, and sometimes you have to pay a lot. Put simply, the educational process is all about discomfort, both personal and financial, and that’s a good thing because it makes you grow.

I would add, if you don’t want to grow in such a way, save yourself the money and both of us the anguish, and find something else to do.

24
Apr
11

What DO women really need?

Virginia Woolf thought it was a room of their own, and she wasn’t that far off. She was, in fact, referring to an actual room, a place a woman could go and be completely alone so as to embrace her own inner life and creativity free from distractions and demands. (I agree, but find her awareness of this need quite interesting, as she probably had more than adequate time “alone,” considering her supportive husband, and lack of children. Those of you with children know that even a few minutes alone in the bathroom can represent quite an achievement.)

Jill Lepore writes in this Sundays NY Times about Benjamin Franklin’s younger sister Jane. Allowed to learn to read, but not to write, she married a saddler at the age of 15, and bore 12 children, 11 of whom she buried. Her husband struggled with both physical and mental illness, and debt. She struggled, with no education of any sort, to keep them out of debtor’s prisons by making bonnets and taking in boarders.

Lepore writes: “. . .the story of Jane Mecom is a reminder that, especially for women, escaping poverty has always depended on the opportunity for an education and the ability to control the size of their families.”

On the next page of the paper, a review by Nicholas Kristof of Rachel Lloyd’s book “Girls Like Us” questions why our hearts melt when we hear about sex trafficking in India or Cambodia, but teenage girls living and working on America’s streets are arrested, prosecuted, and sent to juvenile detention centers so they can learn “moral principles,” while their pimps and johns are virtually ignored. Kristof reports that the typical victim of sexual trafficking in America is “. . .a 13-year old girl of color from a troubled home who is on bad terms with her mother. Then her mom’s boyfriend hits on her, and she runs away to the bus station, where the only person on the lookout for girls like her is a pimp. He buys her dinner, gives her a place to stay and next thing she knows she’s earning him $1,500 a day.”

Is it strange that I see a connection between these two stories?

Moralists would say that the girl in the second situation should try harder to find another option, but for some of these girls there ARE no other options — no home to take in boarders, no market for bonnets.

So yes, we need a “room” of our own — one which includes access to education whose quality is not dependent on one’s zip code; where luxuries such as access to birth control aren’t cut off by political wrangling; where parents have options of their own, and are more concerned about the well being of their children than of their predatory boyfriends; where more people like Rachel Lloyd win human rights awards for making sure that it’s the oppressors and not the victims held to account; where a woman’s voice and opinion and business “style” are considered as valid as a man’s.

Oh, and I guess a few minutes alone in the bathroom wouldn’t hurt.

08
Mar
11

Coolest F-word ever. . .

Forget “take back the night” or “take your daughter to work day.”

Let’s stop thinking of “feminism” as an idea whose time has come and gone, or one which is irrelevant to our daughters and their daughters.

We have to stop sticking our heads in the sand, imagining this fight has been fought and won. Fists in the air, heart in our hands, it’s time to fight for equal rights. For everything.

Read this.

Then read this.

Sign at least one of these. Or go here, register, and respond to one of the many (daily) pleas for help or support.

Speak up. Stop accepting “less” as the best you can hope for.

We all deserve more.

Dammit.

(Happy International Woman’s Day)

07
Mar
11

how much older is older and wiser?

There’s a recent development among state judiciaries reversing the trends of the 80s and 90s where younger and younger juveniles were tried as adults, sometimes even as young as 13. You can read the article here.

It is now being recognized that these young people actually lack the maturity and judgment skills required to be able to make wise decisions.

Can I just say, well, duh?

Is there anyone who actually believes that teenagers function as adults? Has that person ever spent any time with a teenager? We don’t even let them some of them drive. Our biggest hope for many is that they change their underwear and/or brush their teeth at least once a week and do at least 60% of their homework.

My sons are 21 and 17 and I would hardly call them mature adults. First Son is home for spring break this week, and has spent most of his time interacting with Second Son by egging him on with “Your mom,” “That’s what she said,” and body function jokes. When not being cooked for, they live on cereal, Cheetos, and Creme Soda. It’s been proven that the male cerebral cortex doesn’t mature until around the age of 25. (I hold this out as a constant source of hope; it’s not too late, yet. I also think it’s ridiculous that we’ll allow 18-year olds to vote, get married and join the military, but not consume alcohol, but this is a topic for another time.)

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing the “struggles” my children face with the struggles faced by those in the judicial system. I am grateful every day for the relative safety and ample opportunity available to them in the corners of the world in which they live.  But to pose the idea that because the act of a “juvenile” is violent they should therefore be prosecuted as an adult is ludicrous. Besides their immaturity, which includes an inability to see the possible consequences of their actions beyond the immediate future, one also must take into account the problems (if not horrors) of their day-to-day lives and the incredible influence wielded by peer pressure.

[In a related “story” there has been much talk lately about the “Millenial Generation” and the tendency of those within it to delay the rites of adulthood well into their 20s. Apparently these statistics align with the circumstances of people in their 20s up to the second World War, and by many is considered to be a good thing. Maybe that Pew Research Study would have been more helpful if it had asked things like: Do you think it’s a good idea to be gainfully employed before having children? and: Do you think it’s a good idea to have the vaguest notion who you are before you decide who you want to marry?]

In any case, the cost involved in treating (rehabilitating) juveniles has to be less than the cost, both financial and sociological, of not. This is definitely one case where it’s better for everybody if we can take the long view.

25
Feb
11

too tired to fight?

Was in the middle of a long post about the latest Pew Research study, which evaluates 7 recent trends: more unmarried couples raising children, more gay and lesbian couples raising children, more single women having children without a male partner to “help”* them (never mind that this question was not also worded in reverse, nor that the reasons for these absent males were not questioned), more people living together without being married, more mothers of young children working outside the home, more people of different races marrying each other, and more women (again, not men?) not ever having children; and whether people think these trends are good for society.

Have lost interest.

Big surprise: Women are blamed (even, inherently, in the wording of the questions), the question of single fathers or men choosing not to have children is completely ignored, as are the prejudices of society and judges in the juvenile system, imbalances of economic reality for working women, and policies which regiment inadequate child-support; the real questions, reasons, etc., seem to be avoided.

Besides, isn’t it possible that the question itself is self-referential, and therefore moot? If our definition of society includes an expectation of families made up of one man and one woman, married to each other, and 2.3 children, then, by definition, a family made up differently would be “bad,” and a single-parent family is the most different.

Anyway, I had a rant going when I heard this on the radio yesterday, but it seems to have fizzled out. Wonder why. . .maybe I’m just tired of women taking all the blame and beginning to feel that there’s nothing that can be done to change it.

Alas.

*I hate the word “help” when it comes to men’s contributions to the work of the home — as if the work of childrearing, cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc., is the work of women, and men “help.” Who do I help?

09
Feb
11

our short attention spans

Remember this story: young, beautiful ballerina, student at Syracuse college, murdered during Thanksgiving break, supposedly by her estranged on-again-off-again boyfriend?

If you google her name, you get page after page of newspaper postings from late November.

But what’s happened since? Does anybody know? Does anybody care?

Is our attention span really this short?

I’m just as bad — I was just popping through various months on my blog to read old posts, just curious as to whether there were things I had forgotten about, and THIS WAS ACTUALLY ONE OF THEM.

I’m ashamed of myself.

I can’t help but wonder if the world as a whole paid significant and lasting attention to such atrocities whether there might be fewer of them.

Do we really see each other? Are we looking out for each other? Are we so afraid of violating someone’s privacy or of getting ourselves into “trouble” that we don’t reach out when people need us? Are we so hungry for the latest “dish” that we can’t be bothered to maintain attention, concern, empathy?

Sigh.

