Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another Disappointment from Barbara Ehrenreich: A Review of "Bright-sided", Part II

I also believe that all of my health problems (not anybody else's, just mine) are psychosomatic in nature. I don't impose my beliefs on anybody and don't think anybody is stupid for taking care of their health in a different way. Ehrenreich's argument that one's state of mind doesn't influence one's health doesn't convince me not because I have been brainwashed by anybody (as Ehrenreich suggests), but simply because that is what my entire life experience has taught me. When I was finishing my dissertation and looking for a job, for example, I was constantly sick. I kept falling from one disease into another all the time. I had the weirdest, completely unexplainable symptoms. And then I found a job and all those health problems went away as if by magic. I don't really care whether there are enough studies proving the causation because nobody will be able to convince me that living in a state of constant terror of unemployment had nothing to do with my health issues.
Ehrenreich's argument that the current economic crisis was caused by the "gullibility and optimism of ordinary individuals" is at best uninsightful and at worst represents a nasty instance of victim-blaming. We heard political conservatives of every stripe that the inhabitants of Main Street behaved irresponsibly (how dare those losers want to have their own homes?) and caused the meltdown. We all know, however, that the real problem didn't lie with the middle-class or aspiring middle-class Americans. The bunch of Bush's cronies received a free pass on robbing us all blind and that's exactly what they did. It is also kind of disturbing that Ehrenreich would talk about the people duped by the Wall Street crooks as "ordinary." Evidently, you have to work for Goldman Sachs (and not as a janitor) for this author to consider you extraordinary.

The author's hatred of motivational speakers is so profound that she is even willing to present the most notorious Wall Street criminals as poor unwitting victims of the "positive thinking" movement. According to Ehrenreich, Joe Gregory, the former president of Lehman's Brothers, is not really guilty of his company's collapse. It's the bad, mean, positive-thinking ideology that makes people believe they can achieve anything they want that is to blame for his actions and the company's demise. It is very surprising to see a hard-core liberal like Ehrenreich giving an absolution to a bunch of greedy individuals like Gregory, but there it is.

It seems that Ehrenreich read too many self-help books in the process of doing research for Bright-sided and couldn't help but borrow some of their tricks. She decides to end her book with a piece of advice on how we should conduct our lives: "The alternative to both [positive thinking and depression] is to try to get outside of ourselves and see things 'as they are,' or as uncolored as possible by our own feelings and fantasies." At least, Ehrenreich has the good sense of putting "as they are" in quotation marks. This demonstrates that the author herself is a little ashamed of her childishly naive way of offering advice to people whose worldview might be a little bit more complicated than her reductive materialism.

To summarize: the book is boring, uninsightful, poorly constructed, unconvincing, and intellectually barren.

Another Disappointment from Barbara Ehrenreich: A Review of "Bright-sided", Part I

For some unfathomable reason, I keep hoping that Barbara Ehrenreich will finally produce an insightful analysis of something. This never happens, however, and the only thing I take away from her books is a sense of disappointment. Ehrenreich's latest subject seemed so promising that I bought her book . She takes on the perennial cheerfulness, perkiness, and optimism that characterizes (to use Terry Eagleton's beautiful phrase) "the genetically upbeat Americans."

Positive thinking, says Ehrenreich, is "beginning to be an obligation imposed on all American adults." Ehrenreich describes the constant efforts to promote positive thinking within companies that, according to her, are now seeping into the academic world. I don't know much about the corporate world and whether the cheery mood is obligatory there. I do know, however, that Ehrenreich is completely wrong when she says that cheerfulness and positive thinking are becoming popular in academia. Academics are the whiniest bunch of people you will ever meet. We love bitching, complaining, moaning, and sighing. Recently, I have been feeling simply ecstatic about my new job, but I can see that even the people who gave me the job in question are being repelled by my enthusiasm. Everybody expects me to complain and when I don't my fellow academics seem a little disoriented.

Ehrenreich believes that human beings are nothing more than tiny little objects at the mercy of blind forces beyond our comprehension. She is a fierce materialist who believes that our circumstances are the only thing that defines our lives. She is consequently very annoyed by any worldview that believes in the possible victory of spirit over matter. In her opinion, thinking that you can achieve anything you want if you work really hard at it and want it really badly is wrong because it obscures reality. Apparently, she cannot accept that everybody's version of reality is very different and that some people might be justified in shaping their own reality.

Ehrenreich's one-dimensional materialism seems boring and overly aggressive. She insists that your happiness depends on your income, an idea that is profoundly alien to me. I accept her right to be an atheist and a materialist. I don't think that any one deserves scorn and ridicule for possessing this worldview. It would be nice to see Ehrenreich respond in kind to people who are religious and/or seek other explanations than the purely materialistic type that she promotes. I, for one, do believe that human beings have a lot more agency in the world that Ehrenreich allows for (I mean, I have a lot more agency. If Ehrenreich doesn't want this agency, then she definitely shouldn't try to exercise it.) I believe that my financial problems (mine only, I am not extrapolating this on anybody else) are caused exclusively by my profound need for them.

Talks with My Students

I love my students. Whatever happens, they always know how to make me laugh. So here are some of the recent stories:

Story 1.

Student (describing a painting by Velasquez): So here we see some woman and she is breastfeeding this baby. And there are these three other men with gifts standing around them. I have no idea why he painted this.

Me: So who are the mother and the baby?

Student (indignantly): How should I know?

Me: Virgin Mary and Jesus.

Student (incredulously): You think??

Story 2.

Me: And this is yet another instance of the pernicious influence of the US in Latin America.

Student (in utter exasperation): Why, why do we, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, always have to mess with other people and cause them misery???

Me: You'are asking me?? Why do you, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, always have to do it?

Thursday, October 29, 2009


The obviously mentally unstable Elizabeth Hasselbeck is the reason why I stopped watching The View a long time ago. This recent interview with her published by US Magazine shows that she has not seeked any help for her mental issues since then:

"If something happened and I was pregnant again ... I don’t know how that would happen, because I'm clearly avoiding my husband," former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck.
Not getting intimate is tough. "He's so cute," Hasselbeck, 32, said. "This is the problem ... he's very cute."
Asked if she's ever heard of birth control, Hasselbeck replied, "Yeah, I have. It takes a while to kick in once you start one. But in the meantime, I just find him incredibly attractive. So, it's not like I'm that disciplined, so right now, my strategy is dressing in a way that will not get me pregnant."
How does she dress so that she doesn't get pregnant? "Nothing too cute," she said. "I'm trying to wear nothing too revealing."
Whether she is being honest or is doing her cutesy-dumb-blonde thing in order to advance her career is unimportant.What matters is the frequency with which brainless-bimbo-type women (or the ones who pretend to be this way) are thrust upon us everywhere we turn by the media. Being a dumb, illiterate, giggly, winky, inarticulate fool can bring you fame and fortune very fast, as we all have seen in Sarah Palin's example. Given Palin's incredible rise to prominence, it is no wonder that Hasselbeck is going around flaunting her stupidity as well.

If You Have a Child with Asperger's

When I was a little girl, nobody knew the word Asperger's. My way of being was called "weird," "strange," "slow" and other equally nice things. Today, we are finally getting to understand that not everybody is neurotypical, that the variety of human difference is huge, and that, most importantly, it's ok.

