Politics

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Bush's Press Conference

Who else is watching it? Want to post your thoughts here?

Are a few queen bees enough?

Here's another take on the underrepresentation of women in op-ed positions. Sterrett says, "There are more male columnists than female columnists, just as there are more straight columnists than gay columnists, and more white columnists than black columnists." Yes, and ideally I'd like to see more African American, gay, lesbian, and working-class columnists. Not because it would be all PC and everything, but because just maybe it would be good to get a variety of perspectives on current events and issues. One's social location informs (doesn't determine, but does inform) one's perspective. Standpoint theorists didn't get it all wrong. Sterrett then writes, "Where [Susan] Estrich is wrong is in assuming that bare stats directly relate to an individual writer’s ability to inspire change." Okay...but then:

Consider the Newspaper of Record, every Republican’s favorite news organization. They have five regular males on Op-Ed (kind of), and one female. It’s Brooks, Friedman, Herbert, Kristof, and Krugman, versus Maureen Dowd. The reason that’s not as bad as it seems is that Dowd, the only woman, has all the power.

Ask anyone who regularly reads the Times’ op-ed page what Bob Herbert’s last column was about. A clever response would be “Iraq,” since that’s mainly what he busies himself with, but no one actually knows. Does Bob Herbert even remember? He’s a fine writer—despite having the foreign-policy IQ of a tubeworm—but his work is regrettably forgettable. Same goes for all the others, even the sole conservative, David Brooks.

Dowd is the only one that matters. That’s not to say that the others are completely without merit, but clearly she’s the star writer. She may be but a small slice of the Times’ sweet, maudlin, left-wing pie, but she’s what everyone’s waiting for.

It’s not enough to look at the statistical evidence. Percentages are good for grading tests, but rather ineffective when determining the place of women in editorializing. There are more men than women writing op-eds, but women are certainly equal to men in terms of prominence. Just ask Bob Herbert.

So one woman is okay, if she's a queen bee? Or "token," as Prof. B. said? In fact, just read her post, it's a lot better than this one.

Livin' in the Republic of Gilead

I want to do my part to spread this NARAL Flash movie (via Feministing) about pharmacists' refusal to distribute birth control. As you might expect, I'm outraged at the thought that women are denied access to Plan B, birth control pills, etc. I guess there are always county health departments, but who's to say people in far-right-leaning areas won't rally together and pass local laws against distributing birth control at those? Can they do that?

Also, what about condoms and spermicide? Are the pharmacists seeking to refuse the sale of those as well? In the news stories I've read, I haven't seen that point addressed. My guess would be that the pharmacists' ostensible argument would be that morning-after pills are abortifacients, blah blah blah, but birth control pills? That's where it gets shaky for me. Pharmacists for Life defines oral contraceptives as abortifacients because they supposedly don't always prevent ovulation. If ovulation is not prevented, the pill's thinning of the uterine lining serves as a failsafe to keep the embryo from attaching. Plus the pill causes the Fallopian tubes to "move," which might somehow affect the embryo, but they don't say how. But I mean, if they've got a "totally 100% pro-life philosophy!" as they claim (keep those women barefoot and pregnant! We need to increase this sparse, sparse population we've got!), shouldn't they stop carrying condoms and spermicide too? What would happen if they started denying men access to birth control? That I'd like to see.

Over at Hit & Run, they (predictably) claim that it's obviously not in a business's interest to deny sale of products they can profit from, and the market should punish these pharmacists, not the government. I'll aid in that venture, that's for sure. If they do pass these "conscience clauses," I hope they include an addendum saying that the pharmacies that opt out of selling oral contraceptives will be required to display a designation to this effect, some symbol or message. I mean something BIG, right out on the sign in front, something you can see from the road so you don't even have to go to the trouble of stopping there only to be subjected to the degrading, infantilizing, protectionist experience of being denied your right to birth control. And require them to put the designation in all newspaper ads, phone book listings, etc.

