Showing posts with label sexism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sexism. Show all posts

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Guys and Dolls. And Booze.

Washington State privatized the sale of alcohol two years ago. Other states are following suit. "Getting the state out of the liquor business" was a popular notion, partly because backers of deregulation (like Costco) promised more competition and hence, lower prices passed on to consumers. Ironically, the cost of spirits has gone up ten percent although, on the upside (I suppose) tax revenue has increased proportionately.  

I voted against closing the state liquor stores. I thought the old system was working just fine. The stores were impeccably clean and orderly, the clerks were helpful, and there was something about the ritualized formality of buying alcohol through the state that always reminded one that alcohol purchase and consumption was meant to be the privilege of serious, responsible adults. I was troubled at the possibility of making liquor even more available to drivers and minors. But I was in the minority -- even my partner voted against me -- so here we are...

And now you cannot go into any retail outfit without seeing booze: rows and rows and stacks of booze. My neighborhood Rite-Aid, a drugstore chain, has devoted more than a third of its floor space to wine, spirits, and snacks. We have our own brewery in town, and there is talk of licensing neighborhood distilleries soon.

My local convenience store has jumped on the bandwagon and is doing a brisk business selling "growlers"  -- but clearly the owner is greedy for even more custom.  As I was passing the store today, I was startled to see a young woman standing in the bushes on the corner, energetically waving a sign that read "Growlers Here!" She was wearing sunglasses, tiny denim shorts, and her long mane of glossy strawberry blonde hair streamed in the breeze.

Something didn't look quite right, though. For one thing, she looked too small to be legally advertising beer. At first glance, she appeared to be about twelve years old.  I pulled into the parking lot and quickly ascertained she wasn't a woman at all: she was a rather crude animatronic figure. I approached the shop owner, a Korean immigrant, while he was busy adjusting her base so she wouldn't topple over in the wind. I remarked that this new addition to his store was rather "weird."  

"Guys like it," he replied. 

"But she's not a real person," I persisted, feeling faintly ridiculous.

The shop keeper shrugged. "Don't matter. They stop."

Why did it bother me more that they were stopping for an animated doll than if they had been stopping for a real, live girl? Did the men who pulled over resent this cynical exploitation of their reptilian brains? Did they even recognize how they were being manipulated?

It was one thing to see this sort of ploy on billboards or in the pages of magazines; it was another to see it on the street of my quiet, family-friendly residential neighborhood.

A few years ago, neighborhoods like mine had outlawed "bikini baristas" at drive-through expresso stands. I was kind of relieved when they disappeared; I would have been humiliated to have found myself accidentally pulling into one for my morning latte.  For some reason, this mannequin seemed equally objectionable, and I wondered how long it would take for the Cavalry Temple families to set up a squall.

If the figure had been a cute animal -- say a dog or a tiger or a squirrel -- it wouldn't have bothered me so much. Is it possible I've become one of those rabid, hypersensitive, humorless feminists?

Friday, May 9, 2014

What's To Be Done?

If you are a teacher or work in education, kill yourself. It's the only way to save your fuckin' soul.

Hey, if I thought it would help, I'd seriously consider it. But then who would teach my classes?

Learning that I taught in community college, a smart-aleck I once dated snarked, "You mean 13th grade with ashtrays?"

Yeah, in retrospect, he was "negging," wasn't he?  But it worked in this case.  And he wasn't far off the mark, although the ashtrays are in danger of disappearing thanks to a push to ban all smoking on campus.

This morning I devoted to "professional development," attending a series of informal talks and workshops designed to share "best teaching practices" as well as to acquaint faculty members and administrative staff from disparate disciplines with one another.  After a luncheon sponsored by the Foundation (burgers consumed on bleachers) there will be a variety of engaging activities, including an opportunity to roll around the floor of the gymnasium in "human hamster balls" (and yeah, the metaphor is not lost on me either). 
So very much... not me.
Actually, I get a lot out of these affairs.  I have learned more about teaching from watching other teachers (especially in the role of a student) than I ever have from classes in pedagogy.  I often admire their creative techniques, their classroom innovations.  I am always impressed by their caring and commitment, by their boundless optimism that seems to feed on thin air.  (Whatever one says about teaching as a refuge of the mediocre, most instructors care a lot -- at least the ones who show up for "professional development" sessions on a Friday.)  And since I teach remedial classes, it's helpful to be reminded what it is (and for whom), I am preparing my students.

The most interesting workshop addressed the problem of "under-prepared students."  Since the majority of my students will freely admit that they have never read a single book in their lives, and my objective is to prepare them to be successful in their college-level English classes, this hour promised to be highly relevant.  Ah, the eternal question: How do we get these students from A to B?

