Friday, April 26, 2013

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

It is April, but come hell (in the form of every single paper to grade ever, final papers to write for grad school, and books to read) or high water (in the form of, well, high water as it's been raining forever and there are flood warning everywhere), I'm getting you your links for the week!

Here's what I've been reading that made me smile (The Good), cry (The Bad), and think (The Curious).

Please add anything you've been reading or writing in the comments!

The Good

“It was a gut check, for sure, but we had to draw a line in the sand,” agreed Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S. Carolina). “If we had voted the way the American people wanted us to, it would have sent the message that we’re here in Washington to be nothing more than their elected representatives.”

  • Live music is found to help soothe premature babies.
  • The ELLA Leadership Institute has some great tips for bloggers on professionalization.
  • A friend of mine sent me a link to the top ten strongest non-superhero women in comics.
  • Tori at Anytime Yoga wrote an excellent post about why she is not "brave" to be teaching students in a "bad" neighborhood:
    It devalues my kids, makes them out to be somehow worse than all the other teenagers in all the other high schools. They are not, and it is bigoted to imply otherwise. 

The Bad

  • Think Progress reports on what happened when a gay couple in Missouri were discriminated against by a hospital, even after they had taken all the legally-allowed steps to protect their rights as a couple.  
  • MRA rape and death threats. Pleasant.
  • A Houston-based CBS affiliate ran a reader poll to decide if this professional cheerleader was too fat for her chosen profession. Seriously. They did that.
  • This student decided he needed to protest a Take Back the Night event aimed at raising awareness about sexual assaults by holding up a sign that said "You Deserve Rape." Seriously. He did that.
  • The (very) rich got richer. The poor (if you count 93% of America in "the poor") didn't.

The Curious 

  • Birthing Beautiful Ideas takes on the sexism of a Wall Street Journal article that says women only go to professional blogging conferences to escape the chaos of motherhood. It's basically all pillow fights and boob-size comparison, you know?
  • Danielle at from two one explains why blogging can be so exhausting, especially when it starts to look like middle school. (Maybe those bloggers need to go to a conference so they can have a pillow fight or two.)
  • This article from the Chronicle on how "slash" has entered the vernacular as a new slang word is fascinating! If you don't read anything else I link to today, you should go read this one.
  • Cori Mattli has a wonderful piece over at The Feminist Wire about becoming an anti-racist feminist.
  • A recent article from the International Journal of Epidemiology suggests that the science doesn't justify our societal panic over obesity and overweight.
  • The Root tackles a reader question about whether it's okay for people to say that biracial children are the "most beautiful." (Hint: it's not.)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Advertising Industry and Beauty Norms: Further Reflections on Dove's Sketches

Last week, I watched the Dove Sketches commercial and I (like many of my friends and acquaintances) was positively impacted by the message that I am more beautiful than I think. I then did some thinking about it and realized that it was still sending a message about beauty being the primary goal, which can be a problem. Trying to reconcile my own liking of the video with this problematic message, I wrote a somewhat convoluted post about the definition of beauty. Ultimately, I think I was working too hard to jump through hoops to justify liking the video.

Since then, I've read a lot about this campaign. This post from Little Drops does an excellent job of demonstrating the problems with the video. It not only reinforces "beauty" as the goal, it reinforces a very narrow standard of beauty by focusing on whiteness and thinness. I saw the parody video. I read the objections and the defenses and I did some thinking.

Then, when I wasn't actively thinking about it at all, something happened that made me think about it in yet another way.

I haven't had cable or satellite for almost two years. This has meant that my exposure to commercials has been cut way down. Last week, though, I gave in to ATT and got U-Verse. Today I was cleaning my living room and watching a Roseanne marathon.

Roseanne is a show that is known for pushing the envelope. It dared to show a woman who wasn't a perfect mother, who was working class, and whose body didn't fit the narrow definitions of beauty standards. In the episode I was watching, Roseanne dared to refer to her own body as beautiful and "hot" multiple times. Sure, she was playing up the societal discord for laughs, but she was also displaying confidence and empowerment. Roseanne is a show (even two decades later) that challenges our norms.