11
Jan
11

capitalism, foreclosures, and greed

A real-estate “agent for investors” was apparently a little disgruntled at a recent foreclosed-housing auction at the fact that prices are creeping up, making his clients’ buy-’em-cheap-and-sell-’em-for-more venture a little less profitable.

I think this is shameful.

Never mind the fact that he’s/they’re in the business of throwing people out of their homes; never mind that some banks would rather sell houses at fire-sale prices and lose more money than they would if they helped borrowers restructure their mortgages; never mind that regulations (a term we should all use loosely at this point) relaxed to the point that people who probably could barely pay their car payments were given mortgages for homes way beyond their means, and then allowed to refinance, repeatedly, based on the imaginary increased value of their already-overvalued homes; never mind that the tanking housing market brought the rest of the economy down with it, and one of the things that might turn this economy around once and for all is if people aren’t losing everything they have.

No, we’re supposed to feel sympathy that this man, and the people he represents, who make their living not really doing anything productive for society, just moving “money” around, aren’t able to make as quick or as easy or as big a buck as they did last month.

And what is this: “agent for investors” anyway? I hate to sound like dear-ol’-dad and hearken back to the “good ol’ days,” but weren’t mortgages created to help hard-working people own homes while they still had need for them? I’m reminded of Mr. Potter (the banker, not the wizard) in It’s a Wonderful Life grumbling about how people, (referring to a particular demographic, I believe he called them “garlic eaters”), shouldn’t be allowed to own a home unless they could pay cash for it. The idea that you could invest your money in your home, and have some value out of that investment at the end of your life was a good and noble one; a little appreciation couldn’t hurt either, and it sure beat throwing your your money down the proverbial drain paying rent. But maybe we’ve gone a little too far from the original intent of the home mortgage when people think it’s a good idea to package them up and trade them like baseball cards. It’s MY house, my appreciation, not yours, and I really hate the idea that the interest I’m paying isn’t actually reflecting the cost of the loan, but merely a means of lining other people’s pockets.

As I think about this further, I begin to wonder how many of the difficulties our country faces are, if not created, at least impacted by the fact that most people seem to confuse capitalism with democracy. Obama tries to make sure that we all have the right to one of the fundamental needs of our society, decent, affordable health care, and people hiss “Socialist,” which number one, it’s not, and number two, is it necessarily such a bad thing? Isn’t the Christian moral ethic (you know, the one that so many people seem to be shouting from the rooftops, ramming down people’s throats, and/or using as justification to villify anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with them), built around the idea that we take care of each other? The widow, the orphan, the poor, the disadvantaged. . .  And what about the statement on the statue of liberty: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed, I lift my lamp beside the golden door. We presume “she” doesn’t mean give them to me so I can ignore their basic needs and discriminate based on their income.

People also tend to confuse Socialism — a system of economics that acknowledges that all have a duty and responsibility to themselves, their families, and their society, to do their best, and that everyone’s contribution is not only important, but necessary, while at the same time providing basic needs like health care, education, and support for the disadvantaged or the needy; with Communism — a system of economics that believes that people are not capable of the above beliefs and behaviors and therefore such must be regimented and controlled by the government. (It’s ironic, in a way, that early organized religion probably came about for much the same reason. People won’t behave honorably if left to themselves, so let’s create a system of fear, judgment, retribution and reward to control encourage them. Too bad so many atrocious acts are committed in the name of religion, from the genocide of the Old Testament, to the Crusades, the killing of doctors who perform abortions, and the people who feel they have a right to picket funerals declaring that God is happy about their deaths as He punishes this country for its tolerance of homosexuality.)

Hmmmm. I seem to have gone off on a tangent. What was I saying?

Ah, yes, the role of capitalism in society.

Capitalism can be a wonderful thing, especially when it’s a part of society which respects the rights and needs of others and includes recognition that we ARE all family; that what we do, or don’t do, impacts everyone; that what’s best for everyone might not seem, at any particular moment, to be best for one particular person, but ultimately probably is. Until that’s the case (my own personal version of Utopia), regulations are important, as are prudence, fairness, justice, equality of opportunity, and the awareness that the tyranny, pursuit, ethic of the mighty dollar might not be the one on which we want to build humanity.

I’d like to propose that we find a way to get money out of politics, but that’s probably a topic for another day. . .

01
Jan
11

The Year in Pictures

New York Times has a provocative “year in pictures” series. Click here if you’d like to see it.

I didn’t do an official count, or anything, but it seems to be made of 3 categories:

1.  Horrible things mankind does to each other and the planet.

2.  Natural disasters and the havoc they wreak.

3.  Sporting events.

Unfortunately, it is only pictures from category 3, Sporting events, and those of the rescued Chilean miners and of Aung San Suu Kyi finally, and probably temporarily, released from house arrest, that seem to reflect anything positive.

I wonder if we could come up with a year in pictures of more uplifting things. Second son vacuuming the basement (as we speak), for example, or my daughter’s beautiful face.

Would anyone want to see that, do you suppose?

22
Dec
10

don’t use that tone with me young man!

Apparently there’s a new feature available for certain email software programs called ToneCheck. This works much like spell-check, except rather than correcting your misspelling of “recommend” and overlooking the fact that you wrote “you’re” when you meant to write “your,” ToneCheck highlights content which exceeds some kind of preset filter for negative (or exceedingly positive) emotions such as anger, sadness, resentment, elation, etc.

ToneCheck was released as a plug-in with Microsoft Outlook in July, and will “allow for personal variations in tone, gauge a sentence’s level of emotional ambiguity and offer suggestions for revision.” Click here if you want to see it in action.

I can’t decide if this is really terrific, or laughingly absurd. We’ve all sent an email we’ve almost immediately wished we could unsend (the only thing I miss about AOL), we’ve all cringed at our own words when they come back to us at the bottom of a reply, many of us have probably adopted the if-I-write-it-when-I’m-upsetangrybitterlydisappointedresentfulstarkravingmad-I’ll-wait-for-24-hours-before-sending-it policy. But can we really expect a software program to be able to recognize the subtleties and intricacies of adult communication?

I guess the assistance of an objective “third party” giving us a virtual nudge and asking “are you sure you want to say it that way?” wouldn’t be a bad thing. I could always choose to ignore it. Maybe someone should develop a real-life version, something along the size of a digital recorder, which we can speak into for feedback before saying what we REALLY think at the next office meeting.

22
Nov
10

employment and disadvantaged teens

In “The Ethicist” column of the November 5 New York Times, a woman living in Mumbai, India asks Randy Cohen if it is ethical to employ a 14-year old girl as household help. The prospective employer recognizes that most children of this age, in this country, will seek such employment, and admits that she would be extremely considerate of the girl’s age in the tasks which she would require the girl to complete. Her concern is twofold: 1) should she “encourage” what she considers to be exploitation by employing the girl? and 2), how she would feel about this girl working while her son is “studying and playing”?

Cohen advises the writer that such employment could only be seen as an advantage, especially if she, the employer, demonstrated fairness in encouraging the girl to go to school and complete her homework, and if she stuck to her commitment to only asking her to complete age-appropriate tasks.

According to the article:

Jacqueline Novogratz, C.E.O. of the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit that takes an entrepreneurial approach to combating global poverty, suggests: “The employer could help the girl pay for school fees so that she can attend school and then have her come afterward to help clean the house. The combination of part-time work with full-time schooling provides the girl’s family with a sense of dignity, and it gives the girl greater choice in her life.”

Despite this, the woman later writes to Cohen confessing that she did not hire the girl, despite the likelihood that the girl would work elsewhere, and potentially not be treated as well as the woman would have treated her, out of concern for the guilt she would feel watching the girl work while her son was not.

I have a lot of trouble with this decision, for two main reasons.

First of all, what’s wrong with the idea of a 14-year old working? I had part-time jobs at 14; had actually grown up working on my father’s farm from a VERY young age, but worked at an ice-cream shop in the summers so I could have some spending money. The motivation for this young girl to work so she can help her impoverished family is much more noble than my desire for a pair of Adidas sneakers (white, with green stripes), a new pair of Levi’s, and Heart (the one with Crazy on You on it) and REO Speedwagon (You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish) albums.

