Saturday, December 14, 2013

Single Person Moment of Triumph

I picked out the six-foot Christmas tree, loaded it into the truck, unloaded it, sawed the end off in eight inches of snow, put it in the stand, straightened it, caught it as it was falling, straightened it again, and put the lights on ALL BY MYSELF. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Some Christmas present...

One of my mentors--a kind, savvy, and ferociously-intelligent academic--was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Say a prayer for R and her family if you think of it. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Singled Out: How Churches Can Embrace Unmarried Adults

Especially as Christmas rolls around, this article should be required reading for those in ministry.  No excerpts, just read it all.

Monday, December 2, 2013

If You Can't Say Something Unrelated to My Gender, then Shut the F*** Up

Spend a few minutes reading the short article and watching this video by Emily Graslie, who is a science reporter/blogger in Chicago.  (Props to facebook friends for bringing attention to it).

I don't know how Graslie remains so poised -- this sort of thing makes me furious -- but we all benefit from her wisdom and clarity when tackling the issue of gender bias against women in science, technology, engineering and math (and one can safely extrapolate to pretty much any academic discipline with significant underrepresentation by women and other minorities).

Awareness is the first step, but lord it feels so small.  And in my heart of hearts I thought we'd be well past the point, in 2013, in a progressive country, where the following still needs to be stated: after a woman presents her work, whether it be in print or in a video or at a conference or during a workshop or lecture, etc., it is never okay for your response to include, let alone be solely comprised of, commentary about her physical appearance, dress, posture, or "mansplaining" (cf. here and here) aspects of her own research back to her.

Do you know how often this sort of thing happens?  In my own experience, more often than not.  In the over 30 talks I've given at this point in my career, I'm hard-pressed to think of more than 9 instances in which I received only appropriate, professional, collegial responses to my work.

That means that after 2 out of every 3 talks, some guy has sauntered up to me with commentary primarily directed at my being female. (Once, a colleague told me he was too distracted by my looks to focus on my talk. ABSOLUTELY OUT OF LINE.)  More frequently I receive special male "instruction" on how to better give my talk or present my own findings, or how to answer certain questions I was asked during Q&A.  One man even gave me advice on how to stand behind the podium during my talk.  In this case, I did tell the man flat out that this was entirely irrelevant, and he should only speak to me further if he has actually understood the content of my research and can formulate a coherent question pertaining to it.  He didn't respond; in fact, he didn't speak to me for the rest of the conference (no great loss on my part).

This behavior is unacceptable.  The fact that people evidently still don't know or realize that this behavior is unacceptable... is unfathomable.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Yet Another Argument for Celibacy

To wit: there is deep inequality in the hook-up culture, and it's women who get short-changed.

No freaking kidding.

If this isn't already entirely obvious to you, read more from the New York Times here.  Mind you, this article focuses solely on physical inequality, to say nothing of inequality in other dimensions -- emotional, spiritual, political, social, that whole "I could bear a living, breathing, human child as a result of this random interaction" dimension.

Also, the article tries (rather feebly, by my lights) to end on a chipper, if flippant, note to the effect that it's far better to have bad sex and feign passing intimacy with a total stranger than to have no sex.

Wow.  Really?

"But," the mainstream singleton protests, "what's one to do if not hook-up?" Maybe -- and I'm just spit-balling here -- maybe choose to focus one's energy on fostering genuine, intimate, non-sexual relationships of myriad kinds and depths and richnesses with a variety of interesting people.  Or take up origami.

"But that doesn't guarantee the same kind of pleasurable experience!"  Neither does causal sex, dearie. Not by a long shot.  Did you even read the article?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Re: L's last Post

I'm no expert at photoshop, but look what I did after work today!

(That's all I got.)

In Which Hugo Chávez Is Praised

The commercialization of a woman's figure in the US is bad, no doubt about it.  But it is nothing compared to the immense pressure our sisters in Venezuela are under regarding their bodies.

The New York Times International today published a short piece (with video) on the rise of plastic surgery in Venezuela among all classes of women despite dire economic circumstances there.  Women will sacrifice all else in order to pay, and pay, and be perfected.

You can watch the 5-min video here.  Warning:  there are a few graphic surgery shots.

After you've seen it, you will find yourself entertaining very dark thoughts involving a meat mallet and the face of Osmel Sousa while simultaneously wanting to shake hands with the late, notorious Huge Chávez, who according to this report "...railed against the procedures, saying it was 'monstrous' that poor women were spending money on breast surgeries when they had trouble making ends meet."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Young (Female) Historians

Why yes, I am taking the Daily Mail seriously enough to respond to it.

 The History girls...

It occurs to me that I can respond in about six different ways:

1. Look!  Female historians!  With jobs!

2. Lady, get your fingers off the ink on that manuscript page. 

3. Why are they all white?

4. Actually, why are they all young and attractive?

5. I wonder what it would take to get the tenured male profs I know to wear outfits and poses like this.

And finally, as always:

Are you £@$%-ing kidding me?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Diversifying Investments

I know nothing about investing.  I am poor as the proverbial church mouse, and a humanities scholar, so this should not come as a surprise.

However, I do know that diversification is a basic principle of investing.  One invests widely, which reduces the risk of loss.  It's the "don't put all your eggs in one basket" principle, and while I can't give investment advice, I can say that it's a sound principle for friendships too.

One of the marvelous things about being single is the opportunity to diversify one's friendships.  This can still be done if one is married, I suppose, but I do think that I have time for friendships I might not otherwise have.  And the diversification is key.  A good friend turned 84 yesterday; my life has been enriched so much by my friendship with him and his wife.  In a culture where we tend -- particularly in the church -- to separate ourselves out by age, it's refreshing to talk to people who are at a different stage of life.  I was thinking about this yesterday as I left work and ran into one of my favorite small children.  A brief conversation with her brightened my day considerably.  And now, as I write this early in the morning, The Archbishop is curled up beside the laptop, purring.  That's friendship too.

Being single is a hard and lonely business, but diversify those friendship investments!  It helps, truly. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The ERA, Again

So remember that post from a while back, about the West Wing and the Equal Rights Amendment? There I discussed the argument given by a West Wing character against the ERA: it is redundant legislation because equal rights for women are already guaranteed under the constitution.

But now I present you with the opposite view. The folks with the ERA Education project argue that women were not granted equal rights constitutionally -- and in fact women were intentionally left out of the constitution. Additionally, even if this equality truly existed in the letter of the law, it certainly does not exist in spirit: there is overwhelming evidence that 21st America remains socially and legislatively biased against women.

Watch this promo for a forthcoming documentary, and see what you think:

Friday, October 11, 2013

E.M. says N.O. to Initials

Dovetailing with L's last post, I want to express first of all my gratitude for these practical suggestions for moving beyond gender bias in academia.  Believe me kids -- this is a real issue, and one I've already experienced after a single year on the job market in a ridiculously competitive field, much to my extreme frustration, shock and anger (not to speak of the psychological toll on my confidence moving forward this year).