In the midst of this show, I was given these two ads back to back. One is for Jenny Craig and features a woman who cries because she only has one picture of herself since her child was born. She says that now that she's lost 30 pounds she is willing to be in the pictures of her own life again.

While looking for the clip online, I found another clip of the same woman explaining that she now sees herself as "beautiful," something she "never" would have said before losing the weight.

Immediately following this ad, I was displayed a commercial for Greek yogurt that features a complete stranger berating a mother for sacrificing her own appearance to be a better parent. The stranger mocks her hair and tells her that she can at least have good yogurt without sacrifices. 

It's no coincidence that these ads are both aimed at middle-aged mothers. They ran during Roseanne, and they were preying on that particular demographic. 

It doesn't take nearly as much analysis to unpack the messages in these ads. You are flawed. Fix yourself. Lose the weight so that you can be worthy of being in the pictures of your own life because right now you're hideous and right to hide from the camera. The marketing strategy is dependent upon making us feel bad about ourselves so that we will throw money at the gaping hole in our self-reflection that ads like this spend their time carving out of us.

Since it had been so long since I'd seen an ad on TV, it was easy for me to view the Dove ads in something of a vacuum. Once I remembered the context in which they were airing, though, I had to rethink my stance a little.

Look, there has been a lot of speculation about whether the marketers at Dove are sincere about their desire to make women feel better about themselves. Chief among these concerns is the evidence that the company that owns Dove, Unilever, also owns AXE, and those commercials are basically cesspools of misogyny.

In my mind, there is no speculation. I have absolutely no belief that whoever greenlighted and funded the Dove campaign gives a damn whether I feel good about myself or not. The company cares about what all companies care about: making money.

Dove, though, is making a bet that they don't have to make women feel horrible about their own bodies in order to turn a profit. Dove is betting that we're pretty fed up with being told day in and day out that our skin, hair, eyes, teeth, nails, and eyelashes are flawed. Dove is hoping that people are sick of the way that the beauty industry assumes that it doesn't matter how horrible it treats us, that--in fact--the worse it treats us the more money we will throw at it to make it go away. Dove is hoping that we're a little bit smarter than that, that we're opening our eyes, that we aren't going to accept that marketing strategy forever.

So, is Dove still trying to focus on physical beauty? Of course they are. They sell beauty products. Is Dove giving in to an image of beauty that is narrowly constructed with all kinds of privilege built in? Of course they are. They sell beauty products in America.

I am not excusing the problematic aspects of Dove's ad. I am not saying that we shouldn't be talking about those things or that Dove doesn't have a responsibility to its consumers to do a better job.

I am saying, though, that what Dove is doing isn't heartening because of what it says about Dove. What Dove is doing is heartening because of what it says about us. Dove is pouring money into these campaigns because they think it will pay off in the long run, and they think it will pay off in the long run because they've heard us saying that we're sick of being treated like mannequins for products instead of human beings with lives. They've seen things like the #KeepItReal campaign (which I wrote about before) and the SPARK Movement. They've seen the power of social media in breaking through previously impervious marketing lies, and they are making a bet on the future.

What's really great about Dove is that it shows that companies can listen. They might not get it 100% right, but it's a lot better than 100% wrong.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Remembering, Forgiving, and Grieving

Four years ago today, my dad died.

It was not the first time I thought that I had lost him forever, but it was the only time that it was true.

I struggle with how to talk about my father. Our relationship was strained. Part of me feels like these things should be secret, private, quiet. But the fact of the matter is that they are not secret. They are not private. And if they are now quiet, it is only because people have moved on to other things.

When my parents divorced, I was twelve years old. The court room proceedings were treated like a live taping of a talk show by many of the people in my small hometown. I have vivid memories of overhearing people saying that they had to hurry back from the lunch break because they didn't want to miss anything. It certainly had intrigue: sexual deviance, illicit affairs, physical abuse, mental anguish. This was high drama.

