Monday, October 7, 2013

Feel like a real mommy

Look what just got tweeted:

It appears that someone out there does not know better than to tweet it to the likes of me. (Did you hear that irony-infused cackling? Who says feminists have no sense of humor?) I clicked. Said doll did not appear on the screen, so I searched the Walmart site and found:

Want to know what's so special about Baby Alive? Just what are the Real Surprises the doll brings? I thought you would never ask:

There's nothing new about dolls that talk, walk, crawl, or "pee" and "poop." (The Dy Dee Doll, introduced in 1937, was one of the first to introduce children to the joys of diapering from the other end of the business.) However, Walmart is tweeting me at just the moment that I'm re-reading Miriam Formanek-Brunell's Made to Play House: Dolls and the Commercialization of American Girlhood, 1830-1930. The book is not so much about dolls, but about the industry of dolls in the U.S. It traces a history in which female and male dollmakers brought different ideas not only about the production of dolls - which could be generalized as craft versus industry of dollmaking - but also the material qualities of the dolls themselves what needs or wants of children that the dolls met.

This is the Talking Doll that Thomas Edison created:

Note that the doll has joints, so the limbs can bend and move, and a voice box, "just like a human," but the parts are hard and cold, especially the metal torso. (Of course, the doll would have been clothed when presented to a child.) It is a mechanical product of a mechanized process. Formanek-Brunell describes male inventors as interested in dolls as entertaining and amusing play things.

In contrast, female inventors "cited the needs of children as the basis for their inventions. In their patents, women claimed that children needed safe, portable, and durable dolls to teach them about relationships" (4). They were interested in creating dolls that were intended to be touched and handled, with soft skin, also "just like a human." They also felt that the dolls were a vehicle for the instruction of children. Reform-minded women of the Progressive Era particularly had their eyes on working class and immigrant girls whom they felt ought to be trained how to care and nurture "properly."

Hmm. So, if you thought my blog post was going to lead you into a hate-down on the Baby Alive doll as reinforcing gender stereotypes, you might be clicking away from it disappointed. (Maybe next time...) However, I think looking into dolls and their making and meaning leads us to consider even more interesting, important, and necessary questions about the lives, work, and play of women, men, girls, and boys.

So, what's the take-home lesson for today?
1. Don't ignore twitter. (Including tweets from Walmart!)
2. Things are interesting to think about. (That's a shout out to my friends in material culture studies...)
3. A critique of the present needs to incorporate a look at the past. (See also, "sexuality, one generation's celebration of equals exploitation, another generation's understanding of.")

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How fetuses sell us stuff

Fetal images have figured in advertisements for Volvo, about which anthropologist Janelle Taylor has written, and for Honda, among other consumer products. Sociologist Daniel Thomas Cook has written about the interesting connections between the late 20th century conceptualization of children as consumers and fetuses as persons. (Here is a link, but unfortunately there is a paywall.)

Walking up Columbus Avenue today with my sister, not far from the American Museum of Natural History, in a neighborhood that is trafficked heavily with double-wide strollers and toddlers on scooters, we saw the following advertisement for the new Blackberry on a bus shelter:

What is the story here? Is the woman sending the image to her partner on her BlackBerry? Is he viewing it on his Blackberry? Are she and he sharing a moment, like OMG, twins!?

Are we to marvel here at the technology of the sonogram and /or the BlackBerry?

Um, yes, you can see my sister and me reflected in this photo.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Seeing things differently: Japanese sampuru

On Saturday, the four of us, plus my mother, went to a Japanese supermarket / food court. What interested me even more than the food is the display of sampuru or plastic food replicas. If you know more than what Wikipedia can tell us, please be in touch...

The real food is presented to replicate the look of the replicas displayed here.

Hmm, is is that the replicas resemble the food - or that the food resembles the replicas? Do the replicas serve as a template for presenting the food?

Evidence of the invisible hand, here spooning jelly?

I especially admired the replica ice!

Update: I found a YouTube channel called Fake Food Japan, which includes videos that I not yet viewed, about the process of making sampuru.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Seeing things differently: Kate Spade Saturday

Window shopping! Literally. Kate Spade Saturday is (or was - I just read it was scheduled to be open for a month only, until July 7) a pop-up storefront on Gansevoort Street, with three locations in NYC. 

When you swipe the large touchscreen, the lights around the shop window flash like you hit the jackpot. 

