April 2006 Archives

I've generated a fair amount of heat for myself because of my announced intention to stay the fuck away from Mormon feminists whose primary allegiance is to the Mormon part of that phrase rather than the feminist. I came to this decision after an experience I allude here, about finding a Mo-fem blog where a married non-feminist dude (he's a HUMANIST instead, but he tries to muster some interest in feminists, since he's married to one) came along and asked the age-old question, "But what about MEN?"

And wouldn't you know, most of the women started falling over themselves to say, "Oh, don't ever imagine that we'd forget about MEN! We're the NICE variety of feminists! We LOVE men! Oh, yes, men suffer! Men's problems are important! Men's problems are EXACTLY WHAT WE WANT TO DISCUSS HERE!"

And then I came along and left the following comment:

Bad Habits


This entry on Dale's blog, about why it is that we buy books and don't read them and then go and buy more books, reminded me of this poem, which starts off being about that very same thing. It's another old poem, written and published in the early 90s.

And oh! Guess what! This is my 200th entry.

Limits of Civic Pride


I've lived in some fairly miserable cities in my life--Kaohsiung and Shanghai spring to mind. Reese Witherfork tells me that Kaohsiung has gotten worse since I was there in 1986, and everything I've read assures me that Shanghai has gotten better since I was there in 1991. Still, I have no particular desire to return to either, and whenever I've felt inclined to lament the shortcomings of anyplace I've lived in the past 15 years, I can always cheer myself up by saying, "At least it's not as bad as Shanghai."

Although not as crowded or filthy or schizophrenic or cruel as Kaohsiung or Shanghai, the city I live in now isn't exactly glamorous or exciting (which I'm told Shanghai has become in certain ways, though even when I lived there you could find glamor and excitement if only you had loads and load of foreign currency, which I lacked). Instead, like so many once prosperous cities in the rust belt, it's economically depressed and culturally deprived, blighted by urban decay and bad management. Some cities have managed to remake themselves into something that can draw industry and tourists, but this place hasn't--partly because it's also cursed by crappy weather.

I can't help feeling, however, that it could be a reasonably appealing place if only someone could shape it properly, then sell that shape to other. Apparently the city council feels the same way too, because billboards have been springing up around town, bearing slogans to help residents feel good about their city.

A Guy from Dorking


Found this story in the Times of London on the results of--I'm not making this up--The National Housework Survey of Great Britain 2006.

This survey was commissioned by a British cable television channel, the Discovery Home and Health channel, I guess so it could create a reality TV show, Cleanaholics, which, according to the Times, will "[follow] 27 women and three men as they plough through their chores. " The website claims the show "delves into the psychology behind [the cleanaholics'] routines, and asks – is cleaning the new therapy?" A provocative question indeed!

The headline of the Times story is, "The women who think housework is better than sex," because a third of the 2000 women surveyed reported that cleaning house was more rewarding than having sex.

But I think the real gem of the Times story is the final paragraph:

Graham Peters, 40, of Dorking, one of the minority of superclean men (about one in ten), says he wishes he could cut down on his cleaning habit. “I’ve always been tidy,” he said, “but if I got a young female to clean for me, I would give up tomorrow.”

"If I got a young female to clean for me"?!

Has he ever looked into a cleaning service?

There are plenty of things I would give up tomorrow if I could get someone else to do them willingly, graciously, free of charge, for me: mowing my lawn, servicing my car, dry cleaning my fine woolens.... Oh wait! I forgot! I CAN get someone else to do those things for me, willingly and graciously! I just have to PAY FOR IT, because people tend to expect to be paid for their work!

Oh, wait: I forgot something else: People expect to be paid for their work.... unless that work is housework, and it's done by a woman.... Then it's supposed to be UNPAID. AND it's supposed to come with the added bonus of FREE SEX once the house is clean.

And yet, I imagine that given Graham's attitude, any "young female" he could find to clean for him would be one of the women who find housework more rewarding than sex. Who wants to get it on with a guy who's primarily interested in free maid service? I wonder if they asked THAT of the women who prefer housework to sex.

Monty Python and the Holy GPA


There are many ways in which I'm a hard-ass ball-breaker of a professor--my students assure me of this--but one way in which I'm nice as nice can be is the fact that I allow my students to make up for missed quizzes and minor assignments by watching movies. That's right: for students who are earning passing grades on major assignments like papers, I'll let them compensate for bombed or missed reading quizzes (which I never had as an undergrad 25 years ago, because it was assumed that we'd just actually read the work assigned, and we actually did) by renting a movie. Actually, they can rent not just a single movie but as many movies as they need--for students who aren't total goof-offs, I offer unlimited extra credit (although it only applies to missed quizzes and the like, not for crappy papers, which makes the writers of crappy papers upset) in the form of watching films I deem relevant and worthy. Not only that, but I email them a list of such films owned by the college library, so they don't even have to leave campus to watch these movies if they see fit.



As Good as My Day Was Going to Get


Warning: this post is cute to the point of being cloying. If you have a low tolerance for cuteness, don't read it. It will gross you out. It might also make you think I'm kind of pathetic, but I'm willing to take that risk.