So concrete suggestions are great.  But with all due respect to those who favor or ascribe to the following view, the idea of publishing using initials only is a short-sighted, quasi-solution that needs to die.

Everyone's told me to do it at some point-- peers, mentors, senior big-wigs in the field, and even myself: Just use initials on documents, and in that way force a gender-blindness for those reviewing your CV, your publications, your research proposals, whatever.

Using just initials in order to hide gendered names may help us avoid some bias (at least until the reviewers meet us in person, at which point the jig is up), but at what cost?  This: we can never change anything.

The "initials-only" method is a cop-out.  The bias will never be challenged if we hide our gender in this way.  All our fabulous work fails to be attributable to the fabulous women generating it.

I realize that, given the statistics, I am and have been and will continue to lose out in certain ways by attaching my whole, very female name to my academic work.  But dammit, I work hard and with integrity in my scholarship; I stand by it, and I want to initiate long-term, rich interdisciplinary dialogue through it.  So the world and all who live in need to know that this good work belongs to ME, and I am woman.  Hear me roar.

So no, dears. No, no and N.O. I will never publish under initials only.

Let's talk about solutions to gender bias, not evasive maneuvers. Yes there's cost, but in fighting status quo there will always be cost.  Ask yourself: do you want optimal chances at landing a job or getting published here and now?  Or do you want to change things so that someday your students, and your students' students, can publish under their fully female feminine girly flowery lovely beautiful names and not be punished for it?

End game, ladies.  Think end game.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Practical Suggestion

"I've been in academia for 20 years.  During that time I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many talented male and female scholars.  I’ve also watched a disproportionate number of the female scholars in this group drop out of grad school, be denied tenure and fail to reach the highest levels of professional success.  As one of the few women who have made it to full professor at an elite research university, I often ask myself, 'Where have all the women gone?'"  Read it all. 

We can discuss whether quantifying citations -- or recording" impact factor" -- is a legitimate way to assess actual scholarly significance.  For a humanities field that relies less on journals than it does on books, this may be a flawed methodology.  We can also discuss whether or not "full professor at an elite research university" is, and should be, the goal of every one who pursues an academic career.  However, well done to B. F. Walter for making a practical, achievable suggestion for a minor policy change that could potentially have very significant results.  

Once upon a time, I submitted a thesis to a university that did blind evaluations.  I was given a number, and the readers had no idea who I was.  I was awarded a very high mark.  Would I have gotten that high mark if the readers had seen my name?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Some good advice

"The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth." -- Dorothy L. Sayers

Working on numbers one and two.  No sign of number three, but a girl can dream...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Feminism and The West Wing

So, I began watching The West Wing for the first time about a week ago.  I'm already halfway through season three.

I am a woman obsessed. Bewitched, ensorcelled, enthralled, intrigued, and kicking myself for being 10 years behind the curve.  It's the only show I've ever watched that makes me feel smarter afterwards.

You're thinking, "E, that's great and all, and charmingly dorky of you...but what's it got to do with BtheB?"

Well, let me tell you. Or rather show you.  Last night at an ungodly hour which I will not disclose for fear of prodigious judgment, I was watching an episode in which a fascinating interchange about feminism takes place.  It blew my mind a little bit.

Here are the relevant scenes (Season 3 Ep 14, "Night Five"):

Earlier in the season, Ainsley shocked Sam to the core by revealing that she is, as a prominent feminist, against the Equal Rights Amendment. Her argument is simple: equal rights are already guaranteed to all US citizens under the Constitution, so not only is the EPA superfluous (and therefore odious to hardcore Republicans like herself), but it implies that women are some special outlying category of person not already protected by the Constitution.  Thus the EPA, through its very existence, acknowledges and enforces the inequality it aims to correct.

The statement about feminism Hayes makes in the above clip got me thinking along similar lines.  Am I, in stewing over and blogging about and frequently bending ears concerning minor instances of discrimination, distracting others and myself from legitimate causes?  By bringing so many problems of varying degree into the fold, are we making things too diffuse? Am I missing the point of the whole revolution?

I want to say more on this, and think more on this.  Yes, there is a time and a place for venting the kinds of frustration encountered in our odd little demographic of single Christian women in academia. But there are also issues we have the power and the responsibility to give voice and weighty thought to -- to speak and teach and even proselytize about, and which extend far beyond the stuff of our privileged worldview.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Passing of a Poet

I cried when I saw that Seamus Heaney had died on Friday, tears that were some mix of love of the beauty of his poems, gratitude for the sound of line from a sonnet that caught my imagination as an undergraduate, and a deep sense of loss for all the poems that will never be written now.

And then I read this and just about cried again.  The idea of a poet texting Latin to his wife makes my heart leap.

Noli timere. 

Don't be afraid. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Heh heh

From my favorite cartoonist.

That's about where we are today, folks.  Although Wendy's got a great conversation going on the question "is singleness a choice?" over here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

No Such Thing As Winning

"No complaint outcome, on paper or in the form of material support, is going to undo the damage that harassment does."

-- From a sobering account of sexual harassment in the academy. Read it all.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Travel and Gratitude

It’s hard to know what to say about this trip without giving too many specific identifying details.  But let’s just say that despite the irritations of the gender theatre that characterized the beginning of the trip, it’s been good to get out and do my own thing for the past few weeks. I have not traveled particularly frequently or widely, but I have traveled enough to know that being in a new place can released me from the daily burden of work and laundry and work and dishes and work and paying bills and work.  It wasn’t that I didn’t work, but that the work itself took such a different shape than the normal routine of the grind.  Traveling alone can be an isolating and lonely experience, to be sure, but I was, for the overwhelming majority of the time, thrilled to be on my own doing my own thing. 

So here, in no particular order, are some of the Best Things of the past few weeks:
·      Pausing, taking a deep breath, and plunging directly into my fear of driving in that particular place by renting a car and putting 700 miles on it in three days. At the end of every day, I was deeply grateful that the car and I and all the people and cars in our path were all intact.
·      Seeing old friends: people who have known me since I was ten years old, teammates from my intermural sports team during my undergrad, people from my first round of graduate school, colleagues from my current graduate program, the other half of our virtual béguinage.
·      Having little conversations with strangers: the elderly man across from me at the cathedral café who comes to the cathedral with his free bus pass every few weeks for a day out and a hot lunch, a furniture restorer who plied me with tea and showed me one of the most extraordinary objects I have ever seen, a security guard with a penchant for archaeology who put Roman coins in my hands, and multiple B&B owners.
·      Experiencing the cultural life of some big cities: a few meals at fabulous restaurants, last-minute tickets to an award-winning play, a first-rate (free!) concert followed by buskers who were every bit as good.  And part of that whole cultural experience was…
·      …Drinking in museum exhibits slowly, at my own pace, taking time to see what I wanted to see and skipping the stuff I didn’t, and then buying catalogues.  Seeing museums this way feels like luxury of the most extravagant sort. I had been to quite a few of the stops on my itinerary before, so I was released from the guilt that comes of trying to see everything and not succeeding.
·      Just breathing the air in some remarkably beautiful places, like this:

 I have never traveled for any extended period of time with a Significant Other, so I don’t really have any basis for comparison, but I found myself feeling profoundly grateful for my freedom and autonomy… and grateful that I was feeling grateful.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Béguinage Goes To A Small Island

Friends, we are here:

and are having a wonderful time.

