Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why I Hate Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the greatest Latin American writers. He is so popular that even some people in the US (like, for example, Oprah who chose his Cien anios de soledad for her book club) might actually recognize his name. And as we all know, this is not an easy feat for a Spanish-speaking writer to accomplish.

The way Garcia Marquez uses language is unbelievably beautiful. It's mesmerizing, hypnotic, heart-breaking in its power to move you. This is why the ideology he puts forward in this amazing language becomes extremely dangerous.

Garcia Marquez is profoundly machista. He despises women and this comes out in every page of his writing. To give just one example, in his novel Amor en los tiempos del colera, one of the female characters is raped. Her rapist assaults her from behind and she never gets to see his face. Of course, she falls profoundly in love with this unseen rapist and spends her entire life searching for him. She has sex with numerous men in an attempt to relive the wonderful feelings she had while being raped. It is impossible to read this and not cringe in total disgust. The author's chauvinism is blatant and apologetic in every single one of his works.

Another problem I have with Garcia Marquez is his absolute indifference to the horrible social and economic realities of his continent. He pretends to have a social consciousness but in reality all his socialism is limited to a hypocritical friendship with Fidel Castro. (Of course, how anybody could go to Cuba and not feel a profound hatred towards the system in place there is beyond my understanding.) As a bestselling author and a Nobel Prize winner, Garcia Marquez could do a lot to reveal the painful realities of Latin America to the world. That, however, wouldn't sell as well. So Garcia Marquez cutesifies and prettifies horrifying realities of his continent in order to make them attractive to his affluent American and European readers.

It is so incredibly sad to see such an amazing talent serving some really irresponsible and hateful ideological goals.

Chicano Literature

I have recently had an argument with some colleagues about whether the field of Chicano Literature* is still relevant. I think I might have shocked my colleagues a bit by declaring that this field is dead and is becoming more and more so by the second. For a while, positions in Chicano Literature were cropping up at many departments that wanted to see themselves as cool, hip, and in touch. Lately, however, the academic interest in this field has started to wane. Today, opening a position in Chicano Studies defines a department as backwards and obsolete.

In my opinion, the very emergence of such positions is one of the instances of political correctness going in a very wrong direction. On the one hand, opening a position or two in Chicano Literature seems to say that the literary production of Mexican-Americans is important and is worthy of being studied. On the other hand, this approach highlights the otherness of Mexican-American writers. If they write in English, why can't we accept these writers as an important part of English-speaking literature? If they write in Spanish, why can't we teach them as part of Spanish-language literary production?

Another important question to ask here is whether we should create separate areas of knowledge for every immigrant group irrespective of the language they use to write. How is it a productive thing to create these small identity groups breaking up literature into collectives based on nothing other than the author's ethnic origins?

Some academics love looking for some really tiny niches that they can claim as their own very special field of expertise. They forget, however, that this serves to marginalize a certain group and turn it into a perennial Other. I cannot wait for every single department to abandon the concentration on Chicano Studies and turn to Spanish or English literature instead, including everybody who writes in this language without any racial and ethnic reservations.

*For those who are unfamiliar with the term, here is a Wikipedia article on Chicano Literature.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Having Economic Troubles? Ban Sex!

It's funny to observe how areas that have been hit very heavily with the economic crisis often respond by trying to police sexuality. I have already discussed that Ukraine, which is floundering economically with little hope for any improvement in the foreseeable future, decided to ban porn (except, of course, when used for unspecified medicinal purposes.) Now, Detroit is taking the similar road. The city that can barely offer its population a chance to make some kind of living feels it necessary to tighten the regulations on strip clubs. An amendment to an ordinance that regulates sexually oriented businesses is now before the City Council:

Some provisions of the draft ordinance:

• Requiring dancers to stay at least 6 feet away from patrons on a stage at least 18 inches from the floor in a room that measures at least 600 square feet.

• Prohibiting intentional physical contact between semi-nude employees and patrons, such as lap dances.

• And, requiring employees at sexually oriented business to be licensed, including bartenders and janitors.

It seems a little unfair that a government that can't provide people with jobs would have the cheek to take away one of the few outlets they have left. Is Detroit looking for a riot or something? Hungry, broke AND sexually frustrated is hardly a good thing for the city.

Monday, September 28, 2009

More on Religious Propaganda

So I asked on of the campus Bible-thumpers if they have a permit from the university to distribute anything on campus (which we are strongly urged to do by the administration every time we see any one soliciting on campus).

Of course, the man I asked for a permit didn't have it and the guy who was supposed to have it was nowhere to be seen. Then, he had the gall to ask me for a business card, which was supposed to legitimize my presence on campus. These preachers must believe that they have more right to be on campus than professors.

I wonder what will happen if a group of Muslims parks on campus tomorrow and starts distributing the Koran.

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Good News from Japan

Japan seems to be embracing feminist values at a pace that I never expected to see from this country at this particular point in time. The Japanese government is making efforts to push more women into the workforce and is unapologetic about this goal. Feministing reports:

Since 1961, tax deductions for dependent spouses have discouraged women from finding full-time work. To remain qualified as dependents on their breadwinner husbands, Japanese wives operate under an effective income ceiling of 1.3 million Japanese yen, or $14,456. The ¥1.03 million income ceiling for spouses compares with an average annual salary of ¥4.37 million for private-sector employees in 2007 -- ¥5.42 million for men and ¥2.71 million for women -- according to the latest data released by the National Tax Agency.
It is common for wives to work fewer hours than their spare time from housework and child-rearing allows so they can take advantage of the system, which is widely regarded as giving housewives preferential treatment.
The DPJ says it wants to abolish the system under the assumption it has discouraged women from attaining economic self-reliance.
"The current tax system that particularly gives nonworking housewives preferential treatment is problematic and we think it should be rectified," then DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada said at a news conference Sept. 4.
This is great news! I hope Japan continues on its way towards gender equality. It would be great if more countries got their inspiration from this wonderful example and followed suit.

