Friday, December 21, 2007

Things I've done since I've moved here that I couldn't do in South Dakota.

Since I moved here, I have:

1) Had my hair cut well by two different people. (This is a curly thing.)

2) Gone to the Somali mall to buy awesome scarves for $5 or $10 each.

3) Eaten delicious Ethiopian food...from the co-op!

4) Noticed that there is a pollution report on the Weather Channel's "Local on the Eights."

5) Driven past five different museums.

6) Seen an African-American fathers' demonstration against gun violence.

7) Had the option of buying whole, organic, locally-produced foods in great varieties and quantities at any one of a number of stores. (Which is why I'm spending too much on food.)

8) Finally tried White Castle. (Verdict: OK, but kinda soggy.)

9) Seen many, MANY liberal bumper stickers. (God, I love this place.)

10) Had an abortion. (Just kidding!)

Ah, ye of little faith...

...that means you, Skippy! I got my birth certificate in the mail today. So I can toodle on down to the driver's license place tomorrow and hopefully not wait in line for too many hours. And I can also start the processing on my passport., crap - which means I need to look good tomorrow for my pictures because I am vain. And I was counting on skipping the shower and wearing my weekend clothes. Darn it!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Nuns put the Toilet Seat on Upside Down.

When I moved into this apartment, one of the neighbors on my street told me that two nuns had lived here previously. And in general, they kept things in fine shape. But when we moved in, I took an instant dislike to the toilet seat, which is one of those squishy seats that collapses while giving a long, hissing sigh when you sit on it, and that makes the whole experience far more intimate than it need be. (I like my toilet seats firm and aloof, thank you.) Even worse, the squishy seat had palm trees on the lid. (I generally prefer my toilet seats to be sans decoration - though I will admit that I would buy this one if I were willing to spend $30 on a toilet seat, which I am not.)

Back in September, after much careful deliberation and even some measuring (which was difficult to do while Bean was methodically sticking his head through every display toilet seat), I purchased a brand new toilet seat, one that neither collapses nor hisses. Well, tonight I finally got around to getting it out and putting it on.

But first I had to get the old one off. And let me tell you, if you're ever in the position of installing a toilet seat, and you wonder, "hmm, does the flat part of the nut (the screwy on thing, for those who are wondering, as opposed to the thing that looks like a long screw, which is the bolt) go on the top or the bottom?" - it goes on the TOP. The reason for that is that if you put the flat part on the bottom, when the next poor sucker goes to remove the nut, they will not be able to gain any purchase whatsoever because there will be nothing to grab as they won't be able to get their fingers into the tiny space between the flat part and the toilet, and they will be laughed at by their children because they are lying on top of the toilet with their heads hanging down between the toilet and the wall, trying in vain to see what the hell is under there so that they can grab it with pliers and unscrew the bolt from the top. And meanwhile, they will be wondering, "what the hell is this sticky stuff that is on my fingers??" and fighting the urge to wash their hands every two minutes.

I did manage to get the seat off - no thanks to the nuns - and now my bathroom has no inappropriate palm trees nor rude toilet seats.

Plus, I even bought a little rug for the floor. I could live in there. Which might be a good thing, given my last post.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The real truth about being a single mom.

I realize that, in some ways, this post title is horribly offensive since, although I am living here alone with my kid for several months, I am not a single mom. Further, the topic I'm going to address is not the first thing that comes to mind for the single moms I know (childcare is generally the first thing, simultaneously with or followed closely by money, sanity, and sleep).

But what I wanted to talk about today is what I've learned about being a full-time employee and a full-time, sole parent. When I started out a few months ago, I wondered what would be different, other than less sleep. One of the main things that I found was that, after the initial period of abject panic, I learned to live with the constant threat of - and experience of - chaos. There is a physical sensation that comes with this. It's a sort of inner tightening, as if all of my organs are tensed, ready to react with lightening-quick efficiency should I suddenly have to sprint the several miles from work to my son's school. For the first couple of weeks, I would have daily freak-outs that lasted fractions of a second, during which I would forget what day it was and not know where Bean was at that moment. By the time my body knew to start feeling sick, I would have remembered and everything would be fine.

It was these brief moments of panic that I noticed most, initially. And then, as I got into the routine and got used to the fact that Bean might get sick or the sitter might cancel or anything could happen and my meetings/classes/etc. would have to accomodate his needs, I began not to have the panic attacks. I became able to function with the uncertainty and the chaos. I was much more tightly-wound, but functioning.

And then, over the last several weeks, I've started to notice another pattern. When you are working all the time at one job or another, something has to give. Usually, the first thing is sleep. Exercise goes. Eating well goes. I've been there before, and while it was disappointing to see my muscle tone disappear, it wasn't a new experience.

But lately, I've lost something else, something no one ever told me about and something I never expected.

I've lost the time to go to the bathroom.

I'm not sure how this happened. I will probably end up with kidney failure soon, but essentially what happens is, whether I'm sitting at my desk, driving to pick up Bean, or running errands, I do not have time to go - and so I don't. I have on several recent occasions noticed at around 3:30 that I had to pee when I arrived at my office that morning but still haven't gone. Or, I'll need to pee when I leave, hop in the car, pick up Bean, stop to go grocery shopping, pick up and eat dinner at the store, drive home, get him ready for bed, and notice, oh yeah, I still haven't peed.

I don't think I've made any big changes to my diet. I just think that, as one becomes accustomed to functioning - and functioning well on little sleep - when pressed, one can also go without other essential bodily functions.

Maybe this is one for Morgan Spurlock?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

We blend.

Two days after Thanksgiving, I put up my Christmas tree. Over the next couple of weeks, I put up all sorts of decorations, because finally - finally! - I have a space large enough to actually put all the crap away so that when I decorate, it doesn't look like a pile of papers and boots with a Christmas card lying on top. Now I actually have something close to the "Christmas in every room" theme I've always wanted.

The menorahs - and there are several - are sitting out in the dining room, next to the Santa Claus village; there's another on the living room mantle, above where the stockings are hung. You see, we blend.

I've been told that blending holidays is confusing for children. I think this idea is based on the notion that what we want to be teaching kids is to follow only one tradition, and so we don't want to contaminate, say, Hanukkah, with Christmas. Well, fair enough - it does seem unfair to Hanukkah that we celebrate it next to a Christmas tree. And Christmas has become, simply, "Capitalism," and as such, it's pretty hard to avoid, and it does overwhelm a little holiday like Hanukkah.

But on the other hand, my general approach to religion is that I do pretty darn much what I want to do, picking and choosing the traditions I like, the ones that I find meaningful, and tossing the others. As a blended family, it is not important to us that Bean pick only one tradition. We are not teaching him to follow only one tradition. We will probably start sending him to religious education in one of the synagogues at some point, but that is not because we want him to practice only Judaism - that has more to do with wanting him to know what Judaism is (because he won't get that through osmosis here) and with wanting him to know what it means to Judaism to be a Jew, so that he'll have that as he figures out, later, who he is. But my message to him is always that God is bigger, that faith is bigger, than the boxes marked "Christianity," "Judaism," etc.

And if what I want is for him to be an educated "free agent," then blending is a great opportunity to learn about different religious traditions.

So as for this idea that blending causes confusion - you know, I find that just a little bit offensive. It implies that I want to prevent my child from being exposed to different traditions, which I know that many parents do with the excuse of "rooting" their children in their own faith. They want their children to learn only their own tradition, or to learn just enough about other traditions that they have a vague knowledge of them but not so much that they might actually choose to follow those other traditions. It implies that there's something wrong with challenging organized religion, and to be honest, maybe it's my location over the last several years, but I'm still shocked and amazed that at this point, people still find it surprising that many folks create their own rituals and celebrate all kinds of traditions. I'm also shocked and amazed at how far some people have their heads up their own asses when they argue that saying "Happy Holidays" is anti-Christian or that Christmas is the only holiday in December (yes, some people actually argue that point).

The comment also frustrates me because there is also a hint of the need to keep Jewish children Jewish - and frankly, these approaches always make me want to run screaming right out of Judaism and take my kid with me (and from the other blended families I've talked to, I think many people share this reaction).

The thing is, really, that there's nothing confusing about blending if that's simply what you do. It's like, I grew up in a home in which God was never mentioned. We had no religion. That was not confusing for me in the least. But other people, people who grew up with religion, were perplexed by this. They could not fathom such a thing. To us, though, it was absolutely normal.

So I guess that's really my issue - I don't accept that my choice to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas is confusing. It may be confusing for others, but that's not my problem: it's theirs.

(This has been a bit of a ramble. I'm rusty.)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Driving Hazards.

When I move to a new place, one of the last things I get around to doing is updating my driver's license. If it's just a matter of a new address, I've been known to go years (I think four years is my record, and I only updated it then because I'd lost 40 pounds and bore no resemblance to the original picture and was too vain to keep it any longer). Moving to a new state, though, requires additional annoyances. In the state of Minnesota, one is required to take a test in order to get a license. I did not know this. I had passed by the office in the strip mall with the large "Driver's Licenses" sign several times, and on this Monday, I had an hour and figured I might as well take care of it.

