Forty percent of households with kids headed by a female breadwinner?! Commence conservative panic mode!

It’s sad, it’s infuriating, but for some reason I find it hilarious: Fox news pundits freaking out over a pew study that shows  “four out of ten American households with children have a mother who is the sole or primary breadwinner for the family, the highest share on record.”

There’s so much bullshit here I don’t know where to start.

First up—”something we don’t usually do”? You mean have an all-male panel to talk about women’s issues in a pandering and patriarchy-reinforcing way? Please.

“Something going terribly wrong in American society.” If you want to actually talk about that, better start by talking about economic inequality and the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Oh wait a minute, for a second I forgot who I was talking to.

“Left, right, I don’t see how you can argue this!” Yeah, the fact that you can’t see any political faultlines in your debate is a testament not to its political neutrality but to your own willful blindness.

“And those are the children who survive.” Non sequitur abortion statistics much?

“Liberals who defend this and say it’s not a bad thing are very anti-science, when you look at biology and the natural world.” Ooh, I have images to reply to this one!  Yes of course, we should always look to nature to guide human relationship—so let’s try some of these models seen in the illustrations of Animal Mating Habits, by Humon.

Like the pregnant male seahorse model, or the bonobo orgy model, or the aggressive female hyenas with penises model. You know, for science!

“Politicians won’t say it!  That’s what bothers me Erik. They’re so scared, they’re so much a bunch of…you know…” Wait a minute. Did he just almost say “a bunch of PUSSIES“?  I’m pretty sure he almost did, or some other similar gendered insult (bitches?). And then thought better of it. Probably his only saving grace.

“it’s tearing apart minority communities!” Actually, that’s racism, and racism + sexism if we’re talking about the experience of non-white women. (We have a term for this conundrum called “intersectionality“…but I don’t think y’all are the right crowd to hear about that right now).

“I wrote a biography once of Daniel Patrick Moynihan…”  That’s like saying “Hey guys! I’m an expert on sexist bullshit! I helped build bullshit mountain!” It’s not helping.

 

In conclusion—this video clip is so disturbing I cannot help but find it ridiculous, and so I laughed at it. Kind of like this video of lesbians watching lesbian porn. That’s right Fox News guys! I’m ending this post with that kind of video!

 

 

 

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unsolicited advice: a commencement speech-ish primer for women in grad school

As an academic, this term it’s been my privilege/challenge/paycheck to prepare first year graduate students for future work as teaching assistants. I don’t pretend that I am some sort of expert in this field, or that what I have to tell them is applicable to every graduate student in every department. But what I do know is that when I started to write down some notes about balancing TA work with graduate school requirements with being a human, I started something that sounded like it belonged in a commencement speech—broad, sweeping advice on work and life. And  this particular group of graduate students is overwhelming female, a factor that worked its way into my little speech.

phdcomiclifeplan

I haven’t  said any of this to them—and I haven’t decided yet if I will. But I wanted to post it here, because it distills a few lesson I have learned over the years, and if it helps anyone even a little, that would mean a lot to me. At the very least, writing it has helped me.

 

On being a TA, a graduate student, and a human: unsolicited advice for women in academia

Let’s be frank: Rarely will anyone in this department (or any other for that matter) tell you to work less or, to go easier on yourself, or to take a break for goodness sake. But if you don’t do those things, and regularly, you risk burn out. So since I have this pseudo authoritative position from the department from which to tell you things, I am going to use it to say this to you now: Don’t be so hard on yourself.

The most obvious truth that no one really wants to admit about graduate school is that we all need a life, and we all need to make time for things outside of academic work, and we all need to acknowledge that even if you are employed as a TA, leading discussions/ going to lecture/grading assigments just can’t always be your top  priority. And the ironic thing about this is that the better you take care of yourself, the better your teaching can be. But no one is going to remind of this.  Few people you meet in these halls are going to tell  you that you should take care of yourself. Instead, they are going to (un)intentionally make you feel bad about taking care of yourself . They will say things like “how do you have time for [insert non academic activity here]?” Or, “I totally want to do [non-academic activity] but I’ve just got so much work to do.” And you are going to feel like everyone around you is working harder and better than you, and that if you just dropped a few of those frivolous activities from your schedule, you  might be able to work that much too.

So here is my counter response. We are not a bunch of disembodied brains. We are all bodies. We don’t have bodies—we are bodies. And bodies do weird, bad things when placed under too much stress. Your years in this program will likely put your brain AND  your body to the test.  So if I were you, I would prepare for this experience by figuring out what makes you feel your best, and then doing what you have to do to maintain it over the next few years. I don’t know if that’s exercising or hanging out with friends or playing with your pets or going on a trip, but whatever it is, defend your ability to keep doing it  as if your life depended on it. Hold onto it even when all of your academic responsibilities seem much more pressing. Don’t let TA work or any other part of grad school take over your time, because it will. It will expand to fill the time you give it. And it will exact its toll on your body-the only body you’ve got.