That part is not my story to tell, though. I was locked out of the courtroom to keep me "safe" from the words on the other side of the glass. I sat alone with my little sister and watched character witnesses take the stand, imagining what kind of words their angry faces might be producing.

Everyone knew everything. They whispered it in the hallways at school. Parents used it as evidence to keep their kids away from me because my family was "troubled." There is nothing secret about this story except the parts that people have forgotten. Anything they didn't know, they made up.

Anne Lamott says "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should've behaved better."

So here is a story.

My father told me to "get out" of his house and "never come back" when I was fourteen years old, and I mostly obeyed. He was angry with me for "taking sides," which--as far as I can tell--meant telling the truth. Looking back on it now, I don't think he meant it, but I listened. I left, and we exchanged only the tiniest of words for nearly a decade.

I had enough time to fall into some bad teenage habits, climb out of them, graduate high school, go to college, meet my husband, become the first person in my family to graduate college, and start graduate school before we really spoke again.

Our conversations were cautious. There were booby traps everywhere, things we could not say, things we could not even think. We stuck to safe topics: politics and religion.

I invited him to my wedding, but I could not ask him to walk me down the aisle. I was afraid he wouldn't come. I couldn't risk it.

He did come. He kept telling his family members that he was just going to stay "for a little while." There were, after all, unresolved tensions around every corner, and I wasn't the only source of them.  I'm sure he felt judged and anxious. I'm sure he was worried he would be unwelcome by not just me, but many of my guests.

He was one of the last people off the dance floor at the end of the night.

There are no excuses for many of the things my father did, and I will not try to create them. He hurt people. He hurt me. He abused. He destroyed.

One of the hardest parts of reconciling was realizing that I could not forgive him for the hurt he caused anyone else. I could only forgive him for the hurt he caused me. That was the only part I had any ownership over. I did it grudgingly. It was like I was climbing out of a ditch full of thorns. Every time I turned around to untangle myself from them, I got caught somewhere else. There was so much anger, so much blame, and so much hurt. I had finally gotten my arms over the top of the ditch. I was ready to pull myself out.

It was supposed to be a routine surgery. They were going to remove some arterial blockage. I stopped by the hospital on the way to a friend's birthday dinner. I gave him a cutesy "Get Well" card with a dog on it. I signed it, for the first time in over a decade, "Love."

The surgery was over and we were lighthearted. I gave him the card, he read it, and we joked and smiled. I said I would come back to see him tomorrow, and I left to go to dinner. As I walked out of the room, he said "I love you, baby." Maybe my signed "Love" had given him the courage to say words he'd been wanting to say for years? Maybe it was just a casual goodbye? It was the first time he had told me he loved me in my adult life, and it would be the last.

There were complications, and everything moved so quickly. By the time I made it back to the hospital, he was unconscious. We were given glimmers of hope. They had removed part of his intestines, but if blood started flowing, he could live. Pieces of his organs started failing slowly. The doctors started to refer to them, but not yet him, as "dead."

I was so angry, but I had no where to point it. Was I angry at myself for not climbing out of the ditch faster? Was I angry at him for putting me in it to begin with? Was I angry at the doctors who had apparently nicked an intestine during a routine surgery? Was I angry at my family whose abuse I could not forget and did not have the authority to forgive?

I was left alone with his body on a life support machine. I felt silly. He wasn't there.

It was clear that I was supposed to do something, to say something, to feel something. I sat next to his pale body and held his stiffening hand. "I'm sorry for hurting you, and I forgive you."

That was supposed to be the end of it, I think. Symbolically, that's what you do. But he wasn't there to hear it. I forgave a corpse, and I knew it.

It could have been much worse. I could have continued not talking to him. He could have died with me still at the bottom of that pit, still lying beneath the tangle of thorns, still seething. I think the thing that frustrates me most is that I was so close to the top. It didn't take a tragedy to repair our bonds. We were doing it slowly, cautiously, thorn-by-stubborn-thorn. We needed more time.