We are hoping to blog more consistently on our return, and have had the brilliant idea that YOU could write some guest posts.  If you're interested, leave us a comment and let us know.  Also, if there's a particular issue on which you'd like our marvelous insight, let us know that as well.  :)

Wish you all were here with us!

L & E

Friday, July 26, 2013

Gender Flipping

So apparently there's been for some time now a media meme called 'gender flipping'.

As usual, I'm late to join in all the trendy-bloggers' reindeer games.  But fear not! If you, like me, are hearing about gender flipping for the first time and are curious to learn about this sometimes hilarious, often disturbing and always thought-provoking movement, I direct you here.

(Readers may be interested to see that the author kicks off her article with the very same Dustin Hoffman clip posted earlier this month on BtheB.  I just, you know, want it to be noted for posterity: I at one time managed to post something while it was trending.   Let's all give me a nerd high-five!)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Historians with(out) kids

We blogged about this before, but Friend-Of-This-Blog Laura asks some provocative questions about gender, parenting, promotion, and historians here.  Take a look.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Don't be an Interrupting Cow

The joke, a favorite of small children I know, goes like this:

Knock, knock!

Who's there?

Interrupting cow!



And I've been thinking about that as I continue my international disciplinary workshop / gender theatre 101.  I have noticed a woman interrupting a man precisely once in discussion.  Every woman, including me, has been interrupted by men multiple times.  Last week, a male participant interrupted a female participant about three times in as many minutes, insisting that she wasn't answering his question.  Of course she wasn't answering.  She was supposed to have the floor, and couldn't get a word in edgewise. Yesterday, the female presenter, when answering a question, was interrupted by a male participant who started his comment with, "I demand that you fix this."

Don't be an interrupting cow.  Shut up.  Listen. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tootsie: More than Just a Pretty Face

Today on Facebook a friend posted this 3-ish minute video of Dustin Hoffman, an actor I love, discussing a deep insight about women he had while getting ready for one of his greatest roles, Tootsie.

Go here to watch it, then come back and share your thoughts.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

the Witty Insult Campaign

Editorial note: This is a post I began writing about a month ago.  In light of recent continued harassment in both my case and L's, I decided to post this even if I wasn't quite finished writing it.  I may add more later...


I got whistled at on the way to work this morning, which was annoying not least because it disrupted my train of thought regarding the ontic status of entanglement relations. But it did serve as a reminder that I had promised some time ago to begin collecting and distributing good come-backs for women in situations of light- to moderate-harassment. Well, it's a Friday afternoon, it's summertime, I'm procrastinating, and this blog could use a bit of lightness, eh? Methinks the time is ripe to launch the Witty Insult Campaign.  This is, of course, just the beginning...

* * *
Scenario: You are whistled at/honked at/shouted at by guys flying past in a motorized vehicle
Response:  "You have perfectly expressed my feelings about the present economy!"
Response If You Happen to Have Raw Eggs and/or Water Balloons On Your Person:  Utilize those projectiles, my darlings.  Don't forget to account for wind resistance.

* * *
Scenario: You are verbally accosted with a whistle, a grunt, a "that's right, baby", a sleazy once-over or an ostentatious leer
Response: Give the idiot a once-over yourself, squinch-up your face and say, "But you, sir, look like [insert one of the following:
                                                               "a giant, used diaper"
                                                               "a moustache with rabies"
                                                               "a homeless pineapple"
                                                               "a motherless, hairless goat"]  
Response Courtesy of Tina Fey: "If you look at me like that again I will smack those teeth straight."
Responses Courtesy of Shakespeare:   
-- "Thou clouted ill-breeding horn-beast!"
--"Out of my sight! Thou dost infect my eyes"
--"Thou wimpled hedge-born flap-dragon!"  (sadly, this one only applies if the dude is wearing a wimple)
--"Thou cullionly beef-witted mammet!" (I particularly like this one.  Go ahead: look up 'cullion' in the dic.)
--"Thou puking, hasty-witted pumpion!"

That's it for now.  Go get 'em, girls.

Great idea! (Or not.)

The scene: I'm at the opening reception of a multi-week international seminar for graduate students in my field and associated fields, chatting with strangers, eating unidentifiable canapés, being charming, trying to remember names, and drinking a magically-refilling glass of wine. 

Editorial note: Despite the fact that the relevant fields are about 50-50 men-women at my university, and quite possibly majority female on a national level, women make up less than a third of the cohort of seminar participants.  

The great idea: Male graduate student from another university declares, "I have a great idea!  Since we're all staying in adjacent flats, why don't you girls just cook us all dinner every night?"

Me: Dumfounded. "Ha! Or not."

Editorial note: What a comeback, hmm?  And here's the thing: even if he didn't mean anything by it, even if he was just trying to be funny, he wasn't.  It's not about the cooking.  It's not even about the comment.  It's about his assumption: we do the work, you do the cooking.

Monday, June 24, 2013

On Campus? C'mon!

Yes indeedy do, it's a happy Monday afternoon when you leave your office to walk across campus for a coffee and get sexually harassed on the way.

I was walking along the path and a teen-aged boy (at least it wasn't a student here) came up behind me on his bike, followed right behind me for a while, then made an inappropriate comment about my physical appearance.  I glared and snapped back, full voice, "I am FACULTY here!"

Which I thought would be some sort of win for The Witty Insult Campaign (I've been working on that entry by the way-- forthcoming, my dears!).  But instead of being ashamed of himself or being cowed by my loud and articulate response in the presence of the, oh, 3 or so other people in the vicinity, he made an obscene gesture with his tongue, laughed, and rode away.

Curses upon thee, thou goatish bat-fowling botch of nature!

Well, I'm going to publish the Witty Insults anyway, even if this whole having-a-good-response thing doesn't deter idiots from being idiots like I hoped it might.  The next best thing is to laugh about it, I suppose.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. (Matt 10:29)

I said goodbye to my best friend yesterday. I will always remember his sweet horsey breath on my cheek, his gentleness with small children, and the delight we both felt when we cantered through the woods. He was smart, kind, loyal, and sensitive; I was enormously blessed to call him my friend, and just being in his presence always filled me with joy and peace. Godspeed, dear Zak.

O God, you created all that is, and you love all that you have made: we come to you this day with grief and in thanksgiving. We grieve the death of our beloved Zak, who has been our companion on the way, and we thank you for the gift of his presence among us as a sign of the richness of your creation and the generosity of your love, through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

More bad news for women in philosophy

Today, a Facebook friend linked to this short blog post, and it left me simply aghast.


