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!


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 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.

NWSA Annual Conference: fascinating topics and challenging interactions

Last weekend I got to attend the National Women's Studies Association annual conference. I went to the conference with a sense of dread (as is common for young professors going to their professional conferences) but it turned out to be a fantastic, if very challenging, experience. I'm sure that you don't want a play-by-play of my experiences (I took 4500 words worth of notes!), but I do want to give you the highlights to show you some of the things that some awesome people are thinking about. So, here are some of the really interesting panels and papers that I got to hear:

  • A super helpful panel on strategies of publishing in academic journals. This is an essential skill for the young academic, so it was really good to hear from the editors of specific publications about what they look for and how they do peer reviews. Now I just need to submit some articles!
  • An engaging panel on different approaches to teaching Intro to Women's Studies (West Virginia University). This panel was based around using props, so we heard about teaching with cells (from a medical perspective), condoms (from a public health perspective), corsets (from a historical perspective), and blow up dolls (from an activist perspective).
  • A paper by Danielle Henderson (University of Wisconsin-Madison) on her Feminist Ryan Gosling tumblr. You guys, she is awesome, and you really need to see her memes. Such an interesting critique/use of feminist theory!
  • Two really useful papers by Jenn Brandt (High Point University) and Kate Drabinski (University of Maryland, Balitmore County) on using Twitter and Blogs in the feminist classroom. I am definitely going to try to incorporate these approaches in my spring courses. There are challenges to using those technologies, but I think that teaching students to write publicly and to engage in public debates is so important.
  • A fascinating paper by Safiya Noble (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) that highlighted the way that a Google search for the phrase "Black Girls" almost always returns porn while a search for the phrase "White Girls" returns new articles. Her work demonstrates that Google's algorithm works to perpetuate racism and sexism. Mind blown.
  • A really challenging paper by Leandra Preston-Sidler (University of Central Florida) on the existence of "pro-ana" communities on Tumblr that promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice and the ways that those communities' postings are bleeding over into mainstream society as "thin-spiration" photos. Pinterest is another places where these photos abound. Leandra said that even though she is a trained feminist researcher, after spending hours looking at these photos she notices that she thinks about her own body and eats differently....just think about what these photos are doing to young girls who aren't thinking critically about the impact of the photos. Scary stuff.
  • A controversial conservation about the place of men within feminist action and organizations. My friend John wrote a really interesting blog post about this. His post is entitled "Please Excuse Me for Having a Penis", and it is definitely worth a read. It is my personal opinion that feminists must work to ensure that no one feels silenced, so if men are feeling silenced within NWSA they need a caucus to express those concerns. Even if men have privilege every other day of their lives, we should still not deny them a voice at our conferences. We simply must begin to enact within our organization the dynamics of equality that we want to see in larger society.
  • An interesting paper on the labor and ideology involved with being a professional dominatrix. Ayu Saraswati (University of Hawai'i at Manoa) explained that a dominatrix's labor works in 5 ways (discursively, semiotically, affectively, emotionally, and cryptically) to produce pain as a commodified product. Crazy fascinating.
  • A very well attended (aka standing room only) panel on Nicki Minaj. I'm not going to lie, I didn't actually understand some of the points in these papers, but I am super interested in what Nicki Minaj means to hiphop, to women, to the music industry, and to performance in general.
  • And another panel/discussion on using Facebook in the feminist classroom. We had a really interesting conversation about whether you should use your own personal Facebook profile to interact with your students. We also said that if feminism is about de-stablizing the power relationships in traditional education, then it seems problematic for the professor to have a secret life that the students don't have access to while at the same time we ask students to let the course material impact their personal lives. Word.


All of those topics were great to engage with and many of these papers and panels challenged me to think about things in a new ways. Additionally, the question and answer time of each session really gave me a chance to hear what feminist around the country think about this things...and in some cases I spoke up and asked some questions as well.

Additionally, this conference let me connect with some new collogues, plan some collaborative projects, and talk with some publishers about my manuscript. All of these aspects of the conference were professionally helpful, but demanded an amount of extroverted-ness that I found a bit exhausting.

So anyway, that is a general overview of the conference, and I'd love to discuss any of these topics in more detail.

What are your experiences of attending professional conferences? Did any of these ideas strike up your interest? If you were at this conference, what were some of the most meaningful sessions for you?

As always, thanks for reading!

why i am vegetarian

I decided to become vegetarian (ovo-lacto) about seven years ago. In 2005, as I looked at the Thanksgiving turkey on the table in front of me, I decided that I just couldn't eat meat anymore. People cite all kinds of reasons for their vegetarianism. Some people choose to be vegetarian for health reasons (less fat, etc.), some because of concerns about the ethical treatment of animals (agribusiness, intensive fish farming, etc.), some for environmental reasons (water use, methane, etc.), some for religious reasons (Hinduism), and I am sure there are many other reasons. All of these reasons are important, and they probably contributed to my decision too, but my main motivation was actually feminism.

