Tuesday, July 30, 2013

stray observations (a post in bullets)

  • I have traveled a lot over the summer. And by a lot, I mean in the past two months, I have been to too many states to count (okay: Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia--14 states, 15 if you count Arkansas. Some of which were just journeying through, others were the end goal of the travel).
  • When I went to Savannah, I saw so much cool art because of SCAD that I begun to feel inspired to work on creative stuff, including drawing, crafts, and photography.
  • Family is pretty great. Seeing family that I haven't seen in a while is even greater.
  • I am starting to see the value of regularly practicing yoga.
  • I got my IRB accepted and have begun work on a project I've been needing to do for some time now.
  • Kombucha is pretty delicious and seems to actually work on making my body happier!
  • Dark chocolate caramels with sea salt from Central Market, mmmmmm...
  • Pool time is awesome
  • Reading a lot of feminist science texts makes me a bit irritable with the MAN. Or the system that we (especially academics) operate within.
  • School is less than one month away *gulp*
  • I'm looking forward to a little bit of relaxation time (although I'm not sure when that will be...)
  • PROSPECTUS, in the works. I will begin writing and researching! :)

Monday, July 22, 2013

The better angels?

As I glanced through the NY Times headlines this morning, the title "Why Men Need Women" by Adam Grant popped up. Interesting, I thought, clicking through. What I would read there would so horrify me that it drove me to post about it here.

Grant begins somewhat innocuously: basically, research demonstrates that men surrounded by women are more kind and generous. There are several social explanations for this, and a social/cultural explanation seems to be one that needs exploring: the ways that we praise girls and women for cooperation and collaboration yet demean men as weak when they show the same qualities; the role of gender expectations, the fact that women could simply remind men to be a bit better because of all the cultural associations, not necessarily because of women's own inherent goodness and men's inherent depravity.

Grant's mistake, however, is reading these results not with an eye toward what they say about gender and the force of social expectations that govern male and female behavior, but instead as a perpetration of the Victorian myth of the "angel at the hearth." This idea that women gentled men, were the better angels, functioned to civilize and domesticate men, should have been tossed out as just another way of controlled female behavior and prevent women from moving outside the spheres of domesticity and Victorian femininity. Yet, here it remains under a new guise.

The first sign of trouble emerged when Grant argues
Daughters apparently soften fathers and evoke more caretaking tendencies. The speculation is that as we brush our daughters’ hair and take them to dance classes, we become gentler, more empathetic and more other-oriented.
Um, what? So, raising a son makes men less empathetic and other-oriented? There seems to be an logical gap here.  Is it the act of raising a daughter or the desire to demonstrate appropriate female behavior for one's daughter that leads to men to be "gentler, more empathetic, and more other-oriented"? My brow furrowed further as I continued reading:
SOCIAL scientists believe that the empathetic, nurturing behaviors of sisters rub off on their brothers.
Again, I felt a little bubble of frustration rise up.  Grant assumes that women are naturally nurturing and empathetic, not that our society pushes women to be as part of the package given to us called "gender expectations".  (Cordelia Fine examines these assumptions in her excellent book Delusions of Gender, where she shoots holes in the studies claiming to scientifically demonstrate that women are more empathetic--it turns out that women act more empathetic when they think that's what the researcher wants. In other words, they tailor their behavior to the context when they are made to believe that gendered behavior is being examined). Gender expectations are powerful concepts, which we're rarely even conscious of; they shape our behavior subtly and powerfully.  While it makes sense that men who grow up more around women might alter their behavior to match those around them, it's dangerous to phrase it in terms of essential human nature. After all, if men can change their "basic nature," then surely women's actions are also malleable? This would seem to thus imply that male and female behavior are both highly context-driven--our behavior is directly affected by our social and cultural context, not our essential natures.

And finally, Grant places all women up on a pedestal as kind, generous, lovely ladies instead of socialized human beings (after all, bitchy, ambitious women are punished while ambitious men are rewarded--women avoid ambition or even sounding like they care about ambition).  He claims
We recognize the direct advantages that women as leaders bring to the table, which often include diverse perspectives, collaborative styles, dedication to mentoring and keen understanding of female employees and customers. But we’ve largely overlooked the beneficial effects that women have on the men around them. Is it possible that when women join top management teams, they encourage male colleagues to treat employees more generously and to share knowledge more freely? Increases in motivation, cooperation, and innovation in companies may be fueled not only by the direct actions of female leaders, but also by their influence on male leaders.
 This is the icing on the cake: women have moved from being the domestic angel to the work angels, reminding men not to be absolute dicks (woe unto the women who refuse to engage in this gender-appropriate behavior and dare to strive for goals and be ambitious like men). Victorian era redux.

