Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gimme Them New-Time Texas Textbooks, Yeah! (by Xan)

So the story is all over the Innertubes here about the Texas Board of Education "advisory" committee which proposes to modify the requirements for the course on US History Since Reconstruction (warning, PDF) to require students "to identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority."

Gearing up as I am for a possible career change into teaching, I say: Hell yeah. And the TX team doesn't go nearly far enough.

I want high school students to know about all those people just named. In addition to individuals, the board wants mention included of groups like the National Rifle Association. I propose they should add: the American Enterprise Institute. The Cato Foundation. The Conservative Citizen's Council(s). The Scaife Foundation (I think that's the name, this is sort of off the top of my head.) There are others.

This is actually good, serious teaching and good education. Who are/were the founders of these organizations? What are the groups' stated purposes and aims? Where does their money come from and where does it go? How often do persons affiliated with these groups appear on television or other media, and do those media disclose the "aims and purposes" of the groups or just state the name without context?

This could be a very good textbook indeed. And given the influence that Texas (and California) have, due to their populations, on textbooks all across the country, I may very well find myself teaching out of one of them one of these days.

Not in Texas though. Those people are nuts down there. Look who they let be on their state Board of Education. Look who they tend to elect to statewide office. (shudder.) Nearly reconciles me to living in Tennessee, it does.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

My friend Kathi sent me this photo of her grandbunnies, BamBam (with the hat) and Mugu. An employee of Red Door Animal Shelter in Chicago created the background and the costumes.

Sexism & how we see animals (by Suzie)

Two female zookeepers had just finished tossing chunks of meat to three young lions as a man and woman watched. The man asked the zookeepers if the lions were treated differently than they would be in the wild. One responded incredulously, “People don’t throw meatballs at them in the wild.”

Man: “The male is clearly the dominant one.”
Keeper: “Actually, Iris appears to be.”
Man: “Yeah, but when that bird landed, the male showed a real mean streak.”
Keeper: “Actually, he’s very sweet, and we think he’s afraid of the birds.”
Man: “Well, God sure made males ugly. So, he had to give us something!”

“Weird ideas about gender?” I wanted to blurt out. Men calling males ugly strikes me as some attempt to prove their heterosexuality. It would be wrong to say that even a male of another species might be attractive.

These aren’t exact quotes, but they capture the gist of the conversation, which occurred at Busch Gardens in Tampa. It reminded me of a 2007 St. Petersburg Times series on Lowry Park Zoo, which, in turn, was reminiscent of Donna Haraway’s “Teddy Bear Patriarchy,” but not in a good way.

I could better understand a reporter turning in a quick story with sexist anthropomorphism, but Pulitzer-Prize-winner Thomas French worked on the nine-part series for four years. I realize that he was quoting others at times, but he chose how to frame the story, what to quote, who to quote, and whether to give them authority.

He discusses a female tiger and a male chimp, both of whom are dominant and won't mate with others of their species. But the tiger is called a diva. Enshalla doesn't rest or sleep; she "lounges." She doesn't clean herself; she "preens." She flies into "rages" against zookeepers. (How odd for a solitary, territorial carnivore.) She "toys" with males who try to "possess" her.
Her keepers understand the necessity of adding to the world's dwindling supply of Sumatran tigers. Still, they can't help admiring her invincibility. One keeper, a modern woman with modern ideas, takes great satisfaction in Enshalla's refusal to automatically concede to the male imperative. It makes this keeper happy that many of the female animals she works with are dominant.

"All our girls are like that here,” she says, smiling proudly.

As pleasing as Enshalla's independence may be, it poses another threat to her future. Feminism is a human invention, just like morality and ethics ...
French never explains why her own future would be in danger -- unless her inability to bear cute cubs made the zoo less interested in her. He doesn't examine whether the zoo's treatment of Enshalla, including its choice of males, affects her desire to mate. Instead, she is "coquettish," a "bitchy woman who doesn't know what she wants" or one who wants the new male tiger, Eric, to be "forceful" with her.
Finally Eric has had enough. He growls, clamps his jaws onto her neck and holds her down as he mounts her.
Afterward, Enshalla is described as so happy that she "luxuriates" at his feet. At least one Web site on tigers says the male grabs the neck of the female, not to hold her down, but to maintain the best position for mating. Enshalla may have rejected Eric initially for any number of reasons, not because she was a tease who wanted to be forced.

Some rapists think this way: It's natural for a man to take a woman by force, especially if she's flirtatious. She wants it, no matter what she says.

French muses about freedom and captivity, but never in regard to female sexuality. Females must submit for the good of all. Ellie the elephant gets put in a tight cage so that she can't resist artificial insemination. French acknowledges that this, and the subsequent birth, could be traumatic. A veterinarian adds what French did not ask; the vet says pregnancy will reduce Ellie's chance of getting cancer. But we aren’t told whether cancer is a greater risk than giving birth.

