Thursday, October 31, 2013

Parenting - The Long Game

I think a lot about the conversations I have with my kids, especially my hyper-verbal daughter, and the way they set up the next conversations. I over-intellectualize, thinking deeply about the lessons I want to impart to my children, and how I might take small steps down the road even at this early age.

For example, Ellie and I sing a little song, "Don't wear anything that's not comfy," as my mantra against girl-clothing designed to reveal rather than be useful.

When she replicates notions heard in pre-school: "Girls like pink, boys like blue," I remind her that she likes blue ("Oh yeah!," she says), that her eyes are blue, and that we alike all the colors of the rainbow.

We have a church across the street (evangelical, Latino) and she asks about the people coming and going or the (honestly, monotonous) music coming out into the street, I give her very careful answers. I want her to respect people who are church-goers, while understanding that her family doesn't, and that all these things are ok - so long as one avoid being judgemental. And then we talk a little bit about values and where they come from.

We try to build life-long fitness habits, healthy eating, healthy sleeping, love for family, and so forth.

And I tell her that our family always, all the time, roots for the Red Sox.

In all these many ways, I'm playing the long game, trying to help my children develop the values and perspectives that I value. It doesn't, of course, always seem to work out.

I thought about this as I read Anoosh Jorjorian's blog on trying to talk to her kids about gender complexities.

“Is that a boy or a girl?” Silver asks, loudly, and while pointing. I find myself fighting micro-battles. Yes, boys can have long hair, like Abraham, and women can have short hair, like (butch) Aunty Hannah. No, certain colors are not for girls or boys. Colors are for everybody. (Difficult to prove when the boys around her never, ever wear pink, except as dress-up.) Some boys like to wear dresses (like Ocho). Those straight-leg purple knit pants? Not boy pants or girl pants. Anybody could wear those pants. And you need to put them on right now or we’re going to be late for school.
Some things I really like here. First, the notion of "micro-battles" as a way or articulating the little efforts to push back against the dominant cultural norms without indoctrinating. If we want our kids to be free thinkers, and I do, we can't push too hard. Also I recognize JorJorian's frustration with: "Difficult to prove when the boys around her never, ever wear pink, except as dress-up."

She works through the issues and talks about her parenting philosophy, then wrote out her first attempt at explaining non-binary gender to her daughter. She wrote:

“Well, actually, while most boys grow up to be men, and most girls grow up to be women, some boys grow up and decide to be women, and some girls grow up and decide to be men. And some decide they aren’t men or women at all, but something in between, or something completely different. And that’s OK.”

I winced a little. It wasn’t exactly right. After all, many kids know they are trans long before adulthood. And, I wondered, instead of saying “something,” shouldn’t I just say “trans” and introduce them to the correct word? But then do I go into pronouns, explain “ze” and “hir”? It was bedtime: they were tired, and so was I. I have time, I reminded myself, I have time to try again. And again.

Silver was completely silent after I said this, and then she changed the subject. It’s what she usually does when I say something that confuses her, and she needs to think about it more. I feel like this is completely uncharted territory. I am going to make mistakes. But I hope that although the arc of parenting is long, I will bend it towards justice.
 I appreciate Jorjorian's vulnerability here in writing this out.

She knows, like I know, that this isn't quite right, this isn't quite what she wants to say, it's not exact, it's still using binaries, the "something" word is the wrong word. But her audience is a child and Jorjorian, like me, is playing a long game. She doesn't have to get it all the way right tonight, she just needs to nudge the conversation along and set the groundwork for the next attempt.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sexist firm claims it can't be sexist.

Yesterday, Soraya Chemaly, one of the feminist writers I read regularly (Rule #3 - It's about them), tweeted about a memo from a huge international law-firm to its female employees.

It's sexist in entirely predictable ways, demanding women de-gender and de-sexualize themselves so that they can be taken seriously. I genuinely believe that the author of the memo thought it was helpful. And that's the problem. More on that below, after some basic information.

Here's a report from Today:
Prestigious global law firm Clifford Chance, which has 35 offices in 25 countries, is coming under fire for the five-page guide, sent to all the female employees in its two U.S. offices in New York and Washington, D.C. The tips, including “don’t giggle,” “don’t take your purse up to the podium,” and “no one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage” was sent last week and leaked online shortly after.
Don't giggle. Don't take your purse. Don't show your breasts. Above the Law, which leaked the memo, mocks the memo (their emphases):
We’ve listed some of the most ridiculous “tips for women” here, along with our commentary:
“Like” You’ve got to Lose “Um” and “Uh,” “You Know,” “OK,” and “Like.”- Um, Clifford Chance, do you think that women associates are like, uh, valley girls?
Use a relaxed, open throat, breathe from the abdomen & keep your mouth open.- Ladies, please remember to thank your firm for these excellent blow-job tips.
Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe.- Because the goal in Biglaw is to sound like an older woman dripping with sex, not a younger one.
Don’t giggle; Don’t squirm; Don’t tilt your head.- Don’t act like a teenager. Don’t act like a four-year-old. Don’t act like a confused dog. Got it.
Practice hard words.- Wrap your tiny female brains around this one (or consult with George W. Bush if you’re having difficulties).
Watch out for the urinal position.- We thought these were tips for women, but it’s best to avoid looking like you’re pissing on your audience.
Wear a suit, not your party outfit.- In case you’ve forgotten, there’s no such thing as work/life balance. Their suits are their party outfits.
No one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage.- Similarly, no one heard Bill the day he waved his dick around.
All of this is pretty standard sexism. Women have to be told how to behave because they are women, and men cannot think of them as professionals if they act like women. Also hard words are, apparently, hard for women (I gave a talk yesterday. I need to practice "inundated." It's just so vowel-driven). Men do not have to be told how to behave, because male behavior is the default.

But here's the point on which I fixated:
A spokeswoman from Clifford Chance dismisses the allegations that the firm is sexist, saying that the memo was actually written by a woman. “It was put together by a female partner from her personal perspective after years of public speaking,” the rep told
This is a manifestation of two things:

One, the fallacy that women can't be sexist towards women (or men sexist towards men). Anyone can be racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory towards people inside or outside their own groups.

Two, I think it shows the power of pernicious, internalized, sexism. One of the ways that patriarchy sustains itself is convincing women that the only way to defeat patriarchy is to become a patriarch. I can only imagine the complexities with which this partner has wrangled over her career, internalizing and replicating messages about femininity and weakness.

Professionalization is important. I teach people from 18-22 mostly and I hope I help them professionalize. But it's not a gendered process - young people often need to learn formality, code-switching, appropriate behavior, right along with the skills and knowledges that come from education. A big law firm needs to help its young employees of all genders (not both genders) professionalize.

What they've done instead is make sure that women feel weakened, self-conscious, and painfully aware that they are working in a man's world.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

2011 Cult of Compliance - Police beat man with Down Syndrome

A friend sent me this link. It's a story I haven't heard before, but I just want to demonstrate that here, again, is the veneration of compliance by police. This is much like the Saylor case or the Antonio Martinez case in California where police explain the violence due to non-compliance and police demonstrate their inability to work with people with Down Syndrome.

