Thursday, May 31, 2012

5 Ways Blogging Has Made Me a Better Scholar

For a long time, I didn't tell anyone I knew that I blogged, even after I started getting some pretty steady readers. It's not like I was saying anything on my blog that I wouldn't be willing to talk about in real life (in case you haven't noticed, I'm not a particularly secretive person), but I did worry about how blogging might be perceived, especially by people who were both in my personal and professional circles. Would being a blogger make me seem like less of a scholar? Would I seem less serious?

When I finally decided to take the plunge and let people I actually know see my blog, it was partly because I figured out that blogging--whether it was evident to other people or not--actually made me a better scholar. Here's how.

1. Writers gotta write. I've always been a writer. When I was in elementary school I scribbled poems on napkins. I won essay contests in high school. I was a creative writing/English double major in undergrad. I study rhetoric and composition as a graduate student. Writing has always been a part of who I am. To some extent, I began to take that for granted. I knew that I could write when I needed to, so I wasn't always challenging myself to write consistently or frequently. Blogging changed that. It gave me a space for controlled, audience-centered writing for which I was fully responsible. I didn't have deadlines. I could  write as much or as little as I wanted, but whatever happened to that space was on me. It pushed me to find a writing rhythm and to experiment with voice and style in a way that academic writing hadn't done in a while.

Shadow of a Writing Hand

How it helped me: My academic writing became--in my own opinion--less stilted. Also, I felt more confident in my ability to produce it, which gave me the courage to take risks while writing it. After all, if an idea didn't work out, I could just write something else. Also, doing so much audience-driven writing for the blog made it much easier to consider audience in my academic papers, which is always a good thing.

2. I've got tougher skin. As I've written about in the past, I've been called some pretty terrible things while writing this blog. At first, this used to consume me. I'd worry and worry every time I saw a new comment. Would this one be mean? Maybe I should stop reading them. And then, it got better. The mean comments didn't stop, but I stopped caring so much. Sure, they still sting, especially if the commenter hits a particularly raw nerve, but I recognize that this hatefulness is not actually about me. What is about me, however, is my writing, and I'm not going to let the ugliness of the world take that away from me.


How it helped me: I was terrified of sending off an article for publication. I was even pretty scared of presenting at conferences. What if someone disagreed with me? What if they asked me questions that I couldn't answer? Blogging made me realize that people aren't going to always agree with me, but that doesn't negate the value of what I have to say. Also, I know that no one at a conference is ever going to say anything half as mean to me as I've had said to me in a blog comment (the lack of anonymity makes people much nicer, at the very least). So I'm not afraid of it anymore. I've presented at several conferences without nervousness, and I've got two papers in the works to submit for publication.

3. I'm part of a community. When I first started blogging, no one read my blog because I hadn't told anyone about it. Then I linked to another blogger in one of my posts and she shared it with her readers. Then everything just snowballed. Sure, my blog is tiny, but I really feel like a part of a community. We can disagree, support one another, and go off on tangents from each other's posts.

Won't you be my neighbor?

How it helped me: Academia works the same way. Grad school sometimes works to instill a sense of competition and maybe even ruthlessness in its students. We're not all getting jobs, we're told time and time again. The job market is terrible, and most of us are going to be overqualified and underemployed, so we had better do something to stand out from the crowd. This message can make collaborating feel like a suicide pact. But it's not. Sharing ideas and entering conversations is the only way to say things that matter to someone other than yourself. Just like sending blog readers to other blogs makes my blog stronger, actively engaging with other scholars makes me a stronger academic.

4. Ideas! I write fairly frequently for my blog, and I try to cover a variety of topics. The longer I blog, the more ideas I find. I find ways to keep the ideas for later. I have drafts in various stages of completeness. I bookmark pages I find inspiring. The problem is never that there is nothing to write about; the problem is that there is not enough time to say all of the things that I want to say, so I have to prioritize what gets said when. Sometimes, I start a post that doesn't get finished until the topic would no longer be relevant, and then I have to let it go, deleted into the internet wasteland.


How it helped me: I took a class recently on rhetorical analysis. We had to work on our final paper from the second week of class, and it sounded a little daunting to come up with a topic that big that fast. When I went to meet with the professor, however, my problem was actually that I had too many ideas. I had five or six topics that were all equally exciting to me, and any one of them would have fit the assignment parameters. I know that blogging has taught me to look at the world around me as a mine for ideas, and I've become much better at extracting them.

5. I'm more balanced. My blog is about balancing the different parts of my identity: motherhood, marriage, graduate school, employment, feminism, etc. It helps me see how I fit into the world around me, and it also helps me keep from trying too hard to fit into any one particular frame. Since I write about all of those things, I've learned to think about all of those perspectives. While I may not always be successful at keeping things running smoothly, I value the point of view that blogging about the different lenses has brought me.

Balanced Over the Bay

How it helped me: Graduate school was hard for me. I felt a lot of pressure to fit into a very narrow definition of success. The message seemed clear: get a tenure-track position at a four-year research university or you have failed. Except that wasn't what I really wanted. And if it wasn't what I really wanted, I certainly wasn't going to get it because I would be competing for very few slots with people who did actually want it. I almost dropped out--twice. I almost quit one semester in, and then I almost quit after I finished my Master's. I was convinced that graduate school wasn't for me since I didn't fit onto the groove that was constantly showcased. But blogging about different perspectives and points of view taught me that I can value the pieces of one part of my identity without giving up the others. I could stay in graduate school because I valued the depth of thought and the exposure to new ideas, but I didn't have to try to force myself into any particular box.

Overall, I know that blogging can get a bad rep among academics, especially students. I think that a lot of professionals look at blogs as glorified Myspace sites. I do blog about my personal life at times, but being in touch with who I am makes me a better writer and--as cliche as it may sound--a better person. Being a better writer and a better person inevitably makes me a better scholar.

How has blogging helped you in other parts of your life? Or, if you don't blog, how do you think it could? Are there risks that keep you from trying it? 

Photo credits (used under Creative Commons license): lowjumpingfrog, Craig Loftus, Design by Zouny, skpy, cogdogblog

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

They're in My Brain! Media and Body Images

Do you know how when you read a novel for a very long time (like, say,  a few hours) the words start to sink into your brain and you begin to narrate your own life as you move through your day. (This isn't just me, right? Is this an English major thing?)