Secondly, what does this have to do with the woman’s guilt? Can she really be so selfish that she can allow this to be a bigger concern than the well-being and potential opportunities available to this girl through such employment, especially if she followed Novogratz’s advice as quoted above?

And isn’t it possible that this could have been a GOOD example to her son, on all accounts?

I wish this woman could have looked a little bit further outside herself and her own superficial feelings. Much good could have been done, for many.

20
Nov
10

is “feminism” to blame?

In a comment after my recent post “Functional Illiteracy” a woman proposed that feminism was to blame for the decline in the literacy of our children. Her argument is that if mom isn’t at home when the kids get home from school, full of energy and ready to help them with their homework while providing a plate of warm cookies and a nice pot of stew bubbling on the stove, then all is lost. (She also bemoaned the fact that all those women working only served to make the world more expensive, the direct result of which she and her family spent their first seven years living in a “trailor” and were only now able to own a home because of the real estate crash.)

To paraphrase: What children need is discipline, supervision, and structure, and none of these things can be provided if mom works.

My first reaction won’t be quoted directly here, but when I stopped tearing at my hair and screaming, I decided I wanted to propose this as a possibility just to see what the world’s reaction was.

*****

According to the Department for Professional Employees, the number of working women has risen from 5.1 million in 1900 to 65.7 million in 2005, and is expected to reach 76 million by 2014. In 2004 nearly half of all job-holders were women, although more women than men still work part time, and make 55-75% what their male counterparts do in most fields. (This is shameful, btw, but I won’t go off on a tangent.) The usual fields are also still well represented by women: teaching, nursing (82-98%) vs. engineering (10%) or airline pilot (3%). It is also noted that most mothers, even of young children, participate in some way in the work force.

*****

My grandmother divorced her husband when my mom was in 1st grade. He was an alcoholic, and abusive, and my grandma decided she’d had enough. She had worked as a secretary before getting married, but had stopped upon her marriage. Once divorced, and not being paid any child support despite a court order, she had to go to work to support herself and her two daughters.

My mother-in-law was a public school teacher in Canada while my father-in-law was in seminary when she found herself unexpectedly expecting First Son (my husband). When she informed her principal of this upcoming blessed event, she was told that he would do her the “favor” of allowing her to continue until Christmas. As she would probably be “showing” before then it was important that she disguise this fact as much as possible so as not to make any of her colleagues or students “uncomfortable.” I can’t help but wonder if this principal also called each student’s parent and advised them against having any further children, as this could also cause some “discomfort” for the already-present children. Somehow I doubt it.

When the chair of the music department at the small, liberal-arts college where I used to teach and work as staff accompanist found out that I was going to be adopting a child and starting my doctorate he decided that it was “inappropriate” for me to continue teaching as, and I quote, my “attentions should be directed elsewhere.” I was promptly removed from the list of any courses I had been teaching, although it was determined that it would okay for me to continue to accompany students on juries and recitals.  (Isn’t this illegal?)

Anyway. . .

*****

Kant once wrote that it was so offensive for women to speak in public that they might as well grow a beard.

*****

I find myself being drawn down the path from the idea of men society deciding whether it’s appropriate for women to work or not, as well as deciding which endeavours are appropriate (teaching, nursing) and which not (engineering, math, science) to the fear and villification of women’s bodies throughout history. Women and their “parts” and processes are evil, unclean; we are temptresses and witches. “. . .men. . .defined by the lofty spheres of reason and intellect, while women, with their mysterious biological cycles, represent the base, dark, stormy, unpredictable realms of nature and emotion. . .” (Caroline Knapp, Appetites, p. 92)

So many tangents, so little time.

*****

Just one more.

My husband and I just watched Forty Shades of Blue, made in 2005. Dina Korzun plays Lara, a Russian girl who had met the successful and influential, but volatile, music producer Alan James (Rip Torn), when he was in Moscow on a business trip. They now have a 3 1/2 year old son, and live in his house in Memphis, although they are not married until the end of the movie. Lara is lost, an empty shell. Our first sight of her is as she strolls like an automaton through the aisles of a swank department store; later in the movie she stands, drunk and helpless, on the street, trying to figure out how to get home while the father of her child is upstairs in a hotel room with one of “his” singers. She’s unhappy, and she knows it, but as she explains to Alan’s mostly-estranged son, played by Darren Burrouws, she “has more than anyone [she] knows; [she] doesn’t have a right to want more.”

This idea, that we don’t have the right, is probably more common than we think. I’ve felt that way myself.

Forty Shades of Blue, Sabina Sciubba

*****

I can’t believe that, in the 21st century, we still have to walk down this road.

Sure, if the family is stressed and running in 65 different directions and no one’s “driving the ship,” then the children’s homework might suffer. But that could be as much a result of poor planning, disorganization, or over-scheduling poor little Junior or Juniorette; or perhaps “dad” is a little bit useless around the house. According to a British study, women spend an average of 3 hours per day on housework, men an hour and 40 minutes; this is considered a drastic improvement. I imagine it might help the cause even more if men were aware of the studies which show that those who “help” (how offensive is this? They help?) with the housework have more sex.

Is it time now to take a deep breath and hearken back to the “good ol’ days,” when men were considered superior and a woman’s Place Was in the Home?

Perhaps what we need, instead, is a society which supports our right, and ability, to do both.

Caroline Knapp again:

If only we lived in a culture that made ambition compatible with motherhood and family life, that presented models of women who were integrated and whole: strong, sexual, ambitious, cued into their own varied appetites and demands, and equipped with the freedom and resources to explore all of them. If only women felt less isolated in their frustration and fatigue, less torn between competing hungers, less compelled to keep nine balls in the air at once, and less prone to blame themselves when those balls come crashing to the floor. If only we exercised our own power, which is considerable but woefully underused; if only we defined desire on our own terms.

And what is the cost to us as women if we spend our lives denying our very selves? Being made to believe that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, capable enough, responsible enough, articulate enough, valuable enough to make a contribution to society other than the one that is prescribed for us?

I fear this post has devolved into rambling incoherence. There are so many thoughts and ideas competing for my attention, I find myself writing and deleting much that seems too tangential. I’ll leave you with a few parting clips as my closing thoughts.

*****

I clicked “publish,” decided I was going to avoid one more tangent, started to write this out as a separate post, and then decided it absolutely HAD to be included in this one. This probably isn’t very “professional” of me, but so far no one’s paying me to be here, so I guess it’s okay.

Caroline Knapp, one more time:

. . .a dash of Hegelian despair can be a useful thing, a check against consumer culture’s blaring strains of false promise, and also fodder for a deeper kind of acceptance. To know that hunger is an essential part of what it means to be human, that it’s possibly epic and anguished and intrinsically insatiable, is at least to muffle the blare, to introduce a sense of proportion.

And yet proportion is hard to hold onto, and may be particularly hard for women. During an interview on National Public Radio’s “The Connection,” conducted following the publication of her 1999 book, “The Whole Woman,” feminist Germaine Greer described something she sees with increasing frequency: the weeping woman, the woman stopped at a traffic light with tears streaming down her face, or exiting a stall in the ladies’ room with red-rimmed eyes, or slumped in her seat at the movie theater, clutching a handful of Kleenex. The weeping is always private, indulged on the sly, and Greer sees the sorrow behind it as a cultural phenomenon as well as an individual one, a reaction to the lingering understanding among women that despite several decades of social change, the world remains largely indifferent, disdainful, even hostile to their most defining qualities and concerns.

