The 5 things I will miss most about southern California

As most of you know by now, Kevin, Mya, and I are moving to Wisconsin in two weeks. We're moving to a place that has already shown itself to have great people, a great house for us, and a great job for me. We are really looking forward to all that Wisconsin will be for us. But leaving California is very bittersweet for us. We have loved our 9 years here. Here are the 5 things I will miss the most about my SoCal time:


1. swimming outside....

looking at palms trees before I dive in

getting lots of vitamin D and having healthy looking skin,

having a swim suit tan with a big circle on my back instead of a farmer's tan,

wearing shaded goggles so you aren't blinded swimming backstroke, except you are blinded anyway because the shaded goggles aren't ever shaded enough... but at least you don't have clear-goggle-goggly-eyes which are necessary when swimming indoors so you aren't swimming in the complete darkness


2. the food...

the best veggie (beet!) burgers I've ever eaten at Eureka Burger,

the best burritos in the country (2009 burrito tour conclusive result) 24 hours a day-- Alberto's, King Taco, etc.

99¢ margaritas & green salsa at El Ranchero

pumpkin ravioli at Aruffo's 

asparagus soup at Tutti Mangia (even though they are elitists)

lemoncella dessert at La Paralacchia 

the #33 fresh mozzarella sandwich with greens at Full of Life, especially when the store owner knows what you want as soon as you walk in the door


3. the beaches...

surfing

body boarding

wave jumping

laughing at all the tourists who aren't wearing wet suits and therefore will freeze to death immediately upon entering the water

the dog beach-- 'cause dogs jumpin' around in the water is the cutest thing ever

listening to the ocean

eating at restaurants over looking the ocean

watching people do crazy things on the rings at Santa Monica


4. the weather....

if a week goes by without it getting above 70, people start complaining and wearing down coats

flowers in January

cool nights so that no matter how hot the day was, at dusk you can open your windows and be cool by the time you want to go to sleep

no bugs (except earwigs, aka pincher-butt bugs, which are admittedly freaky, but at least you can usually see them before they see you)


5. my home....

California has been the place where I became myself--where I met Kevin, where we got married, where I survived my mom's death, where I graduated twice, where my family has expanded to include too many friends to picture here, where we adopted Mya, where we've had wonderful housemates, where I've felt loved and challenged in all the best ways. 

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Thank you all for a great (almost) decade, and please come visit us in WI!

my 2014 resolution: stop waiting

I've been waiting all my life.

I was waiting to get my driver's license, finish high school, finish college, finish grad school. Whenever there was a tough semester or some unpleasantness to endure, I could find comfort in saying to myself, "This isn't it yet. This is just the hard work before it all pays off." I was waiting for things to get better.

Even after I finished my PhD, I've still been waiting... to get a "real job", to put down roots, to be a "real" adult. For years, I've only used those 3M sticky strips to hang things on the wall, instead of nails, because I didn't want to have to patch the holes when I moved again. I never wanted to get a dentist, buy the local paper, or buy the parka for the swim team I'm on because I thought I'd just be moving away in a year anyway. We kept putting off starting a compost pile because we thought we'd move away soon. I kept telling myself, "I'll do all that stuff when we get settled in the place we'll really live." I've always thought of myself as in a state of flux, only temporarily in any place until the next thing comes along. Well, I'm tired of waiting... and what's more, I don't think it's very healthy. So, my new year's resolution is to stop waiting.

Let's face it, I will probably never get a tenure track job, be able to afford to buy a house, or be able to afford to have kids.... so I need to stop waiting for those things to happen. I need to be ok with my life as it is.  I need to enjoy each day and see that this *is* my life.

And it really isn't a bad life. We have enough money to survive. We live in a beautiful place. I love teaching, and I think I'm making a difference in the world, even if it's a small one. Technology and some commitment to scheduling allow me to stay connected with most of the people I really care about. It's a pretty good life, just not exactly the one I expected.

