The assorted musings of Hugo Schwyzer: a progressive Anabaptist/Episcopalian Democrat (but with a sense of humor), a community college history and gender studies professor, animal rights activist, ENFP Gemini, avid marathoner, aspiring ultra-runner, die-hard political junkie, and (still) the proud father of the most amazing chinchilla on God's green earth.
In a move to shore up his sagging support among California gays and moderates Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has reportedly hired Susan Kennedy as his new chief of staff.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Schwarzenegger will make the formal announcement this week. The appointment of Kennedy is part of a major shakeup of the governor's staff as he heads into an election amid plummeting approval ratings.
Kennedy is a longtime gay activist, a former official with the state Democratic Party official and was a top adviser to former Gov. Gray Davis...
She and partner Vicki Marti exchanged vows in a 1999 ceremony in Hawaii that was attended by many California political insiders.
She is highly respected by both Democrats and Republicans, although the far right of the GOP has expressed concerns about the reported appointment.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has become a liberal Democrat. By placing a leading homosexual, pro-abortion Democrat activist in charge of his entire administration, Arnold has taken a disastrous turn to the left. Conservative voters who supported him are waking up from their dream and stepping into reality – and the reality stinks. This is like George W. Bush appointing Hillary Clinton to be in charge of his administration. It’s utterly ridiculous. Why doesn’t Arnold get honest and just leave the Republican Party?
The comments below this post continue to come in, and there's an interesting exchange worth following up on.
Stacer wrote: it can be very hard for women to relinquish control over what is traditionally her domain, especially if she was raised traditionally and/or has family members who pressure her in that regard.
I replied: Helping wives to relinquish that sort of control is a task that men, especially those who also come out of a conservative background, ought to consider embracing.
Caitriona asked in response: Uhm, just how do you propose that men "help" their wives relinquish control in these areas?
This is getting into some tricky stuff. Let's see if I can wade through it.
I've known a fair number of women who have been raised with the notion that the home is their domain. The cooking, the cleaning, the childcare, and the general presentation of the household are things they see as entirely, or nearly entirely, within their bailiwick. While many feminists have rightly asked their boyfriends and husbands to "step up" and take an active role in domestic tasks, many traditional women have not. In some instances, they don't ask because they don't expect their male partners to be interested or willing to help. But in other cases, these women have bought in to the notion that their very identity as wives and mothers is inextricably linked with how they "keep house."
Again, it's difficult not to share too much from personal experience. I've lived with quite a few women (some to whom I was married, some not). They came from widely divergent social, economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. In some of these relationships, my partner and I agreed to live in a kind of low-key slovenliness. (I'm a bit of a slob, as anyone who has seen my office can tell you!) In other cases, we agreed to keep the house or apartment up to a "higher standard", and we either shared the labor or (more recently) hired help to do it for us.
I almost never tell stories about my exes. Here's a reasonably safe one. One of my former wives was, like me, fairly sloppy 'round the house. Laundry piled up, dishes were done intermittently, and so forth. And then, a few months into our marriage, her mother (who lived some distance away) announced she was coming into town. The day before my mother-in-law arrived, I found my wife on her knees scrubbing the bathtub. While I had been off at school, she had been cleaning every square inch of the home. "For heaven's sake", I said, "what are you doing? Your mother is going to stay in a hotel anyway."
My ex looked at me, almost tearfully, and she said "Hugo, you don't understand." She went on to explain how much pressure she felt to live up to her mother's standards for how a home should look. She said that pressure had only really become acute after we were married. "My mom expects me to take care of you", she told me, "If the house isn't perfect, it means I'm a lousy wife and a bad woman." Though my ex-wife was a bright and competent and educated woman with a career outside the home, on that afternoon many years ago she was a frantic and anxious daughter, worried desperately about not living up to a standard that I simply could not understand.
I've come to realize (after three divorces and now, at last, in a truly happy marriage), just how often society at large (particularly in traditional culture) judges women by not only the state of their homes, but the outer appearance of their husbands. I've realized that for some people, when a married man seems stressed or unkempt or troubled, the wife is invariably to blame. My former mother-in-law didn't just expect a clean house from her daughter, she expected her daughter to have successfully arranged my life! According to my former wife, she would be judged by her family in no small part on how comfortable, well-fed, and settled I appeared. This was a stunning revelation to me.