Women weep, Greer believes, because they feel powerless, and because they are exhausted and overworked and lonely. Women weep because their own needs are unsatisfied, continually swept into the background as they tend to the needs of others. They weep because the men in their lives so often seem incapable of speaking the language of intimacy, and because their children grow up and become distant, and because they are expected to acquiesce to this distance, and because they live lives of chronically lowered expectations and chronic adjustment to the world of men, the power and strength of a woman’s emotions considered pathological or hysterical or sloppy, her interest in connection considered trival, her core being never quite seen or known or fully appreciated, her true self out of alignment with so much that is valued and recognized and worshipped in the world around her; her love, in a word, unrequited.

In a nod to the diminishment of outrage that began to take hold in the eighties, Greer told her interviewer, “We tried to mobilize women’s anger. We spent years telling women to get in touch with their rage, and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s just not enough rage to go around. Women don’t get angry enough. What women do is get sad.”

This sentiment stayed with me for a long time. I was driving from Boston to Rhode Island while I heard it, to visit a friend for the weekend, and I spent much of the trip thinking about the steady press of sorrow in a woman’s life, the feeling of discord that may run through her days, the singular loneliness of living in a wrld that emphasizes and rewards so many qualities that may run counter to her central humanity: independence instead of interdependence; distance instead of closeness; self-seeking instead of cooperation; the external world instead of the internal world; glamour and wealth and celebrity instead of kindness and generosity and warmth. I thought about the private pain of women, expressed with so much wordless anguish: the anorexic, isolated and terrified and working so relentlessly to starve away her own hunger; the shoplifter, trying to compensate for what she never had with a Clark bar; the self-cutter, lashing at her own skin instead of out at the world; the bulimic, hunched over a toilet bowl, retching out a river of need. I thought about thwarted connections–a girls’ from her mother, a woman’s from her culture–and then I did something I almost never do: I pulled my car over to the side of the road, and I sat there, and I wept.

*****

Can’t embed the audio clip I want, so go to: http://www.righteousbabe.com/ani/educated_guess/index.asp  and click on the little speaker next to Origami.



18
Nov
10

lost opportunities

In the October 25 issue of the New Yorker, Lauren Collins writes about David Cameron’s goals for a “Big Society” in England. She begins the article by writing about a picturesque hamlet in central Dorset, which is, ironically, “bisected by a brook that was once used as a latrine.”  The residents of this town recently each voluntarily contributed to the purchase of a replacement marker after all (3) of their town markers had been stolen over a 5 month period in 2008. Understandably, the residents were determined that the replacement sign would not be subject to the same fate, and have used a one-and-a-half ton hunk of limestone as the new marker.

This is all well and good, but I think they should have taken advantage of this now lost opportunity and, since all physical evidence had been removed, changed the name of their town. Instead, they are, and will remain to be, Shitterton, Dorset.

13
Nov
10

My response to your response to “Functional Illiteracy”

Wow.

I never saw it coming.

As some of you may have noticed, this is a fairly “young” blog, competing with hundreds of thousands of blogs, which averaged 20-60 hits on its best days.

I’ve had over 6,000 hits since I posted “Functional Illiteracy” yesterday morning. When I was writing it, I was just seeing it as yet another rant in a series of rants about the state of education in the 21st century, but it has obviously really struck a nerve.

I’ve really enjoyed the ensuing conversation — exactly what I wanted when I started the blog in the first place — so many people feeling the same frustration; so many articulate and well-thought-out responses, it did make me wonder if maybe the situation isn’t as dire as I thought. 🙂

I have had many thoughts in the past 24 hours as I watched the post and comments “go viral,” and hope you don’t mind my sharing them with you.

There have been many mentions of the influences of technology on the 21st-century student as well as the importance of parents and their role. I would like to expand on both of those a bit.

Yes, there are a lot of cultural influences on our children which are either completely foreign to our experience, or which we adopt without allowing them to “pervert” our use of language or monopolize our time, because we’ve already learned to use language and manage our time. I agree that children shouldn’t have cell phones or access to facebook until they are old enough to see the impact these potential addictions could have on their lives. I worry about cell phone usage in young children with thinner skulls and the potential for tumors, and I also have grave concerns about cyber-bullying; with a 9-year old daughter and all of the requisite “friend” drama, there’s no facebook until middle or high school and then only if I’m a “friend.”

BUT.

Our children will need to live in the world in which they live. I text using textspeak because it’s faster to type on that tiny little keyboard, but I don’t use textspeak in any other situation. Children can, and should, learn the difference. Facebook is fun; I enjoy posting jokes or links to The Onion or a youtube video of a 3-year-old conducting Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, but I can ignore it when I want to, hide people who insist on posting incessantly about what they are eating or who like to berate those who don’t agree with them, and don’t need to check it 100 times a day to feel like I’m “keeping up.” I had a good friend who very strictly regulated the amount of time her sons were allowed to play computer games; her eldest son then went off to a very expensive private college and flunked out because he sat in his dorm room all day and played World of Warcraft. Wouldn’t it be better for them to learn to manage their time and responsibilities and interests when the stakes are a little smaller?

I also think the parent’s role is quite important, but probably not in the way many of you think. I always checked if my children had homework, made sure they had a plan for when they were going to do it, and was happy to look it over at the end to see how they had done. I didn’t feel it was in their best interests for me to correct it for them and have them redo it — if the teacher doesn’t know that my kid is struggling with the material, how will the teacher know he/she needs to spend more time on the topic? I was also pretty sure I wasn’t going to go to college with them, and thought it was important that they learn to structure their time and responsibilities themselves. I did make sure to write a note on the homework if it wasn’t done because my child just didn’t understand it; I also made sure to encourage the teacher to build in some natural consequences if it wasn’t done, i.e. the child sits at his/her desk at recess completing the homework.

And I don’t think we can change our children’s fundamental tastes and personalities. I am an avid reader, as is my oldest son. I read with both of my sons until they were well into middle school. My second son reads the books he needs to for school, and enjoys them, can talk articulately about them, and will not read another one until he has to. I can’t change that, and if I tried to Make him into a reader, he would read, and enjoy it, even less.

While parent’s roles and influences are very important, so, too, are teachers’. My eldest son, now a physics major at Case who scored 33 on his ACT, barely gave a rip about school from first grade until after he had graduated high school. When he was in kindergarten he LOVED it — he had a nurturing, imaginative teacher who enjoyed and indulged his curiosity and complied with his desire for daily “homework.” His first grade teacher was pinched and unimaginative and should have retired 10 years earlier. She would complain to me that First Son worked too slowly, too meticulously, asked too many questions, wanted to “handle” things rather then sitting in his desk with his hands folded learning via The Worksheet. When I requested that she merely send the work home with him, as he loved “homework,” she refused. By the end of the year his work was careless and sloppy. He went from coloring his butterfly with every color in the box in an elaborate mosaic to scribbling over it with a black crayon in 5 seconds. This attitude changed somewhat in 6th grade, with another wonderful teacher who recognized his intelligence and abilities and always challenged him to do better, but the child who would score a 33 on his ACT, with a  perfect score in science and only 1 point off in math didn’t have a high enough GPA to get into Northwestern or the University of Michigan — his top two choices. Case took a chance based on his standardized test scores, and gave him a scholarship based on his GPA which he can’t afford to lose. He is finally waking up to a sense of discipline and responsibility. No matter what I did, what I said, how I fought, he was not convinced that it mattered. I couldn’t do it for him.

Parents and teachers need to support, encourage, provide healthy learning opportunities and environments, and help students realize that THEY are responsible for what they learn, not the other way around.  What good would it have done for me to force him to comply to a standard I set, only for him to get into a college at which he’s not willing or able to succeed?

The passive learning attitude we see so often is a direct result of exactly that — parents, teachers, “teaching” the child that they are not responsible. This has to change.

Teachers also need to be qualified, and some simply are not. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten syllabi from high-school teachers filled with grammatical and punctuation errors. If we aren’t providing a good example for our students, how can we realistically expect good work from them?

