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.

PCA/ACA in Washington DC

As you may know, in March, I went to the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Annual Conference in Washington DC. The conference was really a fun and thought provoking event, and I'd like to share some of my experiences. To frame the event, I want to mention a tweet (whose author I cannot remember or find, sorry!) that acknowledged the challenge posed by such conferences where participants must move smoothly between, or even simultaneously inhabit, the spaces of "fan" and "scholar." I must admit that I didn't always do a good job of balancing those two perspectives, but I tried to balance the two by using my fan-ness to chose which panels to attend and my scholar-ness to evaluate and engage with the material of the papers presented within those panels. I thought that was a decent compromise. :)

Doctor Who

I heard one paper by Jamie Dessart about the series 3 episode Blink. For those who aren't familiar, this is the episode that introduces the Weeping Angels, who will attack whenever possible but are immediately frozen into stone statues whenever someone is looking at them. During her presentation, Jamie insightfully analyzed the way that this episodes uses screens, and the penetration of screens--the Doctor penetrates the screen of the tv through the recording of his image on the videotape and most shocking to me (fan alert!) the audience penetrates the screen of the world of Doctor Who by watching the angels to keep them frozen when characters in the show can't. Crazy!

I listened to a couple of papers, one by Antoinette Winstead and one by Heather McHale, about the companions of Doctor Who. This included a consideration of what the Doctor Who series says about female agency (re: not good things) and a consideration of the way that companions often move from peace-loving adventures to gun toting rebels.

Once Upon A Time, Twilight, and 50 Shades of Gray

Perhaps my favorite panel of the conference was one in which these three topics were discusssed. Stephanie Hartley gave an interesting paper wherein she observed that in Once Upon A Time women are forced to chose between power and love but that men in the series can have both. Ashley Donnelly gave a fascinating paper about how she uses Frankenstein and Breaking Dawn together to talk about the creation of non-human lives as a way to distance students from baggage that prevents them from really engaging with abortion debate. What an awesome and creative way to approach that topic! And Jessica Van Slooten gave some analysis of 50 Shades of Gray and its message about power/submission and femininity.

Downton Abbey

I went to a panel about Downton Abbey (choice made as a fan) and then realized that the panel was not from the scholarly perspective that interested me (re: feminist)... so I must admit I was a bit disappointed there, but that was my own fault and no one else's.

HBO's Girls

I went to two panels were we ended up discussing the feminist, post-feminist, and/or anti-feminist messages of Lena Dunham and Girls. Interesting papers were presented by Michael Winetsky and Sara Lewis. Having not seen the show, I couldn't really weigh in, but the conversations were engaging and thought provoking. And I'm still not sure if I want to watch the show or not.

I went to some other interesting papers and panels, and my own presentation went well too. Oh, and I got to cruise around on the metro and meet up with some good friends and eat yummy food, and someone even asked me for directions (so I must have looked like a local= win). All in all, it was a very enjoyable, if somewhat exhausting, trip.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of these shows, and if you're interested, I'd love to share a coffee or meal with you at PCA/ACA 2014 in Chicago!

Coming Out on Glee

This week I'm going to the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association annual conference in DC. After the conference, I'll post a recap of the sessions that I attend (including some on HBO's Girls and BBC's Doctor Who). But for this post, I'd like to tell you about what I'll be presenting. On Thursday morning, I will be presenting a paper about the ways that coming out story lines have been portrayed on Fox's TV show Glee.

In my paper, I point out that coming out narratives on television have followed a few really narrow patterns and that those patterns have been harmful because 1) the plot often rests on the assumption that LGBT people are the minority (in both numbers and power), 2) the plot encourages viewers to make assumptions about a person's sexuality based on their behavior, dress, speech patterns, etc, and 3) the plot suggests that in order for an LGBT person to be authentic, their sexuality must be made public.

I then go on to suggest that while Glee began from those tropes, it has moved passed them in some helpful ways. I claim that because of the number of people who come out on Glee and the way that Glee demonstrates that straight people must also negotiate their sexualities, Glee challenges the idea that LGBT sexualities or sexualities that come out are the minority. Secondly, because Glee demonstrates that everyone is constantly negotiating their behaviors and their sexualities, I assert that Glee challenges the idea that people can make assumptions about sexuality based only on appearance or behavior. Additionally, I suggest that Glee challenges the idea that LGBT sexualities must enter public space in a way that is different from the ways that heterosexual sexualities must enter public space.