Gilberto Powell was walking down the street. He has a colostomy bag, and the police decided it might be a gun.
During that time, the patrol officers stopped Powell because they saw a “bulge in (Powell’s) waist band,” the report said. That’s when police, “decided that a pat-down should be conducted.”
While attempting to pat him down, police said Powell “pushed off the vehicle and attempted to flee.”
After police gave “multiple commands to stop moving in attempt to handcuff him,” he “fell on the ground and struck his forehead,” officers wrote in the incident report.
So the police explain their violence by saying - We gave him multiple commands. Anything that follows is a result of him not following commands.

Just to remind you of the Antonio Martinez case:
Sheriff’s spokesperson Jan Caldwell said, “It was a dark night. There was a non-compliant person that was hiding his face and hiding his hands. It’s clear in the light of day that this man had a disability, but the deputy at the time didn’t know that.”
Caldwell is saying that if someone was hiding his face and hands and did NOT have a disability, it would be fine to beat them. In the Powell case, if there was a man with a bulge who didn't comply, it would be fine if he "fell on the ground."

The language of the police in explaining why someone with disabilities was hurt reveals the danger we all face thanks to the cult of compliance.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cult of Compliance: Was Andy Lopez killed for wearing headphones?

Imagine you are walking down the street listening to music. Police see something about you that they don't like. They are behind you though and call on you to stop. You can't hear them. What happens next?

I've written cases in which Deaf people experience just this - the police feel disrespected and they react. Here's one recent example. Trust me, there are others.

I re-posted yesterday's blog to DailyKOS, as I often do for police violence cases. In the comments, I heard that at least some witnesses reported Lopez, the 13-year-old boy shot by police last week, was wearing headphones. I cannot confirm this directly, but here's one link
**Additional details to this tragedy.. Andy Lopez was shot in an open field where local kids go to play and do target practice with BB guns. He also had headphones on.. He was shot as he was turning around and then shot several more times as he on the ground. Police handcuffed before giving him CPR..more details to come..****.
I am working hard, in my writing, to push the abled to care about the rights of the disabled. In my  CNN piece on Ethan Saylor, I talked about the concept of being only temporarily-able bodied, a core Disability 101 concept. Unlike other kinds of identities - race, gender, sexuality - we are all nearly guaranteed a trip into disability, and perhaps back out again (pregnancy, a broken leg, a serious but curable illness). Disability waits for all of us as we age. So I concluded that essay by writing:
Disability rights are universal human rights, not abstract principles. But if it takes a personal reason to care about rights for the disabled, remember this: You might need them someday.
I was thinking about age, illness, and accident.

But now I'm thinking about headphones and ear buds, devices designed to block out the sounds of the world, rendering us unable to respond to police commands.

There's more to the Lopez case. Witnesses are coming forward to argue that the deputies' story is untrue:
Rojas and Marquez say they heard the deputies yell in english "drop the gun."
"Abrieron la puerta de cada lado y sacaron la pistola y tas, tas," Rojas said.
She says almost immediately, both deputies then opened their doors and shots were fired.
Rojas and Marquez say deputies only yelled once before opening fire.
"Imediatamente le dispararon, no le dieron oportunidad de nada," Marquez said.
She says they fired immediately and didn't give him a chance to do anything.
A spokesperson says:
But the description of events these women give is different than what investigators have described.
"Both deputies exited their vehicles, but maintained cover behind their opened doors. One of the deputies shouted at the subject to put the gun down," Santa Rosa Police Department spokesperson Paul Henry said.
Of course I'm suspicious that once the deputies found out they had killed a boy with a plastic rifle they changed their story, but either way, the boy clearly had very little time to react. Maybe he was wearing headphones. Listening to music. Lost in a daydream. And then shot, cuffed, and dead.

How fast could you react? Sure, you might not get shot, but you might get tased, beaten, or pepper sprayed.

This is the cult of compliance. Police speak. You comply immediately or you are punished. And then you are blamed for not complying.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Roundup

I began today's writing with a new post on the Cult of Compliance, but I don't want to skip the round-up, as there were some pieces I like here.

But go read today's post on the Cult of Compliance if you would and weigh in on my definition. Thanks!

Cult of Compliance: Boy with Toy Gun Murdered by Police

Last week, a 13-year-old boy named Andy was walking home carrying a toy rifle. Police seem to have mistaken him for a grown man, called for him to drop the gun. As he turned towards the squad car (I think, based on reports), police fired on him. They hit him with seven bullets, according to initial reports. Then they handcuffed him. Then they started to perform first aid. He died.

I argue that this is a case of the cult of compliance. Here's the link to my original post coining that term, but let me define it here. Can you help me improve it?
The cult of compliance - I argue that compliance has been elevated beyond other American values, such as our Fourth Amendment rights to due process. Authority figures from military leaders to beat cops and security guards, media covering authority figures and state violence, and even wide swathes of the American people believe that violence is the appropriate punishment for non-compliance.
The cult of compliance manifests most commonly in police-civilian interactions, but I argue that it has spread beyond those limited confines, such as in schools, in gender relations, in families, and anywhere else where one person believes they have formal authority over another.
We mostly observe the cult of compliance when something horrific happens, often involving a child or person with disabilities being treated as "non-compliant," and tragedy ensuing. For every one of these cases that attracts media attention, there must be hundreds, perhaps thousands, that no one notices. The cult of compliance has become normal. And that's why I write about it.
Last week's killing is a good example, because it's a little complicated.

Here's Fox News' coverage: "Police investigating the shooting death of a 13-year-old boy carrying a replica assault rifle said the boy was told twice by sheriff's deputies to drop the fake weapon and at one point, turned with the barrel of the gun and pointed it in their direction."

So FOX acknowledges that this was a bad result, but the boy shouldn't have pointed the fake gun at the cops, and the boy should have followed orders. If he had just complied, he'd have lived.

Meanwhile, TIME focuses on the fake gun.
The shooting is the latest in a long line of incidents of police shooting — and sometimes killing — people whom they have mistakenly thought to be armed with a real firearm. Last year, police fatally shot a Texas eight-grader who was carrying a pellet gun that resembled a black Glock. The year before, Miami police shot and killed a 57-year old man who had a realistic replica gun after getting 911 calls about the ostensible weapon. “This is not the first time,” says Karen Caves, spokeswoman for a California state senator who has pushed stricter regulations on imitation firearms. “It happens every year.”
In a press conference on Wednesday, Santa Rosa police investigating the incident emphasized that Lopez’ airsoft gun did not have the required orange marker and public information officer Paul Henry says that the front portion had been removed. Unzipping two cases, an officer showed reporters a real AK 47-style rifle and the imitation that the teenager was carrying. “The firearm and airsoft rifle appeared remarkably similar, with matching black banana clips and brown stocks,” wrote the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “Yet in the light of the [building where the conference was held] the model Lopez carried was clearly plastic with a transparent center section.”
I found more nuanced reporting from the Christian Science Monitor.
One officer, apparently perceiving that the tip of the gun was being raised in his direction as Andy turned, opened fire. Given that the entire encounter took place in the span of 10 seconds, Andy’s friends and family are raising questions about whether overly jumpy police officers acted too rashly. Police say officers could not distinguish a toy gun that shot plastic pellets from a real one at the 30-foot range, and reacted in line with training.
I suspect that they did act in line with training. And that's the problem.
According to Sonoma County police officials investigating the shooting, the two officers – one a veteran, one a rookie – spotted a person on Tuesday afternoon wearing a hoodie and holding what appeared to be an assault rifle in his left hand. They stopped the squad car and took cover behind its doors, police said.
The officers told investigators that the person appeared to raise the barrel toward the officers as he turned around. Only after approaching the body did the officers realize the truth – that it wasn’t a threatening gunman but a boy with a toy rifle.
"The deputy's mind-set was that he was fearful that he was going to be shot," said Santa Rosa police Lt. Paul Henry.
We might ask why the deputy was fearful, because again, I believe it. In that context, I note the racial and clothing component. Andy Lopez seems to have been a Latino boy, dressed in a hoodie, playing with a toy gun. I cannot prove that race and clothing shaped the outcome of this event, but I'm suspicious.