Everybody on the spectrum is different. There is no single list of characteristics that would encompass all of us. Still, when I think about it, there is a whole range of things that people around me could have done when I was a child to make my existence easier. So if you have a child who might have Asperger's, these are the things you should consider:
  1. First and foremost, it is not the end of the world, a tragedy, or a reason to feel miserable. It isn't a disease or "a public health crisis", as some ignoramuses claim. It's a way of being that is in no way worse or inferior to yours. I believe that in some ways it might actually be better. There is nothing in this condition to prevent your child from being happy. Of course, she will be happy on her own terms and within her own way of understanding happiness.
  2. I understand the need that parents have to kiss and hug their child. Remember, however, that a child with Asperger's might feel a deep, visceral rejection for anybody's touch. This isn't personal, this isn't directed at you in any way. There are other ways to show affection. Why not show your child how much you love him by giving him the gift of life that is free from excessive touching?
  3. If you find your child staring at the wall and rocking, don't panic and, most importantly, don't interrupt her. This is her coping mechanism and, once again, it is in no way worse or less acceptable than your coping mechanisms. You might cope through over-eating, chocolate, shopping, alcohol, medication. Your child copes in this way. And it should just be accepted.
  4. These children desperately need their own space that will be respected and that will feel safe at all times. If you can't afford to give your child a separate room, you can mark off a corner of a room with screens, you can give him a box or a drawer where he can keep his things in the order that makes sense to him.
  5. When I was little, the scariest thing I could hear was "Go play with other kids." I remember the feeling of wordless desperation and deep terror at this command. My parents made desperate efforts to make me more sociable. I understand that they were worried about me but their attempts to make me what I simply cannot be were very hurtful. Asperger's doesn't mean that your child will not be able to have a social life. She will if she chooses to. But it will be on her terms and in a way that will make her comfortable.
  6. When I was 6, my music teacher told my mother that I was "cold and heartless," which made my mother cry for days. It also made me believe that something was profoundly wrong with me, when, in fact, something was wrong with this nasty teacher. In reality, our main difficulty lies not with having emotions but with expressing them in socially acceptable ways. Your child isn't cold or unemotional, he just doesn't express himself the way you do. And who is to say that your way is in any way better?
  7. The word I heard a lot to describe me when I was a child was "slow." Please remember that Asperger's comes with a set of neurological peculiarities (poor balance and coordination, difficulties with judging distances, etc.) that may vary from one person to another. This in no way reflects upon your child's intellectual capacities. We often have very high IQs and some very special and valuable skills. The price we pay for that often entails having difficulties with things that come very easily to other people. When you think about it, what's more useful: being able to ride a bicycle and tie your shoelaces in less than 10 minutes, or knowing how to amass, absorb, classify, categorize and be able to reproduce instantly huge masses of complex information?
  8. One of the central characteristics of our way of being is that we often develop an all-encompassing interest that we pursue single-mindedly and obsessively. When somebody interrupts our deep concentration on this interest, it feels physically painful. Just let her do whatever it is that interests her. One day this obsessive interest might even turn into a profession that will allow her to make a very good living (as happened in my case.)
Accepting somebody's right to be different from you, to experience the world and to define happiness in a completely different - and sometimes in exactly the opposite - way is the greatest manifestation of love there can possibly be.

Read more about this here and here.

P.S. I kindly request the haters to refrain from leaving comments. I never delete comments, except when they contain unsolicited advertisements. Here, however, I am willing to start deleting comments whose only goal is to promote hatred. Everybody else is welcome to leave comments about their experiences and suggestions.

Mothers and Weddings

When I was getting married (many many years ago), my mother took me shopping for a wedding dress. Since I had no interest in the dress, the wedding, or the marriage itself, it was entirely my mother's project and she was passionately invested in it. So while she was flying around the wedding-gown store, snatching dresses, throwing them down, criticizing gowns for not being good enough and me for not being interested enough, I had the following conversation with the store owner.

Store owner: Your mother-in-law is a very difficult person.
Me: Oh, it isn't my mother-in-law. It's my mother.
Store owner: Poor child! If this is how your mother treats you, I can't imagine what your mother-in-law should be like.

The point of this little anecdote is that often mothers have profoundly unhealthy attitudes to their daughters' weddings. This tendency is especially strong in cases of women who arrive at middle age with no life of their own. I often see my friends' mothers go completely nuts over their daughters' weddings. We live in a culture that repeats obssessively how a wedding is a most important day of a woman's life (which sounds prety scary. Does it mean that it's all downhill after that? That nothing of importance will ever happen to you again?). For the most part, women come out of weddings profoundly disappointed. The actuall wedding day turns into being all about the invitations, the menu, the center-piece, and the myriad little details that are boring, annoying , and have nothing to do with love and romance.

Women feel cheated out of this profound, crucial and life-changing experience that they were promised on a wedding day. So when their daughters get married, they see it as an opportunity to relive the experience and finally try to make it right. And, of course, it still doesn't work because they way weddings are traditionally envisioned, organized and experienced can only lead to disappontment and frustration.

Then again, there are always the granddaughters.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Idiocy from Texas

It isn't like I'm looking for these things on purpose but I keep hearing extremely weird things about Texas every day.

I just discovered that there is a university there that offers ONLINE beginners courses in the Spanish language. These people actually think that language can be taught online. Has anybody heard anything so ridiculous? Where did they get inspired by this idea? Was it the President Bush's claim that he spoke Spanish? Well, people, he didn't. And neither will your miserable students whom you are cheating out of an education.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Postdocs in Humanities

There is this truly evil system that unfortunately is becoming more and more widespread and that consists of offering postdoc positions to recent PhD graduates in the Humanities. Postdocs make some sense in sciences. A newly-minted PhD has a chance to work in a lab run by an esteemed professor, engage in some research, get some publications out, etc. In the Humanities, however, this system makes absolutely no sense. Postdocs in the Humanities do the exact same work as Assistant professors. The only difference is that they are paid a lot less and don't get any benefits or support for their research.

The only reason why universities today open more and more postdoc positions in the Humanities is because they want to save money and exploit these poor postdocs without offering them anything in return. While in sciences a postdoc position is a necessary step that leads you to a tenure-track position, this is not the case in the Humanities. Once you fall into the postdoc trap, you might never climb out of it. I have seen people going from one miserable postdoc to another for years. Being stuck in this position means that you have no hope for tenure, no financial assiatnce for your research, no job security, and often no benefits.

I believe that we should do everything we can to resist the introduction of postdoc positions in the Humanities in our schools. This practice is exploitative and it robs young academics of any future. This is wrong, people. Let's not allow this to happen. More than half of all instruction at American universities is now performed by part-time faculty and this horrible trend is growing. We don't want our students to be taught by grievously underpaid, overworked, and exploited people who are worrying themselves sick about whether they will even have a salary next academic year.

Who Cares about Research?

When I accepted the position at my current state university, many people took it upon themselves to open my eyes to the harsh realities of this type of schools. "This is first and foremost a teaching institution," they would tell me. "You will be expected to just teach, teach, teach. Forget your research, nobody at your new school will care about that. If you do any research, it will have to be on your own time. And you will have to make efforts to conceal your research from your department because they might believe you are wasting the time you could have spent on improving your teaching."

Well, my friends, it all turned out to be a huge, steamy pile of BS. The administration of my new university is obssessed with research. A day doesn't go by when we aren't begged, cajoled, importuned, and encouraged in any possible way to do research. The university offers money, support, salary raises, and promotions to people who are actively pursuing a research agenda. If you publish something, everybody celebrates you for weeks.

This just goes to show how many preconceived notions about different kinds of universities there are out there. Young academics might hear these horror stories and decide to reject a job offer from a state college because of the fear that their research might suffer. And this absolutely does not have to be the case.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Disturbing "Autism Speaks" Project

I first found out about this project through those commercials where actors from Law & Order: SVU say in deep, tragic voices: "You know the numbers of autism... blah-blah ... go to" First of all, it feels not a little disturbing that the project would choose actors from a show that concentrates on sexual crimes, pedophilia, and child molestation to talk about autism. Is there some connection they are trying to promote between autism and sexual crimes? I sincerely hope not, but it always made me wonder.