In the end, I conclude that Glee offers a new message to audiences. Though it remains problematic in certain ways, I think Glee helpfully shows people that they do not have to conform to the sexual labels that others might assign to them. For everyone on Glee--not just LGBT individuals, and not even just teenagers--sexual labels (as well as a variety of other social labels) are constantly being challenged, accepted, rejected, and re-articulated. I find that a helpful and empowering message.

What do you think? Does Glee offer anything different than past depictions of coming out? Do you think Glee offers a helpful and/or empowering message?

Happy International Women's Day... or not

Unknown The feminist in me is conflicted as I wish people a "Happy International Women's Day" today. On the one hand, of course, I think that women--their lives, bodies, and experiences-- need attention, appreciation, and empowerment.

But I also wonder if having a day to celebrate "women" doesn't also do two pretty harmful things:

1) Having a day to honor "women" continues to convince us that the category "women" is real/objective/fixed-- we are told again that some people are women and some people aren't and that is negotiable. Problematic. I think that if we are ever going to have radical equality, we need to complicate/interrogate the terms "men" and "women" and highlight their arbitrariness and their culturally contextual construction.

2) Having a day to honor "women" forces people to identify themselves as "women" or "men." For a variety of reasons, people may not be able to or may not want to fit nicely into those two categories, and it is cruel to continue to force them to do so.

I hear the accusations of post-feminist heresy in the offing.

Your thoughts?

"invisible" oppressions (part 2)

So, the second type of "invisible" oppression that I mentioned in my last post was oppression that we participate in largely unknowingly because it is structural. I hope that you have encountered the term "structural oppression" before, but if not, then let me explain. The term refers to practices or policies that cause oppression even without an individual choosing or intending to cause oppression.

An example: Imagine a factory owner in the late 1960s needs to hire a new manager for one of the floors of the factory. Up to this time, Black workers have be explicitly excluded from managerial positions, but this factory owner is decidedly in favor of equality and supports the Civil Rights Movement, so he wants this new management job to be open to everyone, regardless of race. The hiring committee understands, however, that in order to ensure that the new manager is as effective and successful as possible, they should select the most qualified (re: most experienced, aka person who already has managerial experience) person for the job. This seems reasonable, but upon reflection we see that this means that they will not be able to pick a Black person for this job because a Black person without managerial experience will never be as qualified as a white person with managerial experience. So, even though the owner, and perhaps the hiring committee, were explicitly anti-racist, they still had to participate in a structure (re: capitalism) that included inherent racism.

The same story can be told about contemporary college admissions decisions. While the admissions committees are not explicitly racist (and in fact many are explicitly "equal opportunity"), if they are forced to choose the "most qualified" applicants, that may mean they only admit the people with the best high school grades and highest SAT scores.... which means that they are admitting the people who had the best teachers, the most resources, most access to tutors and SAT prep classes.... which means that they are admitting wealthy and largely white applicants. The structure of society means that access to resources is inherently racist, class-ist, and sexist, so choosing "the most qualified" is almost always an unfair form of evaluation.

So, how do we intervene in/stop perpetuating structural oppression? Well, in some ways, we can't. The structure is much larger and more powerful than any individual, and in order to function in society, we must function within those structures. But we shouldn't give up hope entirely.

Instead, we can continue to ask questions and have conversations about the impact that various structures (re: institutional policies, cultural practices, etc.) have on individuals from different backgrounds. Do wealthy white men experience college admissions differently than poor black women? Probably. But why and how? And what can be done to make their experiences seem more equitable? Asking those questions is powerful.

Strides have been made to address the structural oppressions that have been identified, but these strides often inadequate and/or ineffective. Affirmative action is an example of a attempt to fix some of these problems, but as we have seen, it was an imperfect solution. But an imperfect solution is still something, and I believe that with continued dialogue and reflection we can reach more adequate and more effective methods.

Can you identify any forms of structural oppression at work in American society? Do you participate in those structures? Can you think of any ways to interrupt those structures?

shout out to REL 100

Quick second post to say hello to my new bunch of blog followers, aka my students! Hello, and welcome! To my more regular blog readers, an explanation:

This semester I am teaching three classes. Two of those are REL 100: Intro to Christianity at CLU and the other is REL 100: Intro to Religion at ULV. I'm really excited to be doing a bit of a social media experiment with these classes, so here is what I'm doing:

In one of my CLU classes, we are doing this big Twitter project. You can read or participate in our class discussion by following #REL1002 on Twitter. Tonight is the first night of the discussion, but I think it's going well. I'm excited to see how students respond to the project and if any non-class members get involved in the conversation. Head over there now and see what people are talking about.

