Armchair Quarterbacks

December 4, 2010

A recent Feministe thread on education has me irked, yet again, by the way education debates usually seem to go. Why is it that we defer to experts on so many other topics, and yet so many Americans seem to think their opinion on education trumps all merely by virtue of having once been educated themselves? Hey, I fly on lots of airplanes–how come Boeing hasn’t hired me as a consultant yet?

I understand that we all want to use our personal experience to make sense of the world. And I realize that I’m not yet a parent, so I don’t have a parental point of view on what it’s like to send a kid through school. But I’m tired of the opinions of educators–those of us who are actually in schools and communities, fighting for better resources for children and young adults–constantly being shouted down by amateur education reform scholars.

Education is underfunded. If you look at the amount we’re shelling out for national security and defense versus education, our priorities are severely out of whack. The US ranks second in GDP purchasing power parity in the world, but it currently ranks 46th in education spending as a portion of total GDP–behind some of the usual characters, like the UK and the Netherlands, but also behind such nations as Cuba and Lesotho.

Educational funding is also seriously inequitable. The same neighborhoods and communities who find themselves shorted on municipal services, police and fire support, and social services are often the very same ones fighting to keep their schools open and adequately funded. Look at the proposed school closures and mergers for an urban district like Boston Public Schools, then try overlaying with crime data (PDF) from those same areas. Hint: Dorchester is District C, just as one starting point.

But beyond that, education is undervalued and maligned as a profession. Whenever individual school unions make unpopular choices, all educational unions–often all teachers–are demonized. When individual public schools and districts fail to meet benchmarks, the successes of other schools–yes, even inner-city public schools–are dismissed. The perceived power of some metropolitan teachers’ unions lead outsiders to paint teachers (and organized labor) with broad strokes. We’re in it for the money. We don’t care about students. We’re making outrageous demands.

All of this demonization also ignores the very real struggles teachers face in the classroom (and wherever educators may work). Although the profession is still perceived as female-dominated, the narrative of female teachers and male administrators is still sadly alive and well–including in many of our graduate programs. Male teachers, meanwhile, particularly at the lower levels, still face social stigma thanks to the sensationalized threat of sexual predators in classrooms. All of us who work with so-called “troubled” youth have to wade through self-perpetuating narratives of underperformance, not to mention ignorance among parents, colleagues and community members about issues like learning disabilities and mental illness.

Those of you who don’t work in education might have the luxury of throwing up your hands and declaring the system broken. But those of us who are educators can’t, and don’t, do that. We go to work every day, and we bring our jobs home with us every afternoon (or night). Not because we’re getting glory, or money, or power, or fame–because we love what we do, and because we believe in a better world for our students. We are building it with our hearts and minds and hands every day.

Teaching While Tattooed

April 27, 2010

Jill’s recent Feministe post on dress codes for female attorneys has been rolling around in my brain for quite some time. I’m not a lawyer, but as a person with ladybits, some double standards about “professional” attire still impact me.

In some ways, I’m fortunate to have chosen this career path–from what I’ve read and heard from friends, courtrooms and the corporate world (just as two examples) can be extremely unforgiving for women who deviate from the rules, not to mention those of us who fall anywhere on the gender-variant spectrum (and tend to have kind of a hard time no matter where we work). A public school, on the other hand, is comparatively quite relaxed; some of my colleagues wear jeans on any given day of the week, and I’ve been known to wear flip-flops from time to time.

This relatively casual atmosphere, however, is never a given, and I walk into any interview or professional development event or major administrative meeting with considerably more formality than in my daily work life–which includes covering my tattoos.

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We’re* Not An Afterthought

May 1, 2009

I’m not impressed with some of the big feminist blogs’ handling of Wednesday’s events in the New Hampshire Senate.

In summary, both Feministe and Feministing threw up “Yay NH!” posts after marriage equality passed in the Senate. After commenters quickly called them out on not mentioning that the senate also rejected trans* rights protections, both Jill and Vanessa updated their posts to include that information–although in both posts the update was more along the lines of “Whoops! And also this happened” with little discussion or information. (Jill gets more credit for linking this article and quoting three paragraphs; Vanessa’s update consisted of two lines and two links, one of which was actually another Feministing post.)

So why wasn’t the anti-discrimination law on the radar, and why does it matter that it only got tacked on to these two posts?