We needed more time, but we didn't have it. I try to tell myself that it was enough, but I'm not always sure.

I want to end this with something positive, some message to take away, some lesson. I don't have that. All I know is that life is short, memories can be long, and forgiveness can be hard.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Should Beauty Be the Goal?

Dove has released a new campaign project that is going viral. 

In the video, a forensic artist asks people to describe their own faces as he sketches them. Then he asks someone who met the person for the project to describe their companion. He then shows the two sketches (the way we see ourselves and the way others see us) to the participants. It pretty powerfully demonstrates that we are much harsher on ourselves than the world around us. It ends with the phrase "you are more beautiful than you think."

I noticed that one of the YouTube comments has been collapsed for receiving so many downvotes. This commenter had this to say:
this is bullshit. its okay to be ugly, that should be the message, not that your self-perception of your own beauty is false.

and what that woman said, that she should be more grateful for her natural beauty, because it effects all her choices? that's not a good beauty image.

you're allowed to be ugly and it should not hinder to achieve any of your goals in life.
Obviously, her response is not being received well by the doting public that is responding to this video with overwhelming positivity.

Her response made me think about a recent post from Tori at Anytime Yoga. In that post, Tori said:
Sometimes I think of my body as beautiful; a lot of times I do not. And I am okay with both of those. Moreover, whether or not people perceive me as beautiful does not matter in terms of how I fundamentally expect they should treat me.

Regardless of whether I am beautiful, I expect that I should be able to find clothing appropriate to my body and daily activities. Regardless of whether I am beautiful, I expect that I should be able to walk or run down the street or in a store without someone insinuating or flat out stating that my appearance is embarrassing, offensive, or that I need to cover up.
Is Beauty a Moral Imperative?

I completely agree with Tori's point. Beauty is not a moral imperative. You do not have to be beautiful to deserve respect as a human being. Both Tori and the YouTube commenter are getting at the same point: do you have to see yourself as beautiful in order to reach your life goals? Should seeing yourself as beautiful be a precursor to those goals?

The Dove campaign certainly thinks so. They think that seeing ourselves as ugly is holding us back. They tell us to focus on the parts of ourselves that we like.

Yet, the message is ultimately still one that focuses on beauty. At the end of the day, we're still concerned with whether or not we are beautiful before we can be concerned with anything else.

I completely respect the stance that beauty shouldn't enter into the equation at all. I wish that I lived in a world where it didn't matter how I saw myself or how I thought others perceived me. That world, though, is so far from my current reality that I can't ignore the work that messages like this Dove campaign are doing.

Defining Beauty

I am conflicted. Being the language nerd that I am, I (of course) turn to the Oxford English Dictionary when I am conflicted.

The OED has this to say on beauty: 
1. Such combined perfection of form and charm of colouring as affords keen pleasure to the sense of sight
2. That quality or combination of qualities which affords keen pleasure to other senses (e.g. that of hearing), or which charms the intellectual or moral faculties, through inherent grace, or fitness to a desired end
3. The prevailing fashion or standard of the beautiful. (Now obscure)
There are more, but I think that these three do a good job of demonstrating the tension in our discussion of whether "beauty" should be our goal.

To Look Beautiful

For the most part, we define beauty today in that first way. It means to be pleasant to the sense of sight. You are beautiful when your appearance is pleasing, either to yourself or other people. That's why we say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It's the visual that matters.

What's in my makeup bag

We can see why this could be a problematic goal. All of that focus on appearance gives the beauty industry the motivation to provide us with a series of "problems" we need to "fix." We need the right tweezers to remove the hair from our brows and the right gel to remove the hair from our upper lips. We need the right underwear to ensure there are no bulges in our middles and to ensure there are the proper bulges in our breasts. We need to be bleached, slathered, scented, and polished. We need our eyelashes lengthened and our teeth whitened. We need our wrinkles smoothed, our hair dyed, and our muscles toned. If we "fix" all of those "problems," the industry will be ready with some more. As long as there are products that can be hocked to fill in the gap, we will be flawed.