I've come to realize that this particular ex-wife did not come from an unusual family in this regard. A great many traditional women know that they will be assessed and judged by family, peers, and community based on their domestic skills and the behavior of their husbands. And as men, I believe we do have a role to play here! We must be willing to do more than "help out" around the house (the language of a child doing chores). We must proactively assert ourselves in domestic decisions, lifting a culturally-imposed burden off the shoulders of our spouses. While it is not our job to help our wives reject their backgrounds, it is our job to help our wives escape the prison of mandated gender roles. We do that not only by doing the dishes, but by being willing to say "Hey, it's my kitchen too. I can take care of it, and I will take care of it. Let me be your equal partner here."
I'm not suggesting, ala some of the Promise Keepers, that men begin asserting the traditional notion of "headship" in the home. But I am suggesting that men will do well to remember that their wives and girlfriends will often come from backgrounds that have loaded them up with crushing expectations about fashioning a domestic paradise.While some women no doubt delight in some domestic tasks from time to time, feminists recognize that it is spiritually and intellectually deadening for women to connect their own sense of self-worth to the deliciousness of a casserole or the spotlessness of a floor or the whiteness of a freshly laundered t-shirt. In the pro-feminist world, casseroles do need to be made, floors do need to be swept, and the laundry will still need doing. But husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends can work together to extricate women from connecting these basic tasks to their own core identities!
It's not enough for men to simply volunteer to do a task occasionally (and then do it so badly that they have a permanent deferral from household work!) Husbands must be willing to shoulder domestic burdens, and shoulder them well. But husbands and boyfriends do well to be firm here. Some women will be deeply anxious about relinquishing control over the domestic sphere, both because they may be afraid their husbands will screw up, and because they fear losing an aspect of their identity. They may, as Stacer suggests, fear the harsh judgments of their culture; they may, as my ex-wife did, fear the contempt and disappointment of their own mothers. While remaining compassionate and understanding, men also have to be willing to gently challenge their wives to let go of this ancient and tiresome baggage, and we have to be willing to shoulder our half of the load.
UPDATE: I just re-read what I've written, and I think I'm going to catch some hell for the penultimate paragraph, which seems unfairly dismissive of domesticity. I've opened myself up to the charge of sexism here, by making condescending assumptions about what tasks ought to be at the core of women's self-worth! Still, I'll let stand what I wrote. Just thought you should know that I can see another side or three...
First off, I ask for prayers this morning for the safety of the four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams who were kidnapped this past weekend in Iraq. When I was actively involved with the Mennonites, there was no charity as near and dear to our collective Anabaptist hearts as the work of CPT. I've known several members of Pasadena Mennonite Church who have traveled with CPT to places such as Iraq and the Israeli occupied territories. For several years, CPT was my favorite charity.
CPT is made up of committed pacifists who take seriously the authentic meaning of pacifism: to "make peace" (from the Latin pax facere). (Here's a BBC profile of the group.) Too many folks, both literally and metaphorically, confuse pacifism with passivity (a different Latin root altogether). Real pacifism, especially in the Anabaptist/Quaker/Peace Church tradition from which CPT sprang, is about actively "getting in the way". It is about protecting those who are most at risk, whether the threat comes from uniformed armies or insurgents. CPTers know the dangers they face; where others travel with armed guards or in Humvees, they travel light (without even the small sword Jesus suggested they take!) And of course, anyone working for CPT is particularly vulnerable to being kidnapped.
As a pacifist, I still find it possible to honor those who carry weapons to the world's most dangerous places. But I honor still more those who leave the comforts of home, and armed only with the Gospel and a profound commitment to nonviolence and peace, place themselves "in the way" of destruction. They are my real heroes, and though they now face a not unanticipated danger, I am praying for their safety and for the larger mission of CPT.