There's more, though. From The Daily Mail (which revels in U.S. violence cases). First a deputy shot Lopez, perhaps in two bursts, then approached him as he bled out.
After ordering Lopez to move away from the rifle, deputies approached the unresponsive teen as he lay on the ground and handcuffed him before administering first aid and calling for medical assistance, O'Leary said.
He's literally dying and can't obey, so before they help him, they handcuff him.

So here's the question: Are we willing to ask our police to take on a little more risk in exchange for not having kids with fake guns shot. I guess I am willing to make that exchange. Bruce Schneier, a friend of mine, writes about our fear of risk as a cultural moment as his response to some of these police incidents.
We need to relearn how to recognize the trade-offs that come from risk management, especially risk from our fellow human beings. We need to relearn how to accept risk, and even embrace it, as essential to human progress and our free society.
And he's not wrong. We do need to make the trade-off of slightly more risk to police in exchange for more safety for the rest of us. But I still feel that risk isn't the only issue here.

It's compliance.

The police tell you to do something, you do it instantly, or they will respond with force.

Until this changes, we'll keep seeing these events in the news when something tragic happens. What we won't see are the cases where the victim isn't so sympathetic. The cult of compliance rolls on.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Inclusion - Not same-ness.

I have been going to a bluegrass jam at the Oak Park Farmer's Market for years, when I can (which is about once a month, and often not for more than an hour). We go as a family and Nico fixates on the music, because he truly loves music and dancing, especially live music involving guitars and fiddles and the like. 

I rarely bring my guitar, because carrying a guitar while dealing with the two kids is hard, but a friend who also plays banjo is usually willing to lend me his. When Nico was little, he would sit still, snack, and listen for hours. As he's aged, his attention span drifts and he wants to wander a little, but he always returns to the music. 

Especially when the music is outside (weather permitting), there are dozens of children, scattered around the edge, but Nico usually walks carefully into the middle of the circle and starts to dance. It's almost never been a problem. First, if he does lose control then I'm right there, but he doesn't. And people just accept his presence. They understand, I think, that in the middle is where he needs to be, that including Nico requires a different level of rules and management than one could do with a typical child. I could stop Nico, and do when he needs to be stopped (out of control, tired, hungry, etc.). There are lots of rules for him, but the line of "don't stand and dance in the middle of the musicians" is not one I need to draw.

That said, if every parent made the same decision, there would be too many kids in the middle.

I have no idea how this works. But it does. 

Nico dances in the middle, both carefully and filled with joy. It works. 

It's inclusion - not equality, not same-ness. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Historical Analogy and the Tea Party

Recently, among the various smart journalists that I follow, there has been a lot of debate about to what one should compare the current American far-right movements. During the shutdown, journalists talked a lot about the Civil War, for example.

As a historian, I'm always interested to see how people invoke history to explain contemporary moments (a practice in which I engage as well, of course).

But I'm finding the following fairly compelling, from Adam Gopnik:

My colleague John Cassidy wrote not long ago about his difficulties, shared by the fine historian Jerrold Seigel, in finding an apt historical analogue for the Tea Party caucus as it exists today. Nothing quite like it anywhere else, he mused—and then Cassidy won this Francophile heart, at least, by citing as a possible model the Poujadists and Poujadisme, the small shopkeepers’ revolt in France in the nineteen-fifties—a movement that seemed to wither away when de Gaulle came to power, though it’s still alive today in many of the doctrines and practices of the French National Front. (Siegel, being provocative, must have enraged a few others by comparing our shutdown artists to the Islamic Jihad.)
But Gopnik doesn't think we need to go so far afield, we don't need to dip back to the Civil War, we don't need to compare them to anyone really ... except for themselves.
As it happens, I’ve been doing some reading about John Kennedy, and what I find startling, and even surprising, is how absolutely consistent and unchanged the ideology of the extreme American right has been over the past fifty years, from father to son and now, presumably, on to son from father again. The real analogue to today’s unhinged right wing in America is yesterday’s unhinged right wing in America.This really is your grandfather’s right. [my bold].
Gopnik then lays out a good case for consistency, finishing with:
So we don’t have to look any further than our own past to find exact cognates for today’s movement to the right. The fever won’t break, because it’s always this high. The best hope one can hope for is that, somehow, the adjustments to reality get made, even in the face of the ideology. Reality has a way of doing that to us all.
So the question is what do we do with this information? To me, I'm interested in why it SEEMS new even if it isn't. The fault, I think, lies in us, our media, a lack of historical perspective in our news commentary, and so forth.

But most of all, I think this: There's something radical and disturbing about a movement that does not change. The world has changed. We as a nation and as a species (in terms of our relationship to technology) are changing. Our understanding and values shift. Against such change, the rock of American right-wing radical constancy seems to me to loom as a terrible hazard.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pat Robertson and Ableism

Pat Robertson says many inane, stupid, and/or offensive things. This is not news. I just want to point out the way that anti-disability language emerges out of a certain kind of religious discourse.

There's an idea that links disability to sin, that thinks of it as a punishment from God. It's an old idea, though not a consistent one in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions. I actually work with a 13th-century text telling parents to rejoice if a child is born blind. I have problems with that too, but that's another post.

Here's Robertson, from Right Wing Watch (video at the link)
Pat Robertson says you must be doing something wrong if you can’t “heal” your son of deafness. After all, Robertson himself has healed deafness before, he said on the 700 Club today. Responding to a question from a mother who asked why her hearing impaired son hasn’t been healed despite her prayers, Robertson said that her son may be hindered by a “spirit of deafness.”
“I have dealt with people who are deaf and you rebuke the spirit of deafness and they get healed,” Robertson said. “I don’t know what you’re doing wrong.”

“Why don’t you try that and if it doesn’t work, try something else,” he said.
The language of "curing" is especially complex in the world of disability in general, but especially in Deaf Culture. Many deaf people consider themselves wholly equal with the hearing, partaking in a unique culture, with their own language and modes of expression, and resist the notion of curing deafness. Some refer to cochlear implants as genocide. For me, I like to think about medical technology and drugs ameliorating challenges, rather than curing, alongside reasonable accomodation and inclusion. This is part of  a much broader conversation.

But at the core of Robertson's comment is a problem with simplistic readings of monotheism, in which God acts like a human but with more powers (I'm reminded of the medieval Jewish writer Maimonides, who, in his Guide to the Perplexed, wrote that God is not simply superman). In that context, if God refuses to lift a curse of disability, it must be because you did something wrong.

Or, you know, you could just try something else.

And that's one of the things so infuriating about Robertson. Millions of people listen to him, and he's not even a consistent thoughtless god-as-superman theocrat. He's just spreading random acts of bigotry and, in this case, ableism.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What if we are all just sinners?

“Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” The pope stares at me in silence. I ask him if this is a question that I am allowed to ask.... He nods that it is, and he tells me: “I do not know what might be the most fitting description.... I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
- From America - Their interview with Pope Francis.