Another thing that annoyed me about Autism Speaks is the language they use to refer to autism. They insist on talking about an autism epidemic but fail to give any proof for its existence. In fact, there is NO "autism epidemic." The only thing that is changing is the emergence of better tools to diagnose autism.  But, of course, talking about it in terms of an epidemic maintains the idea that autism is a scary disease (The word disease actually keeps getting repeated over and over at the project's website.) They also refer to autism as "an urgent and growing public health crisis." This kind of unhealthy fear-mongering is beyond frustrating. It makes people treat autistics as some sort of diseased, scary objects, rather than people who simply are a certain way (and might actually be pretty content with it).

I saw this documentary about people with Asperger's** where a mother (evidently brainwashed by projects like Autism Speaks) learns that her son has been diagnosed with Asperger's. Her reaction to this was beyond unhealthy. She started howling (I mean it, people, there is no other way to describe it) about how horrible it was to find out that her son's life was over and that he will never experience anything good the way "normal" children do. Anybody who is even marginally familiar with Asperger's knows that it does not mean your life is over and that it does not have to lead people to mourn you as if you were on your deathbed. When I read the article that Autism Speaks dedicates to Asperger's, though, I realized why some people might see this diagnosis in such tragic terms. "Disorder, difficult, challenging, impossible,obssessive, awkward, daily challenges, isolated, overwhelmed, misunderstood, minefields, frustration, despair, etc., etc." are just some of the terms this pretty short article uses to brainwash people into thinking that if they have Asperger's, their life is, indeed, over.

My honest belief is that all this overexaggerated autism-is-a-horrible-scary-disease hysteria is being promoted by some pharmaceutical company that is planning to release a bunch of drugs and is preparing the ground to make people believe that we need to buy their junk.

** I don't speak about Asperger's so much because I think it's less deserving of attention than other forms of autism. It is simply what I know best and, unlike people at Autism Speaks, I dislike pontificating about subjects that are completely unfamiliar and alien to me.

Spanish Newspapers Finally Available on Kindle

I lost all hope of ever reading any newspapers from Spain on my Kindle a long time ago, so I haven't even been checking whether Amazon added this possibility or not. It is completely by chance that I discovered that the following newspapers are now available either for subscription or for a purchase of a single issue whenever you feel like it:
, , , and

I do not have words to explain what it means to a Hispanist to be able to read "El Pais" or "El Mundo" with my morning coffee the very day the issue comes out. Now, of course, I have the painful dilemma of which of these papers to choose to subscribe. Any suggestions are welcome in the next 14 days (while I explore my free trial possibilities.)

P.S. Turns out there is also the Mexican and the Brazilian

San Antonio Doctor Traumatized by Female Sexuality

USA Today published this hilarious interview with a religious fanatic disguised as a doctor who wants to make her patients pay for having rich and fulfilling sex lives. This individual refuses to prescribe birth control to her single female patients because she can't get over her envy towards them: "I'm not going to give any kind of medication I see as harmful," said Phillips of San Antonio**. The drugs would not protect her patient from "emotional trauma from multiple partners," Phillips reasoned. "I could not ethically give that type of medication to a single woman." It's sad that no drug is available to protect Dr. Phillips from the emotional trauma of knowing that there are women in the world who have sex purely for enjoyment.

It's funny how this freak stops at single women. Apparently, she doesn't realize that having multiple partners has nothing to do with your marital status. She also doesn't realize that the reason people take birth control in general and this kind of contraception in particular has nothing whatsoever to do with the number of partners they have. This weird person is so stuck on the painful (to her) thought that somebody somewhere might have more than one sex partner that she can't discuss anything else. It's terrifying to see how many insane individuals get into the medical profession. I shudder to think what this "doctor" might do to a patient who does something to hurt her sex-deprived sensibilities.

**And then people get upset with me for dumping on certain states as places where all kinds of freaks flourish.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ross Douthat's Hatred of Muslims

The readers who have been following my blog for a while might have noticed that I haven't commented on Ross Douthat's column for several weeks. It seems that the New York Times keeps trying to adopt the practice of making people subscribe to the online version of their paper. For me, the content of this newspaper just isn't worth the trouble, so I simply stop reading it whenever another such attempt is made.

Today, however, I simply have to comment at the new outburst of hatred coming from the most ridiculous parody of a journalist the New York Times has produced. Ross Douthat is a famous hate-monger. We all remember how he shakes with rage at the thought of women's independence. His current object of hatred, though, isn't women. Now, it's Islam.

Talking about the recent note issued by the Vatican that invites the members of the Anglican Church to rethink their religious affiliation and consider switching to Roman Catholicism, Douthat chooses to analyze this event as an attempt to take a stand against Islam on the part of the current Pope: "This could be the real significance of last week’s invitation. What’s being interpreted, for now, as an intra-Christian skirmish may eventually be remembered as the first step toward a united Anglican-Catholic front — not against liberalism or atheism, but against Christianity’s most enduring and impressive foe." This foe, according to Douthat, is what he calls "the Islamic challenge".

It's very annoying when stupid, uneducated people write articles for an esteemed newspaper. Before you can have opinions and express them publicly, you need to educate yourself about the subject you want to opine about. If Douthat actally opened the Holy Quran before trying to express himslef on the subject of antagonism between Christianity and Islam, he would have discovered that Surah 3:3-4 offers the following perspective on Moses and Jesus: "ALLAH is HE besides Whom there is none worthy of worship, the Living, the Self-Subsisting and All-Sustaining. HE has sent down to thee the Book containing the truth and fulfilling that which precedes it; and HE has sent down the Torah (Law of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guidance to the people; and HE has sent down the Discrimination (judgement between right and wrong)." Is that an "enduring foe" speaking, or rather, a friend and an ally? What is the purpose of spewing hatred against a religion you don't know or understand?

Here are some of my previous posts about this joke of a journalist:

Messing with Halloween

A student just told me that in her kids' school new Halloween practices have been adopted. First of all, the students aren't allowed to refer to the holiday as Halloween because it may carry some religious connotations. Second, the children are not allowed to wear the traditional witch or monster costumes. Instead, they should wear a "community helper" costume. Firefighters and nurses are acceptable community helpers, but most other choices are out.

I don't know who comes up with these ideas but the purpose of this insanity is pretty obvious. I'm sure that in this, extremely conservative, area of Illinois, somebody is doing this stuff on purpose in order to make children hate the idea of political correctness from an early age. This completely exaggerated, unreasonable and indefensible approach is what is being sold to the kids of Southern Illinois (and many other places, I'm sure) as one of the limitations imposed on them by "those nasty, politically correct liberals."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

C-section Persecution

I have already discussed how the ruling patriarchal ideology marginalizes women who give birth through C-section**. Women have to be constantly punished for their gender through pain and suffering. Those who try to minimize the pain of childbirth through scheduled C-sections are shamed into seeing themselves as traitors to their femininity and told that they are a "failure."

Here are some more disturbing facts provided by Feministe about the persecution faced by women who give birth through C-sections:

Insurance companies can consider prior cesarean sections as a “pre-existing condition” and deny a woman coverage for childbirth. Additionally, in Florida for example, women who have had c-sections are charged 25% more in premiums if they want to retain their health insurance coverage of birth.

In Illinois, according to a Chicago Sun-Times article on 6/26/07, a woman’s emergency c-section (much to her physician’s consternation) was denied coverage by BlueCross BlueShield.

The sad thing is that women often buy into this anti-C-section propaganda and gleefully participate in shaming women who have C-sections.

