Friday, March 31, 2006

Can men be feminists?

What follows is not so much a coherent post, but a preview and necessary background for a post I want to get to once I've articulated my ideas well enough for my tastes. (I'm a slow writer. Sometimes I wonder what on earth I was thinking entering the blogosphere!)

A couple of days ago, in response to a blog commenting brouhaha elsewhere, Chris Clarke wrote a blog post called "Why I am not a feminist." If you know Chris's blog, his writing, his commenting elsewhere, and his general blogospheric persona, then, like me, your first reaction to such a post title was "Wha?" Intrigued and a little alarmed, I kept reading. Ultimately the post was a pretty passionate statement of why he could advocate feminist positions but could not, ultimately, claim the mantle of "feminist." As he concluded:

My goal is to be the best ally to feminists I can be, in the political realm and in the much more difficult personal realm.

But I cannot call myself a feminist: the label is not mine to claim. [emphasis his]
You really must go read the whole piece; like all of Chris's writing, it's really worth it. And it really struck a nerve in me or something, because I wrote a really long response, which I haven't generally had the time or energy to do lately. It's the fifth one down, so you don't have to go far for it. It's so long it could be its own blog post, but its most salient point was this, I think:
Feminism is a political position that can be held by anyone. “Woman” is (perhaps) an identity that only some can claim. You are not a woman, but you are a feminist, given your political claims above.
(I was addressing Chris, of course. And the "perhaps" is a nod to debates and theories of the constructedness of gender categories.) After a while the comments got really rich and interesting, with a range of opinions about whether or not men could call themselves feminists. Chris pointed out somewhere in there that there may have been a generational shift (and that may be true) as the feminists he'd known were adamant that a man could not call himself a feminist. Then someone else (Ampersand, I think) suggested that the difference might lie between radical feminists and liberal feminists. Well, I'm both a Gen Xer and a liberal feminist, so my own acceptance of male feminists might be influenced by either context. I don't know which is the more powerful influence.

And then Ampersand at Alas, A Blog took up the discussion (and, in fact, may have been at the beginning of it, before Chris took it up, but I missed that part). And I'm not just linking to him because he called me eloquent (*blush* -- thanks!). Mainly I'm linking to Ampersand's post because of the powerful personal story he tells of why he's a feminist and how feminism liberated him, someone who, in his words:
could not - really, really could not - "do" masculinity. And because of this, my peers (aided by too many adults who should have known better) taught me to hate myself. It took years, but I was an eager student, and I learned. I used to stand in front of mirrors interrogating my reflection, asking why I couldn't just be "normal," beating myself as hard as I could with my tiny balled fists (in retrospect, thank goodness I was a weakling!).
You really have to go read the whole thing. It's heartbreaking and powerful. And it makes a whole lot of sense to me. According to Ampersand, "Feminism is the only movement in the world that has anything at all sensible to say about how gender roles are used as a whip to keep people in their place." As a female who identified not quite as a boy but with boys when I was young (and Mom claims she raised me like she raised my brother and not as she raised my sisters -- this after reading Friedan and de Beauvoir), and as an academic feminist who works on masculinity, I get this both personally and intellectually. This makes sense to me. But I need to think some more to articulate in better detail why I think feminist men can and should claim their feminism.

In the meantime, feel free to take up the discussion (again or anew) here in the comments. Can men be feminists?