Religious Propaganda on Campuses

A group of gentlemen appeared on campus this morning distributing these little books to students. This is very disturbing, especially since this is a state school. Many people forget that the separation of church and state is one of the underlying tenets of the very existence of this country. I don't know who allowed this propaganda and why but it is very wrong. Students come here to learn, and not to be subjected to obnoxious preaching.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Magnificent Mile...

... Is truly magnificent.

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The Windy City

This is the view of Chicago from my hotel. Chicago, to me, is a quintaessential American city. It is like no other place in the US.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Woody Allen: Chauvinism and Pedophilia

I don't know much about Hollywood movies. They have nothing to do with art and as for their entertainment  value, the best you can expect is extremely mediocre entertainment. I heard Woody Allen's name, of course, but never watched his movies. When I finally tried watching one of his films, I was so shocked by his chauvinism and his unapolgetic approval of pedophilia so much, that I had to turn the movie off after ten minutes. It was painful to watch how this famous director and actor promotes his unhealthy ideas about male-female relationships. It was even more painful to consider that he is so much applauded and celebrated for it.

Only yesterday I discovered that Woody Allen's personal life does not contradict his filmic approval of pedophilia. This shoscking information is from the Wikipedia: "During the proceedings, Farrow alleged that Allen had sexually molested their adopted daughter Dylan, who was then seven years old. The judge eventually concluded that the sex abuse charges were inconclusive,[52] but called Allen's conduct with Soon-Yi "grossly inappropriate." She called the report of the team that investigated the issue "sanitized and, therefore, less credible," and added that she had "reservations about the reliability of the report... After breaking his relationship from Farrow in 1992, Allen continued his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn. Even though Allen never married or lived with Farrow,[54] and was never Previn's legal stepfather, the relationship between Allen and Previn has often been referred to as a father dating his "stepdaughter," [55] since he had been perceived as being in the child's life in a father-like capacity since she was seven years old. For example, in 1991, The New York Times described Allen's family life by reporting, "Few married couples seem more married. They are constantly in touch with each other, and not many fathers spend as much time with their children as Allen does."[54] Despite assertions from Previn that Allen was never a father-figure to her,[56] the relationship became a cause célèbre. At the time, Allen was 56 and Previn was 22. Asked whether their age difference was conducive to "a healthy, equal relationship," Allen discounted the matter of equality and added this protestation: "The heart wants what it wants."

After reading this, I can't help but ask myself, do we as a society really value young girls so little as to find all of this acceptable? Why is the creator of really crappy movies so admired in spite of these horrible actions? How is it possible that a society that screeches about "moral values" on every corner should tolerate such egregious acts? Is anybody as disgusted with tis as I am?

Merce Rodoreda

One of the reasons why I love The Nation is because they always publish reviews of books by really amazing writers. I was very happy to find out that they published an article on the incredibly talented Catalan writer Merce Rodoreda*.

Rodoreda's most famous novel has been translated into English under the title The Time of the Doves. The central conclusion that this beautifully wirtten novel draws about being a woman in a patriarchal society is that

the only way for a woman to preserve her dignity and even simply to survive is through a total rejection of her sexuality.

Natalia, the protagonist of this unconventional female Bildungsroman, leaves her kind and loving boyfriend for the sake of an abusive and profoundly chauvinistic man called Quimet. She is drawn to Quimet because of a powerful sexual attraction he exercises over her. Natalia's marriage to this man is disastrous in all respects but one: she reaches profound sexual fulfillment with him.

When Quimet dies in a war, Natalia finds herself on the brink of starvation. She feels so desperate that she decides to kill herself and her two small children. A kind shop-owner figures out what she is trying to do and offers Natalia to marry him. Natalia does not love this man and has nothing in common with him. Besides, the war has left her new husband impotent.

The new husband is nice and kind to Natalia and her children. She, however, cannot be satisfied with this tepid relatiosnhip and has to struggle long and hard to get used to her empty existence where the only thing her marriage gives her is food.

This is a truly tragic novel about painful choices, about how the patriarchal society traps a woman and offers her no way out of an existence that will always be based on compromising her interests, desires, and her very possibility to be happy.

*Thank you, my dear friend Oli, for bringing this review to my attention.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


In order to teach my Hispanic Civilization students about Latin American machismo (male chauvinism), I decided to start by talking about the tango. This beautiful dance offers a perfect and a very visual embodiment of the chauvinistic values that unfortunately inspire so much of Latin American culture.

In this dance, the woman is, for the most part, completely passive. The man decides where and how he wants to lead her. She has to guess his intentions and follow his lead. Sometimes, of course, the man might decide to stop and then the woman is allowed to swing her leg around for a while. Then, the male leading continues. I tried to learn this dance but soon discovered but the total passivity required from a woman goes completely against my nature.

The nature of tango lyrics that often is also very offensive to women has been noticed by some authors of tango. Here is an example of an author who denounces the chauvinism of tango lyrics:

"Mujer argentina, pedazo de historia,             Argentinian woman, a piece of history,
que ofreces tu vida, ternura y amor.               who offers her life, tenderness, and love.
El pobre poeta, en pos de la gloria,               A poor poet, in search of glory,
olvida que es hijo de madre en dolor.            Forgets that a mother has given him life in pain.
Con letras de tango te insulta y ofende         He insults and offends you with tango lyrics
al fango te arrastra y ciego en su acción,      He drags you through the mad and in his blindness
por unas monedas cual Judas te vende          he sells you for a couple of coins like a Judas
mientras canta el pueblo lo que nunca sintió
."  while the country sings what it never actually felt.

The lyrics of tango drag a woman through the mud, while in the dance itself, the male lead drags his female partner across the dance floor in a symbolic gesture that highlights her passivity, submissiveness, and lack of agency. 

