Thursday, March 31, 2011

Another item to file under WTF

Just read this item in the NYT today about Arizona banning abortion for "race selection."

I feel that I am fairly well informed on issues of reproduction in the United States, but I am unaware that race-selective termination is a concern here.

Which is not to say that policies surrounding reproduction do not effectively privilege some women over other women.

However, I am not convinced that this ban addresses an "actual" practice. Instead, it strikes me as pitting "race" against "gender."

I think it is interesting also that Arizona is positioning itself as a defender of human rights and of race and ethnicity.

Is the "race" being defended against selective abortion black / Latino / Native American / Asian? If so, then this is an interesting maneuver for Arizona, with its anti-immigrant legislation.

Or it could also be a defense of any race, including "white," which could define all terminations as violating an "ethic" against race selection.

Either way, reproductive justice is being hit. We need to hit back.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My heart was never more breakable than it is now

StraightMan tells me that I nostalgize our children when they are asleep. On our way to bed, we go into their rooms to check on them. I always linger over them, listening to them breathe, laughing over the crazy way they have flung their arms or legs out of their covers, and sighing over how much they still look like they did as babies. I tell StraightMan how much I love them. He laughs, then turns off the light.

He is right, of course. Sometimes parenting seems much more rewarding and wonderful from a distance.

However, I also think it is always worth being reminded of how much I have.

Which is why I am sitting here, feeling misty over this piece on parenting by Anna Quindlen.

As Quindlen writes:

You could read human progress through the tears. The tears of a baby are often a reflex, for a toddler almost always the fruit of frustration or fatigue. The tears of a child begin to be the tears of knowledge. The older heart is more breakable.

Not just the older heart, but the heart that is connected meaningfully to other hearts.

Monday, March 28, 2011

When I bloom

This is an assignment that Beanie brought home from school today:

Which reads: "I will take care of a ebony langer and treat it very well."

In case you are not as up on your primatology as Beanie is, here are a couple of ebony langurs:

I found this a bit startling:

Which reads: "I will teach anthropology and work at SUCO."


Beanie informed me that she has changed her mind: She plans to work with chimpanzees, not langurs. Also, her plan is that she and her best friend, Pants, will live together "in the wild" to take care of the chimpanzees. She will be taking my job when I am "finished" with it. I think I should alert my colleagues now.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Modern parenting

Here are two posts recently shared by friends on Facebook:

The first is on the topic of slut-shaming from a blog on sex-positive parenting. The take-home point, at the conclusion of the post, is this:

Slut-shaming is a time tested tool in our culture. We use it under the guises of keeping kids from doing some sexually inappropriate thing. But does that work? No. Does it cause a lot more harm than good? Yes. I don’t want to raise a hypocritical judgmental misogynist. Which means I have to have these conversations with him NOW, not when he’s 21 and in college.

The second is this article in The New York Times, which reports on the consequences of "sexting" in a Washington state middle school. The article notes the ways in which sexting has become normalized in American popular culture. In other words, no wonder even middle schoolers will do it:

The prevalence of under-age sexting is unclear and can often depend on the culture of a particular school or circle of students. An Internet poll conducted for The Associated Press and MTV by Knowledge Networks in September 2009 indicated that 24 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds had been involved in “some type of naked sexting,” either by cellphone or on the Internet. A December 2009 telephone poll from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that 5 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds had sent naked or nearly naked photos or video by cellphone, and that 18 percent had received them. Boys and girls send photos in roughly the same proportion, the Pew survey found.

But a double standard holds. While a boy caught sending a picture of himself may be regarded as a fool or even a boastful stud, girls, regardless of their bravado, are castigated as sluts.

Photos of girls tend to go viral more often, because boys and girls will circulate girls’ photos in part to shame them, explained Danah Boyd, a senior social media researcher at Microsoft and a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

In contrast, when a boy sends a revealing photo of himself to a girl, Dr. Boyd noted, she usually does not circulate it.

The problem, then, is not just sexting, but "slut-shaming," which is a phrase that I cringe even to use here in quotes.

Further proof that we need Feminism 4.0 oh so badly. Who wants in?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Keeping up with the Times

Apparently, when women start to succeed, this is a problem. Or so MIT has found, as the Times reports:

Among other concerns, many female professors say that M.I.T.’s aggressive push to hire more women has created the sense that they are given an unfair advantage. Those who once bemoaned M.I.T.’s lag in recruiting women now worry about what one called “too much effort to recruit women.”


But with the emphasis on eliminating bias, women now say the assumption when they win important prizes or positions is that they did so because of their gender. Professors say that female undergraduates ask them how to answer male classmates who tell them they got into M.I.T. only because of affirmative action.

