My in-laws are currently visiting. They arrived on Sunday afternoon, and will be leaving tomorrow morning.* The time before their arrival, and their visit, has lead me to make some observations about gender in my life.
1) Before coming to visit, my mother-in-law asked my husband to tell me that I shouldn't worry about having everything spick and span, as she was not intending to bring the white gloves. Note: she did not just tell my husband, she specifically told him to tell me. This makes a certain amount of sense, since I tend to notice cleanliness more than my husband (I'm sorry honey, but we both know this is true), but instead of making me less worried it made me more worried. Additionally, it made me a bit mad that we would be held to different standards. Of course, I am judged by the state of the house, but he isn't.
2) This "righteous" anger was quelled a bit, when I realized I, too, have similar judgments. While cleaning the house, I cleaned all of the baseboards and window sills, which were quite filthy. Noticing their filth, I thought to myself, "Wow! ____ _____ sure didn't keep her house very clean." When I related this to my husband, he admitted having similar thoughts directed at the previous male owner of our house, but with regards to the yard and construction of the house. Ah - how the social construction of gender gets perpetuated. Grrr.
It is very frustrating to realize that you are part of the problem. I suppose that's the first step towards recovery. Just as with race, recognizing stereotypical beliefs in oneself is the first step to changing them. Maybe, if I work hard enough, I will not reify gender when visiting my hypothetical, future daughter-in-law. I'll just pick some other arbitrary standard to hold her to. ; )
*I should point out that I really like my in-laws. We just have very different worldviews from time to time.
Warning: This post will include whining. I apologize in advance.
When I was in college, I once got a cold that temporarily rendered me unable to smell. It lasted for about three days, but it was a very strange sensation to try to eat without being able to smell. Food just wasn't fun, but I knew I had to eat or I would get cranky.
This time, I haven't had my voice for over a month. It has been a crazy saga, that started with out-of-whack asthma, moved on to a nasty viral infection, and is still persisting with laryngitis. On Thursday, the doctor told me that I will likely not have my voice for at least two more weeks, and even after it comes back, I should treat it tenderly for a week longer so I don't stress my vocal chords too much. Apparently, if you hurt your vocal chords you can cause a permanent laryngitis-type state.
In the meantime, I've been croaking my way along as best I can. I love the looks from salespeople who ask me how I am. They just aren't expecting me to sound like Dr. Girlfriend, as my husband likes to refer to me right now. I'm not supposed to talk any more than necessary, and I have been using a microphone when I teach my classes. My husband and I write notes to each other.
I was patient with this for the first four weeks. I told all my friends that I would catch up with them when my voice returned. Unfortunately, not talking to my friends for quite some time after moving to a new location has the side-effect of making me feel quite trapped. (I don't spend time in the department, because pretty much all I can do when talking to people is nod and smile, and that just isn't that fun.) Not talking to my friends also makes me feel like quite a shmuck. In particular, my best friend found out that she is pregnant, and I haven't been able to talk to her, except to croak, "Congratulations!" She told me to call when my voice was back - that was three weeks ago.
Anyway, I'm SO ready for this to end. I really miss my voice.
I found this political meme over on Sassafras Junction. My own meme for my as-yet-unborn children follows. I'd love to hear yours.
How to Name Your Offspring the Palin Way!
1. your favorite sport (Track) 2. the city, no, body of water near where you grew up (Bristol) 3. the city in which or nearby you currently live (Willow) 4. cool name, of which there are not many, or, alternately, your favorite bird (Piper) 5. something out of Norse mythology, or favorite school subject (Trig)
1. Badminton (seriously, I really like this sport, and they LOVE this sport in China, so much so that FedEx uses badminton players in its ads) 2. Lake of the Pines (this would get really old, really fast) 3. Lansing (everything's just better there) 4. Oriole (although Titmouse is a close second) 5. Frigg (not the prettiest name, but it means beloved, which is nice)
When I hear beautiful harmony,* I often become nostalgic for my long years in various choirs (mixed male and female, female, and a cappella). Although I am a natural second soprano, I used to sing alto I most often.** I miss the low, sonorous tones of the alto, and the art of getting the harmony just right.*** Singing (and playing the piano, which I did religiously between the ages of 5 and 18) engages a part of my mind that sociology doesn't, and can't.
When finishing dissertations, some people treat themselves to fancy stereo systems, computers, or long weekends in a big city. My present to myself is going to be a piano, and I will allow myself hours of uninterrupted pleasure singing while I play. It's been seven years too long.