Courtesy of my reader Vanessa, here are some actual instructions how to dance the tango:

"Argentine Tango Lesson 4: Walk

Start walking. Gentleman, take a couple of steps forward starting with your left foot. Lady, do the opposite: two steps back beginning with your right foot. Let him guide you. Stop. Repeat."
"Argentine Tango Lesson 11: It’s All about Communication

Tango has always been associated with desire, (mis)communication, sexual innuendos and possession."
"Argentine Tango Lesson 12: She Belongs to Me

Some characteristics remain faithful to its male-chauvinist origins when the pimp claimed he owned a harlot. For instance, the man leads, the woman follows him… always. He starts to move, she moves along; wherever he takes her, she goes, as if she belonged to him."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A C-section Makes You a Failure

The "only-a-vaginal-birth-will-make-you-a-real-woman" discourse does everything it can to make women who have C-sections feel like something is wrong with them. One way to achieve that is to link the words "C-section" and "failure" in women's minds. Usually, it's done thorugh constant reiteration of "Don't think you are necessarily a failure for having a C-section!" In this way, the idea is planted in people's minds that having a C-section is somehow related to feeling as a failure. Women who would have never connected these things might start linking them in their minds after being brainwashed in this manner during their entire pregnancy.

Here is an example of this ideological device being used by the web-site called, the motto of which is "Helping Surgery Patients every Day": "Undergoing a c-section may also inflict psychological distress on the mother, beyond hormonal mood swings and postpartum depression ("baby blues"). The woman may feel disappointment and a sense of failure for not experiencing a vaginal delivery." This, of course, is completely ridiculous. Why should a woman feel like a "failure" because of having a medical condition (such as, for example, a low placenta) that requires a C-section? What is so particularly fulfilling about a vaginal birth that a C-section cannot provide? Can't women who deliver vaginally have postpartum depressions? 

But nobody cares about the truth or the objective facts. The only goal of this idiotic propaganda is to create a connection between C-sections and a sense of failure in people's minds. This is absolutely disgusting.

P.S. The picture has nothing to do with the post but it's the building where I work and I love it so much that I wanted to put it here to offset the horrible impressions this disgusting brainwashing leaves in my mind. 

Estonian Accent

Dear readers,

I'm sorry that sometimes my posts seem to have an Estonian accent where letters are repeated for no reason. This isn't a result of my Baltic ancestry, nor is it evidence of my poor spelling skills. This happens because my home computer has a very sensitive keyboard and I still haven't learned to work with it properly. And no amount of editing allows me to see all instances where it happens.

If you are planning to buy an Asus Eee PC mini-laptop ("Eee" is its actual name, so the keyboard is not to be blamed here. Maybe it's a kind of a warning that's included in the product's name), you should know that it's great in all respects but prepare to sound Estonian. :-)

Thank you for your understanding.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Douthat and Bush: The Insanity Continues

You've got to give some credit to Ross Douthat: he must be about the only person in this country right now who he still finds it in himself to defend George W. Bush. Recently, we have seen most Republicans go out of the way trying to prove that their party is not represented by Bush Jr. The damage his presidency has done to the Republican Party (let alone the country at large) might never be overcome. Still, Douthat sticks to his guns and comes out with a garbled piece in defense of the former President.

Any other politician, Douthat claims, would be "canonised" for some of the things Bush did. So what are those things that, according to this journalist, merit canonisation? The answer Douthat provides is unexpected: the war in Iraq (yes, the one that resulted in countless Iraqi and American deaths and turned Iraq into a perennial terrorist threat to the US. Like we didn't have enough of those) and last Fall's economic bailout (yes, the one that had billions of taxpayer dollars going in an identified direction and that many people believe has been Bush's last effort as a president to do a favor to his Wall Street buddies.) Why should Bush be canonised for these actions? According to Douthat, he was trying to correct his own mistakes and that alone deserves respect. Of course, Bush himself never recognized that he actually made mistakes, but a little thing like that doesn't stop Douthat, his most dedicated groupie.

The above-mentioned canonisation-worthy feats are not the only important achievements of the Bush administration. Douthat talks in glowing terms about "Bush-era bipartisanship", which as we all know is the Republican term for "everything always has to be our way." He goes as far as to endorse the disgusting No Child Left Behind Act that makes every K-12 teacher in America go into fits of rage.

In general, it feels like Douthat fell asleep during the last years of Bush's presidency and dreamed up this vision of Bush coming to his senses and correcting his mistakes (which those who have been awake know to be egregiously false). According to Douthat, in the last years of his administration Bush managed to become . . . a good president: "The next time an Oval Office occupant sees his popularity dissolve and his ambitions turn to dust, he can take comfort from Bush’s example. It suggests that it’s possible to become a good president even — or especially — when you can no longer hope to be a great one." Of course, people's definition of 'good' might vary a lot but if this is Douthat's definition of a good presidency, I have to say that his standards are pretty low.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ideology in Birth Preparation Classes

I just discovered to my great surprise that birth preparation classes instead of offering medical facts and objective information sometimes push disgusting ideological propaganda.Often, this results in outright lies and marginalization of large groups of women.

My sister just attended such a class and was shocked by the following:

1. There were several hours dedicated to "natural birth" and only a few minutes on C-sections. What is the point of women with scheduled C-sections sitting through hours of information that is irrelevant to them and getting no information that is remains unexplained.

2. The women were shown a long video of "natural" birth. As for the C-section, they were told that a video of it is "too graphic" to be shown. The only result of this indoctrination is that women with elective C-sections and medically justified C-sections feel completely marginalized. Why aren't people who want to avoid the "natural" childbirth process consulted on whether they want to observe a video of it? Shouldn't their feelings be respected? Or has their decision (or, in many cases, medical necessity) to have a C-section put them outside the pale of people whose wishes deserve respect?

3. A lot of information on C-section complications and complications from epidurals (often completely false) was offered. No information on complications from the so-called "natural birth" was provided. The videos of natural birth show women whose deliveries are fast, complication free and are not accompanied by any screaming and crying. Imagine how horrible women who can't avoid screaming and crying must feel. No wonder so many women go into post-natal depressions after their expectations about childbirth are made completely unrealistic by such classes.