It got me thinking about my own recent experiences. One involved the convening of a very big-wig, super-exclusive, by-invitation-only annual conference in my field that has rarely had women participants and even more seldomly invited women to be official discussants or speakers. I gave some moderate flack to a few of the organizers and participants from this year's all-male shindig, but was met with the very unsatisfactory response that "An effort was made" to include women.


As far as publications, I've got a story there, too. I was recently asked to contribute an article to a volume of conference proceedings. I was flattered and accepted, but then got to thinking. The proceedings are of a conference that I was not invited to, that took place a while ago, was an all-male event, and was on a topic I have not myself specifically engaged with in research or teaching. Not by a good margin, in fact.

I conclude that I was surely invited to contribute in order to serve as the token female. Or at least, that had to have been a key factor. Why else would they have asked ME? I was so bewildered by this that I wrote a brief email to the organizers asking point-blank why they had asked me to be a part of this project, given the non-overlap between my research and the topic of the conference/volume. What I wanted to know but didn't add to my email was: Why are you asking me when I can easily list 6 women in the field who HAVE published outstanding work in recent years on topics of greater relevance to the proposed project? Do you not know of this work by your female colleagues? Additionally, given the existence of such relevant work by women in the field, why weren't any of them invited to be part of your original conference? Hmm???

The answer I got back to the question I did ask was vague-- along the lines of, you've done some historical work that is kind of relevant, but if you don't wish to write about that, well, you can pretty much write whatever you want to write.

I guess I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth and all that, but something died in me a little to realise that they wanted a contribution from me and they didn't necessarily care about its contents. I mean, maybe -- just maybe -- I appear to be such a brilliant light in my field that they had to have a contribution from me, even if it wasn't in my subject area. Or perhaps through divine foresight the organizers sensed I would add something crucial to the debate, despite my lack of engagement in the debate hitherto. But the likelihood of that is quite small, whereas my being welcomed in as the lone female author is far more probable.

For now I'm going to adopt an optimistic stance, because what else can a girl do? I'm going to forget about all this and give the organizers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they just wanted to help a young career kid get another good publication out, and I just happen to be female. Who knows. And besides, why the hell not? I'm up for the challenge of adopting an entirely novel direction for my research and having the resulting work be published alongside contributions from Big Names in The Field who've been thinking about, writing about, and attending conference without me on this particular topic for years. All in a girl's day's work, I guess.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Speaking of domestic violence...

... you may have seen the horrifying pictures of Nigella Lawson being strangled in a restaurant by her husband, who later said that the incident was merely a "playful tiff."  Wiser people than I have responded to that particular incident, but I just wanted to take the opportunity to issue this general reminder:

Domestic violence is a real problem.  It is everywhere: among the wealthy, the poor, the beautiful, the homely, the educated, the illiterate, the religious, the secular.  No group of people is magically made immune.  And violence from a date, a family member, a partner, or a spouse is never ok. 

Update: Everyone, men and women, should read Gavin De Becker's The Gift of Fear.  This book had been on my list of things to read for years, and I finally got around to it.  I'm sorry it took me so long.  If you think you may be suffering from abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Monday, May 27, 2013

Feminist masculinity

From the women of WiT

"So I end up having to defend the legitimacy of feminist concerns and method to somebody who has never taken the time to learn these fundamentals and who perhaps asks questions from the baseless presupposition that feminist concerns are invalid and perhaps even dangerous.... This kind of exchange can be infuriating, as it feels like an exploitation of my labor: men who proudly proclaim their ignorance or at least lack of familiarity with feminism and feminist theology (or, even worse: they don’t know that they don’t know) then insist that I, in that one exchange, answer all their questions and concerns as they have seen fit to articulate them."

Read it all.

What is it like to be a woman in Philosophy?

No commentary from me.  Just read it all.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Good news at the Béguinage!

E's got a one-year job, L's got funding.  Hallelujah!  Pass the cheap champagne.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Mother's Day

At my church several years ago, some well-meaning passed out carnations to all the mothers in the pews on Mother's Day.  Most Sundays, I am one of only two or three single people in church, and on that day, I was the only woman who didn't have a flower.  I was stopped as I was leaving, given a flower, and when I said, "oh!  I don't have children!" was told, "that's ok.  You will someday!" 

I haven't been back on Mother's Day since. 

And so, pastoral types, if you get a minute before next Sunday, do give this a look. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Writers and women writers

Every so often, I have a conversation with someone, usually a well-meaning man of above-average intelligence, about whether or not sexism is A Real Thing in 2013.  Yes, yes, it is.  And for today's example, I bring you wikipedia.  Go ahead and read it all.

 When sex is an important identifier only for women, not for men, that's sexism, folks. When women are systematically moved from the category "writer" to the category "woman writer," while men get to keep being called "writer" instead of "man writer," that's sexism too. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A real béguine

There's a marvelous obituary in The Economist for Marcella Pattyn, the last living béguine, who died April 14 at age 92.

Read it all.

Monday, April 22, 2013

...and a little Cole Porter

Well kids, we haven't said a single thing about Cole Porter yet on this blog. Terrible. Not living up to the subtitle of the blog. Hold us accountable already, will ya?

That said, have this:

Happy Monday!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

An Experiment in Self-Image

Dear All,

It is perhaps time for a positive reflection. A facebook friend who counsels college-aged women brought this experiment to everyone's attention this morning. It is a 6-ish minute video, but ladies: it is well worth the time. In it, Dove conducts a fascinating experiment with several women to get them to reflect in a novel way on their perceptions of themselves. The results are surprising, lovely, and deeply convicting.

So have a look during your next coffee break-- I challenge you.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Blethering Idiots

Oh, dear friends. Would that you were with me here today to snap me out of my mood.

I walked to the bus stop this morning amidst gale-force winds here in The Land In Which I Live, eventually hopping on a double-decker for the 32 minute commute to my office. I was reading a publication of the Rede Lectures from several years ago, minding my own nerdy business as per usual while the bus bumbled along the high street, when I began to notice increasingly loud and rude conversation between two young dudes at the back. Their invasive interactions with each other frequently included a third party on speaker phone, usually incorporated lots of, um, choice vocabulary, and several times involved rapping sharply on the windows for a sustained time to get the attention of someone on the street below.

Sweet Lincoln's Mullet it was annoying. But after news of the bombings yesterday in Boston, I reflected that perhaps there were bigger things to be annoyed about than two punks on a bus.

I'm sad to say my resolve faded quickly. After yet another round of sharp banging on the window, I turned around just to see what in the name of Odin's Beard was going on. I should not have made eye contact. Because when I got off the bus shortly thereafter, both of them howled after me like that damn wolf in the old Betty Boop cartoons (please tell me I'm not the only one who desperately wants to stab Betty Boop in the leg with a spork, repeatedly.) I was furious, but did nothing. And now I'm in my office trying to put the incident out of my head by working or at least meditating on weightier world issues, but am unable to get past the injustice that women still have to deal with this kind of [insert scatological synonym] on a regular basis-- that just because I happen to have a vagina, two dudes felt it was within their rights to invade the entire bus's space and publicly demean my personhood. Even worse, perhaps, is the thought that while I left the bus and launched into a serious think about how to make the world better for my nieces and other precious young women, those two dingleberries no doubt sauntered off the bus, went to piss on a flowerbed in someone's yard, and then carried on with their days.