** Check out my posts "The Truth about C-section," "A C-section Makes You a Failure," and  "Ideology in Birth Preparation Classes."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Yes Means Yes: A Review, Part II

is so great that it's impossible to choose the parts I want to quote. There are simply too many of them. So I'll just list some of the most important issues this book explores:

  • the chastity movement and the abstinence-only sex ed programs present women as commodities to be bought and sold;
  • the religious right and the "pick up artists" actually have a lot in common: both groups see sex as property. The only difference is the price they are prepared to pay for this commodity. If you believe that there is nothing wrong with seeing sex as a commodity, you need to remember that what makes a commodity valuable is its scarcity. For both conservatives and PUAs, getting women to have sex with you needs to be difficult and pricey. Otherwise, sex has little value for these puritanical sexists;
  • contrary to an oft-repeated male myth, there is no 'proper' way to go about struggling for and obtaining sex. A woman is a human being and she either wants you or not. If she doesn't, it's no use trying different approaches to change her mind. So if you are telling yourself that you are just a nice guy and can't "get" a woman to have sex with you because of that, what you really are is a sexist jerk: "When these men apply that thinking to sex, it's as if the woman standing between them and the pussy is an irrelevance, a hindrance";
  • We need to get rid of the idea that a simple absence of a 'no' equals consent: "The burden is not on the woman to say no, but on the person pursuing the sexual act [who might be of either gender] to get an active yes."
  • black female sexuality is still seen exclusively in terms of kind asexual mammy vs. a lustful jezebel;
  • the military exploits the patriarchal myth of female sexuality to torture and persecute prisoners;
  • and a lot more.
I have known about the existence of this book for a while. Now that I have finally read it, I feel sorry that I had gone all these months since it came out without reading it. It is that good. And if you are at all interested  in how sexuality is socially constructed and constrained, you have got to read it. Borrow it from a friend, take it out of the library, but read it. You will not be sorry.

There is hope for Texas, after all

Thank God, reason prevailed ate the University of Texas at Austin. This goes to show that if we resist these barbaric changes collectively, we can stop them. 

"U. of Texas Abandons Controversial Foreign Language Plan
The University of Texas at Austin has abandoned a controversial plan to cut
the foreign language requirement in its College of Liberal Arts from 16 to
12 credits. In an e-mail sent this week to the faculty, Randy Diehl, the
dean of the college, noted that at a faculty meeting to discuss the idea,
"[i]n three and a half hours of give and take, not one audience member
spoke in favor of the proposal.... In view of the overwhelming negative
reaction to the proposal, I have decided to withdraw it from further

cited from 22 October 2009 Inside Higher Ed

Now I hope that Cal State at Bakersfield gives up on its shameful and outrageous plan to kill languages.

Yes Means Yes: A Review, Part I

I have finally had a chance to read Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape , a collection of essays analyzing every aspect of rape culture. The essays are compiled and analyzed by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti and the book's structure reflects the authors' blogging experience, which makes for an incredibly helpful and original format. This is a great book, my friends. It's beautifully constructed, extremely well-argued, and offers a lot of material to think about.

The authors of these essays look at the different ways in which the traditionalist approach supports and enables rape and sexual assault. The conservative gender roles that present a woman as a secondary being actually promote the culture of rape: "While right-wing groups certainly don't come out in support of rape, they do promote an extremist ideology that enables rape and promotes a culture where sexual assault is tacitly accepted. The supposedly 'pro-family' marital structure, in which sex is exchanged for support and the woman's identity is absorbed into her husband's, reinforces the idea of women as property and as simple accoutrements to a man's more fully realized existence." So when we rush to declare ourself as male property by giving up our names, careers, interests and preferences for the huge honor of belonging to a man, let us remember where this ideology comes from and where it often leads us.

The very structure of our patriarchal vision of sexuality is informed by gender stereotypes: "Men are expected to be aggressive sexual actors attempting to 'get' sex from passive women. . . We are told that the rules of sexual engagement involve men pushing and women putting on the brakes." Every woman knows how annoying the rhetoric of female affections that have to be 'conquered' through male effort is. From early childhood, men are taught that female 'no' doesn't really mean a final and unquestionable rejection. They are told that 'no' means maybe and that effort and perseverance can eventually turn a 'no' into a 'yes.' And  this myth is precisely what leads to so many stalkings, sexuall assaults, and rapes.

I have had the misfortune of experiencing the attitude inspired by the women-need-to-be-conquered myth more times that I care to remember. It's annoying and humiliating to be the object of male attempts at winning your affections once you have indicated that you are not interested. This state of things will not change unless we revise our understanding of gender roles. Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape also points out how this vision of gender roles victimizes men: "When society equates maleness with a constant desire for sex, men are socialized out of genuine sexual decision making, and are less likely to be able to know how to say no or  be comfortable refusing sex when they don't want it."

The authors of the book analyze brilliantly how rape is used as a tool of social control: "The natural desire for freedom and autonomy exists in women, and has always been nearly impossible to smother with bribery (the carrot of the wedding and the family and the home) alone. The stick also has to come out, and that's where the pervasive threat of rape comes into play." Women have to feel constantly fearful of placing themselves in the public realm and abandoning the mythical safety of their home, even though that home turns into the scene of violence, assault, and rape a lot more often than the streets.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why Women Have Sex

Cindy Meston, a so-called psychologist from Texas (where else, people?), apppeared today on the show of Dr. Phil, another so-called psychologist, to promote the silly rubbish that apparently goes for research in Texas. This pseudo-scientist's new book is . I kid you not, my friends. There is actually a woman in the world whose own sexuality is so miserable that she needs to conduct research to look for the "reasons" behind female sexuality. Burning calories, boredom and revenge are some of the "reasons" that Cindy Meston lists for female sexuality. It never occurs to her, of course, that these are not actual reasons for women to have sex. These are simply justifications women often have to look for because their sexuality is constantly otherized, marginalized and persecuted.

Male desire is seen as a given. men want sex, what can be more natural and obvious? When women want sex, however, it is seen is something so weird and incomprehensible that it has to be analyzed to death.

"Women need to have reasons to have sex while men just need a place" was the piece of chauvinistic idiocy that Dr. Phil came up with to introduce the topic. This is precisely the kind of attitude that makes women feel apologetic for pursuing sexual pleasure. One of the segments of the show was dedicated to a woman who actually desires sex because it gives her pleasure. Of course, the woman who was chosen for this segment is nothing short of freaky. She dresses in an extremely weird way, has humonguous breast implants and behaves in a way that borders on scary. After depicting a sexual woman in this way, Dr. Phil doesn't need to say anything else to ridicule female sexuality. The only conclusion people can draw from this presentation of female desire is that a woman who likes sex for its own sake is weird.

Predictably, the show then degenerated into promoting the "sex-as-an-aid-to-relationship" approach that is the hallmark of puritanical patriarchy. In answer to a question of what should a couple do when one of them isn't interested in having sex with the partner, Dr. Phil started pontificating about sex needing to be "negotiated as part of a relationship." This approach is precisely what causes so much sexual misery in this sexless society. People are schooled to think of their relationship first and of sexuality second. However, you can't force your body to serve your ideological and social goals indefinitely. As much as you might want to subjugate your sexuality to the needs of the all-important relationship, it isn't going to work. Sexual desire can't be cheated into thinking that you want somebody you don't (at least not for long).

Ivy League Schools vs State Schools, Part II

I have already discussed why I find my new university a much better place of employment for a young academic than my previous, superprestigious Ivy League schools. Three months have passed since that post, and now I have had many opportunities to observe (to my great surprise, often bordering on incredulity) that what is being offered to the students of my new state university is a whole lot better than anything my Ivy League students could have ever hoped for from their overpriced schools.

Let's take our Foreign Languages and Literature program, for example. Anybody who has done any language teaching at all knows that this is not a subject you can teach relying 100% on your textbook. The "let's-open-our-books-and-do-exercises-on-page-14" approach to language teaching is extremely outdated and ultimately unproductive. In order to teach a language successfully, you have to make it fun, interactive, and add a lot of cultural content. When students have a chance to watch films and television programs in the target language, sing, dance, and interact online, their curiosity towards the language and their performance in it improve dramatically. Simply put, it's incredibly difficult and often outright useless to try and teach foreign languages without all these things.