4. All the information that was offered on C-sections quoted sources from the 80ies. The only purpose of that is to conceal from women any medical advances that have been made in this area in the past 20 years and scare them into "natural birth."

The most offensive thing is that people paid for these classes in hopes of obtaining objective facts. All they got as a result is a shameless propaganda of somebody's truly medieval views on childbirth. Can't women be left free of control and brainwashing even at such an important, intimate, and dangerous moment in their lives? Or are we considered so innately stupid hat even faced with objective data we will not be able to make a decision that is right for us?

False Rape Allegations at Hofstra: Who's to Blame?

It's frustrating to see the media responses to what is now considered to be false accusations of gang rape at Hofstra University. Of course, we still have no idea of what actually happened and whether the female student was raped but the media have already condemned this woman as a liar who "almost destroyed the lives of five innocent men". If these were, indeed, false accusations (which yet again, nobody knows for sure at this point and might never know), what made this situation possible? Who is to blame for false allegations in rape cases?

Take any article on the events at Hofstra, and the answer becomes obvious. It's the disgusting, puritanical attitude to sex that crucifies a woman for engaging in sexual activity that the dominant patriarchal worldview does not approve. How can a woman be expected to be honest about her sex life if female sexuality is not allowed any kind of freedom? If articles, TV shows, school classes, books, and news reports continue discussing ways of keeping female sexuality under control? If the punishment for escaping that control, albeit momentarily, is social ostracism and public derision?

I decided to conduct an experiment and entered the words "Hofstra" and "rape" into a search engine. The very first article that appeared as a result of this search was a piece titled "Hofstra rape case: Five questions stand out" by Joye Brown. This article goes out of its way to stigmatize women (not men, of course, just women) for engaging in any kind of sexual activity that is not sanctioned by the patriarchal discourse. The entire article can be summarized as the following perennial exhortation to women: "Good girls don't do such vile things!"

From the very beginning of the article, the author insists very strongly on how "ugly" and "despicable" the idea of group sex is: "They were involved in an ugly incident - sex acts being performed by multiple young men and an 18-year-old freshman in a college dorm men's bathroom... The men did nothing illegal but that doesn't make the behavior any less despicable." Brown doesn't explain what exactly is so despicable about this story. Group sex? Its location? That this happened on a college campus? Or just the facts that some people engaged in sex acts?

Later in the article, Brown talks of the woman's "incredibly poor decision to have sex with five men." Why is it such a bad decision for her but apparently a good decision for the men? Patriarchy can never accept the idea that women can want to have sex. This is why after engaging in any kind of sexual activity a woman might feel apologetic for what she has done. "I had sex because I wanted to" is not an explanation that our society is ready to accept from a woman. So we need  to look for ways to justify our sex lives. Is it any surprise that some women might seek such a justification in rape allegations?

The collective hue and cry about the poor innocent men falsely accused of rape fails to acknowledge that these false allegations are the price we pay for controlling, marginalizing and condemning female sexuality.

Yale's President Levin and the Art of Platitude

Of course, nobody expected Yale's President Levin to come out with anything other than a string of trivialities aimed at placating the public in the wake of a horrible tragedy on the university's campus. His letter to the Yale university community has just appeared at Huffington Post. As one could have predicted, this letter doesn't attempt to provide any kind of analysis of the general atmosphere on our campus. The letter offers nothing but feeble efforts to whitewash Yale as much as possible lest the murder of Annie Le manages to scare away rich parents and alumni.

The title of Levin's piece is "What Happened at Yale and the Dark Side of the Human Soul." This title immediately signals that there will be no analysis of the collective environment where the tragedy has taken place. Presiden Levin prefers to foster the mystique of an isolated incident that "could have happened in any city, in any university, or in any workplace." Of course, it could have but the problem with Yale and New Haven is that bad things happen there all the time. The university abuses the graduatee students, the supporting staff, and the junior faculty. It abuses the surrounding community. Eventually, students and university workers turn against each other in violence. Does anybody see a connection here? Apparently, Levin doesn't.

As one of my readers suggested, the only response Yale is likely to provide to this tragedy is the growing nubmer of surveillance equipment and security on campus. My only contact with the New Haven police made me feel more victimized than I felt by the actual crime I was trying to report to them. The police officer who talked to me made nasty, harrassing remarks and made feel extremely uncomfortable. Having more of such officers crawling all over the campus will make Yale look "more secure" to the outsiders but it is very unlikely to actually change the way things are.

Yale has been going in a very wrong direction and nothing but some very profound changes would help this university.

Friday, September 18, 2009

For Choice

This great pen is distributed by the Quality Inn hotel chain. Maybe the chain didn't intend to spread pro-choice propaganda but I'll take it in any form or manner.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Professors Want

Every day as I pass this bus stop on my way to work, I remember standing there during my job interview and feeling desperate. The entire campus visit was a huge disaster. It had been planned in two days and I felt tired and unprepared. The town looked way too Midwestern for my liking. The campus seemed bleak and uninspired.

It's funny how first impressions sometimes turn out to be completely false. In the 4 weeks I have been here, I have come to love this university passionately. The students, of course, contribute a lot to this feeling. For the first time in my teaching career, I have students come to my office every day instead of just showing up at the end of the semester asking "So what should I study for the final exam?" I always had to exercise enormous self-control not to respond "Spanish!" Of course, when you pay for your own education and can't rely on Daddy's trust fund, it has to make a difference.