In my second CLU class, we are doing a blog project. Each student has a separate blog, and they are responsible for keeping their blog going through the semester. Since their blogs may be a bit personal in nature, I will leave publicity to them.... but if you see any commenters on my blog, feel free to click over to their blogs and take a look at what they've been writing.

In my ULV class, we are going to have one class blog to which all class members will contribute. It will be here on wordpress, and I will post the info about it once we have it up and running (hopefully next week). You are cordially invited to read along with that class and see what we are talking about in there.

So that is the plan for the semester.

Anyway, I will keep you updated about how these projects are progressing, and I really do hope you will be able to participate in them as well!

"protecting life" as a consistent ethical system that is pro-choice & pro-euthanasia

It is interesting to see what motivates a blog post. This one is motivated by something a dear friend posted on Facebook. Her post was about how people's perspectives on different issues often do not form a consistent whole. When people's perspectives on different issues seem contradictory, it is possible that they haven't had the opportunity to stop to think about how their perspective on one issue might have implications for another issue. However, it is also possible that the contradictory positions are not as contradictory as they first appear. If I boiled down my ethical worldview--the perspective with which I approach all topics--to one phrase, it might be "protecting life." This may be surprising, since many of you know that I am both pro-choice and pro-enuthanasia. So let me explain.

First, what do I mean by "protecting"? Well, I do not mean anything like ensuring that no one steps on your toes. I do not mean anything like using violence to "protect" rights. No. Instead, I mean something more like nurturing, respecting, allowing to thrive, and celebrating life. By protecting life, I mean that we should work to build environments where life can flourish.

Second, what do I mean by "life"? Well, I do not mean being alive. And I also do not necessarily mean one individual's being alive-ness. It seems to me that life is much more than either of those things. Life is much more than being alive, and life is much more than an individual. Life is complex, relational, intersectional, multiple, powerful, co-production, vulnerable, communal, and vast. In seems to me that in order to see all that complexity (re: beauty) we must stop seeing the concept of life through American individualism. Each individual life is more than a singular autonomous unit; human life is more than the sum of its individuals, and that is to say nothing of the complexity of non-human life. Anyway, my point here is that each of us is part of an ecosystem, both within humanity and within our environment in all its layers. What I do impacts you. What you do impacts me. My life includes you. And your life includes me. What's more, there are many forms of being alive that are not life. The certain viruses are alive but deny and steal life. Certain bacterias are alive but in that context of causing sickness and destruction, they are not life. Cancer is living cells, but those cells are not life. Of course, tomes have been written about what makes up life, and I can't even begin to explain life adequately here. Regardless, my point here is that life is complicated, and it must be distinguished from being alive. Those terms could also be reversed, but I hope you don't get distracted by the language and see my point despite the limitations of English. Anyway, the relevant piece for my ethic is that I assert that we must always nurture life--dignity, community, fullness of life. We should encourage the best, the most dignified, the most beautiful of humanity and the world to thrive. To do so, we must oppose exploitation and dignity-stripping in all its forms, but this does not necessarily mean that we must oppose ending being alive in all it's forms.

So how does this play out in real world issues (although each of these issues is vastly complicated, so my explanations here will necessarily be incomplete):

Torture- I start with this topic because I think it is particularly illustrative of my point. Some may argue that there are certain cases where life is most protected by using torture to gain information. These people would claim that this is the case in the event that a person has planted bombs around a school yard and is now in captivity refusing to tell officials where the bombs are placed or how to diffuse them (or you can imagine your own similar scenario). The argument is that the lives of the innocent children are most thoroughly protected if any means necessary are used to ensure that the bombs are removed. However, in my opinion this argument is short-sighted. Of course, the innocent children must be saved. Their individual lives are valuable beyond measure. However, life as a whole is not protected if government sanctioned torture is permissible. A society which condones torture does not protect life because the life of the person who planted the bombs is not a life that is disconnected from other lives. Even if the children do not die from the bombs, they then live in a society where torture is a reasonable way to treat suspected criminals, and that is not a society that values the dignity of life.