This week has been dedicated to watching Spanish-language movies in my Spanish classes. While I was looking at my students who assembled at the Plasma Lounge of our amazing Languages Lab, I was thinking about how surprised they would be if they knew that I couldn't have offered anything resembling this experience to my Yale students. Watching a film on a huge plasma screen with surround sound makes it an entirely different educational experience from trying to make out the images on the screen of an ancient TV-set stuck in the corner of a large classroom.

Next week I am planning to introduce my students to Spanish television. This is possible through the satellite dish programming which is also available at our language lab. It is needless to say that such an opportunity was unheard of at my Ivy League universities.

I'm sure that if I were to ask my current students whether they feel more privileged than Ivy League students, they would think that excessive work made me psychologically disturbed. This just goes to show how strong the power of the name (and, of course, of the price) still is. If it costs a bundle and everybody knows about it, it has to be superior to things that cost less and have a less prestigious name.

Of course, prestige matters. But if you are more interested in getting a quality education than sporting a fancy name on your baseball cap, remember that Ivy League schools often lose out massively to state schools in terms of what they can offer education-wise.

My Blog on Kindle!

My blog is finally available on Kindle!!! Here it is:
I still haven't learned how to make my Amazon blog page more visually attractive, so it's nothing much to look at. Still, I spend a lot of time looking at it because (as everybody here must have guessed already) I am profoundly in love with my Kindle.

The great thing about it is, of course, that every single link within the post is preserved and since Kindle has free wireless (now all over the world) you can jump to any link that interests you right from the Kindle blog page. It also preserves pictures (although not in color because the Kindle thankfully doesn't use color on its screen) and it also provides a different shade of ink for the quotes withing the body of the posts.

I didn't want it to cost anything but unfortunately Amazon isn't letting me control that. The funny thing is that I have to pay to receive it on the Kindle as well. It sounds weird that I would actually do it but it's so cool to see my own writing in the Kindle format that it's definitely worth it.

Now I will have to buy Kindles for the people I love in order to have some subscribers. :-)

Hollywood and Violence against Women

I always liked Nicole Kidman because among the woefully untalented Hollywood actors she is an exception. Now that she spoke out against the way women are treated in Hollywood productions, I like her even more: "Nicole Kidman testified before a US congressional panel on violence against women, conceding that Hollywood probably has contributed to the problem by portraying women as weak sex objects." It's high time somebody said that and finally recognized that the images of women in movies and on television widen the gender divide and promote all kinds of violence against women.

American society is deeply uncomfortable with the idea of sexuality. The female body in the media is first sexualized and then punished for reminding us of the uncomfortable reality of sex. At the same time, the idea of the irreconcilable differences between men and women is pushed on every corner by all kinds of self-help gurus, talk show hosts (Dr. Phil is a prime example), authors and journalists. Violence and rage against women that we observe both on the screen and in real life is partly a result of this mystique of femaleness. Look at the seemingly innocuous comedy "What Women Want?" The very manner of formulation the question sets the group called "women" apart from the group called "people." The title (and of course, the plot) of this idiotic movie promotes the idea of unavoidable female difference.

Women are a mystery to be solved, a puzzle that you have to ponder helplessly, a tough nut to crack. Is it any wonder that faced with the necessity to solve a mystery that cannot possible be solved (simply because it does not exist) society often turns to violent means of cracking the female puzzle? Turning women into the incomprehensible, confusing and consequently scary Other cannot avoid leading to violence against them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Funny Comments on My Post

I just discovered that a fellow blogger decided to blog about my recent post "Wildlife in Southern Illinois."

This is what this person had to say: "Strange that people are so disconnected from nature that seeing a small animal frightens them so much. I’ve met more than a few people like that, and just stare at them blankly when they say something of that nature. I grew up in and now live in a place where seeing things regularly that could bite your face off (alligators) was not unusual, so seeing a little ‘possum is no big deal."

What I find really strange is that even after meeting "a few people" like me, the author of the post still can't accept the frightening possibility that not everybody grew up in the same, alligator-rich circumstances than he did. Imagine how much this blogger would "stare blankly" if he were to discover that - oh, horror! - there are people whose life circumstances are so different that they were actually born in other countries. I wish this blogger some gentler encounters with the variety of human experience in the future.

I also wish him a rapid encounter with the concept called "a sense of humor."

A Gift

 A former student from a previous institution where I worked just sent me this pretty gift.

It's great to feel liked and appreciated by the students. :-)

Killing the Languages: The Case of Cal State Bakersfield

So the Modern Languages Department at Cal State Bakersfield has been slated to be cut 100%. let me repeat that: 100%. This means that this school will have no foreign languages at all. How they can pretend to be a university after such a measure is beyond my comprehension. In California, of all places, Cal State Bakersfield's students will not be able to learn Spanish and discover the treasures of Hispanic culture. What sense does this make??

According to one of the articles I link to below "although, this program commands more majors than a few other programs on campus (100 majors–compared to others with only 20 to 60 majors)–this is the program they’re targeted for termination." So obviously the program is going to be cut not because it doesn't manage to attract students and has become a financial drain on the university. The students obviously find foreign languages useful and important. The  administration of this institution plans to rob these students of the kind of knowledge that is crucial in today's world.

If you care about education in this country, please take a moment to express your indignation about this barbarity to Cal State Bakersfield's President Mitchell. here is his e-mail:

Here are some links to articles on this issue:

Let's do something to stop this insanity, people! These ignoramuses are using the crisis in California to achieve their long-held dream of destroying the Humanities in general, and languages more specifically. Let's not allow them to do this.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I ♥ Belinda

So it turns out that Belinda, the Chair of my Department, has known this entire time that I was assigned a lower salary than my male colleague who was hired at the same time with me. This entire time, she has been fighting to get me a fair, merit-based salary. And she succeeded! Thanks to Belinda and our new Dean (who, by all accounts, is a hundred times better than the previous Dean we had), I now have a fair salary that will be paid back to me retroactively.

It's a wonderful feeling to know that the Chair of your department cares about her colleagues so much. This blog is still unknown to the members of my department, so I can express my love and gratitude to our wonderful Belinda without it looking like I'm brown-nosing.

I ♥ Belinda!

Blogging Record

Yesterday was a great day fro this blog, my friends. We broke our previous record of visitors to the blog with 820 hits. I guess it pays off to write these extremely long posts I have been working on over the weekend.

I still remember the day when I had 10 hits on my blog and that put me over the moon. I don't even have that many friends, so it was a huge deal to see 10 actual people wanting to read my posts. :-)

Thank you, everybody who takes the time to read the blog and participate in discussions. I feel extremely happy that so many people are interested in what I have to say. When I see some of my students falling asleep during my first lecture of the day (which is, of course, due only to the early hour of the class and not to my classes being in any way boring), I want to shake them awake and tell them about all these people on the Internet that actually take the trouble to read my posts every day or every week.

If anybody has any suggestions about the topics you would like to see me blog about, feel free to tell me. Some people have been doing that for a while and it works very well.

Thank you, my friends!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

You've Come a Long Way, Maybe by Leslie Sanchez: A Review, Part II

The chapter I liked the most in is the one that provides an absolutely brilliant analysis of what will need to happen for Americans finally to elect a woman President or Vice-President ("From the Kitchen to the Kitchen Cabinet".) Sanchez correctly states that "there is a different level of notoriety - a national comfort level - that women must achieve before they can be considered safe. Call it a different acceptance curve for women." Female politicians also have to bear the burden of needing to be perceived as "nice" while persuading the voters that this niceness will not prevent them from being "tough" where it will matter.