Anyway, in pursuit of no more waiting, we subscribed to the local weekly paper. We are getting involved with city committees and organizations. We planted some flowers in our yard (even though we rent). Because you know what? We live *here*.

We've gotten decent medical, vision, and dental insurance. What's more, we have established relationships with a doctor, a dentist, and an optometrist. We are finally going to buy new glasses! Because it is important that we take care of ourselves *now*, not in 10 years. 

We are getting life insurance, making plans to pay off our student loans, and starting to save for retirement. Because as it turns out, *this* is our financial situation, and it is not going to change any time soon.

I have decided to not do any professional type work on Saturdays. This is going to mean I get less done, but I'm tired of working very single day and getting no where for it. Plus, leisure time is important to my mental health, and I don't want to keep saying, "I'll have more leisure time after [insert whatever crisis is occurring]". I need a little bit of rest throughout my whole life, starting *now*.

What other things can I/we do to stop waiting? Have our carpets professionally cleaned (because we keep saying that we don't need to do that since we don't own the house)? Paint our living room? Buy my team's parka? Go to city counsel meetings? Other suggestions?

What do you do to remind yourself that *this* is your life and that you don't have to keep waiting for things to improve?

 

why you should support unionizing adjuncts

I’m settling in at my office (aka Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf) for what I anticipate to be about 6 hours of grading final exams. My goal for the day is to complete the grades for 1 of the 5 classes that I’ve been teaching this fall. Before I start that, however, I need to get something off my mind. I need to write about this because sometimes seeing the macro helps me feel grounded when I get bogged down in the micro. Thus, what follows is a macro level snapshot of a 30-year old adjunct with a PhD at the end of 2013.

 

From where I sit there are 3 possible futures for me, and these futures are entirely contingent on the trajectory of the academy as a whole.

 

Future 1: the 2 tier system (aka things continue as they are)

In future #1, universities continue to hire full-time professors, but at level that is dramatically under the number of faculty required to staff the courses needed for their growing student populations. As a result of their not hiring enough full-time people, 2 things will continue to happen: 1) the only people who will get full-time jobs are people who graduated at the top of their class from the top graduate programs (rock on if that's you!) but everyone else—literally thousands and thousands of people—will be forced to remain as adjuncts throughout their entire careers. I don’t have exact numbers here, but my experience of repeatedly getting rejection emails citing that 500 applications were received for 1 position would suggest that a *very* high percentage of people who graduate with PhDs (and lots of student debt) will never get full time jobs. Let me personalize that for you. I have had to face the fact that I will never get a full time job. Although I hold out hope that isn't the case, I have had to accept it as likely. I’m a good teacher, a good scholar, and I can contribute a lot to the world, but I will live at the poverty line my whole life. I will never buy a house or have kids. I will never be capable of contributing to economic growth, and I may find myself needing assistance from the government. I will certainly not be able to pay back my student loans. In summary, if things continue as they are, I and a whole generation of highly educated people will always be a second class citizens in the academy and will constantly drain, instead of contribute to, the economy at large. That is the bottom line. And in this future, everyone loses. I lose. Students lose. Universities lose. Society as a whole loses. No one wants this. Even though “budgetary limitations within the university” keep pushing us toward this future, let’s try to avoid it, ok?

 

