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The election, blaming, and emotional labor

In the wake of last week’s presidential election, I’ve been thinking a lot about emotional labor. Many of the posts I see on my social media accounts are about blame. I understand this as an initial reaction–I think it’s fascinating to figure out what messages resonated with which voters based on turnout–but I’m really struggling with some people’s sustained obsession with casting blame. In particular, I’ve seen many people blaming women.

Let me just repeat that and be a bit more specific. Liberals are blaming women–especially white women–for the outcome of this election.

I’ve had liberal friends talk about how white women handed Trump the election. I’ve had them tell me that straight women aren’t politically conscious and just listen to their husbands to decide who to vote for. I’ve had them tell me (simultaneously!) that white women won’t be affected by the things people fear from a Trump presidency and also that they don’t understand how women could vote for him given the ways he treats women.

And I have just one question. Why are we so obsessed with holding women accountable? A whopping 63% of white men voted for Trump, compared to 52% of white women. College-educated white women were the only white demographic group I’ve seen reported on who didn’t break for Trump (though admittedly by only a few points). About 33% of Latino men voted for Trump as well as 13% of Black men; both of those numbers are significantly higher than women in the same ethnic groups.

Liberals blaming women for Trump’s election–while utterly failing to hold men, especially white men, accountable in any way–is a symptom of the very same sorts of rhetorics that scapegoat women for unwanted pregnancies, discriminatory pay practices, and domestic abuse situations.

Clearly, as a white woman, I have a stake in this argument. But on top of the scapegoating behavior I’ve described above, I’ve also found myself being asked to do emotional labor for others–often others who have more privilege than I do–even while being blamed. And I’ve seen this happening to other people, too–consistently and powerfully. The article I’ve linked below (“50 Ways People Expect Constant Emotional Labor From Women and Femmes”) is, I think, instructive. Here are a few of the problematic patterns it notes, with direct quotes in standard texts and my additions in italics:

  • 2. Friends offload their problems – sometimes serious problems that we’re not equipped to handle – onto us before we have agreed to talk about them, often expecting an immediate response or requiring that we engage with the things that are bothering them specifically, and with no acknowledgment that we are also struggling.
  • 7. If we are in professions that involve interactions with people, those we serve expect us to act as their therapists and to be on call at all times (see above) even in the midst of our own crises.
  • 11 & 12. We have to justify decisions … again, and again, and again, while watching others make the same decisions we are punished for with no repercussions whatsoever
  • 30. We’re expected to keep the peace with our cohabitants under all conditions, even if this means sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others’ emotional and mental health and self-interest
  • 33. In the workplace, we have to worry about presenting our ideas in a non-threatening manner but also in a way that allows us to claim credit for our labor when someone else, inevitably, discredits or colonizes it.

I hope that those struggling to make sense of the world today might, in the future, do a better job of doing so in ways that value cooperation, shared accountability, and intelligent inquiry. I, for one, am about to start holding myself accountable for intervening in patterns of woman-blaming when I hear them.

50 Ways People Expect Constant Emotional Labor from Women and Femmes


Free college? How about accessible college.

Making college free was a big topic early in this presidential campaign season, though it’s faded a little bit now. Feministing has recently published a story called “Making college free won’t fix my problems with academia” by Barbara Sostaita. In this piece, Sostaita explains how the cost of college is “only the first obstacle low-income and students of color face in our academic journeys.” She discusses the (many, many) cultural barriers, including campus buildings with overtly racist names, policies with sexist and racist histories, alienation through perpetuation of model minority narratives, lack of diversity in faculty, and more.

I think this might be the smartest article I’ve read on the subject of free college.

I’m not a proponent of free college, myself. (But affordable, accessible college–certainly!) I could give you a whole list of reasons why, but that’s not the point. The more important takeaway here is that the cultural barriers Sostaita describes are elitist, racist, sexist. These barriers are very, very wrong and very, very real. Instead of focusing on free college, perhaps we should focus on creating productive environments for students who are already at university and are struggling because they don’t see people like themselves in the faculty, because they’re facing an onslaught of microaggressions every day, because the system is built against them. Let’s start there.

Read Sostaita’s full story here


Inclusive Syllabi

This site is fantastic for thinking about syllabus design–definitely re-visiting it when it’s time to plan fall classes! The whole thing demonstrates the importance of this statement: “Accessibility cannot be an afterthought and it cannot be assumed.”



Being an ally

In the wake of the horrific events at Pulse in Orlando this weekend, I’ve been trying to be thoughtful about ways to be a good ally to my LGBTQI friends. The list below is compiled from several lists I’ve read as well as ideas from friends. This list is ordered in a way that makes sense to me, but I think different actions and priorities will make sense and work better for different people. In other words, this isn’t a directive, but it might be helpful–it’s been helpful to me in thinking through this.

  1. Shut up and listen. I am not the victim here; it is not my time to talk. I will try to be an ally without taking rhetorical space from my LGBTQI friends. Many who are hurting right now need someone to hear them.
  2. Speak up when appropriate. If I witness someone doing something homophobic or sexist or otherwise mean/inappropriate, I have an obligation to say that this behavior is not okay with me. It contributes to a culture where things like Orlando happen.
  3. Pay attention to affiliations. Religious, political, commercial, whatever. I will be paying close attention to the rhetoric and actions of any church I attend and any politician I am thinking of voting for, and I will not support people or institutions who engage in hate.
  4. Stay focused on the real issues and work to have hard conversations. A friend recently posted this WSJ project that juxtaposes items from “liberal” and “conservative” Facebook feeds to demonstrate how social media can function as an echo chamber that tells users what they want to hear. I will, instead, seek information from many perspectives and try to engage people with a diversity of opinions. (Check it out:
  5. Respond to physical needs as well as emotional ones. If you see a friend suffering, check in to make sure they’re okay. Take them out for lunch, or make a dinner to drop off. Here’s a practical one: Give blood. Since Red Cross policies prevent many queer men from giving blood, this is a need that feels (and is) especially real right now.