Cue anger. Cue frustration:

Because it has now become all but the rule that every committee must include a woman, and there are still relatively few women on the faculty, female professors say they are losing up to half of their research time, as well as the outside consultancies that earn their male colleagues a lot of money.

Even the intelligent people at MIT cannot be expected to devise the solution on their own:

Yet now women say they are uneasy with the frequent invitations to appear on campus panels to discuss their work-life balance. In interviews for the study, they expressed frustration that parenthood remained a women’s issue, rather than a family one.

As Professor Sive said, “Men are not expected to discuss how much sleep they get or what they give their kids for breakfast.”

Administrators say some men use family leave to do outside work, instead of to be their children’s primary care giver — creating more professional inequity.

The problem is not that women have begun to succeed, but that women can only begin to succeed. Still, I find it bold, brave, and even encouraging that an institution like MIT has undertaken this kind of scrutiny of its own policies and practices and their effects. How else can we work for change?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How much do I love Tina Fey?

Apparently, Tina Fey already got a lot of good love about her piece in The New Yorker last month - from New York magazine and from the Wall Street Journal - but I still am adding mine b/c a working mother really cannot receive enough of it.

If, like me, you missed the essay b/c your copy of the February 14 & 21 issue of The New Yorker sat under a heap of other Things You Might Enjoy, itself heaped under Things You Must Do, itself heaped under Now (i.e., turtles all the way down), then let me tell you to find it, turn to page 64, and read "Confessions of a Juggler: What's the rudest question you can ask a mother?"

I was thinking the answer might be: "What's wrong with her / him?" Which to a mother is like asking: "What's wrong with you?"

Fey's answer: "How do you juggle it all?" and "Are you going to have more kids?"

I have to agree with her about the first question especially. I realize that when people ask how a woman how she manages to Do It All, they mean to sympathize or even pay a compliment of sorts, but I am being honest when I say: "Well, I don't."

I cut corners. I borrow time and never pay it back: Mostly from myself, but also from my husband and my children. I have been known to suggest to Beanie and Bubbie that they might want to watch a Disney DVD, just so I can steal a few minutes more to finish prepping a class or answer a few more e-mails (or write this blog post).

It is not that I put my work ahead of my family, but to be honest, work is less yielding.

I resent that it intrudes into the time that I ought to have for my family.

On the other hand, I think the work that I do is meaningful and important: For myself, for my family, for my community (in the various ways in which I could define it).

"How do you juggle it all?" is not just rude: It is entirely uncivil. Asking this question is one of those unexamined practices of everyday life that constantly reproduces gender inequalities. Women are expected individually to make the efforts to bridge the divide between family and work. Whether they succeed or fail is entirely on them.


What got the big buzz from Fey's essay was her comment that when women in Hollywood reach a certain age, they become labeled "crazy" and no longer receive work:

I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they're all "crazy." I have a suspicion - and hear me out, because this is a rough one - that the definition of crazy in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.

However, it was this part that resonated with me:

It seems to me the fastest remedy for this "women are crazy" situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women of various ages. That is why I feel obligated to stay in the business and try hard to get to a place where I can create opportunities for others, and that's why I can't possibly take time off for a second baby, unless I do, in which case that is nobody's business and I'll never regret it for a moment unless it ruins my life.

I want to believe that it is true that we are all not Just Doing Our Jobs, but trying to also to Make Change.


BTW, there really is a book called My Working Mom, written by two men, with a cartoon witch on the cover! I was hoping that this was just Tina Fey's comic invention b/c it seems so over-the-top obvious to make the working mom a witch. In fact, the customer reviews on amazon are worth perusing b/c they are not especially favorable.


On the second question - "Are you going to have more kids?" - StraightMan would like to let Tina and Jeff know that the gynecologist is correct: "Either way, everything will be fine."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Keeping up with the Times

This is making me cranky:

#23. I have a subscription to The New York Times on my Kindle, Nook or other e-reader. Does this give me access to

No. At this time, we're not able to connect your e-reader subscription to an subscription. Each must be purchased separately.

We plan to enhance our e-reader subscription options in the near future. Please make sure your e-mail address is up-to-date so you can receive the latest site news and announcements from

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Linguistic relativity at Fukushima?

Anthropologists talk about a relationship between culture, thought, and language - in particular, we talk about language influencing how (and what) we perceive about the world around us.

This is why linguistic anthropologists and other researchers interested in cognition have been interested in words for color. Physicists can tell us that light of a particular wavelength produces what we call "blue" or "green" - but without words for "blue" and for "green," is making such a distinction meaningful?

In the 1930s, anthropologist Edward Sapir wrote: "We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation."