What does it mean if we are all, equally, just sinners? If the human condition is to sin and the divine condition is to forgive?

As with many people, I've been following Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, very closely since he's been elected. But I've been paying as much attention to the American Catholic Right and how they respond to the changes that Francis seems to be bringing to American Catholicism. So far, reaction seems to focus on his theological orthodoxy. I wrote about this when the interview went public - that the reaction on the right is to pretend that nothing has changed.

Homosexuality, for example. The Pope has not, and I think will not, declare homosexuality non-sinful, as much as I wish he would. There's too much theological baggage here. Catholic homophobes, therefore, get to point out that sure, Francis suggests we don't judge, but that homosexuality is still a sin.

As I read more and more, though, I'm increasingly convinced that this reading misses the main point. Instead, I think the point is that we are all sinners, so that we don't get to judge people for their sins, we don't get to label homosexuality as somehow more wicked, an "intrinsic evil" (I talked about this here). The condition of humanity is one of sin, so stop judging.

It's a strange path to equality and not one I would take, but it enables Francis to make radical steps without changing theology. This isn't a weakness of his revolution, it's a strength.

That said, discrimination goes on. A lesbian was just fired from a Catholic School in Arkansas 45 minutes after getting married. They invoked Francis in a plea for equality, but so far, to no avail. It's going to be a long slog.


Meanwhile, Francis is just beginning to put some action behind the rhetoric on poverty. I finished my CNN essay on the interview by writing:

In a recent interview with the New Catholic Reporter, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York talked about the new pope. He said that in the wake of Francis, he found himself "examining my own conscience ... on style, on simplicity, on lots of things." The cardinal wondered whether his living arrangements, in the historical residence of the archbishops of New York, were appropriate. But the cardinal wasn't quite sure what to do about it, given that he can't sell the building.

St. Francis would have agreed. He carefully never argued for the church to sell of its property or divest itself of income. Of course, he was outside the church hierarchy and relied on papal protection for his safety.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, might have a plan for an empty archbishop's residence if Cardinal Dolan wanted to downsize. After all, he did recently suggest that empty church property should be used to house refugees.
Maybe the Pope isn't going to push Dolan on his residence, but he did recently draw a line by suspending the "Bishop of Bling," a German Bishop spending 42 million dollars on his home renovation, including a $20,000 bathtub and marble floors. It's a start, a small one, but a start.


Update - another example of the way the Pope's understanding of our fundamental equality stems from his position that we are all sinners. On why he is drawn to prisoners:
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis said his care, concern and prayers for those in prison flow from a recognition that he is human like they are, and it's a mystery they fell so far and he did not.

"Thinking about this is good for me: When we have the same weakness, why did they fall and I didn't? This is a mystery that makes me pray and draws me to prisoners," the pope said Oct. 23 during a brief audience with about 200 Italian prison chaplains.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Jenny McCarthy's Toxins

It's been over a month since McCarthy started on The View. It's been over three months since I wrote about her for The Atlantic and CNN, and I still get emails about her, the good work she's doing, or endorsements of her movement and charity, if not her.

Her key belief is that autism comes from toxins. Cures for autism emerge out of cleansing your children of toxins.

I've tried, when writing about McCarthy, to be polite. I've never referred to her past profitable experiences without her clothes on. I've never referred to her hair color as relevant data for accusing her of a lack of intelligence. Generally, I've tried to take her at face value as a special-needs mom desperately seeking answers, finding them in a snake oil salesman, becoming a believer, and leveraging her celebrity power to do serious harm.

But sometimes I have to wonder - does even she believe anything she says, or is she actually just hawking snake oil. She's certainly generated huge revenues and vastly increased her public profile through her marketing of herself as the "sassy and sexy single mom."

She's become a major spokeswoman for e-cigarettes. She's hearkening back to earlier eras of cigarette advertising (NPR had a great piece on this), making smoking sexy, while extolling the virtues of modern technology.

But mostly, what she's doing, despite having written at length about trying to quit smoking while pregnant, is now cashing in on convincing people that it's sexy to inhale a toxin (nicotine). And this is all unregulated, at least for now, while the FDA rules on e-cigarettes, which means that in many states (Illinois has banned this), the devices can be sold to minors.

And yet, the emails continue. Jenny is here to stay and will save our children from imaginary threats, all while perpetuating the damaging ideas that autism is a disease, vaccines are dangerous, and e-cigs are sexy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Alternative Career-paths and Gender

Next week, I am speaking at Northwestern workshop on work/life integration in higher education. I do think there are specific challenges and insights that I can talk about as a male academic, and I'm looking forward to exploring them with faculty, staff, and admin at one of America's great universities. I'll have more to say about this in the days to come.

Today, though, I want to talk about another great university, UC-Berkeley. The department of history is hiring, "a historian of the United States, any period, with a specialization in women, gender, and/or sexuality."

The ad was called to my attention not because of a non-standard clause after the usual request for materials.
The department is also interested in individuals who may have had non-traditional career paths or who may have taken time off for family reasons (e.g., children, disabled, or elderly), or who have achieved excellence in careers outside academe (e.g., in professional or industry service).
This is good. Note that there are three different types of care-giving explicitly invoked in the ad - having kids, caring for an elderly relative, or related to disability. I really like that this isn't just a mommy track, but a caregiver track. I also like the idea of someone who left academia to work (but still has a PhD) and wants to come back. This clause, it seems to me, is unambiguously progressive.

Time will tell whether someone whose life followed an a-standard track can compete with the sharpest and most productive scholars from the Ivies and their ilk. Although when we talk about productivity, making a whole human from scratch seems pretty impressive to me. And still, when comparing CV to CV, it's going to be hard for a committee to decide that a non-traditional career path deserves an interview more than a typical path.

I suppose one might simply reserve a few first-round interview spots for non-traditional candidates, thus making sure they are in the mix? Is that fair? Is that appropriate? What do you think?

Here's the other interesting thing. There other jobs in other departments listed at Berkeley right now, though no other history positions. Where is their openness to non-traditional career paths? When History at Berkeley hires an early modernist, will this clause remain? Or is it reserved for a job in gender, i.e. women, i.e. moms.

This is NOT a criticism. I think Berkeley is great for having this clause here, even if I am politely skeptical. Shouldn't every position, everywhere, be open to those who may have had non-traditional career paths?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Roundup

I was on the road this weekend and late to my Sunday writing. Today, rather than write a second post, I want to expand on a few of the themes from the week as I cover the topics, because I have some additional things to say.

Last Sunday, I began the week with a long discussion of Matt Walsh's "Angel in the House." Walsh writes at length about how awesome moms are, and links the survival of Western civilization to moms, while claiming that moms are under attack. He's a would-be patriarch, trapping women through excessive praise. It's seductive and dangerous.

That said, one also has to be careful not to demean women who choose to stay home with kids - so long as it's a choice, and we recognize that men could make that choice too.

On Monday, Columbus Day, I offered a few thoughts on what one might tell one's kids about Columbus. Suggestions for improvement include emphasizing greed (though I'm not sure that's the right word, but certainly they were driven by a quest for profit), expanding on the links to African slavery, and saying a few more words about the complexity of indigenous peoples pre-Columbus.