Another thing that makes working here so different is the way professors are treated. At Ivy League schools, unless you are tenured faculty, you are treated as a nuisance that has to be tolerated. Here, we are a priority. Supporting staff and administration work really hard to make our existence as comfortable as possible. The Chair of my department seems genuinely interested in always finding new ways to make us happy and content. (This blog is anonymous and nobody at my university reads it, so please don't take it as an attempt to make nice with the administration.) I walk around the campus and finally feel respected and appreciated. This is a great change from years of feeling insignificant and barely put up with at Ivy League schools. For the first time ever, I actually understand why people buy T-shirts with their school's name and want to wear them everywhere.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Unprofessional Journalism: The Case of Yale University

For several years now, journalists have been whining all over the place that their profession has been dying out. Bad, mean and stupid readers started turning away from newspapers, magazines, and television news broadcasts. Now, more and more readers preferred the Internet to be their main source of the news. There has been no analysis, however, of why people don't trust the traditional media to provide them with news. Journalists are in no hurry to look at themselves as the main source of the public's disappointment with the traditional sources of information.

I was born in 1976, so maybe my vision of what news reporting used to be like in the XIX and the first half of the XX century is based on myths I encountered in books and movies. I always thought that the reporter's main job was ... well, to report. I though that a reporter is a person who would go anywhere and do anything for the sake of a good story.

Today, this is absolutely not the case. Journalists do not report, they do not hunt around for shocking facts and interesting discoveries. Why waste your time and energy doing that when you can limit your job description to sitting at home in a comfortable arm-chair and producing pieces filled with "opinions"? Sometimes, to bolster your opinions you can dig out some quasi-scientific study and manipulate it to fit your "opinion" du jour.

The atrocious murder of graduate student Annie Le of Yale University and the way it is being covered in the press has demonstrated once again just how much the traditional news media have degenerated. Reporters have no interest in actually going to Yale, talking to the students and the employees. Doing that could uncover things that the administration might not welcome. Why would journalists want to go against the enormous, rich and powerful Yale corporation? Uncovering corporate scandal is not what today's reporters want to do. It is so much easier to replicate the Yale administration press releases. And I'm sure it pays a lot better.

Had any of the reporters that keep publishing lies about the "safe" and "crime-free" New Haven actually talked to people who live, study and work in the shadow of Yale corporation, they might have discovered how much crime (both corporate and street crime) takes place on Yale campus. They might have found out that the administration often misleads the students' parents because it needs their money. They might have brought to light the shameful treatment of the Yale grad students, junior faculty, and lectors by the corporation. They might have finally figured out that providing education and doing research comes extremely low (if at all, I sometimes think) in the corporation's list of priorities.

But real reporting is dead. All we have left is a bunch of sycophants who have no interest in looking for the truth and who have the gall to call themselves journalists.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Horrible News from Yale

The brutal murder of Annie Le, a graduate student at my alma stepmother, has been a horrible shock. The way the story is being covered has been very one-sided. I have a strong feeling that many reporters are going out of their way to transmit the message the university administration wants to be spread around: Yale is generally safe, this is an isolated and unfortunate occurrence.

Don't believe that, people. As somebody who went to Yale I can tell you that there is nothing isolated about what happened to Annie Le.

So here are some of the myths the media and the administration are spreading about how secure Yale is:

Myth 1. "Random acts of violence on campus are “pretty rare”. Not true. Maybe it is at other universities, but at Yale it is extremely common for the students to be mugged, assaulted, robbed, beaten up, menaced with all kinds of weapons and harrassed. I hardly know any one who has not been a victim of a crime on campus. 

Myth 2. New Haven is a safe place. "After a stretch of crime in the late 1980s and early 1990s, New Haven doesn’t feel dangerous today, said Jean Recapet, the general manager of Atticus Bookstore and Cafe, who has been working in the campus vicinity since 1982. “We feel like we are in a safe environment,” said Recapet." Of course, a business owner in a dangerous area of town has to say that. But anybody who has lived in New Haven (I lived around the corner from Atticus Bookstore and was one of the most regular patrons) knows that it is a very dangerous town and crime rate is extremely high. As a woman, I felt scared every time I had to go outside after dark. I'm surprised I was only assaulted once while living there. I think I have been lucky. If I start listing all of the cases where people I know personally were victims of crime on campus, this will turn into my longest post.

Myth 3. Yale buildings are secure thanks to swipe cards. This is such a joke. I regularly entered buildings without a swipe card. You just stand there for a minute waiting for somebody to use their card and just follow them in.

The reality is that there is a huge racial and class divide between the super rich Yale and the extremely poor town where it is located. There is poverty, anger, resentment, constant conflicts between the administration and the students or the administration and employees. There is this constant atmosphere of strife, of the administration treating the students (especially the graduate students) and the employees like total crap. It is so annoying that even after a terrible tragedy liike the murder of Annie Le Yale administration can't find the courage to recognize that our campus is VERY dangerous and something needs to be done right now to change things.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why Women Should Settle for Less

The tendency to try and scare women with possible future loneliness in order to force them to settle for less is nothing new. Take newspapers and magazines from 1, 5, 10, 25 years ago and you will find the same tired exhortations for women to lower their expectations, or (the horror! the horror!) they might remain single. Women are told that they have an exaggerated sense of self-worth, so they should be more "realistic" and understand that they are not all that fabulous. Somehow, I am yet to find an article inviting men to think less of themselves and settle for whatever is available instead of looking for what's best for them.

The profoundly chauvinistic UK's Daily Mail just came out with this kind of article directed at uppity women. The article is titled "The ego epidemic: How more and more of us women have an inflated sense of our own fabulousness." The most upsetting thing about this article is that it is written... by a woman.

"Us women are more egocentric and narcissistic than we ever used to be, according to extensive research by two leading psychologists. More of us have huge expectations of ourselves, our lives and everyone in them", says Lucy Taylor at the beginning of the article. She concentrates, however, on one area of female lives: dating: "In a recent magazine article, four women in their late 20s and 30s shared their thoughts about why they were still single. A 39-year-old beauty director claimed to be too independent for a relationship. A 38-year-old music agent attributed her single status to the fact she was an alpha female - independent, feisty, strong-minded, high-achieving and intimidating... The third woman, a 30-year- old arts writer and curator, has been having too much fun to settle down." Even though there is no indication whatsoever that these women are unhappy with their lives, Taylor tries to find out why these women are "still" single. Their independence is one of the characteristic that scares her the most.