Now, I am personally blessed not to experience this kind of effrontery on a daily basis, but when I do I usually have enough gumption to shoot the offending party an angry look or reply with something that is equal parts witty and cutting (...even if only in my head, and several minutes later). I am convinced that women should NOT just walk away as I did today, because then we are sending the message that this sort of rapscallion behavior is okay, and women just have to accept it as part of life.

We sure as hell don't. This is not a case of turn the other cheek, my dearies, because I suspect that most of these men are too self-absorbed or unaware to realize that their asinine, unwelcome and offensive commentary really affects us. Therefore, I want to launch a Witty Insult Campaign. Every woman should collect a few good comments for her arsenal, and then deploy them when the time is right. Sometimes women will say to me they feel unsafe responding to hecklers. I argue that usually these incidents occur in quite public places (like a street or on a bus), that there is no bite to back up the bark (just a man feeling he is free to express himself however he pleases, wherever, whenever, and to whomever), and finally, in keeping with my assumptions about the originators of such commentary, they aren't anticipating a comeback because they don't see their target as human and capable of response. Hence, they will be dumbfounded or respond unintelligibly, by which time you will have put more distance and persons between yourself and the idiot. I also believe that if our retort is of a sufficiently "Oh, SNAP!" nature, the (i) public embarrassment of the offender and (ii) the entertainment value for all bystanders will cause all parties to ponder the incident more than they would otherwise. It's all about raising awareness, you see.

If we let heckling go on uncommented or adopt a passive attitude toward it, then it will become normalized--an accepted social practice--to even greater degree than it is already. Surely a more active approach is warranted. So today I'm going to begin compiling a list of snarky comments for men who feel it is their prerogative to verbally assault me in public. (A good place to start is the list Tina Fey gives to misogynist critics in Bossy Pants. Hilarious.)
Feel free to contribute.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Reclaiming Singleness (in the Church)

"Here's a little joke for you.

What do Valentine's Day and Church have in common?

Answer: They're both depressing for single people."

Ouch. Read it all.  This is the best thing I've read on singleness and the church in a long time.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Eye Candy, Tooth Candy

I've decided it is rational to allot exactly zero time these days to dithering about boys because I don't even know where I'll be living in a few months anyway, and you know, I've got other priorities right now.  (The reader interjects: "That's wonderful, E's brain!  Now if only you had the means to actually enoforce such a *cough* rational decision...")

Speaking of which. I had an almost exciting encounter with my new dentist yesterday.  He was entirely gorgeous and entirely foreign (to this country and my home country, and that's entirely appealing) so of course I was entirely awkward because I'm out of practice dealing with handsome men of my approximate age because of entirely serious abovementioned rational decision and anyway he told me I have TWO cavities and the last time I had anything wrong with my teeth at all and I mean in the slightest was, oh, 15 years ago so of course I tried to explain all this to Dentist Pretty Face of the Eyes the Color of Finely Polished Chinese Jade Resplendent in Sunlight while he was sticking that stupid tiny mirror thing all the way to my back molars but I ended up not speaking full sentences at all and instead mumbling and giggling and when he asked if I had any questions I said "Oh, no, no" and walked away but then immediately walked right back to gaze at his baby-blue be-scrubbed yet dignified aspect one last time and enthusiastically cried "Wait! Do you mean questions about teeth? In general? (I flip hair over shoulder) Uh, in which case, um, (I giggle inanely) uh, ah, no! I mean, no I don't. I mean, ahahahaha! I'm fine..." and then dashed out of that dental practice like a wee lamb escaping from the fence but day-dreamed about him all the way home on the bus and then went online to book my next appointment and of course googled Mr McToothCare once I knew his entire name which was really long and über foreign and found out that he's entirely... married.

So then I laughed at myself, reprimanded my heart and overactive imagination for not heeding my rational brain-parts (when will you learn, E? Those brain-parts win. They win, I say!) and then I ate a bunch of old candies I found in the deep recesses of my cupboard just despite dentists everywhere. I mean, I really rolled that sugar around in my mouth.

And that was it.

Friday, April 5, 2013


I read a brief essay today on Huffington Post written by Lauren Dubinsky.  She echoes many of the gender role issues mentioned in my friend's letter (see yesterday's post) as well as the viewing-woman--beyond-gender theme in the writing of Ranier Maria Rilke that I mentioned a while ago (cf. this post).  You can read Dubinsky here.  I've coined this philosophy of going beyond gender (and its associated social baggage) "Transcendgendering".

(Come on, that's pretty good, eh?)

Marriage (& dating) is not about a woman struggling to understand a man qua his being "a man" (and therefore other); neither is it a man trying to cope with the intricacies of some fictional collective called 'women'. It is primarily about two infinite and infinitely different souls trying to live in communion with one another.  And this is a calling-- this project of sharing one's life meaningfully with others--that is unqualifiedly universal.

Frankly, every time I encounter the sort of wisdom Dubinsky presents I feel immense relief.  Because while gender roles/stereotypes are surely contributors to some marital strife or misunderstanding, it is far from the sole explanans for it.  The same goes for the positive aspects of marriage.  This means that part of what makes marriages special, intimate, outrageously hard yet wonderfully rewarding...has to do with two people learning how to do life alongside one another.  And that kind of relationship is by no means restricted to and cultivated only within the marriage club.

Thus as a single woman, I am not missing out, not excluded from some super duper special class of women who really "get" men, who really understand their ways (again, referring to an idealized collective).  By choosing not to date (or having that choice made for me, let's be honest) I have not cut myself off or been denied access to crucial information about the other sex that would help me find and keep my future husband (if there is such a one), or to become a paradigm of my own sex.

Nor am I missing out on a more general human experience-- the deep pain and joy of really loving someone other than myself.   I too can cultivate the Wisdom of Truly Loving the Other, and the Other can be any, or many: my sister, my father, my colleague, my nieces, my God.  Being single frees me to partake of a deep intimacy with whole communities of my choosing without primary obligations to a husband or children.  I can, and ought to expect, to participate in the same joys and hardships of giving and receiving love whether I am married or not.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Who Wears the Pants

A while ago a very wise, very dear friend of mine shared some thoughts on her struggles with gender roles in church, work and marriage.  I asked if I could post excerpts from her letter, as she presents a different perspective than we at BtheB can provide, yet one that I am sure will resonate with many of our readers.  She writes:

While I am not single and haven't been for a long time, and I am not an academic, I deeply feel I push against assumptions of what it means to be a woman on a regular basis. Most recently (and probably most consistently), this has been in the realm of church life. One of my strongest traits is also one of the least "feminine": assertiveness. And it seems particularly problematic that this trait is one [Husband] does not particularly exemplify. Questions of "who wears the pants in the family" seem to come down to this one trait. The model in our church, and it seems many churches, is that women have roles of leadership over other women, children, music, or other more "feeling-oriented" positions. Few women find themselves in places where they are in executive, decision-making roles in the church, and yet these seem to be where I belong the most. I like thinking about systems and creating structure where none exists and helping empower people to use their gifts in fulfilling ways. I find that I can't help but thinking this way. It is for this reason that I have realized that I need to be fully "in" or fully disengaged from the initiatives I care about. I can't half-ass it. [Husband] has helped me realize this. I think this is also the reason that people either really appreciate me or don't like me.