Tuesday had the most read piece of the week, on Down Syndrome and Sweetness Porn. I wrote:
I get tired of the gushing over how kids with Down Syndrome are such cute, sweet, angelic, perfect, darlings. I get tired of the constant attempt to deny our difficulties by some of the most prominent voices in the Down Syndrome world.
Because it means that when you encounter problems, and you will encounter problems, the message is - deny! Deny that disability is real. Deny that you need accommodation. Deny that inclusion takes HARD WORK from everyone.
Also, people with Down Syndrome grow up. Kids are cute in general, no matter how many chromosomes they have. Adults with with Down Syndrome are adults and should not be treated like kids, should not be cooed over, but still need to be included, accommodated, engaged.
In my writing about Down Syndrome, I'm trying to play the long game here. And that's why I write against positive stereotypes just as I do against negative ones.
I still feel these things are correct, but that doesn't mean I reject the use of cuteness or sweetness to build connections. My son is cute! Denying it would be denying part of him. I love reading the blogs that focus on the awesome things their kids do. I just see "cute" as an entry point, not an end by itself. Because not everyone is cute and not everyone stays cute, and life isn't always easy. We need to make sure these narratives have a place in the long game. The discussion on Facebook was especially thoughtful, for which I am grateful.

Wednesday shifted to another issue. I responded, as a male feminist, to a terrible "Dear Prudence" (A Slate advice-monger) column in which the author said she wasn't blaming women for being raped, but then blamed women for being raped (due to drinking), and blamed feminism for telling women it was ok to drink (P.S. It's ok to drink). At the end, she also gave credence to the myth that many men get falsely accused of rape when they just had sex with someone who was drunk.

My friend K. especially liked the final line of this paragraph:
Speaking of infantilizing women,  are there women out there who do not know that getting drunk is risky? If so, why? Is it not something that is taught in schools? Is this something linked to our patriarchal system that embraces purity culture, pretending that women are not sexual beings, do not have desires, and never ever speaking about them? It's not feminism that is derelict for telling women to get drunk, it's patriarchy. 
As with the previous post, it's fine to suggest to women that it's important to drink safely. This is a good message. It's the way she infuses that message with an anti-feminist and pro-rapist sub-text that's the problem here.

Thursday - I wrote an analysis of an excellent article surveying the way that Down Syndrome gets marketed with mostly positive messages. My basic point is this: Read the original article.

On Friday, news broke that the Saylor Family have begun a lawsuit in response to the death of their son, Ethan.

On Saturday, I quibbled with the binaries implied by IBM's 1985 ad. What I like about this post is that I support IBMs' agenda, but that once again it's easy for all kinds of stereotypes to tie us up even when we are doing good work.

Tomorrow, I plan to write about the ethics of watching football, unless something else comes up first!

As always, thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Gender, Tech, and Baby Booties

The Atlantic found a 1985 ad from IBM for gender-parity in tech, a subject that I follow closely, though it's not really my field.

As the article suggests, we're still stuck in a lot of these issues, and it's always a little depressing to think about the ways we are not making progress.

But for me, this image evokes one, important, unasked question - what if your baby boy wants pink booties?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Lawsuit - #JusticeForEthan

I am travelling today so this will be a quick hit and I'll have more to say about the lawsuit on Sunday.

The Saylor Family has filed a lawsuit.

I want to highlight one quote from Mark:
The autoposy ruled it a homicide and found that his throat had been fractured. The law has a phrase called res ipsa loquitur, meaning the thing speaks for itself. A classic example is negligence being found where a passer-by on the street is hit on the head from a mattress falling out of a hotel window. Here a young man was killed over not buying a movie ticket. The thing speaks for itself. As such, and with 99% of all civil cases settling, this case very likely will settle as well. But, hopefully not before civil discovery reveals what training, or lack thereof, the officers involved had and what communications were made about Saylor after the event by public officials.
That's the key. Now the Saylor family has the legal power of civil discovery to compel testimony and release of documents. The state should have done this themselves, they didn't, but hopefully through civil courts we'll finally get some answers.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Marketing Down Syndrome

Last week Maureen Wallace wrote an excellent article surveying, as she puts it, the "good, bad, and wacky" in "Marketing" Down Syndrome. You should all go read it.

I have, of course (for those who read me often), mixed feelings about the marketing of Down Syndrome. In general, I'm happy to see awareness, visibility, and inclusion. But tokenism annoys me. Take this image from Target, a few years old now.

I was thrilled to see the boy with Down Syndrome there. On the other hand, let's count: African-American (light-skinned), Latino, White, Asian - and now Down Syndrome (and white). I'm glad DS has made the list of tokens to include, and I know it's just an advertisement, but this ad doesn't really mean anything on its own. But that doesn't mean it lacks significance. Perhaps, just perhaps, such moments of token inclusion signify broader societal acceptance of people with disabilities.

Also the boy is really cute. But what about people with disabilities who aren't so cute by normative standards?

Back to Wallace's piece. She's not looking at commercial marketing, but the use of marketing techniques to spread awareness and to, perhaps, re-shape societal attitudes towards Down Syndrome in such a way that increased inclusion will follow. She writes:
For organizations whose missions include the words, "advocate for individuals with Down syndrome," their efforts to educate often live through targeted marketing campaigns intended to overcome stigmas and communicate the positives about a person with Down syndrome.
But when does that effort go too far? When does marketing become promotion of stereotypes? What if those efforts impart the illusion of a child or adult with superhuman, spiritual qualities?
This puts Wallace squarely in the world that I, often grumpily, inhabit - questioning overly positive language.

She moves through several variants: Kids with DS are special gifts from God (wouldn't all kids equally be special gifts from God?) given only to special families. She talks about disability versus different abilities. She looks at the complex roles that national and local organizations play. Really, it's a long and thorough article, and very balanced, and you should just read it. But here are three more comments:

This campaign I like a lot. For one, it's not a cute toddler. Second, it just makes a simple, clear, declarative statement. She is a photographer. It's the best kind of "people-first" language, rendering the diagnosis a distant component of a complex, interesting, three-dimensional person.

But Wallace herself has waded into these waters. Apparently, she encountered resistance over a campaign that showed children with tongue protrusion. She writes:
While we rarely notice our son Charlie's tongue protrusion anymore, I'm aware that the characteristic stands out to others, and so I hesitated when I saw the video.
My husband noticed it, too. We ultimately agreed it's authentic and that's what the PSA was about — authenticity in how people with Down syndrome are a part of our lives.
Not everyone sees it that way, probably because the tongue protrusion is a visible difference, and the organization received some criticism for including those shots. The truth is that people with Down syndrome do tend to have visible differences, from slanted eyes to smaller ears.
Receiving flack for tongue protrusion worries me, but I'm glad to see Wallace and her husband emphasizing authenticity. The issue speaks back to my post from Tuesday on sweetness or cuteness porn. Many kids and adults with Down syndrome are cute. My son Nico is super cute. This morning, I found him reversed on his bed, head partially buried under the sheets, and he giggled when I came in and showed me his belly so I would tickle him. Cuteness overload! But cute can only open the door. Behind that door, are people who do not meet contemporary norms of cute or attractive. Learning to see past disability has to mean getting past cute.

Wallace's article then shifts to one of the worst pieces on the "angel/retard spectrum" that I have seen.

I believe the author of this page, which was posted on a Facebook page for a book The Gifted Choice, which I have not read, means well. But this is the most egregious kind of "angel" writing I've seen. The chromosome is "divine." It's a glimpse into the divine. There's no disability, just incredible abilities. It's Down syndrome as "super-crip."