The clerk was a far cry from the slightly insane, overly friendly women I remembered from South Dakota. This clerk reminded me of DMV clerks from my New York days - gruff, uninterested in his work (can't fault him there), and of few words. He directed me to my testing station and wished me a surprisingly-sincere-sounding "good luck."

I sat down in front of number 25, touched the screen to begin, and started my test, confident that my 19 years of driving would stand me in good stead. No, not just confident - I was arrogant. I was sure that whatever they'd throw at me, my years of experience would more than equip me to handle.

Good think I didn't have to take a driving test: I missed about seven questions. One or two were in error - I had known the answer and accidentally chosen the wrong one. The rest were real mistakes - things having to do with the exact number of feet one must leave between oneself and, say, a school bus (I still don't remember).

I ended up scoring an 86 on the test, which I was a little indignant about. However, after I had filled out my paperwork and gone to wait for my eye exam, I learned from an enthusiastic and very friendly young man that 80 was passing, and I felt relieved that I hadn't missed any more of the questions. (The young man told me he'd waited ten years to get his license, and I wish, now, that I'd asked him about that, because that's interesting: Why ten years? What was keeping him from getting his license all that time?)

When I was finally called up for my eye exam, I was asked to present a birth certificate - which I didn't have on me. It had never occurred to me, stupidly, to ask what paperwork I might need to bring (although I've never needed a birth certificate to get a license, at least not in recent memory). They told me to come back with it and to bypass the line. I had been there for an hour.

I came back later that afternoon, armed with a copy of my birth certificate. The line, by this time, had gotten quite long, and I felt anxious about cutting in front of all of those people (but I did it anyway - I'm not crazy, and besides, Bean was with me. If we'd had to wait in that line, people would have been asking me to go ahead of them just so they could hustle us out the door faster.).

My birth certificate copy is not "official." This means it does not have a raised seal.

Thankfully, the unofficial copy still has all the pertinent information, so that when the driver's license people turned me away, I could go online (here is a good site for U.S. folks, if you need to do this) and find out to whom I should write.

I joked with a friend that I'd be sunk if the birth certificate people needed a copy of my driver's license - and as it turned out, they do require a copy of a photo ID. I'm wondering if the fact that my driver's license has a different address and state on it than my check and mailing address does will cause me problems.

So, now I wait. If I get the new, official copy of the birth certificate within 30 days, I don't have to take the test again. Cross your fingers.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mommy meme: Leslie Bennetts

1. Why did you decide to stay at home with the kids or go to work. Was it a choice?

Yep, they are choices, but I think it's important to not that for the majority of women, it's not ONE choice and it's not exclusively between staying home and not engaging in waged work or working full-time out of the home. The vast majority of women work, and most mothers work, even if they are "stay at home moms." Many SAHMs work at home - the SAHMs I knew in SD had part-time careers (doula, photographer, website hosting, etc.).

But anyway, I stayed home full-time for about eight months because I wanted to do the whole attachment parenting thing, I wanted to quit my boring marketing job, and I wanted to have time to finish my dissertation. (I did the first two things on my list - the third took an additional year.)

Then I went back to work, on a part-time basis. I don't remember why exactly I made that decision at that point, but I do remember that I was ecstatic to be working - teaching! - again. Probably it was a professional decision - I knew I'd be applying for teaching positions, so it made sense to be teaching. But also, I really disliked being a SAHM, and I treasured the intellectual stimulation of working.

Now I've made the decision to work full-time, and that has taken some getting used to. I'm glad I had the privilege of being able to wait until Bean was older to do this, though I also feel as if I'd spent the last several year locked in a cage, and am only now beginning to feel free again. That was not a function of mothering but of 1) working in a job that had no future and in which I felt I could not do all that I was capable of doing, and 2) not knowing if I'd ever be able to find a job that would fulfill my creative and intellectual desires.

2. Leslie Bennetts claims that there's a stay at home movement that is encouraging more women to return to the home, even women who are poor. The work vs. home argument used to be just about white upperclass women. Is it spreading?

I think she's right that the movement is encouraging women to return to the home, and I would add this movement likes to argue that women's pay is so little anyway that it would just about pay for daycare, a work wardrobe, and travel to and from work - so why bother? This is such a problematic argument. First of all, it assumes that money is the only benefit from work, and while I haven't read Bennetts' book, Bennetts notes here some of the other benefits that working gives women. Second, it not only accepts but seemingly condones the fact that women are paid - what is it, now? $.74? - to men's dollars. How interesting that the movement is not to push for pay equity so that women can be independent and plan for a secure future that includes health care and perhaps even a pension. Instead, it pushes for increased dependence on men (you know, assuming one even has a male partner to make all those big bucks in the first place).

And then, too, the work v. home argument was NEVER just about white upperclass women, not really. True, white upperclass women were the only ones who had the luxury to choose to work or to stay home. But all other women felt the lack of that choice and very often tried to pattern themselves after the wealthy women who stayed home, because that was what "true womanhood" looked like.

I think what we should be asking, rather than is the SAH movement spreading, is whose interests are best represented by this movement? (Hint: NOT the children's!) I'm not saying that SAHMs are pawns supporting the patriarchy. But I *am* saying that, as Bennetts points out, these decisions are not merely individual choices - there are larger social issues to consider.

3. Which of Bennets's arguments are most convincing? Which least convincing? Which did she miss?

That I cannot say, as I have not yet read the book.

4. Did your mother and grandmothers work outside the home? How did that turn out for them and for you?

That second question sounds a lot like Dr. Phil, and not in a good way. I want to respond with, "It worked out JUST FINE for me. Watch what you say about my mama!"

My mother and grandmothers did not work outside the home after their marriages, as far as I know, except for my mom, who did try to re-enter the work force on several occasions and was not able to due to ageism and other problems that come up when you try to re-enter the work force after years of being out of it. This is usually the place where people - well, my students, anyway - often insert a comment about how glad they are that their moms stayed home with them and how their moms are wonderful, self-sacrificing people, etc., etc. I will instead say that my mom did sacrifice a lot, but I don't think that's a good thing. I know that she would have been a lot happier had she not been a housewife, and my brother and I would have been stronger for having to cook dinner once and a while.

5. Bennets said in an interview that she wants this book to be a one-stop resource for women to gain all the information they need to decide whether or not to return to work after having children. Did she succeed?

See number 3.

6. One of the women Bennets quotes says that she felt ostracized from the stay at home moms at school when she was working. Is there a divide between working women and those who stay at home? How can we bridge it?

I think the divide has been mischaracterized in the media - I don't think it's so huge, and in fact, there's been a lot of research that comes to exactly that conclusion. This doesn't mean that individuals won't feel out of the loop, but it does mean that there's a lot more support among mothers for other mothers than we tend to consider.

7. Did you prepare in your education for paid work? Why or why not? Do you wish you had done differently?

Yes, because I always assumed that I would need to - and should - take care of myself and contribute financially to my household. Is this a serious question? Are there really people out there (who aren't obscenely wealthy) who think they won't ever have to work, that they are immune from divorce, death, health emergencies, etc.? No, I certainly do not wish I had done differently.

(OK, wait - I just dredged up a childhood fantasy of being the woman in the Calgon commercial who gets to take a bubble bath in a gorgeous, palatial Romanesque bath. I did think, when I was twelve or ten or something, that being a housewife meant getting to lie about in baths all day, and so I did for a time plan to do that. I think it would've gotten boring, though. That, and my fingers would get pruny.)

8. How do you divide the domestic labor in your relationship? Did you always do it that way? Is it working?

Not very well. I do most of it (well, right now, I do all of it, but that's because Mr. Plain(s)feminist is not yet living with us - I assume he's doing his own housework where he is living). Over the last several years, I was working part-time, and I think that became reason for me to take on a larger share of the housework. However, now that we are both working full-time, that will be changing.

I tag Amy, if she wants to do it (if you do, let me know, and I'll link - if not, s'ok).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Just posting to say I'm still here.

I'm on my way to bed, but I thought I'd check in first. I spent my Thanksgiving driving back and forth to SD and recovering from a killer migraine. (Note to self: find new doctor and get prescription refilled.) Even though Bean drove me crazy for all of yesterday, I spent today missing him horribly, and was thrilled to come home from my night class and find that he had fallen asleep before dinner and slept until just that very minute, so we had a late dinner together before I packed him back off to bed. He has his first loose tooth, which he finds alternately extremely exciting and extremely painful. I remember the sweet agony of that tooth twisting in its socket, not quite out but almost, so that it kept catching on everything. And I remember the softness of the hole it left, with just a tiny bit of the sharp new tooth poking up.

I also remember Bean's very first tooth coming in, and the one that's coming out now may, in fact, be it (but I think, actually, it's the one next to his first).

I have to research how much the tooth fairy leaves these days. It's gotta be more than the fifty cents I used to get.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Plain(s)feminist, driving around lost.

When I first moved to Buffalo from my much smaller hometown, I was driven (pun intended) to misery by the traffic. I had been used to a much easier pace - to being able to drive roughly 30 miles an hour even during "rush hour." But when I moved to Buffalo, I quickly discovered that driving during rush hour meant sitting still for long periods, then quickly accelerating when the car ahead of you moved forward (because if you waited, someone else would try to cut in front of you), and then immediately stopping short to avoid hitting the car in front of you, which had suddenly stopped.