Future 2: being a professor is (EXCLUSIVELY) a full time profession

In future #2, universities realize that students are best served by professor who can afford to live like real adults. Students are best served when professors stick around the university for many years, have offices, are accessible to students because they are on one campus everyday and aren’t driving between 3 campuses that are hours apart. Students learn best when their professors have enough to eat, can take sick days when necessary, aren’t teaching twice as many courses as if humanly possible, and can afford to go to professional conferences. These aren’t new concepts. Everyone knows that full-time professors can offer more to their students, and better students make better citizens, and better citizens make better societies, and better societies make a better world. The idea of an adjunct was only meant to be a bandaid. Adjuncts were hired to temporally staff extra courses that were added when student populations increased quickly. I think we can all agree that no one ever intended adjunct-ing to be a career. So, in future #2, we would come to realize that the adjunct bandaid is not doing anyone any good, and we would do away with the concept entirely. Every professorship in the world would be fairly paid & full-time, and every school would hire full-time positions for the number of students that it enrolled. However, that requires an unlimited supply of money, and I realize that is not the world we live in (thanks capitalism), so it sort of seems like pursuing this future is moot. If 70% of courses in the US are already taught by non-tenure track people (and they are), it is already too late for this model. The full-time model is no longer viable, and universities already know that. We just all need to take a deep breath and say it out loud. Together now, “The full-time model is a thing of the past.” That ship has sailed. Sad, but true.

 

Future 3: percentages

I think there is some hope though. I would like to take the ideas of Future #2 but include a more realistic perspective on monetary constraints. In future #3, we abolish the distinction between full-time and part-time faculty. We join together simply as faculty. We teach. We love our students. We pursue research. We attend conferences. We guide generation after generation of students toward informed and engaged citizenship. We are professors, all of us. In this future, we are all paid equitably based on our responsibilities. We determine what the responsibilities of a 40-hour per week professor should be— 3 classes per semester, some advising, some committee work, some research requirements, etc. And we decide what the salary and benefits for a 40-hour per week professor should be— job security, $50,000 per year, health insurance, retirement plan, conference money, research money, money for a computer, office space, etc. Then, we are each hired at a percentage of that. Some at 100%, some at 50%, some at 25%, whatever. And we are responsible for and receive the salary and benefits at our percentage of hire. No 2 tiers. No massive disparity in responsibilities or pay, only percentages. That way, one school may only need 50% of a person, another school 25%, and a third school 25%…. and someone could humanly work at those three universities and be able to live as an adult who is respected for the contributions that she or he is making. Technology can help with the commuting issues, and this way, the time and expertise of lower percentage professors are valued at the same level that 100% professors are. Lower percentage professors would no longer be second class citizens, and would no longer be drains on the economy as a whole. In this future, universities must realize that faculty time is valuable and the percentage of time spent at a particular campus does not change the value of that time. In this future, professors win because they are paid and treated fairly; students win because they have professors who can survive with a reasonable workload. Universities win because they can hire the needed faculty with more precision, thus helping to eliminate the huge lag time between student population growth and adding full-time lines. Plus, society as a whole wins because universities graduate students with higher quality educations and don’t force their employees to need government assistance to survive. This is a win-win-win-win. I think we should be aiming for this future, or something like this at least.

 

Seeing these three possible futures, it seems like we need to get ourselves together and make a plan. We need to be really sure that we are avoiding future #1 with everything we can muster. And we need to be working to identify and salvage as many aspects of future #2 as we can in a world limited by money. I believe we need to be working to pursue future #3. But how do we do that?!?!?!

 

One answer (and perhaps the only serious answer that I’ve actually heard about) is that adjuncts can unionize. Unions have problems, and they aren’t perfect, but I think it is a place to start. I’m told that full-time professors (at least at private universities?) are prohibited from forming unions, which is crappy in my opinion because I think we are all need to be working on this issue together…. but even if we can’t all be in a the same union, I think all professors can and should work together on this. Current full-time people have as much as stake as current part-time people….and all future professors have a lot at stake too (current grad students, I’m looking at you). Administrators also need to be involved in this conversation, so that we can all work together to make budgets and goals align. Actually, I think that everyone everywhere has a stake in this conversation…. I believer that you, dear reader— whatever position you hold in the academy or in society— should support unionizing adjuncts.

 

We all want to see higher education be as successful as possible because we all want a world full of informed and engaged global citizens. We have big problems to face in the future, and we need people to be as educated as possible when we try to tackle those problems. So, yes, we are all in this together—adjuncts, full-timers, administrators, students, and the general public. Together. All. Of. Us. So, my hope is that we can unite to ensure a future with excellent higher education, and therefore a society of informed citizens.

