Wednesday, January 30, 2008

News Roundup

As I've wandered about on the internet lately doing research and lounging about, I've come across a couple of interesting articles I thought I would share.

First up, and very much related to my research, is this article on Mexico City introducing sex-segregated buses in order to protect women from harassment. The piece does a nice, quick job of summing up many of the tricky issues involved in addressing public harassment. Segregation provides small, temporary "safe" spaces for women, on the one hand. On the other, however, it smacks of "protectionism," which only reinforces women's inferior status (i.e. they can't take care of themselves, so the bus company or city government must take care of them) and limits their options (what does it mean if you are a woman and don't take the "women's" bus?). I am both amused and saddened to see that this article from 2008 is still stuck on the same issues that trouble feminists in the early 1970s.

Next up, and hopefully more related to my life than my research, is the release of a research study completed last year at Rutgers that found that folks who identify as feminists have healthier intimate relationships. There are some blogs about this study and this article in the The Guardian that, to my mind, wanders off topic a bit, but has the basics of the study. As the blog and comments note, the mainstream press didn't report much on this study.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sickness, a party, bikes, and bars...

I had a couple of intense days of parenting lately with a short school week last week and a boy who sprouted an unexplained but lingering fever. After pulling full-time duty on Friday and Saturday, I was mighty happy to head out to the Burns' Night festivities -- even if I did show up a bit late. Andre once again hosted a lovely party with a fine mix of academic friends, music friends, neighborhood friends, and friends of friends (and yes, some people fit into multiple categories). The kitchen reeked of Scotch by the time I got there, but considering the occasion and the host, that seemed fitting. I somehow ended up staying until 3:00am!

I don't sleep-in well and had been out way late the night before and that made getting my butt in gear for the Worst Day of the Year ride on Sunday a tad difficul. It was a realtively balmy 32 degrees and the roads were wet but plowed -- though the promised sunshine never appeared. I had a stupidly hard time choosing which bike to ride, but finally committed to the road bike (which has commuter tires and an insufficient back fender on it at the moment) and headed out to grab Andy on the way to the start at Kerrytown. We rolled up just in time to grab some coffee cake and jump onto the back of the 12-mile group. People bunched up and strung out quite a bit, so we opted to push up toward the front, but eventually ended up riding mostly with only each other. We would pick up another rider or a pair here or there, but there wasn't much "group" on this "group ride" -- and where were the ride leaders? I only saw one and he had this sort of annoying habit of riding way out into the lane in order to look back at the group and yell at us. I didn't mind losing him. Anyhoo, after a bit of creative route taking and a bit of cursing (on my part) of route planners that had us climb that stupid Broadway hill (I know North Campus is nice to ride through, but I'm still suffering a "decline in fitness" post surgery) we rolled up to Arbor Brewing for a beer and munchies at the after party. It was interesting to take in the crowd and find almost no bikey people we knew. Definitely an older crowd, but lots of pretty committed pedalers, which was very cool.

On Monday, the boy was still sick, so I accomplished little work but did make it out to the Bike Ypsi meeting. Put May4 on your calendars, people -- it'll be our big spring event with morning rides, some food, and afternoon exhibits/polo/other fun bikey stuff to be determined.

After the meeting there was a movement afoot to grab a beer at the Corner. Most folks bailed, however, which is a shame because it turned into a much later night than I was expecting, full of frivolity, flirting, new acquaintances, odd conversations, and general silliness when we ran into Bethany and her buddies. We were in a bar and we were drinking, so I'm thinking that the stories from the table should not be blogged about, but I'm gonna encourage ya'll to come out to SheBang when they have live music and meet Bethany (who does the organizing and sound). She's a hoot and I've enjoyed both bands I've seen there so far.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What's wrong with this picture?

I've been reading some classic treatments of social behavior lately. On my lap this morning was Goffman's Behavior in Public Places (1963). The book (tho he persists in calling it a "report" for some reason) came out of his experiences observing patients in a California mental ward. Basically, watching all these people not following the conventions of society, convinced him that the rest of us actually do a pretty damn good job of following the "rules" of the societal game -- so much so that we don't even notice that we are doing it.

The only time the rules generally come to the surface, is when someone does something that breaks the rules -- and then they receive negative sanctions. In general, however, responses only go in that negative direction. In other words, we receive little direct positive response for doing the "right" thing, but people are free to call us out if we do the "wrong" thing.