I often think also that the bar is set too low. The Vice Principal of First Son’s middle school was overheard saying once that his job was just to get them through the day. This premise is ridiculous. If students are challenged, interested, stimulated, they will get themselves “through the day.”

And testing, especially today’s standardized testing, is making it worse; Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” does leave them behind, because it fills the teacher’s day with the broadest base of factoids known to man and requires them to cram it down their students’ throats. This leaves no time to be sure students actually understand, or can apply, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate this information — in other words use this information to further their own understanding. Because teachers have to teach only to Bloom’s lowest level of learning, there’s no depth to the knowledge — it consists merely of factoids, information, to be memorized and regurgitated. This is a mistake and has to change.

Students are also not taught to respect those in positions of authority. One comment touched on exactly that — parents need to be parents first, friends later (as in when their children are in their 20s). And if parents are demanding respect but the teachers are not, children will constantly challenge that authority.

When I was a Masters student, back in the 80s, and needed to contact my piano teacher, it was suggested to me that I call him. Call him? Really? I could do that? I still call my piano teacher from my undergraduate days Mrs. V_______; she has asked me numerous times to call her by her first name. I just can’t. I’ve had students call me to my face, and in email, by my first name, despite the fact that I name myself Dr. (Lastname) in the syllabus and in every email. I’ve had students email me to challenge the fact that I have information on the review sheet that I said wouldn’t be on the test; I’ve been told that she (the student) didn’t “like my attitude.” Technology allows for this; I would hope at least that most students wouldn’t dare say such a thing to my face. But the fact that they can say it at all astounds and disturbs me.

Students don’t move their feet when I walk between them in the hallways. Students have failed to write down what was going to be on a test, or failed to show up to an exam, and then gone to my department head and lied, telling him that I “changed my mind” or wasn’t where I said I would be. Sometimes the chair supports me, sometimes I get a long email explaining how I need to be more student-centered. This lack of support by administration, and giving students the benefit of the doubt over teachers, needs to change.

I could write for at least this long over the loss to our students as arts and music programs are cut while the football team gets new uniforms and trips to away games that cost thousands of dollars. If there is anything that teaches comprehensive, evaluative, synthetic thinking, it is literature, arts and music. Not to mention “building” adults who are automatons, unable or unwilling to recognize or understand beauty, music, or poetry.

To get back to the point of the original post, the problems I see in writing aren’t merely of this type: lacking of capitalizations and textspeak and using “what” instead of “was.” Students don’t know the difference between there their and they’re, write “could of” instead of “could have,” don’t bother (or don’t know how) to have their verb tense match the rest of their sentence, or the subject is plural and the verb is singular or vice versa. While this isn’t “functional illiteracy,” as I can interpret what they mean, it is a definite problem that should be being addressed in 4th grade, not a college humanities class.

Thank all of you so much for your interest and contribution to this important discussion and topic. This is obviously a source of great concern for many. Knowing this, NOW what do we do?

12
Nov
10

functional illiteracy

A recent email exchange with a (college) student:

im emailing u because i need a grade from you on my progress report tomorrow or else i cant play sat if you could do that i would gladly appreciate it….also while i was looking at my grades on blackboard i saw a E for the folk and religious music quiz…i was wondering did i miss that day or did i just not get any points on the quiz

Your current grade is a D+.
Your grade for the quiz was 13 out of 24 (this information was included on the grade center site he was consulting).

what the quiz points added in with the total?

I don’t know what you’re asking me.

im asking was those 13 points included in with the total points because it had an E for the grade i was just wondering

*******

This is a native-born American student who has apparently graduated from an American high school.  He/she is functionally illiterate, and seems to be either unable to interpret the information on a simple spreadsheet or unaware that 13 points out of 24 is not sufficient to pass.

How can MFA not realize that we are ALL going to pay the price when our children grow up to be adults who can’t read, speak, or write?

Statistics compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics have found that the U.S. seems to be spending about the same amount of money per student as other developed countries, and that students are staying in school for as long on average.

But we’re not measuring up.

According to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 4th graders in the United States tested behind Hong Kong, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Kazakstan, the Russian Federation, England, Latvia, the Netherlands, and Lithuania in mathematics achievement, and behind Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, Russian Federation, Latvia, and England in science achievement. Perhaps even more disturbing is that the achievement of students in science has declined in the US over the past 12 years, while it has improved, sometimes dramatically, in every other country ahead of us except Japan. Adults who can’t read or write at a proficient level cost the country hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost productivity and unemployment benefits.

Those of  you who have been following my blog know I’ve ranted about this before, just click here to read the archives. I believe these discussions already include mention of the disturbing trend among 21st-century students where learning is seen as a passive endeavour — they show up, sit there, what else do they need to do? Not to mention their inability to function in face-to-face situations, their lack of respect for authority, and their dependence on technology to the point of obsession (facebook, texting — to the point where whole papers are written in textspeak — no commas, no apostrophes, no capitalizations).

Sigh.

I’m including this in the “Who Cares?” category, because I would like to know if anybody does. I doubt it’s just me. But what can we do?

28
Sep
10

Versace

I was reading the New York Times after a particularly long day and I encountered a Versace ad that I wanted to post — 2 vacant-eyed women, apparently starving. Lacking even the strength to hold their mouths closed.

Alas, the ad is not to be found online, and I’m afraid if I try to scan it it won’t show up well, as it is in black and white.

(October 10: found it!):

I did find myself on a trip through the strangely-thematic surreal. Let me share some of the landmarks along the way.

Firstly, we have women disguising the fact that they are naked by hiding behind their voluminous handbags:

I think her handbag may weigh more than she does; she also looks as if she may be inside the handbag; then again, I may be wrong.

There also seems to be a theme where we are apparently supposed to be noticing the woman’s shoe as she is stepping into her clothing. This photo spread kills the proverbial two birds, by having her hide one of her (naked) legs behind her purse while stepping into her dress with the other leg. And look! she’s managed to accomplish her task, and is now fully clothed in the picture on the right. Good for her.

Now I don’t know about how models do it, but I tend to put my shoes on last, and have not usually picked up my purse until after the belt is on. Maybe it’s just me.

Then we have the group shots.

I’m not even going to presume what the women on the left are doing, but the one in the middle looks like she’s trying to work in her workout during the shoot, (poor lunging form, btw), Stephanie has longer legs than I am tall, and Claudia really needs to pee. Maybe we could take 5?

Now how about the men.

My son plays a game with pictures of his band on facebook called “what is ____ looking at?” Maybe there’s a giant spider on the floor or something. But do any of us know any men who would do this willingly? I guess they’re pretty well paid, but does that make them “prostitutes”? I can’t really figure out what market Versace is trying to reach with this one, but I guess that’s their marketing department’s problem.

Nothing wrong with this one; at least not as far as I can tell, although I’m not sure what we’re supposed to make of the hands in underwear/handcuffs. Hmmm. . .

Quite fine.

So what are we supposed to make of this?

This just makes me want to cry.

Men get to be strong, muscular, virile; women are wisps, hiding behind our handbags, not allowed to go to the bathroom.

Sigh.

06
Sep
10

beautiful, beautiful me

Ran across this photo-project through a link on another blog today.

And the awards go to:

Most upsetting: 9- and 11- and 13- year old girls made up like dolls or losing weight they don’t need to lose at weight-loss camps.

Most stupid: a woman who has 3 toes shortened so she can wear the Jimmy Choo shoes she likes with the pointy toes.

Most frightening: people having painful surgery done to help them grow taller, even though it includes the risk that they will end up deformed.

Most ridiculous: Mr. Olympia, whose muscles boisterously bulge but who needs to be administered oxygen because the process has weakened him so considerably.

Most Machiavellian: the plastic surgeon married to Barbie so he can “play” with her. I would put her boobs* in either the most frightening or most ridiculous category. Maybe she doesn’t care that everyone can tell that they’re fake?

And the You’re-Not-Fooling-Anyone Award goes to the woman whose hands still look 80.