Then you are instructed on what to do:

I like that you are promised one hour delivery. Could they bring dinner with that purse?

Is it retail, is it advertisement, is it installation, is it performance, is it a self- reflective engagement of all of the above.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Seeing Things Differently: George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal

Living at home while I interned, then worked a bona fide job in NYC, I became a Jersey commuter, moving through the 42nd Street Port Authority Bus Terminal briskly and avoiding contact of any kind with other persons and with other things that might bear traces of contact with other persons, unfortunately including urine. On occasion, I had the even worse misfortune (I thought then) of having to pass through the grim and grimy GWB Bus Terminal. Today, however, I realized what a masterpiece in fact this place is. Here are a few images from my iPhone, taken early this afternoon on platform 22, waiting for bus 186:
Overhead, in the seated waiting area


The trash can!

View of the GWB from the end of platform 22

View from the other end of the platform

Another trash can!

Wishing I had the architectural vocabulary to compare this with the bridge span

Concrete, steel, glass, and light

When I arrived at my parents', I immediately googled GWB Bus Station. Those who know more about architecture or NYC history will know already that the designer is Pier Luigi Nervi, who also designed the 1960 Rome Olympic stadium, with which the bus station clearly shares a strong family resemblance:
A little more background on the building is here:
There are plans to undertake a multimillion dollar renovation of the station, which I imagine will mean developing the neighborhood into another income bracket.

Children versus childhood

Just woke (alone in a quiet cool NYC apartment. Not a Cheerio on the floor!) and decided to post a few thoughts after reading late last night:

Thinking about children, childhood, parents (mothers, fathers, other care givers) in terms of material culture and in particular in museum collections. What can we find?

Visiting the Yale University Furniture Study the other day, our workshop leader noted that the painting on early 19th century fancy chairs not uncommonly involved the work of women and children. (In the case of a particular chair manufacturer, it also involved the work of convicts. Rather enterprising, I thought.)

So, the painting on chairs, which might be displayed as an example of decorative arts, domestic interiors, New England history, or early American industry, is an artifact also of children's lives. Sharon Brookshaw, in her 2009 article, "The Material Culture of Children and Childhood," notes that the UK's National Trust Museum of Childhood had displayed work implements and products from industries like lace-making in which children significantly participated.

Contemporary expectations about children and childhood can prevent us from seeing their material traces, especially from the past.

Historian Philippe Aries famously asserted in Centuries of Childhood (1962) that although children existed, childhood had not in the Middle Ages. Following Aries, scholars now distinguish between "children" and "childhood," but both terms are understood to refer to individuals / groups (children) and experiences (childhood) that are largely cultural and social. The idea that children are (physically and / or psychologically) immature is itself culturally and socially defined. Brookshaw (2009) notes that the word infant derives from the Latin in-fans or "not speaking."

"Children" and "childhood" become used to reference different sets of perspectives - one centered on those defined as children, and the other on adults who importantly and meaningfully interact with children and impose on them ideas and practices about what children are and ought to be.

"Children represent an interesting case in terms of material culture as, although much of the material world they interact with is made deliberately, purposefully and is reflective of the culture from which it originates, the objects we most commonly associate with this group were not made or controlled directly by its members, but rather are imposed on it by another group: adults" (Brookshaw 2009: 367)

One example: Toys (and Brookshaw discusses the problems with their collection in museums).

Another example (which especially interests me): "the material culture of parenthood: items that parents feel obliged to buy for their children that the child may not necessarily want or even need" (Brookshaw 2009: 368).

A collection of rattles at the New-York Historical Society. Artifacts of children, childhood, or parenthood?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The material culture of parenting

The parenthropologist is kicking off her sabbatical with a 4-week seminar on 19th century American material culture sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and held at Bard Graduate Center. 

Being accustomed to working with people, I feel a bit adrift working with objects. Frustratingly, they cannot talk to me.

The question that I bring to the seminar is this:

Parenting in twenty-first century America is understood to be an enterprise that requires the acquisition of new clothes, accessories, furnishings, gadgets, devices, and all manner of stuff and gear for parents and children alike. How have we come to accumulate so much for the purpose of childrearing? What things did the raising of children require in the past? 