Slavery- I believe protecting life means that we must oppose the dignity stripping exploitation that is forced labor (manual, sexual, militaristic, or anything other kind). No human, no matter who they are, deserves to lose control of their bodily integrity or the fruits of their labor. That is the ultimate form of squelching fullness of life. All humans are equal in worth, and as such, none of them should be de-humanized into lesser beings. That seems fundamental to protecting life. We might also consider the implications of this for non-human slavery. Is it ethical to eat meat that comes from animals who lived a life of slavery? I'd say no. But might it be ethical to eat meat that comes from animals who enjoyed the fullness of life (whatever that may mean for their species)? Maybe.

War- I believe that "protecting life" requires us to oppose war, and in fact violence in general. Fullness of life is only nurtured in peace, and it must be a peace without the threat of war. War requires soldiers to de-humanize their enemy in order to kill them, and de-humanizing them denies them fullness of life. Furthermore, war leads to a whole bunch of other life-denying activities, like torture, environmental degradation, deaths of active community members, etc. Furthermore, the fullness of humanity is best nurtured when we use words to learn from each other, to negotiate with each other, to compromise with each other on a way to move forward. When two children are fighting over a toy, their mother can walk into the room and say, "If I see you fighting for one more minute, I will throw out all your toys." So the children, sensing the threat of violence (or an action that they would experience as violence), stop fighting as long as the mother is in the room. However, as soon as the mother leaves the room, the children fight once again because the problem of sharing the toy was not really addressed. Neither child understood why the other wanted the toy so badly, and until they do, no real and lasting peace can be established. Their "peace" only lastly as long as there was a threat of violence. Likewise, war (or the threat of war) only postpones the real work of understanding each other's perspectives, dealing with differences, and coming to an agreement that both parties believe in (and that lasts beyond threats). Like a society that allows torture, a society that allows war is a society that does not highly value the fullness of life and does not see the harm that the possibility of war causes its citizens.

Death Penalty- We are not protecting life by killing serial killers. I think we must admit that a serial killer is suffering from some kind of mental illness. I don't use that term lightly, so let me explain. What I mean here is that a serial killer does not understand the human community and her or his place in it in a healthy way. That is a problem with perception, and that is mental illness. That is not to say that all people with mental illness might be serial killers, but it is to say that people with skewed perceptions of the world (on a spectrum from slightly skewed through depression/anxiety to drastically skewed through compulsion to kill... and let's be honest most of us have skewed perceptions sometimes, and we don't choose that) are victims to their own brain chemistry. And victims don't need punishment, they need care and rehabilitation. To restate: we all suffer from skewed perception that we did not chose, and that never ever means that we deserve to be stripped of our dignity. This is not to say that we should let serial killers roam the streets however. No, we should provide them with the care they need, and that care will likely take the shape of constant supervision and removal from contact with most other members of society. By doing this, we protect the fullness of life both for members of society and for the serial killer.

Poverty/Capitalism- At the heart of capitalism is exploitation. Capitalism rests on the ability of producers to make the cheapest products and sell them at the highest prices. That is the nature of profit. But that production process nurtures exploitation and leads to poverty. Producers will always try to get cheaper materials, cheaper labor, cheaper production methods, and as a result workers, consumers of those products, and the natural environment are all exploited. Capitalism does not protect life.

Euthanasia- In November of 2008, my mom died of bladder cancer. She came home from the hospital on hospice about 2 weeks before she died, and during that time my brother, my aunt, and I were responsible for her care. Nurses would come to check on her everyday, but we were the ones to care for her throughout the days and nights. We rotated who would stay with her throughout the nights so that she would never be alone. 2 days before she died I guess, it was my turn to spend that night with her. Apparently her pain level had spiked that evening because it became very obvious that the constant drip of pain medicine into her IV was not enough to keep her comfortable. We had a button that we could push to give her more pain medicine, but we could only push it every 10 minutes. So, for about 8 hours, every 9 minutes or so, I had to listen to my beautiful mother whine, and moan, and cry in pain until I could push the button for her again. That night was the most traumatic night of my life. To this day, I can't talk about that night without crying. I am crying now as I type this. Four years later, I still have anxiety problems because of that night (and the events surrounding it). That night did not protect life. That night stripped both my mom and me of our dignity. That night was exploitation. There is no reason at all why either of us had to experience that. My mom had already chosen to die. She had decided a few days earlier to take herself off TPN (IV nutrition), and she was a dietitian, so she knew exactly what that meant. If she would have had the option to die peacefully, with dignity, without all that pain, I believe she would have. Allowing her that option would have granted her dignity. Allowing her to chose to end her alive-ness on her own terms would have protected her life, but as it was, in the last moments of her alive-ness, our society chose to strip her of her life, her dignity, her ability to control what happened to her own body. And in so doing society also stripped me of a part of my life, my dignity, and my ability to live peacefully. That night convinced me that an ethic that "protects life" also supports euthanasia.