Is it really that difficult to be happy with ourselves? To eat well, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and look in the mirror and see beautiful?

Must be.

*My apologies for the word “boobs.” I usually insist that they be called breasts, but have now decided to reserve that distinction for those that fall into the “occur naturally” category. These are definitely boobs.

27
Aug
10

Politics, Religion and the Truth

Apparently the willful ignorance of MFA continues to spread. We could spend a lot of time talking about the failures of our educational systems — the results being a citizenry who for the most part lack both a sense of responsibility about being informed and an ability to differentiate between a reputable news source (New York Times, Washington Post) and a disreputable one (Fox News, [irony alert] random blogs on the internet, Rush Limbaugh). We are also surrounded by people who harbor a general philosophy which prioritizes emotion and faith belief over fact. Another discussion could ensue as to whether the demise of so many reputable news sources is a cause of this or an effect; I would venture to propose the latter.

Unfortunately for all of us, politicians have decided that they are better served exploiting these shortcomings than dealing with all of us honestly and informatively. The short attention spans encouraged by network news programs, papers like USA Today, and the proliferation of sound bytes over substance only make things worse.

Meanwhile, 46% of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim and that he is responsible for both the failings of the financial system and the TARP program designed to bail it out.

To the first belief, I ask, who cares? and to the second, how hard are “you” working to remain in the dark about the actual happenings of the country in which you live?

The fact that he must repeatedly emphasize that he is a Christian is disturbing in a country that was founded on the belief that religion and governance should have nothing to do with each other.

In a related story, many continue to protest the proposed building of a mosque in the phantom shadow of the World Trade Center. Again, was this country not founded on the very principle of free practice of any, or no, religion? The same people that make the argument that “guns don’t kill people, people do” can’t seem to translate that into the possibility that all of Islam might not be the villain here. We should blame all of Islam for 9/11 like we blame Christians for the Crusades or all Germans for the Holocaust?

Those freedoms that are villified among practicers of radical Islam are those which we as a country should value and treasure and protect most vehemently: to live where and how we choose within the confines of universal principles of right and wrong; to worship (or not) the God of our choosing; to elect our own leaders; for women to work and drive and vote and marry who they desire and live without fearing death by stoning or clitoral circumcision or being sold into slavery or forced into marriage at the age of 11; in addition to that we need to recognize a moral obligation to treat all citizens of the world with the dignity and fairness and respect which we accord each other.

We fail at this, miserably, over and over again. We should all be ashamed.

14
Aug
10

A Flag for all to Stand Under

According to Wikipedia, a national flag is a flag that symbolizes a country. The flag is flown by the government, but usually can be flown by citizens of that country as well.  There are three distinct types of national flag for use on land, and three for use at sea, although many countries use identical designs for several (and sometimes all) of these types of flag.

Flags originated as military standards, used as field signs. The practice of flying flags indicating the country of origin outside of the context of warfare emerges with the maritime flag, introduced during the age of sail, in the early 17th century. It was only with the emergence of nationalist sentiment from the late 18th century that national flags began to be displayed in civilian contexts.

This is all very interesting, and I understand the reasoning behind the creation of flags. We mark our place on the battlefield, identify ourselves on a ship in international waters or at a meeting of NATO, show which team we’re supporting in the upcoming NCAA tournament, etc. I have mixed feelings, however, when people fly the national flag from their cars on a daily basis. What are they trying to express? To identify themselves as members of the country in which they are living, driving, the state of their residence clearly stated on their license plate? There’s not really anything wrong with any of this, I guess, but it always seems to me to hint at something more exclusionary. God bless America, my country is better than yours.

Do we really believe that God blesses America more than he blesses other countries? What kind of God is this?

It also reminds me a bit of when there’s some kind of tragedy — plane crash, train derailment, explosion in a marketplace in Israel — and the requisite reporting of how many Americans were killed in the tragedy. As if our amount of sympathy should be parceled out proportionately.

How about a flag of humanity? I’d fly that one, any day.


17
Jul
10

Community Living

Passed on the way to the beach for a swim and sunset: Majestic Ridge Estates.

Gag.

First of all, we’re all perfectly qualified to judge whether a location is Majestic or not; is this not a quality which, by definition, should be observable by the naked eye?

For example, this is what one might call a “Majestic Ridge”:

We see the majesty, and the ridge, even without someone telling us it’s there.

This, on the other hand, is just a big house you probably paid too much money for:

And look, no ridge in sight.

Lastly, was this name selected by the requisite resident tyrants neighborhood association committee (houses of yellow brick or tan siding only, no clotheslines, any car valued at less than $50,000 parked discretely in closed garage) following submissions to the Most Pretentious Names for a Neighborhood contest?

If we’re striving for truth-in-advertising, I guess I’m glad I live in Hilly Woody Place Overrun with Deer, Deer Ticks and Daddy-Long-Legs in Neighborhood Surrounding Algae-Ridden Pond Lake. Too bad that doesn’t fit on a sign.

14
Jul
10

Who Cares II?

Ran across this link while reading this article. Followed that up by going to their home page and wondered why anyone cares.

Little help?

14
Jul
10

To Cheat or Not to Cheat, or is it Even Cheating? Ethics in the 21st century

I’ve been mentally toying with this topic for a couple of weeks now, where to begin, what “tone” to take; it now seems to be rising to the fore with this latest op-ed/Room for Debate piece in the New York Times.

I wrote a couple of months ago about the “children” of today (meaning teens and college students) and their propensity for stealing “downloading” their media from the internet, including their college textbooks, movies, and music. This saddens, frustrates, disappoints, and worries me. Jason Robert Brown, a popular and illustrious composer, posted this debate he had with a teenager regarding the impropriety of her offering his music for “trade” on the internet. It is a frustrating conversation, which he handles with grace, dignity and respect. I’m not hopeful that this particular argument was won, but I do hope that the attention this discussion has gotten will at least get these kids thinking, and maybe help prompt interested techies out there to work vigorously to create a solution. The alternative is that we end up in a cultural dark age because no one can afford to produce anything stealable “downloadable.” The problem is that it is now culturally acceptable to cheat, to steal, to justify it and believe wholeheartedly that there’s nothing wrong with it — nothing physical has changed hands, no one was “hurt,” “I” only wanted to “borrow” it or “use” it or “trade” it, and it is, ultimately, all about “me.” (Isn’t it?)

My husband and I both teach at the college level. It has recently been brought to his attention that there is a website called “Course Hero” which is touted as the “Number 1 Study Resource for College and High School Students.” Sounds great, doesn’t it? And haven’t we all been grateful for the ease with which information can be found via this wonderful tool known as the internet. Just the other day I was able to track down the exact procedure used in 2005 to remedy a pesky problem with the emissions system of my now very old and much driven minivan.  The problem is that this website is not a “study resource,” it’s a ginormous electronic arm with the answers written on it. Apparently one of the requirements for “tutors” to upload their homework answers and test answers and completed papers is that they provide a copy of the assignment without the answers filled in, so that cheaters students can test their own knowledge by completely ignoring reviewing the questions before stealing checking their answers against the completed work. Right. I can’t even comprehend why someone who has done this work themselves would want to give it away. Do they value their own efforts that little? Is that part of the problem? Is peer pressure so great that friend A can’t say to friend B, when asked for the answers to yesterday’s homework assignment, “Ummm, no, dude, but duh, do it yourself”?

One of the arguments put forward by the contributors to the NY Times piece is that students cheat when they feel that the teacher has set up a system (i.e. curving the grade) where they are being unfairly compared with their colleagues, or when the teacher isn’t adequately doing their job. This sounds, to me, an awful lot like it was written by someone who did some cheating of their own and wants to justify it by blaming someone else. Wow, that sounds familiar. Perhaps the real cause of this problem stems from the fact that the “children” of today, hell, even some of the adults, think everything that happens is someone else’s fault.  I don’t care WHAT the situation is, CHEATING IS WRONG. Your work should be exactly that, YOURs. Why is that concept so hard to understand, much less sympathize with? Besides, if that were the case, why are they not ALL doing it?