Notes on Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology

“The promise of interdisciplinary scholarship is that the failure to return texts to their histories will do something. . . . We must remember that to ‘not return’ still requires the act of following, we have to go with something if we are to depart from that thing. The following takes us in a different direction, as we keep noticing other points” (pp 22-23).

Phenomenology  says “consciousness is intentional: it is directed toward something” (p. 27).

On one’s orientation toward the writing table: “For some, having time for writing, which means time to face the objects upon which writing happens becomes an orientation that is not available given the ongoing labor of other attachments, which literally pull you away. So whether we can sustain our orientation toward the writing table depends on other orientations, which affect what we can face at any given moment in time” (p. 32).

To appear–to be apparent–requires an arrival. “An arrival takes time, and the time that it takes shapes ‘what’ it is that arrives. The object could even be described as the transformation of time into form, which iteself could be redefined as the ‘direction’ of matter. What arrives not only depends on time, but is shaped by the conditions of its arrival, by how it came to get here. Think of a sticky object; what it picks up on its surface ‘shows’ where it has traveled and what it has come into contact with” (p. 40).

“Our body is not in space like things; it inhabits or haunts space” — Merleau-Ponty . . . “The language here implies that bodies provide us with a tool, as that through which we ‘hold’ or ‘grasp’ onto things, but elsehwere Merleau-Ponty suggests that the body is not itself an instrument but a form of expression, a making visible of our intentions. What makes bodies different is how they inhabit space: space is not a container for the body; it does not contain the body as if the body were ‘in it.’ Rather bodies are submerged, such that they become the space they inhabit; in taking up space, bodies move through space and are affected by the ‘where’ of that movement. It is through this movement that the surface of spaces as well as bodies takes shape.” (p. 53).

Phenomenological models of female embodiment emphasize orientation … drawing on Young, Ahmed says that women may see their bodies as objects. Objects throw us and can be thrown; “we acquire the shape of how we throw, as well as what we do” (p. 60).

“The very idea that bodies ‘have’ a natural orientation is exposed as fantasy in the necessity of the enforcement of that orientation, or its maintenance as a social requirement for intelligible subjectivity” (p. 85).

On the term homosexual, Ahmed says “women desiring women does not mean that they desire the same . . . The very idea of women desiring women because of ‘sameness’ relies on a fantasy that women are ‘the same'” (p. 96).

“Queer orientations might be those that don’t line up, which by seeing the world ‘slantwise’ allow other objects to come into view. A queer orientation imgth be one that does not overcome what is ‘off line,’ and hence acts out of line with others. It is no accident that queer orientations have been described by Foucault and others as orientations that follow a diagonal line, which cut ‘slantwise’ the vertical and horizontal lines of conventional genealogy” (p. 107).

“Acts of domestication are not private; they involve the shaping of collective bodies, which allows some objects and not others to be within reach” (p. 117).

“The institutionalization of whiteness involves work: the institutions comes to have  body as an effect of this work. It is important that we do not reify institutions by presuming they are simply given and that they decide what we do. Rather, institutions become given as an effect of the repetition of decisions made over time, which shapes the surface of institutional spaces. Institutions involved lines, which are the accumulation of past decisions about ‘how’ to allocate resources, as well as ‘who’ to recruit. Recruitment functions as a technology for the reproduction of whiteness” (p. 133).

Notes on Isaac West’s Transforming Citizenships, NYUP, 2014.

West offers several case studies of how transgender articulations of law can change our perspectives. He also offers “performative repertoire” as a concept to get beyond acontextual legal rhetorics (see more below). Following are selected quotations and contextualizing notes.

“Academic critique that is limited to official state texts, including legislative debates, statutes, and court opinions, embraces an impoverished sense of the rhetoricity of citizenship and its corresponding agencies” (p. 17)

“an exclusive focus on litigation does not provide an accurate picture of legal subjectivities” (p. 20)

“contextualized critiques of articulations of citizenship are necessary correctives for conceptualizing the law not as an external force acting on culture, but rather as an actually existing set of cultural effectivities” (p. 21)

“agency must be understood as a ‘performative repertoire,’ or as embodied practices enabled by and negotiated through the logics of subjective recognition” (p. 39)

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Notes on Wendy Mitchinson’s Body Failure: Medical Views of Women, 1900-1950. University of Toronto Press, 2013.

Mitchinson chronicles the history of how the male body was understood as normal and the female body was understood as abnormal, weak, prone to breakdown in the first half of the twentieth century in Canada. What follows are selected quotations and some contextualizing notes.

The first chapter on “Woman’s Place” takes up historical arguments based in medicine and health (and, implicitly, reproductive capacity and fertility) about women’s employment, eating habits, exercise, fashion. The author points out that female sexual organs are naturally better protected than male sexual organs, and yet physicians only seemed to express concern over female fertility in most of these areas.

“I see medicine as a bedrock of societal norms, sometimes in their creation and more often in their maintenance” (p. 8).

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