View of billboard visible from NYC's High Line

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Yes, fat talk is a problem... and no, this is not the solution

This morning, I stumbled across this extremely unhelpful headline on a Web site called Medical Daily:

"Girl, Shut It!" Study Finds People Don't Like Women Who 'Fat Talk'


The piece itself describes the same study detailed here in the NYT, which examined how undergraduate college students perceived speakers of fat talk, and specifically the speaker's body shape / size might affect their perception. Here is how the NYT described it:

As an online experiment, Dr. Corning showed 139 undergraduates photos of two thin and two overweight women, each making either a positive or negative remark about her body.
Because of the stigma against heavier people, Dr. Corning expected that the most popular option would be a thin woman who made positive comments about her body. But she found that wasn’t the case.
The most likable woman chosen by the students was overweight and quoted as saying: “I know I’m not perfect, but I love the way I look. I know how to work with what I’ve got, and that’s all that matters.”
Here is how Medical Daily described it:

Over 100 female undergrads were shown a series of photos of thin or overweight women participating in fat talk. The women in the photos who engaged in fat talk were rated as significantly less likeable, regardless of whether or not they were overweight.

"The take-home message is that if women engage in fat talk in the hope of enhancing their social bonds, their attempts may have the effect of backfiring," said Corning.
The NYT unpacks how and why fat talk can be such a problem among girls and women:

But putting a stop to fat talk is difficult. Dr. Corning said, in part because it feels airless and scripted and seems to offer the responder no avenue to change the dynamic without threatening the relationship. She gave an example:
First friend: “I can’t believe I ate that brownie. I am so fat!”
Second friend: “You must be joking — you are so not fat. Just look at my thighs.”
The second friend’s reply, an “empathetic” self-deprecating retort to maintain the friendship on equal standing, includes reflexive praise of the first friend’s body, supposedly feeding the first friend’s hungry cry for affirmation, Dr. Corning said. But to do so, the second friend has eviscerated herself, a toxic tear-down by comparison.

Medical Daily treats fat talk as a problem of likeability: "A new study from Notre Dame suggests that "fat talk," or those everyday statements that voice dissatisfaction about bodily appearance, eating, and exercise, is very unpopular among college-aged women."

As a parent and a former journalist, I think it is interesting to read the two pieces and important to think about the different messages that they send, not only about the study itself, but also how to read and interpret research. There is a lot reported these days that is relevant to practice and policy concerning the health and well being of girls and women. We need to understand what it means.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Putting the anthropology into parenting: Milk


This image appeared at

As a second generation Korean-American, I have had a hate-love relationship with milk. My own parents, especially my pediatrician mother, prescribed it to the three of us kids so that we would have strong bones and, in particular, be tall like other American kids. However, my parents could not stomach it particularly well, not to mention that they did not especially care for its taste. The same on both counts for me, too. I regularly balked at having to take my dose unless it was laced liberally with sugar or Quik. Yet, none of us ever questioned the importance and necessity of drinking milk for our health and growth. Now, as a parent, I sometimes catch myself repeating the same mantras to my own kids, for whom we regularly pour a glass of milk to have at breakfast and / or dinner.

So, when a friend shared this link on Facebook, it caught my eye. It reports on a movement to block FDA approval to allow milk producers to use anysafe and suitable sweetener as an optional ingredient” in (cow’s) milk and other dairy products.

The idea apparently is to add sweeteners like aspartame to milk – on the one hand, to encourage its consumption in U.S. schools, where children are opting for juice or water over milk, and on the other hand, to use sweeteners that will add no or low calories, which is a concern when Americans are only too aware of the problem of obesity.

This has placed nutritionists in the interesting position of defending the sugar in chocolate and strawberry milk, which they say not only does not contribute to obesity, but seems to encourage more consumption of milk.

The NPR notes that a group opposing the milk producers calls them out on "turn[ing] the wholesome drink (milk) into another artificial flavor-laden sweet snack."

All of which got this parent thinking like an anthropologist.

Milk is as much a product of culture as of nature, and the conditions in which it is consumed (as well as the effects and consequences for human biology) might best be understood in biocultural perspective, as medical anthropologist Andrea S. Wiley has demonstrated. Wiley has conducted studies on cow’s milk consumption, documenting how it might be linked with differences in height and BMI and age at menarche.

In her 2007 article, “Transforming Milk in a Global Economy,” Wiley asks the question that I think we might be asking ourselves now: “[H]ow has milk, often viewed as the most ‘natural’ of foods, been technologically transformed to take on new roles, reflecting other social, cultural, and economic trends” (666-667).