Take this fine specimen spotted in an Ann Arbor coffee shop yesterday:

Yep, he is flossing his teeth. In public. And the price he had to pay for having the broken the rules was to be heckled, photographed, and blogged about by me. (Great, now I'm the enforcer of all things proper?!?!?)

But what is it that he is really doing wrong? Well, part of the rules are that we are supposed to show up in public ready to play the game. Goffman refers to the combination of "controlled alertness" (behavior) and appropriate appearance as "interaction tonus." It is something that is supposed to be "on" all the time when in public, not something you put on when you get there or, as was the case with the flosser, you drop and readjust and then put back up while you are there.

Fortunately, there are spaces and props in public space that help us to maintain the fiction that our interaction tonus is our "natural" state. If we need to drop it temporarily or adjust it, we can retreat to the bathroom (a semi-public space with its own set of rules that allow for such activity) or hide behind a newspaper.

BTW, and this continues a conversation Steve Krause and I have had, I'm liking the Primo coffee shop in AA (on Liberty and Fifth). They have two walls of windows overlooking the street, it is warm (even if the fireplace is fake), and they serve their coffee in real and big ceramic mugs.

The only part that disappoints me is that they have single-occupancy (one-holers), gender segregated bathrooms. Riddle me that one, batman. I checked them out -- both bathrooms are the same. No gender specific equipment in either one. But labels matter, as evidenced by the man that showed up to use the restroom and found the men's locked. I had just checked the women's, knew it was empty (and the door was even open), and encouraged him to go on in (he had a sense of urgency about him...). He hesitated. I encouraged more. It took a promise that I would stand outside the door to get him in there. Now what was that all about? Was I there to protect him? Nah, there was a lock on the door. Nope, I was his "excuse" -- if he got strange looks coming out (as he might -- he was acting out of role by presenting as a man but coming out of a door marked "women" so others who were sticking to their appropriate roles would be playing by the rules to call him out -- just as I had done with the flosser), I was supposed to explain it away. As in, "it's okay, the other was full so I told him to go in there." And yes, that I am a woman is the largest part of what would have made that possible. If I'm a woman, and I gave him a pass to use the "women's" room, it must be "okay."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


(yes, this is a re-run... but I'm doing it for the Injector)

TAG...I'M IT!!...(tagged by Stacey)

Here are 10 weird, random, facts, habits or goals about me.

1) I am incredibly indecisive, which I cover for with high activity levels.

2) I am fruit fussy and I hate berries in particular... and in my world, cherries count as berries (don't give me shit, I know they are really stone fruits).

3) The best job I ever had was a summer spent working as a trail guide at a horse stable. I made no money and worked 13 hour days but rode beautiful creatures through the woods for hours and hours.

4) I like moving water... waterfalls, rivers, oceans, babbling brooks.

5) I love to be read to sleep.

6) I learned to swim really well early on because the bottom of natural bodies of water kind of freak me out.

7) I actually hate history museums, despite being a historian and all.

8) I am an excellent parallel parker -- despite not having much eye/hand coordination.

9) I don't really understand how televisions and such work... oh sure, W has tried to explain it to me but that usually just sends me off into the most peaceful sleep...

10) I can wrap my right arm around behind my head, under my chin, and touch my right ear.

BTW, I am disappointed that no one has yet offered to read me to sleep.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Free Speech and Profit

People say shitty, mean, hateful, and ignorant things all the time. And as a society, at least if you look at the application of law in this country, we have decided that this is okay. Having to deal with people around you saying things you find distasteful is an acceptable price to pay for the “freedoms” we enjoy. Essentially they get to say their yucky things, but you can (and some would argue you have a responsibility to) argue with them about it and put forth your own whacked-out views on the world. That is democracy. That is free speech.

When it comes to sexual expression, though, we seem to lose our nerve. Here we have retreated to censorship in a way that we (and by “we” I mean our courts) have not on other touchy issues, such as race. So we seek to “protect” elements of our society from pornography. But who are we protecting? Certainly, there is heavy desire to protect children but to read many of the pro-censorship arguments, we are also protecting women (sometimes this is expressed in code, as in “protecting the neighborhood” but neighborhood means, even today, women and children).

This reminds me enormously of the reforms that middle class Progressives attempted in the early part of the twentieth century. They closed dance halls and censored movies in an effort to protect vulnerable young people, particularly the “women adrift” (young single working class women living in American cities without family). The assumption behind the progressives and the anti-pornography folks’ arguments is that women are in need of protection – and as soon as someone else (or society) is in charge of “protecting” you, hasn’t your autonomy just been pooched?