So go read the piece and see the whole spectrum of "marketing" campaigns dissected. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Male Feminism and Rape (trigger warnings)

TRIGGER WARNING - This piece discusses rape in non-graphic ways.

In my piece for The Shriver Report - How To Talk Like a Feminist (If You're a Guy) - I wrote the following:
2. Sometimes it is about you.There may be many feminist topics on which men in fact have a lot to say, but let’s focus on the big one: rape. Men have to talk to men about rape: fathers to sons, bros to bros, teachers to students. Too much of the focus on rape focuses on teaching women not to get raped, and that’s sadly necessary. But here is one place where men have to act, to teach our male communities to intervene, to call the police, and most of all, not to rape.
 In Slate, today, Emily Yoffe wrote a piece about sexual assault and alcohol, focused on teaching women not to get drunk. Yoffe writes the "Dear Prudence" advice column for Slate, so I put her in a moderately influential position in terms of opinion-mongers on the web. There's nothing terrible about her piece. She means well. But it exemplifies the pattern I am referencing - the focus on teaching women not to be raped, rather than focusing on the rapists.

She begins by talking about the absolutely clear link between drinking and rape. It's true. Women need to be very careful about where and when they drink. But then she moves to feminism:
Let’s be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them. Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue. The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.
Yoffe is aware that her column could be accused of victim-blaming, so she brackets the paragraph with exculpatory lines. Perpetrators are responsible ... trying to prevent more victims. But look at the middle sentences.

"Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue." - Where are they getting this message? Where are they being told that this is feminism?

"The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart." - And Yoffe thinks that this is a feminist message?

I think the feminist message is this: Our society is infected by rape culture and feminists should work very hard to change that in every way possible. In the meantime, be careful.
Experts I spoke to who wanted young women to get this information said they were aware of how loaded it has become to give warnings to women about their behavior. “I’m always feeling defensive that my main advice is: ‘Protect yourself. Don’t make yourself vulnerable to the point of losing your cognitive faculties,’ ” says Anne Coughlin, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, who has written on rape and teaches feminist jurisprudence. She adds that by not telling them the truth—that they are responsible for keeping their wits about them—she worries that we are “infantalizing women.”
Speaking of infantilizing women,  are there women out there who do not know that getting drunk is risky? If so, why? Is it not something that is taught in schools? Is this something linked to our patriarchal system that embraces purity culture, pretending that women are not sexual beings, do not have desires, and never ever speaking about them? It's not feminism that is derelict for telling women to get drunk, it's patriarchy.

And here, I think, is the worst thing about this entire piece. It ends with the following:
If I had a son, I would tell him that it’s in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate. Surely this University of Richmond student, acquitted in one of the extremely rare cases in which a campus rape accusation led to a criminal trial, would confirm that.
Thus, Yoffe concludes a piece saying that we should focus on women keeping themselves from being raped, by not drinking, by emphasizing the myth of the false rape claim. False rape claims, in which a woman subsequently changes her mind and accuses a man of rape, do happen, but they are a TINY PERCENTAGE compared to the vast number of unreported and not prosecuted rape cases. False rape claims are the least of our concern compared to unreported rape, and yet they receive lots of media coverage and perpetuate the myth that we cannot trust women who claim they were raped.

Thus, women don't go to the authorities, because they know they will be blamed, shamed, and denied justice.

Take this Richmond case. The facts seem to be that a man had sex with an intoxicated woman, thus, he did not receive consent. That may have legally excused him, thanks to a jury also infected by rape culture, but we know that there was no sober consent here.
Fauchet's accuser, who is taking this semester off from the university, testified Thursday that she was in a drunken haze when she was assaulted on a couch behind a curtain during a pirate-themed party.
But defense attorney William J. Dinkin argued that the sex was consensual and called several witnesses from the party, all of whom said they neither saw nor heard anything to suggest that a violent assault was unfolding.
And yet, Yoffe is worried about her (non-existent) son being "accused of raping a drunk classmate." I would be worried about her non-existent son actually having sex with someone who is intoxicated and therefore incapable of giving consent.

So yes, we need male feminism. We need feminism. We need feminists who say: Issue #1 - teach men not to rape. And then, yes, #2 probably means that women should be careful about their drinking, but only because we haven't done enough work with issue #1 yet.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Down Syndrome and Sweetness Porn

It's possible that I am a cynical, grumpy, overly critical, person. I accept that criticism ahead of time. This may come off as a little bit of a rant. Blogs are good for ranting. Ranting is good for the soul. 

Here's my take: The unbearable cuteness of kids with Down Syndrome is real. It's fun to see or to experience. It makes for great blog posts. I often think that many more people would read and share my posts, which of course is something that I want, if I put more cute pictures of Nico on them.

Look! It's Nico cheering for the Red Sox along with the Cat in the Hat
Sweet, right?

But I get tired of it. I get tired of the gushing over how kids with Down Syndrome are such cute, sweet, angelic, perfect, darlings. I get tired of the constant attempt to deny our difficulties by some of the most prominent voices in the Down Syndrome world.

Because it means that when you encounter problems, and you will encounter problems, the message is - deny! Deny that disability is real. Deny that you need accommodation. Deny that inclusion takes HARD WORK from everyone.

Also, people with Down Syndrome grow up. Kids are cute in general, no matter how many chromosomes they have. Adults with with Down Syndrome are adults and should not be treated like kids, should not be cooed over, but still need to be included, accommodated, engaged.

In my writing about Down Syndrome, I'm trying to play the long game here. And that's why I write against positive stereotypes just as I do against negative ones.

In the original draft of this post, I linked to a lot of examples of what I'm calling sweetness or cuteness porn (a riff off of "inspiration porn," a topic well known to writers on disability. Here's a good link to start). But I don't want to call anyone out, and the people I would want to call out don't read me anyway - I'm not in their league.

So I'll just end with this mantra: Cuteness might help open the door, but inclusion cannot be based on cuteness. Inclusion comes only from building real understanding about our shared humanity.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What should you tell your kids about Columbus

My daughter has been inundated with Columbus this year, and apparently someone dressed as Columbus came to visit her school. I'm sure my son has gotten plenty too. I've been pondering how to de-mythologize Columbus to kids without resorting to hyperbole, facts not in evidence, retroactively imposing modern standards on him, or otherwise creating an anti-myth (I'm seeing a lot of anti-myths out there this morning, which is understandable but not how I like to do things).

Here are my initial thoughts. Remember, this is for kids. I'd love to hear your comments.

Hi kids!

Christopher Columbus was not the first European to figure out that the earth was round, lots of people knew that. But his voyage to the Americas were the catalyst for a great age of exploration, trade, and eventually colonization by Europeans. In a very real way, this era re-shaped the world - from the languages we speak, the religions we follow, the food we eat, and the diseases we catch.

Columbus was a brave man, and like many brave men believed very strongly that he knew what he was doing - even though he was wrong about so many details - and it's ok to be impressed by his bravery.

But it's also important to know that as a result of Columbus' voyage and the many trips that followed, horrible things happened. First, European diseases ripped through the Americas, killing millions of people over time. Second, Columbus believed in slavery and believed in religious conversion - so he and those like him forced native people to change their religion even if they didn't want to. He took indigenous people, those he called Indians, as slaves and tried to bring them back to Spain or put them to work on their own islands. He crushed rebellions by committing horrific acts that we would consider war crimes today. The people who followed him, who eventually conquered Central and South America continued this trend. So many indigenous peoples died of diseases and violence, that the colonizers had to import African slaves to work in their farms.