It took me a full year not to think about it all. the. time.

Also, it was easy to get lost in Buffalo and the surrounding towns, because whoever planned the layout was determined to keep the people of color out of the white neighborhoods and so everywhere you went, it was like a maze. (I don't know if that's actually why the cities were so oddly designed, but I do know that that's the reason the metro (underground train) was never completed.)

So the great thing about living here, even with the huge increase in population density I'm experiencing in moving from Tiny City to Bigger City, is that rush hour traffic is really not so bad, and most streets are laid out in a clear grid. This means that, while I do get lost, I can generally find my way again. And I'm almost never sitting in traffic.

Only sometimes...not.

Friday I spent about an hour driving (er, sitting) in rush hour traffic on the highway trying unsuccessfully to find a flu shot clinic that would take both me and Bean. I followed the Health Dept. website's guide and used Google Maps to get directions, which I followed to the letter, until I had that experience that some of you will recognize, in which I realized I was clearly not on the same road that the directions thought I was on. At that point, I had no choice but to give up in disgust, as it was past the clinic's closing time, anyway. So I headed back home, unshotted. During much of our drive in somewhat tense conditions - because I had no clue where I was going and there was a lot of traffic in all directions - Bean WOULD NOT SHUT UP, so that I was pretty sure I was going to end up sobbing in my car by the side of the road, banging my face on the steering wheel like Don Music.

On Saturday morning, I was willing to have another go at the flu shots, especially since Bean was in that narrow window between colds and I wanted to catch him while he was healthy. After plying him with pancakes, I headed off toward what I thought would be the nearest clinic (not the same one from the day before). We got hopelessly lost (took the wrong damn county road, and by the way, would it hurt to actually NAME roads?). It took me an hour just to find the place, and another 40 minutes just to get in. Bean then tried hiding under the chair, but by this time I was in no mood, and we both got our shots (and Bean, surprisingly, did quite well after the initial hiding reflex).

On Sunday afternoon, Bean had a birthday party to attend. I'd known about it for a couple of days, and I'd also known that I should probably look up the address online so I would be able to find it. However, I was either too lazy or too convinced of my own ability to find things (after all, I'd managed to find clinic number two, hadn't I?), so I didn't bother. Bean took forever to get ready, and I was watching the end of a movie, so we didn't actually leave until shortly after the party had begun (it was scheduled to go on for three hours, so I figured it would be ok to be a little late). I kept reading the invitation and looking at the map, and I had no clue where the place was, so I called the house and got directions before heading into downtown in rainy snow during a hockey game.

Apparently, the people hosting the party weren't sure how to get there, either, or maybe they just had a wicked sense of humor, because instead of sending me along the river, which would have been the simplest, most straightforward way to go, they had me drive through the heart of downtown in all the hockey traffic. Twice. I had to call three more times before I found the place. An hour later. For the record, it was probably a seven-minute drive from our house.

Bean, for his part, was great, and only blamed me once for not having gotten directions online. And he had a fabulous time at the party.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The State of Things.

1. Clearly, I am being kept too busy to blog. I'm not sure how permanent this situation is. I don't feel good about it.

2. The people downstairs have been having headaches daily for some time. This past week, I have been having headaches daily, as well. After the people downstairs called the fire marshall and found that there were no fumes anywhere that could be causing these headaches, I can only conclude that it's the dry air, and so I purchased another couple of humidifiers, which I will try tonight. Wish me luck. Waking up with a headache every morning sucks. If it works, I'll at least have a suggestion for the people downstairs.

3. I've gotten somewhat used to my schedule and I'm a lot more used to being the perpetual Parent on Duty.

4. I finally made it to the Mall of America - loved it. Can't wait to go back. They had a J.Jill just down the way from Nine West - what could be better? And sharks! The mall has a freakin' aquarium! I am SO going back.

5. For the first time ever, I'm thinking about having a holiday party. You know why? Because for the first time in 15 or so years, I actually have some space to do it! This is not a huge place, but I feel like I've moved out of the hall closet into an actual home.

6. Sunday nights still make me depressed. Even though I love my work-at-home Mondays. Go figure.

7. Monday night babysitting is still a hassle. To recap: the first sitter I hired back in August never showed up. The second was fabulous, but when hockey season started, she had to quit. Since then, I've patched things together thanks to a couple of former students and to visits from family members. I just hired a neighborhood kid to sit for the two remaining uncovered Mondays, and if this all works out, I will be delirious with relief.

8. The neighborhood is a bit Stepford - I went to a "First Friday" get-together and was a little freaked at how close knit everyone seemed to be. Not that that's a bad thing - just that it's not been my experience for the past 15 or so years.

9. Bean is awesome. He loves school and aftercare, and he almost never has screaming fits anymore. In fact, he's pretty fun to hang out with.

10. I do miss Mr. Plains(s)feminist - can't wait till he moves up here.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


So, I've moved to a lovely duplex, and we are lucky enough to have terrific neighbors. They are quiet, they don't smoke, and when they play loud music, which is seldom, they play music I like. Also, they're nice people - they let me use their washer when mine wasn't working, their little girl is very sweet to Bean, and I've had several nice chats with them. They are also clean freaks and they put me to shame (I was just down there, and I feel like I need to clean the house again, even though I just cleaned it yesterday).

Our landlord, however, does not treat them very well. When I moved in, Landlord told me, with her hand held to her mouth to indicate that she was telling me a secret, that they were Black.

We all know what this means, right? When someone tells you in a stage whisper or in some other way that communicates pretend secrecy that someone is Black (or gay, or whatever), what they're really saying is, "and you know how they are." Or, "watch out - we're likely to have a problem." Or, when it comes from a landlord, "let me know if there are any problems."

And, sure enough, Landlord has not been as receptive to their requests for repairs and maintenance as she appears to be to mine. Now, it's true, I don't call her nearly as much as they do, and they have a lot more complaints than I do. But even so, it's not like they don't have valid concerns. And it's disturbing that they can call a number of times because their washer is acting up and get no response, but I can call once about my washer and have the maintenance guy over to fix it the next day.

This is a pretty clear example of white privilege, isn't it? Especially because I would have been totally unaware of it had I not struck up a friendship with the neighbors, had they not informed me of their unanswered calls.

The question has been what to do - how do we handle this situation? For the moment, I've called to report the things that they're concerned about - to work the system, in other words. But it doesn't feel right to either of us. On the other hand, challenging the landlord doesn't feel like a very productive move (for either of us), either.

What would you do?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Was it worth it?

So...perhaps some of you are wondering, given my past complaints about the academy, if all those years of grad school and on the job market, not to mention adjunct work, were worth it. I've had occasion to think about this today, as I reflect back about a decade on the devastating manner in which one grad school professor commented on my paper, which nearly led me to quit grad school. I also thought of the many friends who did quit grad school, convinced that it was no longer worth their time and money to be abused by faculty (in some cases) or the system of State Universities of New York (in all cases). And, I thought of others I've seen beat down to the point that quitting becomes the only way to make the pain stop.

I've been at this job for about six weeks now, so I'm still learning the ropes. However, I think it's not too early to say -


Yes, it was worth it.

I reserve the right to complain about faculty workloads and pay and all sorts of other things, including grading. I also am not gloating, here - I still think the job market sucks, and I still want to work to overhaul this system.

I also came pretty close to leaving the academy, the big question being, what would I do instead? The answers I came up with - teaching dance and writing - were fun and fulfilling, but they didn't exactly help me pay my rent. And I still maintain that the academy, in general, is often harmful to one's psychological and physical health. (I know too many completely exhausted junior faculty on Prozac.)

But for the first time, I am finally in a position to do the work I know I can do, to use my talents as fully as I want to.

And it feels pretty good.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The 46th Carnival of Feminists is UP!

And it's here. And I'm very excited to be included, and to read all this great feminist blogging!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Feminism and the question of appropriate clothing.

A while back, Linda left a comment on my post, "Defending Britney.":

I agree about the comments on the poor girl's body - get a grip folks. I'd love to look like that, and I haven't had kids.

Something I've been wondering about though, and have been hesitant to bring up in most of the feminist spaces - after all, who wants to be flamed? Why is it empowering to go around dressed in a way that seems to encourage others to treat you like a vapid twit? Why does so much of the feminist world seem to think it's okay - indeed, it's good and encouraged - to show your underwear, your butt crack, your nipples, your whatever to the whole world? I'm not talking about on the beach, or in your own home, nor am I advocating wearing long skirts and sleeves and a veil. I'm just talking about not exposing what are supposed to be your private bits - you know, the ones we tell 3 year olds about? - to the whole world.

There's been this whole uproar over the passenger on Southwest. I talked to someone who works for them, and they said the part of the story nobody is mentioning in public is that the young lady was wearing no underwear, and the people sitting near her were tired of seeing her crotch exposed to the world. I haven't been following the whole thing too closely because it's such a case of he-said she-said they-said, but it's a prime example of what I'm asking about.