I got an interesting email last week in response to this recent post on dating. A reader who asked not to be identified (I'll call him "Malcolm") wrote a lengthy note on the subject of the dating in the college/graduate school world. With his permission, I'm quoting a paragraph from his note in which he discusses the interplay of his attraction to certain "types" with pro-feminist principles:
What I don't like... is that I've become shallower in terms of who I go after - when other information is unavailable, appearance makes up the difference. Near the beginning of the year, I mentioned the physical type for which I had the greatest weakness, but mused that it had little or no predictive value for whom I might eventually pursue. Looking over the past year, every dark-skinned, dark-haired, and dark-eyed girl with whom I had reasonable contact in (Large Public University Town) became a "person of interest". Those of paler hue did not attract my interest at the same rate. I'm not sure if that is actually a problem, but it's an effect I doubt most feminists would approve of.
Malcolm had many other good and interesting things to say, but I want to focus in a bit on this.
There's a widespread and patently false assumption that a heterosexual man who embraces feminist principles ought not to have a "type" to which he is drawn. Indeed, one of the issues that I see coming up in men's discussion groups over and over again is the problem of physical attraction. Can one really be a pro-feminist if one is attracted to women based upon their looks? If one is more attracted to thin women, or blondes, or Asians, or whatever, do these specific attractions vitiate one's principles? Many young men I've worked with think that in order to be an authentic feminist, a man must be only interested in a woman's mind, a woman's heart, a woman's spirit. According to this line of thinking, to be too attracted to a woman's body, or to find one type of body more attractive than others, is evidence of an insufficiently evolved pro-feminist mentality!
Here's where a simple-minded pro-feminism risks turning into gnosticism. The gnostics rejected the idea of the body as good, seeing it as a prison for the soul. Various gnostic heresies continue to abound, and I've met some folks on the fringes of the feminist world who still cling to it. They look at the sexual exploitation of women in our intensely visual culture, and they long for a world where women are seen separately from their flesh. Dating and mating decisions, they maintain, should be based on intellectual, emotional, political, and spiritual compatibility -- not on physical desire. According to this small but passionate group, those who make choices even partly based on external appearance have failed to evolve sufficiently, and are victims of a corrupted, carnal culture. And unfortunately, more than a few men and women who are trying to live with feminist principles end up feeling a nagging sense of guilt about what they believe to be their own "superficial" and "shallow" attractions.
But authentic feminism is not hostile to the body, nor to human sexual responses to the body. Feminism does ask the hard questions about why our culture suggests only some kinds of bodies are worthy of being deemed attractive! Feminism is critical of the extraordinarily narrow range of women's bodies depicted as beautiful and desirable in the culture. But there's a difference between speaking out against the ways in which popular culture limits the definition of beauty and desire, and rejecting the idea of lust and physical attraction altogether.
Most of us -- not all -- have certain physical "types" to which we are often drawn. While I am not an arbiter of appropriate "pro-feminist behavior" (that would be a laugh!), I can't say I'm troubled by the fact that Malcolm is attracted to dark-skinned young women. Now, if that attraction is linked to a belief that those with darker skin might be more submissive (and knowing Malcolm, I don't think it is), then that would be a problem. A "type" does become a problem when certain physical attributes are presumptively linked to certain anti-feminist qualities (submissiveness, docility, and so forth). Most feminists are rightly troubled, for example, by white men who have an "Asian fetish" that is clearly linked to fantasies about submission and sexuality. But a man who simply prefers brunettes, without attaching any cultural baggage to his attraction, is not violating any vital feminist principle. We are allowed our individual quirks and our individual preferences, as long as those quirks and preferences are not linked to racist and sexist assumptions that certain types of women "know how to treat a man better."
Ultimately, we are embodied people. Both my faith and my feminism tell me that our bodies are good and worthy of pleasure and respect. My faith and my feminism also tell me that our fallen culture sends unhealthy and limited messages about what sort of bodies are most beautiful and worthy of desire. It is an important part of "growing up" to learn to separate our own unique wants from those that are imposed on us by our peers and society at large. (My philosophically-minded friends will question where it is that these "original desires" come from, if not from external influences. Pace, folks, that's an issue better left to those more inclined to theoretical discussions of the nature of the self. I'm not qualified or even particularly interested.) The human family is naturally physically diverse in appearance, and I am convinced we are equally diverse -- at our core -- in terms of what appearances attract us. And that's not a bad thing at all.