This is a problem that disproportionately effects women. One study found that women spend an average of three years getting ready. Another study suggests that the gender gap is closing, but not in the way we'd hope. Now we're all wasting too much time making ourselves physically acceptable by constantly shifting standards.

The Dove video certainly focused on those self-perceived flaws. People talked about the roundness of their faces and the jutting of their chins with venom. We can be cruel to ourselves.

Other Ways to Be Beautiful

But let's take a second and look at that second definition of beauty. Here it is not just visual pleasure, but "keen pleasure to the other senses" and that "which charms the intellectual or moral faculties." We don't have to just look pleasing to be beautiful, then. We can be beautiful because we have a lovely singing voice or because we are great conversationalists or because we bring joy to those around us. Beauty is not just about how we look.

If you listen carefully to the participants in the Dove campaign, you'll hear much of this shift taking place. The people who are asked to describe their new acquaintance's face often focus on things that aren't just purely visually pleasing. They talk about people having "nice eyes" that "lit up" when they spoke. When people looked at their own pictures, they described the ones designed by strangers to be more "open" and friendly. In other words, they weren't just focusing on how they looked but also on how they interacted with the world around them.

That haircut is not going to last, but the impact you have on the world just might.

Physical Beauty is Fickle 

This brings me to the third definition. The now defunct idea that "beauty" means the "prevailing fashion" demonstrates the old adage that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." In many ways, the definition of beauty (especially physical beauty) is going to continue to shift over time. We will never reach it because it is not an attainable end point but a shifting (and subjective) standard.

If beauty is seen more in that second way, though, there are a lot more stable things we can strive for that are tied up in its conceptualization. If being a "beautiful" person means being someone who brings pleasure and joy to the world around us, the goal becomes less about plucking, bleaching, scrubbing, and slicing our bodies into the narrow standard of acceptability and more about examining how our contributions to the world impact those around us.

The Dove campaign tells us that we are more beautiful than we think not because there aren't bags under our eyes or because there isn't grey in our hair, but because those things don't matter very much to that more pervasive, powerful understanding of beauty.

We Have the Right to Look Ugly, but Do We Have the Right to "Act Ugly"?

That YouTube commenter is right. We have the right to be physically "ugly" and still be treated with dignity and respect. But there is more than one way to be ugly, and I'm reminded of my mother telling me to not "act ugly" as a child. To act ugly was to be unkind or snotty. To act ugly was to not extend the dignity and respect to others that I myself deserved.

I don't think we have a moral imperative to be physically beautiful, but what about our responsibility to be beautiful in our interactions with the world around us? Dove says that they are "committed to creating a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety." If that's true, could this video and their concept in general be used to show us what striving for a broader beauty really means?

Photo: lo83

Woman Says Having Kids is Her Biggest Regret

Isabella Dutton says that having her two children (now grown) was the biggest regret of her life. She calls them "parasites" who took from her without giving anything back. 

She admits that she "always hated the idea of motherhood" and that she had the children primarily to appease her husband, who always wanted them. She says that her children "interloped" on her peace and that she has never gotten it back, even now. Part of this is because her now-adult daughter has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and she still cares for her. 

There's been a lot of discussion surrounding this article. Here's a response one man wrote that focuses on how irresponsible it was for a woman to have children when she knew she didn't want them. Femamom admits that she's appalled by the story, but wonders if she would react the same way if a father had penned it. The comments in this post at Mamamia are particularly interesting, with many commenters admitting to similar feelings themselves or, at the very least, voicing sympathy for Dutton's position. 

I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to say that I was sympathetic to this woman who took on the role of mother because it was culturally assumed that she would do so even as she knew that it wasn't a role she wanted. Sometimes it seems that there isn't much room in our social norms for a woman who doesn't want children even today, and her husband certainly seemed to ignore her insistence that this wasn't the life she wanted, assuming she would change her mind as time passed. 