Well, depending on the author I've been soaking up, that self-narration can take on a very different tone. When I've been reading Hemingway, suddenly everything is very terse.

Wisteria & door
From hortulus
She walked to the door. She opened it. She started her morning commute, calmly. 

And when I've been reading Faulkner, it's quite a bit more detailed.

The door, having stood through many other mornings, mornings she'd never seen, mornings she'd never even imagine, other people's mornings, distant mornings, filled with anger and love and emotions long forgotten, was ajar. She'd left her keys lying on the coffee table next to the discarded magazine that bore the scars of a toddler's excitement but now wore the forgotten sag of an item just waiting for the recycle bin, so she turned back, exasperated but not yet late. 

Or maybe I've been reading some Audre Lorde poetry.

The door beckoned
with its promise for a new
day. Left unfulfilled 
and somehow empty, 
even before breakfast. 

(This isn't just me. Right?)

Anyway, I was thinking about how these authors can get inside my brain and start filtering the way that I see my world. Their words impact me, alter the way I see things, change the way I think. It was with that in mind that I approached statistics like these:
The researchers discovered that after just ten minutes' exposure, it was the group who watched music videos featuring thin, idealised models who exhibited the greatest increase in body dissatisfaction, compared to those who merely listened to the songs or had completed the memory task. -Research study by Dr. Helga Dittmar
A study in 1995 found that three minutes spent looking at a fashion magazine caused 70% of women to feel depressed, guilty and shameful. 
If reading Faulkner can make me think of my world in long, never-ending sentences, then why shouldn't flipping through a magazine that narrowly defines "beauty" make women and girls who can't live up to those photoshopped standards feel guilty and depressed about their looks.

That's also why I find the thinspo movement so depressing. It's bad enough that we're constantly bombarded with unrealistic standards of beauty in everything from commercials to movies to billboards, but now there are entire communities of young women who consciously seek out these images for "inspiration" to lose weight. What does it do to our brains to soak in so many specific messages about beauty?

And I also think that the flip side of this effect is so interesting. When we see so many narrow views of beauty, what happens when we consciously seek out alternatives? Can we retrain our brains?

That's the premise behind blogs like Down With Thinspo, Up With Beauty and sites like Healthy is the New Skinny.

Sure, images from these sites still reinforce some patriarchal notions of what it means to be beautiful (most of the women are long-haired and curvy in all the "right" places, for instance, and most of them are wearing makeup), but I think that images like these go a long way toward making us rethink what it means to be beautiful.

From Evans (and here's the link to the swimsuit, cause I think it's pretty awesome)
And while I find it shocking that images like this one are considered abnormal, our standards for beauty have slipped so far into the altered and unattainable that I guess even this is considered too "real":

From beautemodel
So, yes, the media's standards for beauty are ridiculous and damaging. While we can certainly insist that they make changes (like that awesome teen did with her petition to Seventeen to include one unaltered spread a month), that can't be our only line of defense (because, as you may have heard, Seventeen's not budging). So, in addition to trying to change mainstream media from the bottom up, we also have to be conscious of our media diet. If all the mainstream media gives us is photoshopped images of bodies that are unattainable, then we can carve out our own spaces to showcase bodies that are real and beautiful. If all that's offered in the world is fast food, you don't just give in, you plant a garden. We have to take care of ourselves.

On PhDs, Dreams, and Coulda-Shoulda-Wouldas

Everywhere I look, there are very convincing arguments for not doing the very thing I've been doing for the past five years: getting a PhD in the humanities.

For example, I've been reading the very talented work of Lauren and Jen at Mama Nervosa, "grad school quittas" who frequently write about the problems with academia. In particular, I find Lauren's post on four things she should have done instead of going to grad school intriguing, and she's pretty clear on her advice:
Don’t go to grad school. If you want a “yes” or a “maybe,” talk to someone else. I think more people, including advisers and professors, should actively discourage people from grad school. Even the smart students. That’s what I want to do with this post. I wish someone had said this to me, given me pause, made me reconsider. There were a lot of yeasayers when it came to grad school. I want to be a naysayer.
Don’t go to grad school.
And with The Chronicle pumping out articles about PhD graduates on food stamps and articles titled "The Future of the PhD" that contain passages like this one:
Too few universities are paying attention to the needs of graduate-student parents, or providing mentoring on how to balance family and career in a stressful profession in which, arguably, the most serious stress—obtaining tenure—also occurs during the years when women will have children. Only 13 percent of institutions in the Association of American Universities offer paid maternity leave to doctoral students, and only 5 percent provide dependent health care for a child.
Is the Ph.D. worth saving?
It's certainly not a decision to be taken lightly. 

In fact, through Mama Nervosa, I've found an entire community of those who have left academia (called the post-ac community). I've been reading blogs like A Post-Academic in NYC and the (bluntly titled) 100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School

And I can't really say anything to counter the points that come up again and again in these posts. Most graduate programs seem centered on an outdated model. There are too many PhD graduates and not enough jobs. The system requires those seeking tenure to work themselves too hard and completely negates the work/life balance. Parents in graduate programs aren't taken seriously. You're expected to be willing to move across the county to secure a job. There's not enough discussion of alternative career paths. I can't argue with these things. 

So why am I still pursuing a PhD?

From JanneM
I could stop. I've accepted a job offer for the position that I would have been applying for when I finished my PhD anyway, an "alternative" career that I knew from about the first month in the graduate program was where I was headed, not because I'm "settling" for it, but because I love teaching and it's the right fit for me. So, I could stop if I wanted to. 

And I thought about it, especially with all of these very convincing arguments that it's not worth it floating around in my mind. But I didn't. I'm going to keep going. 

Articulating why I made this decision isn't easy, and some of the reasons I don't particularly feel good confessing to, but I think that this is an important conversation to be having. I think we need to talk more about what graduate studies mean, what they should look like in the future, and how fantasy visions of our educations fit with our real lives, so I'm going to add my voice, even the parts that are a little embarrassing. 