Don't get me wrong - women are beautiful. Men are. Humans are. But we complain about being treated as objects, then proceed to push dressing in a manner that encourages that very behavior. That seems counter productive.

Non-flamed thoughts anyone?

While I would be the first to defend a woman's right to wear whatever she chooses, I will add that I honestly and fervently believe that many of the clothes that hang in my closet are tools of the patriarchy - the underwire bras, the 3-inch heels, the miniskirts, etc. Not that they are *only* tools of the patriarchy - I also honestly and fervently believe in the possiblity and the power of reclamation. But when fashion - and I don't mean Vogue, folks, I mean every damn strip mall in the country - dictates that I can only wear jeans that show off my butt cleavage and shirts that show off my belly, I'd say that there is something else going on than just happy, fashion-conscious women who like to look good. Because the reality is, most of us don't look good in these clothes. And even those of us who do know that there are limits to what is practical, and, yes, acceptable in the average workplace or grocery store.

What I object to is not that some women want to show off their bodies. It's that there seems to be no real option for the rest of us if we still want to wear hip clothes. We often have the choice of wearing the "Kindergarten teacher" look or the "slut" look, and I use the word "slut" not to slut-bash but to point out that this is a look that is designed to convey very particular ideas about our sexuality, and that, while this is part of its appeal (because it's sexy and fun), it is also something that not all women want to project all of the time. My point: we should get to have a choice about this. Our options should not be between looking frumpy and revealing our bodies. I like what Brumberg and Jackson have to say about American women and "fashion":

"The burka and the bikini"
By Joan Jacobs Brumberg and Jacquelyn Jackson, 11/23/2001

THE FEMALE BODY - covered in a burka or uncovered in a bikini - is a subtle subtext in the war against terrorism. The United States did not engage in this war to avenge women's rights in Afghanistan. However, our war against the Taliban, a regime that does not allow a woman to go to school, walk alone on a city street, or show her face in public, highlights the need to more fully understand the ways in which our own cultural ''uncovering'' of the female body impacts the lives of girls and women everywhere.

Taliban rule has dictated that women be fully covered whenever they enter the public realm, while a recent US television commercial for ''Temptation Island 2'' features near naked women. Although we seem to be winning the war against the Taliban, it is important to gain a better understanding of the Taliban's hatred of American culture and how women's behavior in our society is a particular locus of this hatred. The irony is that the images of sleek, bare women in our popular media that offend the Taliban also represent a major offensive against the health of American women and girls.

During the 20th century, American culture has dictated a nearly complete uncovering of the female form. In Victorian America, good works were a measure of female character, while today good looks reign supreme. From the hair removal products that hit the marketplace in the 1920s to today's diet control measures that seek to eliminate even healthy fat from the female form, American girls and women have been stripped bare by a sexually expressive culture whose beauty dictates have exerted a major toll on their physical and emotional health.

The unrealistic body images that we see and admire every day in the media are
literally eating away at the female backbone of our nation. A cursory look at women's magazines, popular movies and television programs reveal a wide range of
images modeling behaviors that directly assault the human skeleton. The ultra-thin woman pictured in a magazine sipping a martini or smoking a cigarette is a prime candidate for osteoporosis later in life.

In fact, many behaviors made attractive by the popular media, including eating
disorders, teen smoking, drinking, and the depression and anxiety disorders that can occur when one does not measure up are taking a major toll on female health and well-being. The American Medical Association last year acknowledged a link between violent images on the screen and violent behavior among children. In a world where 8-year-olds are on diets, adult women spend $300 million a year to slice and laser their bodies and legal pornography is a $56 billion industry, it is time to note the dangers of unhealthy body images for girls and women.

Now that the Taliban's horrific treatment of women is common knowledge, dieting and working out to wear a string bikini might seem to be a patriotic act. The war on terrorism has certainly raised our awareness of the ways in which women's bodies are controlled by a repressive regime in a far away land, but what about the constraints on women's bodies here at home, right here in America?

In the name of good looks (and also corporate profits - the Westernized image of the perfect body is one of our most successful exports) contemporary American women continue to engage in behaviors that have created major public health concerns.

Although these problems may seem small in the face of the threat of anthrax and other forms of bioterrorism, there is still a need to better understand how American culture developed to the point that it now threatens the health of its bikini-clad daughters and their mothers.

Covered or uncovered, the homefront choice is not about morality but the physical and emotional health of future generations.

Whether it's the dark, sad eyes of a woman in purdah or the anxious darkly circled eyes of a girl with anorexia nervosa, the woman trapped inside needs to be liberated from cultural confines in whatever form they take. The burka and the bikini represent opposite ends of the political spectrum but each can exert a noose-like grip on the psyche and physical health of girls and women.

Joan Jacobs Brumberg is a historian at Cornell University and author of ''The Body Project: An Intimate History Of American Girls.'' Jacquelyn Jackson is a women's health advocate in Washington.

This story ran on page A31 of the Boston Globe on 11/23/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

I was thinking about these issues today when I happened to open the paper to an interesting story:

"Cover(ed) girls
Young Muslim- American women are at the forefront of a movement toward modesty, but that doesn't mean they aren't fashionistas."
Article Last Updated: 10/13/2007 11:28:29 PM CDT

Like many Muslim- American teens and women, 16-year-old Mona Hannon must balance her religious beliefs with her desire to fit in and dress fashionably. She models both sides while having her yearbook photo taken at North St. Paul High School. Arwa Osman would never wear the sleeveless, low-cut baby-doll top as it is shown on the rack at Wet Seal. But the 17-year-old grabs the revealing garment. She asks herself: "How do I 'Islamize' this?"

Finding creative ways to reconcile modesty and trend-consciousness has become so pervasive among young Muslim American women, there's now a verb for it.

Getting dressed is a constant balancing act for Osman, a senior at Central High School in St. Paul. On the one hand, she's a typical American teen - devouring fashion magazines, wearing jeans tucked into Ugg boots and shopping the malls with non-Muslim friends. On the other hand, her deep religious beliefs compel her to cover her head with the traditional hijab and refrain from showing any skin from the chin down - modesty is a core teaching of the Koran.

With the American Muslim population estimated at 6 million to 8 million, and the Islamic Society of North America reporting the number of women dressing modestly is on the rise, Osman is hardly unique. Yet she is virtually ignored by retailers and mainstream designers.

"Modest, pious and prolific shoppers, Muslim women ... are fast becoming a key high-fashion demographic," declared Ann Mack, trend spotter for New York advertising agency JWT, in a report last November. This year, JWT released a major study on marketing to Muslims, which estimated American Muslim buying power at $170 billion. The study found American Muslims are more educated and more brand-conscious than the average U.S. consumer, even though virtually no major brands target them.
"We didn't realize how overlooked they felt," Mack says. "It shows you that there is such an untapped need, and as of yet, not many retailers are addressing it."

So close and yet so far. Nike is the perfect example: The company has designed a hijab for volleyball play. The uniforms were donated to Muslim girls in Kenya, but you can't buy them in the U.S.

The JWT study does theorize on why retailers are reluctant to market to eager Muslim shoppers: Religion is a sensitive issue the business community feels safer ignoring.

"There is still a stigma, certainly," says Milia Islam, program manager for the Islamic Society of North America's leadership development center. Islam, 28, grew up in Missouri and started covering her head her junior year of college. In America, Muslim girls often decide on their own, sometime in their teens or 20s, to demonstate their religious beliefs by covering up, referred to as "practicing hijab." Interpretations of modest dressing can vary. Some women cover their heads; others don't. But the vast majority will not wear tight-fitting garments or show much skin.

Islam wears long sleeves year-round and steers clear of miniskirts. "I consider myself as American as apple pie, but there's a perception of me as being 'other.' "

It's ironic, says 25-year-old Asma Saroya of Blaine, that people tend to view her headscarf as a sign of oppression. In this country, she says, being modest is a choice. Saroya finds it liberating. "I don't have to show off my body. I'm protecting it."


As for the endless questions about being hot all summer and, oddly, not being able to have fun when you're covered up, Hafsa Kaka, 25, of Falcon Heights laughs it off. "I went canoeing with my husband on the Fourth of July, and he did all the work. Who's oppressed now?"

Kaka works with young girls at the YWCA in Minneapolis as a resolution and prevention counselor. The girls are not shy about asking why she covers her head and wears long sleeves and pants all the time. "I'm not a preacher in my job, but at the same time, a lot of it gets back to what I teach them about living a positive lifestyle and trying to avoid temptations in society."

For Islam, dressing modestly was in part a reaction to what she sees as the unhealthy standards set for women in America. "You look in magazines and see an image projected that is far from reality," Islam says. "It's not that I don't want to fit in, rather, that this is not how a woman has to be defined. You can be modest, intelligent and religious at the same time, and it can happen within an American context."

The notion of being more modest is gaining traction beyond the Muslim community. "There does tend to be a movement toward the traditional right now," Mack says. "More and more women are looking up to people like Reese Witherspoon, who has always been modest - you'll never find her without her panties. There's a backlash against celebrities showing too much skin. The younger generation, increasingly, is embracing the notion of family values, wanting to stay home with the kids. That trickles down into several areas of life, including clothing choices."