This quote appears at the start of Benjamin Whorf's 1939 essay, "The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language," which today is regarded as a classic articulation of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or linguistic relativity.

Whorf begins the essay with an example drawn from his day job as an analyst at a fire insurance company. (Which is itself fascinating to consider!)

My analysis was directed toward purely physical conditions, such as defective wiring, presence or lack of airspaces between metal flues and woodwork, etc.... But in due course it became evident that not only a physical situation qua physics, but the meaning of that situation to people, was sometimes a factor, through the behavior of the people, in the start of the fire. And this factor of meaning was clearest when it was a LINGUISTIC MEANING, residing in the name or the linguistic description commonly applied to the situation. Thus, around a storage of what are called "gasoline drums," behavior will tend to a certain type, that is, great care will be exercised; while around a storage of what are called "empty gasoline drums," it will tend to be difference - careless, with little repression of smoking or of tossing cigarette stubs about. Yet the "empty" drums are perhaps the more dangerous, since they contain explosive vapor.

Initially news reporting on the condition of the Fukushima nuclear reactors seemed to have been focused on the active cores of the reactors. However, the focus of concern now seems to be on the "spent" fuel.

Not being a speaker of Japanese, I am interested to know how the idea of "spent" fuel is communicated in Japanese. Certainly in English, "spent" fuel suggests inactivity. In other words, no risk and no need for additional precautions.

Indeed, here is David A. Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, quoted in The New York Times: “The reactor is inside thick walls, and the spent fuel of Reactors 1 and 3 is out in the open.”

However, coverage in the Times, including another report today, emphasizes the dangers that "spent" fuel poses:

The spent fuel pools can be even more dangerous that the active fuel rods, as they are not contained in thick steel containers like the reactor core. As they are exposed to air, the zirconium metal cladding on the rods can catch fire, and a deadly mix of radioactive elements can spew into the atmosphere. The most concern surrounds Cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years and can get into food supplies or be inhaled.

The news reporting makes clear that the design of the nuclear reactors itself had been criticized, but not necessarily the design of the spent fuel pools.

However, as scientists and citizens alike ask questions about the future of nuclear power, it might be worth attending to the language that we use to talk and think about - and act upon - it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Images of Japan and imagining Japanese society

Here are a few impressions:

On the way to school this morning, Beanie and I were talking about the news from Japan. I explained to her that there had been an earthquake. "Like there was in Haiti?" she asked, her eyes opening wide in horror.

Even before we reached the school, Beanie had told me: "I want to send $5 to Japan." After a pause she said: "I know it is really a little bit." For Beanie, however, it is a lot: I think she has $7 in her allowance jar now (but I am not sure whether or not that counts the $1 from the tooth fairy last night.) We will donate it to Doctors without Borders.


We do not have cable TV at home, so Beanie has not viewed any images of the devastation there. To be honest, I find the images both arresting and horrible: It is difficult to recognize reality in the "before" and "after" satellite images or the video feed of water moving so relentlessly to carry boats, ships, cars, trucks, and entire buildings.

Is it just me, or does it seem that there are a great number of these panoramic views - not only of the disaster, but also of the lines of people (standing in queues for water, or with their bedding arranged on a gymnasium floor, with their shoes also lined neatly)? It seems to me that the orderliness and tidiness of "Japanese society" are being invoked here. The images communicate the enormity of the disaster of the earthquake and tsunami. Yet, I also receive the impression that the disorder itself (of boats occupying streets far inland and cars drifting out to sea) is being viewed as part of the disaster, not just a result of it.

I wonder also about the effects in terms of how "Japanese society" continues to be understood in the United States - in long-distance views?

This is not to mention that the news in Japan has provoked some incredibly hostile and racist reactions from Americans. I hardly even could bring myself to look at the examples reproduced in this posting on UCSC's Ethnic Studies blog, which a friend on Facebook shared. The racist Facebook posts refer to "Pearl Harbor."

In light of the references to "Pearl Harbor," I find striking that the disaster in Japan today is being described in news media as the worst "since World War 2." Indeed, the images of devastation are compared with "war scenes." However, the "war scenes" from "World War 2" that come to my mind are images of devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki - which seem esp. relevant as there is imminent risk of meltdown in the nuclear reactors.


The unreality of the panoramic images attracts my attention to them. In contrast, I find the images of people especially difficult to view. My heart just about stopped when I saw photos on the NYT home page last night of small children being tested for radiation exposure: There was one of a little boy, wearing a winter jacket and boots, with his arms spread. It could have been Bubbie, and the girl in the background could have been Beanie.