 

Pursuing that, I think we should all support unionization. Importantly, unionizing is the most immediate and direct route to avoiding future #1, which I believe we should be everyone’s top priority. Without unionization, future #1 is all we can hope for, and none of us should accept that. Furthermore, I think unionizing may actually help us pursue future #3, which would be awesome for all of us.

 

It is obvious to me that we are at a crossroads in the academy. We are at a moment full of potential, when individual universities have a great opportunity to guide the academy as whole toward one of these futures. I currently teach at the University of La Verne, and some really exciting things are happening there. Adjuncts have filed for unionization, and we are awaiting a date to vote. I am committed to voting for the union, and I’m excited to see La Verne lead the way in pursuing a future that treats professors and students fairly, thus ensuring that the academy will be as successful as possible in the future. More specifically, I’m excited to see the administration at La Verne support its adjuncts and collaborate with them as we all participate in determining the future of the academy. I’m excited to see La Verne become a model of proactive engagement, working hard to build a successful future for the academy…. a model that other universities can look to and follow.

 

“Watch this space….”

 

In the mean time, what do you see the future of higher education looking like? What is the best case scenario, and how can we work toward that? What future should we work to avoid? 

 

Safe Zone Ally Training

Over the past two weeks, K and I have spent 8 hours training to become safe zone allies. A safe zone ally is a person who supports and advocates for minority populations whose voices may not be otherwise heard. This includes supporting students or colleagues who find themselves underrepresented because of their gender, sexual, religious, ethnic, racial, ability, or cultural status.

From my perspective, the training had two main foci: 

First, we discussed various ways that classroom or university settings might be difficult for people in any of those identity categories mentioned above. We discussed the ways that classroom settings can be tough for people with hidden difficulties (physical, mental, or cultural) that they may not want to discuss with faculty or staff. We were challenged to think about how to make classroom and university events more inclusive of these diverse abilities and strengths.  This might include allowing students to express themselves in a variety of ways or allowing students to leave the room if they need to do so. This also includes communicating with students and helping them understand that we are willing to adapt course requirements to meet their needs.

Secondly, the training included role plays and conversations about how to help students if they come to us one-on-one with specific concerns. The main goal of these conversations is to make the student feel heard and respected, and to ensure that the student is referred to other support services (at Counseling Services or elsewhere) if they might benefit from that additional support.  These conversations should occur in private and should follow certain guidelines of active listening and reflection.

These two aspects of the training both seems to emphasize compassion, respect for diversity, and empowerment of marginalized groups. I support these emphases whole heartedly, and I had no reservations signing the ally pledge.

There were, however, a few complexities that arose during the training that I think are worth addressing and contemplating further.  

Regarding the goal of ensuring that classroom and university events are inclusive, I feel that there is some ambiguity about how flexible a professor can be with regard to course assignments, particularly if the needs of the student are not documented by official university services. It seems that over-flexibility undermines the rigor of the course, but under-flexibility undermines the pledge of the ally. If the need of the student is formally addressed by university services then this is not a problem. But with hidden needs, more subtle needs, or needs that the student does not want to communicate about, faculty might be left not knowing how to help students in need without letting students who are not in need take advantage of that flexibility.

Regarding the goals of conversations with individual students, the complexity of this issue came to light in a role play where a student came to an ally because she has learned that her roommate is a lesbian and she feels that lesbianism is a sin.  The complexity is that you want to be an ally for the student who came to you, making her feel heard and respected, but you also want to be an ally for the roommate, an underrepresented and marginalized voice. Furthermore, someone in the training insightfully brought up that the student may actually be talking about herself, only using the roommate to distance herself from the issue during the conversation. Because the student coming to talk and the roommate may in fact be the same person, an ally is even more compelled to be supportive to both perspectives. This is a very complicated situation for me because I would want to challenge the student to be more accepting of the roommate's sexuality, but the job of an ally is not to challenge so much as to make someone feel heard and respected. But how can I not challenge someone if their views are hurting others? What if the issue were race instead of sexuality? How could I be an ally to someone who doesn't want to have a roommate from another race? Put more starkly, how can I be an ally to an oppressor?