In the work setting, it is a little easier having this trait of assertiveness as a female. I definitely have more role models. However, I still rub raw against other women especially. The strong, independent, yet passive-aggressive female is the one I have yet figured out how to work with--someone with whom I continually have conflict yet refuses to actually address that conflict. I find it infuriating.  I work with several women like this who I know do not like me. I desperately want to bridge the gap that exists, and yet, they seem to keep their power by not letting the gap be bridged. Perhaps men also operate like this and I am not aware of it, but so far I only have this sort of conflict with women. It deeply saddens me.

In my own marriage, I struggle to find ways and places to "choose weakness" in order to give space for my marriage to thrive. This may seem counter-intuitive or maybe not the place for a feminist, and yet after 10+ years of marriage, here I am. Just like as Christians it is often true that in our weakness, Christ lives. I think I am learning more of what it means to die to self--that I can choose to be less assertive, choose to not always be completely truthful (not in lying but in keeping thoughts to myself), choose to not insist on co-leading in every situation--all in order to empower someone else whom I care about deeply. I think this probably spills over into my other relationships, but I am working on practicing it first in my most important, and most difficult one.

Now, as [Husband] is in the [N]th year of being on the job market, I am in a place where I struggling to find what it means to look to the needs of our kids and me, but to support [Husband] as his "helpmate." I cringe to use that word, as I think it is often applied only to wives as a means to force them into a one-way role of submission. But, maybe as a couple we take turns being "helpmates" in various aspects of our lives? Maybe this is true of friendships also? 

As always, thanks to Friend for sharing this with me and allowing me to pass it on, and for welcoming me into both the hard and the beautiful aspects of your life. I shall do my best to return the favor.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Things I like about being single

Somedays are harder than others.  Today was hard, so here's my reminder.

This is what I like about being single:

  • The dark chocolate with sea salt that was in the fridge when I left this morning is still there.
  • My schedule is my own.  If I want to work late, I can.  If I want a weekend without any obligations, it's mine.  When I can't sleep, I can get up and turn on all the lights and work for a few hours in the middle of the night, and I don't bother anybody. 
  • My money is my own.  Not that there's much of it, but what there is, I can save and spend as I choose.  
  • I can move wherever I need to move.  As I approach the end of graduate school (d. v.), it is terribly encouraging to realize that I could take a job anywhere and not have to worry about a spouse who can't find work in that particular place.
  • I can wear what I want -- and I have a fine selection of barnyard chic -- when I want to.  I dated a guy who didn't like it when I wore red lipstick.  Fire-engine red was my color of choice today.   
  • I don't have people demanding my time and attention.  I dated another guy who expected me always to be available via phone; he got irritated when I turned my phone off or went out into the woods for a few hours and didn't reply to his texts, and his irritation irritated me.  None of that when you're single!
  • That's it from me for now:  I'm going to have a piece of chocolate, turn off my phone, and call it a night.  

Monday, March 25, 2013

On poultry

I was hanging out with a few friends recently, and asked if they had any suggestions for blog posts.

"Blog about the chicken!" they said.

Since I am always compliant *cough, cough,* I am blogging about the chicken.

So here's the thing I was trying to persuade them of: you should not buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Bleh.  No flavor, rubbery texture, and expensive.  Instead, you should buy the smallest whole chicken you can find and make The Chicken To End All Chickens.

You need a chicken and kosher salt; if you want to walk on the wild side, you can use a little black pepper.  I dry the chicken thoroughly, sprinkle the salt on it, put it in a cast-iron skillet, throw it in a 450-degree oven and forget about it for an hour.  That's it.  I can get nearly a week's meals out of the leftovers (sandwiches and homemade soup), and it is just so much more flavorful and so much more cost-effective than the plastic chicken breasts.  If you don't want the whole chicken, get the bone-in, skin-on split breasts, and do the exact same thing: skin-side up in the cast-iron skillet, sprinkled with salt, 450 for 30 minutes.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On a lighter note

Some day, when I come home from the library, I'm afraid The Archbishop and I are going to have to have this conversation.

Monday, March 18, 2013

On Steubenville

I don't know if things are worse now than they were, say, ten years ago, or if it's just that I'm paying more attention now, but I can't believe some of the rhetoric around rape and sexual violence these days.  It makes me inarticulate with rage.  So I'll pass along a few of the more thoughtful responses I've read and call it a day.

"The Steubenville rape victim was certainly someone’s daughter. She may have been someone’s sister. Someday she might even be someone’s wife. But these are not the reasons why raping her was wrong. This rape, and any rape, was wrong because women are people. Women are people, rape is wrong, and no one should ever be raped. End of story."  Read it all.

And the always-inflammatory but totally-on-the-money Gawker take on CNN's coverage here:

"For readers interested in learning more about how not to be labeled as registered sex offenders, a good first step is not to rape unconscious women, no matter how good your grades are. Regardless of the strength of your GPA (weighted or unweighted), if you commit rape, there is a possibility you may someday be convicted of a sex crime. This is because of your decision to commit a sex crime instead of going for a walk, or reading a book by Cormac McCarthy. Your ability to perform calculus or play football is generally not taken into consideration in a court of law. Should you prefer to be known as 'Good student and excellent football player [blank]' rather than 'Convicted sex offender [blank],' try stressing the studying and tackling and giving the sex crimes a miss altogether."

Or there's a Catholic perspective on rape culture more braodly here:

"Our culture surrounding sex is violent, exploitative and destructive to the dignity of women. Rape is Rape.....The Didache speaks of the way of death and John Paul II the culture of death, and for me, one clear example of this is the pervasive acceptance of sexual violence against women and girls. When we participate in and allow the persistence of the culture of rape exposed by this case through our complicity (and the complicity of so many others beginning that night but continuing through the trial is striking) we are facilitating the culture of death, we are following the way of death."
Lord, have mercy. 

Rainer Maria Rilke

I've been on a wee bit of a Rilke-kick this past week, mostly because (i) I realized I finally knew enough German to read him in the original (well....mostly. As for my ongoing hopes of reading Goethe, Thomas Mann and the first Harry Potter in German, don't ask); and (ii) I was recently visiting my sister-in-law, who often speaks with admiration about RMR, especially Letters to a Young Poet, and I decided it was high time I investigated her claims. (For the record, sis-in-law is usually spot-on in these matter. I heart sis-in-law. Are you reading this, sis-in-law?).