As is probably obvious, I lean toward the free speech side of things, but I do have limits because as a woman and as a parent I do not want explicit commercialized sex just 'around' where I am going to casually, unintentionally encounter it daily. I actually sympathize with neighborhood groups that have embraced zoning laws and other measures to keep the peep shows and strip clubs out of their communities. Actually the ones I admire the most are those that say “we don’t like this and we would prefer to see it gone altogether, but we have no right to demand that, so we seek other solutions that will control but not eliminate.”

It is actually the commercialized part of pornography that bothers me the most. My personal suspicion is that many of the worst porn products and worst effects of porn come from the effort some have put into to making money by it. Let’s not get too high and mighty in our free speech arguments, in other words. Those who make a living in selling sex are generally the ones who have lead the free speech crusade. And they may argue free speech til the cows come home but their motivation is not a free and open political exchange, it is profit. For them, this is about protecting capitalism, not democracy.

You see, I can explain to my 9-year old why someone might enjoy looking at a naked woman dancing or a blow job being given, but I have a harder time explaining why someone would promote those just for the sake of making money. It doesn’t jibe with the other messages about sex and sexuality that float around my house. So what if we removed the profit motivation from the pornography equation? You can make any sort of sexually explicit material you want, but you can’t make money. You can get famous, you can get off, you can get a laugh out of it, but you can’t get rich. Makes me wonder how things would change.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Conflict Resolution, Ben & Jerry style

Back in my Georgia Southern days, I served on a university-wide committee that sponsored speakers and entertainment on campus. We had a nice budget that allowed us to fund cheap, boring academic speakers as well as one high-priced glitzy performer a year. During my tenure on this committee we brought Michael Moore (who was 3 hours late for the gig!!!), Maya Angelou (who did a beautiful talk and then snubbed all the university powers-that-be by walking right past the green room and out the door to her limo after the talk), and Ben and Jerry.

For the Ben and Jerry evening, one of my jobs was to babysit Jerry before the show. A student from the campus rag came by to interview him and I pulled this one little tidbit from Jerry's generous answers. The student asked how they had dealt with disagreements over the years and kept their partnership going. Jerry's answer was that, from the beginning, they had agreed that whoever wanted or needed it more got to make the call.

As one who does not concede a position easily, I've found this operating theory useful. I've given in not because I thought I was (or was able to admit I was) wrong, but because I've been able to admit that it doesn't mean as much to me. And oftentimes, that has been a good thing.

Why I'm thinking of all this today is because I'm reading lots of legal and sociological discussions of street harassment: what it is, how men and women experience it, how society might deal with it (this is the lawyers' focus), and why men do it.

Common wisdom, at least through the 1980s, was that men engaged in what was generally considered the mildest form of street harassment, girl watching, because they were ignorant of how it was perceived by the women who were the object of their sexual evaluations. More recent studies, however, show that men have gotten the message that blatant "girl watching" is wrong, but they still do it - as a part of performing/reinforcing their masculinity and the privileges that come with it. In Beth Quinn's (2002) pithy phrasing, they are "ignoring" not "ignorant." In other words, educating men on women's experiences is not necessary. They already know and they have chosen not to care.

So we need a new approach and I am wondering if we can practice a little Ben and Jerry wisdom here: why don't we say that in our society, motivated/blatant looking and evaluative gendered/sexual comments from strangers in public space are issues that matter more to women -- women experience more negative effects from it than men experience positive effects, therefore women's perspective on it should prevail. Men do not have to argue/defend anymore that looking is "natural" or that evaluations and comments are all done in "fun," they just have to say, "this is obviously important to you, therefore I will stop because you want it more."

There's a Hole in the Bucket

My parents have been e-mailing and calling me multiple times a day for the last several days. There is no family crisis brewing, no one is dying, no one is in jail.... nope, the subject of these repeated calls is what to get my daughter for her birthday. I told them, I sent them links, but in those links were options. Just like with my kids, I said all options are acceptable, pick what works for you... yet still they call. First, the home phone rings, then the cell. And yes, I'm now avoiding them and instead posting bloggy rants...

With every message on the answering machine, voicemail, and e-mail, I am reminded of two bits of popular culture:

1) The Monty Python scene in Life of Brian where he is trying to shake the followers. He tells someone to "fuck off" and the disciple replies, "but how shall we fuck off?"