These two issues were not completely resolved for me.... but maybe they can't be resolved or maybe they don't need to be resolved. Maybe the goal is simply to let people know that they are valued for who they are and maybe that is already a sufficiently precise guiding principle. 

Anyway, having completed the training and having signed the pledge, I will now have a safe zone sticker to display that identifies me as someone who can be approached about these issues. (Where I will display that sticker is still being negotiated, but it will be displayed somewhere!)  I'm definitely glad that I participated in this program and would highly recommend it to others.

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I'd love to hear your thoughts:

Have you ever done a training like this?  Was it a positive experience for you?

Do you have any suggestions for me about these two complexities I've mentioned? 

How would you handle the situation above about the lesbian roommate? 

 

 

 

the fall funk

Every year around this time, I get sad. Everyone is all excited about school starting and fall clothes and pumpkin spice lattes, but I usually just get sad. There are lots of reasons I guess.

The increasing darkness makes it sad. Shorter days means less time to soak up sunshine, less time to be outside, coming home earlier, wanting to sleep more.

Everything starts moving faster too.... busy busy busy time. .... which is hard because the darkness makes it feel like you have less time already.... overwhelming.

Also, people get all excited about seeing their families during the fall. I guess fall makes people think about homecomings or makes them anticipate the holidays... but we usually get left behind as everyone goes to see their "real family". .... so that is sad too.

Skinny jeans are popular in fall, and it seems to me that those make everyone feel fat and like they can't bend their knees.... but we are pressured to wear them anyway. Why do we do that to each other?  Sad.

Fall is also job application season, which only means that my entire career, the next 50 years of financial stability, and the possibility of having (or not having) kids is resting on a few documents and phones call and one conference trip.... so no pressure there.

And mostly, I miss my mom the most in fall. I woke up this morning from a dream where she was still alive. I read a blog post from a mom to a daughter promising that she'll always be there, but what happens when she's not? My memories of my mom become much more powerful and much sadder in fall. I really wish I could forget the last 3 months of her life and remember her more as she was before she was sick. Also, my mom loved fall..... so it's hard for me. Kevin's mom also died in the fall, so we both get into a funk. Our birthdays (both in October) are usually overshadowed by the funk.

So....I guess all this is just to say, if you run into me in the next few months, be a little gentle. I'm fragile at this time of year.

Women & Wikipedia

Let me start off by saying that I love Wikipedia. I think it is an awesome example of communal knowledge production and revision. It provides the possibility (for the first time in history I might add) that it is not all the elite and the winners who get to tell the story. Anyone (with computer, internet access, and literacy... which I admit is somewhat limiting, but much less so than in the past) can publish information; anyone can tell their side of the story. And then we, together, decide if that telling sticks. We, together, decide if things need to be added.

The problem is that the "we" who participate in building and editing Wikipedia is not representative. It could be, but it currently isn't. At all. Check it out: 

 

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This is super important. If it is largely men who are posting and editing on Wikipedia, and they are posting and editing from the male perspective (and sometimes more heavily about stereotypically male interests) then it isn't really us, together, producing knowledge; it is the same old system of the privileged producing knowledge... not really that different than the hard cover encyclopedias published by the wealthy elite (I remember those; I'm old). But we have the opportunity to change whose voices are heard. We have the opportunity to participate in knowledge production. We have the opportunity to contribute to writing humanity's knowledge. That is exciting!

Alana Cattapan, in her article in Feminist Teacher called "(Re)Writing "Feminism in Canada": Wikipedia in the Feminist Classroom, challenges teachers to include assignments for editing Wikipedia articles into their syllabi. It's great article that talks about the importance of participation in Wikipedia. She covers way more than I can recount here, so you should read her article. For now, I'll just say that I'm going to respond to her call to action.