The Rilkefest has thus far been a twofold daily celebration for me: at night before sleep I curl up in bed with a hot water baby (uh, I mean bottle) under a thick duvet and read a few of his poems in both languages,  sometimes alternating languages with lines, sometimes by stanza, and sometimes whole poems first in one language then the other.  I have found in so doing that (unsurprisingly) the German radiates in a wholly different way than the English ever could (e.g., consider this stanza from "The Three Kings":

Drei Könige von Unterwegs
und der Stern Überall
die zogen alle (überlegs!)
so rechts ein Rex und links ein Rex
zu einem stillen Stall

You needn't understand the German-- just reading it aloud is a wondrous experiment).
I have also found in alternating languages that (surprisingly) I prefer a few of his lines in their English incarnation.  This has left me feeling weirdly conflicted: is it still Rilke that I am loving? Or the translator, who has become in the act of translating herself a poet? I digress...)

The other daily Rilke-infusion (and indeed the reason for the present post) occurs during my morning commute where I have been devouring Letters.  Today I read a particular passage relevant to the blog which caused me to pause and think. (Indeed, sis-in-law was correct. I find myself stopping to ponder nearly every sentence in this dear little collection. I find that, to borrow RMR's own phrase, "es fluten Wassertiefen im Aquamarin").

Rilke writes in his letter to Kappus on 14 May 1904*:
"Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately, more fruitfully and more confidently, must surely have become fundamentally riper people, more human people, than easygoing man, who is not pulled down below the surface of life by the weight of any fruit of his body, and who, presumptuous and hasty, undervalues what he thinks he loves.  This humanity of woman, borne its full time in suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she will have stripped off the conventions of mere femininity in the mutations of her outward status... [S]ome day there will be girls and women whose name will no longer signify merely an opposite of the masculine, but something in itself, something that makes one think, not of any complement and limit, but only of life and existence: the feminine human being."   
Your reactions?


* pp.40-45 of M. D. Herter Norton translation, 2004 edition.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The béguinage goes to Sephora

Several years ago, E and I were in a show.  There we were in the dressing room, before the performance, getting gussied up, laughing, carrying on, pooling our limited makeup supplies so we could each slather on the requisite amount of stuff to appear under bright lights.

And a Diva-In-Training, nearly a decade younger than the average age in the béguinage, joined our conversation, remarking that when she was a girl, her mother had insisted that if she was going to wear makeup, she was going to learn to put it on properly.  So the mother had taken the early-teen Diva-In-Training to some place where she learned all about the stuff.

This did not happen in my house.  It did not happen in E's house either.

(And, for the record, I am EXTREMELY glad it did not.  Thanks, Mom!  Thanks for valuing my brain and teaching -- and living -- that the worth of a woman is about far, far more than her appearance.)

But this meant that I was in my very late twenties before I had ever learned the first thing about makeup.

So the lack of knowledge and lack of confidence make me nervous.  But I am slowly learning that I can  decide to be confident.  I am as beautiful as any of the women in that store... or at least my money works as well as theirs does.  Buying eyeliner is not an act of betrayal of the feminist sisterhood.  And it really is ok to ask for help.  I tell my students that one of the most important lessons they can learn in college is how to ask the relevant people for help.  In Sephora, the relevant person is the woman with the nametag and apron full of makeup brushes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Misogyny at the Oscars

I was fast asleep in my wee little bed when the red carpet unrolled this Sunday, but since then I've heard more than the usual mumblings and grumblings concerning the host. Seth MacFarlane and his particular performance that evening are scrutinized in this brief article.

Nota bene: the e-responses to this piece are, unsurprisingly, polemical and frustrating. I advise skipping that portion, as one's time can more fruitfully and delightfully be employed by partaking in things of this nature.


p.s. On a more personal note, I look forward to contributing regularly and more substantively to BtheB in coming weeks, as life has slowed from a quasi-relativistic Doppler-shift-inducing pace to mere busyness.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Conferences and photo ops

In this month's glossy magazine for my field, I found a photo montage with snapshots from the recent Annual Conference.

Now, if one were to describe the roles women play in The Field by looking at the photos, here's what one might say.  Women, judging by these photos:

  • Sell books
  • Listen to men and diligently take notes
  • Have men point to a large map and explain things to them 
  • Drink wine
  • Serve cake
  • Buy books
  • Sit in cafés

In these pictures, the men:

  • Walk and look important
  • Talk into a microphone
  • Lecture
  • Explain things
  • Think Deep Thoughts
  • Drink beer
  • Use smartphones
  • Buy books
  • Walk other places looking important
  • Lecture again
  • Interview for jobs

There are twenty-five photos over three pages.  Not a single photo shows a woman giving a paper.  "Oh, I know," quipped a colleague, "they must be at a conference where only men are allowed to speak!"  I'm terribly tempted to write a scathing letter to the editor... but I want a job.  I don't dare.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A sobering Valentine's Day

Distressed by the news from South Africa this morning, I spent a few minutes on google; how frequent is murder by a partner or ex-partner, I wondered.  Here, for your perusal, are some chilling statistics from the UN:

Women aged 15-44 are more... at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria.

Half of all women who die from homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo approximately 1,100 rapes are being reported each month, with an average of 36 women and girls raped every day. It is believed that over 200,000 women have suffered from sexual violence in that country since armed conflict began.

Between 100 and 140 million girls and women alive today have undergone Female Genital Mutilation.

So I spent today not celebrating love, but mourning for those whose lives have been broken by that violence.  And, as sad as it made me, it somehow felt more productive than resentfully flicking candy hearts across my desk and into the wastepaper basket.  Kyrie eleison. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A poem for today

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

From T. S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday" 

Read it all. Or, alternatively, listen to the man himself read it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Plus ça change...

"Do you know any man who sincerely admires a woman for her brains?"

"Well," said Harriet, "certainly not many."

"You may think you know one," said Miss Hillyard with a bitter emphasis.  "Most of us think at some time or other that we know one.  But the man usually has some other little axe to grind."

"Very likely," said Harriet.  "You don't seem to have a very high opinion of men -- of the male character, I mean, as such."

"No," said Miss Hillyard, "not very high.  But they have an admirable talent for imposing their point of view on society in general.  All women are sensitive to male criticism.  Men are not sensitive to female criticism.  They despise the critics."

"Do you, personally, despise male criticism?"

"Heartily," said Miss Hilliard.  "But it does damage.  Look at this University.  All the men have been amazingly kind and sympathetic about the Wome's Colleges.  Certainly.  But you won't find them appointing women to big University posts.  That would never do.  The women might perform their work in a way beyond criticism.  But they are quite pleased to see us playing with our little toys."

Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night (1935)

Sorry for the brief descent into bitterness.  I'm trying -- and obviously, not being wildly successful in this -- to spend less time in bitterness mode.  But that's where we are tonight, folks.  And, as usual, Dorothy L. Sayers says it very well indeed. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Busy at the Béguinage

Oh friends, we're sorry for the radio silence of the past few weeks.  The béguinage has been swamped with, in no particular order, international travel, dissertation chapter deadlines, job interviews, grant applications, and the winter doldrums.