Of course, the existence (and the growing number) of women who are having too much fun and love their lives too much to be tied down in the role of a cooking and cleaning robot for some loser represents a huge threat to patriarchy. Lucy Taylor is happy to participate in the efforts to convince these women that they have some sort of a mental disorder. She proceeds to diagnose women she only read about "in a recent magazine article" with surprising aplomb.

The efforts to present independent, strong-willed women who dare to make their own choices in life as mentally ill have been made for as long as patriarchy exists. It's shocking, however, that today we still allow for this to happen.

Olive Kitteridge

The great thing about being a tenure-track faculty member is that you have tons of time to read for fun. Thanks to my Kindle (which always informs me of exciting new books at very accessible prices), I discovered a great book titled Olive Kitteridge: Fiction by Elizabeth Strout, a wonderful author I never even knew existed.

Olive Kitteridge is a collection of stories bound together by the figure of Olive, a powerful, unbending woman who victimizes her husband and alienates her only son. The stories cover a period of 30+ years and depict the central moments in the lives of Olive and her neighbors, inhabitants of Crosby, Maine.

This book is an exploration of the topics of life and death, the loneliness we experience in and out of human relationships, lack of understanding between parents and children, husbands and wives.

At times, the book is melancholy, sad and even heartbreaking. Sometimes, it is also extremely funny. I strongly recommend it to anyone in search of good English prose.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Parenting: Fashion and Style

The New York Times has published a very interesting article discussing the influence parental fears have on their children's independence. The article makes a very important point that parents who don't let their children walk a couple of blocks to school and prefer to drive them there instead actually put their children in a  lot more danger than letting them walk by themselves ever would: "Critics say fears that children will be abducted by strangers are at a level unjustified by reality. About 115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year, according to federal statistics; 250,000 are injured in auto accidents." 

I wish the article discussed the psychological consequences of helicopter-style parenting, but still it's a good, thoughtful piece that discusses a very important issue. That's why it's so surprising that the New York Times placed it in the "Fashion and Style" section. The logic behind this placement of the article is difficult to fathom. Do the newspaper's editors watch too much reports about the lives of Britney Spears and the like, which makes them believe that children are a fashion accessory? Do they consider parenting to be as trivial an issue as fashion? Do they think that parenting is by definition a "female" topic and has to be relegated to the "female" section of the paper?

It's funny how the New York Times offers pride of place to Ross Douthat's weekly inanities but relegates a truly interesting piece to the depths of a secondary section that concentrates on mere trivialities.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Advice to Freshmen: The New York Times Style

Last week The New York Times published a collection of several short pieces by important academics offering advice to college freshmen.

There was Harold Bloom talking (surprise, surprise!) about the importance of the canon.

There was Stanley Fish reiterating his gripe against professors who dare to teach writing through analyzing ideas and not just the weather.

There was Carol Berkin (a professor of history at Baruch College) who seems to be teaching total idiots. Her advice includes a reminder to the students to make sure they don't confuse a math class and a history of art class.

There was Martha Nussbaum (a professor of philosophy, law and divinity at the University of Chicago) who offers great advice that the students take more courses in the Humanities but couches her suggestion in sadly familiar self-denigrating terms. Humanities courses are often impractical, she says, but take them anyways. When this myth about the impracticality of our courses is repeated by someone who simply has no idea about what we do, I can at least understand. But coming from somebody who has been teaching such courses for years, the sentiment is surprising, to say the least.

There was James MacGregor Burns (a professor emeritus of government at Williams College) with the cute albeit extremely outdated piece of advice to read a newspaper every day. With all due respect for the esteemed older colleague, in order to give advice to the younger generation, one needs to look out of the ivory tower window once in a while. Newspapers are dying out (which, as I have said before, is a thing to be celebrated) and today's students go to other sources of information. Becoming addicted to newspapers, as the good professor suggests, is a dangerous enterprise since this particular addictive substance is about to disappear for good.

There was Steven Weinberg (a professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin) who decided that the best thing he could contribute was the story of his own life.

This collection demonstrates how hard it is for some professors, as well as for some newspapers, to remain relevant to a younger generation.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ukraine is Weird

Sometimes, the things my native country is doing are too ridiculous to understand. A student just told me that a relative of hers has been living in Ukraine and dedicating a lot of time and effort to establishing non-profit educational programs for the young people of the country. God knows, such programs are sorely needed in Ukraine. Recently, however, the Ukrainian government introduced limitations on the number of days in a year that a foreign national can spend in Ukraine without asking for a citizenship status. So now my student's relative has to discontinue her activities and leave the country.

From these measures one could infer that there are crowds of Americans dying to move to Ukraine and the government has to stem the tide of immigrants. The reality, however, is very different. Many people leave the country every year in search of a better life elsewhere. The Ukrainian government definitely doesn't have to beat Americans who want to work for the country's benefit off with a stick. Maybe the Ukrainian government prefers to imagine the country as a target of massive American immigration but that is simply not the case. While our authorities indulge in these fantasies and act accordingly, the population fo the country suffers. But who cares about regular citizens and nice people like my student's relative. All that matters is that the government can keep indulging in its wishful thinking.

This Blog is NOT an Attempt to Find a Date

Dear readers,

I have no idea which of my posts caused people to think that I'm using this blog to search for a date but that is simply not the case. I have already received several e-mails from men offering a dating relationship to me. While I'm flattered (and also kind of weirded out) by the offers, I have to say that at this point in my life I'm not looking to date any one. I have a wonderful man in my life and we are very happy together. Even if I weren't attached, I would still not look for dates in such a strange manner.