The connection between feminism and vegetarianism is not frequently discussed, so let me explain.

First, if we understand feminism to be primarily about highlighting the innate ontological equality of all humans, then I think we must work to ensure that all people have access to enough food to survive. This of course requires an immense system of food production and delivery, but more fundamentally, it requires that the earth be able to produce enough calories to provide what is necessary for each person to consume..... and the more people, the more required calories. But, in the meat production process, a very large percentage (some say 50-90%) of the calories present in the plants that are feed to the livestock is lost before the animals reach anyone's plate. Therefore, eating high on the food chain results in humans having access to far fewer calories than they would if everyone ate lower on the food chain. Put more bluntly, if we want to feed everyone, we must minimize calorie loss..... which means, we must eventually become vegetarian.

But that argument didn't fully convince me because I don't want to privilege human life over all other life forms. I don't want to say that all of earth's resources must be controlled to allow the most humans possible. I value human life, and I want every human to have the necessary number of calories each day.... but I don't think that humans have a right to reproduce exponentially until all other life forms on earth are overtaken.

So, my second connection between vegetarianism and feminism is ecofeminism. Ecofeminism is a field of feminism that asserts that humanity currently relates to the earth in the same way that patriarchy has related to women-- through a relationship of exploitation. In light of that, if I want to oppose all forms of oppression/exploitation, I must also oppose exploitation of animals (and nature in general). This is why I'm definitely opposed to agri-business and intensive farming of animals and fish. Yes, I am opposed to the specific ways that those animals are mistreated, but I am also opposed to the worldview that undergirds that mistreatment. I am opposed to a worldview that allows (and even necessitates) exploitation.... of women, of animals, of nature, of anything.

For those two main reason, I decided to become vegetarian, and I haven't knowingly eaten meat in 7 years. Unlike some vegetarians, however, I'm not militant about this. I acknowledge that I have eaten soup with chicken broth in it; I have eaten french fries fried in duck fat; I've eaten pudding with gelatin, I've eaten pizza that I picked the pepperoni off of (someone else ordered it), and I'm sure I've eaten cheese made from/with renin. If I find out that a food item has one of those ingredients, I try to avoid it.... but I've eaten things and found out later or been careless about reading the ingredient list or been hungry without other yeah. In short, I try, but I'm not perfect. Furthermore, I acknowledge that other people need to get meat occasionally (for cultural, religious, health, or interpersonal reasons), and I don't hate them for doing so. I also acknowledge that meat can be raised responsibly, ethically, and sustainably (when carefully incorporated into a family farm, etc.). If the animal lives a happy life and the sacrifice of its life is taken seriously, then I think that is perfectly acceptable (and in that case eating meat would also be very rare anyway). Personally, however, I don't need to eat meat, and not doing so causes me very little (or no) harm or inconvenience; therefore, for me, it seems reasonable and responsible to avoid meat.

In addition to avoiding meat, drinking cow's milk freaks me out a bit. Forcing female cows to lactate for much longer than they naturally would seems to be another clear form of exploitation.... and is again demonstrative of a worldview where women's bodies (whether human or cow) are seen as a factory, little more than a machine that makes a product that can yield profit. Furthermore, humans are the only animal that drinks milk passed infancy and the only animal that drinks the milk of another animal.... so that is just gives me the heebeegeebees. I do, however, eat things that have milk in them... because that is nearly impossible to avoid.... and because I love cheese (philosophically weak reason I know, but there it is).

I also do eat eggs, but only free range ones. I acknowledge that "free range" does not ensure that those chickens had a happy life nor that they were not exploited, but again, I try. Ideally, we could have our own chickens (or maybe our neighbors could because I'm scared of birds) and then we could ensure that the chickens lived happily... and eating their unfertilized eggs doesn't hurt them so that seems fine.

And I do buy leather products. This is more difficult to justify, and if I were really committed, I would like to stop doing this. Large leather items (especially coats) also give me the heebeegeebees, but for some items (shoes, belts, etc.), leather actually lasts longer than synthetic products and therefore exploits the earth less than repeatedly replacing something made from oil. And sometimes leather is just more practical (re: dog hair doesn't stick to it), which again is a philosophically weak reason, but it is what it is.

So, these are my perspectives.... some of these choices may seem inconsistent or strange, and I fully admit that these commitments are open for critique and for change.

Please join the conversation: Were you previously familiar with these perspectives on vegetarianism? What are your feelings about eating meat? About eggs and milk? About leather?  Have you ever considered not eating meat? Do you think there are responsible and irresponsible ways to eat meat? Please let me know what you think!