Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Women's's pop quiz time, y'all!

This semester I'm teaching an Introduction to Women's Studies class in order to buff up my CV and gain some more varied teaching experience. So far, two weeks in, it's been great experience. My students seem generally engaged and invested, and they talk in class without my prompting. I think it'll be a good semester, even if teaching a lecture class (as opposed to the discussion-based classes I've taught before) is a brand new thing for me.

That said, in order to help encourage them to do the readings, I'll be springing some pop quizzes on them here and there over the course of the semester. Tuesday's quiz was about women's suffrage and based on a chapter they read from Louise Michele Newman's book White Women's Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States (chapter 2: "The Making of a White Female Citizenry: Suffragism, Antisuffragism, and Race").

Anyway, here's the quiz. How would you fare?
  1. Define suffrage/suffragist.
  2. Define abolition/abolitionist.
  3. True or False?: Female anti-suffragists were also against women’s rights in other areas.
  4. True or False?: Black men were the most adamant opponents of a woman’s right to vote.
  5. True of False? Colorado and Wyoming were two of the first states to allow women the right to vote.
  6. True or False?: The 15th amendment gave women the right to vote.
  7. True or False?: The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) and the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) were really the same organization.
  8. True or False?: Some suffragists argued that women should be allowed to vote because their “moral purity” would help rid politics of its corruption.
  9. Besides gender and race, name two other markers of identity that came into play in the suffrage movement.

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Femininity and the Workplace

M. Leblanc of Bitch Ph. D has an interesting piece up about "Acting like a Man" with respect to the workplace. In it, she argues that women need to promote themselves more, to be more self-interested in order to succeed. I have to (mildly) disagree.

Now don't get me wrong - I'm all in favor of strong women, aggressive women, independent women - and any other sort of women; that's the point.

Women - and men, for that matter - should be free to have whatever personality is natural to them, to behave in whatever way they wish (within reason, of course). And people can of course react to that however they want to as well, including not hiring them for being less confident.

But consider this: do one's "self-promotion, confidence, and even occasional arrogance" really have a great deal to do with ability in most careers? I, for one, could do with far less of that kind of thing with the (largely male, admittedly) people I work with. A debilitating lack of confidence is a problem, of course, but most people don't have that issue.

For me, it's quite simple. I like being slightly self-depreciating. I like saying 'sorry' and using tag phrases. I like speaking softly in formal situations. I don't like to appear confident when I'm not, etc. It's just who I am.

It seems like the real trouble is with the employers who are unable to see past the mask of confidence to a persons ability, and who are so used to judging people by specific proscribed attitudes that they can't accept anything else. It's not that women are somehow 'naturally' more sensitive or non-aggressive - as in Ms. Zandt take on the subject (Which M. Leblanc rightly criticizes), but that women and men who choose to be less confident, less self-interested (dare I even say, kinder!) shouldn't be punished for it.

M. Leblanc:

These are natural, human ways of behavior that women are pressured, cajoled, and outright prevented from engaging in, from puberty on. Humans are an ambitious bunch, and we're self-interested and selfish. I don't think we need to jettison that aspect of human nature in order to live in a more just, free, and collaborative society, as Zandt suggests. What about ambition that seeks power and authority in order to bring about justice? That's the kind of ambition I have.

I respectfully submit that ambition, self-interest, and selfishness aren't 'natural human behavior' any more than self-sacrifice, or a desire to live simply is. Surely there's room enough for all kinds!

Don't get me wrong - any woman who is ambitious (especially for justice!) is to be greatly admired. But it often seems as if the presence of strong women is used an excuse for society to continue to discriminate against femininity.

So I suppose I'm not really disagreeing here - Shirky's original article was just so much tripe. I'd just like the feminist response to that sort of thing to be more balanced.

What do you think? Is there something intrinsically good about ambition and self-interest?

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Monday, January 18, 2010

On listening to MLK

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

I sat down and listened to the "I have a dream" speech today - and realized that I had never actually heard it before! Sure, I've read the speech, and others of his perhaps a dozen times, but I never actually listened to it, all the way through, as spoken by the man himself.

It was surprisingly enlightening.

I spent most Martin Luther King holidays during my teenage year angry, not perhaps at MLK himself, but at the importance that people attached to him. It seemed completely justified at the time - he was a plagiarist, a hypocrite in a variety of other ways, etc. (and I was influenced by my moderately racist local culture). After I became a feminist, I added his occasionally poor attitude toward women to the list.

Eventually, of course, I realized that most of his supposed failings were either fabrications or exaggerations made by a rather nasty group of people (there's a nice write up here, if you're curious). But even more important, I think, was realizing who Martin Luther King Jr. actually was.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a great speaker. He wasn't a philosopher or a scientist who single-handedly discovered some great truth. And while he was an excellent leader, I don't think that's really why he's important. Martin Luther King Jr. real impact was that when he spoke, he wasn't just speaking for himself - he was speaking for an entire community. Even more, perhaps - he spoke for a whole group of people, black, white, women, men, who had one thing in common: they cared about equality.

MLK didn't just speak about race either, as some would have us think, he spoke about war, about poverty, even about technology. His genius was that he said what the people said; in listening, we can hear the people (including, perhaps, ourselves) speak.

And we would do well to listen.

(Crossposted at Constant Thoughts)

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Day of Service

Following in the footsteps of my good friend and brilliant blogger, Dr. Jay, I wanted to point FWF readers in the direction of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. It's a call for people to spend their MLK Day (especially if you have the day off) to volunteer in some capacity in your community. And, if you can't volunteer on Monday for whatever reason, I'd urge you to take some time to think about where and when you might be able to start volunteering (if you're not doing so already). As a regular volunteer at my local animal shelter, my experience has been extraordinarily positive; I look forward to going there every week, and I think it really might be one of the most fun and rewarding things in my life right now.

If you have no idea where to start, Volunteer Match and All for Good are good places to start looking for volunteer opportunities in your community. Also, if you can afford it and want to help those whose lives and livelihoods have been devastated by the earthquake in Haiti, please consider donating to Partners in Health, Doctors Without Borders, or The Red Cross.

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