Abortion- In much the same way that I believe protecting life means supporting euthanasia, I also believe that protecting life means supporting a woman's right to chose an abortion. Let me be clear, I am not pro-abortion. No one is pro-abortion. No one says, "Abortions are fun and cool, and everyone should get one!" No, abortions are always a tragedy. Any woman who finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy has been betrayed. Maybe she was betrayed by a man who raped her; maybe she was betrayed by an inadequate sex education class that didn't teach her how to use birth control properly; maybe she was betrayed by birth control that didn't work properly; maybe she was betrayed by a society that didn't teach her that she was loved without sex. Whatever the circumstances, if she is pregnant and she doesn't want to be pregnant, she was betrayed by some aspect of the universe, and she is a victim of that betrayal. And, as I said above, victims do not deserve punishment, they need care and rehabilitation. And, though we may not chose an abortion ourselves, I believe that we must acknowledge that a society that outlaws abortions is not creating an environment where that woman can receive care and rehabilitation in safe and effective ways. A society that outlaws abortions also stigmatizes unwanted pregnancies and forces women (who already feel betrayed and victimized, and therefore desperate) to chose unsafe, ineffective means of ending the pregnancy--- with coat hangers, vacuums, and falling down stairs. We must protect life by creating an environment where women can seek care, and that means allowing women options and freedom to choose. If you believe that both the pregnant woman and the fetus are lives, and you believe in protecting life, then I think you should support the right to choose as a way to ensure that an unwanted pregnancy can end in only one death, instead of two. If you believe that the fetus is not yet a life, then I think you should support the right to choose as a way to protect and nurture the dignity of the pregnant woman, who deserves to be in control of what happens to her own body and deserves circumstances that allow her to seek the care she needs.

Again, each of these issues is super complicated, and I can't address all the complexities in one post (or ever, really). I clearly acknowledge that I did not clearly delineate how to define "life" or "violence" or "nurturing dignity" in this post, but I hope that I showed you a way to understanding "protecting life" in a more complex and nuanced way.

I should also note that I see "protecting life" (as I have described it here) as a core tenant of feminism as well. My feminism and my ethic to protect life are basically just two ways to articulate the same commitments.

As always, I'd love to know your thoughts.

Do you think that "protecting life" can sometimes mean supporting a procedure that ends being alive? Do you think that life can be understood beyond the individual? Do you agree or disagree strongly with anything I've said here?

some things I've been thinking about

My (somewhat unintended) blogging vacation has ended, and I'm back! There is so much stuff running around in my head, and I've been trying to narrow in on a post topic for about a week and a half, to no avail. Therefore, I am simply going to bullet point the things I've been thinking about lately. Maybe this will be a new trend, Rachel Maddow "what are you reading this morning?" style. Let me know what you think.

Things I've been thinking about:

  • The start of a new semester!!! Always exciting, but this semester particularly so because I'm starting my blogging and Tweeting projects! I'm teaching three courses this semester: a Twitter focused Intro to Christianity, a multiple blog focused Intro to Christianity, and a single blog focused Intro to Religion. [And hello current students/new blog readers!] All of those courses will have some "public" element, so stay tuned for details on how you, dear reader, can participate in my class discussions! It will be interesting to see how these projects play out, which format works best, and how students respond. I'm sure there will be some future blog posts on all that.
  • This week marks 40 years since Woe v. Wade. I know that some of my readers see that case as something to be mourned, but whatever your stance on the beginning of life, it does seem important to note that this case has meant that for 40 years women have had safe alternatives to coat hangers, vacuums, and staircases, and because of that, lives have been saved.
  • I'm also thinking about writing a blog post on my views on how being committed to "protection of life" can lead to a consistent ethical theory that opposes war, poverty, and the death penalty while supporting euthanasia and the right to choose (re: abortion).
  • I'm thinking about young adult fiction. IMHO: Twilight makes Mad Men look feminist. And makes me want to pull my hair out. Hunger Games is good as social commentary, but bad as character development.... which is maybe the point. Divergent is a bit underwhelming, but I'll stick with it at least through one more book. Nightshade is fantastic, if a bit too heavy on the heavy breathing.
  • I'm excited that I will be presenting a conference paper in Washington, DC in March. I will present at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference, and my paper is about the complexity of coming out narratives on Fox's Glee. That paper is also forthcoming in an edited volume, so more details about that at some point this year.
  • I'm planning a few panels for the National Women's Studies Association meeting this coming November in Cincinnati, OH. I'll let you know how those applications go.
  • I want Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016 because she is awesome, and brilliant, and awesome. I also want her to be healthy.
  • Obama's inauguration speech was great. Did you watch it? Powerful stuff.
  • I need to write a post about how we can be simultaneously complicit with (re: perpetuating) and opposed to (re: fighting) oppression.
  • I need to write about "invisible" oppressions.
  • It is rainy and cold outside and that makes me want to eat french fries.