Random bullet points of crappy crap

  • I'm still sick and I still have no voice. This really sucks. On the bright side, I did an amazing job of running my classes yesterday entirely through handouts and small group work. This makes me think I could, after all, design a decent DL class. Maybe I'll do that next summer.
  • The group blog CatchingFlies, to which I only ever contributed two posts -- because I suck -- is now no more. I'm not even going to bother to link to it because BP didn't just post a farewell and stop posting, but gave up the URL (because, being a Typepad group blog, it cost money). Word to the wise: don't do this if you can help it. If you stop your blog or want to wipe it from memory, just delete the incrimating posts, but keep the blog active. Why? Because spammers take over the old URL if you relinquish it. CatchingFlies is now full of drug spam. Since so many of us are anonymous, I guess it doesn't matter that our "names" can later be associated with crap, but it still bugs me.
  • Most of you don't know this, but my mom has been in the hospital twice more since the first time over Christmas. She's now in rehab and we've been making arrangements for her to move into assisted living. (Or actually, Virgo Sis and Fast Fizzy have been making the arrangements.) Mom decided that's what she wants and it's also what she really needs. Dad can't take care of her because he's a) demented and addled, and b) a selfish sonuvabitch who does things like his own laundry, but not Mom's, and then claims he's "doing all the work" and "taking care of things."
  • Oh but wait, there's more. Now Dad's balking at the cost of assisted living. And by balking I don't mean "worrying about it because it's expensive and they're financially strapped," but "being a selfish shit and screaming and yelling at the cost and, for the moment anyway, refusing to pay for it despite the fact that he's sitting on plenty of assets even before you get to the non-liquid stuff like the house." In other words, he has the money, but he doesn't want to spend it. On Mom. Because he's an asshole.
  • Don't believe that my dad is an asshole? Here's a choice Dad quote of late: "I hope you kids inherited my healthy genes and not hers. I should've had her checked out before I married her." What an asshole.
  • My sister Ms. V would have been 51 today. Maybe it's a good thing she didn't live to have to deal with this crap.
  • Tomorrow's eldest niece's birthday. She's Ms. V's daughter. Her birthday is forever linked with her mom's. Because I probably still won't have much of a voice tomorrow, I can't call her.
  • Because I haven't had a voice for half of the week, I haven't been able to call Mom, and I know she's lonely.
  • Because I don't have a voice, I can't call and yell at my selfish rat-bastard of a father.
  • And now I have to write a thank-you note for the birthday check Dad sent me only after Virgo Sis reminded him (well, he is in early stages of dementia, so I guess I can't really be mad about that). But still, I'm not feeling very thankful or filial right now.
Edited to add: It's really Virgo Sis who is dealing with this head-on right now. But she's so upset that it made me upset, especially since I can't call anyone, including her. So voila -- a blog vent! These things are so damn useful! Oh, and I still haven't written that bloody thank-you note.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Comedy / Tragedy

I'm afraid I haven't been in a bloggy mood since getting sick. Now I've lost my voice, as well. I hope it's back tomorrow, because my medieval lit. students actually like Margery Kempe and are really into discussing concepts of authorship, authority, self, and agency with respect to the text. And when I asked at the end of class for them to think for the next class (tomorrow) about how saints' lives are informing Margery's and the book's (self)-fashioning, they all nodded their heads. So I'm looking forward to hearing what they have to say. Maybe even if I don't have a voice, I can make them do all the talking. And so far not one person has called her crazy. Whoda thunkit?

Anyway...that's not what the post title refers to. That refers to the links I'm about to give you so that you may bide your time until I'm in the mood for more detailed blogging.

Comedy (more in the video store sense than the classical sense):

Geoffrey Chaucer not only hath a blog and t-shirts, but also, now he hath a flayme werre with John Gower, who hath his own blog. And the t-shirts are multiplying. My new favorites are the ones that say "How queynte!" "Bele chose" and "I am a gentil harlot and a kynde," as well as "I study medieval literature -- That's where the money is," "Chaucer: Funnier than Dante, Prettier than Boccaccio," and finally, "Chaucer: Because Shakespeare was too easy."


You're going to need to go back to Chaucer's blog after this. I'm sure most of my readers (at least the ones active in the blogosphere) have already heard about the gang-rape sccandal at Duke, and have seen that the blogosphere, especially the feminist part of it, is trying to keep this in the public eye. The MSM seems to be paying little attention to it. Others have already been more eloquent and informative on the subject than I can be at the moment, so I hereby give you some worthy links:

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ugh. I habbuh code in muh nose.