To the best of my analytical abilities and in no particular order, here are the reasons I'm staying:

1. I love learning. Yes. I know it sounds cliche and maybe even childish. But this is truly the reason I went to graduate school to begin with. I know that I won't stop learning just because I'm not in a formal degree program, but I love the community of minds that I get to be in touch with as a graduate student. Even though I don't get to hang out with people in my department as often as I'd like (I'm working and raising a kid, life's busy), I thoroughly enjoy knowing these people and getting to engage with them. I enjoy being able to go into a professor's office and chat about a book I'm reading. I like having papers to write and books that I probably wouldn't read without incentive to read. I'm excited (scared, sure, but also excited) about my exam list. It's an intellectual challenge, and it's invigorating. 

2. I'm a first-generation college student. This is one that I'm a little embarrassed to admit. As I've written about before, I'm the first person in my family to go to college. When I got my Master's, I joined a few cousins who have reached that level of education. No one in my family has gotten a doctorate. Ever. Part of me feels like I'd be letting people down if I quit. I don't think that I'd get any actual feedback to that effect, but I'd feel it. 

3. I don't want to close doors. I've always believed in education. I've always thought that learning how to think and communicate clearly were skills that would help me no matter where I was headed. I am very excited about my new career path, and I want to be able to do the best work I can there. I'm going to be working in developmental writing instruction and I can do that with the degree I have, but there are some exciting conversations happening about the future of developmental education. What if I want to be part of those conversations? Will not having a PhD make it harder to be heard? Will writing a dissertation give me the opportunity to do the kind of research I need to be prepared to make a difference in this field? Maybe and maybe not. But I like to believe that finishing this degree will make me a stronger thinker, and I don't see how that can hurt. 

All that said, I'm working on getting funding for this degree. I've been getting tuition covered as a full-time employee at the university where I work. If other funding options fall through and I have to pay to finish out of pocket (around $12,000), I probably won't do it. With all of the statistics, I can't justify taking out more loans (I took out some for my first year of graduate school and my husband has loans from law school). I have to balance my desire to finish this degree with my responsibility to my family's future. 

That cost-benefit analysis is an issue. The job that I've been doing for the past three years is helping underrepresented students get into graduate school. I believe in this job because I believe in my students. They are smart, driven, and they bring diverse perspectives that I believe--believe, with every inch of my being--that we need as an intellectual society. But can I--in good conscience--tell them to go if they don't get funded? Not really. I encourage them to apply to multiple places (and our program grants them fee waivers to make that more affordable). We give them teaching and research opportunities to make them prepared for assistantships. But what about the students who don't get these opportunities? And what about when there aren't enough assistantships to go around, no matter how great the students are? Should I still tell them to go?

And even if I'd been fully funded, I don't think I would have been able to stay on the full-time graduate student path. My husband and I decided to have a baby, and part of that decision depended upon having stable jobs. Also, I like working. I like the structure that having a full-time job gives my life and my schedule. We own a house and cars. I enjoy having the financial and the psychological benefits that come along with working full-time, and while I know that some people can get those benefits while a full-time student, I couldn't. Still, the part-time graduate student path is frowned upon. Advisors want you to finish quickly. I'm behind all of the other students in my cohort. I definitely feel like I veered off into the woods, not just to a lesser traveled path. Now that I'm going to be continuing my degree as a full-time employee and part-time student without having the benefit of being on the same campus, I'm sure I'll still feel a bit lost from the crowd.

Like I said, I think this conversation is important, and I certainly don't have all the answers. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Fine Print: Negotiations in Marriage's Work

Jan Hoffman's "Diaper Duty, Divided and Decided: Sign Here" takes a look at the way some couples are figuring out relationship negotiations on time and work: contractually.

I'm not knocking the idea. Without a doubt, the hardest part of negotiating my marriage and family life has been figuring out who does what when. It's since gotten easier, and some days it gets inexplicably and temporarily really, really hard again, but the division of time and work is something that is constantly negotiated and re-negotiated in our household.

And yes, on a couple of occasions, we tried something like a contract.

It didn't have the formality of the contracts discussed in this article. Hoffman writes how Mark Zuckerberg's girlfriend formally negotiated a written document that promised at least one date night and 100 minutes outside of the house together a week before she would move in with him. She also discusses couples who wrote down a schedule for diaper changes. Again, I'm not criticizing. Do what works. But for us, even less formal contracts just lacked the flexibility that we needed to make things work.

The bane of our happy little unit is housework. We've got a functioning (if not always smooth) handle on just about everything else. Sure, there are rough patches, but for the most part we manage to get to work on time, get daycare drop-offs and pick-ups fairly distributed with compromises when needed, we both go to the gym a few times a week, we cook healthy meals at home most of the time, we grocery shop, we pay the bills on time, we play with our daughter, we have regular family outings, we read bedtime stories, we give baths, we sing songs, we do well at our respective jobs, we build block towers, we kiss bumps on the arm, we have friends and sometimes even get to see them, we talk about current events, we talk about our future goals, we make fun of bad movies together, and the car never runs out of gas.

But to save our lives, we cannot get the housecleaning figured out.

The Simple Life
Demon possessed, I'm sure. 
So, we've tried charts. We make schedules. We assign duties. We fail. We don't even try to place blame anymore (though maybe we have in the past). We're bad at it. And no contract is going to help.

And I think the reason a contract is never going to help us is that, if there's a contract, things are never really truly equal.

Take this quote from Hoffman's post:
Cheryl Lynn Hepfer, a matrimonial lawyer in Bethesda, Md., and a former president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said that for women, “even if they want a schedule for changing diapers at night, it’s an acknowledgment by him that she is important.”
So making a diaper schedule is a gift from the male partner to the woman. Doesn't that mean that it's still really her responsibility? He's just giving this "acknowledgement" by giving her some "help." Why isn't the diaper schedule an acknowledgement by her that he is important? Shouldn't ensuring that their child isn't sitting in its own waste be just as much his concern as hers?

And a contract requires management. In order to negotiate an agreement, someone has to have the upper hand. And whether that upper hand comes from a partner who sees him/herself as doing more than his/her fair share and needing an adjustment or from a partner who feels that he/she isn't getting an equal say in how the house is being managed and wants to take on more control, working out a contract means recognizing those (possibly hidden) disparities and bringing them to the forefront.

And a household (or at least my household) is not stable enough to negotiate these duties one time and let it go. A household is living. It grows, it changes, and it requires constant flux. The things that get the house clean this week will not be the things that get the house clean next week. So someone is going to have to notice the changes and make note of them. Someone is going to have to be responsible for charting the new responsibilities and assigning them. And that someone is doing more work and taking more control.