As women, there’s one additional aspect of this work/life balance that we often face: the small requests. In short, people at this university—undergrads, grad students, professors, staff— are going to ask you to do more things for themselves, or for others. They are going to ask that you help out in ways that seem small — a bit of mentoring here, a little (unpaid) service there, just a quick favor every now and again. They are not going to single you out for your gender on purpose— for the most part, they are going to do it subconsciously. These will  seem so small, and you will want to be the person who always helps out when asked. But these requests will add up.And if you let them, all the requests will eat away at the time you have for your own work and your own life. So make a decision now to be protective of your time. Don’t let anyone or anything have too much of you. Find your boundaries, hold on to them, and don’t anyone make you feel bad for enforcing them.

It can be the difference between shining bright and burning out.

All the work while crying

 

 

Today I cannot write. I have my physical space set up just how I like it: window seat at the coffee shop, pot of my favorite tea, headphones with wordless music. But my headspace is all wrong. And so I have fallen back onto an old habit: procrastinating.

alltheworkwhile crying

For the past year or so, I have been retraining myself not to make procrastination my default mode, and so far I’ve gotten some pretty good results. My methods aren’t new, they’re just personalized for me and broken down into bite sized, manageable tasks. The more I don’t want to write, the smaller and easier the task. Write one paragraph, or write for one hour. When that doesn’t work, I try to channel Anne Lamott—Bird by bird. Shitty first drafts. Recently, Lydia taught me the  phrase “no stakes writing” and I have taken it to heart. I have learned how to take away the stakes and just move forward. When I just couldn’t bear to sit at my laptop, I went outside with a small whiteboard. Sitting under a tree next to my flower garden, I outlined the paper I’d been despairing about starting for week. It took maybe 15 minutes. The fact that I could accidentally erase it with misplaced wipe of a sleeve was comforting. And from there, moving forward was easier.

But today my headspace is not clear enough to write, and even the best writerly advice will not help. Because right now, most of my headspace is devoted to one thing— a guy that I am not in communication with, but would like to be. One dude, with whom I am in limbo. One person, unresolved. And sometimes that is all it takes. I can’t move forward with him, and my writing is stuck.

They never tell you about this part. I met an important writing deadline this week, but I was only able to do it because it was a deadline—a date set by someone else for me, a day when X had to be sent in. And so I did it—I wrote in fits and starts, in agonizing minutes dragging on, in ten minute jolts followed by twenty minute breaks. I was miserable, but I did it.  All the work while crying.

Those of you out there whose jobs require large amounts of time devoted to mindless tasks—I don’t envy  you. Honestly. When something is upsetting you, your mind has all the free space it needs during those tasks to go over and over the thing that is making you miserable. I have been there and I do not wish to be again. But those of you whose work requires being fully present emotionally and mentally, who need a clear headspace to even begin to accomplish your goals—you have my utmost sympathy. Because you and I have to protect ourselves more, have to be cautious about sharing our hearts and our minds with those around us. If we don’t, there are consequences.

And right now, I am feeling all of those consequences.

 

Funny Feminist Friday!

Not a lot of ladies in pluckyville these days! Blogging took a backseat to what Lydia rightly called  “March, the month of mating dating.” (And traveling. And conferencing. And holidaying.) As it turns out when, even if you add just one human to your already full life, it creates a ripple affect. Nothing is left unchanged, and everything gets a little more frantic. Hence the lack of blog posts.

But I am here to remedy the situation with funny feminist Friday!

I like this image because I’m always trying to figure out how to deal with sexist humor, especially when it’s walking a fine line between unexamined/inconsiderate and idiotic/insulting. On the one hand, I’m all about the funny! Ask any of my real life friends, they’ll tell you I am the first one to point out the humor in a situation (especially if it involves a pun).

On the other hand,  “humor” can also be the last refuge of the scoundrel misogynist. I can distinctly remember a dude, the neighbor of a friend, making some really degrading jokes about the women he’d been with when I was hanging out with their group. Just about everyone in the room kind of laughed awkwardly, while I said something along the lines of the above image (though dripping with sarcasm, as I was still worried about not being “the cool girl” who can take a joke, and sarcasm makes everything ok right….? no?). Later a number of this guy’s male “friends” told me, in private, that they felt like he was a lecherous, creepy womanizer. As in, they couldn’t even go out to bars with him in town because they would always run into some girl who rightly hated his guts and they’d all have to leave. But it was not something they were willing to confront him on. So he continued to make awful sexist jokes, and they continued to act like it was funny. Not ok.

Humor can, however, be the best tool feminists have for dealing with the most aggregious sexist bullshit. Case in point: Donna Brazile.

Background:  Princeton alum Susan Patton recently wrote a letter to female Princeton students telling them they had better find themselves a husband while they were in college, gosh darn it!

Donna Brazille’s response is, in my opinion, one the better ways one could respond to something besides “I don’t even ugggghhnhhh.” Here’s one of the my favorite lines:

“Perhaps, if I’d had Ms. Patton’s wisdom and foresight about what really matters in college, I wouldn’t have taken so many pesky classes, and instead concentrated on designing my hair, makeup, attire and personality to create the perfect man-catching machine.