What I appreciate the most in this chapter of Sanchez's book is that she suggested to me an idea I never considered before: it's more difficult for women to unite behind a single female candidate than it is for men to unite over a single male candidate because there is a much greater variation in possible lifestyles among women than there is among men. A male candidate does not have to worry as much about his lifestyle choices as a female candidate, simply because for a man those choices are never as contradictory as for a woman. According to Sanchez, "women want to vote for other women who reflect their own life experiences and - perhaps a bit chillingly - are suspicious of a woman who has opted to follow a path too far departed from the one they themselves have chosen." I have to confess that I never thought about it this way before, but now that I have there is no choice for me but to acknowledge that Sanchez is completely right.

So why does this happen? Why do the life choices of female politicians matter so much to female voters? And most importantly, is it a bad thing? Speaking from my personal experience, I have to say that it is pretty annoying never to be able to see an image of a woman who lives, acts and thinks the way I do either in books, TV shows, movies, or magazines. The only images of women we ever see in high and popular culture are nothing like me. As any literary critic will tell you, female readers routinely identify with male characters in a novel because female characters are usually lifeless, doll-like, and pathetic. We, women who are intellectually, financially, spiritually independent and see ourselves as just as valuable as men, do exist. If we can't see ourselves represented on a book page or the TV screen, then maybe we should be represented in the Oval Office.

For now, this is not very likely to happen. People only seem to be able to accept the image of a woman (in politics as well as on the movie screen) who is dependent on a man and subordinate to him. This is the case of Michelle Obama, analyzed by Sanchez with insight. The general tendency in the way the public perceives first ladies is that they are loved and accepted only while they make it very clear that they will have no life and no opinions other than their husbands'.

Sanchez ends her book with an analysis of female candidates who might attempt to run for president in the future. Her contention that a successful woman candidate might come from the corporate world seems pretty baffling to me. A long time will have to pass and the wounds of an economic crisis that is still raging will have to heal for people to stop seeing anybody who has made a fortune in the corporate world as a potential crook. It's hard to find any one at this point who hasn't suffered from predatory actions of big business that has adopted some pretty disgusting practices in order to weather the crisis.

Sanchez's call for a bipartisan feminist union also seems very unrealistic. I know that nothing in the world could persuade me to support any candidate (male, female, or intersex) coming from a fanatical fundamentalist background. There are also many women who would never support a strong, powerful, and independent female candidate simply because she would remind them too strongly of everything they have renounced in order to lead a secondary existence in a shadow of some man.

Overall, I am glad that  I read Sanchez's book. It was a pleasant surprise to see a book written by a Republican journalist that isn't filled with hate, lies, and insults. If there were more visible Republicans who think and talk like Leslie Sanchez, American politics would definitely be a better place.

You've Come a Long Way, Maybe by Leslie Sanchez: A Review, Part I

Leslie Sanchez, the author of a recently published You've Come a Long Way, Maybe: Sarah, Michelle, Hillary, and the Shaping of the New American Woman is a CNN journalist, a Republican, and a former adviser to President George W. Bush. Based on these qualifications, I was sure I would hate her book on the coverage that Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Obama received during the 2008 election campaign. So when I received the book I settled down nicely with it preparing to revel in anger and disgust at yet another incoherent, silly and badly written text coming from a Conservative. This, however, did not happen.

Sanchez represents that rare breed of Republicans who can write a book that would be of interest even to hard-core liberals such as this blogger. The main point she is trying to bring across in her book is that our society is still so profoundly sexist that a woman who aspires to political office has her chances severely limited by her gender. I couldn't agree more and the main question I have to ask is why Sanchez would want to belong to a party that is dedicated to promoting sexism on all levels. Being in the same room with woman-haters like Ross Douthat, Rush Limbaugh, George W. Bush and others is offensive to any woman, let alone actually belonging to the same party with them.

The part of Sanchez's book that I didn't like too much was, of course, the chapter dedicated to Sarah Palin. Sanchez believes that Palin was a valid candidate who was derailed by sexism which is still prevalent in our society. As much as I hate sexism, I do not believe that it is to blame for this particular poltical disaster.

What Sanchez fails to notice is that after having a very similar kind of person in power for eight years, people were weary of electing yet another uneducated, semi-literate, unintelligent, incoherent religious fanatic to one of the top ofiices in the country. Sarah Palin is simply a female version of Bush, Jr., and we have all seen where his policies have brought us. Without a doubt, Palin has suffered from sexism just as much as any woman trying to get elected has. But she can hardly complain since nobody promotes sexism in America more vigorously than the fundamentalist voter base that she embodies and represents. You cannot be a woman-hater (which anybody who supports the ban on abortion while advocating against sex ed in schools undoubtedly is) and complain that woman-haters have damaged your career. There is a kind of poetic justice in the fact that Palin's profound hypocrisy of being a career woman and promoting an ideology that dreams of seeing all women barefoot and in the kitchen backfired and put an end to her political ambitions.

Sanchez blames the media portrayal of Palin for her political failure. However, I can say that I personally do not remember watching any coverage on Palin. (Things were going on in my life that left me with no time to waste on anybody's commentary. I only watched the debates and the candidates' speeches, nothing else.) I haven't watched a second of SNL parodies or Jay Leno's jokes about Palin that Sanchez describes in her book. Why would I if Palin herself was the comedian of the year? Nobody told me to consider her ridiculous. I arrived at that conclusion completely unassisted simply because she is. 

Sanchez poses an important question: why was Palin so demonised by so many people? Her answer is sexism. I think that might be part of the answer. However, the most important reason for people's hatred of Palin is that for many of us she represented a version of George W. Bush, who by that time had become extremely unpopular. The very idea of yet another version of Bush in power for several years more drove many of us crazy. And for me personally (and probably for many other feminists) the very idea that a woman would promote such anti-women ideology was perceived as a major betrayal of women everywhere. An African-American who supports the Klan might be hated even more than a white Klan member. Sanchez is outraged that women weren't upset enough about sexist attacks against Palin to vote her into office. However, voting for someone whose central goal is to destroy women's lives in order to spite sexists would be kind of self-defeating.

I agree with Sanchez completely that the questions about whether Palin is a good mother and whether having many children would prevent her from doing her job as a Vice President were completely sexist and wrong. However, Palin herself is partly to blame for putting her motherhood at the center of the discussion. You can't keep repeating ad nauseam that being a  mother is what qualifies you for a job and then be upset that people start analyzing your claims. Palin's greatest problem, in my opinion, was that she strove to present herself as 'an average hockey mom' in a country where voters have finally come to realize that mediocrity does not represent a valid claim to a high elected office. We don't need an average anything in power any more because we have all seen where that brings us. We need outstanding, better-than-average, excellent, unique.

Sadly, as Sanchez convincingly demonstrates, when we get that, we still allow our sexism to cloud our judgment. Sanchez's analysis of Hillary Clinton's treatment by the media and many voters during her campaign proves that brilliantly. Talking about the incident where two men told Senator Clinton to iron their shirts, Sanchez asks the following question: "What if, during one of Michael Steele's speeches, these two young men had stood up and started waving signs and shouting at him the slogan "Shine my shoes!"?" I have to agree with Sanchez's answer: "My bet is that, if "Shine my shoes!" had been the slogan of the day, it would have galvanized us as a community and fomented  protests in a way that just didn't happen when Clinton was aked to iron shirts. In a way, that couldn't happen because she is a woman and, as a culture, we don't yet take sexism nearly to heart the way we do racism and other forms of prejudice." Sadly, sexism is so prevalent that we often fail to notice it when it occurs right in front of us.