The solution? Hell if I know. Let me know if you figure it out.

I will say that we had a coupon for a house cleaning a few weeks ago. It was amazing. It was amazing not only because my house got clean in ways that I don't normally clean it (you should've seen the inside of my microwave. The angels sang when I opened it). but also because the cleaning service doesn't do everything. We had to de-clutter and organize enough for the cleaning service to do their job. Suddenly there were some clear boundaries on what needed to be done, and it was coming from somewhere outside of us. We were equally responsible for getting this thing done, and we would both reap the benefit of an ultra-clean house at the end of it. So, my solution? Make enough money to have a regular cleaning service, and I'll have no problem with having a written contract of what they will and will not do. I'll let you know how it goes if I ever get there.

So what about you? What negotiations do you find the hardest to maintain? How important is keeping an equal balance of responsibilities? Do you think a written contract is the way to go? 

Photo Credit: Chiot's Run

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Curious (Links)

Looking for Something to Read?

I'm going to get to the links that made me smile (The Good), sigh in frustration (The Bad), and think (The Curious) in a moment, but first I wanted to say that I (after much neglect) have updated the blog roll on the side of my blog. If you're looking for something to read, I highly suggest checking these out. In particular, you might want to look at 

from two to one- Writer Danielle is on a journey through her first year of marriage, and along the way she's examining the intersections of Christianity, marriage, feminism, and cultural expectations. Recently, she wrote a great series on the modesty myth.

mama nervosa- Jen and Lauren write about life after grad school, parenting, and pop culture.

Bicultural Mom- Chantilly, who also does great work over at Multicultural Familia, has a personal blog about her views on interracial relationships and raising multiracial children in a color-conscious world.

The Feminist Mystique- Shannon blogs about applying her academic training about gender in the real world.

How I Learned to Wear a Dress- Kelly writes about feminism and how we learn to navigate the intersections between gender expectations and our own personal experiences. Kelly's currently on a writing hiatus while she works on a few projects, but you should go read through her stuff and keep an eye out for her return.

So, if you're looking for new blogs to follow, may I suggest checking these out. Now, without further ado, your Good, Bad, and Curious. As always, feel free to add any links you'd like in the comments, and self-promotion is totally fine.

The Good

NPR is hosting a photo contest for readers to showcase the "heart" of their cities. I'm a sucker for positive urban portrayals, and I'm looking forward to the end results. 

While the topic that she's dealing with is certainly not "The Good"-worthy, her energy, skill, and in-your-face delivery made me smile (NSFW language in the video):

The Bad

Sociological Images has a post about the culture of horse racing that examines our need for speed--at the cost of dead horses and permanently disabled jockeys. (WARNING: There are some disturbing images and descriptions of animal abuse and death in this link.)

The Curious

Stand and Deliver has a post examining the cultural differences of safety norms for children between Americans and the French. 

Sociological Images has a post examining the way that stay-at-home moms, working moms, and employed women without children responded to a variety of questions about stress and fulfillment.

This Detroit News article looks at the rise in interracial couples on primetime TV. Most interesting to me is that, for most of the couples, being interracial isn't really an issue. Some people want to see a more direct tackling of racial tensions surrounding interracial relationships and some think that portraying them as no big deal is exactly what we need to make cultural progress.  

So, that's what I've been reading. What about you?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Smile [More] Often: Making Advice Manageable

I saw this van in front of me on the way home from work the other day. (Don't worry. I was completely stopped when I snapped this picture).

Of course, I don't know the story of these words on the bumper, but it seems to me that the "SMILE OFTEN" was there first. Then, someone came along and added "MORE." It was a good addition.

"Smile often" seems trite, unhelpful. And sometimes "smile often" is just impossible. There are times in your life when you cannot "smile often." Sometimes there are not "often" things to smile at.

But "smile more often"? Well, that's advice I can use. "More" doesn't require all that much. If I haven't been smiling at all, and I manage to smile once in a week, then I did it more. I certainly didn't smile enough to be called often, but it was still more. That's progress. I win.

I might be looking too deeply into the bumpers of the cars on my commute, but I think that this kind of modification can be useful for a lot of well-meaning advice.

Like parenting:

People have told me "Don't yell." But sometimes I yell. Sometimes I get really, really frustrated. Maybe I've been awake for 30 straight hours and the dogs just ripped the trash and there's rotting chicken and curdled milk all over the kitchen floor and my husband is out of town for work and my daughter, who is getting her 853rd tooth of the month, reaches up while I'm trying to calmly rock her to sleep and knots a fistful of my hair around her hand and pulls as hard as she can. And I yell. Not really at her. More like at the universe. But the sound is loud and I know I shouldn't do it, and now I've broken the "don't yell" rule so I have to feel like a failure on top of it all.

You know what would be better, "[Try not to] yell." That I can do.

Or with health:

"Don't eat dessert."

What? I love dessert. Any advice that includes this may be good advice for avoiding excess sugar and fat and calories and carbs and gluten and whatever other thing is bad for me at the moment, but it's not going to get followed.

Instead? "Don't eat dessert [every day]." Much better.

So, thank you random van for making my goals feel [more] manageable.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Metaphor for the Balancing Act (with Kittens!)

I feel you momma cat. Some days no matter what you do, there's always something else falling down the slide. Just keep doing your best. 

Ads and Fantasies: Why Do We Buy?

Elle Canada published an article by Ben Barry discussing research on how the physical appearance of models affects women's desire to buy the products.

The findings were interesting (and the whole article is an in-depth look that's worth reading, so you should go check it out):
My study found that women increased their purchase intentions by more than 200 percent when the models in the mock ads were their size. In the subgroup over size 6, women increased their purchase intentions by a dramatic 300 percent when they saw curvier models. Conversely, when women saw models who didn’t reflect their size, they decreased their purchase intentions by 60 percent, and women over size 6 dropped their purchase intentions by 76 percent.
Consumers increased their purchase intentions by over 175 percent when they saw models who reflected their age; in particular, women over the age of 35 increased their purchase intentions by 200 percent when they saw older models. When models didn’t reflect their age, consumers decreased their purchase intentions by 64 percent. Furthermore, black consumers were 1.5 times more likely to purchase a product advertised by a black model.
That makes sense to me.