Leaving aside the questions one might have about the safety of the sweeteners, why the milk producers have sparked ire and outrage seems to be rooted in our perception that they are committing adulteration on at least two fronts. First, the addition of artificial substances to natural substances, especially milk, with its association as pure nourishment, looks to us like pollution. (Note that one of the consistent refrains about aspartame is that it is a natural sweetener.)

Second, the transformation of milk into a sweet snack contaminates what has been understood popularly to be a wholesome drink with the taste of the market. In fact, milk long has been a commodity and its production an industry that has been not only regulated by government, but also promoted, supported, and subsidized by it. In recent years, milk consumption in the U.S. has been in decline, so there is no doubt that milk producers would be interested in remaking milk to compete with other beverages in the market.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Six days until six years!

"Now We Are Six"

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six
now and forever. 

A.A. Milne

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lessons on sex / gender

Teaching introductory cultural anthropology, I spend a bit of time explaining the analytical distinction between "sex" (as biological difference) and "gender" (as the cultural and social significance that becomes attached to biological difference). It is an important distinction to recognize, I tell my students, because it is a reminder that biology does not determine who or what you are or what we can and will do.

So, as I was taking a break to look at the March 11th New Yorker and read the profile of Ruth Bader Ginsburg - who to me as a former Duranie is so totally, like, the Nick Rhodes* of the Supreme Court - I was struck with this passage:

Ginsburg's secretary at Columbia, who typed her briefs, gave her some important advice. "I was doing all these sex-discrimination cases, and my secretary said, 'I look at these pages and all I see is sex, sex, sex. The judges are men, and when they read that they're not going to be thinking about what you want them to think about,'" Ginsburg recalled. Henceforth, she changed her claim to "gender discrimination."
* So my favorite! Or was at the time that I spending a lot of time listening to "Rio." 

The profile of Ginsburg, by Jeffrey Toobin, is worth the break from prepping one's courses. Whether or not you are a follower of SCOTUS or not :)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Not "sex ed," but people ed

I should be prepping for the class I will be teaching in 45 minutes, but I have been thinking that I ought to blog about this, so here I am.

This is a headline that I am sure woke up a few people:

Really?! Then I saw it had appeared on the Web site for Fox News and realized I had to find other reliable sources. So, I went back to RH Reality Check, and here is what they report will be included in "sex ed" for kindergarteners:

"students in kindergarten through third grade will learn about their anatomy and appropriate and inappropriate touching and that all living things reproduce. Fourth graders will focus on puberty, HIV, and AIDS. Conversations about human reproduction, contraception, and abstinence will still not take place until after fifth grade."

My son is in kindergarten, my daughter in third grade. We have made a point of using the words "penis" and "vagina" to refer to their body parts since they were able to talk. So, I applaud the educators in Chicago who see the sense of teaching children a basic respect for their bodies by naming their parts in an unashamed manner. Because what is it that we teach kids when the grown-ups have such difficulty referring to body parts that we need to talk around them? We are not protecting them, but in fact teaching them how to disrespect and shame their own and each other's bodies.

So, how and why is this "sex ed" exactly? This is just about being people.

Speaking of which, I am thinking that I do not want the first time my kids hear the word "gay" - I mean really hear, and not just overhear it - to be when somebody hurls the word at somebody else as an insult. Which is how I remember learning the word "lesbian." In third grade. When a boy in my class - a kid who Knew It All because he had older brothers and sisters - accused my best friend of being a "lezzie" because she and another girl were holding hands as they walked back from the school's main office. Like lots of 8 year olds, esp. girls, will do. As for "gay" - I learned it as another way of calling something or someone "ridiculous" until a friend in college finally called me out on it.

Again. Not a "sex ed" issue, but a people issue.

I say this with all sincerity as a parenthropologist, we can do better than we have done and be better than we are: We can teach kids to be what we wish that we ourselves could be.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Field notes from nine years of parenting

With Beanie on her first night at home, 2004.

Beanie is nine years old.

On the occasion of her birthday, I want to say a little something about what parenting has taught me about my husband, myself, and the two of us.