The session was heavy on statistics and predictably short on answers, because when it comes to education, I think we're all flummoxed -- especially the instructors, who are like soldiers sent forth to vanquish the enemy (of ignorance) by generals and a public at large who, far removed from the front lines, lounge comfortably in their barcaloungers, endlessly carping about the crap job teachers do.
Metaphorically, of course.
OK, here's a fun fact: 58% of students who enroll in community colleges in my state do not place into college-level classes.  They spend their first quarter or possibly first year struggling with the basic skills that you and I probably mastered in eighth tenth grade.  Except this time around, they are paying for the privilege (usually in the form of financial aid) to study "Fundamentals of Algebra" or "Vocabulary Development."  Because they cannot place into core college level classes until they demonstrate proficiency in high-school level math and English, they must supplement their schedules with electives like physical education or Introduction to Ceramics -- for which many must also borrow the money to pay.*

Of these under-prepared students who enroll in remedial classes, only 25% go on to earn either a certificate or a degree.  Those under-prepared students who decide to enter college part time have virtually no chance of ever graduating at all.

What accounts for such a low success rate?  We can assume that whatever roadblocks stood in their way as children continue to impede learning:  poverty, alcohol/drug abuse, chaotic families, mental disorders, or just plain PPP.**

Looking at various factors (race, age, etc.), the most salient one appeared to be gender.  Male students are significantly less likely to overcome the hurdles and wind up graduating (with either a transferable A.S. or a vocational certificate).  In other words, a single mom has a better chance of graduating than a single man with no dependents. 

We were invited to discuss why this might be so.  It was hard for me to discount the anger of certain manosphereans who claim education has become "feminized" to the point of disenfranchising the boys, but no one else was suggesting this as a possible factor, not even the several male faculty members present -- although one male math instructor interpreted the relative (modest) strides of women in obtaining degrees as "a positive sign."  

And complaints of "under-prepared" students are by no means confined to teachers in the humanities (which may be dismissed by manospherean sages such as Captain Capitalism as "feminine" or "fluff" fields).  In fact, the Construction Management and Information Technology instructors are equally vexed by students who are unable to read a manual or write a set of coherent instructions.

I have observed in my classes that the "under-prepared" women do seem to be more compliant: more willing to do what they are told they must do in order to pass my class, for example.  They exhibit a certain dogged persistence in pursuing their goals in comparison to the men, who are more likely to express impatience or "give up" (or "blow up") when faced with frustration.  

Female students, regardless of their degree of preparedness, are more likely to seek support (to approach instructors for help, to identify and consult with advisers, to figure out how to navigate the byzantine system of higher education).  Being a student, especially one with academic deficits, is humbling.  Before we can learn something, we have to admit we don't know it.  Is this something that women are socially more conditioned to accept?  In other words, is it possible that their typically "feminine" behaviors serve them?

I don't know what the solution is.  I'm not even sure what the problem is.  I've been known to piously intone that "College isn't for everyone," or that "Students deserve the opportunity to fail," but such sentiments are not only sacrilege in my circles, they seem like terrible cop-outs.   

*For profit colleges and technical colleges often lure such students with the promise they will not have to meet these pesky prerequisites, and indeed will often push students through their programs, but their rate of success in subsequently placing graduates in jobs is abysmal.
** "piss poor protoplasm"

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What Was He Thinking?

When I read via mancheez about mechanical engineering professor Thomas Impelluso's sexist remarks about women on A Voice For Men, I was actually shocked.  I won't quote or summarize, just refer you to her posts.

Prof. Impelluso has elsewhere, in more mainstream forums, commented that he refuses to care about the lack of women in engineering so long as boys are lagging in reading skills.  This recalls Attila Vinczer's idiotic assertion that the focus on breast cancer just demonstrates how nobody cares about prostate cancer.  Everything is a zero-sum game with these fools.  And everything, in the end, is the fault of feminism.

And frankly, speaking as someone who teaches "college readiness" classes in reading and writing, I am offended by the implication that the young men in my class get short shrift compared to the women.  If anything, I spend more time with and more attention to helping male students in and out of class.

Now, of course I wasn't shocked that a professor might personally, in the darkest recesses of his guarded heart, hold those views  (although I still have a hard time reconciling such ignorance, arrogance, and just plain "crankiness" with being, well, educated).  What flabbergasts me is that he posted them under his real name.  Never mind the retro mindset and hostility to women in math, which, by the way, is completely counter to the efforts most academic institutions (including my own) are making to encourage women to enter STEM fields.  Never mind the curious obsession with penises and with the obligation of women to make those penises happy.  It's the simple and utter lack of common sense that blows me away. 

I can only think of Jay Leno's 1995 interview with Hugh Grant: "What the hell were you thinking?"

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sexual Harassment

UPDATE:  I posted this yesterday.  Today I read, via Pharyngula, about Karen Stollznow's plight.  It appears that sexual harassment is alive and well in academia.  I've sent a small amount to her legal fund, a token really.  And ordered a couple of her books, which look fascinating.  Maybe I should try writing a really crappy porn book, tailored to the rich sexual fantasies of your average manospherean reader, so I could afford to give more?  Anyone care to collaborate on such a project?

I'm old enough to have experienced sexual harassment before "sexual harassment" was A Thing, much less a cause for legal action.  When I was a graduate student I took a part time job taking dictation for a much respected and frequently cited law professor, renowned for his work in civil rights.  I got the gig through the student job center.  Although the work schedule was erratic and inconvenient -- the professor was most productive in the wee hours -- my small stipend as a TA (teaching assistant) wasn't quite enough to live on.  So I felt lucky to have another small stream of income to make ends meet.