What are you thinking about these days? Any topics you'd like to have a conversation about? How do you make time in your life to keep up with news/current events?

why i am no longer a christian

This is a bit of a departure from my normal feminist musings.... and it also isn't a departure at all. This story has shaped me into the feminist I am today... this is the story of my experience with Christianity.... I grew up in the midwest in a family and religious community that believed and practiced what I now understand to be a fairly common midwestern and conservative form of Christianity. I'm told that I prayed the prayer to "ask Jesus into my heart" when I was 5 (but I don't actually remember that event). I was baptized when I was nine (and like a good Baptist, I do remember that). Throughout my childhood, all of my friends were Christians, and all of my family members were Christians. The Christianity I was taught was my truth. I went to church at least 3 times per week. I could recite the books of the Bible in order. I went to a Christian college, thinking that I wanted to be a pastor. At one point, I had memorized the Sermon on the Mount. You get it.

When I was about 14, I began to feel uneasy about the Christian beliefs I was being taught. I felt like I had to judge/admonish/discipline people who were doing things that didn't match up with teachings that I had been absorbing. People who believed in evolution needed to be corrected. People who drank or had sex needed to be disciplined. Gay people needed to change. Women needed to be submissive. Everyone needed to forgive, constantly, without fail, even when they were being exploited or abused. In high school, these social aspects of "Christianity" really bothered me.

When I started taking theology and philosophy classes in college, my uneasiness gained new depth, and I learned to articulate new questions. If Jesus preached about God's forgiveness (aka not requiring reparation/repayment for a wrong), why did God require Jesus's death as repayment for human sin? That isn't forgiveness; that is someone paying your bills for you (even a mob boss would let someone do that). If God is all powerful, either God allows evil to happen and doesn't try to stop it or God purposefully harms people.... and either one makes God into a sadist. If the Bible is supposed to be God's word and God is supposed to love everyone equally, how can the Bible endorse the mistreatment or inequality of women, slaves, and homosexual people? Unacceptable. Over time, I could no longer ignore those questions. And the only answers I could find made God look like a big jerk.... a selfish, tyrannical, fear-mongering, dictator.... someone I wanted nothing to do with.

In 2005, when I moved across the country to start grad school (aka seminary), someone asked me if I was a Christian. I'm not sure that anyone had ever actually asked me that before, because everyone already knew/assumed that I was one. But I remember this specific conversation very well. We were at "John's Incredible Pizza" standing by the bumper cars, and this person asked me, and I said no. My answer actually surprised me. I didn't know that I didn't think I was a Christian until my mouth had said it, but when I heard the words, they felt accurate....and liberating. Once I moved across the country, I no longer had to identify myself as an insider to the religion I found so harmful.

So, I went through a period of Christianity-hating. I hated everything about Christianity. I thought it, and religion in general, was all that was wrong with the world. I really thought that the world would be a better place if everyone gave up on religion entirely.

But over time, I realized that Christianity didn't have to be as harmful and hurtful as I originally thought. After years of study, I concluded that there are no compelling reasons for Christians to think that slavery is acceptable, that the Earth was created in six 24 hour days, that homosexuality is a sin, that women can't be religious (or any kind of) leaders, that Jesus was forced by God to pay the price for humanity's sins, or that there is a literal hell of any kind. Those are all interpretive moves that occurred in certain historical and political contexts, and there is no reason whatsoever for Christians today to hold on to them. There are, however, many compelling reasons for Christians to oppose slavery, human trafficking, and exploitation of any kind. There are many compelling reasons for Christians to support science, medical research, and technological advancements. There are many compelling reasons for Christians to support gay rights. There are many compelling reasons for Christians to work to empower women. There are many compelling reasons for Christians to enact Jesus's example of loving community. And there are many compelling reasons to work to ensure that "The Kingdom of God" (re: dignity, love, and respect for all) is enacted on Earth now, today.