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Why blog?

February 7, 2008

Over the past few days I’ve been watching a comments thread blow up into this massive derail where eventually people just starting really freaking out and saying really awful things to each other. I’ve refrained from commenting myself, despite the strong urge to pipe in (for no good reason, I might add), but I’ve been watching it all unfold like a really slow trainwreck. And even though I didn’t end up personally hurt or offended by jumping into the fray, nonetheless it’s gotten me thinking again about whether this whole blogging thing is really worthwhile.

I mean, at its worst, blogging can be really alienating. Internet anonymity can truly bring out the worst in people, from vicious slurs to crazy site attacks to threats that spill over into real life. And I sometimes wonder if all this venom going back and forth can do anything but get in the way of productive discourse. Are we really all just sitting around at our keyboards, wasting life away while we pwn each other from afar?

But then I think about how I started reading blogs. If it weren’t for Feministe and Feministing I might not identify as a feminist. Because I’m not a big news consumer, I never would’ve found out about a lot of things going on in the world. If I hadn’t started reading Dooce I might not have wanted to blog myself, and I never would’ve been linked by one of the bloggers I admire and respect the most.

There isn’t really a Grand Point to this post. I wish there were a little more kindess in the world, and a little more civility online. I hope we’re actually engaging in coalition-building. I know that every time someone comments here, I get a little thrill. I love knowing that someone somewhere far away is thinking about the same things that I am, even for just a moment.

(Yes, this is the “I love you guys” part of the post, and I haven’t even been drinking. This entry has officially jumped the shark.)

You move me

July 3, 2007

I’ve been noticing a trend (one that was clearly there already–this is nothing new) among progressives to totally discount religion, often while mocking the religious, as ridiculous, unnecessary, and/or inherently harmful. (I noticed it most recently in this thread about circumcision, which I haven’t jumped into at all because as a dyke I don’t think I really should get any say in anybody’s boyparts.) And I have to say, as a progressive person with some religious tendencies, that strikes me as really sad.

I will totally concede that I have heard some totally wack shit from religious folk, particularly fundamentalists of various stripes. And I know enough about our major world religions to know that many of their core texts reinforce a lot of the patriarchical values cherished historically, which ideally wouldn’t have a place in today’s world. And believe me, having come from a school whose mascot was the Crusader (yes, those Crusades), I’m painfully aware of the myriad ways religions have been used to excuse utterly vile abuse, oppression, and violence.

But knowing all these things, I’m not ready to condemn all religions or all religious people.

Why not? Well, I see some value in a few of the teachings that seem to weave through most faiths: respect for human life, a desire to do good, an aspiration to some kind of higher existence. And because I see so much hope. I see congregations fighting to let women be clergical leaders. I see bishops fighting for marriage equality. I read sermons urging racial equality. So forgive me if I’m not willing to throw all that away.

I guess I just don’t see how it’s helpful to attack the Catholic church when there are Catholics out there working for social justice, or to declare the Muslim religion inherently backward and violent when there are Muslim women promoting feminist causes in the face of incredible opposition. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t call religions and the religious on the kinds of injustice that still persist under the banner of spirituality; we absolutely should. But I really can’t understand what is productive about the current tone of discourse so many progressives seem to enjoy when it comes to matters of faith.

Can anyone enlighten me?

I’m sorry, come again?

May 15, 2007

I’ve been thinking lately about how I came to feminism. I wouldn’t really have called myself a feminist until about a year ago, despite clearly holding feminist ideals dear. In fact, I was pretty turned off by what I saw as feminism when a woman told me that the movement could use “women who look like [me].” I didn’t feel like being anybody’s token dyke, and I was more than a little offended.

Are we really some kind of endangered species? I’m sure she meant well, but the whole thing was really off-putting. But lately it’s gotten me thinking about where feminism and sexuality and gender identity collide, because that’s where most of my writing and my thoughts these days fit in.

I’d like to think that the days of “We’ll get to you when the bigger issues are hammered out, ladies” are gone (If These Walls Could Talk 2, anyone?), but unfortunately I think there’s still some friction between “mainstream” feminists and so-called “lesbian feminists.” In my mind, there shouldn’t be a distinction. But I don’t want to bash anyone’s chosen identity, and it would be equally wrong to ignore the ways that feminism and lesbian feminism fail to overlap.