Anyone who has seen the parade of sales representatives through a doctor's waiting room has probably noticed that they are frequently female and invariably good looking. Less recognized is thefact that a good many are recruited from the cheerleading ranks.
Known for their athleticism, postage-stamp skirts and persuasive enthusiasm, cheerleaders have many qualities the drug industry looks for in its sales force. Some keep their pompoms active, like Onya, a sculptured former college cheerleader. On Sundays she works the sidelines for the Washington Redskins. But weekdays find her urging gynecologists to prescribe a treatment forvaginal yeast infection.
Some industry critics view wholesomely sexy drug representatives as a variation on the seductive inducements like dinners, golf outings and speaking fees that pharmaceutical companies have dangled to sway doctors to their brands.
But now that federal crackdowns and the industry's self-policing have curtailed those gifts, simple one-on-one human rapport, with all its potentially uncomfortable consequences, has become more important. And in a crowded field of 90,000 drug representatives, where individual clients wield vast prescription-writing influence over patients' medication, who better than cheerleaders to sway the hearts of the nation's doctors, still mostly men.
Read the whole piece.
There's an obvious parallel, I think, to the college textbook industry. When I first started teaching at PCC, I was stunned by the large number of attractive young women who visited me regularly as representatives of one publishing company or another. At our college, individual professors are allowed total discretion in selecting textbooks for their courses. And this can translate into a great deal of money.
For example, I have three sections of Western Civilzation and two sections of Modern European History. Each has about 40 students enrolled. That's 200 students who will have to buy the texts I pick. At prices averaging at least $65-75 per book, my text decisions are worth tens of thousands of dollars every year. (I teach intersessions too, of course!)
During my first four or five years at PCC, at least until the late 1990s, I got regular visits from publishing reps. I remember one man who was a regular, and one much older woman who had come out of retirement, but the rest were all young women between about 23-32. Almost all were stereotypically attractive and outgoing. Each repped for a different publishing house, and each of these houses published different textbooks for Western Civ survey courses.
I have always kept up with the latest textbooks in my field. Frankly, however, the top four or five publishing houses all put out remarkably similar texts. Most big companies have several titles in Western Civ; they have books with more of a social/cultural emphasis, books with a straightforward political emphasis, and "brief editions" of their larger offerings. But by and large, I've discovered that there's precious little difference among them. They all cover more or less the same subjects in the same way, and they are all priced within a few dollars of each other.
Because the books are so similar to one another, the textbook reps needed strong and vivacious personalities to sell their product. And flirtation was obviously a strong selling point! I can say with a straight face that I never consciously ordered one particular text based upon the attractiveness of a publisher's representative, but I won't deny that in my younger days I did enjoy the visits. Several times, I was taken to relatively inexpensive lunches; I received a host of small, relatively cheap gifts. (I still have an old solar calculator from about 1996; it works just fine.) And of course, I was flirted with fairly consistently.
From a feminist standpoint, I was a bit ambivalent. On the one hand, I was -- in my younger days -- much more comfortable with casual flirtation than I am now. Though I never dated a textbook rep, I did enjoy the banter and the tension immensely. At the same time, I was always conscious of the fact that these women were paid on commissions; my decisions did affect, in not insubstantial ways, their livelihood. As a pro-feminist man, I knew I had to be very careful about deriving even casual pleasure from an experience with a woman that was based on her economic needs. Many years ago, I decided not to ask out the one textbook rep I found remarkably appealing. I was using her company's books at the time, and I didn't want to put her in the position of being afraid to reject me for fear that I would cancel my order. So we flirted and batted our eyes and all that, and I ended up going out with the woman who became my third wife instead. The flirtatious rep moved on to another job, and I switched to a new textbook.