So when you hear people praise Columbus for his bravery, you can believe it, even if he didn't "discover" the Americas or figure out that the earth was round. He was brave. But brave people can do bad things, and worse things can happen without any planning. That's one of the lessons of history.


How'd I do? How can I fix it for next year?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Matt Walsh's Angel in the House

Matt Walsh is a conservative blogger and radio host. He has a strong readership. I've talked about him before. He wrote a letter to his son in the wake of the Miley Cyrus-Robin Thicke VMA show, which assumed his son would be heterosexual, find one woman, marry her, and worship her forever.
I wrote:
Victorian scholars write about the "Angel in the House," the idea of the perfect woman which Victorian male writers held up as ideal, but which feminist critics later ripped apart (famously here, by Woolf, in 1931). And so I return to Walsh's widely-read letter:
1. His view of women renders them as angels - passive objects to be venerated and protected. 2. His view of masculinity depends on having women-objects to protect.
Disclaimer - I know Walsh is trying to do a good job as a parent here and is teaching his son to be a good man. I say, Walsh is teaching his son to be a patriarch - not a slut-shaming patriarch, not a woman-demeaning patriarch, but a patriarch none-the-less. He writes about respecting women, but he's just telling, not showing. What he shows is objectification.What follows may come off as hostile. I know Walsh's heart is in the right place. But I also think our blind spots need to be illuminated, sometimes (not that I expect him to read this post).
I also don't expect him to read this post. I'm actually no longer so sure his heart is in the right place.

Walsh's blog is filled with varying kinds of stories: How dads are incompetent at dealing with poop, how Obama is a petty dictator, and often about his wife. I don't read him regularly, but a friend pointed out this latest post on Stay At Home Moms called - "What do you DO all day?"

In it, he positions the SaHM as a position under attack by society, a move often taken by the American Right: American Christians? Under attack. White people? Under attack. Masculinity? Under attack. Rich people? Under attack. Christmas? Under attack. Mothers? Under Attack. Apple pie? DO NOT MESS WITH MY PIE.

At any rate, it's a useful rhetorical move, because from a position of defense, you can counter-attack. In reality, though, what White, male, right-wing, pie-making Christians are defining as victim-hood is really a tiny chink in the crack of over-arching privilege. It's not fun to lose privilege. It's easy to mistake a loss of privilege as turning you into a victim. But the people with the most power in our society are not, in fact, victims.

In this blog, Walsh describes two conversations in which he felt his wife's decision to stay home was demeaned by other women, and then decides to "kick our backwards, materialistic society in the shins and say, “GET YOUR FREAKING HEAD ON STRAIGHT, SOCIETY.” He writes:
 The people who completely immerse themselves in the tiring, thankless, profoundly important job of raising children ought to be put on a pedestal. We ought to revere them and admire them like we admire rocket scientists and war heroes. These women are doing something beautiful and complicated and challenging and terrifying and painful and joyous and essential. Whatever they are doing, they ARE doing something, and our civilization DEPENDS on them doing it well. Who else can say such a thing? What other job carries with it such consequences?
No one, in fact, should be put on a pedestal. Everyone should be able to make meaningful choices about how to organize their lives. And Walsh acknowledges that some women can't make those choices. What he doesn't acknowledge is the shifting nature of the wage-based economy in which even most white-collar wages cannot singly support a family in the current economy, mandating both partners work. In fact, I'm not convinced he really understands the link between work and identity for many people (or is being disingenuous):
It’s true — being a mom isn’t a “job.” A job is something you do for part of the day and then stop doing. You get a paycheck. You have unions and benefits and break rooms. I’ve had many jobs; it’s nothing spectacular or mystical. I don’t quite understand why we’ve elevated “the workforce” to this hallowed status. Where do we get our idea of it? The Communist Manifesto?
He has not, I think, read the Communist Manifesto. But I'm much more struck by the way he praises the mother. I've pulled out some hyperbolic quotes from their context to list them one after another below:
If your mother quit her role as mother, entire lives would be turned upside down; society would suffer greatly. The ripples of that tragedy would be felt for generations. If she quit her job as a computer analyst, she’d be replaced in four days and nobody would care. 
She JUST brings forth life into the universe, and she JUST shapes and molds and raises those lives.  She is JUST my spiritual foundation and the rock on which our family is built. She is JUST everything to everyone. And society would JUST fall apart at the seams if she, and her fellow moms, failed in any of the tasks I outlined. 
Yes, she is just a mother. Which is sort of like looking at the sky and saying, “hey, it’s just the sun.” 
The more time a mother can spend raising her kids, the better. The better for them, the better for their souls, the better for the community, the better for humanity. Period. 
We get a lot of things wrong in our culture. But, when all is said and done, and our civilization crumbles into ashes, we are going to most regret the way we treated mothers and children. 
This is the Angel in the House. She is responsible for holding society together. If she is demeaned, it will be the end of us all. And if you just skim Walsh's piece, like his previous work, you might react positively.

He's saying nice things about women, just like he was saying mean things about Robin Thicke. I want to say nice things about women. I do not like Thicke (let me tell you someday about Blurred Lines playing at a roller rink to which my 7-year-old neighbor had invited my 4-year-old daughter).

But this is the power of positive patriarchy. It praises. It elevates the woman, the mother, onto a pedestal. It masquerades. And it traps.

 In Walsh's world, mothers are the only people who can do save society. And therefore, the mother MUST do it or society collapses. What about families with two dads (I suspect homosexuality is not an option for Walsh, but I don't know)? Or single dads? Or communal living? Or stay-at-home-dads? Or working parents with childcare or grandparents? Do they get all the praise that Walsh heaps on stay-at-home-moms? I know many SAHDs who are spectacular caregivers and often feel isolated in our patriarchal society (the solution, as always, is more feminism). What about women who just don't want to define themselves as moms, first and foremost, but who do have kids? The list of "what abouts" could go on indefinitely.

Are we, people who by necessity or choice pattern our lives in ways that do not conform to Walsh's, responsible for the ills of society? In Walsh's world, I think so. And while Walsh is not a particular;y powerful voice, he is well-read and his views are widely reflected in our culture.

My goal is to advocate for a multi-faceted society that fully embraces all the possible ways to organize life and family. The dad who works and the mom who cares for the kids is one way. It's perceived as normative, although there never was a "traditional male breadwinner" - it's a model that emerged mid-20th-century. But it's a good way to organize a family, potentially; it's just not a default setting.

It doesn't make the planet revolve around the sun.

But it can be filled with praise. It can look sweet. It can look attractive. And then the trap closes.

Sunday Roundup

Well, it's been a week of plague and travel in my household. Later today, I will talk about the angel in a conservative blogger's house, and how he imprisons women through praise.

Here are this week's links:

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Love in the Time of Cholera

Ok, we don't have cholera. My wife has pneumonia and a strained ribcage from coughing. I have bronchitis. Nico has conjunctivitis and perhaps a chest infection. We're all on antibiotics. Ellie is fine but, between you and me, kind of hard to take sometimes with her constant questioning. We know this is what four-year-olds are supposed to be doing, but at 5:45 A.M it's a little hard to take.

These are moments in which communication between spouses becomes even more important, as the usual pressures of finances, home repair, education, scheduling, etc. don't take a break because you are sick. So here are some marriage survival rules and tips.

