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: http://upnorthservices.com/

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 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/justice4newark4/.

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.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Teaching through Trauma.

(My post title today is shamelessly stolen from Leanne Franson's excellent Liliane book, which you should all run out and purchase immediately.)

So let me tell you all about my first class tonight.

My babysitter cancelled (sick), my back-up babysitter was unavailable, and Mr. Plain(s)feminist was out of town, so I brought with me to class tonight a very special teaching assistant: Bean. While I'm attempting humor in calling him my "teaching assistant," he did in fact really assist my teaching, because part of the subject matter tonight was the issue of working women balancing career and family. As illustrative as he is, this is really the first time that I've had him with me for an entire class, and it was only made possible tonight because I was mostly showing film clips and because, being the first class, I knew it would end a bit early.

In preparation for class, I had a few very serious talks with Bean:

"Now, you know that you are coming to Mommy's class tonight, right? And Mommy needs you to be a cooperator? And you have to be very quiet and watch your DVDs? And you can't talk to Mommy while she's teaching?"

To which Bean's response was:

"Will I sit at a desk with the other students? What kind of chairs are there? I can't wait to see the chairs. Can I bring [my six stuffed animals] with me? Can they come to school if they stay in the car?"

I was understandably apprehensive.

I hit the video store to load up on appropriate DVDs. (Why does Blockbuster not have Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends on DVD?) The lack of Foster's caused Bean to have a mild breakdown, which did nothing to ease my apprehension, until I convinced him that Jimmy Neutron would be pretty good, too. And I managed to get him into the car with numerous stuffed animals, DVDs, portable DVD player, and all of my own stuff for class, via the promise of a Happy Meal.

We made it to campus with time to spare, but I had neglected to figure in the travel time from the parking lot to my office. When I walk it, it takes maybe 5 minutes to get from the car to my door. With a five-year-old, it takes longer. WIth a five-year-old carrying numerous stuffed animals, and with my own arms full, it took quite a bit longer. With only fifteen minutes until class, I arrived at my office, sorted through my materials, and got everything ready for class. I brought Bean to the bathroom, hoping to avoid having to take him during class. And, suddenly - I had to GO. And about two minutes after that, I suddenly had to GO AGAIN. Yes - one minute before class time found me heading back down the hallway to the bathroom, with Bean following me, loudly saying, "you have to go potty AGAIN, even though you just went?!" And class time found me searching for my classroom - because I'd used up my classroom-finding-time in the bathroom - and thinking I'd have to cancel the class altogether, because I couldn't trust my bowels not to erupt again.

The whole thing felt like the kind of nightmare one usually has the night before classes start - PLUS I had a five-year-old along for the ride.

I got there, I got Bean set up with his DVD, I made my excuses, and then, miraculously, I felt better. Made it through the first hour without incident, and then Bean broke his headphones. Luckily, there were no other classes on the hall, and there was a glass, full-length panel next to the door. I plopped him down in the hallway outside the door with the DVD player and positioned myself near the door, where I could see him, and kept on teaching.

(I'm glad no well-meaning person happened along to report an apparently unsupervised child. It did occur to me to worry about this, though of course, he was never unsupervised.)

Bean behaved wonderfully, by the way. And the class was awesome. But I am very, very glad that this happened to me as a seasoned teacher and not as a brand-new one.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"We don't have many problems with our blacks."

That's a quote from a white person in the town of Jena, LA. When I first read this in a MySpace bulletin, I thought it was a fake. But there have indeed been recent cases that are just as effed-up - and it turns out that this one is for real, as well:

In a small, still mostly segregated, section of rural Louisiana, an all white jury heard a series of white witnesses called by a white prosecutor testify in a courtroom overseen by a white judge in a trial of a fight at the local high school where a white student who had been making racial taunts was hit by black students. The fight was the culmination of a series of racial incidents starting when whites responded to black students sitting under the "white tree" at their school by hanging three nooses from the tree. The white jury and white prosecutor and all white supporters of the white victim were all on one side of the courtroom. The black defendant, 17-year-old Mychal Bell, and his supporters were on the other. The jury quickly convicted Mychal Bell of two felonies - aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. Bell, who was a 16-year-old sophomore football star at the time he was arrested, faces up to 22 years in prison. Five other black youths await similar trials on second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy charges.

You should know that the white kid whom the Black students supposedly attempted to murder went to a "social event" later that day, after the fight. You should also know that the all-white jury who convicted Bell included "two people friendly with the district attorney, a relative of one of the witnesses and several others who were friends of prosecution witnesses."

Pissed off yet? Consider this:
"The prosecutor called 17 witnesses - 11 white students, three white teachers and two white nurses. Some said they saw Bell kick the victim, others said they did not see him do anything. The white victim testified that he did not know if Bell hit him or not.

The Chicago Tribune reported the public defender did not challenge the all-white jury pool, put on no evidence and called no witnesses. The public defender told the Alexandria Town Talk, after resting his case without calling any witnesses, he knew he would be second-guessed by many, but was confident that the jury would return a verdict of not guilty. 'I don't believe race is an issue in this trial. I think I have a fair and impartial jury.'