About five years or so, the number of visitors dropped dramatically. Though the prices of textbooks have continued to rise, it seems the publishing companies have cut back on their expenses by hiring few sales reps. I now get only one or two visits a year. Most of the publishers seem to rely on relentless e-mail spam to get me to adopt their books. This never works. Honestly, I've stuck with the same text for three years now in my survey courses. It's a solid one, it's a tad bit cheaper than the competition, and I haven't been given any incentive to change. No rep has taken me to lunch since early 2000, if not before -- I haven't gotten so much as a free pen in at least as long.
My boundaries weren't bad back then, and they are better now. But I wouldn't mind a new calculator. And I wouldn't mind being taken out for sushi.
I cross-posted this morning's piece over at Cliopatria, and Jonathan Dresner has a very strong response. Weigh in here or there as you please. He makes some fine points (even as he styles himself the "anti-Hugo" to do so). I may have been at this teaching gig for a while, but I'm always interested in hearing how my global colleagues handle their classrooms. Frankly, I know I'm a reasonably popular and entertaining professor -- but I'm not always sure that I'm as good a teacher as I ought to be. Perhaps, in my effort to construct interesting narratives, I pander too often to my own interests and my students' pleasure. Or, perhaps, Jonathan and I have two equally legitimate ways of approaching the same subject.
One of the pleasures of tenure is the ability to discuss one's pedagogical weaknesses in a very public forum in the full confidence that one's career is not on the line!
I'm back in the office after the long weekend. We're into our final two weeks of the semester. Folks are returning to campus this morning in various stages of mid-holiday exhaustion, anxiety, and satiety. Few times of year in the academic calendar are as potentially frantic as the two weeks of school that remain after Thanksgiving and before the Christmas holidays! 'Twill be a busy time.
Once again, I have failed to get as far as I had hoped in my Western Civilization courses. My ancient history class (History 1A) will, as it has every semester since I started teaching in the fall of 1993, stop well short of the mandated "end point." According to the catalog, History 1A is designed to cover, in one semester, all of Western Civ from the Mesopotamians up to the death of Louis XIV in 1715. 1B, the modern half of the sequence, merely covers the remaining 290 years of recorded time.
When I first started teaching here at Pasadena City College, I asked one of the older profs (long since retired) if he ever "got" to 1715. "No", he said thoughtfully, "I never have. I made it to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) once, but that was a rare year." He told me to try my best, and accept that "falling short" (chronologically speaking) was part and parcel of what it meant to teach history survey courses.
When I first started teaching, I covered far more ground than I do these days. Fresh out of graduate school in the early 1990s (and still writing my dissertation), my knowledge was thin indeed. That first year of teaching at the college, I composed my lectures out of a few old textbooks, particularly this one. I was usually only one week ahead of my students. What I lacked in depth, I made up for in enthusiasm; I had learned early on that a good lecturer is not necessarily someone with a profound grasp of details, but rather someone who can weave a compelling narrative.
Still, in those early years, I worried about "filling up" my teaching hour. My greatest fear was of running out of things to say. I needn't have worried -- in the dozen years that I've been teaching, I've never run out of thing to say (though that may say more about my personality than my erudition.) Today, my biggest task is choosing what not to say! Especially in these final weeks, I ruthlessly cut out entire lectures, trying to decide what my students absolutely need and what they can do without.
For example, in my Monday/Wednesday History 1A course (the one that is supposed to get to 1715), I have four lectures left. One of those days is devoted to preparing them for the final, so really, I only have three lectures. And I'm just now reaching the fall of the Roman Empire. I'm a millennium short of where I ought to be. What must I say about the Middle Ages? The Renaissance? Do I cut out the Vikings? The Black Death? Feudalism? The development of the Western Church? So many vital topics, and simply not enough time. This is not unusual; in the last five or six years, this is where I usually am two weeks before the end of the semester.