More anon.  Promise.  x.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The "Placeholder Syndrome"

"We judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions."

On Monday L posted an interesting NYTimes piece and some thought-provoking commentary. I agree with her entirely that the idea of having no alternative between "hookups & hangouts" and Joshua-Harris-inspired courtship/dating is as unimaginative as it is harmful.

L suggests as a positive way towards establishing middle-ground options, that "dating" in a reasonable sense should definitely be left on the table. I'm all for the "intent begetting actions" motto that I suspect undergirds her thinking: the intent of getting to know each other as multidimensional, unique people gives rise to interesting, meaningful interaction issued from both sides. The details of how this plays out will of course differ, but this foundation remains to guide.

But here's my question: What happens when there is meaningful action or behavior (beyond or excluding the physical) without any intent? I've seen it happen with both men and women, and I call it the "Placeholder Syndrome": A person who is perhaps a good friend (and yes, perhaps a la When Harry Met Sally there has always been a little something "extra" in the mix) begins to act in ways traditionally interpreted as "significant" toward the other. For example, you go to concerts together, you make each other dinner, you are each other's plus-one to dances or informal gatherings with colleagues, you are spending most of your free time with each other, and mostly uno-y-uno. And yet no clear intent is declared until finally, at a point of utter confusion (or in some cases, the arrival of another...more datable?...person on the scene), one party forces the other to protest that s/he never meant anything other than good, even best friendship, and that is all.

Maybe this is an inevitable if heartbreaking byproduct of our being humans and thus often misunderstanding one another. Maybe it all boils down to the age-old question of whether singles can be friends if the possibility for romance exists even as a hope in the glimmer of the twinkling of the eye for either party. And it must be stated for the record that many true and lasting romantic relationships ARE borne of the awkward, ambiguous friendship stage.

But I want to ask this question specifically in terms of intention verses action, and what this might look like in a dating culture where the rules of interaction between "potentials"--and in particular between "potentials-qua-friends"--are in such flux that we are told to give up on anything that isn't easily managed, convenient, self-serving. So I ask: can we hope to get rid of the Placeholder Syndrome? Or more generally, are there better rules of conduct for engagement here, regarding one's intention verses one's actions, that help us avoid the extremes of never going deep enough (either via perennial hanging out or hooking up) or always going too deep (marriage-or-bust)?

Monday, January 21, 2013

A little light reading

Letting go of my fiction habit was one of the hardest things about entering academia.  I had read voraciously in my professional life, but found myself in a PhD program with no emotional energy to pick up a piece of fiction.  But in the past year, thanks to some quality time on airplanes, I've been able to read a good book here and there.  Here, in no particular order, are a few.  I commend them to you.

A. S. Byatt, Possession. 
Do scholars possess their subjects, or are they possessed by them?  Can one human being ever truly possess another?  Byatt follows two young scholars as they trace the careers of a pair of Victorian poets in a work that's part detective story, part love story, and part meditation on the interaction between scholars and their topics.  There's a reason this novel won the Booker Prize.  Don't skip the poetry.

Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night.
Speaking of part detective story and part love story, this is the classic.  Throw in a love letter to Oxford of the 1930's and some musing about the role of women in the academy, plus Sayers' biting wit, evocative setings, and deft diction, and you have one of my favorite novels.  Really.  It's not a perfect novel, but it's damn close, and returning to it always feels like returning home to a dear friend.

Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havanna.
This is the odd one out, really, as it's neither fiction nor set in academia, but it's one of the more compelling things I've ever read and it's beautifully written.  This memoire of a childhood in Cuba on the eve of the revolution won the National Book Award, and for good reason.

Any other suggestions to add?  Please chime in.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Between hookups and courtship

So there's a recent piece over at The New York Times describing the end of courtship.  And actually, I say three cheers to that.  Courtship is not my scene.  I do not want you to call my father to ask his permission to take me out, I do not think that a cup of coffee = an implicit marriage proposal, I like issuing invitations and don't feel like you need to pay for me all the time.  And I will leave for another time all the invective I have prepared against a Certain Book which, I'm pretty sure, helped screw up normalized male/female relationships for the entire generation of people who went through youth group when I did.

But the hook-up culture described by the Times is just utterly disheartening and a very depressing alternative.  Loads of people whose fingers never leave their smartphones, who don't know how to have a conversation, who take what a friend once called the "carpet-bombing approach" to online dating: contact a whole bunch of people and hope somebody says yes.

It's not even the hooking-up part that I find distressing -- I just give that the mental flip-off and move right along -- but it's the haphazard, sloppy, informality.  I like hanging out.  I do.  I like hanging out in groups.  I like spontaneity.  But I also like feeling like a person, a living, thinking, feeling creature, not something to mitigate boredom or to fill space.  What about showing some basic courtesy to the people with whom you're spending time?

So really, I'd like to bring back dating.  Not in an artificially stiff way, but how about something like this:  He calls me several days in advance.  He asks if I'd like to go to a concert/have a glass of wine/meet for brunch.  I say yes.  We both wear real clothes, not pajamas masquerading as clothes.  We go.  We have engaging, funny, sparkling conversation, and the concert/wine/brunch is good.  We listen to each other.  He is not rude, and I am not prickly.  I offer to buy, but he does.  I say thank you sincerely, because I actually have had a lovely time.  He gives me a hug/kiss on the cheek and walks me to my car, because the town I live in can be rough at night, and he knows that.  Maybe he asks me out again, or maybe I ask him out.  Or maybe we don't go out again.  But that's ok, because we had a nice time, and it's only a glass of wine.  This does not seem like a lot to ask, but if the Times is right, it's profoundly counter-cultural.  It certainly feels that way.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Life on a Mobius Strip

The Moth takes on academics and relationships: 

(I know, you're thinking, "I don't have seventeen minutes for this!" Yes, yes, you do.  Many thanks to the Friends Of This Blog LivanDan for first introducing me to this story on a golden day in October.)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Celibacy is a Choice

L and I got to hang out together in the city yesterday. It was marvelous, and aside from good food, excellent coffee and blue sunny skies, we had some time to brainstorm about this blog.

Lots of good stuff I hope, but while we work on a few collaborative posts I want to take a moment to share a marvelous piece from 2008 written by Marcy Hintz for Christianity Today titled "Choosing Celibacy". It's only four pages and touches on many themes L and I hope to discuss in more detail in future posts.

I'd also like to plug another blog I'm ashamed to say I only just now checked out, and it's also through Christianity Today-- Her.meneutics.

All for now,

p.s. Happy 2013! Let us live this year with reckless abandon to Him.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Promoting historians

On the up side?  Being single means promotions happen more quickly than if I were married.

On the down side?  They won't happen as quickly for me as they will for my male colleagues, married or single.

Read it all, from a study by the American Historical Association.