UPDATE: More at Bitch. Ph.D. and a crucial point at Luckyhazel.

Transnational Feminisms: Rhetorical and Pedagogical Practices

"Transnational Feminisms: Rhetorical and Pedagogical Practices" was another panel I attended at CCCC (yes, I'm slowly but surely blogging them all!). As always, anything that sounds strange or wrong should probably be attributed to my misunderstanding, not their presentations. Because of a coffee craving, I got there late and only caught the tail end of Susan Jarratt's presentation, "Pathos Effects: Gender and the Regulation of Emotion in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Hearings." She was discussing trauma, loss, mourning, and psychological narrative among South Africans, and at the end, she said that rhetoricians have work to do; we must engage with the "emotional, juridical, symbolic, ethical, and political" aspects of this trauma, this "laboring in the realm of memory." The theme of the new issue of JAC is trauma, so it looks like the work is underway. Geographers and literary critics have been studying trauma and loss for a long time now, so rhetoricians would do well to look to the existing work (though I'm sure those who are studying trauma, loss, and mourning are already doing that). While I didn't catch much of Jarratt's presentation, what I did see prompted me to search for sources on the TRC and bookmark a few articles to read later:

CCCC Presentation

Ah, I'm happy to be done with my presentation. My session last night was from 7:00 to 8:15, which seems to be not so great a time slot. It was the first night of the conference, for one thing, so some people hadn't arrived yet, plus it was scheduled at the same time as some really interesting-sounding sessions including the Coalition of Women Scholars meeting, which is usually packed out. But we had, by my count, nineteen people in the audience, including some of my online friends: Nels, Mike, Mike, Dennis, Collin, Derek, and Joanna. I went last, so of course during Daisy's talk and Lanette's talk my attention was divided between listening to them and trying to calm my own nerves.

Well, off to today's sessions, which I'll blog about tonight. I've been trying. And. Trying. to upload my PowerPoint slides to this post, and I even downloaded WS_FTP to see if I could transfer it over that way. The file's too big, and the network here is lousy. It might have to wait until I get home...sorry.

UPDATE! I'm home now, and here's the presentation in .ppt format (also in OpenOffice format).

CCCC Presentation: Comments Appreciated

For several days now, I've been working on and practicing my CCCC presentation. I've done presentations of new research -- meaning I wrote the paper just for the conference -- but more often, I've presented on research I'd been doing for months or years. Both situations bring their own challenges. There's a lot I could say about my topic (gender in blogging), but I only have 15 minutes.

There's been some discussion at Collin's about the quality of presentations at CCCC, much, if not all, of which I agree with. I have specific ideas of what I like in a conference presentation, and I'm thinking of these as my personal goals. They include:

  • Speaking extemporaneously. I prefer speaking over reading a paper, but reading a paper is okay if the speaker makes plenty of eye contact and consciously varies his or her pitch so the presentation doesn't have that monotonous reading cadence. During most read-a-paper presentations, the only way I'm able to understand the content presented is if I write down as much of what the person says as I can and then read my notes later.
  • Telling a story. This is what makes presentations by people like Peter Elbow, Laura Gurak, Wayne Booth, Michael Keene, and Cynthia Selfe great. When I go to a presentation by one of those folks, I always leave knowing something I didn't know before. They make arguments and introduce new theories with classroom implications, but they do it by telling an engaging story, often from an historical perspective, drawing upon the trajectory of composition theory, history of the internet, or classroom practice. Point is, they make it interesting and memorable.
  • Going light on the theory. I realize this won't be a popular opinion, but unless the speaker has visual aids showing definitions of theoretical terms or key quotations, I think it's best to rein in the amount of theory presented. You can't always assume that your audience is already familiar with your body of theory, and if they're not, you're not going to be able to teach them much about it in a 15-minute presentation. I think presentations should pique the audience's curiosity and inspire them to go out and read the theory themselves.
  • Showing enthusiasm! It's good to do this even though you know old so'n'so is going to go for the jugular as soon as they open the floor for questions.