Also difficult to view have been the images of the elderly survivors. B/c the areas hardest hit by the tsunami were the kinds of places that young people leave behind, the survivors are old people - which also makes me think that they are both the most vulnerable, but also possibly the most resilient b/c they prob'ly know a bit more about simply having to do.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I am a fat cat

Clearly, I am: I am a professor at a public college, where I teach an impractical liberal arts discipline, which generates no income via patents, but nevertheless has contributed countless insights into human experience that in fact we draw upon daily. Today, I am earning a salary that is equal to what I earned more than 10 years ago (in journalism), before I returned to graduate school and earned a PhD in anthropology. (BTW, I can expect never to earn six figures.) Thanks to my union card, I have a contract (which means that the conditions and requirements of my work are known clearly), and I am entitled to health benefits (which can we agree everyone ought to have access to?), and a retirement plan (BTW, not a pension). Not to mention that I have my summers "off" (to engage in the research and writing that contribute not only to my own standing and my ability to teach students, but also to the prestige and status of the department and the college where I work).

Wait. I thought that the financial problems today were rooted in, say, "AIG" and "Wall Street" and "speculation." Since when are they about "public sector employees" and "unions" and "collective bargaining"?

I find it troubling to see where "greed" is being shifted - from bankers who worked with relatively little regulation to government workers who take for granted that their work will undergo a great deal of scrutiny. Even more troubling is that too many of us are falling into line with that line of discourse.

I refuse to buy it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Clowy the Little Fish: A Fish Tale by Beanie

Here is a story that Beanie wrote this afternoon (on Sunday, March 6, 2011). She asked me whether or not she could publish it, so I told her how about on my blog? I confess that the story makes me a bit teary.

Clowy the Little Fish

In Trickle Berry Field at the edge of the world there was a pond. In the pond lived pretty little turtles, spotted happy frogs, and pretty little red fish. The water was clean, the seaweed was green and none of the little fish were mean.

Until one late afternoon in April in 2006, a little blue fish was born in a patch of brown sticks.

All the fish laughed when she went to the park. They would say look at Little Blue whose last name is Kark. She is blue and we are all red. We can’t let her play or sleep in our beds. She makes us go crazy and we don’t have sweet little thoughts in our heads.

The little blue fish would always say my name is not Blue, my name is Clowy and that kept on happening until one day Clowy moved away.

Suddenly the fish all felt sad so they decided to tell Clowy sorry we made you mad. So they wrote a letter to her and Clowy wrote back and said it’s okay. Come over to my house soon and have a snack.

So since then the pond has been peaceful and there are many kinds of fish swimming happily and that’s their wish.


I should add that the inspiration for this fish tale is a game that I gave Beanie for her 7th birthday - Rory's Story Cubes - which is the gift Beanie plans to give her friends for their 7th birthdays, too. (That means you, too, Miss American Girl, turning 7 next week.)

It turns out to be a good game to incorporate little brothers who are not quite 4 years old and not all that enthused about playing by rules. Bubbie is a story teller who likes to induce complications in a plot, prefacing each new development with the phrase: "Just then..."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A feminist teaching moment

Yesterday, as faculty advisor to the undergraduate Anthropology Club, I showed the film, "The Business of Being Born," and facilitated a discussion afterward. About 50 students attended. Not bad for Friday at 4pm. (Then again, at least one other colleague and I offered extra credit...)

I could go on and on more about the surprise and shock and earnest questioning that they expressed, including the guys: One approached me afterward and admitted that childbirth had not been a topic he had thought was all that important to him, but now he was not so sure.

Also, I thought I might share part of an e-mail that a student wrote to me after viewing the film:

I don't even know how to describe how I feel after watching it! WOW. First of all, I cannot believe how they used to strap women down to tables like they did in the 1920s like they were test subjects!! I am shocked about the statistics concerning Cesarean Sections- I don't know WHY anybody would choose a surgery over what your body was created to handle itself! I am just mortified over any type of surgery but specifically this one in general. I am also shocked at the connection they mentioned between the rise of unnecessary medical intervention during child birth and the increase in developmental problems in children. It seems so obvious now. And the overall medicalization of child birth- how it is treated like an illness to be "cured". Is child birth really needing a "cure?" Is the cure not being pregnant? Is the "treatment" of pregnancy as an illness seriously necessary? How and why is it looked upon as a "problem to be addressed" is just absolutely fascinating. Child birth is truly a business in modern America- another opportunity to capitalize, which totally takes away from something that is an inherent natural right as a woman. I just loved the film and I needed to email you to share it!

These are exactly the moments when I realize what is so important and meaningful about teaching: It is producing a moment for us to think beyond what we accept as reality, making possible a different reality.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Keeping up with the Times

Natalie Portman had an interest in environmental chemistry, and Hedy Lamarr in rocket science?

I admit that I like stories like this about the geeky sides of people.