Another contributor points out that technology has also made it easier to catch cheaters. (It’s also made it a lot easier for them to text in class, play internet poker, or look up the answer to a question I pose in class on Wikipedia rather than trying to make sense of their own inadequate notes.) While I have routinely caught students plagiarizing their papers for the music appreciation course I teach — easy enough to type in particularly and unusually articulate sentences and then be lead immediately to the performing group’s website — how does one catch a student cheating on a test or exam? Right answers are right, often singularly so, and presumably we have talked about this material in class with the expectation, optimistic as it may be, that the students will study and learn it. And while we can all point out that “cheaters never prosper,” the problem is, sometimes, they do. Unless they are so foolish as to routinely perform abysmally and then suddenly ace an exam, it might not even occur to the teacher to call the student in to have an impromptu discussion about the topic to see if they actually know what they are talking about. There are also incidences where the student has been called in for exactly that, senses impending danger, and refuses to answer any questions at all.

I see two more key contributors to this epidemic: 1. The focus of acquiring an “education” has become more and more about getting The Grade (has anyone heard of Grade Inflation?) and then The Job than it is about advancing The Mind (Seen on a billboard for an area university: X State College in 2 words: You’re Hired), and 2. students have gained too much power.

Examples:

A barely-earned C changed to a B+ after pressure from a student’s parent; despite FERPA laws which prevent US from talking to a parent, apparently parents can talk to provosts.

A student sends an email at 11:30 p.m. in a panic that I’ve included material on the review sheet that I said wouldn’t be on tomorrow’s exam. Not only am I expected to reply, sympathetically, but am subject to the student’s observation, ~ 7 emails into the discussion, that she “doesn’t like my attitude” when I point out that some things are just worth knowing, and ask her why her discovering something at the last minute on a review sheet that has been available for 3 weeks is suddenly my problem. If I don’t reply, helpfully and promptly, the student can indicate on her faculty-evaluation form that her professor is ˚unsympathetic to a student’s difficulties and/or ˚unavailable for help outside of class. These evaluations are given tremendous weight by those in administration, who see students as customers, tuition dollars as profit, and instructors, especially those of the adjunct persuasion, as dispensable if not downright disposable. There are also plenty of stories about perfectly qualified, articulate, and dedicated tenured professors forced out of positions because of the nature of their student-generated faculty evaluation forms.

What’s wrong with this picture?

So many things. . .

The first, and most obvious problem, is that we seem to be forgetting what the word STUDENT means — one who, through force of diligence and discipline, applies him or herself to a topic in order to learn something. Students who cheat cheat themselves out of this very thing. I would ask, if they’re only paying money to get the grade, and not really concerned about whether they actually learn something, why do they even bother? And something every administrator and teacher and parent and student should know and/or remember is this: part of what this student needs to learn is how to get along in the world as an ethical, diligent, responsible person, one who acts, in all events and circumstances, with integrity. I’ll even go out on a limb and propose that this might even be the most important thing.

The second most pressing problem comes from the idea that the STUDENT is qualified to evaluate the TEACHER. This premise is ludicrous, but routinely sanctioned through the actions of the administration. There are a great number of things I hope to impart to my students beyond the immediate topic at hand. I don’t even necessarily want to tell them what that is. Sometimes I pose a problem without giving any hints about the solution because the best way for them to learn what I’m trying to teach involves their wrestling with that very thing. (˚Professor does not provide guidance in problem solving. or ˚Professor does not explain topics sufficient for understanding. or ˚Expectations for the course exceeded that which was reasonable.) If I provide the powerpoint outline and the notes and the listening guide and the answers to the questions not only have they not invested anything of their own — time, attention, thought; the act of organizing their notes, constructing outlines, researching and pondering and solving problems themselves, the means by which they will develop complex understanding, has been taken from them.

Instead, I have been compelled to add to my syllabus, under the heading “Student Outcomes” goals such as that they will develop independence, self-sufficiency, and responsibility through RECORDING THEIR ASSIGNMENTS AND QUIZ TOPICS themselves. Apparently this is unusual, unexpected, and interpreted by students as evidence of my lack of concern for their success. I announce it in class, I write it on the board, but I don’t hand out little slips of paper (as they do in elementary school) nor do I post it on Blackboard (makes it too easy not to come to class; my philosophy: if you want to know what’s going on today, and what’s going to go on tomorrow, show up).

There are cultures where “cheating” is not a word or concept that’s discussed, not because it doesn’t happen, but because it is the norm — where plagiarizing is seen as paying the original author tribute, where The Grade is The Most Important Thing No Matter How It’s Attained. Unfortunately, I think that the path we are headed down is even more insidious, because it seems to involve all areas of our children’s lives: from how they get into college to what they do once they’re there, from how they access culture to how they’ll behave on the job. Junior wants to win the Pinewood Derby or the essay contest so dad makes the little car or writes the paper; what has Junior actually learned from this endeavour? All you have to do is look at the financial services industries, shortcuts taken by oil executives, the desire of every overpaid businessman to avoid taxes and incorporate their business on a “favorable” island — something for nothing, with the highest possible benefit to “me.”

The New American Way? At what cost? We should all shudder to think.

08
Jul
10

Jessica Hiltout, and “Authentic” soccer

Discovered this amazing photographer and her collection of photos of soccer at the grassroots level in Africa from an article in the NY Times.

The photos in her collection are beautiful, spare, haunting. I especially liked the pictures of the fences, and found myself wondering if the feet in the authentic soccer shoes were the envy of the village.

The ingenuity involved in the home-made soccer balls was also quite impressive.

What is lost when one is freely given everything one needs?

02
Jun
10

Is it just me? or are men in better shape than ever?

There is now apparently a garment, labeled “Shapewear,” available to help men “streamline their appearance.” At first I thought this was some kind of a joke, a theory which wasn’t threatened in any way by the fact that one of the spokesman for the item is named Nickelson Wooster and that much of the article sounded like an advertisement “[Although Mr. Viscusi is 39, he wears Spanx* T-shirts routinely. He recently wore them to see executives from Bravo and VH1. ‘It gave me pecs, gave me definition, it gave me confidence,’ he said. . .”].

And maybe it could only be a good thing for the world if men felt a little bit more of the pressure women feel to look a particular way. A little shared pain in the interests of empathy and all that.

One problem is that the men who really need this particular item are most likely the men who are walking around without any shirt on at all.

The other is that I think most women would just appreciate a little less pressure.

Instead we have created yet another market to appease yet another set of insecurities people feel about their bodies. Instead of learning more about how to eat healthfully, taking actions against the salts, sugars, and chemicals hidden in our foods, getting more exercise, and developing self-esteem which includes acceptance of ourselves and our imperfections, we have managed to devise yet another way to improve our “appearance” without actually changing anything.

To paraphrase the woman who has looked in a mirror after having removed her Spanx “foundation garment” (now THERE’S a eumphemism), “I look like a blob, an amoeba.” Or how about the man realizing that the “shapewear” garment he wears routinely has only served to mislead his date, and can only cause her to wonder how he has managed to gain 45 lbs between the restaurant and the bedroom.

The thing that really cracks me up is the myriad ways men justify wearing these garments. Rather than just admitting that they weigh a little bit more than they should, they emphasize the fact that it improves their posture, eases their back pain, and/or masks their man boobs nipples. One man complains about the tendency of undershirts to bunch up, causing it to look like you are wearing “. . .a tire around your waist.” It’s not the shirt, dear, it’s the tire around your waist. They don’t even call it what it is — a girdle foundation garment — it’s “Shapewear.” But no, actually: it’s spandex and rubber made into a garment that’s one-to-two sizes too small for you and hides the fact that you eat ice cream every night when you really shouldn’t.