I absolutely agree with Sanchez that Hillary Clinton's decision to talk about gender as little as possible during her campaign was a grave mistake. She tried to please male voters so much by her constant attempts to prove that she is as tough as members of the old-boys-club that she ended up repelling many female voters. I kept waiting for her to come in strong on gender issues but, sadly, that moment never came. For me, it signalled Clinton's reluctance to be a strong champion for women. As a result, I saw no reason at all to continue supporting her.

Free Kindle Books

For my fellow Kindlers, this is a list of places where you can get tons of books for your Kindle absolutely for free.

18,546 free books including both classics and non-classics

Non-classic free books for Kindle

Of course, there is also Project Gutenberg that has almost 30,000 free books in its catalogue. The problem with Project Gutenberg books is that often they are transferred onto the Kindle in a very weird formatting style that makes them hard to read. But there is a way around that (that doesn't involve any complex downloading of weird programs and having to do any formatting yourself):

On your Kindle, type the following url: Then, download the Magic Catalogue (MOBI Edition). This will onnly take a couple of seconds. Once you have the catalogue, you will be able to download ANY Project Gutenberg book directly onto your Kindle and in a format that is a pleasure to read.

For my Kindle-related information, I usually go to the following places:

A Kindle World Blog (always has the best information sooner than anybody else)

Kindle Community's Advice on Free Books (this discussion thread seems endless but it has tons of great information)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Gender Disappointment

Elle has an interesting article about a disturbing trend among soon-to-be parents. This trend is called "gender Disappointment" and has to do with mothers being unhappy with the gender of their children to the point of severe depression and fantasies of giving up for adoption the children with "the wrong gender." For the most part, the preferred gender that these mothers strive for in a variety of truly weird ways is female. They want to have a daughter at any cost and feel very disappointed when a son gets born instead.

Some of the methods these women use to conceive a baby of the "right gender" are truly outlandish. Just think of the level of desperation one has to achieve to turn her sex life into the following freak show: “Have your [partner] give you a ‘sample.’ Catch it in a cup or condom. Add warm lime. Do not warm lime in microwave—warm in hot sink. Then layer egg white (with a pH of 9 to 9.9) on top. You then incubate it for an hour…and insert it into yourself with medical syringe. Lay with hips raised.”

Elle's explanation for this trend is, of course, informed by the ruling patriarchal culture: these women prefer to give birth to little girls because female lives are so much easier than male: "Women envision a brighter future for their daughters than they do for their sons. Boys are practically the underdogs these days, having fallen behind girls on nearly every measure of academic achievement, from college attendance to high school graduation rates. According to books such as The War Against Boys and Boys Adrift, they are in danger of becoming, as Christina Hoff Sommers has written, “tomorrow’s second sex." Of course, they have to quote the completely insane Hoff Sommers on that because no reasonable individual could support this weird point of view. What mother can possibly envision "a brighter future" for her daughter when we still suffer from pay inequity, violence against women, the culture of rape, etc. is beyond my comprehension.

The real reason for this trend is hinted upon by the language used by these gender-frustrated mothers. This is what one of these obssessed women says: “Taking her to ballet class. Painting her nails with pastel glitter. It will make me feel complete, without a doubt.” This is another one's fantasy: “I didn’t buy the boy anything,” she says. Instead she stocked up on pink paraphernalia for her daughter, already named Cassandra. “I bought her jewelry and a little bracelet with her name on it. I was planning her first Halloween. She was going to be a little ballerina.” What they miss about having a daughter is buying cute pink clothes and turning tem into cute little ballerinas. And that's pretty much it. It's easier to see a little girl as a cuddly little toy. If you have a son, sooner or later you will have to recognize that this is actually a human being. A girl, however, is not accorded as much independence and as much personality as a boy by our patriarchal society. So these mothers keep going to incredible lengths to produce a girl-toy for themselves.

Often, these gender-obssessed women get their dream daughter and, of course, become disappointed in the whole experience: "In the end, my expectations of what it would be like to mother a daughter were not fully realized.” Eliza and Jamisyn don’t like to play with dolls, don’t enjoy ballet. “Neither is really frilly,” Lewis laments. “They don’t want to do the things my mother and I did. I have to shake myself and say: You got what you wanted. So why do I feel this longing still?” In the meantime, Lewis is trying to accept her daughters as they are. “I’ve tried not to take it out on them, but there have been pangs of anger, of disappointment, pangs of, I went through all this, and now you’re not cooperating? Didn’t you read the instruction booklet on how to be a daughter?” Imagine what this poor woman went through when she discovered that in spite of being female, her children are actually human beings, not gender stereotypes.

** Thank you, Marina, for bringing this to my attention!

Infantilizing Men

Recently, I read a very interesting post by Hugo Schwyzer that made me think about how often men are expected to pay a role of infantilized, immature and helpless little creatures in a relationship. Hugo's description of how he used to feel in his relationships is very telling in this respect:
"In my past marriages and relationships, I found myself– like so many men — taking on the part of the "naughty boy" and the "helpless child." Time and again, I turned wives and girlfriends into mother-figures, and the result was inevitably disastrous. I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers as to why we do what we do, or even why I did what I did. I do know that I’m not the only man who found "courtship" easier than "relationship." Over and over again, I devoted time and energy to "getting the girl", and when I succeeded, soon felt vaguely let down and confused about my role. It was all too easy for me to become increasingly childlike. I figured out that most of partners were students of my emotions, and most of them were eager to make the relationship work. So they were the ones who took over the "feeling work" of the relationship. They were the ones who brought up when something wasn’t working, they were the ones who took on the primary role of keeping what we had "oiled and running", as it were." (The rest of Hugo's interesting post can be found here.)

This is precisely the balance of power within a romantic relationship that the media always portray for us. Women are bustling around men, trying to figure out "how to make a relationship work", "what is wrong with the relationship", and "where the relationship should go". Think about the endless discussions on these topics on Sex and the City, where women seem to do little else other than engage in endless attempts to figure out men and relationships with men. Think about such shows as Everybody Loves Raymond, King of Queens, According to Jim, and the like, where the relationship inside a middle-aged couple looks more like a relationship between a.mother and a teenage son.
Many women automatically think that being in a relationship means that they have to take upon themselves the greater share of work needed to maintain the relationship. This goes both for housework and for any practical and emotional issues attendant upon being part of a couple. This sad reality robs women of time and energy that they invest into all that housework combined with having to work as a psychologist and couples' therapist within their own relationships. As a result, being with somebody becomes for many women one more full-time job rather than an opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves.

Hugo Schwyzer tells us honestly why men agree to play the part of a helpless child within a relationship: it seems easier. Of course, as he also recognizes, this stunts your emotional growh and robs you of power to decide what actually goes on both inside the relationship and inside your own house. For my part, I'm more interested in why women agree to take on this model of behavior.
The answer, I believe, is manifold. On the one hand, there is that feeling of being indispensable that I discussed in my post on gender and housework. There is also a need to conform to the patriarchal standard that presents all women as more emotional as men, better at communication than men, and more capable of resolving emotional issues than men.

And then, of course, there is this whole issue of empowerment and control. As women, we often feel disempowered in view of continued gender inequality within society. We still don't get equal pay for equal work, we are still often prevented from career advancement, our right to control our own bodies is still in grave danger, we still have to fight extremely hard to get taken seriously, we still get the least prestigious, badly paid, menial and monotonous jobs, we are still severely underrepresented in the Senate, the Congress, the Supreme Court, etc. Our society offers us the romantic and emotional sphere as pretty much the only space where we can be completely in control. If you are infantilized by men at work, in a classroom, in the public sphere, it often seems like the only solution is to infantilize them in return in the personal sphere.

What we get as a result, is an unhealthy and unequal balance of power both in the public and in the private sphere.