When I buy products, I want to be able to imagine them looking good on me. I want to be able to picture myself in them, so that means that if I only see size-2 eighteen year olds wearing it, I can't really project myself into that space. In fact, when I see nothing but people who do not look like me in advertisements, the message that I receive is that this product is not for me. I don't want to try to look younger than I am (I'm happy with my age) and I don't want to try to squeeze into clothes too small for me, either (for the most part, I'm also happy with my body).

But this logic is against the industry's standard, which is to portray models as "clothes hangers" that don't "distract" from the garment. What it really comes down to is the advertising theory that making consumers feel bad about themselves will prompt them to purchase in order to feel better. As Barry explains in the article:
In the business community, the general consensus is that there is a discrepancy between marketing and the market because fashion advertising fuels consumer demand by creating a craving that can’t be satisfied. In other words, marketers hire models to sell an image that most women can aspire to but never achieve. As Karl Lagerfeld explained in a recent interview on CNN: “Unreachable beauty is a reminder to make an effort. But if you see something, and you can reach what you see, then you do not have to make an effort anymore.”
How would you have ever known how much whiter your teeth needed to be if Crest hadn't told you?
They did you a favor.
There are entire product lines that wouldn't exist if the industry hadn't first materialized a "problem" for consumers to "fix," but surely this can't be the only way to approach selling things. And--as I get older--this seems much less the way to get me to buy things.

Sure, as a teen and young adult, I purchased a lot of products in the hopes that they would "fix" some glaring problem. I wanted the hair straightener serum because my wavy hair was never in style and I needed this particular brand of jeans because it was the "right" brand to make the statement I was trying to make about my personality. Playing on our insecurities can be a very lucrative strategy.

But what if playing to our securities can be a lucrative strategy, too? As I've gotten older, I've stopped caring so much about trying to "fix" my "flaws." That's not to say that I don't have any vanities or that I don't purchase products to improve my appearance. But I'm much more on board with playing up the parts of my appearance that I feel good about. I'll buy this hair product because it helps me shape my wavy hair. I'll buy this dress because I think it flatters the way my body actually looks, not because I'm trying to hide behind it.

I'm not saying that shaming people into changing their bodies isn't an effective advertising strategy; it clearly is. But emotional appeals work both ways, and I think that making people feel good about how they look and about people who look like them is an effective way, too. And you get those bonus points of working towards a more positive and equitable portrayal of the world, too. A win-win.


What do you think? What motivates you to buy? Are you more inclined to buy a product because it points out a flaw you can fix or because it highlights an attribute you feel confident in? Does your answer vary for different types of products?

To see more on the natural model movement, check out Healthy is the New Skinny, which has a mission statement of bringing "health, joy, and responsibility to the beauty and the fashion industries." Part of their  company includes a natural model agency that celebrates a myriad of looks and body types.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Kraft's No Stranger to Criticism Over Stereotypes

Kraft's MilkBite campaign is not the first time they've received criticism for their use of stereotypical portrayals. A few years ago, Kraft's use of Yiayia--a disapproving Greek woman--as spokesperson for their Athenos brand angered many in the Greek community.

That campaign was created by the same ad company as the MilkBite campaign. Droga5 is an ad company out of New York that clearly has talent, but does not seem concerned about what impact their work has on the world around them. Watch this video where Droga5 brags about their ability to cause a stir, even when that means hurting people with stereotypical portrayals.

I've written an analysis of this video and what it means for consumers over at Multicultural Familia. Check it out, and then join the campaign against Kraft's MilkBite ads. Our media is a reflection of us as much as we are a reflection of our media. Let's let companies know that we're not going to stand idly by while they profit off of damaging stereotypes. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Curious (Links)

Things I read that made me smile, sigh, and think. Feel free to add things you've read or written, too! (Reading was a little light this week. Finals week means lots of papers to grade, but they're DONE now. File that under "the Good.")

The Good

Jay-Z and the NAACP voice their support for marriage equality.

I just signed up to run the Color Run. How can you watch this video and not smile?

The Bad

Elle decides to use some creative photoshopping to make cover model Coco Rocha appear to be wearing a lot fewer clothes than she actually was. The model is complaining about her portrayal and this whole issue brings up questions about photo editing, reality, and responsibility. We're also having some pretty serious conversations about what level of editing is acceptable when it comes to body image and a teen girl's petition for Seventeen magazine to show just one unaltered spread a month has reached 75,000 signatures (though the company still hasn't agreed). This is an issue that is likely to get more complex as the interests of models, companies, advertisers, and the consuming public merge and diverge.

This report in from the Nation shows how our abysmal maternity leave policies are forcing women into horrible choices that often lead to mountains of debt:

But many workers aren’t even guaranteed that. Less than half of the country’s private-sector workers are covered by FMLA, which may explain why over a quarter of all workers—in situations similar to Underwood’s—either quit or are let go of their jobs when they need to take leave. 
Of course, employers are free to be more generous with paid leave, but a recent report from the National Partnership for Women & Families found that many employers cut back over the past decade. Almost 30 percent of employers offered paid leave for new mothers in 1998; only 16 percent did in 2008.
In New York, the possession of condoms is being used against women. Condoms are being confiscated and brought up as evidence of prostitution, which seriously contradicts the public health goals of condom usage.

The Curious

Reel Girl takes a look at the Lusty Lady, a sex-positive feminist strip club that boasts real bodies and size diversity but that's struggling to make ends meet. She asks if it's worth saving.

EcoSalon has a post about standardized testing and some of the campaigns against it.

A Crunk Feminist Collective post looks at the rhetoric of rights and examines some of the comparisons between the discussions of interracial marriage rights and gay marriage rights.

This post takes a look at why the fashion industry's rigid body standards are harmful for everyone:
If she couldn’t be a size 2, she had to be at least a size 16–which highlights a much bigger problem: Women are damned if they do (lose weight, because it will end in skinny-bashing), or damned if they don’t (hello, fat-shaming); and which is why, even if you’re not a big fashion fan or even media consumer, the natural model movement matters to you.
Sociological Images is running a series of posts on gender portrayals in Lego. It starts here.

What have you been reading/writing?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Virgin Orgasming Blushing Bride: A Trip to Sephora

What's in my makeup case?
From Retrograde Works
A few days ago, I accompanied one of my dearest friends to Sephora to get makeup for her wedding day. (To say that this was a case of the blind leading the blind might be an understatement). 