First, about my husband. This is what he is not:

  • One of those eternally boyish and playful guys who bounds around with earnest enthusiasm about being a dad. A word that we had to teach Beanie fairly early in her life was sarcastic. As in, "You know when your dad is making a joke that he seems to think is funny, but that you kind of feel like might not be funny after all, even if you could understand it? That is him being sarcastic."
  • From that tribe of weekend warriors. He is all about TGIM (Thank God It's Monday).
  • One of those fathers who helps out and occasionally baby sits. This is because he is fully and equally the other parent. When the kids wake in the middle of the night, Beanie with bad dreams or Bubbie with a nosebleed, they go to him, not me, and he sings to her or sits with our son on his lap until the bleeding stops.

Second, about myself: If my husband were anyone or anything other than who and what he is, then I could not even remotely be the person, woman, mother, friend, anthropologist, etc., that I am or at least try to be.

Third, about the two of us: Our egalitarianism is more practical than it is idealistic. We are full and equal partners because our life simply will not otherwise compute: 2 academics + 2 kids = 2 much. If I drop off kids in the morning, then he picks them up after school. In between, we each go to our campus offices and answer our students' emails and prep and teach our classes and work our writing into the moments lining the meetings that we have to attend for the committees that we serve on. At home, he cooks and then cleans afterward. I wash and fold the laundry. He remembers birthdays. I shop for gifts.

A lot is said about getting fathers more involved with parenting their children, but I think a lot more still needs to be said about getting men more involved in their partnering. What makes my husband a full and equal parent is rooted as much from his commitment to me as to our children.

So, this makes Beanie's birthday an occasion to celebrate not only nine years of our daughter, but nine years of us.

Happy birthday!

StraightMan with Bubbie and Beanie, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What I hope girls' Legos can teach my boy

Without revealing TMI, I have been in a bit of a working-mothers-just-cannot-win kind of funk the last few days or so.

That was before I stumbled upon this scene in our living room.

The kiddos have integrated Bubbie's Lego Star Wars, Mega Bloks Spiderman, and K'Nex Xtreme Ops with the Lego Friends that Beanie just received for her ninth birthday.

How Bubbie, age 5, typically likes to play with his Legos is to build ships or space vessels large enough to carry all of his various mini-figures. Basically, he builds space buses to transport his guys from their home on Tatooine to their school on Naboo.

Today, using his sister's new blocks, Bubbie had built both the paddock for the Lego Friends pony and a little house front - complete with flowers - to present to his sister. Then he populated it with the mini-figures that he calls his "guys."

Because even when you are busily ruling the universe, you still need a place to hang up your helmet and body armor. Just a quiet little place in the country will do.

This has me thinking. I realize that Lego Friends is another manifestation of the classic pink-it-and-shrink-it maneuver to attract consumers of the female persuasion. Promoters and defenders of Lego Friends suggest it introduces girls to the kinds of play that they might not have considered. Like, could building structures with Legos interest girls in architecture and engineering?

However, I want to turn the question back to the boys. Could Lego Friends interest them in the kinds of play that they also ought to be encouraged to consider, such as the "cooperative" play that Lego designers say they have observed among girls and that they wish to incorporate into Lego Friends?

Because what this parenthropologist thinks we need is not only to teach our girls that they can play with boys' toys, but also to teach our boys to play a little more like girls.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The problema with Skippyjon Jones

Hello, friends! Been too long since I last blogged. Not necessarily for lack of having anything to say, but today I feel especially motivated to get back to the blog and speak up. I read a piece  by Nation blogger Mychal Denzel Smith, "White People Have to Give up Racism." Smith writes: "While we’ve all come up internalizing racism, since it’s all around us, only one group of people actually benefits from its existence. Not every white person is a racist, but the genius of racism is that you don’t have to participate to enjoy the spoils." As to how white people can even begin to give up racism, he suggests: "the chief job should be admitting there is a problem. White people have to name it, and it can’t be a cutesy euphemism that dodges the issue." Here I am reposting my first piece for this blog, originally posted on March 21, 2010 - about giving a name to the problem of everyday practices of racism:

Then using his very best Spanish accent, he said, ‘My ears are too beeg for my head. My head ees too beeg for my body. I am not a Siamese cat…. I am a chihuahua!
-- Skippyjon Jones (2003)

As an anthropologist, I have two words to describe the above passage: Mock Spanish.