Happily, throughout grad school, I encountered many wonderful self-identified Christian people who don't believe in substitutionary atonement, who embrace and find beautiful the love and sexuality of LGBT individuals, who accept evolution, global warming, and modern science, who don't read the Bible literally, and who find feminist interpretations of text and tradition meaningful and long overdue. These people are Christians who live love instead of judgement and who live thoughtfulness instead of blindness/ignorance. In summary, these Christians demonstrated that Christianity didn't have to hurt all the time.

And if I'd known that type of Christians existed when I was 16-21 , I might not have had to go through the painful experience of leaving the only worldview and only community I'd ever known.

I am writing this story to be of some use to you, whether you are a religious leader, a religious practitioner, or a member of the human race in general. Maybe this story is useful for reminding you about the harm that can come at the hands of religion. Maybe this story can encourage you to combat those harms as zealously as you can. Maybe this story can encourage you to participate in reforming Christianity. If you experienced something similar, maybe this story can show you that you aren't alone. Or if you've been hurt by it, maybe this story can remind you that Christianity can be beautiful and empowering. Maybe this story can remind you that Christians can be loving and supportive and that religion can bring something useful to the world. Or maybe this story has some other meaning for you....

I'd love to hear from any of you. Thoughts? Responses? Questions?

the benefits of friending/tweeting/blogging with non-peers

One of the most interesting and pressing questions I've been thinking about and discussing recently (with colleagues, at NWSA, and with friends) is how to use Facebook, Twitter, and blogging sites while connected to all the different audiences in your life. So, let's explore that together. By now, we are all fairly comfortable using these social media technologies with our peers. We are okay with sharing pictures, posts, and location check-ins with our peers because they are our equals. They do not have significant power to change the course of our lives or careers, and we do not have that power over them either, so the risk of major negative consequences is low.

But just like the college student who does not want to friend her mom, we (re: young professionals) feel anxiety about connecting with those above and below us on the hierarchy of power. Personally, I am dealing with how to connect with my students (re: lower in the power hierarchy) and my advisors/department chairs/potential employers (re: higher in the power hierarchy).

You may be concerned with why I am describing these relationships in terms of power. While feminism is largely about changing the dynamics of power, we must assert that denying that power relationships exist can result in a great deal of harm. Large amounts of feminist theory (re: post-colonial theory and discussions of privilege) teach us the importance of acknowledging the power that we have and then working to transform that power into something more productive. In light of that, I acknowledge that I have power over my students. I control their grades, but I also hold some power over how they spend their time and over their standing with the university and to a lesser extent I even have power over the probability of them being able to succeed in their chosen careers. While my pedagogies work to change that power dynamic, I must still acknowledge that I have that power because denying that power relationship would be an abuse of my power (because they would still feel my power). Likewise, my advisors, department chairs, and potential employers have a great deal of power over my professional success and my monetary wealth. I must also acknowledge that power because if I don't I may end up unemployed.

So, while acknowledging those power relationships, in this post I will try to make the case that using social media is an important, if complex and sometimes uncomfortable, pedagogical tool that we should and in fact must begin to use.

The importance of using social media in general:

While I'm sure you've read many things convincing you of the importance of using social media to grow your business etc., I would like to also highlight some philosophical and feminist reasons for that importance.

Social media moves toward making all our voices equal in importance. A tweet from Barak Obama is as easily accessed and could be read by as many people as a tweet from me; furthermore, individuals can tweet or post directly to celebrities, journalists, and political leaders. These possibilities challenge the whole idea of "the power hierarchy". People from the lowest to the highest can directly interact with one another, can hear each other's voices, and in some ways are accountable to one another. I think this is a tremendous change to the dynamics of power, and I think feminists and educators in general should be excited to participate in these changes in power.

Using social media is not going to be optional in the future, so we need to learn to use it safely and effectively. Futurists predict that social media may one day function as a gateway to the internet as a whole, as a form of identity verification, or even as a form of citizenship. Whatever trajectory social media takes in the future, I am fully convinced that it is here to stay. In light of that, in order to function in the world, we will one day need to know how to use these forms of communication to "speak" publicly. We also need to learn how to maintain relationships in safe and meaningful ways in the online environment.