*The Wailin' Jennys were my particular inspiration today. They're my latest favorite, and have great potential to displace The Indigo Girls. **For the curious, I was taught that most women are natural sopranos. Due to lack of true altos, many sopranos who are good at reading music sing alto in choirs, only to find out later that they have more range to their voice than they originally thought. However, a true alto and a soprano singing the same note sound different; the altos sound is richer, especially in the lower notes. I recommend Handel's Messiah for examples of alto and first soprano solos that should give you an idea of what I mean. ***I know I'm biased when I say this, but I honestly believe that it's more difficult in many pieces to sing one of the harmony parts, rather than the soprano line, which is typically given the melody line.
So, I have talked/listened to reactions of Sarah Palin's candidacy from democrats. The overwhelming response at the beginning was bewilderment, then a kind of jubilation given her inexperience. My reaction progressed in much the same pattern, but this morning my feelings are different. I am now frightened.
Reports on NPR suggest that Palin's candidacy is really energizing the social conservatives, who, as a group have been lukewarm to McCain. Palin, who is pro-life, opposed to anything but abstinence-only sex education, pro-drilling in ANWAR, anti-polar bear, and advocates teaching intelligent design in public schools, is the social conservative dream come true. This means that the evangelicals might come out to vote in the numbers that helped tip the scales in George W. Bush's favor in the last election.
So, yes, I am frightened. Granted, the vice presidency is typically not the most powerful position in the land. But McCain is OLD, and he's only getting older. If he becomes president, and then suffers health problems, Palin would become president. And that's a thought that should scare all of us who care about the separation of church and state and the environment, if nothing else.
I'm teaching Race and Ethnicity for the first time this fall. On the first day of class, I decided to come clean to my students by "admitting" that I'm white, and that as are many white people in the U.S., I sometimes get uncomfortable talking about race. I followed that by telling them I would do the best job I can. This actually seemed to work, especially with some of the minority students in my class (they actually outnumber the white students). I have found in the past that students appreciate honesty, and they are surprisingly good at sniffing out b.s.
Anyway, I'm still daunted by the task of teaching race. I feel I am a reasonably good teacher, and I have been teaching for close to five years, so I'm not entirely green. I also know the race literature relatively well, although it's not my primary area of interest. But I think part of the problem is that I have never known what it is like to be a minority in our country. Sure, I fell qualified to talk about gender issues, but I have led a privileged life as an upper middle-class white girl. This does not mean I'm unqualified to teach about race, but it does make me unqualified to assume that I understand the experience of being a minority. And I think that this is what makes me uncomfortable. How do I teach about racial stratification without coming across as if I presume to understand the experiences of another group?*
To further elaborate, I'll relate two stories from my class today. I feel that the first one went better, and I'm trying desperately to figure out how I could have better responded to the second. (Again, feedback is welcome.)
First example: I was speaking of people of the black "race" (as in socially constructed physical distinctions) by using the term African American. One of the black students asked me why I was talking about African American as a race instead of as an ethnicity. He used as an example a black man in my class who is from Africa. So, I proceeded to have a conversation with my students about the proper use of black vs. African America. We came to the conclusion that black should be used to talk about racial categories, and African American should be used when talking about ethnicity. This conversation seemed to go pretty well, and the students seemed satisfied.
Second example: I was explaining how the line between ethnicity and race is often blurred, given that people with particular cultural characteristics (ethnicity) tend to have a common ancestry (race), and because of processes such as homophily, people marry within their in-group, perpetuating physical distinctions between groups. As an example of the distinction between ethnicity and race, I mentioned that many Latinos have dark skin, given a shared history of slavery with the U.S., but have very different customs than African Americans based on their ethnicity. A very white-appearing woman raised her hand, explained that she is from Puerto Rico, and said that many very "white" looking Puerto Ricans are currently migrating to the U.S., which is shattering a lot of the stereotypes surrounding Puerto Ricans. I acknowledged her point, and explained I was speaking more of individuals descended from the time of the slave trade, and then told her that I would have never guessed that she was Puerto Rican based solely on her appearance. That was the end of that encounter, but I feel uneasy about how I handled it, especially my last comment.
Perhaps I'm being too hard on myself. I believe I am teaching my course appropriately, and with due diligence to the cannon of race and ethnicity research in sociology. Maybe I need to just relax, and let my students correct me from time to time, as my students did today. Any thoughts?
*If you have any ideas, I would LOVE to hear them.