You know Mock Spanish. If you are born-and/or-bred American - English-speaking and monolingual - then you have heard it on the playground and even in the classroom as well as at the supermarket or at the water cooler. You might be able to recall recent instances of speaking it. For example, said without ambivalence or ambiguity as a flat denial to requests for candy, car, or casual sex: "No way, Jose." Or, delivered in a comparable dead pan, part cyborg and part Austrian: "Hasta la vista, baby."

Mock Spanish is not necessarily a direct mockery of Spanish or of speakers of Spanish.

"Speakers of Mock Spanish are likely to view their use of Spanish as indexing positive personal qualities," writes Rusty Barrett, a linguistic anthropologist, in a 2006 article, "Language Ideology and Racial Inequality: Competing Functions of Spanish in an Anglo-Owned Mexican Restaurant." In other words, when Anglos (a term that is meant to contrast with Latinos) use Mock Spanish, they are "just joking" or even exhibiting their easy familiarity with another language and culture.

This is why the suggestion that Mock Spanish might be "racist" inspires insistent objections, including accusations about "political correctness." For Anglos, Mock Spanish is a sign of education and open-mindedness - the opposite of the ignorance and closed-mindedness associated with "racism."

Even more important, Mock Spanish is a sign of having a sense of humor. There is no meanness intended here, the reasoning goes - just a bit of fun.

Yet, the yuks of Mock Spanish derive from stereotypes about Latinos that circulate among Anglos. Familiar uses of Mock Spanish include the "borrowing" of words like manana, which for Spanish speakers refers simply to "tomorrow," but for Anglos connotes procrastination. In other instances, borrowings include obscene or vulgar terms like "cojones" or "caca."

Or consider this equation for constructing Mock Spanish: "el" + English word + "o" - which yields such formulations as "el cheapo" or "el stupido."

Stereotypes about Latinos might not be referenced directly in Mock Spanish, but linguistic anthropologist Jane Hill noted that "the negative residue of meaning" remains attached to its uses. "Those who hear Mock Spanish jokes, for instance, cannot possibly 'get' them - that is, the jokes will not be funny - unless the hearer has instant, unreflecting access to a cultural model of 'Spanish speakers' that includes the negative residue," Hill wrote in her 1995 article, "Mock Spanish: A Site for the Indexical Reproduction of Racism in American English," which introduced the term and the concept to scholars.

Here is where we need to consider "racism." Again, I quote from Hill's 1995 article: "To find an action or utterance is 'racist,' one does not have to demonstrate that the racism is consciously intended. Racism is judged, instead, by its effects: of successful discrimination and exclusion of members of the racialized group from goods and resources enjoyed by the racializing group."

We need to consider that racism is not now, and in fact might never have been, only about "hate." Hill suggests that a significant reason for why we need to pay attention to Mock Spanish is this: "In a society where for at least the last 20 years to be called a 'racist' is a dire insult, and where opinion leaders almost universally concur that 'racism' is unacceptable, how is racism continually reproduced?"

At this point, let us return to Exhibit A: Skippyjon Jones.

"Yip, Yippee, Yippito!
It's the end of Alfredo Buzzito!
Skippito is here,
We have nothing to fear.
Adios to the bad Bumblebeeto!"

Then all of the Chimichangos went crazy loco.
First they had a fiesta.
Then they took a siesta.
But after waking up, the Chimichangos got down to serious bees-ness.

-- Skippyjon Jones

On the one hand, the rhymes here are catchy and to be honest, clever. For example, the use of "bees-ness" not only references a "Spanish accent," but also the character of Alfredo Buzzito, the bad Bumblebeeto.

On the other hand, Skippyjon Jones not only (indirectly) references well worn stereotypes that are instantly and unreflectingly accessible to the grown-up's reading the book to their children, but it also reproduces them for another generation - in the form of what might be experienced otherwise as an entertaining, gentle, and sweet little story.

I think it proves Hill's point that parents, writing reviews on amazon, will praise this book because it "introduces" Spanish words to their children - and that the critics become accused of missing the point of the story and being self-righteous and having no sense of humor. In fact, the expectation that a children's book must be innocent seems to be used as itself a defense of Mock Spanish. That is, because this is "just" a children's book, it cannot possibly contain "racism."

That is the problem with Skippyjon Jones and Mock Spanish in general. It makes racism seem so catchy and clever and cute.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Shameless self-promotion: One in a series

My book has a cover image (which I am sure will have the Shutterstock watermark removed from it...) and a place in the Berghahn catalog now! Not to mention that I feel honored to have Pregnancy in Practice included alongside Charlotte Faircloth's forthcoming book and in a list with so many interesting and important works.