Online, it's easy to find evidence of what Newsweek recently dubbed the "modesty movement." Web sites like, and offer tips and resources for covering up and provide support for young women from various backgrounds making choices that are still considered outside the mainstream.

Change could be on the horizon for major retail outlets, as well. Macy's stores in the Pacific Northwest have picked up a trendy, yet conservative clothing line called Shade, designed by Chelsea Rippy, a Utah Mormon who, just like many Muslim women, had difficulty finding "hip, modest clothing" in stores.

But don't expect short dresses and sexy tops to disappear from the racks anytime soon. "Our customers have not shown a big demand for modest clothing in the Twin Cities," says Macy's spokeswoman Jennifer McNamara. "But retail is a fast-paced industry, and we are continually examining these factors and updating our assortments accordingly."


As it happens, dressing modestly, yet fashionably, is easier this fall as skinny jeans give way to wide-leg trousers and voluminous tops. "When fall comes, we hit the stores," says 16-year-old Muslim Mona Hannon of North St. Paul.

Even so, there are issues. "You'll see a long skirt that looks perfect, turn it around and it has a big slit up the leg," says Brooke Samad, 28, of New Jersey, who channeled her shopping frustration into Marabo, a fashion-driven clothing line aimed at Muslim women. She sells online at and at Islamic conventions, but she has yet to receive any interest from mainstream retailers. "There's such a huge emphasis on women being sexy all the time," Samad says. "Retailers try to cater to that."

Samad and other American Muslims in their 20s aren't waiting around for major manufacturers to discover them. Instead, they're starting to fill gaping holes in the marketplace themselves. Muslim Tees ( is a line of graphic T-shirts launched two years ago by a group of University of Minnesota students who noticed an absence of messages and images that mattered to them on mainstream clothing. They are currently working on a long-sleeved style - not too tight but not dowdy, either - for Muslim women.

"The current generation of (Muslim) kids who grew up here wants something that caters to them," says Taqee Khaled, operations director for Muslim Tee. "I don't think it would be farfetched to see someone on 'Project Runway' in five years designing for covered Muslim women."

The recently launched Muslim Girl magazine is giving women a place to find current fashions that don't require a lot of creative tweaking to be appropriate. The September issue included a Ramadan fashion spread featuring sleeveless dresses worn over turtlenecks.

"The primary reason for the magazine is we didn't have a voice," says editor in chief Ausma Khan. "The images we see in mainstream media are generally very negative. We wanted to make sure the positive contributions are seen."

Perhaps the surest sign of progress is Hannon, a junior at North High School in North St. Paul. She decided to cover her head when she was 13. She won't wear anything revealing, but she shops at American Eagle and Old Navy, just like her friends, and feels accepted by her classmates at school. If forced to label herself, the best Hannon can come up with is, "People know me as a person with really cute clothes."

Funny, isn't it? From the women who are so "oppressed" - and please note that I'm referring to women who choose to wear hijab, not to women who are forced to do so - a way out of the madness. You can be cute and hip AND still decice that sharing your butt crack with the world is not how you roll. For that matter, you can decide what parts of your body, if any, you want to display. This is what feminism is all about, isn't it? Not just having the freedom to make choices, but recognizing and fighting oppression - in this case, the oppression of the fashion industry.

Am I going to toss the 3-inch heels? Hell, no. But I do plan on checking out Marabo.

American Indian Movement leader dies.

I saw this sad news online when I was gathering materials to post about something else entirely:

AIM leader Vernon Bellecourt dies in Minneapolis
Associated Press
Article Last Updated: 10/14/2007 09:24:28 AM CDT

Vernon Bellecourt, a longtime leader of the American Indian Movement, died Saturday. He was 75.

Bellecourt died at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis of complications of pneumonia, said his brother, Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of the activist group.

Clyde Bellecourt said his brother had been in Venezuela about four weeks ago to meet with President Hugo Chavez to discuss Chavez's program for providing heating assistance to American Indian tribes. Vernon Bellecourt fell ill around the time of his return, his condition continued to deteriorate, and he was put on a respirator.

Vernon Bellecourt - whose Objibwe name WaBun-Inini means Man of Dawn - was a member of Minnesota's White Earth band and was an international spokesman for the AIM Grand Governing Council based in Minneapolis. Clyde Bellecourt helped found AIM as a militant group in 1968, and Vernon Bellecourt soon became involved as well, including in its 1973 occupation of the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.

In recent years, Bellecourt was active in the fight against American Indian nicknames for sports teams as president of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media. He was arrested in Cleveland during the 1997 World Series and again in 1998 during protests against the Cleveland Indians' mascot, Chief Wahoo.

"He was willing to put his butt on the line to draw attention to racism in sports," his brother said.

Bellecourt was involved as a negotiator in AIM's 1972 occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington as part of the Trail of Broken Treaties caravan. He was present only briefly during the 71-day Wounded Knee standoff with federal agents, Clyde Bellecourt said. He stayed mostly on the outside to serve as a spokesman and fundraiser.

After Wounded Knee, Vernon Bellecourt became a leader of AIM's work abroad, meeting with presidents such as Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, as well as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, his brother said. He added that they plan to list them as honorary pallbearers.

Vernon Bellecourt was active in the campaign to free AIM activist Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout in 1975 on the Pine Ridge reservation.

Wakes are scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday at All Nations Church in Minneapolis and Tuesday night at the Circle of Life School in White Earth in northwestern Minnesota. The funeral will be Wednesday.

It's sad that, once again, the online commenters have nothing nice to say about the man. A sample: "the man did nothing for the American Indians. Peltier was a murderer as the judicial system ruled and Belacourt running around with the likes of Ortega, Gadhafi, Arafat, and Chavez is utterly immoral. Good riddance." Tiny minds think alike.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Drug recall...what we need is a BRAIN recall.

Crossposted at DakotaWomen.

Like many other parents, I went rooting through the medicine cabinet to figure out which medicines to keep and which to toss, following the recent decision of four drug companies to pull infant cold and cough products off the shelves. In order to figure this out, I had to hunt to find any of the names of the four companies, because few of the media are reporting them (I found mention of Johnson and Johnson, only), and I also had to hunt to find a complete list of the recalled products, because they, too, are underreported:

Dimetapp Decongestant Plus Cough Infant Drops
Dimetapp Decongestant Infant Drops
Little Colds Decongestant Plus Cough
Little Colds Multi-Symptom Cold Formula
Pediacare Infant Drops Decongestant (containing pseudoephedrine)
Pediacare Infant Drops Decongestant & Cough (containing pseudoephedrine)
Pediacare Infant Dropper Decongestant (containing phenylephrine)
Pediacare Infant Dropper Long-Acting Cough
Pediacare Infant Dropper Decongestant & Cough (containing phenylephrine)
Robitussin Infant Cough DM Drops
Triaminic Infant & Toddler Thin Strips Decongestant
Triaminic Infant & Toddler Thin Strips Decongestant Plus Cough
Tylenol Concentrated Infants' Drops Plus Cold
Tylenol Concentrated Infants' Drops Plus Cold & Cough

But in my hunt, I noticed something really interesting. I'll preface it by saying that, for at the least the last six years, if not longer, we've been hearing research that suggests that cough medicines don't work in young children, and that it's better not to give them at all. In other words, the medical truth is that they don't work. The pharmaceutical truth, however, is "shell out your money, or you won't sleep at night!" So I came upon a story - and I fully intended to post a link to it, and then boneheadedly deleted the URL and cannot find it - that explained the recall, noted that cough medicines don't work well in young children, and invited reader reaction.

Please note the reader reaction:

Posted October 12, 2007 @ 07:39 PM by RPh
If any of you had read the directions on any of these bottles you would have noted that none of these medicines have dosing for 2 years or younger. It can only be dosed by the doctor. (under 2 years old consult your doctor) By law even the pharmacist cannot dose these, although many do. Only a doctor can go "off label use" for over the counter medicines. Many parents take it on themselves to guess at the dose rather than call the Doctor or Nurse Practitioner.

Posted October 12, 2007 @ 01:51 PM by ER nurse
Being an ER nurse, I see a huge number of inappropriate treatments parents have tried on their children prior to coming to the ER. The problem is NOT the OTC drug in the hands of the conscientious parent, but rather in the hands of the careless/uneducated parent. This is a poor knee-jerk reaction. We need better education for parents overall. Removing medications meant and formulated for small children is not the answer. Adult formulated medications will now be given by uneducated parents.

Posted October 12, 2007 @ 12:26 PM by FedUp
This is crazy! Because of a few parents who may not know English or educated, the rest of us have to suffer. By banning OTC cold and cough medicines, will parents of young children now have to go to the Ped. for prescriptions? Meaning that most likely will cost more (Dr. appt co-payment, higher priced prescpt).... so over all, who's making even more money?? Seems like the FDA and the big money makers are going to be making even more out of this in the long run.

