Thursday, January 19, 2012

Shit we say?

A friend just posted on FB a clip called "Shit Korean Girls Say," which made me laugh b/c I responded to it as more or less good natured fun. So much of it is familiar and recognizable, but more particularly, it is performed by a phenotypically white male with facial hair who pronounces his Korean so convincingly well!

Yet, I also had an uncomfortable moment wondering about what the point of the "fun" might be. B/c apparently, this is just one of the many iterations of the YouTube phenom that is "Shit Girls Say." I did not click on the other versions that popped up. I am afraid of what happens when you arm groups of young men with video production capabilities and then they produce something that they call "parody" concerning women.

However, what alerted me to the phenom in the first place was a video called "Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls". I have been thinking about this video, which illustrates what we can think about as the everyday-racism-not-recognized-as-racism - in other words, privilege.

Privilege is what allows white girls to say shit like that depicted in the video without themselves intending or meaning harm to black girls with whom they actually might be trying to make a connection. Case in point: The comment about being dark enough to be black ("Twinsies!")

More particularly, I have been thinking about the comment in the video about the best friend who used to be black. ("She is black... but we're not really friends anymore.")

For me, this is a reminder of how segregated our supposedly post-racial society remains - and why white and black (and Korean) girls remain such mysteries to each other. (The same might be said about women and men in this so-called post-feminist - I would say anti-feminist - society.) So that we mistake our superficial observations about the shit we say as some kind of insight.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

State of The Nation

Just catching up on issues of The Nation that went neglected at the end of the semester, and this caught my eye - from a November 21, 2011 review of Melissa Benn's School Wars: The Battle for Britain's Education, which seems instructive for us on this side of the pond:

Benn quotes a commentator who observed that, for all the vehemence of disagreements on the matter, "everyone wants the same thing: a good, free, local school for all." But it may be, alas, that not everyone wants that; what many people want is for their children to have more educational advantages than others, and they are prepared to do anything legal to get that. One of the most striking features of middle-class norms of ethical propriety is that a degree of self-interest that would be condemned as unacceptably selfish if attached to one's own wants becomes irreproachably "normal," even altruistic, when attached to the education of one's children.

This leads to people reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers as a parenting manual.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Beanie's New Year

Last week, I checked Beanie's backpack and found this in her purple take-home folder.

At first, I marveled over it as evidence of her reflexivity and determination. I know math is not her favorite subject. So, I was impressed that she had expressed a wish to "get better" at math.

Yet, I also felt it was necessary to remind Beanie that in fact, she is already good at math. At school, she has been moving through her addition worksheets at a fine clip. At home, she and StraightMan have been exploring multiplication and division based on her own discovery of what it means to say "times two." Having suffered my own hang ups about math, I have tried hard to encourage Beanie to think about herself as good at math and to think about math as interesting, even enjoyable. I got her an electronic Minute Math game b/c she likes to have StraightMan set a timer when she does a math worksheet or flash cards (which again were her idea to get in the first place).

Then, walking home from school, she told me in her matter of fact manner that she was so happy that she had finished the W page / would start the X page of math even though she had been "shaking so badly" and her hands had "sweated so much that the paper stuck" during her math exercise at school.

I have been thinking about this b/c I saw on Facebook a link to this post on "The Trouble with Bright Girls" from last spring.

In particular, this observation made me think not only about why and how it is important for me to rethink how I might help Beanie, which psychologists Heidi Grant Halvorson and Carol Dweck would emphasize would be not through praise, but encouragement of her efforts:

[Dweck] found that Bright Girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up; the higher the girls' IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts rather than give up.

Why does this happen? What makes smart girls more vulnerable and less confident when they should be the most confident kids in the room? At the 5th grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science. So there were no differences between these boys and girls in ability, nor in past history of success. The only difference was how bright boys and girls interpreted difficulty -- what it meant to them when material seemed hard to learn. Bright Girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence and to become less effective learners as a result.