I arrived early, and I went into the store to see if she was there yet. She was not, and the Sephora employees (perfectly nice people, I'm sure) looked leery. "Can I help you?" one asked, but not in the helpful way, more in the did-you-get-lost-honey way. 

This is not a post about whether my friend should have bought makeup for her wedding day. As I've touched upon before, I don't think feminism does itself any favors by drawing lines in the sand on what makes for an acceptable patriarchal bargain. Also, she looked absolutely beautiful and her wedding is going to be amazing. Not only do I not have a problem with that, but that's exactly what I want for her:  confidence in her beauty (which exists with or without makeup) on her wedding day. 

So, for the record, I think going to buy makeup for your wedding day (or any other day, if that's your thing) is fine. 

What this post is about is the names of said make-up. In the words of my favorite Craigslist ad, Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ. 

The final purchases included (and I couldn't make this up if I tried) a shade of blush called "Orgasm," a shade of primer donned "Virgin," and eyeliner named "Perversion." 

I believe all those things I said above. I believe that a woman can wear makeup for herself, to bolster her confidence and experiment with her expression of self. I believe that those expressions can be sexual, if a woman chooses to use makeup as a tool to play with her sense of sexuality, but that they certainly don't have to be. I believe that makeup does not have to be wrapped up in virgin/whore dichotomies and stereotypes. I believe that makeup can be fun. 

Apparently the people naming the makeup do not. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kraft Responds to My MilkBite Petition

Today I got a Facebook message from Kraft asking that I contact them so we could speak directly. I was excited. "Maybe they're going to listen," I thought to myself. This didn't last long. The message I received from them was nearly identical to the same pre-fabricated stuff they've been posting in response to the complaints on Facebook. Here it is in its entirety:
Dear Jane,
Thank you for your message. We want you to know that we have received and considered your comments regarding the KRAFT MILKBITE Brand advertising campaign, and have shared them with the appropriate contacts at our company. 
We truly value all of our consumers and take concerns like yours very seriously. We are sorry that the advertising upset you and want to assure you again that we did not mean to offend anyone, or in any way represent real human relationships. The sole purpose of the campaign is to demonstrate what makes KRAFT MILKBITE Bars (and therefore the fictional character of “Mel”) unique, which is the fact that they’re made with real milk and whole grain granola. Again, we want to assure you that any similarity to real life experiences was not intentional. 
We respect your right to express your opinions about the campaign and we want you to know that your comments have been received. We sincerely hope you will consider our position. 
Best Regards,Kraft Foods, Corporate Affairs Team

So, they pulled out the "Sorry you were offended" stand-by, which--as I'm sure you know--is not even remotely close to "Sorry we were offensive." They don't accept agency for the message, and they fail to address the problem, which is not that I'm upset (I'm a big girl. I'll get over it.), but that the messages they're sending are damaging. So, I responded:

Dear Kraft, I appreciate you taking the time to respond to me directly.  
I believe that you didn't want to offend anyone with these ads, but the fact remains that they are offensive. It's not enough to simply say that you didn't mean them to be that way. Now that the offensive nature of this campaign has been brought to your attention, I feel that it is your responsibility to correct the problem. If you choose not to, that is of course your right, but it is my right as a consumer to continue to draw attention to the damaging messages you're sending, and that is a right I will be exercising.  
I do have two points from your letter that I want to address. You say that you did not mean to "in any way represent real human relationships." But that's the entire point of anthropomorphizing a food product, to make it relatable to human characteristics. Furthermore, your campaign shows Mel interacting with human beings (like when he's on a date or part of a book club). I find it completely ridiculous to claim that he's not supposed to represent human characteristics when he clearly does.  
Secondly, you say that Mel is supposed to represent the "unique" qualities of his ingredient combination. Fine. I understand that's the draw of the product, but why does Mel have to disparage his "mixed" identity? Why can't he embrace these diverse components of his background? If Mel is supposed to represent diversity, he represents that it is damaged, and that's the problem.  
Maybe these problematic messages are not intentional. I certainly hope they are not. But they are present, and they are harmful. I insist that you drastically alter this campaign. Until you do, I will continue to work to draw attention to this problem. I believe that there are many, many people who will find this offensive once they see all of the ads put together into a cohesive narrative. That's what I'm trying to do with my campaign: give people the opportunity to analyze the narrative as a whole. I'm sure some people will think these commercials are fine, but I do not, and I want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to critically analyze this message.  
As you are aware, the petition asking you to stop sending these messages is growing quickly. In addition, the analysis I wrote of this review has received over 6000 page views. The longer you wait to truly address this problem instead of saying "we didn't mean to offend," the more this exposure will grow. 
I hope that you will choose to do the right thing and stop using these stereotypes in your ad campaign. 
Thank you for your time. 
The silver lining? This mean Kraft's listening. They see that we're motivated to make a change. They see that there is strength behind these complaints, and they want us to quietly go away.

And I'm not going to.

I truly believe that there are a lot of people out there who would rather see multiracial backgrounds portrayed in a positive light. I truly think that a lot of people will be offended when they see this campaign as a cohesive narrative. And I'm going to keep working to make sure that more people have a chance to see this campaign for what it is.

Related Links

Here's my original analysis of the MilkBite campaign.

Here's a follow-up discussing why media messages matter. 

Here's a follow-up regarding Kraft's initial response. 

Here's an update about our efforts to stop this campaign.

What you can do 

Sign the petition. If you already signed it, share it. 

Like our Facebook page "Kraft MilkBite: Say NO to #TragicMel"

Use the #TragicMel hashtag to tell @kraftfoods this campaign is unacceptable

Post on Kraft MilkBite's Facebook page to tell them what you think

Don't Take Away My Feminist Mother Card

We shop in all the aisles of the toy store. Her purple and pink blocks are mixed right in with the blue and black ones. She wears "boy clothes" and hardly any of her dresses are pink or frilly.

But this child absolutely loves this purse.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Update on the Kraft MilkBite Campaign

As of this moment, there are nearly 250 signatures on the petition asking Kraft to stop using damaging stereotypes about multiracial people in their MilkBite campaign. Thank you so much to all of you who have signed, written to Kraft, and voiced your concerns.