For my upper level Women's Studies course this fall, I am going to have students pick an article related to our course topics to edit and monitor throughout the semester. I don't have the details of this figured out yet, but I am super excited about the project, and I'll be excited to share some of their work with you! [Also, please let me know if you've done a similar project or have any suggestions for me!]

For now, though, I just want to send out a challenge to you, dear readers, to get involved in Wikipedia, especially if you are a woman or a minority... especially if your voice isn't often heard. We need you!

Seriously, go edit something. Claim your place as a producer of knowledge. It will be empowering to you, and it will contribute to the good of all of us!

Post a comment to let us know what articles you are editing. We'll be excited to support and collaborate with you.!

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Big Brother & Ethics

I'll admit that I've really gotten into Big Brother this summer. I've never been super into it before, just watched episodes here and there with friends, but this summer, I'm into it. I've even started listening to podcasts about it while I run. Yeah, I'm a fan.

But part of the challenge of being a scholar is balancing fandom with critical analysis.... 

I often wonder if reality tv shows-- Survivor, Big Brother, etc.--create worlds where ethical norms don't apply in the same way that they do outside the show. In the world of the shows, people blatantly and continually lie to each other, screw over their "friends", backstab (all the stuff that makes good tv), and they think it's ok. More than that even; they think it's necessary. Often the cast member who "played the best game" is rewarded by the jury. Being sincere and honest is discouraged, if not explicitly, then at least implicitly by the rules of the game.

But what do these shows say about the way that we understand and enact ethics?

First, it seems, they say that there are states of being (re: inside the world of the show) where the ethical expectations are different than they are in other aspects of life. There is a "state of exception" on the show wherein ethical dilemmas are solved in ways that would be unacceptable outside the show. And cast members are usually not held accountable for following this changed set of ethical expectations. In most cases, people who lie or cheat and get away with it are not understood as being bad people; they are understand as playing the game well. 

Does the way that people are not held accountable for following a changed set of ethical expectations on these shows demonstrate that most of us act in ways that demonstrate that ethics are relative to context?  Does this mean that we actually accept (even though we often protest) that people can (or should) follow different ethical principles in different contexts?

Might this also help explain the way that we understand our own ethical decisions, believing that we are in a "state of exception" (which turns out to be constant but feels rare) wherein ethical principles are changed to fit the current context?  

Do you think it would possible for someone to win a reality tv show without lying? Can you think of any examples? Do you think that anyone would be motivated to try to do so? 

A notable exception to this suspension of accountability is the firing of Aaryn and Ginamarie from their jobs because of their racist comments on Big Brother 15 (this season).  These two women are being held accountable outside the show for their actions inside the world of the show. I feel like this rarely happens, although I'd be interested in knowing if people have other examples of this.

Does the desire to hold them accountable for their racist comments suggest that only some ethical expectations are flexible with context? Does it highlight that the "state of exception" is only an illusion? Or what do you make of this?

What do you think Big Brother demonstrates about ethics? 

online activism is real activism

Sometimes people get really down on online activities as not really impacting the world. A click or a post or a Like doesn't amount to real change, they say. I disagree. 

I think the internet is a powerful force for real change in the world. I think that these real changes can happen in two main ways (although I'm sure there are others). First, I think one of the main obstacles to overcoming injustice and oppression is that people are uninformed. I want to believe, and I do believe, that once people know about an injustice they will want to do something to stop it. And the internet is a revolutionary for consciousness-raising. By sharing a link, clicking a Like, sending an email, or commenting on a news story,  you can give information to hundreds of people-- quickly, easily, and nearly for free. That has never before been possible. And I believe that saying something is doing something. Consciousness-raising is real activism.