I'm sick. I hate being sick. I rarely get sick (hence the hating it -- I'm not used to it). I so rarely get sick that the cold medications in my medicine cabinet expired way back in 1999. Usually all the running I do gives me some sort of superpower resistance and when everyone around me is hacking and coughing, I'm just fine. Not this time. This time it got me, too.

Grrrrr. I'm not a happy camper.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ni! Ni! Ni! at K'zoo

Hey fellow pilgrims to K'zoo, have you noticed that this gentleman is presenting at session 469 (1:30 Saturday)? Don't recognize him? Go look at Session 469 here. (The curly hair in his face is mine, btw, in a trimmer state than it is now. How I got in the picture is a whole nuther story. It's what lead up to the the one that involves the orangutan.)

Nano nano naaaaaaano!

I've got a Nano! I've got a Nano!

Boyfriend bought me a 4G Nano for my birthday!! Woo-hoo! Now I feel guilty because he spent too much money. (Now, he says, I can no longer urge him to buy more clothes, because he has spent all his "pants money" on the Nano.) But I'm also excited to install iTunes and start filling it with music. I gotta start ripping more of my CDs to my computer, too, so I can be like all the cool kids in the blogosphere and do the Friday Random 10 thing (since I seem not to be inspired enough to do poetry Fridays -- I keep worrying I'll post something obvious -- and I don't have a cat). And then y'all can see just how much my music collection and Scrivener's overlap. (OK, we're not exactly alike in our taste, but there's a lot of similarity, and everytime he mentions something I don't know, I check it out and like it. Go figure.)

And speaking of music, Virgo Sis bought me two really interesting looking cultural studies books on rock: Simon Reynolds and Joy Press, The Sex Revolts: Gender Rebellion, and Rock 'n' Roll (Harvard UP), and Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 (Penguin). (She also bought me a cute sweater, but it doesn't quite fit, so I have to exchange it. But I thought you all would be less interested in a sweater than books.)

And my friend The Empress, who always sends me a box full of little goodies, many humorous, did so again this year. It included, among other things, a CD by a band called Beowülf (what is with heavy metal bands and the abuse of the umlaut -- at least this one is on a vowel!), a nailpolish in a color called "Cabana Boy," and one of those ubiquitous plastic bracelets, only this one is dark purple and says "IRONY." I must wear it. Ironically, of course. Oh, and one of the oddest items was an animal-shaped lemon reamer in translucent yellow plastic that looked suspiciously like a sex toy -- for those with an addiction to food porn, I suppose. ;)

Meanwhile, as I said in my comment in the last post, The Boyfriend and I spent my birthday around the countryside in Neighboring State to look at the area where we're fantasizing we could buy some land. It's still a real possibility, but we discovered that some of the [Ethnic Immigrant] Hills area is seriously ticky-tacky -- plastic dinosaur parks, waterslides, fake Old West towns (huh?!), and cheesy references to the Ethnic Immigrants after which the area is named. If you've been to the Wisconsin Dells, it's a bit like that on a smaller scale (though there was a eerily familiar giant Paul Bunyan statue).

And while we were doing all this, I started to come down with the sore throat and cold Boyfriend's had for a week. Boo! I'm not supposed to get sick on my birthday! I'm not supposed to get sick at all -- I don't get sick! Boo!

But I discovered that a cocktail hour screwdriver made my throat feel good enough for a nice steak dinner that night. So now you know -- throat hurts too much to swallow? Have a screwdriver! You get the Vitamin C in the OJ, the antiseptic qualities of the vodka, and the numbing effects of the ice.

OK, gotta load iTunes and start playing with my Nano!!!!!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Happy Birthday

They say it's your birthday* -- well it's my birthday, too, yeah!

Oh hell, I'm in my late 30s. How did *that* happen?
Still in the same running age group, though, so that's something.

Oh, and only 9 months until Christmas. Start your shopping now!

*You = Elton John and Gloria Steinem, among others.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Geoffrey Chaucer hath a blog...AND T-SHIRTS!