Thank you!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Professor's Nighmare

Everybody in the teaching profession must have had this nightmare where you can't make it to class for whatever reason. And it's happening to me in real life. :-( My airplane was delayed coming into Atlanta, Georgia (I knew I shouldn't have come to this city) and I didn't make the connecting flight. So I had to cancel my first morning class because I can't make it there on time.

I feel horrible, people. What kind of  professor misses class? This is so stupid. Whatever you do, don't fly Delta and don't go through Atlanta. The airport here is the worst I've seen. Of course, everything looks kind of lousy right now.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hating and Fearing Doctors

I wonder why so many people are driven to extremely unreasonable actions that often put their own lives at risk by their inexplicable dread of doctors. This is a sentiment that hugely inspires the whole home-birth movement. Home-birthing websites indulge in endless fantasies about doctors going to incredible lengths to harm the woman and her child during the process of childbirth. Why any doctor would want to harm a patient is never explained.

The same sentiment informs Ross Douthat's latest article on voluntary euthanasia. The journalist creates images of plug-pulling doctors who are happy to end lives of sick patients. Why doctors would want to kill off people indiscriminately remains a mystery. Everybody knows that a doctor whose patients keep dying all over the place will not be very successful in her chosen field. As in any profession, there might be all kinds of maniacs among doctors, but for the most part, doctors want to save lives and not end them.

Douthat's dislike of the concept of euthanasia is not limited to his distrust of doctors. His main enemies - here as well as in every other aspect of human life - are freedom and choice. In euthanasia, Douthat says, "the goal is perfect autonomy, perfect control, and absolute freedom of choice." And for him, these are very bad things. God forbid people should have any rights over deciding what happens to their own bodies.

It's curious how the hatred of the medical profession brings together such unlikely groups as rabid conservatives and feminists. The feminist belief in the woman's right to her own body sometimes degenerates into the unhealthy idea that it's ok to deprive women of quality healthcare during childbirth. I'm sure Douthat's hatred of women would lead him to support home-birthers.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Back in Baltimore

I'm back in Baltimore for the Labor Day weekend, people. I missed this great city so much. It's great to be back.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Illegal Immigrants

So I've been thinking how silly it is for many people to be opposed to offering all of the so-called illegal immigrants green cards.

I recently moved to a small town in Southern Illinois. It's really tiny but it's spread out in a very unproductive way (that is, unproductive for the residents, but very profitable for automakers). There is downtown (where bars and restaurants are located), there is the college campus, the high school, the day care, the shopping center, and some residential areas. All of these places are really spread out. There are vast stretches of uncultivated, uninhabited land that just sits there unoccupied. This makes for a very depressing landscape. It also makes it hard and expensive to get from one of the inhabited places to another.

Bringing in immigrants and letting them populate these areas would be great for everybody. There would be more shops, more houses, more activity. Infrastructures such as public transportation, more day care centers, etc. will have to develop. Right now, there is so much space that could be utilised for something useful. The money and resources that now go into hunting down immigrants, erecting protective walls on the borders and deporting these poor people could be invested into helping them adapt more easily. The area such as  Southern Illinois suffers greatly from a  lack of cultural diversity. Immigrants would acquaint the natives with different customs, traditions, foods, music styles, ways of life. This could be an amazing thing for everybody involved.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Survey on Mothering and Feminism

I just received the following e-mail and think it would be a great idea to help these scholars. I followed the link and it's legit, so if you want to take part in the survey, you can.

"Hi, my name is Mindy, and I am a teacher and researcher at the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I am researching attitudes about mothering and feminism with my colleague Miriam Liss. We are collecting data from women over the age of 18. We are looking for feminists, non-feminists, mothers, and non-mothers. Your blog seems to target women who might be interested in our study. Would you be willing to post a link to it on your blog? If so, please post the following link (along with our permission for people to repost the link elsewhere if desired) along with anything else you choose to say:

Feel free to share this information and link with your friends! You can post it in other online venues you feel might be appropriate as well."

I would love to hear about the results of this research.

A Feminist Approach to Sexuality

Sadly, a coherent feminist approach to sexuality hasn't yet been worked out. Dedicated feminists often slip into the most tired of patriarchal stereotypes when discussing sex. A great example is "Professor Foxy's Column" on Feministing. I have been reading the column for a while and my sense of bewilderment has been growing with every passing week. The only goal of this quasi-feminist author is to make women and female sexuality as convenient as possible and as available as possible for the consumption by the patriarchal system. Here are some shocking examples.

1. A woman has been married for 18 months but hasn't been able to have sex with her husband because of how uncomfortable and painful it is. This young couple was part of the "abstinence movement", so both of them were virgins on their wedding day. The expected feminist answer to this woman should be to suggest she figure out whether she desires this man physically at all. Without asking this crucial question, P. Foxy plunges into very detailed advice on where and how and by what means the husband should put 1, 2, 3 and up to 4 fingers into her vagina. The conclusion to this piece is absolutely mind-boggling: "Stop taking it so seriously and eventually, with the love that you clearly have, it will work. You've made a commitment to him and he to you and you have time to make this work and you can discover great things along the way." So, we need to come to a feminist blog to hear that "commitment" will guarantee good sex? That love and sex are the same thing? Who is P. Foxy kidding here? Of course, doing everything possible to fit female sexuality into the confines of a monogamous patriarchal marriage is an all-important goal. But aren't Conservative media offering enough advice of this caliber?

2. On faking orgasms, this "sex specialist" says: "This feminist is ok with the occasional faking. Our partners, regardless of gender, have egos. And many people have the desire to keep their partner's ego intact." In other words, female pleasure should be sacrificed for such an important thing as male ego. Congratulations, this is where centuries of feminism have led us. Let's suffer through unpleasant sex just so that our men don't discover that they are bad in bed. Their feelings might be hurt and we can't allow for that to happen.