Kraft has continued to ignore our complaints. Other than a few obviously pre-fabricated responses about not being able to account for everyone's tastes, Kraft has stayed silent. They probably think that if they ignore us long enough we'll lose interest and go away, leaving them to perpetuate their damaging stereotypes in an attempt to sell more granola bars.

But we won't.

We're pushing back. If you agree that Kraft's MilkBite commercials (you can read an analysis of them here) are unacceptable in the way they portray multiracial people as inherently flawed, there are several ways you can fight back.

1. Sign the petition 
2. Like our Facebook page: "Kraft MilkBite: Say NO to #TragicMel"
3. Tweet to @kraftfoods and voice your concerns using #TragicMel hashtag
4. Follow #TragicMel on Twitter for campaign updates
5. Share this campaign with your friends and family

We can make a difference! Need proof? Check out the way some other big companies have responded to consumer concerns about their marketing:

This means that we have the power. We're the consumers. These companies depend on us to make their money; not the other way around. Tell Kraft that this campaign is unacceptable. Tell them that you're paying attention. Together, we can see a change. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!: Songs about Balancing Mothers

Last Mother's Day, I celebrated by posting a list of Balancing Mothers on the Big Screen, a look at some movies who feature mothers who are able to balance complex lives.

This year, my Mother's Day post will look at songs celebrating the complexity of motherhood.

This was harder than I thought. There are plenty of songs that celebrate mothers, but it's usually from someone else's point of view and the role of "mother" is usually pretty limited to the sacrifice, the nurturing. I was in search of songs that showed a mother balancing those things (which are important) with the other parts of her life (which are also important). I also wanted some songs where mothers represented themselves. Here's what I came up with. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!

Sinead O'Connor "Daddy I'm Fine"

This song's about a woman who completely rejects traditional roles ("Sorry to be disappointing/Wasn't born for no marrying/Want to make my own living singing"). Throughout the song she demonstrates her sexiness ("I get sexy underneath them lights/like I want to fuck every man in sight"), her power as a musician ("I've had myself some big fat fun"). She appreciates her role as mother ("I got the most angelic son"/"My baby daughter is golden") but she realizes that her life is a complex balance of all of these components, and that's energizing ("I do what I like for fun"/"And I'm happy in my prime"). 

Alanis Morissette "Guardian"

This new single from Alanis Morisette's forthcoming album is said to be inspired by the intensity of motherhood. I love how this song demonstrates the balance required within the role of mother. 

"I'll be your keeper for life as your guardian
I'll be your warrior of care, your first warden
I'll be your angel on call, I'll be on demand
The greatest honor of all, as your guardian"

Think about the different skill sets and powerful emotions required in those roles: "guardian," "warden,"  "angel." Each one demonstrates a different part of caregiving. The guardian must be constantly vigilant in protecting a child against the outside forces of the world. The warden works hard to protect her children from the internal ones by setting boundaries and helping them grow. The angel must transcend and teach a child how to be spiritually prepared. 

I also love how she is the "first" warden, but not necessarily the last. In fact, all of these roles are transient. A mother has to provide all of these different versions of care early on so that her child can grow into a healthy adult who no longer needs such supervision.

Erykah Badu "Window Seat" 

I'm a little enamored with Ms. Badu. (Okay. A lot enamored.) I have to listen to every song she has about ten times before it clicks, but once the click happens, the song just weaves its way into my soul. I have turned to her music for reflection on my life so many times. (And did you know she's a doula, too?!) Her song "Window Seat" has some powerful reflections on the balance of motherhood.

"Concentrating on my music, lover, and my babies/makes me want to ask the lady for a ticket out of town" 

The song starts out with an overwhelmed woman. She's exhausted from the pull of her different roles, and she wants a break. "I don't wanna time travel no more" she says. She wants to be in the here and now, experiencing what she is without all the layers of relationship to others. "Can I get a window seat?/Don't want nobody next to me/I just want a chance to fly/A chance to cry and a long bye-bye."

Her desire to get out of town resonates with me. Sometimes the intensity of being a mother, a wife, a teacher, a whatever gets so exhausting. Sometimes the walls start to close in on you and you just need the chance to see who you are, without having to consider your relationship to anyone else. 

But it's never that easy, and Badu has some insight into that, too:

"But I need you to want me
Need you to miss me
I need your attention
I need you next to me

I need someone to clap for me
I need your direction
Somebody say, come back
Come back, baby, come back
I want you to need me"

So, really, the chance to fly wasn't an attempt to escape those roles, but an effort to get enough space to see why they're so important to begin with. Being able to back up and see what the role of mother means not only to ourselves, but also to our children, our partners, and the society we are a part of reminds us that we have value for that work. 

Not-So-Honorable Mentions

In my search, I also came across some contenders that did not make the cut. For example:

The premise of Trace Adkin's "Hot Mama" is appealing: here's a man telling his wife (and mother of three kids) that her body is still hot and there's no need for her to keep trying to fit into her old jeans because he's attracted to her just the way she is. Part of balancing the identity of a mother is maintaining a status as a sexual being, and I want to be able to like this message.

But the video is appalling. The husband just walks around sipping coffee and amusedly watching his haggard wife shuffle the kids from event to event, grocery shop, wrangle fighting children, and clean. He's never shown doing anything to actually--gasp, shock--help her with these responsibilities. His sole "assistance" is in gawking at all of her hard efforts and reimagining her in porn star-esque positions of sexual seduction--of her to him, with no effort on his part to reciprocate. He keeps asking "do you wanna?" You know what, Trace, she might "wanna" a whole hell of a lot more if she weren't so damn exhausted. Why don't you try helping out a bit?

So Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers out there. Take some time this weekend to reflect on what this part of your identity means and how it informs the others. 

What songs have you found inspirational to the way we balance motherhood with other parts of our identities?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Media and the "Illusion of Choice"

Check out this info graphic from Frugal Dad about who owns our media. Remember that media is a pervasive force that helps shape the way we view reality. The average teen consumes 10 hours and 45 minutes of media a day (pdf). The fact that so few companies are in control of this media means that we're not really getting diverse messages. How can we ensure that the media we consume demonstrates multiple viewpoints? How can we avoid falling into a media tunnel? 

Source: Frugal dad

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Haters Gonna Hate (And That's a Good Thing)

I touched upon this issue when I was writing about the Huggies "Dad Test" fiasco, but since the exact same themes are coming up again as I work on this campaign against Kraft's MilkBites commercials, I thought it deserved some more focused attention.