The job entailed the professor picking me up around midnight at the apartment I shared with my boyfriend, and driving me to his house across town.  Our voices were hushed as we climbed the dark stairs to the upstairs bedroom he used as his study; his wife and children were sleeping in adjoining bedrooms.  I settled myself in front of an IBM Selectric (this was a couple of years before personal computers had rendered typewriters obsolete).  The professor stood behind me and... well, talked to himself.  He was the kind of guy who needed to have an audience, to hear himself form his own ideas out loud, and the fact that I had little idea what he was talking about did not deter him in the least.  I was a pretty fast typist, and I did my best to capture every word.  Still, it took a lot of focus to follow the unrelenting stream of consciousness through the dark, unmeasured hours.  Sometimes he would make sudden detours, backtracks, need to annotate.  Sometimes he got annoyed (at himself? at me?) and raised his voice impatiently, or stomped about.  These exhausting sessions usually lasted a few hours, sometimes only a couple, depending on the professor's inspiration and energy level.  When he was finished for the night, he drove me back home as though I were the family babysitter (which in retrospect I might have been), and I fell into bed half-dressed, curled up against my boyfriend's bony back, and tried to catch a couple of hours of sleep before getting up to attend classes.

One evening the professor announced that he appreciated my work so much that he wanted to reward me with an excursion.  He drove me to the town's only porn theater and invited me to attend a movie with him.  I demurred.  At that time, the notion of watching a "dirty movie" in a public venue was akin to parading down Main Street nude.  The fact that a professor was encouraging me to do so made me dizzy with confusion and shame.  Reluctantly, the professor turned the car around and we headed to his house where we resumed our work.  However, about an hour in, his voice trailed off... He had another idea.

"You seem like an adventurous girl, Cynthia," he said.  "Would you like to listen in on a phone call?"  It was 1:00 am.  I couldn't imagine who he might call at that hour.  I obediently picked up the extension in the office while the professor disappeared downstairs.  For the next twenty minutes or so, he engaged in what I would now describe as "phone sex" with an unknown but apparently willing woman in another state.  I don't know if she was a former student or a colleague.  I knew it was a long distance call, and I couldn't stop worrying about how expensive it was, and whether the professor's wife would be cross when she saw the bill, or whether these calls were itemized research expenses (like my services) that the university reimbursed him for.  When the conversation had reached its conclusion, the professor returned, looking pleased with himself.

"Well, what did you think?" he asked.  "It was interesting," I replied dully, my cheeks scorching.  Nonplussed by my disappointing response, the professor continued to dictate and the evening proceeded as usual.

The next morning I called the student job center to tender my resignation.  "I can't work with Prof. X," I said.  "And I can't explain why."  Of course, the job center director, a woman, knew exactly why, but she wasn't about to press for details.  Yes, she conceded, they'd had similar reports before.  She understood.  She didn't offer me an alternative job, and I didn't ask for one. 

And so the matter rested...  but not quite.

A couple of weeks later, the professor's wife called me at home, imploring me to return.  "My husband works so well with you," she told me.  "You're not like the other girls."  I fibbed, telling her a change in my teaching schedule made it, much to my regret, impossible.  

The next day I took a job at a shopping mall kiosk, selling hot dogs.  It was a little embarrassing when my students passed by and giggled at the sight of my silly orange plastic visor, but I preferred that variety of humiliation.

I didn't think about this incident for almost two decades because I didn't have the language to describe what had happened.  And I knew, I just knew on some level, that it had all been my fault anyway.  I must have been giving off some signal that convinced the professor I was receptive to that behavior.  There was something dirty and damaged in me that he had picked up on... If only I could figure out what I had done!  (Certainly my boyfriend at the time thought so.)

Not long ago, I looked up the professor.  I figured he was retired by now, but I was curious if he had ever been implicated in sexually harassing other female students.  I was shocked and saddened to learn he had committed suicide years before.  I don't know if anyone understands why, but he apparently had fallen into a deep depression following a lawsuit brought, not by a woman, but by a group of African American students, charging him with -- of all things! -- racism.  Given that he had devoted his career to civil rights legislation, the nature of this dishonor and his subsequent death seemed impossibly ironic and sad.

My little anecdote is common stuff, hardly to be remarked upon, for women my generation.  I wonder if I shared it with younger women, they would dismiss it as part of a quaint and troublesome era, as irrelevant to their professional lives as a Mad Men episode. It would be rather pleasant to believe we have come so far.

And so...

Is the fact that there is a generation out there who don't recognize the name "Anita Hill" yet another reminder of how old I am?  Fortunately, there's a new documentary that will familiarize younger people with her ordeal during the 1991 confirmation hearings of Supreme Justice Clarence Thomas.

It's comforting to learn that Hill prevailed, despite the dirt she was dragged through, with her sanity and dignity intact, and went on to establish the rewarding career she still enjoys.