Posted October 12, 2007 @ 11:35 AM by Ron Melancon
Remember the College President that was caught drunk while driving. I think the excuse was he drank to much cold medicine. Well its a conspiracy!!!! All the College Presidents are buying all the Infant cold medicine to use during the holiday season so when they get pulled over they will use the same line.. officer I was not drinking alcohol... I consumed 50 bottles of Infant cold medicine.

Posted October 12, 2007 @ 08:58 AM by The Data is incomplete
O.K. So we had 1,500 problems over two years with almost 81,000,000 (million) bottles. The data is not accurate.. How many of these people speak english? or understand how to read? Are they here legally?? I mean if educated people know how to fill up to the line and follow directions why should we be penlized by the people who don't know how to follow directions?

Posted October 12, 2007 @ 08:21 AM by What If
Imagine if our Government acted this quickly and effectivley with problems in our Country then we would lead a better life. Imagine if other agencys acted as quickly with lets say......... The E-coli outbreaks. The Lead Paint recall The Beef Recall The peanut butter recall The Bridge Collapse in Minn. Maybe we should fire all the goverment agencys and hire the pediatric doctors to run our government then the world would be a better place Mark my words we will have an increase in the ER.

Posted October 12, 2007 @ 08:09 AM by Look at the numbers
look at the numbers. 41 million packages of these in the United States, according to the healthcare products group, about a fifth of which were sold in the form of drops that are generally targeted for use in infants. devide 81,000,000 million by 1,500 children under the age of 2 suffered complications in 2004 and 2005 What is the problem rate. Even a computer can't have a better breakdown rate. In the scope of the numbers... The sky is not falling. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Posted October 12, 2007 @ 08:06 AM by Ron Melancon
Look at this comment: There is very little evidence that cough and cold medicines are effective in young children, and there are increasing fears that they may be dangerous. From 1969 to 2006, at least 45 children died after taking decongestants, and 69 died after taking antihistamines, This year alone... We almost have 800 people who have died on the roadways of Virginia. Should we ban people on cell phones, people who don't use a seat belt or people who drive reckless?

Posted October 12, 2007 @ 08:02 AM by I feel sorry for you
I am so glad my children are now over 2 years old......... To the parents that have children under 2 years old......... Its going to be a long, long, long cold season..... You will be going to work with dark circles under your eyes . Why do we always go to the extreems... Somehow my parents never had a problem. We did not seem to have a problem in the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and last year. All of a sudden we have this??? What is going on??

Posted October 12, 2007 @ 07:58 AM by Ron Melancon
Once again we have a few people (Parents) Who can't read the directions on a bottle of Childrens Cold medication now making it harder for the rest of us. The parents who are responsibe and follow the directions should be outraged when their children come down with a cold will not be able to get medication because of this. After millions and millions of parents who are sleep deprived and are going to the emergency room and causing insurance companies to pay then we will see the meds come back.

I found it interesting how quickly this group of chronic misspellers jumped to assume other people's lack of education. Not only that, but they immediately assumed that the problem was due to parents who didn't speak/read English and to parents who were in the U.S. illegally, as if there is some sort of conspiracy on the part of migrants to deny U.S. citizens their ineffective and sometimes lethal cough medicine. Further, it's pretty clear from these comments that the general concern here is not that infants and children should be protected from dangerous drugs that have been lethal in many cases, but that PARENTS should not be forced to lose sleep because someone else's kids may have died. And let me repeat - the cough medicine doesn't even work in the first place!

That said, you gotta love the one who sees in this a vast conspiracy of college presidents. Sigh. America, land of freely and bravely stupid.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Things that make me happy.

1. The heat wave of the last few days has passed, and it's a crisp October night. So crisp, in fact, that Bean is wearing his fleece footy pajamas. There is nothing so cuddlesome as a little kid in footy pajamas.

2. I just bought a pair of these:

3. I finished the bulk of my grading last night. That means that tonight, I can relax and watch Damages.

So, I met Terry Jones...

I have to confess to being a Python fan from way back, and while Terry Jones was not my favorite Python (I always especially liked Cleese, Palin, and Idle), it was still a fairly unreal experience to be walking over to the bookstore, knowing that he'd actually be there.

I pride myself on being not terribly flappable when it comes to meeting celebrities. Well, these days, anyway - in college, when I kept running into the brothers and children of the rich and famous, I was definitely flappable. And not that I've met very many. But I'm usually not all that impressed by their celebrity, and while there are some people I'd really like to meet, in general, I've always thought of myself as unlikely to get flustered around the average famous person.

But there I was, palms actually sweating, thinking, "I'm going to meet a childhood idol. What the hell am I going to say?!" Because it's all well and good to be unimpressed, but obviously, if I'm bothering to get my book signed, I'm somewhat impressed. And if I'm impressed, then that means that it matters to me that I not be a total idiot when I get my few minutes of chatting time. Suddenly, you realize that this is a person who has in some way mattered to you - made you laugh, made you cry, made you think - whatever - and you want that brief moment of contact to be meaningful.

I got to the bookstore before he did, so I had time to take a look at his books. (I had no idea he'd done that pressed fairies book, the one that made me laugh out loud in Barnes and Noble a few years ago.) And he came in while I was in line to buy the three copies of Barbarians that I'd picked up. By the time I got my books and made it over to the line to see him, there were about 20 people ahead of me, and he was taking his time. So, I opened his book and started to read. This turned out to be a brilliant idea - I liked the book! And now I had something to say when I finally met him.

When I got to see him, he was lovely - he didn't mind that I had three books for him to sign (and I did give him the option of just signing one). He could not have been nicer. And for my part, I did not stammer, nor did I gush. (Watch for jokes about Women's Studies. He had not a clue what that is.)

And I did leave rather starry-eyed, and repeated for the rest of the day, to whomever would listen, "I met Terry Jones!"

Sunday, October 07, 2007

I'm working on a few posts...

...but given my crazy schedule, I don't know when I'll have time to finish and post them. One follows up on a comment Linda made on my Britney Spears post. One is about meeting Terry Jones. And one is about racism and white privilege here in my house. Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The ENDA situation: how you can help.

ENDA is the name given to a bill prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation. The bill is currently in the House, and while it originally included protections for transgendered people, on September 27, it was announced that the bill would be stripped of these protections in order to get the bill passed (you can read the original bill here.)

This is not the first time this legislation has been proposed, nor is it the first time that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has supported an exclusive bill. If you feel, as I do, that transgender protections should be included in this bill, please read on.

From Phyllis Randolph Frye, a.k.a. THE PHYLLABUSTER, at

HRC sent its press release out today. Essentially, it boasts of being inclusive of GLBT since 2004 and wanting an inclusive ENDA (HR 2015). BUT IT WILL NOT URGE ANY MEMBER OF CONGRESS TO OPPOSE THE BARNEY FRANK NON-INCLUSIVE ENDA SUBSTITUTE (HR 3685).

Okay, GLBT and supportive straight friends -- so what do we do?

1. Go here to learn how the Barney Frank non-inclusive ENDA substitute bill (HR 3685) also waters down the rights of regular gays and lesbians. (Way to go, Barn!)

2. Personally contact your Member of Congress and say you want the original inclusive ENDA (HR 2015) passed. Tell them that ole Barn does NOT represent mainstream GLBT folks!

3. If you have given money to HRC since 2004, tell HRC ( that "they lied" and you demand a full refund.

4. Look at this list.

a. Send your money to these groups instead.

b. If you want your group on this list, contact

5. If you live in Nancy Pelosi's district or Barney Frank's district, let them know about it.

6. If you live in Tammie Baldwin's district, thank her for remaining LGBT inclusive.

7. If you live in the DC area, protest this Saturday's (October 6) HRC National Dinner. For details contact, Ethan St. Pierre at

8. Go to the HRC website and type in your city to learn where your local HRC group contact is.

a. Bend their ear on this issue.

b. Learn when their HRC fundraiser is, and start preparing the protest.

9. Fro the best up-to-dates, go to either the NGLTF site or the National Center for Transgender Equality site.

10. Keep your eye on the prize and get all of your friends to do #2 above.

And from the National Center for Transgender Equality:
Daily Update on ENDA
from Mara Keisling, NCTE Executive Director
Thursday, October 4

Today I spent quite a bit of time explaining (re-explaining) to the media and others that the current ENDA situation is not one of pragmatic people versus crazy idealists (not that there is anything wrong with being either practical or idealistic). No one is demanding that transgender people get ours or no one gets anything. The greatest likelihood in fact is that this year will end with no ENDA protections becoming law to protect anyone. We will all need to work together to pass the bill in the House, even harder in the Senate and then somehow overcome a likely veto by the White House.

Additionally, gender identity is not synonymous with transgender and sexual orientation is not synonymous with gay and bi people. Just as trans people face discrimination based on sexual orientation, gay people face gender identity discrimination. Yesterday, five legal organizations (Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, The Transgender Law Center, GLAD, and the ACLU) issued a joint statement ( that explained this and other legal shortcomings of a sexual orientation-only ENDA.

A split ENDA hurts all LGBT people-whether you are pragmatic, idealistic or, like most of us, both.

Today (Thursday) was another very fast paced day in Washington and around the country. Congressional offices are definitely hearing from everyone and it is just as definite that everyone's great work is really impacting things. Members of Congress and their staffs are telling us that they are getting calls and visits from people like you-people who live in their districts.