I know many of you are already fans of that Middle English blogger extraordinaire, Geoffrey Chaucer. Well now you can show your admiration in the form of a t-shirt. Dammit, how do I choose between a t-shirt that says "I wolde I knewe how of thee I might be quitten" and one that says "Okaye, sometymes it raineth in March: make notte a chauncerye case of the whole mattere"?!

Oh, and he's thinking of moving to the real blogosphere. Yay! Update: The new URL is here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Hear ye, Hear ye: First Annual K'zoo Medievalist Bloggers' Guild Meeting

If you get a sense of deja-vu all over again when you read the following, it's because much of the following is posted over at Ancrene Wiseass.

Ancrene Wiseass and I are beginning to plan the First Annual Kalamazoo Bloggers' Guild Meeting (AW's name -- I promise not to make you pay half of your money to fund a Corpus Christi play). But we're running into some logistic difficulties and would like your input on several matters. To wit:

1. If you're thinking of coming, please let us know in the comments thread below. If you're thinking of bringing a friend, colleague, significant other, familiar, or minion, please let us know that as well. We'd like to get a sense of how large the gathering will be.

2. We've been told that it would be best to meet early in the conference so's we can keep meeting and greeting over the weekend. This means we should probably aim to converge on either Thursday or Friday evening. Which night would you prefer, and what time frame would be best?

3. The location of our guild-hall has yet to be determined, and we'd very much appreciate your suggestions. The shelter in the park near the pond is one possibility, but we'd have to cross our fingers and hope for good weather. Any other nominations?

Also, New Kid suggested in the comments at AW's place that we e-mail photos to each other beforehand once we know who all is coming. Duh! Why didn't I think of that? She also suggested meeting in either Bernhard (the conference center/computer center/food court place -- did I get the name right?) or the Valley lobby that's farthest away from registration, the book exhibit, and the cafeteria -- which would be the lobby in the back of the one farthest up the hill. (Wiseass, btw, hasn't yet been to K'zoo, but I have; so I'm more likely to know what you're talking about if you say "the business building where the movies are" or "that dive bar near campus with the leather and wood decor" or something like that.) What say ye?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Gout -- not just for DWEMs anymore

So get this: Mr. Noisy Downstairs Neighbor has gout.

No, really! He told me so himself.

I didn't know people still got that! I thought you had to be Henry VIII or John Milton to get gout, not a hip-hop loving, slow-talking, big-walking, child-indulging, pot-smoking, 30-something duuuuude in 21st century Rust Belt Historic District. (Then again, you should see the copious amounts of beer bottles in the recycling bin each week. Perhaps that has something to do with it.)

Part of me wants to say: sweet, sweet, poetic justice! But that would be mean. And besides, dangit all, it just makes him noisier because now he's on crutches!

City mouse? Or country mouse?

I am a very adaptable person. I love big, fabulous* cities with city excitement and city dining and city nightlife. And I love fast public transportation, especially if it goes underground. But I also really like the country and wildlife. And even though I'm not fond of suburbs conceptually, there are some that aren't so bad -- like the one I grew up in, for example, where you can still walk to the grocery store because my parents' house happens to be very close to it, and where you can hop on a running/biking trail that runs parallel to a long creek through the area, and through some parks and golf courses, where you can see blue heron and deer and those sorts of critters. I don't know that I'd like to be way, way, way out in the country, hours from the nearest city, though. One of my favorite spots in the world is my friend E's mother's house, on top of a ridge in Yorkshire, with fabulous views in every direction, and where's there nothing else but her neighbor in their semi-detached, a farm, a set of row houses, and a pub, but it's just about a mile up the road from the train into Leeds if you need to get out.

Anyway, the reason I bring all this up is to say that some of the nice things about living in these here parts are that a) the cost of living is low, and b) you don't have to go far from the city to get country or from the country to get city. So the Boyfriend and I have been daydreaming about buying pretty, countryside, wooded land on which someday to build a weekend house, one that's close enough to nearby Cool College Town for a good dinner out and access to the Whole Foods, should we want it, and also not so far from Rust Belt that we wouldn't use it enough or friends wouldn't want to come up.