Using social media demonstrates post-structuralist feminist theories about mutual vulnerability and connectedness. I can say more about this in another post if you would like, but my main point here is that social media demonstrates fairly obviously the way that our own identities are vulnerable to and ultimately somewhat in the control of the people around us. Because of this, I think social media can really contribute to feminist understandings of selfhood and relationships.

Ok, so hopefully you agree that social media is, in general, an important part of life and worth our time and effort to learn.

The importance of using social media with people lower in the power hierarchy:

First, if feminist education is concerned with teaching students to let academic concerns impact their daily lives, then using social media to engage with feminist ideas is a great way to have those ideas expand beyond the classroom. Using social media in feminist courses can contribute to public discussions, and eventually perhaps impact consumer habits and political choices. For example, requiring students to tweet about sexism in super bowl commercials not only changes the way that those students view media, but also impacts the students' followers and changes the public discourse about those commercials. In all three of these ways, students see that course content impacts daily life. And if we ask and encourage our students to break down the barrier between academic and personal life, then we must be willing to do that as well.

Second, as alluded to above, I believe that using social media will one day not be optional; therefore, teaching our student to use social media safely and effectively may be among the most important things that we can teach them. If we want our students (or anyone we are mentoring) to learn to be engaged, contributing, and successful members of society, we must help them learn technological responsibility. We must help them learn, while the stakes are low and most of their contacts are peers, that there are consequences to their posts, that their posts are public speech, and that their posts create reality. We must help students learn to integrate these technologies into their professional and political lives in productive and non-threatening ways.  We must prepare them for the future, and the future includes increasing use of social media.

Thirdly, if people in higher positions of power use social media, they demonstrate that they are whole people. Students can see that their professor has a family and a pet, likes a certain football team or tv show, and goes through difficult life events, and because of that the students learn to see the professor as a whole person-- someone they can trust, someone they have something in common with, and someone who needs time off. I believe that allowing yourself to be known (blurring the line between the personal and the professional) allows you to have a better relationship with your students, and I believe that having a good relationship with your students makes your teaching much more impactful.

The importance of using social media with people higher in the power hierarchy:

Using social media makes you a known quantity. It means that those hiring you or reviewing you for tenure know who you are and what you believe. I believe that this helps you because it means it removes doubt, highlights your commonalities, and builds rapport. This, of course, works better if your reviewers agree (or respectfully disagree) with you, so there is some risk involved, but this risk can be managed. Using social media to publicly address professionally related topics also shows that your career is part of your life's work, not simply how you pay the bills. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if your social media portfolio is completely blank, that looks suspicion. Potential employers must be able to find you and determine that you are what they want.

Using social media contributes to the profession, which contributes to your career. I think that using social media gets feminist ideas out into society, and that helps the field of Gender and Women's Studies in general. It might attract more majors; it might change people's perspectives, etc. It seems to me that making feminist ideas accessible to the larger public is a huge service to the profession. And service to the profession goes on the CV! Additionally, using social media nurtures collaboration between junior people and senior people in the profession, which encourages learning from traditional practices and innovating new responses to current global events.... and that keeps the field growing and relevant.

*Please do keep in mind that I have neither a tenure track job nor tenure...so I guess you should take these thoughts with a grain of salt. Or, if you have perspectives on this, please comment below.

Using social media helps gives you opportunities to connect with people and builds feminist activism. Feminism is a lot about consciousness raising and building solidarity, and those two goals are built on connections.... connections that can emerge and be nurtured through social media. What if you could tweet about a cause and 1,000 people get on board with your project? 50 years ago, it would have been really difficult and expensive to reach that many interested people, but now, it is easy, quick, and only requires access to a computer. Not that social media will usher in a new utopian age, but I think there is a lot of potential, and I think that potential is maximized when we aren't afraid to connect with the famous/powerful people in our fields.

Your thoughts?

Do you agree that using social media will one day be necessary for functioning in society (aka not optional)?

Do you think that using social media with non-peers (aka in a way that blurs the line between the personal and the professional) is worth the risks involved?

Do you think it is the job of teachers to work with students on using social media safely and effectively?

Do you think that using social media can help you professionally?

Any other thoughts or reactions to this post?

*Something to look forward to: My next post will be a list of practical guidelines for how to effectively friend/tweet/blog with non-peers.