The number of organizations who have publicly proclaimed their support for transgender people and our desire to pass the fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 2015) was up at about 180 the last time I checked sometime this afternoon. Earlier today, we blew past 2,500 signatures on the petitions that we co-produced with the Transgender Law Center. People are really enthused and turning that enthusiasm into action. And it's working.

One side effect of all of this sudden somewhat unexpected activity is that our expenses have gone up tremendously. Suddenly we are paying for meals for volunteers, lots of taxis to Capitol Hill, consultants, cell phone minutes. This coming week, it looks like there will be some travel costs and hotel rooms for specific people who we need to have here in DC. All in all, we think that this may cost us an additional $10,000-15,000-all of which is very difficult for a small organization like NCTE. Though so many people are doing so much, your financial support would also be very helpful. One donor sent us $150-one dollar in honor of each of the LGBT organizations who has stepped up in solidarity to support transgender people and our effort of keep ENDA inclusive of all LGBT people. If you would like to make a donation, please go to our website. It would help a lot.

Thank you.


Mara Keisling
Executive Director
National Center for Transgender Equality

The National Center for Transgender Equality is a national social justice organization devoted to ending discrimination and violence against transgender people through education and advocacy on national issues of importance to transgender people. The National Center for Transgender Equality is a 501(c)3 organization. For more information, please visit our website.

We need your support to continue this work. Click here to join our mailing list or to donate now. Thank you!

I had twelve meetings this week.

That is not an exaggeration. All day, I've been telling people that I had fifteen, and then I thought, "OK, let me just check," and it was actually twelve (although, I think I forgot to count one or two that were not written down in my book).

And on top of that, I think I just finished an article that I have been trying to get placed for a Very. Long. Time. Whether or not it gets published now is anybody's guess, but for now, I think it might be done.

And on top of THAT, I was too tired to go hear Terry Jones speak this week. (Yeah, that Terry Jones. I'm hoping I can catch him at his book signing this weekend. What does one say to Terry Jones, I wonder?)

But Mr. Plain(s)feminist and I have been sitting here happily for the last several hours, clickety-tapping, each on our own computer. Awww...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Critiquing Lorber.

I'm teaching Judith Lorber's book, Gender Inequality, and as the semester progresses, I'm finding that I have quite a lot of issues with this text. So, where does one go to air one's grievances? Why, to the internet, of course!

One of my problems with the book is with its approach. Lorber is a social scientist, and she seems to be heavily influenced by Gender Studies rather than Women's Studies. (Gender Studies is very often located within social science departments, notably Sociology.) Anyway, some of Lorber's definitions seem to come from somewhere I don't recognize, and I'm guessing it may be Sociology. For example, she says that the political goal of feminism is women's equality. However, as many decades of feminist battles, along with her own discussion of various trends of feminist thought, have shown us, that is a fairly white, heterosexual definition of feminism. Women of color feminisms, and lesbian feminisms, and working class feminisms, as well as transnational feminisms, have focused less on achieving equality with men and more on ending oppression, with a particular focus on women, of course, but with attention also to ending racial and other oppressions. This means that feminism has focused on things like access to health care, ending poverty, caring for the environment, etc.

Lorber also defines "transvestitism" and "transsexual" in ways that are at huge odds with these words' common usages. To Lorber, "transvestitism" is simply living as a member of the opposite gender but without having surgery, whereas being a "transsexual" means having surgery and taking hormones. To the rest of us, "transvestitism" is cross-dressing. "Transsexuality" is less about surgery - that's an outdated usage - and more about feeling certain that one's gender is at odds with one's body.

Lorber further states that "the current feminist movement is called the second wave" (3). While this may be a strong sense that many feminist scholars have, it is arguable that the second wave is fairly far down on the far side of the wave, while numerous other waves have cropped up. I'm not saying that the Second Wave is over, but rather that it is no longer the prevailing force of feminism - it is past its PEAK but not its EFFECTIVENESS, if that makes sense. I haven't yet read her section on Third Wave feminism, so for all I know, she'll locate Third Wave feminism WITHIN the Second Wave, which is ok, too, I suppose, but confusing.

I'm also a bit perturbed by her discussion of "Standpoint Feminism" and "Social Construction Feminism." First, I would argue that these are not particular kinds of feminism at all, but rather ideas/approaches within a number of different feminisms, disciplines, etc. These, too, comes from the social sciences. What irks me about her mention of "standpoint theory" in particular is that I have almost exclusively heard and seen it referred to in Women's Studies as "situated feminism" (the idea that one's position affects one's world view). I'm coming out of Women's Studies and this is a book about feminisms, so I feel that, just maybe, it should be situated more firmly in an interdisciplinary, feminist approach.

More to follow, I suspect.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

So, I heard the President of Iran gave a talk or something?

Speaking as someone who still believes in free speech and in allowing people to speak even while protesting their ideas:

I understand that Columbia U's president, Lee C. Bollinger, was under tremendous pressure for having invited Ahmadinejad in the first place. But the university is supposed to be a place where ideas are freely exchanged. We don't want to indoctrinate our students; we want to teach them to think critically. What a great opportunity for students to hear, first-hand, not only what this man's beliefs are, but also the political spin he puts on them. I mean, think about the possibilities for learning, here - about international politics, about addressing conflict in a rational way, about using research and evidence to argue a point - these opportunities only increase when we come face to face with notables whom we revile, particularly if they're smart.

The free exchange of ideas is not helped when a university president feels it necessary to critique and insult the invited speaker as a preface to his remarks: "'Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,' adding, 'You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.'"

In response to what the Times called an "attack," President Ahmadinejad noted the following: "In Iran, tradition requires when you invite a person to be a speaker, we actually respect our students enough to allow them to make their own judgment, and don’t think it’s necessary before the speech is even given to come in with a series of complaints to provide vaccination to the students and faculty."

And you know what? He's absolutely right (in theory, anyway - from what little I know about Iran's history, I'm pretty sure that these traditions haven't always been followed, if you know what I mean). Now, I'm not giving this man the moral high ground. I'm just saying that Bollinger should have stuck to his guns, not caved to what I'm guessing was both political and financial pressure, and simply let the talk happen. There was no need to launch an attack. What purpose does that serve? Do we honestly think that the people who were there in support of Ahmadinejad - if there were any - suddenly saw the light after Bollinger's digs? Or do we suspect that maybe, seeing this man treated so unprofessionally, they were even more stubbornly convinced that he was right?

Is this the future of academic debate? I hope not.

And, FWIW, it makes me sick to see the Times jumping on board, as well - almost as sick as I am made by the fact that, in all of this, somehow President Bush has emerged looking like a man of integrity and intellect:

"'When you really think about it,' Mr. Bush said, 'he's the head of a state sponsor of terror, he’s — and yet an institution in our country gives him a chance to express his point of view, which really speaks to the freedoms of the country.'"

Monday, September 24, 2007

About the name...

So, I was thinking, since I'm not really on the Plains anymore, the name just doesn't seem to fit the blog as well. What I decided was to change the blog title, but keep Plain(s)feminist as my own name. I hope that won't result in too much confusion. I've been going back and forth over whether or not to keep the old name after the slash - I will probably leave it up for the time being.

Someone wanted an update on the Lesbian 7...

(UPDATED TO CLARIFY: actually, it's the Lesbian 4 or the New Jersey 4, as there were 7 women involved and only 4 sentenced)...and here is a post at Brownfemipower's linking to all the work that women of color bloggers have been doing to keep this issue in people's faces.

One of Brownfemipower's links takes you here, to an update from August.

Further, there is this petition, currently at 615 signatures.

And, from a comment on Queer Woman of Color's blog, some other things we can do to help:

"So far, Renata and Patreese have replied to my letters. They're both holding up okay, more or less, and they've both asked me to publically announce that they deeply appreciate the efforts people are making on their behalf.

Renata sent me the URL to an organization that sends care packages to people in New York State prisons:

I just ordered from them for the first time the day before yesterday. It's pretty easy and convenient, and they say that your package will arrive in 2 to 5 business days.

A care package party is being planned for the four young women later this month or early next month at

The women can be reached as below:

Patreese Johnson # 07-G-0635
Renata Hill # 07-G-0636

are being held at

Bedford Hills Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 1000
Bedford Hills, NY 10507

Terrain Dandridge # 07-G-0637
Venice Brown # 07-G-0640

are being held at

Albion Correctional Facility
3595 State School Road
Albion, NY 14411-9399

TIP: Don't bother to send self-addressed stamped envelopes; they're not allowed to get stuff like that from outside."

And finally, if you'd like to write a letter, please read this first. (Thanks, N, for the link!)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Taking off tops at concerts: required?

Last year, I went to a Rob Zombie concert (yeah, ok). During the concert - at which the friends I was with had what I think turned out to be their penultimate fight before the break-up (oog) - a couple of young women were sitting on the shoulders of men in the audience. For a moment, I had a flashback to my first concert (The Cars) and being hoisted up onto the shoulders of an older classmate - a swoony experience that I can still remember. But to my surprise and dismay, these young women were soon flashing their breasts. "They pretty much have to," the soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend told me. "It's expected, once they climb up on a guy's shoulders."