Because we've been talking about this, on the last two weekends, when I've been on my way back from conferences and reading groups in said Cool College Town with my academically tonier friends at the R1 university, I've been driving around prospective areas. Along the way -- and also with the advice of Smartass Poet (who, while having a penchant for teasing the department medievalist -- and really, is there anyone who *doesn't* tease the medievalist, dammit? -- is actually a good guy) -- I discovered an area called [Immigrant Ethnicity from a Green Country] Hills, full of rolling hills, woods, and lakes. It's simply gorgeous. And with the help of the magic of the internets, I also found a realtor with a perfectly cheesy name based on a particularly evocative name of a town in said green country. The Boyfriend wondered if maybe we'd get a discount in such places, on account of my name very obviously belonging to said ethnicity. Sigh, if only.

My name did get me out of a moving violation ticket once, however, but that's another story.

So anyway, some of you may find this surprising and amusing, but the other night at dinner with the Boyfriend, Smartass Poet and spouse, and Victoria and spouse, I actually found myself agreeing with Smartass Poet that raising goats sounded kind of fun. No, really! And when I went on the realtor's site and found a 40 acre deer farm, I thought, "Oh, if only we could afford 40 acres! That would be so cool!"

That's right, I'm having visions of my life story as "Dr. Virago, Farmer Woman." Or how about "Professor by Day, Goat Herder by Night." Or perhaps the Boyfriend and I would make a good remake of "Green Acres." Omigod, if we *do* ever end up getting such a place, we *have* to call it Green Acres. (Hear that, honey?) [Update: Ha! Apparently the Boyfriend's grandparents' farm was once known as Green Acres. That does it. Whatever land we buy will definitely be called Green Acres now!]

OK, I'm getting silly now. There's not going to be any real working farm involved, for pete's sake. It's way past my bedtime, though, and I get giddy when I get tired.

*Speaking of fabulous, and totally off-topic, can I just say how excited I am to be on Michael Bérubé's blogroll under "Fabulous Ones (Comrades and Unclassifiables)." That's fabulous as in mythical, but then isn't that what a virago is? But the question is, am I a comrade or unclassifiable? Well, I've only met him once and according to this, I must be the latter: And (this last question bedevils all of us literature professors) what was I to do with those damned medievalists? Especially the ones whose blogs are full of thorns? But being unclassifiable also suits this virago. Being bedeviling: priceless. (Hm, though to be properly medieval, I need to get thornier! At least there are a few in my blogroll.)

Friday, March 17, 2006

L'esprit d'escalier -- and also a request for advice

Hi everyone (if you're still out there). I thought maybe I'd test the waters of blogging a little bit again -- maybe a couple of times of week. The impetus at this moment comes from the fact that I'm in my office after 5pm on a Friday, no one else is around, and I just thought of something kind of funny that I should have said at our faculty meeting today, but didn't, and now there's no one to tell it to. So, I thought, "I know! I'll tell the blogosphere!" It's not really funny (so don't get your hopes up) but I did literally think of it on a stairway, and actually, there's something serious worth talking about in the context (which I'll do below). Also below are questions to all you in English literature.

So at our meeting today, we were discussing this nice big bequest our department has received from a former faculty member who passed away recently. There are restrictions, of course -- the main one being that the money has to go to students. So we're setting up scholarships and writing prizes and travel funds and the like. In discussing the travel funds, one of my colleagues said we has to put some kind of limits on it so that we wouldn't be overwhelmed by the applications of students going to "non-competitive" conferences where they accepted everybody. (I'm making him sound much snobbier than I think he actually meant to be. I think his real concern was how to keep the fund alive and not drain it by giving it away too easily. But still...) As other colleagues, usually of the older persuasion, concurred with this gentlemen that some conferences were better than others and therefore more deserving of funding, "Victoria" offered the suggestion that the applications would have to include a narrative in which students assessed the value of this particular conference to them and their education and professionalization. (I heart Victoria.) I concurred and said that, for instance, the biggest conference in my field, the "Zoo," was created precisely to be open to all scholars at every level, now including undergrads (vs. the more "competitive" conference which was, at that time, open only to full professors), and was relatively easy to get into, but that for a budding medievalist, it would be an invaluable experience.