I've been involved in enough online campaigns involving media content to speak fairly confidently about the universality of this phenomenon. Whenever you see a problematic message and call attention to it, there are going to be people who feel compelled to disagree with you.

Don't get me wrong. I'm okay with people disagreeing with me. I've learned a lot from people who disagree with me, but only when they do so with actual arguments. If you have a legitimate point about why an interpretation of a piece of media may be biased, inaccurate, or incomplete--by all means--share it. And there are some people who do that, but the vast majority of the detractors do not. Instead they respond with one of the following dismissals:
I'm a ________ and I'm not offended, so it's not offensive or (even worse) I know a _______ and s/he's not offended, so it's not offensive. 
With Huggies, a lot of women responded to complaints about the sexist commercials that disparaged dads' ability to parent with something like "My husband thinks these commercials are funny, so I don't know what's wrong with you people who are so offended." With the MilkBites campaign that uses stereotypes about biracial people, someone told me "I'm the biracial son of a biracial man, and I don't find this offensive at all."

Look, offensiveness is not determined by an individual's response. A campaign's potential to offend is determined by an analysis of how a variety of audiences will receive the message, and that means considering things from multiple viewpoints. While you as an individual have every right to your reaction, your individual reaction doesn't speak for the message's reception as a whole, and it doesn't negate someone else's.

Can't you people find something real to worry about
Like what? Telling people on the internet that they care too much? Would that be a better use of my time? This is dismissal, pure and simple. People are capable of caring about more than one cause at a time, and just because this isn't your primary cause doesn't mean that you should try to stop other people from caring about it. There's plenty of passion to go around. Furthermore, just because you don't see the value in the end result doesn't mean it isn't there. For many of us, media messages are the foundation of the way our perceptions about the world are shaped. We often see combatting negative stereotypes in these subtle forms to be a direct way to combat larger, more systemic forms of inequality. In short, this is something real.
It's just a ____________ (commercial, movie, magazine ad, song, etc.)
There is no "just a" text. They are all interconnected and part of the fabric that makes up the way we view the world. The average American teen consumes 10 hours and 45 minutes of media a day. Media has an impact, and ignoring it is shortsighted and dangerous.


But I've said all that before. What working on this MilkBites campaign has taught me is that it's actually a good thing that those people come and say those dismissive things. Here's why. 

A campaign like this usually starts small. One or two people write a blog post and post their concerns on the company's social media sites. The company probably responds with a form response, polite but dismissive and vague. 

But once the movement starts growing, the company tends to stop responding. Maybe they're having some frantic PR meetings to figure out their next move, maybe they just figure it's best not to fan the flames. Whatever the case, when the company falls silent, it can be a hit to the motivation of the protesters. When there isn't a clear fight to be had, it's hard to keep people passionate. 

In come the haters. When these people start with their dismissive, often rude and inflammatory comments (for instance, I've been told to jump off a building because I'm ruining America with my PC-ness and that I'm the "racist" for seeing racism), protesters find a renewed source of energy. Suddenly, the "enemy" (and I use this term loosely, because I truly don't think that these people are enemies, but it fits into a combative narrative) is easy to see. There's something to "win" now. 

Even if the protesters don't directly engage with these commenters (though they often do), I think that the comments give them a sense of why they are protesting to begin with. If you truly see a piece of media as damaging to the collective social fabric, there's nothing more convincing than watching people turn into profanity-laden jerks to try to defend it. Maybe before you were questioning your own cause. "Is this worth it? Does it matter?" you might ask yourself. But now, right in front of your eyes, you have proof that there are people who don't understand the message in the campaign or (worse yet)  understand it and are working to keep it in place. Now you have something to fight for. 

What's a Saying For . . .

. . . when it rains it pours without the necessarily negative connotation?

storm #2
From powazny
In the past few days, a lot has gone on.
  • My daughter contracted Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, which sounds dreadful, like limbs will begin falling off at any given moment, but was actually (thankfully) pretty mild. She had a horrible fever for one day, and then she had gross rashes everywhere that she didn't seem to notice (though I couldn't help but think of her as a little zombie as she ran to give me hugs with her little rash-covered hands. Does that make me a bad mom?) There was some insane juggling of schedules because of missed daycare and work, which wouldn't be all that bad except there's all this other stuff . . . like:
  • Finals week. It's here. That means that I have portfolios to grade and excuses for incompletion to ward off. As well as . . . 
  • Finals week. Since I'm also a student, not only a teacher, I have final papers to write. This was easier during last year's finals because my daughter was still little enough to be subdued with some rocking. She's having none of that. My full attention is required, lest the block towers be stomped mercilessly to the ground without witness. We can't have that. Work is hard to get done. But also . . 
  • I just accepted a new position. I'm going to be teaching full-time developmental writing at a community college, and I am thrilled, thrilled, thrilled. This is (literally) my dream job. I am so excited, and I can't wait to get started, but that means . . . 
  • I'm leaving my students. In the program I coordinate, we have split cohorts, so there's a group of students who I have been working with very closely who I'm now leaving before they graduate. I know they're going to do amazing things, but it makes me a little sad to have to leave them. And the new job also means . . . 
  • I have big decisions to make about my PhD. See, I was getting funding through my employment. I really want to finish, and I'm definitely going to finish coursework and sit for exams, but I'm going to have to pay for the dissertation hours out of pocket, and I definitely can't do it within the required timeframe for completion, so I'm going to have to weigh out all my options. In other news . . . 
  • My Kraft Milkbites petition is getting picked up all over the place and gaining tons of attention. I'm very excited about that, but (do you see this list above?) it's also coming at an overwhelming time, so I feel like I can't give it as much attention as I'd like to. And finally. . . 
  • We think we have a beehive in our office building at work, and there was talk of extermination. I lobbied for the bees, saying the hive could be removed without killing them, and that bees are an important part of the ecosystem, and damn it, I like honey! Of course, my enthusiasm was interpreted as volunteering, so now I am in charge of researching and proposing alternative bee removal methods. 
So yeah, when it rains it pours, only not bad? What would you call that?

I have more to say about lots of these things (except HFM Disease. It's gross. End of story.), but you'll have to excuse me as I try to get a handle on this week.