LC-USZ62-26741 Baby Carriage 1912

Some people saw her as presenting herself as a martyr who sacrificed her own individualism for the sake of her children despite knowing how much that sacrifice would cost her. 

What struck me the most, though, wasn't the martyrdom so much as the smug superiority. Dutton doesn't just admit that she regrets the choice she made to become a parent, she makes sure that her readers understand that after she made that choice she made all the right ones and that if we don't make the same ones, we're bad parents. At one point, she even explicitly says that her decision to have children she didn't want and never enjoyed having was morally superior to us parents who have children and then allow "someone else" to "raise them" by using daycares or nannies. 

This piece is drawing a lot of ire for the coldness with which this mother approaches her children's well-being. In fact, it seems written in a way to draw just that ire. When her son was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, he was whisked away to receive medical attention. Dutton admits she felt no apprehension and didn't even bother to ask the doctors if her son was okay:
I did not really think about Stuart at all, until Tony returned after work and asked where he was.
He was fine, of course, but when they wheeled him back into the ward I did not experience that sudden leap of the heart that new mums are expected to feel. Instead I sat down with a cup of tea and thought bleakly, 'What have I done?'
Another such passage reveals that she left her three-week old son outside of a store with the dog while she bought bread and then forgot them both there. It was the dog's absence that made her realize her mistake:
I missed the dog before it even occurred to me that I'd left Stuart outside the shop.
I can't say, even then, that I was worried. I just rang the baker to check Stuart and the dog were still outside, retrieved them and came home.
She recounts frustration with strangers cooing over her baby and saying how cute he was, thinking to herself that it was a lie.

These passages lead me to think that Dutton not only expects but relishes our rage. She knows that she is saying things that she's not "supposed" to say, and she's choosing anecdotes from her parenting that specifically illustrate that point.

Hidden amongst these anger-inducing snippets, though, is a more insidious thread. Dutton has a very clear picture of what it means to be a mother, and--in her estimation--she met the mark in every way.

Real Mothers Don't Use Daycare

Dutton says that she knew that she would never leave her children in someone else's care because that's not what a mother is supposed to do:
I cannot understand mothers who insist they want children - especially those who undergo years of fertility treatment - then race back to work at the earliest opportunity after giving birth, leaving the vital job of caring for them to strangers.
Real Mothers Don't Only Have One Child 
Two years and four months after Stuart was born, I had my daughter Jo. It may seem perverse that I had a second child in view of my aversion to them, but I believe it is utterly selfish to have an only one.
Real Mothers Breastfeed 
Back home, I resolved to breastfeed. I knew it would be best for Stuart and I think every mother should do it. But even during this intimate act, that elusive bond failed to form.
Ultimately, Dutton admits to her superior opinion on the way that mothering is supposed to be done:
And here, perhaps, is the nub of it: I would not take on the job of motherhood and do it half-heartedly. Unlike so many would-be mums I thought hard about the responsibilities of my role, and, I believe, if more women did before rushing heedlessly into it, they might share my reservations.
She doesn't care if we're judging her because she's too busy judging us. We're the ones doing it wrong. Those of us who are buying toys and showing love and not forgetting our children outside of store fronts have it all backwards. We're supposed to be utterly miserable while we parent and if we're not miserable, then we're not giving enough.

That, ultimately, is why I can have no sympathy for Dutton's admissions. I think that it's valuable for women to be able to admit that motherhood can be overwhelming. I think it's incredibly valuable for women to be able to admit that they don't want to be mothers at all, and society needs to accept that. I want to be on Dutton's side, but she ultimately paints a picture of motherhood that is so bleak, so cruel, and so harrowing that I cannot condone the message she's sending in any way.

The saddest part of all to me is that she recognizes in her husband a great father. She admits that she guarded her child-free time and did no child-rearing duties when her husband was around. He was the one chasing children and taking care of what we often think of as "motherly" duties. Framed a different way, their arrangement could be one of equally shared parenting where both parents have time and space to pursue their own interests as well as parenting. Framed the way Dutton frames it, though, he is allowed the life he wants while she gives up everything except the fleeting moments where he distracts the children from bothering her.