Secondly, I think the internet has the potential not just to give people more information about injustice but also more information about how they can get involved in stopping it. Sometimes this means giving people easy ways to writing letters to congress members; sometimes this means encouraging people to voting in a certain way; sometimes this means give people the tools or the space to have uncomfortable but necessary conversations with people about tough topics, and sometimes this means providing people with the opportunity to donate or loan money.  I think all of these actions are real activism with real impact.

In fact, I saw online activism produce real results just yesterday. A friend of mine is a teacher in St. Louis. She teaches at a low-income school where her middle school students struggle with number sense, sometimes not really understanding counting, telling time, and use of money. She works really hard to help these students, but she needed some help buying supplies and math related manipulatives for them.  So, she posted a project on DonorsChoose.org. Yesterday her project received full funding, and she will be able to purchase the items she needs. DonorsChoose is a website that connects teachers in the US with donors, so that they can purchase the supplies they need. Go to their website and check it out. So many good projects to invest in. So many good students to invest in! Seriously, go check it out.

Another great online activist organization is Kiva.org. It isn't a donations website, but a system of loans (micro-loans technically). You can pick a project from around the world to invest in, and there is a timeline for when the entrepreneur will pay you back. I've joined the site and am invested in helping a woman purchase clothing to sell in her store in El Salvador. This is a great site to get you thinking globally about activism. Go check out their site, and see if there is a project you can invest in.

Last on the list of places I'm currently involved is Women for Women International. On this site, you are connected with a woman somewhere in the world who needs to be sponsored as a "sister". I am still in the process of being connected with my sister, so I can't give more details about the experience yet, but I'm looking forward to it, and I've heard really good things about this organization. And I believe that this will produce real change in the life of the woman I'm connected with, and in the lives of her family members and her community. I believe this is real activism.

If you are interested in online activism, you might also check out some accessible and quick reads: 

Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

CauseWired by Tom Watson

Half the Sky by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn

@ is for Activism by Joss Hands (which I haven't actually read but need to) 

So, what do you think about online activism? Does it seem to you to produce real change? 

Do you feel that knowing about ways to get involved with activism encourages you to actually get involved? How do you feel about using site like Facebook or Twitter for activist causes?  Have you experienced conversations on these sites as helpful or harmful? Are you involved with any online activist organizations?  I'd love to know your thoughts and experiences!

 

keeping my last name

Last week @huffpostwedding asked readers to submit a paragraph explaining why they chose to keep their last names after marriage. At the suggestion of a friend, I wrote in. They didn't end up publishing what I wrote (oh well), but here are the paragraphs they compiled. Take a second to look over them. Thoughts?

The changing names issue was also mentioned a few times in Jessica Valenti's book Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters . I picked up that book while looking for Intro to Women's Studies course texts, and, although I didn't end up assigning it, I do think it is a fun read.  Anyway, Valenti ends her book with a chapter called "Get To It" where she lays out several pages of bullet points on what young women can do to work toward feminist goals. Under the "Dating and Beyond" category, she writes, "For the love of god, don't change your last name. At least do me a favor and hyphenate." This is sticking with Valenti's in-your-face tone (so the attitude is stylistic), but it demonstrates how important she thinks this topic is.

And, well, I kept my last name after marriage, so I obviously think it's important too. In fact, I thought I'd go ahead and share what I submitted to huffpost. Here it is: 

I kept my name when I got married for several reasons. First, many families do not have the ability to have the same last name, so, in solidarity with those families, I want to challenge society to learn to accept people with different last names as a family. Second, I think changing your name is a burden—practically and psychologically—and I don’t think that anyone should be pressured into accepting that burden unwillingly, particularly not an entire gender. Third, historically when a woman changed her last name it meant that she was now owned by a new man (or family). I am not property to be owned, and I retain the right to control myself, including my name. Lastly, naming is powerful, and I want to break the cycle of nameless women. Women in western culture have almost never had their own names. My name is not my own; it’s my father’s. And when my relationship with him ended, I searched for a new last name, a name that was empowering, a name that came from women, but there were none. We’ve always had the names of our fathers and our husbands. But that stops with me. If I ever have a daughter, she will have her own last name, a name chosen especially for her, a name that she did not inherit from a long line of men (even though I have nothing against the line of men from whence my husband came). My daughter’s name will be the name of a woman. And I hope that she will not feel forced to change that name, ever. (Although if she wants to, I guess that will be fine too.) In the end, I want my daughter to know that her name is hers, truly hers, as is her body and her life.