Perhaps it would have all worked out exactly as Ms. Patton implies — the perfect house, kids, husband and future. I made a lot of stupid decisions in college; I’m really glad the choice of life partner wasn’t one of them. How many people, do you think, could choose a tattoo at 22 years old and still be happy with it by the time they are 50? Let’s be generous here: maybe a quarter of all people? And tattoos don’t even talk.”

 

So many great rhetorical choices here, but my favorite has to be “And tattoos don’t even talk.” I instantly pictured a number of the college kids I know, at 50, with their tattoos talking to them. What a perfect humorous image to sum up one of the many fatal flaws in Patton’s perfect plan!

International Women’s Day: Feminist links, Part 1

Today is International Women’s Day. Now I know what you’re thinking: we get a WHOLE DAY?! Yes, a whole day for 50%+ of the human population! A day for all teh ladiez.

But wait, that’s not all! We get a google doodle!

Sarcasm aside, today is as good a time as any to start sharing some of our favorite links on women, feminism, gender issues, et al. Some will be timeless classics to be read and forwarded to people when you get tired of, you know, explaining to them for the millionth time what institutional sexism looks like. Some will be current event-ish things that you may or may not remember the context of in a month’s time. And some are even funny!

But let’s start with some basics. For now.

Feminist classics

Shakesville’s Feminism 101

This ultimate compendium of feminist issues covers anything and everything you could think of and several things you would probably never think of. Within this collection of blog posts there are subcollections of posts on rape culture 101, helpful hints for dudes, and fat shaming. If all of this sounds like a brand new language to you, I suggest reading journey of an envious girl, which has a certain kind of resonance that is hard to describe but easy to appreciate when you read it.

The Original “Mansplainer”

The term “mansplaining” came up in a group of friends the other night and surprisingly few knew what it was. Thus the original link to Rebecca Solnit’s essay “Men Explain Things to Me.” She never used the term, but her story of a man trying to “explain” her own book to her (a book he coincidentally hadn’t read) while not realizing she was the author has become a classic. Also worth checking out: the academic mansplainer tumblr.

mansplaining Paul Ryan

As long as we’re calling this category “feminist classics,” we might as well go into women’s history mode and bust out some of the key texts of second wave feminism for you—yes, all free and accessible on the interwebs!

The Problem That Has No Name

The first, of course, is the first chapter of Betty Friedan’s 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Its post-WWII story of white, affluent, college-educated suburban housewives feeling trapped may seem like a world away now, but it’s still required reading if you want to understand what it was like when many ideas we take for granted could seem so pathbreaking.

Betty Friedan

Why I Want a Wife

Also required reading is Judy Syfers’ 1971 essay “Why I Want a Wife.” Believe it or not, most college students still get a kick out of reading it. Syfers’ humor and succinct summary of  married gender roles as she saw them is both witty and to the point.

image credit: tracynicolaus.blogspot.com

No More Miss America!

Finally, ya can’t leave out the radical feminist protest of the Miss America Pageant in 1968.The top ten list of things they were protesting began with “The Degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie Symbol” and just got better from there. Although contrary to popular belief, no bras were ever burned—that would have been a fire hazard on the wooden boardwalk, so they only threw them into a freedom trashcan.

Make your own kind of music: foreign language edition

Hey—it’s a weekend! I say that calls for music. Here’s a song I like that I’ve been listening to this week:

 

Things I like about this song:

1) Chvrches: I love the spelling. We should really bring the “v” version of  “u” back. Everything wovld look like it was chiseled into a Roman colvmn and mvst be taken seriovsly. (It would also drive your spell checker nuts.)

2) Lighthearted sounding synth pop with dark lyrics. What is it about this juxtaposition that is so appealing?

It’s probably related to the reason English speakers like singing and dancing along to songs where we don’t know the meaning of the words. Which brings me to these guy, the vlogbrothers:

 

I haven’t watched many of their videos but this one struck a chord with me. (Pun not intended! But I’ll keep it.) I can’t speak to the accuracy of the translations—which I know some have already disputed—given that idiomatic expressions were always the bane of my foreign language experiences. But I think the analysis is spot on. I remember being impressed when Gangnam style, a song containing less than half a dozen English words total, jumped up to near the top of the charts last summer. But after this video I can see it as part of a larger pattern.

(image credit: readwrite.com)

The idea that the meaning of a song is whatever you want it to be is only a half truth. Sure, the melody and the intonations of the singer may have an emotional resonance that transcends language barriers. But emptying foreign lyrics of their meaning and substituting our own emotional response? Without thinking about why we are so comfortable doing that? Well, at best it’s an unexamined and simplistic way to enjoy music that isn’t in English. At worst, it means we unconsciously assume that non-English songs are never something to be taken as seriously as songs in English —they’re always, at some, level a parody of themselves,  their language, their country or their culture. And that’s a pretty insincere way to appreciate music if you ask me.

Is there an antidote to this, besides the excellent vlogbrothers translation/commentary? I  think that for a star, we can listen to songs in “fake” or gibberish English written from a non-English speaking perspective! This is one of my favorites:

It might just be me, but  listening to nonsense English-y words makes me hear my native tongue with a totally different ear.