3. A woman asks advice on how to talk to her 7-year-old son about sex. The response is couched in profoundly ideological terms: "You can describe it as something that two people do when they are older and when they care about each other (emphasis mine). He may very well be satisfied with this answer for the beginning. If he presses further, you can give more details: sex is when two people (you can say adult if you want) who care about each other are naked together and touch each other." Notice the insistence on caring about each other which consistently (twice within the same paragraph) tries to inculcate the idea that sex and emotions are somehow connected. Imagine what the poor guy raised in such a rhetoric will feel when he discovers that many of the women who sleep with him don't give a damn about him or his feelings. (I've met such men and, believe me, the picture isn't pretty.)

4. A woman asks how to inform her parents about her polyamorous relationship. P. Foxy suggests that she prepare herself to a third-degree interrogation where she will have to answer questions and field commentts like: "Honey, do you think you can't get a man who really loves you? He is getting his cake and eating it too. Darling, you know you aren't actually ok with that." The woman has to take into account that the parents "may need to end up explaining this to their friends as well" and as a result she needs to "answer their questions with patience." The idea that a woman does not have to justify her sex life to her parents - as well as to their circle of friends - does not even enter this "feminist's" reasoning.

In short, female pleasure should always take second (third, fourth, etc.) place to such all important things as commitment, emotions, husband, marriage, parents, male-egos, and even the parents' circle of friends.

Why Female Viagra Doesn't Exist

Everybody knows that many women experience difficulties with reaching an orgasm (especially a vaginal one). Why, then, have we seen no equivalent of Viagra for women appearing on the market? Obviously, such a drug would bring billions in revenues to the company coming out with it.
In my opinion, here, as well as in many other areas of life, pecuniary interests give way to ideological, psychological and social concerns. Liberated female sexuality would mean that all men who today buy heterosexual sex and companionship with money and promises of a relationship (which is the only way for a woman to receive social validation) would not be able to secure a partner. All men who today take pride in purchasing women for money and even publish articles about that, would sit there all alone with their "money and maturation". The wives and girlfriends of such men only need to experience an orgasm once in other to dump their boring men, who for years have taken pride in their capacity to purchase women for a very low price.

Of course, men are terrified that this would happen.  Anything that can potentially prove even marginally liberating to female sexuality is profoundly scary to huge chunks of male population. In order to appear on the market, a female Viagra would need to pass through so many men that our chances of seeing it any time soon are next to none.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


As we all know, marriage is an institution that is beneficial to men and detrimental to women. Married men live longer than single men, while married women live shorter lives than married women. Married women still do most household chores for the family, so while men gain a cleaner and a cook, married women lose time and energy needed to serve two people instead of one. As Susan Faludi demonstrated in her great book Backlash (which reads like a mystery novel, so I highly recommend to any one), single men suffer a much higher rate of depression and neurosis than married men because of their single status. Single women, however, suffer from depression due to their single status a lot less than single men.

Since the institution of marriage is so detrimental to women and beneficial to men, ideological devices needed to be created in order to make it seem desirable to women. In our societies, marriage is presented as the only way for a woman to gain an acceptable status and a certain legitimacy as a member of society and a representative of her gender. We are bombarded with TV shows, movies, articles, books, etc. that show us an endless succession of women desperate for a marriage proposal. Why that proposal is a good and a necessary thing for a woman is never explained. The way ideology works is by presenting something as simply existing. As a result, it never occurs to most people to question why these movie and book characters are so desperate to enter an institution that will shorten their life span and bring them a lot more boring housework.

These ideological devices often go to ridiculous lengths to make their point. We have all watched Sex and the City, a profoundly patriarchal show that has no connection to reality. In real life, beautiful accomplished women like the characters of this show receive marriage proposals by the bucketful from a very early age to the day when they die. Never would women like Carrie, Miranda and Samantha have to humiliate themselves for the sake of getting some loser to validate their existence by an offer of a relationship. Still, the television and the movies create an alternative reality where women are desperate to get a proposal pretty much from anybody. As a result, women see themselves as incomplete without being married and consent to getting married so much more readily.

Of course, there is always another side to this story. Women would not participate in the "get-married-or-society-will-see-you-as-worthless" ideology if they didn't gain something from it. Marriage is such a nifty little institution that it manages to accomodate everyone. What women as a group gain from it occurs precisely at the point where they lose something else. We have known at least starting with Aristotle that human beings are social animals. We all need to feel socially accepted and validated by our peers. Getting married is pretty much the only way for a woman to feel that she has been successful as a member of society and a representative of her gender. As limiting as this is, it is also very easy. Proving your social value through working, through having a career, through having enough money to maintain yourself and your family (which is the only way that men have to prove their social and gender worth) is a lifelong enterprise. It is something you have to engage in on a daily basis. No matter how successful you were yesterday, if you lose your job today, you will feel like a lesser citizen and a lesser male. Getting married, however, is a one-time thing. You do it once, prove your worth as a member of society and a woman, and you are pretty much done. If you lose your job, or fail to graduate, for example, it will be painful for you, but no woman (that I know of, at least) feels less of a woman because of unemployment.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Five Months of Blogging

So today is my blog's anniversary. It has existed for 5 months. When I started blogging, I barely new what blogging meant and what to expect from this activity. Here are some of the things I discovered about blogging:
1. The blog's popularity is growing much faster than I could have expected. Today, I already had 553 visitors and it's only 4 pm.
2. People who love hearing my opinions and talking to me in real life do not necessarily like reading my blog. :-)
3. The most popular posts are the ones that contain real life stories.
4. The most popular posts often get no comments.
5. Once published, posts circulate very widely without my knowledge. People repost them in the weirdest places.
6. There are communities out there that hate me and invent the most preposterous lies about me. I only discover their existence by pure chance.
7. People love to attribute some insane notions to the blogger and then condemn her for them.
8. Logical reasoning is not for everyone.
9. There are a lot more people who share my beliefs than I ever thought.
10. There are a lot more crazy people out there than I thought. There are also a lot more incredibly smart people than I thought.
11. Blogging is FUN!!!