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?

committing to stay connected

It seems to me that there is a really large group of people (young professionals? academics? anyone with specialized career training? Americans? anyone in the globalized world?) who have moved far away from all their family members and close friends to attend the right schools and get the right jobs (or any job at all). After each completed degree or career segment, we've moved again, and even when an individual stays in one place, most of their friends move away. We are geographically separating ourselves again and again from the people we love. All that moving around has its benefits, of course. We've experienced different cultures and climates; we've met people that we otherwise wouldn't have been able to; we know people in every state in the country and many countries around the world. But all that moving around also has its drawbacks--we are often isolated and lonely.

I have some really good friends here, and if I really needed help, I'm sure they would come through for me. But still, I feel like my support system is not here; it is spread all over the country. I've lost the real connections I had with some of the people who have impacted my life most profoundly, and I think that is a tragedy. And that has had detrimental effects on my mental state, my physical health, and my quality of life.

It seems to me that there was a point in history when community emerged on its own. There was a time when close proximity=close relationship. Neighborhoods were communities, and you lived in the same community throughout your life. But things are different now. You probably don't even know the people who live near you. Furthermore, there is something powerful about relationships that last over decades, spanning life changes and hardships, and when those relationships wane because of distance there is a loss. Given that this is our plight (re: geographic separation), we need to be pro-active about preserving relationships across distance. It seems to me that we now have to really make a commitment to be able to stay closely connected to one another.

Social media seems an obvious solution to this problem. And you all know that I'm a huge fan of social media. So, yes, I think social media can help. As long as your family and friends post about themselves, social media can do a pretty good job of keeping you informed on the major events and even the mundane details of people's lives. Social media can even be a tool for dealing with culture shock, so it does definitely provide some real form of connection. However, social media does not necessarily adequately fulfill the need for close relationships that I am discussing here. Perhaps it can for certain populations, but I think that the way social media is commonly used, it does not provide the sense of a personal support system that isolated people really need.

Therefore, in an attempt to address this problem in my own life, this fall I have made commitments with 9 friends and family members to communicate on a regular basis (and I am working on making a few additional commitments). Several of these commitments take the form of a promise to email each other on a specific day each week. With one friend, we committed to a weekly email plus one piece of snail mail each month. With my brother, it is a weekly video chat. With another friend, it is a video chat every other week. With another friend, our commitment is that we can't end one phone conversation until we have scheduled our next one. The plan is that these commitments will last for years to come.

I put these "pen pal dates" in my calendar as appointments that are just as important as class or meetings. (The first few commitments were email and snail mail, so calling these friends my "pen pals" seemed appropriate. The commitments have now moved beyond only writing, but the name seems to have stuck.) For me, putting the commitments into my calendar has been a really important move. I save time in my day to fulfill these commitments, and I have shifted my thinking to see these commitments as an important part of my self-care (just as important as eating, sleeping, and exercising). Staying connected and maintaining relationships is a useful and important way to spend my time.

I can already tell that these commitments are improving the quality of my life. I feel much more connected and whole than I did six months ago. My outlook is brighter, my ability to deal with frustration is greater, my thought life is not consumed with worrying about my career, and my stress level is lower. What is more, I feel loved. Not that I felt unloved before, but now I know that I am loved. I know that there are people who would worry if they didn't hear from my in a week. There are people who care about how my week has been, and I care about how their week has been.

Interestingly, when I approached each of these people to propose these commitments, in almost every case the person responded that they had been feeling isolated too. Almost every one of them told me that they had been needing to establish better connections. Isolation seems to be an epidemic, and I think that we need to do something to combat it.

If you are also feeling isolated, I would encourage you to make some commitments to stay connected with people. Be honest with yourself and your pen pal about your time/schedule, and don't over commit, but also be willing to see these commitments as important ways to spend your time. Do you think you'll try to make some commitments with people?

Or if you are already doing something to prevent isolation, I'd love to hear how you commit to maintain relationships with people far away. What has worked for you in the past? What hasn't worked?

a guide to friending/tweeting/blogging with non-peers

Ok, so having throughly convinced you in my last post that using social media with non-peers is extremely important...I want to make a list of guiding principles for connecting with non-peers on social media sites. While I have thought carefully about this, I am the first to admit that this is a primary list. As a society, I we are all still learning how to use these tools, so I'd love to hear your feedback, experiences, horror stories, inspirational stories, etc. So, without further ado, a guide to using social media with non-peers in safe and effective ways:

  • DO understand your privacy settings. Yes, they change all the time, and they are a pain, but you must understand how to use them.... and you must review them fairly frequently. Know how to keep your information from being publicly searchable. Know how to use Facebook lists as categories of people for privacy settings. Also, when you connect to someone immediately put them on a list/circle that places them in a certain category of privacy. Then if your relationship to them changes later, you can change their group/circle. Lastly, don't let other people post (tag you in posts or photos) about you without your approval.
  • DO post, tweet, and blog about personal stuff. Demonstrate that you are a whole person, show what you care about, show how you spend your free time, show how your professional life impacts your personal life. Use social media as a way to show your friends what you do professionally and your colleagues what you do in your personal life. In both cases, they will appreciate your openness, and sharing these details will help your friend understand you better and build rapport with your colleagues.
  • DO use Twitter hashtags, retweets, and replies to connect and engage with organizations, celebrities, and politicians. Be respectful (of course!) and assume that everyone in the world can read what you've written, but engage! There is so much collaborative potential there, so we need to take advantage of it.
  • DO live tweet at professional conferences and bonus knowledge events. Those tweets will get your name out there, and it will be super useful to other people either in the room or who couldn't attend. It also shows that you are involved in the field and care about attending events.
  • DON'T post anything that you wouldn't say to the person's face. Although they are important, you cannot be sure that privacy settings will be consistent at all times. You can't be sure that someone won't retweet or share your post with the person that you didn't want to see what you wrote. You must assume that everything you write and post is available to anyone who wants to find it badly enough. Because of that, but more importantly because it is an important part of embodying feminist politics and community, you must learn to voice your critiques in respectful, careful, and productive ways. You must learn to think about the implications of your words before you speak and post. Name calling, hate speech, and being inconsiderate are unacceptable offline and online alike.
  • DON'T use separate profiles for professional and personal communications. You are one person; be one person. Using two profiles undermines that potential of these technologies to encourage transparency, to challenges hierarchies of power, and to make ourselves helpfully vulnerable to others. Now, let me say that I understand that some people must use two profiles because they are engaged in work that causes some threat to their well-being. If that is the case, then by all means, do what you must. However, if you find yourself able, I strongly encourage you to use one profile because I think doing so  models some important feminism commitments (as described above).
  • DON'T use social media to vent. Venting is for best friends, spouses, and therapists, but not for public consumption. You will lose followers if all you do is complain, and you will get in trouble with the people you are complaining just don't do it.
  • DON'T pretend to be or have something that you don't. Don't pretend to be more important than you are, because that will come back to bite you. But also don't pretend to be less than you are because denying the power that you have is an abuse of power.
  • DON'T pursue connections with people over whom you have power. Let them pursue the connection with you. It seems to me that a student might feel compelled to accept my friend request because they believe that their grade depends on it, and that feels like an abuse of power. I wait for my students and athletes to connect to me.
  • DON'T post pictures of yourself doing anything that is irresponsible. This means no pictures of breaking the law, company policy, or ethical standards. If you are breaking rules as a purposeful act of protest, take the necessary precautions to keep yourself safe, but that is not what I mean by irresponsibility here. What I mean is that if you are simply being irresponsible (this includes excessive nudity or alcohol consumption) as a way to blow off stem, don't document that irresponsibility. Or better yet, try not to be irresponsible.... try to find other ways to let off steam.
  • DON'T live tweet/post every detail of your whole life. It's annoying, boring, and over share. It means you'll lose followers, and it likely means you aren't posting things that are particularly meaningful which means people will assume that you don't think particularly meaningful thoughts.
  • And finally, DO think carefully about the implications of all of your posts. In fact, I recommend that you compose a post, then think about something entirely different for five minutes. At the end of five minutes, reread your post and see if it still seems helpful and appropriate.


Additionally, as a teacher/mentor:

  • DO require your students to use these technologies. Make assignments that require them to blog or tweet. Students need to learn to use these technologies in safe and effectively ways. They need to learn to speak and write publicly. They need to learn to function in an online world. And we must help them learn those skills while the stakes are low. This also applies to co-workers that are under your mentorship.
  • DO communicate openly (and face to face) with your department chairs/deans/bosses about how and why you are using social media. It seems to me that most of the resistance/difficulties people have with implementing social media practices and assignments is that other people don't understand why and how they are making this change. If communication is established early on, much of that resistance can be avoided.
  • DO have a class session devoted to discussing technological responsibility. This includes consideration of the risks involved with these technologies and some mutually agreed upon practices for minimizing those risks. This may include talking through some of the bullet points listed in this post. In the classroom setting, this should also include very detailed descriptions of what is expected with regard to these assignments (re: summary content, analytical content, frequency of posts, length of posts, grading rubrics, etc.)
  • DO learn from your students. Ask students how to do things! Working together to learn the technologies helps students realize and analyze their own behaviors, and it is mutually beneficial. Again, this also applies to co-workers that are under your mentorship.


Question time:

(Please do take a minute to comment; I really would love to hear from you!)

What have your experiences been using social media with non-peers? Have you found it difficult? Rewarding?

Do you have any other suggestions to add to this list?

Do you disagree with any of these points?

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.