2) This children's song:

There's a hole in the bucket,Dear Liza, dear Liza

There's a hole in the bucket,Dear Liza, there's a hole.

Then fix it, dear Henry,Dear Henry, dear Henry

Then fix it, dear Henry,Dear Henry, fix it.

With what shall I fix it,Dear Liza, dear Liza?

With what shall I fix it,Dear Liza, with what?

With a straw, dear Henry,Dear Henry, dear Henry

With a straw, dear Henry,Dear Henry, with a straw.

But the straw is too long,Dear Liza, dear Liza

But the straw is too long,Dear Liza, too long

Then cut it, dear Henry,Dear Henry, dear Henry

Then cut it, dear Henry,Dear Henry, cut it.

With what shall I cut it,Dear Liza, dear Liza?

With what shall I cut it,Dear Liza, with what?

With an axe, dear Henry,Dear Henry, dear Henry

With an axe, dear Henry,Dear Henry, an axe.

The axe is too dull,Dear Liza, dear Liza

The axe is too dull,Dear Liza, too dull

Then sharpen it, dear Henry,Dear Henry, dear Henry

Then sharpen it, dear Henry,Dear Henry, sharpen it.

With what shall I sharpen it,Dear Liza, dear Liza?

With what shall I sharpen it,Dear Liza, with what?

With a stone, dear Henry,Dear Henry, dear Henry

With a stone, dear Henry,Dear Henry, a stone.

The stone is too dry,Dear Liza, dear Liza

The stone is too dry,Dear Liza, too dry

Then wet it, dear Henry,Dear Henry, dear Henry

Then wet it, dear Henry,Dear Henry, wet it.

With what shall I wet it,Dear Liza, dear Liza?

With what shall I wet it,Dear Liza, with what?

With water, dear Henry,Dear Henry, dear Henry

With water, dear Henry,Dear Henry, with water.

How shall I get it,Dear Liza, dear Liza,

How shall I get it,Dear Liza, how shall I?

In the bucket, dear Henry,Dear Henry, dear Henry

In the bucket, dear Henry,Dear Henry, in the bucket.

There's a hole in the bucket.

Okay, enough ranting, time to call the folks back...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I voted

Someone has been playing politics with my politics, but I decided to vote anyway in today's primary.

In part this is because my kids have gotten rather excited about the whole process and I want to set a good example, but also because I just plain wanted to exercise my right, despite Dingell and Levin having pooched the process for the Democrats of Michigan.

Yes, I went around and around in my brain about what message I would be sending and whose hand I would be playing into... And no, I didn't vote "uncommitted" which makes no sense at all to me. Send delegates (if Michigan is allowed to send delegates) to the convention without them having to be committed to a candidate chosen by the people they are supposed to represent? Uh, no. It is quite likely the national party will blink, Michigan Democrats will get a slap on the wrist (like the Republican Party did), and Michigan will get to seat at least some part of its delegate pool. And if that does happen, I don't want a bunch of uncommitted delegates or delegates who represent only a handful of people who voted out there on the convention floor. Since all of the viable Democratic candidates have serious liabilities (like not one of them supports same-sex marriages) but all of them are better than the Republican options (particularly on issues such as abortion and most foreign policy), it wasn't actually that hard to fill in a bubble on the ballot.

It didn't hurt that it is a lovely morning out there, with a fresh dusting of snow... So I walked Emma to school, played footsie with "democracy" and now can settle down to work.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

First Day, First Ride

In a move that confirmed my spouse's growing suspicion that I am insane, I took the mountain bike out for a ride today.

There is a wee bit of heavy, wet snow out there!

I only rode about 9 miles but it was really a lovely day with fresh white snow on the ground, branches, and rooftops. It seemed like a good way to start the year. I put out the call to Bike Ypsi folks, but only our adopted Ann Arbor member showed up. That's okay, we always have fun riding together and his soaked clothes made me appreciate the technical cold weather gear I've acquired over the past few months!

My first ride since the hip surgery 3 weeks ago and my first ride of 2008. Yay!

Party Shoes

With the children off enjoying a few days with the grandparents, I put on my party shoes and headed out for three different parties. Thanks to John and Dave, Natalie and Kristen, and Laura and Dave! I chatted, I ate, I sang, I kissed, and I wandered the three blocks home from the last party through the deep, perfect snow at 4:30am. It was a lovely night and bodes well for the year to come.
Happy New Year, ya'll!