Then there are my personal pet peeves, especially apologizing ("I'm sorry this is so disorganized," "I'm sorry I'm reading to you like this," and so on), which makes me want to roll my eyes and boo loudly, and griping about time ("If I had time, I'd tell you about..." "I wish I had more time..." "Looks like I'm over time, but..."). Eeeyaarrrgh.

Well, enough about that. As for my own presentation, I'm going to review some of the previous scholarship in gender and computer-mediated communication by scholars like Susan Herring, Kira Hall, Sherry Turkle, Sandy Stone, and a few others. One of my professors rightly pointed out that a lot of the scholarship on weblogs doesn't appropriately situate blogging in the context of earlier research on computer-mediated communication (see also these notes). I want to show not only what is new about blogging, but what's not new -- the continuity in how gender norms are constituted in blogging practices. Some of the observations one can make in the where are the women case(s) are in keeping with what feminist researchers of CMC have been saying for close to twenty years.

Then I'm going to describe the "where are the women" case and point out some of the recurring themes and arguments. I also intend to use quotations from a couple of posts to show differing approaches to political discourse, both in terms of writing style and choice of issues (authoritative, pundit style versus an expository style drawing upon anecdotes and personal experience, foreign policy and war versus domestic laws and public policy affecting women and children).

I think what we've got here -- and this is part of what makes blogging different from the research on gender and CMC on MOOs, listservs, discussion boards, etc. -- is a self-perpetuating system involving mass media and citizen media (weblogs, podcasts, what have you). A weblog is a personal publishing platform in a way that discussion boards, MOOs, and the like are not, and bloggers gain readership and recognition in a way participants on discussion boards, listservs, and MOOs do not. Bloggers usually link to what's in the news, and the bloggers who don't as often respond to news stories don't get as much attention from the mass media. It's not that mass media attention and traffic are the proper goals for keeping a blog, but these factors can provide powerful encouragement to do better and more frequent writing. The blogger who gets these things knows that he or she has an audience who wants to know what he or she thinks.

But back to this self-perpetuating system thing. That "women's issues" don't get equal coverage in the news is a big reason why people wonder where these supposedly scarce women political bloggers are. Maureen Dowd's latest column corroborates what I've been saying (emphasis mine):

There's an intense debate going on now about why newspapers have so few female columnists. Out of what will soon be eight Times Op-Ed columnists - nine, counting the public editor - I'm the only woman. [Dowd also says that of the op-ed writers for the Washington Post, only one is a woman.]

[. . .]

Gail Collins, the first woman to run The Times's editorial page and the author of a history of American women, told The Post's Howard Kurtz: "There are probably fewer women, in the great cosmic scheme of things, who feel comfortable writing very straight opinion stuff, and they're less comfortable hearing something on the news and batting something out."

There's a lot of evidence of that. Male bloggers predominate, as do male TV shouters. Men I know and men who read The Times write me constantly, asking me to read the opinion pieces they've written. Sometimes they'll e-mail or fax me their thoughts to read right before I have lunch with them. Women hardly ever send their own rants.

There's been a dearth of women writing serious opinion pieces for top news organizations, even as there's been growth in female sex columnists for college newspapers. Going from Tess Harding to Carrie Bradshaw, Dorothy Thompson to Candace Bushnell, is not progress.

I think blogging, more so than other online communication, brings to the fore the underrepresentation of women in mass media and citizen media.

My problem is, there's also a lot of interesting rhetorical theory I bring to this topic in my dissertation. In my dissertation, I use public sphere theory -- not just Habermas, but feminist criticism of public sphere: theorists like Seyla Benhabib and Nancy Fraser.* Especially relevant is the distinction between questions of justice and questions of value (or the good life). The former, in Habermas' view, is associated with generalizable norms, and the latter is associated with values, which are more subjective and tied to particular cultures. Questions of justice should be discussed in the public sphere. Then feminist theorists point out that questions of value can also be considered questions of justice. For example, whereas domestic violence was previously considered a question of value (a woman’s life is better if she does not experience violence in the home), it is now a question of justice (society has a responsibility to protect women and children from violence in the home; failure to do so is unjust). Many women with political weblogs write more often about issues traditionally associated with questions of value, such as child safety regulations, parental leave policies, and reproductive rights, using reflection on personal experience as an inroad to discussing such issues. Am I going to be able to show the connections between this theory and blogging in any meaningful way, or is that another presentation? Must...cut...