In comparison, French blames humans for the chimp's lack of interest in mating with other chimps. He doesn't say Herman is dooming himself or his species, and we have no idea if female chimps are frustrated that he won't submit to a "female imperative." Like Enshalla, Herman doesn't like male zookeepers, but French passes no judgment on him.

Herman wants female zookeepers to expose their breasts. Some refuse, but others -- ones that French identifies by name, quotes and seems to like -- think it's fine to do this to please the "gentle soul" since he has "no control over his impulses." A curator whom French greatly respects "does not make a big deal of Herman's quirks." French adds:
How many human females express similar sentiments about their husbands? Just let him have what he wants, and everyone can continue with their day.
Did female keepers feel any pressure to expose themselves, knowing their boss thought it was OK?

French describes a personality battle among the zookeepers, quoting men vs. women. The women who love animals as individuals see something of the animal in themselves, he writes. Meanwhile, the men "revel in the otherness of their creatures," ones who are dominant, skillful and efficient. Isn't it possible that the man who gets a tattoo of such a creature wants to see those qualities in himself?

At the end, French describes the killing of Enshalla, who walked out of a door that had been left unlatched. A vet shoots her with a tranquilizer. When she lunges for him, CEO Lex Salisbury fells her with a shotgun. Because she's still moving, he shoots her three more times.

Throughout the series, French describes Salisbury as the alpha male who dominates the people and animals at the zoo. He writes as if this is the natural order of things, as if male dominance is natural across all species. He never asks if a different management style, one that was more collaborative, might work better. But there was a happy ending of sorts. Salisbury resigned last year, amid an investigation.
P.S. I enjoyed watching the black-and-white ruffed lemurs this week at Busch Gardens. In addition to looking like cat-monkeys, most are female dominant.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Death & Dying (by res ipsa loquitur)

Did you read this story about how doctors tell their patients that they are going to die? A few rambling thoughts ....

But first, some background. When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1960s, her doctor told my father that it would kill her. That prognosis was deliberately withheld from her by both of them, but my mother was aware of her own body and the people around her. She knew something (bad) was afoot and the anxiety, frustration, and anger attendant in that knowledge informed every aspect of her -- and our -- existence. Eleven years later, when the cancer recurred, she was told that yes -- it would kill her, and relatively soon. This time, she withheld the prognosis: from her children. To state the obvious: it is extremely difficult to discuss death. Would it have been any easier if my father had been given the diagnosis?

So the feminist angle to this article ... What are the differences in what news doctors deliver and the way they deliver it -- to men vs. women today? Unfortunately, we only see one "patient" in the role-playing exercise: a female. If there are differences, are they informed by gender? Or social class? Wealth? Or age? Or whether the woman is a mother or childless? Look at the picture in the article: the five people accompanying the doctor are all female. What happens when doctor and patient are female? Do male nurses, social workers, counselers ever accompany the doctor? Watch the video accompanying the article. I bought what I consider some sexist assumptions to the table in assessing the performance of the residents. The female? Too clinical. Too dispassionate. The male? Unable to close the door on all treatment/hope. I'm sure they'll both get better at this. Maybe I will, too.

(I wonder if they role-play a patient who just gets furious at the terminal prognosis? I suspect that's what I'd do.)

Anyway: discuss.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Money Well Spent

You've probably already seen it, but there's a v interesting article in the NYT about how microloans -- given to women -- can improve not only the lives of the women's families, but can also empower those women within their own families. Truly, the personal is the political.

The article covers some territory that we've known for some time, but it's fascinating to see how the power structure within a family changes when women get microloans. Not surprisingly, In general, aid appears to work best when it is focused on health, education and microfinance (although microfinance has been somewhat less successful in Africa than in Asia). And in each case, crucially, aid has often been most effective when aimed at women and girls; when policy wonks do the math, they often find that these investments have a net economic return. Only a small proportion of aid specifically targets women or girls, but increasingly donors are recognizing that that is where they often get the most bang for the buck.

Investing in women is also a national security issue: Yet another reason to educate and empower women is that greater female involvement in society and the economy appears to undermine extremism and terrorism. It has long been known that a risk factor for turbulence and violence is the share of a country’s population made up of young people. Now it is emerging that male domination of society is also a risk factor; the reasons aren’t fully understood, but it may be that when women are marginalized the nation takes on the testosterone-laden culture of a military camp or a high-school boys’ locker room. That’s in part why the Joint Chiefs of Staff and international security specialists are puzzling over how to increase girls’ education in countries like Afghanistan — and why generals have gotten briefings from Greg Mortenson, who wrote about building girls’ schools in his best seller, “Three Cups of Tea.” Indeed, some scholars say they believe the reason Muslim countries have been disproportionately afflicted by terrorism is not Islamic teachings about infidels or violence but rather the low levels of female education and participation in the labor force.