The difference, the author suggests, is based on what Bright Girls internalize:

More often than not, Bright Girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.

How do girls and boys develop these different views? Most likely, it has to do with the kinds of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children. Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their "goodness." When we do well in school, we are told that we are "so smart," "so clever, " or "such a good student." This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness and goodness are qualities you either have or you don't.

This recalled to me a profile of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg that was published in The New Yorker last year:

At her Phi Beta Kappa induction, there were separate ceremonies for men and women. At hers, a woman gave a speech called “Feeling Like a Fraud.” During the talk, Sandberg looked around the room and saw people nodding. “I thought it was the best speech I’d ever heard,” she recalls. “I felt like that my whole life.” At every stage of her time in school, Sandberg thought, I really fooled them. There was “zero chance,” she concluded, that the men in the other room felt the same.

Sandberg says she eventually realized that women, unlike men, encountered tradeoffs between success and likability. The women had internalized self-doubt as a form of self-defense: people don’t like women who boast about their achievements. The solution, she began to think, lay with the women. She blamed them more for their insecurities than she blamed men for their insensitivity or their sexism.

I remember feeling more than a bit irritated when I read this, and I am not the only reader who took umbrage with the emphasis on psychologies as opposed to the institutions and structures that keep women "in place." Then again, I think it is important and necessary to recognize that what the institutions and structures do is they create psychologies.

So, it matters a lot how parents talk to their daughters about math.

Driving home from piano lesson, I said as casually as I could: "Beanie, things like piano and math take a lot of practice, and I can tell from hearing you play and from your math worksheets that you practice a lot." To which Beanie replied: "I also practice a lot at reading."

To which I might respond that it takes a lot of practice to be a parent.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


No year's end reflections or new year's resolutions here. Working on my tenure file, which I will be submitting in a few weeks. 'Nuff said.


Being an anthropologist who has published on fetal ultrasound imaging and having just uploaded about 20 photographs from Christmas, it seems fitting to ponder this, from Jana Prikryl's review of Errol Morris' new book, Believing Is Seeing: Observations in the Mysteries of Photography, published in the December 12th issue of The Nation:

On Facebook, intimate, life-altering information is often delivered in the form of a pictogram rather than a written "status update" - the ur-example being the dim, grainy sonogram news flash, which gestate as the mother's profile picture and then bursts forth into religious iconography with the posting of the Madonna-and-child snapshot. Births, bar mitzvahs, vacations, graduations, weddings and car accidents tend to be announced by way of their visual documentation. Compared with whatever we choose to write about ourselves, these snapshots seem to offer incontrovertible proof that how we wish to be seen is, in fact, precisely how we look.


StraightMan posted a tribute to archaeologist Elizabeth Brumfiel, who died on New Year's Day. I wanted to make mention of this here because without her willingness to take a chance on hiring an inexperienced instructor, it is likely that StraightMan would have quit academia. So, he and I both owe her something for both being working anthropologists today.

As a parenthropologist, who I particularly appreciate is that Professor Brumfiel's research as a specialist in Aztec archaeology turned attention to women and ordinary people. When she visited StraightMan's college to give an invited lecture in 2008, I became convinced that there could be almost nothing more fascinating to study than spindle whorls! I think that this is because she was interested in gaining insight into what life and work and family must have been like.


In college, a friend, observing the aggressive scribbles in the margins of my books, remarked that I needed to be a more "relaxed" reader.

I do not like to relax with books. I like books to make me change my mind.

YA author Walter Dean Myers speaks against a romanticized notion of reading in favor of a radical one:

“People still try to sell books that way — as ‘books can take you to foreign lands,’ ” Myers tells The New York Times in an interview published on January 3, 2012. “We’ve given children this idea that reading and books are a nice option, if you want that kind of thing. I hope we can get over that idea.”

“I think that what we need to do is say reading is going to really affect your life."