The jury deliberated for less than three hours and found Mychal Bell guilty on the maximum possible charges of second-degree aggravated battery and conspiracy. He faces up to a maximum of 22 years in prison.

The public defender told the press afterwards, "I feel I put on the best defense that I could." Responding to criticism of not putting on any witnesses, the attorney said 'why open the door for further accusations? I did the best I could for my client, Mychal Bell.'"

Now, according to Snopes.com (which assures us that this did, in fact, happen), the Black kids on trial pretty much beat the shit out of the white kid (who, nonetheless, made it to his social event, whatever that was). It's not that I don't take this seriously - I don't think it's ok to beat the shit out of anyone, even if they are a reprehensible asshole. But you should know, too, that in another case in this same town, a white man pulled a shotgun on Black men, who took the gun away from him. They were later charged with theft, while the white man was not charged. So, clearly, "attempted murder" is in the eye of the beholder in this town, yeah? Even the students who hung the nooses in the first place were never charged, though the principal wanted them expelled: "'Adolescents play pranks,' the superintendent told the Chicago Tribune, 'I don't think it was a threat against anybody.'" Riiiight. Hanging a noose from "the white tree," in the South, the land of "strange fruit," to protest Black students sitting under it, is not a threat. Pulling a shotgun on someone else is not an offense. Taking the shotgun away from someone who is threatening you with it is theft. With logic like this, with a stacked jury, with the numerous other examples of civil rights violations recorded in the news stories about this case, it is clear that calling the beating "attempted murder" has a very particular political meaning.

Want to do something? Click here.

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter cry.

Friday, September 07, 2007


People, I don't have a clue what to write about these days. I don't write about my job, so that's out. And I've been so focused on my little world, as I've said, that I haven't been paying attention to the blogwars or much else.

At this point, I'm taking requests...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Coming in late.

I've been so busy with the move and the new job and getting the kid off to school that I haven't been able to weigh in on current events in a timely fashion. The Craig scandal? I'm sure it's been talked to death on everyone else's blog. (Which shouldn't stop you from reading this editorial on the subject, because it really raises the question of what the moral panic is all about, here).

Even on the best of days, I'm never the one commenting on the news of the day. I'm often barely aware of what is going on beyond the fog of what is happening in my immediate vicinity (with the exception of the abortion ban last year).

Today I was shocked out of my fog.

I remember hearing about Adrienne Shelly's murder last year. Shelly wrote and directed Waitress. When I read about it, it didn't register - I didn't recognize her name or picture, and while it was sad that she'd been killed, I didn't have a connection to her death because I didn't know who she was.

Shelly was murdered last November. Today in class, I showed a clip from Rosanna Arquette's documentary, Searching for Debra Winger, which is about being a woman in the film industry. What I like about this film is that it offers a rare chance to see my favorite stars talk openly and honestly about their experiences. I feel like I get to know them a little bit because they are being real people, not characters. Adrienne Shelly is interviewed in the film and has a memorable moment in which she tells a story about being turned down for a part because the producer "didn't like [her] tits." It's a very real story, and Shelly could be an acquaintance or friend, sharing this story from her life in an intimate way. And every time I've watched this documentary, I've felt, on some level, close to these women.

But until today, I never knew that Adrienne Shelly was the person who was murdered. I never put the woman in the documentary and the creator of Waitress together in my head. And so I found out today that she was gone, and it felt almost as if I had found out that a friend of mine had died.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Made it.

In case you were wondering, no, I didn't get lost - I made it, and I'm fine, but I'm still unpacking boxes a week later. I'm almost done, but that's only because I did an incredible amount of putting crap away tonight. The boxes are in their flattened state, in storage, for the time being. The apartment is wonderful. The downstairs neighbors are wonderful, and they even let me use their washer when mine turned out not to be able to receive any cold water. I found this out after doing two loads (luckily, they were sheets and towels and not my clothes!). I have a few things to talk to the landlord about (number one is the cold water for the washer), but in general, I can't complain.

Though I will say that the bathroom is so small that the toilet is crammed into a tiny corner between the sink and the radiator. This means that one must sit sort of at an angle rather than the proper way with one's back parallel to the toilet tank. This is taking a bit of getting used to, but it isn't horrible. It will be horrible if the radiator turns out to get scaldingly hot, but otherwise, we can deal.

In other news, it turns out that there is a Chico's in WALKING DISTANCE from my new place. And when I say "in walking distance," I mean that I could walk to Chico's, buy clothes that I would have to carry home, and then carry them home without my arms getting tired. I will be taking advantage of this soon, even though Chico's is, I think, a bit old for me. Fact is, though, I need a more professional wardrobe, and this is an easy fix. (If anyone would like to make suggestions, I'm all ears. I would prefer something funky like Torrid, but with clothes that I could actually wear to work. Don't say Ann Taylor Loft, because the clothes are a little too fitted for me.)

For those of you back home - I'm thinking of you! I miss you! I'm sending hugs! (Or hearty handshakes. Depending on who you are.)