Part of the problem, as I see it, is a problem of representation. When we talk about sexual harassment, we often don’t talk about how frequently lesbians are harassed. When we talk about wage and job equality, we often fail to mention that lesbians in many states aren’t protected from being fired in the private sector due to their sexual orientation. When we talk about balancing career and family, we often ignore the fact that many women who would love to be starting a family face serious obstacles because they can’t legally marry.

As for gender identity, unfortunately it seems there’s still considerable backlash against lesbians and trans folk. A lot of women still seem to see us as the patriarchy. If we’re dressing in men’s clothing, adopting male pronouns, or taking on “masculine” behaviors and identities, we can’t possibly have a stake in women’s equality, right?


Let me put it bluntly: The fact that I wear boxer briefs and neckties is never going to magically bestow male privilege upon me. I’m still at risk for rape and sexual assault. I still may face significant barriers accessing birth control. I can still recognize that women all over the world are being oppressed, abused, and killed because of their gender. And because I’m a lesbian, and a gender deviant at that, I face the additional risk of being fired for my sexuality, having my access to health care blocked, not being able to have children (either naturally or through adoption), not having my (future) marriage recognized throughout the country, and getting security called on my ass in the bathroom.

I should say that a lot of the feminist blogosphere gets this. Feministe, Pandagon and Feministing are all very inclusive. But even on those sites (and elsewhere), every once in a while the tiny cry of “What about the homos?” gets shot down immediately.

Queer issues are feminist issues. Gender issues are feminist issues. We should be forging alliances, not splintering. Why can’t we get more straight women to fight for same-sex marriage? Why don’t more lesbians speak out about the wage gap? Until we find some kind of solidarity, divide and conquer is working against us.

This and that

May 9, 2007

Phew. Winding down my first year of grad school while suffering a relapse of my chronic back pain and a killer round of seasonal allergies has meant I haven’t posted as regularly as I’d like. Heck, I even missed shameless self-promotion Sunday this week, which is a travesty. Anyway, until I can get to some of the things floating around in my wee brain (like the hunger strike over at my alma mater, butch visibility, rural queerness, and how it’s possible for Boston to support so many different queer women’s dance nights with such distinct clienteles), here are some quick hits on things that I’ve come across at work lately. (Shhh…)

In 1995, California became the first state to specifically ban gender differences in pricing for services. Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D- San Francisco) had introduced AB 1100, The Gender Tax Repeal Act, a year earlier, but the first version was overturned by the governor. From a press release:

Upon introduction of this year’s bill, Speier met with the Administration and carved out a compromise agreement which reduced the scope of the bill to include only services and not products. Language was also added to clarify that price differences based specifically upon the amount of time, difficulty or cost of providing the service are not prohibited.

The only good link I could find was to a Harvard Law Review article in JSTOR, so apologies to those of you without fancy-pants institutions.

I also uncovered the text of “A Million Jockers, Punks, and Queens: sex among American male prisoners and its implications for concepts of sexual orientation,” a lecture delivered by Stephen Donaldson at the Columbia University Seminar on Homosexualities in 1993. Here’s a bit from the beginning that I found particularly interesting:

Considering the numerical significance of the prisoner population, not only at any one time but in terms of the enormous cumulative number of American males who have experienced the subculture of confinement, it is remarkable that the sexuality of prisoners has barely been examined by academically-affiliated scholars. Remarkable, but understandable: the walls exist as much to keep civilians out as to keep the prisoners in, and academics are generally more interested in studying middle-class people like themselves.

Donaldson goes on to point out one of the signs that language isn’t universal when it comes to notions of sex and sexuality (he’s referencing a study by Nacci and Kane of homosexuality in federal prisons):

The federal employee doing interviews asked prisoners: ‘Have you had a homosexual experience in prison as an adult?” The middle-class researchers think this refers to any same-sex involvement, but the lower-class prisoner thinks he is being asked about passive behavior, since he does not consider penetration of another male to be a ‘homosexual’ act; he may be fucking his cellmate every night but will truthfully, as far as he is concerned, answer ‘no.’ And many of the researchers and interviewers have been employees of the authorities whose main purpose appears to be to justify existing policies of blanket sexual prohibition rather than to understand actual behavior.

Interesting stuff. You can read the rest (I plan to) at Stop Prison Rape.