Note the 25%-off sale on all books in the Fertility, Reproduction, and Sexuality series from Berghahn!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Towards a Four Fields Anthropology of Fetuses

Looking for a few good anthropologists interested in talking across the four fields:

The 112th AAA Annual meeting will be held at the Chicago Hilton November 20-24, 2103 in Chicago IL. The 2013 annual meeting theme is Future Publics, Current Engagements.

It is our hope to organize a panel of scholars from across the four fields to consider the possibilities of building publics within anthropology and furthering engagements around the concerns of reproduction. The focus of this panel will be on research in anthropology on fetuses and address the question: What is a fetus?

The work of anthropologists has contributed to an ever more nuanced understanding of fetuses as entities with cultural, social, and biological significance. A central focus of this work has been on what ideas and practices concerning fetuses reveal about the socially ascribed status of persons. Well documented is the variation in how fetuses have become interpreted across cultures and histories. Recent scholarship also examines the role of science, itself a cultural system, in the construction of fetuses and embryos as what Lynn Morgan (2009) described as “asocial biological entities.”

In this panel, we will discuss what a fetus is from the perspectives of archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. In this panel, we will consider the following questions: How has each of the four fields of anthropology conceptualized fetuses, and how might an engagement across the subfields transform our knowledge of them? What might we gain from a four fields anthropology of fetuses – what also are the challenges and limits – and what can we do to build it?

Papers will be written and presented with the goal of communicating from a particular subfield to our colleagues and peers in other subfields.

Please e-mail an abstract (no more than 250 words), paper title, and keywords, by FEBRUARY 15, 2013. Our hope is to organize the panel for invited status.

Dr. Sallie Han (
Dr. Tracy Betsinger (

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A climactic scene in Episode V as reimagined by Bubbie, age 5

From left, Han Solo, Yoda, a Stormtrooper, Darth Vader ("I am your Dad"), Luke Skywalker ("No"), the Death Star.

Sunday school

Today, I took my kids to church* for the first time ever** in their lives.

I just typed that, then realized that I need to qualify.

*In this case, I took them to a service at the Unitarian Universalist Society, which to a lot of practicing Christians is not considered "real" church at all. Which is part of its appeal to me. As StraightMan observed to me, having the kids attend religious education at the UU is more or less like having them enroll in a course on the anthropology of religion.

**In fact, for Beanie, it was the second time that I had taken her to a religious service. The first time also had been at the UU for a memorial service to remember her beloved music teacher.

I cannot even recall the last time that I attended a religious service aside from a wedding. I had been raised attending church (I even had been confirmed as a Catholic,) but at some point, I no longer regarded it or belief in God to be important, meaningful, or necessary. At least for me.

I will confess that I had been tempted to think that I could look to anthropology as an alternative to religion. Which now that I have articulated the notion, it seems esp. naive and embarrassing to admit. Not unlike the discussions about anthropology "versus" activism that I can recall from graduate school. The gist of such conversations had been that one's work as an anthropologist is not the same as one's politics (although clearly there is a relationship between the two). Either anthropology will fall short of the activism that is needed to enact change in the world - or the activism will fall short of the anthropology that is also needed.

We will see where this leads, but I plan to take the kids to the UU again next Sunday. (The theme being explored this month: Bullying. Topical for both children and grown-ups.)

Alas, this is not a turning to God for which my mother might have been praying :) However, for me, it is a wish for the following:
  • That my kids understand and respect that most of the people in the world participate in ideas and practices about God, whether or not they agree, much less believe.
  • That they learn how to live with (as well as among) other people as members of a community.
  • That they appreciate there is more to us as people than the world that is most obvious to us.
  • That they develop their capacity for awe and wonder and experience moments of grace.
I am not claiming that these*** can be found only in religion, but to me as a parenthropologist, it seems a good place to look.

***As an aside, I also could add the chestnut about kids in our society needing to develop at least a bit of Biblical literacy so that they know the basis of so many of our metaphors and images, also that I am not entirely joking when I say that they need to learn how to sit still for extended periods of time with no screens whatsoever and limited comprehension of what is happening around them. Terrific preparation for fieldwork, I think.