That's when Smartass Poet said something disparaging about medievalists and their boring conferences, to which I responded. "Hey! We've got dance, mister!"

To which he responded, "Oh, what do you do dance to? Madrigals and motets? And do you dance in rounds and carols?"

I said something lame about there being plenty of the white man's overbite, which would make Smartass Poet feel right at home. (Yes, our meetings sometimes are like a dinner table full of teenagers.)

But what I should have said is this: "Hey man, we party like it's 999."


OK, maybe I shouldn't have. And I told you it wasn't that funny.

Now here's the serious part. What was up with the colleagues who thought our poor, hapless MA students should only get funding when they go to a "competitive" or "peer-reviewed" conference? Our students would benefit just from attending a conference, any conference, let alone giving a paper at one. They need to hear other models of presentation and thought and interaction, to understand that they should think of themselves as participating in a scholarly conversation. Most of them are so unaware of scholarly expectations and conventions -- despite the models we give them ourselves and in the scholarship they read -- that they're not likely to get in a really competitive conference. Starting on a smaller scale is exactly what they need. And they also need to see other graduate students in action, to see that what we expect of them actually is possible at the graduate level. (Some of our students are under the impression that we expect too much of them -- like coming to a seminar with something to say, for instance.) Many of them don't even try to go to conferences because of the expense -- because until now we didn't have funding -- so just getting them to apply and go to conferences is enough of a goal, I think. And I have a feeling some of them don't even know about the existance of conferences or what's done at them, so maybe the advertisement of money to go to one might make them more curious. the last thing we need to do is put stringent limits on such an encouragement.

As you can gather, I think some of our MA students are a little, well, clueless. It's partly our own fault, I think but also partly the nature of our program and who it attracts. We have only an MA program (once upon a time we had a Ph.D. program and I think it's very good that we don't anymore) and its population has diverse educational needs. A number of them are local high school teachers and they are some of best students, as well as the population best served by our program, I think. Amazingly, they are also the least likely to complain about the workload, despite doing this on top of fulltime jobs! Others have started off in other disciplines at the BA level and then realize they really should have been English majors and want to follow that dream after all, and they're also some of our really bright students. Then there are the ones who are still trying to figure out what they want to do, and they're the most mixed bag. Some are talented slackers. Some are just slackers. Some are just plain odd.

Anyway, I can't really change the nature of the pool of students who come into the program, but next year I'm taking over the "Methods of Literary Research" course from a senior colleague who is retiring. I have big dreams of whipping our MA students into shape, of making them realize that they are junior members of a profession, even if their two-year stay in our program is just a layover on a journey elsewhere. Of course, I'm sure that the class will rudely burst all my idealistic bubbles once Fall semester rolls around, but between now and then I can dream.

Right now the shape of the class as I imagine it is partly a course in basic research methods for literature, with visits and talks by my colleagues on their various field-specific resources and hot topics, but also a meta-discussion about what it means to be a part of a scholarly conversation and how to enter into it. I think I will also address some issues of professionalization (how to write a CV and that sort of thing). My retiring colleague currently has them do an annotated bibliography as their final project, but I think I'll modify or add to that somewhat and ask them to assess and describe the state of the scholarship of a work of their choice -- that is, where have the liveliest threads of discussion been, where are they now, where are they going?

But here's my questions to you all:

1) If you've taught or taken such a course, is there a good, recent, introductory book about the broad trends and directions in literary studies today? Or one written to graduate students about making themselves part of the scholarly conversation? Book orders are due soon! Help!

2) If you were a first-year graduate student again (or are now) and feeling overwhelmed and clueless, what would you like such a course to teach you, either in terms of how to do research or what's expected of you as a junior member of the profession?

Thanks everyone!