* About the use of the term "public sphere theory": I consider Fraser and Benhabib public sphere theorists in their own right, not just secondary sources to Habermas' theory.

Family Politics

There's an eye-opening article in today's Washington Post about Japan's shrinking population. It brings into sharp relief the extent to which economies depend on women's bearing children:

The national child shortage, even as the population ages, is raising fears about Japan's long-term ability to maintain its status as the world's second-largest economy after the United States. With more Japanese choosing to remain single and forgoing parenthood, the population of almost 128 million is expected to decrease next year, then plunge to about 126 million by 2015 and about 101 million by 2050.

In Japan, schools are closing, obstetricians are shutting down their practices or becoming geriatric specialists instead to meet the demands of the market, and amusement parks are shutting down. Whole towns are folding and merging with other towns. They don't even mention toy stores, maternity clothing, and the sale of other baby-related accoutrements, such as bottles, formula, baby clothes, diaper bags, baby powder, baby lotion, baby oil, etc. etc.

More:

It has happened in part because towns such as Nishiki suffer from a shortage not only of children, but also of eligible women. When Japan's economic bubble burst in 1990, Japanese companies seeking less expensive alternatives to men began hiring women for contract and part-time jobs. Gender roles have changed as a result. With increasing financial independence, more women are avoiding marriage. According to a poll released this week by Japan's Yomiuri newspaper, seven out of 10 single Japanese women say they have no desire to become wives -- a role that in Japan still largely means staying home and raising children.

I wonder: Is there really so much resistance to stay-at-home fatherhood in Japan? After learning a lot about the misleading ways the U.S. media covers the one-child policy in China*, I tend to be skeptical of these representations of life in other countries.

Good discussion at 11D about separate finances in marriage.

* See my notes on Arabella Lyon's presentation here.

If you read nothing else tonight...

Please read Hungry for Air, by Deborah Stone. It is exquisite. The essay is a sustained juxtaposition of and reflection upon torture at Abu Ghraib, particularly "water boarding," and Stone's mother's battle with lung cancer. Stone's writing is a stunning illustration of the inseparability of the personal from the political:

There is something surreal about this juxtaposition of my mother’s end and global politics, about the way torture inspires humanity’s most compassionate moments and its most hate-filled engagements. It all makes you wonder: Does the concept of humanity hold any meaning whatsoever? Are we really all the same people?

[. . .]

In the last months of my mother’s life, I lived in two parallel universes, private and public. Both of them were under seismic stress. At a wedding reception in June, one of my political-science colleagues opined, with typical academic hedging, “We have to take seriously the possibility that torture might be the only way to get information.” No one commented on the fact that we were discussing torture-as-public-policy at a wedding reception on an idyllic summer day. No one knew that the victims they imagined as faceless bogeymen with unpronounceable names, I imagined as my mother.

[. . .]

On May 1, the day my mother first coughed blood, the major headlines were about President Bush’s meeting with King Abdullah II in the Rose Garden the day before. With his characteristic playground-bully, I-couldn’t-care-less detachment, Bush said he had told the Jordanian king that “Americans, like me, didn’t appreciate what we saw, that it made us sick to our stomachs.” As a citizen with no clout over American soldiers and as a daughter with no power over cancer, I wonder whether Mr. Bush felt sick to his stomach the same way I did when I first connected air hunger with water boarding and torture.

Just read the whole thing; these snips don't do it justice. I will assign this essay in the next writing course I teach. These are the kinds of connections we all want our students to make.

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