Readers, is this true? I know that body-part-flashing has become more common these days than it was in my youth, but really? Is this a regular part of concert-going? Is it at least limited to the more raucous concerts? It's not that I object to breasts, but in this context, it was clearly the women's job to show their bodies for the men's pleasure, and it felt a bit like watching a Girls Gone Wild commercial.

If it weren't for the fact that the loud noise would hurt babies' ears, it would make me want to stage a breastfeeding sit-in at a rock concert. Can you imagine?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Defending Britney.

Look, I understand that the average celeb woman is considerably skinnier now than back when I was coming up. I realize that on the Coasts, one is supposed to look anorexic. But I still don't understand all the "Britney is fat" bullshit. I've been stewing over this for a while, now. I don't care if she sang horribly at the VMA, I don't care if she has a substance abuse problem (you know, beyond that general, vague sense of, "gosh, I hope she gets it together" that we all feel for her in the way we feel it for Robert Downey, Jr.), I don't care whether or not she shaves her head, I don't care whether or not she wears underwear. None of this stuff is news. None of it matters. What I think does matter, what has far-reaching implications, is to call this body "lard":

Let's be honest: no one calls another person fat, or bloated, or says that they have a sagging belly, out of the desire to help that person. The only reason to make fun of a woman in a bikini by calling out her body is simply to be mean, and in doing so, to make the person doing the calling out feel good about him or herself. And Britney is the woman everyone loves to hate, for whatever reason. Her music sells, and yet we love to pick on her, and the more she comes apart at the seams in front of us, the better, it would seem.

Now, some of the criticism came out of the realization that we've been watching this young women, like so many others, fall apart over the last couple of years. In that context, she was perceived as desperate, and her desperation was what some noticed even more than her changed body. I'll accept that. And she probably was a bit desperate, as would anyone be who has gone through what she's gone through of late. But what is really operating here, what outweighs these hints of what otherwise might be compassion, are some powerful Standards of Beauty that are absolutely effed up:

I just showed my students the film, Wrestling with Manhood, by the Media Education Foundation. One of the points the film makes is that queer bashing is crucial for portraying the bashers at heterosexual men. In the same way, image bashing is all about portraying the bashers as themselves sexy, attractive, tasteful, and most importantly, not fat, or at least, if they are fat, then they are fat people who Know Their Place and who would never dare to show their bodies, and certainly not to show them in public. When they are women, they are the same women who go to a club and glare at the women who are wearing revealing clothes and call them sluts, though on another night, they themselves might well be dressed in a similar manner. When they are men, they are the same men who feel that they can, to borrow a phrase from Martha Plimpton, "have a face like a foot" and still get any woman they want because they are men.

Guess what? I think Britney looks damn good, and not just for a woman who has had two children. She is a beautiful woman. Period.

Oh, and the feminist analysis? That would be this: when you trash a woman for her appearance, YOU ARE POLICING YOURSELVES. She is upsetting you because she's stepping outside the boundaries of what you have been taught by Patriarchy (yup, I'm using the big "P" word) is acceptable for women. And your immediate reaction is disgust - just like the immediate reaction of homophobes to queer people and racists to people of color is disgust. That's learned behavior, folks. That's hating what is human in you, because the reality is that most of us are not thin, most of us are not 100% heterosexual, and all of us descended from Africa and are, by extension, people of color (though many of us have no idea of this because we have white skin). That's you being oppressed, right there, and dealing with it by oppressing someone else.

The worst part about all of this? How many young girls and women watched the fallout after Britney's performance and came away from it with a renewed sense of shame of and hatred for their own bodies?

I leave you with images of real women's bodies, beautiful because they belong to people with dignity, people who love and are loved, people who represent the variety of beauty of the female form. Britney is more of a traditional beauty, but she's beautiful, all the same.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I have utterly wasted this day.

I had such high hopes for today. I was going to start off with a run, then a trip to Target for some dumbbells, then a couple of calls for work and one to the landlord, and then a quick shower and some writing before it was time to pick up Bean. In actuality, I sat on my increasing ass before the computer screen and ate leftover artichoke dip and guacamole on expensive but not very good tortilla chips from Whole Foods.

The maintenance guy came by, so I was spared the call to the landlord to ask when the missing pane of glass would be replaced in the office. He not only took out the window frame to replace the glass, but he also cleaned up a yucky funnel spider web that was in the window (I was afraid that the funnel spider might be there. I have a racket zapper, but I'm a little freaked out by it. Plus, it doesn't work in cramped spaces like the inside of the window.).

I did make it to Target, and I did get the dumbbells, along with a three-DVD set of Pilates workouts, because if I can't get myself out the door to go running, I can at least do Pilates in my own living room. In theory.

But seriously - I have often thought that I was borderline agoraphobic, except that my issue is less fear of being outdoors than fear of being looked at. I am someone who, sometimes, cannot make it out of the house. I will have grand plans to go here or there, to go for a walk, to do whatever, and then I will get so incredibly self-conscious that I will stay home. Sometimes, my anxieties have revolved around fear of doing something stupid, like taking the bus for the first time in a new city and not knowing where to get on or off or how much to pay or if the bus even takes cash. And I've always been anxious about going new places by myself, moreso if I'm on foot than in the car, because I like to know what I'm getting into, where I will end up and what it will be like, before I get there.

Of course, once I do the new thing or go the new place, it's great. I'm sure if I ever manage to drag myself into the gym at school, I will love it (having been there once during orientation helps). And if I start running with my colleague, I'll get to know the areas near school that are good for running. But I know myself well enough to know that the effort required to get me into these new places is more than I have available to me right now. And so, when I was standing in the Target aisle debating how much money I really wanted to spend on exercise equipment, I realized that a home gym, however limited, is a smart investment for me. I don't have to overcome anything in order to get there; I don't have to worry about getting finished in time to pick up Bean; I don't have to worry about what I look like or who I'm going to see.

So, yeah - it would be nice if I could get over my neuroses, but at least maybe I'll be neurotic and in shape.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Mychal Bell's conviction overturned

Thank god. Read about it here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Remembering September 11.

I've been kind of avoiding this topic because I didn't want to wade into the fray, but I've been increasingly miffed at the suggestions that, because life does not grind to a halt, Americans are supposedly not remembering September 11. (You notice how I say "September 11" instead of "9/11"? That's because I find a catchy gimmick, whether it be "9/11" or "Patriot Day," to recall the date disrespectful.)

During September 11 and the days after, many Americans were suffering from Post Traumatic Shock Disorder. Folks in NYC who had witnessed the tragedy, emergency workers who had lost many of their co-workers, families who had lost loved ones - all felt the weight of the horror directly. But others who witnessed the crash and the collapse of the Towers on television, who saw the people jumping in desperation, who saw the ash-covered people staggering from the nearby buildings, also were tremendously affected. We watched the footage over and over, we listened to 9-1-1 calls on CNN, we saw the shock and loss on the faces of people who were plastering walls with pictures of their missing loved ones in the hopes that they might be in a hospital somewhere, that they might be safe.

And eventually, the impact of this horrible event on the American public was so great that psychologists began appearing on CNN and other news stations, warning us to turn off the footage, telling us that, indeed, witnessing these events and thinking about them to such an extent could produce psychological problems in even those who were far away from New York, who had no connection to the people in the Towers.

The impact on the nation was so great that the rest of the world began sending us emails of support. I was on several academic listservs then, and each one received both official emails from academic organizations and schools abroad and also personal notes from individuals outside the U.S. (Remember that? When the world was on our side? Before we mucked it up?)

But even then, there were people who confused jingoism with patriotism, who thought that in order to remember properly, we needed to invoke the flag, and God, and who knows what else. It wasn't enough to be struck and affected and saddened and thoughtful. We had to be these things in a particular way. We had to be vengeful. We had to want to "kick ass" in return.

Even now, the tragedy is not over for many people who were affected directly by September 11. As Michael Moore's new film shows us, clean-up workers are suffering serious health impairment as a result of breathing toxic dust at Ground Zero - and beyond. Perhaps a more effective way to remember September 11 would be, not by lowering a flag, but by making a donation to the workers and their families, or by petitioning one's representative in Congress to pass legislation that would help Americans to get affordable, quality health care.

And now, the complaints about "forgetting" September 11 seem to hinge on whether or not a flag is lowered to half-mast, or whether or not we are judged to be accurately reflecting upon it.

As were many of you, I was one who watched the Towers collapse on television. I was glued to the set for the next week. I began to not be able to sleep. I began to not be able to eat. I was pregnant at the time, and I began to have serious reservations about the kind of world I was bringing my baby into. I have no desire to immerse myself again in the kind of despair and grief that gripped this country in those days. Nor do I see a solution in hoisting a flag and singing "God Bless America." I see a solution in moving forward, in reaching out to my neighbor and offering a hand. It may be trite, but that is how alliances are made. I will never forget what happenend that day, and, while I prefer not to dwell on it, I will never need ceremony, whether it be renaming the day or lowering a flag, to help me remember.