Friday, October 16, 2009


There was an article in a local newspaper about our Fulbright professor Reham Othman who teaches Arabic at our department. The article is very good and informative and you can see it here. What was truly shocking to me, though, is that the very first comment that appeared on the article was incredibly hateful: "Unfortuantely I cannot attend but I would really appreciate if someone would ask why they behead "infidels", shoot women in the back of the head for "crimes against Islam" (including being seen in public with a man not related to her), behead any woman in the royal families who have relations with a commoner and take control of a child from the woman at around age two to instill hatred in them against the west. Maybe THEY should come to classes on AMERICAN culture?" The comment is signed "Bill Jamison."

Apparently, this is not the only class that Bill hasn't been able to attend, since spelling the word "unfortunately" and constructing a grammatically correct sentence in his first and obviously only language has proven to be completely beyond his meagre intellectual capacities. What is sad about this comment is that a mere mention of a class in Arabic being offered to college students has provoked so much rage from this individual. It is depressing that often this is precisely the side of American culture that the rest of the world gets to see. Shame on you, Bill Jamison, for being a racist fool.

Gender and Housework

So as we can see from this table, even when both partners are employed full-time, women still do a lot more housework than men. Why does that happen?

I've been thinking about it a lot and according to my observations, women themselves are often to blame for this state of affairs. In my experience, most if not all men are more than willing and capable of cooking their own meals, doing the laundry, cleaning their place of abode, etc. Granted, I haven't spent much time with fundamentalist freaks, so I'm mostly talking about normal, educated men who do not believe actively that women are inferior by nature.

What I often observe is that women go to great lengths to do everything they can and more around the house and stifle any attempts that men make at doing their share of housework. Often, when I visit a couple I know I observe the following scene: when we finish eating, the male partner gets up to remove the dirty dishes and the woman immediately jumps up and almost screams: "Don't! I'll do it myself!" Usually, these are very progressively-minded, feminist women.

The myth that you have to be a good housewife to be loved and appreciated is too deeply ingrained in our minds. It's often difficult to get rid of the feeling that a sink full of dirty dishes is somehow your problem just because of your gender. As much as we might advocate for gender equality, we often end up doing everything we can to infantilize men and prevent them from learning to fulfill their household obligations. In a way, it makes sense. If a man feels completely useless around the house, it makes a woman feel more indispensable.

What we have to do is learn to give up on this fake feeling of indispensability and remember that we are valuable not for the amount of household work we perform. We shouldn't strive to be useful and convenient to the detriment of our equality. Contrary to what the title of the above-quoted table says, men do not need looking after. They are perfectly capable of doing that for themselves.

Wildlife in Southern Illinois

One thing I can't get used to here in Southern Illinois is the wildlife. First, there was a fox (ar at least that's who I think it was) that lived in our trash can. It seemed to be very unhappy there and I kept worrying about it until some nice neighbor found a way to help the fox get out of the trash can. Then, I was waiting for a bus next to a corn field and a deer ran out of it. It passed right next to me and ran in the direction of financial institutions that are located next to the corn field. I really identified with the deer because it must have forgotten to withdraw its money the night before and had to run to the bank in the morning.

Then last night I went to take out the garbage and I saw this really ugly and scary animal which I later identified as an opossum (with the help of a student). It has a very nasty, pointy face and it leered at me. It scared me so much that I had nightmares all night long. I dreamt that I had to go on a date with Gorbachov and I had no nice shoes. And the store where I went in my dream only sold very ugly shoes. In the morning, I felt completely exhausted. That's what the stupid opossum did to me.

When I lived in New Haven, CT, I got used to seeing police chasing criminals, pimps dressing down their workers, or armed criminal running around. So that doesn't really bother me any more. Seeing all these animals, however, will take a lot of getting used to.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mondays in the Sun

Mondays in the Sun is my favorite movie in the entire world. I watched it a dozen   times already and still want to watch it again and again. It starts the incredibly gifted Javier Bardem before he sold out to Hollywood and became the silly Penelope Cruz's plaything of the month.
This film is not the typical Hollywood-style face-in-a-cake happy-ending fare. Mondays in the Sun is a very profound and realistic portrayal of the lives of laid-off shipyard workers in Spain and the ways in which unemployment damages their male identity. This amazing film is a reminder that movies don't have to be just one more brainless and tasteless kind of mass entertainment. It is still possible to make films that are works of art.

Every actor in this film plays beautifully and poignantly. The economy of artistic means is impressive. There are no stupid special effects, no excessive sentimentality that kills most Hollywood productions. Altogether, this is simply an incredibly well-made work of cinematographic art.

Russell Bishop: A Male Chauvinist Pig

I am so tired of these butt-ugly, balding, uneducated, middle-aged women-haters. As if we didn't have enough stupidity coming out of Ross Douthat on a weekly basis, here is an individual called Russell Bishop. He just came out with an article trying to convince women that working and having careers is bad for them. Material possessions do not make you happy, he argues. "There is very little correlation between material world success and happiness or fulfillment," Bishop writes. This line of reasoning does not lead him, however, to enjoin everybody to stop working. Just women. He is also incapable of realizing that many women work not because of their inherent materialism but precisely because having a career makes them happy and fulfilled.

After telling women just how miserable they are because of their careers, Bishop proceeds to offer advice. Of course, it's pretty self-evident that no woman would ever consider asking for advice from this raging chauvinist, but this doesn't stop Bishop from pontificating in his condescending manner. His advice to the supposedly unhappy women: Learn to accept and cooperate with what is. The implication is clear. In order to be happy, women need to just accept and cooperate with the patriarchal system that benefits Bishop and deprives them of their rights. We should accept and cooperate with the lack of pay equity, violence, sexual harrassment, and constant condescension. Sit quietly in your corners, little ladies, and learn to be happy with what you have. And in the meanwhile, go clean yourself some toilets.

Bishop's article is titled "Women are unhappy? And you are surprised?" No, Russell, I'm not surpised at all. While jerks like you regale us with your sanctimonious chauvinistic rubbish, women will continue being unhappy. It's people like you who create pay inequity, who make work environment intolerable for women, and who create the discourse that keeps marginalizing us.

Feminism and Toilet Cleaning

Feministing posted this Girl's Only Cleaning Trolley toy on their site. Seeing this toy reminded me of a discussion I once had with a professor in a Gender Theory class. I was a beginning graduate student and that conversation made me realize that Gender Studies had long gone in a direction I really don't want to follow.

The professor's argument was that certain obligations in society (such as, for example, cleaning the toilets) have been traditionally reserved for women. So what we have to do now as feminists is  make society understand that these female obligations are deserving of respect. "But shouldn't we rather make toilet-cleaning non-gender-specific?" I asked, in a state of bewilderment. "That's impossible," the professor said. "We should learn to respect the work women do around the house and see it as socially valuable." "Why should it be women's work?" I asked. "Well, somebody's got to clean the toilets!" was the professor's response.

Basically, this approach consists of preserving the status quo as to the gendered division of labor in the home. The only difference is that it proposes to throw women a bone of "respect" for these jobs that nobody likes.
Honestly, I prefer an honest patriarchalist to this hypocritical quasi-feminist approach any day.

That was the day when I got disillusioned with the field of Gender Studies for good. Of course, there was also a day when another Gender Theory professor gave us a lecture about men being more rational and women being closer to nature and more animalistic. So my disillusionment grew and prospered.

Then recently I decided to collaborate with the feminist group here on campus organized by the Department of Gender Studies. During the meeting of the group, I discovered that it is involved in the following feminist activities:

1) bake sales;
2) making origami flowers;
3) cupcake parties where every woman who is menstruating on that day gets an extra cupcake.

I'm sure that after bake sales, cupcakes and origami-making, the defense of toilet cleaning as a respected womanly pursuit isn't far behind.