To be fair, Grant thinks he is showing how women have an advantage. But what he fails to see is that by not contextualizing these findings within ideas of gender expectations, social and cultural influences, and how we construct women as the idealized human, he is simply perpetrating the myth that women are forces of good while men are damaging, ambitious brutes.

Instead, what I would have like to see is an argument taking these results and questioning how we can make it more acceptable for men to be generous and empathetic. Perhaps the presence of women gives me a way out of conforming to the male stereotypes of aggression and ambition--so how can we then enable men to be these things without that presence? Additionally, how can we move past the expectation that women should be--perhaps even must be--gentle, collaboration, and empathetic to enable them to succeed more fully? I want our society to be more generous and work together more often, but not at the price of essentializing women in a way that blocks them from advancement and success.

Monday, July 15, 2013

efff you, facebook

Don't get me wrong, I think Facebook can be dead useful for all kinds of things, like posting pictures of my cat, stalking friends I don't see, looking at pictures of babies, and organizing events.  Lately, however, I realize how much time I spend staring at FB instead of say, writing on this blog. Or talking to the friends whose posts I stalk. Or doing anything else besides staring at a damn computer screen.

But the straw that broke the camel's back was the onslaught of ridiculousness following the George Zimmerman verdict. I'd been staring at FB posts with unease for some time. After all, I'm friends with lots of people with varied opinions about the world (which is great), but sometimes those opinions are ill-informed, poorly argued, or simply posted out of fear and hatred. The recent posts amplified all that, and the aggregate was simply more than I could bear.

With disgust, I shut down the FB window and informed L of my intention to ignore FB for the next two weeks. I'll pop briefly every so often to make sure no one messaged me or posted to my wall, but for the most part, I won't post anything, I won't interact with folks there, and I won't read posts.

My point here is not to elicit any come back to facebook!! replies but to work out why I feel so down on FB lately. It may be that I need to dump people off my list, or perhaps I'm realizing that the often unhealthy constant checking of FB is not conducive to the more positive mental well-being I'm trying to cultivate.  Perhaps I'm seeing how much time I waste passively consuming information rather than directly communicating with friends or even actively writing on this blog.

It's an experiment I hope to document: how has my life improved without FB stealing my minutes. Or without the annoyance of wanting to scream at people I normally love interacting with. Or being bombarded by constant reminders about how horrible the world can be.

Whatever the reason driving me away, I depart with a stamp of my foot, a finger raised aggressively in the general direction of the world.  So long FB. You kinda suck right now.

Monday, July 01, 2013

the promises of the yoga mat

I eye my yoga mat, rolled out and waiting for me to step on it. Yet, I hesitate. So many talk about yoga as powerful, as a practice that transcends and moves outside simple physical fitness, but I'm not sure. There's something to yoga, I think, but I seem unable to access it.  Instead of walking onto the mat, I roll it up and clean the house. Tomorrow, perhaps, I'll give it a try.

As I traveled all over this past month, I've been reading books from the massive TO READ pile. (Now that my qualifying exams are done, I can justify reading something NOT for my doctorate. For a month, anyway).  I borrowed May I Be Happy by Cyndi Lee from my friend K (and yoga teacher/inspiration), and I had borrowed Poser by Claire Dederer from another friend who began yoga feeling skeptical but fell in love.  As I read both of these books, I began digging into why I was resistant to the idea of yoga, why I shied away from it when everything I encountered would indicate that it would be something worthwhile to practice.

Lately, I've been feeling like I need to work on other parts of my health, examining my emotional/mental well-being as well as my physical body. I have finally been running regularly and incorporating a bit more strength training in, but something felt a bit off. My reading of these two books about yoga might seem coincidental, but they got me thinking about what I might be missing.

As I worked through May I Be Happy, I realized that I'm a little afraid of opening myself up to yoga. I'm afraid my body isn't good enough and that yoga will expose it as weak and unworthy. That because I'm inflexible in certain parts of my body that yoga will always be a struggle, and I'd never be able to feel anything but frustration and discomfort. But something Lee says resonated with me: Yoga is what you do with the body you have today. It's something I've heard before, but there's no such thing as having the "right" body, or even the ability to do the "right" pose. It's beyond that--even if I can't make myself look like the twiggy Yoga Journal model, that doesn't mean that the pose is wrong or my body is wrong or that I should feel frustrated.

Viewing yoga as a chance to explore my body, to concentrate not on physical fitness but also awareness shifted my anxiety away. I began to feel a bit more eager, to see what I could discover about myself, to link physical movement to thought and emotion. That sounded pretty cool.

I borrowed the mat from my sister-in-law, since I left mine behind at home. Rolling it out next to the bed in the spare bedroom, I began making my way through the sun salutations and the standing sequence. As my body warmed up, I began to relax and enjoy the poses, linking breath to physical movement. By the time I finished, I felt a measure of calm. Perhaps this yoga stuff is worth pursuing a bit more.  Perhaps I will.