If people who spend their time criminalizing abortion actually wanted to, you know, decrease abortions, they'd quit demonstrating outside clinics and start teaching girls to read, write, do math. Or giving them clothes to wear to school. Another Kenyan study found that giving girls a new $6 school uniform every 18 months significantly reduced dropout rates and pregnancy rates. Likewise, there’s growing evidence that a cheap way to help keep high-school girls in school is to help them manage menstruation. For fear of embarrassing leaks and stains, girls sometimes stay home during their periods, and the absenteeism puts them behind and eventually leads them to drop out. Aid workers are experimenting with giving African teenage girls sanitary pads, along with access to a toilet where they can change them. The Campaign for Female Education, an organization devoted to getting more girls into school in Africa, helps girls with their periods, and a new group, Sustainable Health Enterprises, is trying to do the same.

Read all the way to the end for the magical spell. ;)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Is there a feminist poem that speaks to you?

Monday, August 17, 2009

She Should Run (by res ipsa loquitur)

Women's Campaign Forum creates an online tool you can use to suggest possible candidates to run for office: She Should Run .

/via Matt Yglesias

Documenting the obvious (by Prometheus 6)

Little safe haven for sexually assaulted LGBTQ victims
University of Oregon study finds barriers to seeking help, even from agencies and law enforcement

Being a victim of sexual assault and seeking help is difficult for anyone, but when the victim is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer (LGBTQ) the thought of reporting a crime may well be laced with added layers of uncertainty and mistrust, according to a study in Oregon.

The study, appearing in the August issue of the journal Violence Against Women, found that 94 percent of respondents -- most of them identifying as LGBTQ in Eugene-Springfield -- think sexual violence is a problem, but just 72 percent agreed it is in their community. Eighty-seven percent of respondents also said that that sexual violence prevention tailored to the LGBTQ community is needed, and more than 60 percent felt local agencies and law enforcement were ill-equipped.

Of 130 participants, ranging in age from 15 to 71, 58 percent claimed to have been sexually assaulted. The participants were 83 females, 40 males, six who identified as transgender and one who did not specify sexual identity. Thirty respondents (23 percent) were gay, 20 percent were lesbian, 18.5 percent were bisexual and 18.5 percent were heterosexual; the remainder claimed to be in multiple categories or did not respond.

"The take-home message was that sexual violence is real and complicated for members of the LGBTQ community," said lead author Jeffrey L. Todahl, a professor of couples and family therapy in the UO College of Education's department of counseling psychology and human services. "There are additional barriers because of discrimination. It is hard enough to reach out to ask for help if you are sexually assaulted. This is compounded when you have to wonder if people in law enforcement, at a hospital or with an agency will think poorly of you because of your sexual orientation. An LGBTQ victim will ask, 'Will I be judged, and is your organization safe? If I can't trust you, I cannot get the help I need.'"

The study, drawn from a convenience sample rather than a random one, was part of a larger project funded by the Oregon Attorney General's Sexual Assault Task Force. Potential respondents were recruited through various targeted means, including through a listserv for sexual and domestic violence social service activists and providers.

In addition to the survey, four focus groups with a total of 14 participants (mean age 41) identified the biggest problem is low community awareness and support. Researchers found a "social ignorance of the existence of LGBTQ communities and limited open discussion of the sexual violence occurring within the LGBTQ community." Several focus group members noted that society in general -- and even LGBTQ members -- dismiss even the possibility that sexual violence occurs in the LGBTQ community.

When a sexual assault occurs, Todahl said, members of the LGBTQ community continue to be cloaked in fear of judgment. "LGBTQ persons live in an inherently dangerous environment and reasonably assume that they may be targeted, mistreated and blamed -- even by service providers, law enforcement and health-care professionals," Todahl and colleagues noted.

"They have to start with the assumption that I don't trust you," Todahl said, adding that "you" refers to organizations, police, friends and even family members who don't accept their lifestyle choices. They don't feel safe and worry that they will be quickly judged."

The study, he said, allowed LBGTQ members to voice their experiences. "And it provides a chance for us to explore a deeper understanding of the issue. Because of the discrimination they feel, they have to circle the wagons. They don't feel safe anyway. They have to protect the legitimacy of their sexual orientation. If assaulted by a member of their own community, they don't want it to get out because many people think there is something wrong with them as it is."

Based on the study, researchers learned that participants believe that sexual assault must be more clearly defined socially and must carry real consequences. "The general community needs to be more welcoming of people's sexual orientation," Todahl said. Participants also suggested that workers at agencies, from police to health care to social service agencies, be trained to better understand sexual assault and what it means to be a member of a sexual minority, he added.