Yes, I was absent a couple of days this fall. But even if I had given every lecture I had planned to give, I would still be centuries away from the prescribed goal. And it's not as if I've wasted time in the earlier weeks of the course! I've whipped through Hammurabi, the Hittites and the Hebrews; I've given only cursory (if, one hopes, entertaining) treatment to Sappho and Socrates and St. Paul. I tell stories and relate anecdotes that consume time, it's true -- but if I didn't, I would simply be spitting out a litany of facts and dates that would vanish from my students' minds as soon as their finals were finished.
I know I "covered more ground" when I was a novice teacher. I covered more ground because, frankly, I knew a hell of a lot less about the subjects I was lecturing on. Though I don't read new material vociferously, I do continue to explore the subject matter on my own time. Today, for example, I know infinitely more about the struggle between the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the early first century of the common era than I did in 1995. I have more detail, and better stories, to share with my students. And I'm not going to sacrifice all the good stories for the sake of fulfilling the impossible demand of making it to the building of Versailles and the War of the Spanish Succession in the same semester in which I've been lecturing on the religious reforms of Amenhotep IV!
I'm not blithely disregarding the seriousness of the catalog descriptions. When my students transfer on to four-year institutions, those institutions will have the right to assume that the "History 1A" mentioned on their transcript covered all the material the college catalog promised. Transfer credits are awarded based on certain assumptions, and the assumptions are based on written descriptions that we who teach are pledged to follow. The easy answer to the problem would be to add an extra semester, dividing Western Civ into three terms (History 1A covering the West until the fall of Rome, 1B covering the fall of Rome to the Enlightenment, 1C covering Modern Europe.) But I've been told many a time that that idea is a complete non-starter. Community colleges are interested in getting students through quickly; complaints about how long it takes to transfer are already rife. Anything that might slow down the process (like adding another semester) is unthinkable.
So even as history itself expands with each passing year, and even as our knowledge of the human past grows, we must continue to teach this ever-expanding body of material within the same short two semesters. If I honor the letter of the catalog and rush to 1715, my students will be deprived of all of the stories, the anecdotes, and the details that make history "come alive." If I focus on keeping the narrative at a reasonable pace, and if I continue to include those fun tidbits that I know students enjoy, I will invariably fall well short of the required destination.
Sometimes, I think of my job as being like that of a tour bus driver, hired to drive folks from L.A. to San Francisco and show them the sights along the way. I've been given one tank of gas, and a prescribed time limit in which to get my passengers to their destination. But I've also been asked to keep the passengers awake and entertained, and I've also been told that my passengers need to see as many points of interest as possible. If I honor the commitment to get them all the way to San Francisco on time and on that one tank, I'll take them straight up I-5 through the Central Valley. No Santa Barbara, no Big Sur. We won't wander into any small towns; there will be no time for sight-seeing. We'll push on when we're tired, and we'll get to our destination on time. My passengers will have seen nothing but flat farmland, and they won't have had a chance to get a picture of the state in their minds, but they'll get where they paid to go. On the other hand, if I drive up the coast, and stop in the little towns and cities, encouraging my passengers to walk on the beaches and in the redwood forests, we'll be late. We'll probably run out of gas. But my passengers will have had a hell of a more memorable journey.
As a teacher, my job is to make the past interesting; my job is to stimulate curiosity about the all-too-easily forgotten human story. In the time I've been allotted, I can either be effective in this task of making history come alive, or I can cover all of the required material, but after my best efforts for lo these dozen years, I'm absolutely convinced I cannot do both.
I don't know if this Jane Yolen piece is the best choice for a Thanksgiving Short Poem or not, but anything that can encourage a little less guilt today is fine by me. It's a good poem to read and say, as I did after the first time I read it, "Amen, sister!"
FAT IS NOT A FAIRY TALE
I am thinking of a fairy tale, Cinder Elephant, Sleeping Tubby, Snow Weight, where the princess is not anorexic, wasp-waisted, flinging herself down the stairs.
I am thinking of a fairy tale, Hansel and Great, Repoundsel, Bounty and the Beast, where the beauty has a pillowed breast, and fingers plump as sausage.
I am thinking of a fairy tale that is not yet written for a teller not yet born, for a listener not yet conceived, for a world not yet won, where everything round is good: the sun, wheels, cookies, and the princess.