So, have you given this issue much thought before? Do you think it's worthy of analysis? Do you think the issue of changing last names is a feminist issue or merely a cultural one? Do you support changing names, hyphenating, keeping original last name, another creative option? Why? I'd love to hear from you!

 

Capitalism, Women, & Exploitation

I've been re-reading Gayle Rubin's 1975 article "The Traffic in Women" today. I'm planning to use a bit of her work for an article on Social Media that I'm writing, but I thought I'd use today's post to explore Rubin's take on Marxism, capitalism, and women in a more general way than I will in my article. I hope you'll be interested. First, let me give two particularly interesting quotes.

“The worker gets a wage; the capitalist gets the things the worker has made during his or her time of employment. If the total value of the things the worker has made exceeds the value of his or her wage, the aim of capitalism has been achieved. The capitalist gets back the cost of the wage, plus an increment—surplus value. This can occur because the wage is determined not by the value of what the laborer makes, but by the value of what it takes to keep him or her going—to reproduce him or her from day to day, and to reproduce the entire work force from one generation to the next. Thus, surplus value is the difference between what the laboring class produces as a whole, and the amount of that total which is recycled into maintaining the laboring class.”[1] (emphasis mine)

“The amount of the difference between the reproduction of the labor power and its products depends, therefore, on the determination of what it takes to reproduce that labor power. Marx tends to make that determination on the basis of the quantity of commodities—food, clothing, housing, fuel—which would be necessary to maintain the health, life, and strength of a worker. But these commodities must be consumed before they can be sustenance, and they are not immediately in consumable form when they are purchases by the wage. Additional labor must be performed upon these things before they can be turned into people. Food must be cooked, clothes cleaned, beds made, wood chopped, etc. Housework is therefore a key element in the process of the reproduction of the laborer from whom surplus value is taken. Since it is usually women who do housework, it has been observed that it is through the reproduction of labor power that women are articulated into the surplus value nexus which is the sine qua non of capitalism. In can be further argued that since no wage is paid for housework, the labor of women in the home contributes to the ultimate quantity of surplus value realized.”[2] (emphasis mine)

I find Rubin’s points quite poignant. Although, she doesn’t lay out the entire argument in those two quotes, I think they highlight some of the most important points. However, for clarification, please let me restate these points,

  • The goal of capitalism is the production of surplus profit.
  • Surplus profits requires that:
    • Workers must continue to work.
      • In order to continue working, workers must have sustenance. This includes clothes, food, drink, an adequately comfortable place to sleep, social outlets, mental well-being, etc.
      • More workers must be available when the current set of workers dies off.
    • Production of surplus profits is most successful when there is the greatest possible difference between the amount paid to workers and the value of the products of their work.
      • To ensure the greatest difference, workers must be paid as little as possible, while still ensuring that they continue to work.
        • In order to pay workers as little as possible, much of the “background work” required to make their food, drink, etc. into sustenance must be unpaid and made invisible.
        • In order to pay workers as little as possible, the labor required to reproduce the work force (re: having and raising children) must be unpaid and made invisible.

This explanation of capitalism leads us to conclude that the very idea of capitalism rests on (even requires) under-paying workers and not paying and undervaluing housework…. which may, I think, be viewed as exploitation and oppression.

Your thoughts?

What would you say are the goals of capitalism?

How do you understand capitalism to achieve those goals?

Do you think that capitalism rests on (or requires) exploitation?


[1] Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic of Women,” Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd edition, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), p772.

[2] Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic of Women,” Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd edition, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), p772-3.