As I've mentioned, I suffer from insomnia, which I sometimes treat with alcohol (a couple of beers or a shot of vodka being my preferred alcoholic treatment), antihistamines, or prescription sleeping pills--or, if things are really bad, both booze and pills. It's not ideal but desperate means call for desperate measures.

I also have trouble waking up. I've met--and marveled at--people who stir, open their eyes, then immediately and joyfully rise to greet the day! Not me. I stir, notice that it's morning; I look at the clock and feel profound relief if I don't have to get up in the next half hour or so, then snuggle in my blankets and doze cozily for as long as I can.

Last week sucked. Crap happened and I was anxious. As a result, I didn't get a single night of chemical-free sleep all week.

Until Sunday night, that is....

Playing The Clash Made Him a Terror Suspect

Here's a story I would have only imagined could appear in something like The Onion, but according to The Daily Mail (which I admit sort of reminds me of The Onion), it really happened.

Some British guy got hauled off an airplane and questioned for three hours because he played London Calling by the Clash and Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin in a taxi, and these songs scared the taxi man. I admit the lyrics to "Immigrant Song" are scary, but only because they're so incredibly silly--I included a link to the lyrics so you can see for yourself in case you're unfortunate enough not to be thoroughly familiar with Zeppelin III.

Read it and weep: all you need now to be to be suspected of terrorist sympathies is a fondness for classic punk and rock.

Thanks to Spike for sending me the link.

The Hinge


Today is the twentieth anniversary of the event I think of as the hinge of my life. Twenty years ago today, when I was 22, a great dark door swung ever so slightly ajar after I slammed against it so violently I cracked a rib and got a concussion. I knew instinctively that freedom lay beyond the door, but I was too frightened, too weak and muddled, to push it any further. Instead I retreated further into the claustrophobic darkness of the tiny, stifling room I inhabited, even though there was no place for me in it: it was agonizing to live there, but it was familiar, and it was also home to everyone I loved. How could I ever leave it?

That probably sounds histrionic and hyperbolic, but hey, there are times to say "today is the twentieth anniversary of something that really sucked" and then there are times to try to capture a certain profound, visceral distress accompanying an experience that can still quicken your pulse and bring bile to the back of your mouth, even after two decades.

Here's another way of saying it:

Gender, Fiction and Reading Preferences


Yesterday I came across this article (published a week or so ago) in the Guardian UK about gender, fiction and reading preferences. Frankengirl and Mysticgypsy, you'll be pleased to learn that Jane Eyre was the novel most often cited by women as having the greatest influence on them. The novel most men cited as influential was The Stranger by Camus.

The report is fascinating and draws some interesting conclusions: Women's favorite novels were "surprisingly varied" and women found it easy to discuss the influence fiction had on them, "producing a number of key moments in their life at which they unselfconsciously acknowledged that fiction had offered them guidance or solace," while men's preferences were limited to a much smaller cluster of works, and "men were more reluctant than the women to discuss the influence reading might have had on them." As for why that might be,

Jon Elek, lecturer in English at University College London, told us: "I guess that if you admit to having a watershed novel, then you're admitting to having a watershed moment, which is something that a lot of men don't necessarily want to admit to. And to admit to having five [as respondents were asked to do] - oh, come on!"

The researchers summarize some of their findings thus:

Our final top 20 of men's reading clearly shows a majority of books with strong active narrative themes - books that might traditionally be described at quintessential boys' books. No surprise there, perhaps. Except that both our recorded interviews and questionnaire responses show these choices being made on the basis of a conscious commitment to novels that take the reader in a direction of personal development. Men's reading choices tend to identify themselves with novels that include intellectual struggle. Personal vulnerability is represented as a more or less angst-ridden struggle against convention, a sense of isolation from social normality. Catastrophe and the struggle to rise above circumstance characterise the plots.

Part of the reason for this, we decided, was that, to a far larger degree than women, men's formative reading was done between the ages of 12 and 20 - indeed, specifically around the ages of 15 and 16. For men, fiction was a rite of passage into manhood during painful adolescence. Many men admitted that they had read little fiction since, though mature men returned to fiction reading in later life, and expressed increasing enjoyment in reading for "self-reflection".

Between 20 and 40, many men we talked to openly showed an almost complete lack of interest in reading which drew them into personal introspection, or asked them to engage with the family and the domestic sphere. On the other hand, those who had remained avid readers could see distinct patterns emerging in their choices which differed from those selected by women.

A final conclusion is that

men use fiction almost physically as a guide to negotiate a difficult journey (but would rarely admit to this downright being the case). They use fiction almost topographically, as a map. Many of our women respondents last year explained that they used novels metaphorically - the build-up to an emotional crisis and subsequent denouement in a novel such as Jane Eyre might have helped negotiate an emotional progress through a difficult divorce, or provided support during a difficult period at work, or provided solace when things seemed generally dull.

Even if you get bored by the reseachers' commentary on their study, make sure you scroll to the bottom of the page and read the summary of both Jane Eyre and The Stranger--very witty!


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