Apparently there is also such a thing as “profile-enhancing underwear,”

which seems to act as, and I quote, “the equivalent of a ‘push-up bra’ for men.” Seriously? Do we really want need to see more of That?

Supposedly these garments have not been designed to “take off” pounds. The woman who designed them points out that stars as lean as Gwyneth Paltrow wear Spanx, and that she herself designed them when she was a size 2. Maybe it’s just me, but what exactly is the spanx holding in if you’re a size 2? Your kneecaps? Your spine? And if Gwyneth feels the need to wear it

I’m thinking that maybe the rest of us should just stop going out in public altogether.

Maybe we should all just wear Spanx/Shapewear and never take them off.

*Why “Spanx”? Why?

30
May
10

The Freeloaders

This article in the Atlantic describes today’s reality: the tendency of this generation to get as much of their media — music, movies, games, books — for free.

I ask my students, and my children, to pay for that which they use. They scoff, and consider me old-fashioned. But what will become of all of us when the people making the music, and the movies, and the games, and writing the books, can no longer make a living at it?

“Sharing” should not equal stealing. Buy your own stuff.

Hmmm. . .I just downloaded a picture, as I always do, from Google images to headline my blog post. It is my understanding that if I post the link to the source, it’s okay. Any input?

30
May
10

Speedy Post

I’ve been in Cleveland for a couple of days visiting 1st son; I have many things going through my mind that I’d like to write about, but it’s been a long day, and 2nd son is lurking on the next bed over in the hotel room waiting to watch a video on my laptop, so this will have to be short and sweet.

1. Why does Walmart insist on consistently inconsistent stocking practices? There are 7 packages of XLG black T shirts, 6 packages of LG black T shirts, and no packages of Med or SM black T shirts. Every single time I’ve been in a Walmart I’ve had to go somewhere else to get one basic item on my list. And I think I may have seen someone wearing one of those pairs of shoes I wrote about a month or so ago (the first pair in the blog, but in silver lamé. I’m not kidding).

2. There was more salt in the biscuits that came with my breakfast at Bob Evans this morning than I usually eat in a week. Is this necessary?

3. Who can be blamed credited for the bizarre unique street design of the Cleveland area? I have never seen so many intersections that consist of 5, 6 or even 7 corners. Then there is the tendency of whatever road you’re on to veer off in one direction or another as a new road springs to life, all in the absence of anything resembling a painted center or shoulder line. And apparently the city of Cleveland does not maintain a completely simpatico working relationship with the GPS satellite systems we have all come to rely on — “Emily” could tell me what road I was on, and what road I wanted next, but was frequently off in her estimation of its relative distance by anywhere from 100 to 400 feet.

4. Does anyone know of a humane way to restrain secure a 9-year-old’s legs in such a way that one can share a regular size hotel bed with her and not be beaten to a pulp by morning?

Secondo is getting (ha!) squirmy. Guess I’ll have to continue in the morning.

16
May
10

Howard Zinn on World Issues and Elections

In our election-obsessed culture, everything else going on in the world–war, hunger, official brutality, sickness, the violence of everyday life for huge numbers of people–is swept out of the way while the media covers every volley of the candidates. Thus, the superficial crowds out the meaningful, and this is very useful for those who do not want citizens to look beyond the surface of the system. Hidden by the contest of the candidates are real issues of race, class, war, and peace, which the public is not supposed to think about.

from “Tennis on the Titanic”

Agree? or disagree?

Discuss.


12
May
10

Ani DiFranco

I have to admit, I have an addiction.

It’s to Ani DiFranco’s music; more specifically, the lyrics of her songs.

She’s led a very unconventional life, spending a great deal of adulthood being unapologetically bisexual and pro-abortion rights. Some of the people in my family would know this about her, and write her off completely. They might be willing to offer her a little bit of unnecessary redemption for the fact that she is now married and has a beautiful baby girl; she also spends a lot of time, money, and effort trying to make the world a better place.

She’s outspoken about politics (“I wonder who’s going to be president, Tweedle dum or Tweedle dumber?“), society, how we fail each other (“I remember the first time I saw someone lying on the cold street; I thought, I can’t just walk past him, this just can’t be true. But I learned by example to keep moving my feet; it’s amazing the things we all learn to do.”), she asks things like “What if no one’s watching? What if when we’re dead we are just dead? . . . What if it’s just us down here, what if there are things we need to do, things that need to be said?”

I discovered her by accident, one summer at Interlochen Arts Camp. I was looking at the brochure, deciding which concerts I wanted to attend, thought it would be interesting to go to hear someone I knew nothing about, and the description of her music piqued my interest. Her performance had more integrity, more energy, than anything I had seen in a long time, and the bits of words I could catch here and there really caught my attention, specifically the poem Grand Canyon (I’ll post this link as soon as I can; this part of her website is “under renovation.”) and the song To The Teeth.

I now own almost every one of her “albums” and I continue to discover new words that speak to me in a new way. Despite the dramatic differences between her life and mine, she just seems to “get” me, it; to “get” what it means to be a woman. Two songs in a row from her album Knuckle Down shook me out of the lethargy of 20 years of an unhappy marriage and unsatisfying relationships with my children and “friends.”

The first, “Studying Stones”:

I am out here studying stones/trying to learn to be less alive/using all of my will/to keep very still/still even on the inside . . .You see, numb is an old hat/old as my oldest memory/see that one’s my mother and that one’s my father/and the one in the hat, that’s me/it’s a skill i hoped to abandon/when i got out on the open road/but any more pent-up emotion/i think i’m gonna explode. There’s never been an endeavour so strange/than trying to slow the blood in my veins/to keep my face blank/as the stone that just sank/until not a ripple remains. . .”

and then, “Knuckle Down”:

“And there’s a dusty old dust storm on Mars, they say, so tonight you can’t see it too clear/still i stood in line to look through their telescope/looks like a distant shiplight, seen from a foggy pier/and i know that i was warned, still it was not what i hoped. . . Lecherous old lady wannabe, much too young and shy/flailing her whole life just thinkin’ she can teach herself to fly/vehement romantic, frantic, for forever right now, but forever’s goin’ nowhere tonight/Think i’m done gunnin’ to get closer/to some imagined bliss/gotta knuckle down, and be okay with this.”

The song that’s “speaking to me” the most this week is Imperfectly.

I’m married, now, to “the” man I used to look for, and decided didn’t exist. He’s smart, and sensitive, and complicated; my favorite person to talk to, my favorite person to be with. When we “started” we lived in an imaginary world of ideals and perfections; how happy we would always be, how our devotion and deep, profound friendship would take away all of the pain and disappointment the world had to offer.

As we got to know each other better, and to realize that there are hurts and disappointments and frustrations that our love, no matter how deep and true and profound, can’t make go away, we worried that the resulting “misalignments” (I’m not being coy; we don’t actually, ever, argue) would chip away at this ideal, this perfection that we envisioned, and that we would end up with a derelict, crumbling edifice that didn’t look all that different from our previous marriages.

What I’ve seen this week, as we dealt with the consequences of parking a car in an un-level garage and not applying the parking brake, and the fact that I might have won my first game of Scrabble if G hadn’t “surrendered” first, is that these flaws are part of what cement us together. Besides the fact that we’re getting to know each other better, we’re building something, something that’s stronger where it’s been mended than it was before. Love, life, in three dimensions, imperfectly.

imperfectly

. . .we get a little further from perfection
each year on the road
i think that’s called character
i think that’s just the way it goes
better to be dusty than polished
like some store window mannequin
touch me where i’m rusty
let me stain your hands

when you’re pretty as a picture
they pound down your door
but i’ve been offered love
in two dimensions before
and i know that it’s not all
that it’s made out to be
let’s show them all how it’s done
let’s do it all imperfectly

© 1992 ani difranco / righteous babe music

p.s. To my bff M: hang in; complicated is good, remember?




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