Finally, she ends with this line:
And that, maybe, is the paradox. I am a conscientious and caring parent - yet perhaps I would have resented my children less had I not been.
She seems to think that it is precisely her high standards for parenting that made her so miserable. In many ways, I agree with her. If she had been willing to allow caretakers to help with the day-to-day duties of raising a child, she wouldn't have felt so isolated. If she hadn't felt it was "selfish" to have only one child, maybe she wouldn't have felt the pressure to bring another person she didn't want into the world. She has taken the worst of the stereotypes we have about what makes a "good" mother and combined them into a prison of her own making. She thinks that she has upheld the standards, that she has met the goals, but the truth is that the myth of the "perfect mommy" is just that: a myth.

What do you think about Dutton's piece? Do your own standards for a role you play make it harder for you to actually play that role? How do you resolve the conflicts in your roles?

Photo: Children's Bureau Centennial 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

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

I'm not sure T.S. Eliot had stacks of papers to grade, books to read, essays to write, and committee meetings to attend in mind, but April is indeed the cruelest month, especially when the weather is finally nice and you can't go out and play!

Whining aside, here are your links for the week. This is what I've been reading that made me happy (The Good), sad (The Bad), and thoughtful (The Curious).

Let me know what you've been reading (or writing! self promotion's great!) in the comments. 

The Good
  • I'm a total sucker for pop culture academia, so these 18 academic papers about 90s TV shows was right up my alley. The y-suffix to mark group alliances in Buffy? Archetypes in the Golden Girls and Sex and the City? More please. 
  • What were you doing when you were five years old? Maybe you thought tying your shoes was a big deal. Well, this five year old discovered a new dinosaur and then named it after herself.
  • This post from Musing Momma on parenting biracial children and answering questions about physical differences is sweet and smart.  
The Bad
  • A Kansas City man is denied hospital privileges to visit his husband even though he had power of attorney. He was then violently arrested and mistreated by the police.  
The Curious
I believe all of these prepositional aspects of God. I trust in them and appreciate them, especially God being with us and for us. But I want there to be something more.
  • Watch Melissa Harris-Perry brilliantly explain what we all [should] already know about raising children and the collective responsibility of humanity: 

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Monday, April 8, 2013

Guest Post: You’ll Have to Accept Being Half-Ass and Other Tales from the Crib

Today's guest post is from Rhiannon and it takes a look at the intersections between motherhood and adjunct teaching.

Recently, I shared my perspective as a professor and mother at a CSCA conference (Central States Communication Association). Here’s what I had to say on the intersections of motherhood, feminism and adjunct teaching.

For months while I was planning my topic for this panel I thought I would talk about the joys and struggles of motherhood, and teaching at a university with particular attention to breastfeeding. When I imagined writing out my experiences, however, I was invariably drawn to the week of my daughter’s birth.

One year ago this April, I was 9 months pregnant with my second child by birth, third by marriage. That spring I taught a total of seven classes at two universities.. I taught an overload for the same reasons many adjuncts do: to pay the bills and stave off summer poverty. Though I taught seven classes, I earned less than $15,000 that semester. Like most adjuncts, I received no benefits, and no maternity leave. Unlike many adjuncts, I was fortunate to have my husband’s health insurance to help pay for our medical expenses.

Unfortunately, my situation as an adjunct is not unique. According to The Adjunct Project complied by The Chronicle of Higher Education and initiated by fellow adjunct Joshua Boldt, 70% of college faculty are adjunct. Let’s just sit with that data for a moment: 70%, the overwhelming majority of all professors, are adjuncts. These are people like you and me: passionate, educated people who are fortunate to teach subjects to which they dedicate their professions. When I looked up the remuneration for adjuncts in Missouri, the pay ranged from $1500 for a three-credit hour class to $4000. More than likely, you are as unsurprised by these figures as I am. The problem is not related to the bureaucracy of a particular university, or what paths we chose as professionals; the problem is systemic. As Stacy Pattons reports again for The Chronicle of Higher Ed, many adjuncts subsist on their low wages combined with government support. If I had not been privileged to get health insurance from my husband, I, too would have resorted to Medicaid to pay for my child’s birth and my prenatal care. The numbers have skyrocketed in recent years with close to 300,000 folks with Master’s degrees and over 30,000 with PhD’s seeking government aid.