LGBTQ members need to know what agencies are safe, Todahl said. Agencies should be re-evaluating such things as their names and the messages a name imply, and even what their intake forms look like. "Are they welcoming?" he said.


Co-authors with Todahl were his departmental colleague Deanna Linville; Amy Bustin of Sexual Assault Support Services, a non-profit organization in Lane County; Jenna Wheeler, a UO doctoral student in counseling psychology; and Jeff Gau of Abacus Research of Eugene.

About the University of Oregon

The University of Oregon is a world-class teaching and research institution and Oregon's flagship public university. The UO is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), an organization made up of the 62 leading public and private research institutions in the United States and Canada. The UO is one of only two AAU members in the Pacific Northwest.

Sources: Jeff Todahl, assistant professor of couples and family therapy, 541-346-0919,; Deanna Linville, assistant professor of couples and family therapy, 541-346-0921,

A kind of stereoscopic vision (by Prometheus 6)

I once wrote

I sometimes think of the USofA like it's the planet Saturn: Black folks are the ring system, considered part of the planet by everyone that's interested, but not really. It's been suggested the ring system is the remnant of a solid body. In this metaphor, the African American Culture Wars is between those who want to reassemble the shattered moon and those who want to negotiate a soft landing on the planet. And the rings, the individual moonlets, continue the dance that ornaments the planet.

I like that metaphor so I want to work with it for minute.

This is how the USofA looks from the outside


This is how the USofA looks to Black folks.


I'd like to include a view of the rings as seen from Saturn, but all I could find was science fiction fantasy art.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Another All-Time Favorite (Posted by Hecate)

Little Summer Poem Touching The Subject Of Faith by Mary Oliver

Every summer
I listen and look
under the sun's brass and even
into the moonlight, but I can't hear

anything, I can't see anything --
not the pale roots digging down, nor the green
stalks muscling up,
nor the leaves
deepening their damp pleats,

nor the tassels making,
nor the shucks, nor the cobs.
And still,
every day,

the leafy fields
grow taller and thicker --
green gowns lofting up in the night,
showered with silk.

And so, every summer,
I fail as a witness, seeing nothing --
I am deaf too
to the tick of the leaves,

the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet --
all of it
beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.

And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn's beautiful body
is sure to be there.

Picture found here.

My Hissy Fit (by Liz)

I know we've discussed it here this past week, but I am still fuming over the coverage of the Secretary of State's trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Hillary Clinton endured blatant, unchecked sexism as a presidential candidate. In addition to the intense scrutiny and partisanship any candidate faces, she was vilified merely for being female. And the sexism continues. Her sharp response to the Congolese student has been characterized as a temper tantrum, an eruption, a hissy fit, an outburst. How often does the media describe a man's behavior as a hissy fit?

Some of the more generous stories about Clinton's comments offer theories as to why she answered the way she did: jet lag, exhaustion, marital troubles, jealousy of Bill Clinton and VP Biden's international activities. The Secretary of State needs no excuse for her behavior. In my opinion, she demonstrated incredible restraint.

Several years ago, I was working as the head of product development for a U.S. company. I flew with a male coworker to a tradeshow in Germany to source new products. For two days, my coworker and I walked the tradeshow floor negotiating deals. As we approached each new vendor we both extended our hands to shake and exchange business cards. The majority of the vendors shook my coworker's hand and ignored mine. I passed out and collected very few business cards. Several vendors assumed I was the wife of my coworker. Even after I corrected one man, he refused to start a meeting with me until my "husband" was present. My response was similar to Clinton's.

I was not tired. I did not have jet lag. Nor did I have any marital problems. What I did have was a collection of sexist experiences over the course of my career that framed my response. I had been in too many board rooms where women were interrupted, ignored or asked to take notes, regardless of their seniority. I had seen female coworkers deflect sexual advances, fight for fair maternity leave and earn less pay than their male counterparts. So when I was dismissed that day in Germany, my response encompassed more than just the immediate situation.

Hillary Clinton has witnessed much more than I have. She flew to a country where a war on women is raging. According to the U.N., four hundred cases of rape are reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo each month. More than half of the displaced people in the country are women.

Around the globe, women are fighting for equal rights. The more privileged among us are struggling for workplace equality: fair pay and a shot at the corner office. The less fortunate are fighting for the most basic rights: for their safety and the safety of their children. Hillary Clinton sees these struggles every day. So when asked what appeared to be a sexist question in a country where women are in grave danger, I think a temper tantrum, an eruption or an outburst would have been perfectly justified. In fact, when you view Clinton's reaction through a broader lense, when you look at all of the experiences that framed her answer, I think her response was calm, cool and collected.