1. Fights in the morning don't count.

Mornings are hard. We have to get the kids and ourselves ready and out the door with time pressures mounting. Sometimes we snap at each other. Our general policy is that these fights never happened. If there's a real issue to discuss, we can discuss it later.

2. If someone says "ok," it's okay.

You're fighting and one partner responds, "OK!" as a way of cutting off discussion. That's it. It's over. The person who was demanding something has to stop demanding, as the other partner has said "ok," however peevishly. And the person who said, "ok," well, for you it has to be okay. No grudges.

3. Google (or other remote) calendar.

Half of our fights, I think, I used to be about who needed to be where when, what commitments or late meetings were coming up soon, and so forth. Google calendar simply solved that problem.

There are more, but now I have to go give my children a bath. Waffles are sticky.

Friday, October 11, 2013

I wish these were bigger

My four-year-old daughter was standing in her room yesterday morning, wearing only a pair of pants, squeezing her chest, and saying, "I wish these were bigger."

My first response was panic.
My second response was to pass the buck, "Go talk to your mom about that," I said.

She ignored me and said again," I just wish these were bigger."

"Man up," I told myself, and knelt down. I said, "When you're ten or eleven, your body will start to change. And one of the things that will happen is that those will get bigger. Lots of things will happen - you'll get taller, for example. But right now, you're still working on being a kid, and you're going to keep learning and growing for years yet before that happens. Now, do you want to wear you're supergirl shirt today?"

Ellie raised her hands into the air and shouted, "yeah!"

That's the best I could do on the spur of the moment. What do you think?

As a related aside, I know that "man up" is a contested phrase, evoking machismo culture and other unfortunate aspects of masculinity. That's why I like to repurpose expressions of masculinity like "man up"  to wiping bottoms, getting the kids ready for school, or in this case talking to my daughter about her breasts. It's about expanding the range of normative masculine/paternal behavior.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cult of Compliance - Woman Thrown into Cement Bench

Jonathan Turley brings us another example of what I call the Cult of Compliance:

In this article and attached video, police throw a woman into a concrete bench, breaking several bones in her face. A lawsuit has followed.

They arrested Cassandra Feuerstein in Skokie after finding her asleep at the wheel, and charged her with drunk driving. Later, they added resisting arrest to the charges. Here are more details:
The video below shows a calm Feuerstein who asks to call her husband and kids. Officer Michael Hart calls her out of the cell, and less than 20 seconds later, the video shows Hart throwing the 110-pound woman back into the cell — face-first into a cement bench.
The pictures are very disturbing and I won't link to them here, but you can go see them on Turley's blog following the link above.

Turley continues:
The police report states that the resisting arrest charge was based on the grounds that Feuerstein “knowingly resisted … in that she pulled away from (the officer) and placed both her hands on the sides of the cell door all in an attempt to not be placed into the holding cell.” That charge appears entirely spurious and abusive and reads like a transparent effort to coerce a victim into silence in hopes of a plea deal. Yet, again, the officer does not appear to have been disciplined and the prosecutors took no action other than dropping the obviously baseless charge.
So she's driving drunk (which is bad), thankfully doesn't hurt anyone, and is arrested. Why, then, is this 110 lb woman thrown into the cement bench? Here's the key detail, I think:
A police report says that Feuerstein was not looking at the camera when being processes [sic] and then charged her with resisting arrest while being brought back to the cell. 
DISCLAIMER: I have no more data than you do. I have not seen the whole police report. But I've read a lot of incident reports now and followed story after story about police brutality. And that little detail stands out. 

THIS IS SPECULATION, but what I think happened is as follows: The woman refused to look at the camera while being processed, then is taken back to her cell by an officer angry at her non-compliance, so the officers flings her inside. I don't think the officer intended to break her face, I think the officer believes that being obeyed is mandatory, and non-compliance must be met with violence.

The cult of compliance rolls on.

Edit: Here's a local news story.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Violence and Down Syndrome: Victim Blaming

One of my concerns with the language about disability and violence, whether domestic, in institutions, or in public, is an easy tendency to link the violent outcome to the disability, rather than focusing on the perpetrator of the violence. Such rhetoric doesn't tend, or in I think intend, to excuse the violence, but it does suggest that disability is a mitigating circumstance. 

And I'm sure sometimes it is. Sometimes, people who would not otherwise be violent, find themselves unable to respond to a particularly difficult situation, so act badly. But that's an explanation, not a mitigation.

On Monday, a story came up about a boy with Down Syndrome who was dragged across the floor by a principal of a school for children with special needs in Florida.

Here's what happened:
“The child was defiant,” said Lt. Adam Militello with the Neptune Beach Police Department. “He was not getting up from the ground and the principal pulled him across the floor, just under 30 feet, some of it unfortunately over concrete and over two door thresholds.”
Cesar Suarez remembers picking his child up from school that day. And he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“You could imagine, when I saw his hand like that and his rib cage I said ‘Jesus Christ this is criminal,’” Cesar Suarez said. “‘What did you do to my baby?’ The only thing she could say is ‘I’m deeply sorry.’”
He says New Leaf Principal, Ronda McDonald, has apologized several times, sending cards and emails. 
Here's what I think happened - I think McDonald just snapped. She was frustrated at the boy who wouldn't get up, and she lost it. I think she's deeply ashamed.

I think she and the district will be sued.

I think she should be charged with child abuse (click to the original link and see the picture/video).

I think she should lose her job. 

I'm sorry about all three of these things. As a parent, I know what it's like to be so frustrated that you can feel the anger emotions roaring through your body. It happens to me. Sometimes I yell. I'm not proud of those times. Sometimes I just walk away and breathe for a few moments. I'm very proud of those times. Getting frustrated is normal. Getting physical is criminal.

But earlier in the article is a line that concerns me. It's paraphrasing the grandmother. It reads: "She said that as a child with Down Syndrome, he sometimes throws himself to the ground and refuses to get up."

I read this sentence as explanatory, and I don't blame the grandmother, but the journalist for writing it this way. It suggests that because he has DS, he throws himself to the ground and refuses to get up. My son does this. It's a passive resistance strategy learned by kids with limited verbal skills. My problem is that the piece links this behavior to the violent response by the principal, as if that explains it (if not forgives it).

In fact, the real issue here is not the flinging to the ground. The real issue is communication. Both of my kids sometimes fling themselves to the ground and refuse to get up, but with my daughter, I know she understands me when I verbally engage. I don't know if my son understands me, so I have to engage with words, tone, and touch - sometimes soft, and sometimes, yes, I pick him up (if say it's in the middle of the street - which has happened). I'm just concerned with this language that makes disability causal.

Many of the reports on Ethan Saylor, especially in the first few months, had this kind of language - so that's the stakes. Reporting and statements from organizations linked his broken throat to his Down syndrome. Such language implied that Ethan died not because of police brutality, but because the police did everything right and his Down Syndrome asphyxiated him. That's not what the pathology seemed to show. That kind of thinking has led to a lack of investigation, a lack of justice.

Finally - Is this another example of the cult of compliance? The principal, authority figure, is being defied, so she decides instead of investing patience in the situation, she'll just react physically. It's the same pattern as in all the cases of police violence against people with disability that I've been writing about for the last six months.

What do you think?

P.S. This event, I think, shows the limitations of awareness. The principal was "aware." She ran a special-needs school!