grading wikipedia papers in UCSC's science library

Saturday, April 6, 2013

When Old and New (Media) Collide

In many ways, I'm fully immersed in new media. I live tweet the Oscars and the Super Bowl. I clean my house while personally-tailored Pandora stations blast through my speakers. If I need to tell a friend I'm running late, I often do it through Facebook mobile, where it's likely to be seen the fastest. A few years ago, we untangled ourselves from the web of contracts, ever-changing prices, and awful programming and got rid of cable service, opting to use Netflix streaming and (much later) Hulu to meet our entertainment needs. I have a Kindle Fire, a smart phone, and a computer, all of which I use to consume news content and smart analysis of issues I personally care about through blogs.

New media has made my life easier. When I'm working on a paper for my graduate classes, I take notes in xMind and am able to map out all of the connections between my ideas as well as have quotes that I can drop into the paper all at my finger tips. I keep track of chore lists and calendars through shared apps. I grocery shop with my smart phone open to Zip List.

I love new media.

old TV

Friday, April 5, 2013

Some Days

Some days you have to really buckle down and prioritize all of the things you need to do. If you have a big, long, mean list of things, you might have to make some tough choices. Maybe you need to grade papers, plan lessons, make a summer syllabus, read for a graduate class, start your paper for that same class, study for your PhD exams, replace your rear blinker, put in a load of dishes, work on your new blog project, clean the house, and plan dinner.

Some days all of those things will pile up and stare at you, and you will have to make the decision about what is most important and what can wait, what has to be done to perfection and what can be compromised.

Some days are hard.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

New Project: Developmental Writing Blog!

I know I've been quieter than usual lately, but it's because I've been working on launching an exciting new project!

As you may know, one of the things I balance as "Balancing Jane" is my career as a developmental community college writing instructor. I love this work, and I am looking forward to continuing growing and learning through this career.

With that in mind, I'm excited to announce the creation of Something's Developing, an interactive resource guide for developmental writing instructors and a place to share resources, research, and opinions.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Students are Not Customers Redux, Now With More Links

My previous post about students not being customers has generated a lot of discussion. I truly didn't realize that my point of view (that students are not customers, at least not in the classroom, and that framing them that way negatively impacts the student-teacher relationship) would be so controversial.

I wanted to explore some of the other discussions on this topic, so I've rounded up some of the conversations.

Monday, April 1, 2013

TVs Super Women: What Scandal, Buffy, Parks and Rec, Bones, and Weeds Have in Common

It occurred to me recently that there is a common thread among many of the TV shows I watch. Perhaps it is the feminist in me that enjoys shows featuring a strong female lead whose abilities surpass the expectations of those around her. Whatever it is that draws me to that plot, there are several shows that fit the bill: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Weeds, Parks and Recreation, Scandal, and Bones. (SPOILERS for all of these shows.)

In addition to strong female leads who might be considered super women, all of those shows feature a running theme of community and support networks. Taken together, they can be seen as pop culture's lesson on trying to "do it all." You might be able to do it all, but you can't do it all alone. 

Consider these similarities.

They all feature a strong-but-flawed female protagonist

Buffy- Buffy Summers

Strengths: Anointed as the Slayer, a legendary individual whose sole purpose in life is to slay vampires and other creatures from the supernatural world, Buffy is literally a super hero. She is marked by her physical strength, endurance, strong decision-making skills, and confidence.
Flaw: Despite her strength, she has trouble letting others in and battles the desire to be a normal person free of the responsibilities her power gives her. This theme comes up again and again in the show, culminating in several episodes where she abandons her post, leaving her responsibilities in the hands of people without her capabilities.