Tag Archives: class

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


Re-post: The Gender Divide in Academe

Re-posted from tengrrl:

THE GENDER DIVIDE IN ACADEME: Insights on Retaining More Academic Women http://t.co/qwvnV6kaZ4

Of interest:

  • “Female authors are only half as likely as male authors are to cite their own research” (p. 16).
  • A recent study “showed that female students finished college with lower self-esteem than they started with. Males, on the other hand, graduated with greater self-confidence (albeit lower GPAs) than their female peers” (p. 14).
  • “[T]here are more than three times as many male full professors at doctoral universities as there are women in those ranks” (p. 12).

Diagrams on (p/m)aternity leave

A really interesting couple of graphics here, blatantly borrowed from this Think Progress page about maternity/paternity leave around the world. I’m as interested in the graphics themselves (the rose diagram is an especially interesting choice) as I am in the data. However, this does leave me wondering what “paid” leave means. Does the government do the paying, or does a private employer become legally responsible? Is there a standard rate, or are people paid their usual salaries?

When thinking about how paid maternity/paternity leave might work in the US context, I’m increasingly shocked that it hasn’t been done yet. It even seems to me that a person on maternity/paternity leave could make a case that they qualify for unemployment (although, of course, FMLA requires that their old job would still be available when they return, which I’m sure is the hitch). It couldn’t seriously be all that hard to enact such a system.

Diagram of maternity leave in different countriesRose diagram of paternity leave in different countries

Re-post: What is a woman?

I recently read an interesting New Yorker piece that sets up a debate between radical feminists and transgender women. The arguments basically go like this: Transgender women say they have a right to be whatever gender they want, while radical feminists say that someone who has reaped male privilege for years (and perhaps continues to do so in some contexts) can’t just suddenly decide to take on the title of “woman.”

The radical feminist position here made sense to me at first. Men presume to speak for women in a lot of contexts; it seems there may be danger of that here. “Trying on” womanhood could be seen as a form of extended male entitlement. But the more I think about this, the more I’m not sure how welcoming a transgender woman to the fold in any way decreases my own claim to the term “woman.” Having additional voices doesn’t mean mine will be covered over. In fact, ostracizing trans women on the basis that we don’t have shared oppressions implicitly makes the case that all people born as women DO have shared oppressions. As a very privileged, white, Western woman, I am keenly aware that that is not true.

Obviously, the positions represented in this post are generalizations. However, article author Michelle Goldberg does a really nice job of providing more complexity and illustrating how this debate has played out over years, as well as what it means to consider intersectionality in this context. Perhaps my favorite line is this clever little shift: “In this view, gender is less an identity than a caste position.” Whoa.

Read the full article here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/04/woman-2


Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Snyder, Gabbard, May, and Zulcis

Snyder, C. S., Gabbard, W. J., May, J. D., & Zulcis, N. (2006). On the battleground of women’s bodies: Mass rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Journal of Women and Social Work, 21(2), 184-195.

1.      Main Thesis: Snyder, Gabbard, May, and Zulcis argue that we should consider the social and cultural patterns that allow war rape to occur. Using the Bosnian conflict as an example, the authors suggest that women experience war rape as a complex situation involving not only sex, but also ethnicity, age, race, class, religion, nationality, and more. They suggest that attention to this complexity can shape future policy to prevent and/or prosecute war rape.

2.      Body of Evidence: This article begins by providing a detailed history of how women’s fates and fortunes have been intertwined with and dependent upon national narratives and social initiatives in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the former Yugoslavia. The authors document the history of wartime rape, going all the way back to the Roman rape of the Sabines (p. 185). The authors dispute arguments suggesting that war rape is biologically based. Next, the authors discuss feminist responses to wartime rape—which suggest that rape is an expression of male hatred toward women—as well as documenting gender roles and relations and the uprising of feminism in Yugoslavia prior to the Bosnian conflict. The collision of feminism and nationalism resulted in a splintering of the feminist movement; nationalism led to “discourse that conflated images of mothers with the nation itself” (p. 188). This, in turn, allowed public policy to turn toward reproductive control, which paved the way for cultural understandings of war rape as a way for males to demoralize the enemy while propagating their own nationality/bloodline and preventing the enemy from reproducing—a form of ethnic cleansing. The authors state that most rapes were perpetrated by Serbian men against Muslim women and that between 25,000 and 50,000 women were raped; however, many would not admit to being raped because of the social consequences, which included shaming their men (p. 189). Finally, the authors argue that the “Bosnian conflict signaled the end of the invisibility of women who are raped in war” (p.191). For the first time, war rape was classified by the United Nations as a crime against humanity on par with torture and murder.

3.      Conclusions: Snyder, Gabbard, May, and Zulcis conclude by pointing out that the fracturing of the women’s movement was one of the first signs of the wars of succession in Yugoslavia. As such, women and feminists are uniquely placed to prevent such atrocities. The authors suggest that war rape victimizes entire cultures as well as individual women. They argue that we are obligated to consider the complex nature of war rape as a crime that implicates such characteristics as ethnicity, nationality, and religion in addition to gender and sex.

4.      My Conclusions: This article was shocking. It also was detailed and well researched. I appreciated the attention to social and cultural logics supporting war rape. In addition, I heartily agree with the third-wave nature of the authors’ argument about considering the intersectionalities of identity involved in war rape. However, I disagree with the authors’ contention that women and feminists are uniquely obligated to fight this type of violence. Certainly women and feminists should be part of the fight, but we already have many burdens to bear, and I submit that men—who still make up the vast majority of all militaries worldwide—actually have greater potential to make changes in time to prevent imminent cases of war rape. I wish the authors had called men to action as well.

Pedagogy and Oppression

The following is a partial response to readings in Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Teaching to Transgress done for a seminar class on pedagogy …

Investigating “the people’s ‘thematic universe’—the complex of their ‘generative themes’” through dialogic means seems to me a really smart place to start thinking about teaching (96). Whether it’s teaching to a group of peasants, potential revolutionary leaders, or a class at a public school in the Midwestern U.S., an investigation of the group’s guiding generative themes will help the teacher learn about the context of the class and adjust accordingly. I think most teachers (at least most teachers in our department) do this unconsciously, or perhaps just without explicitly talking about it. I know I’ve done it, without realizing it, in past classes that I’ve taught. After all, it’s hard to work at disturbing entrenched ideologies in, say, a critical inquiry class unless you first have taken the time to “investigate people’s thinking about reality and people’s action upon reality” (106). The difficult part of this process, I think, is to remember to involve the students—explicitly—in uncovering the generative themes of a group. If we forget to involve the students, and instead just study them IRB-style, as we have been conditioned to do, we are engaging not in Freire’s problem-posing pedagogy, but in an antidialogical model that perpetuates the teacher’s domination of the students. This requirement for student participation has always seemed to me to be the weak link in Freire’s ideal pedagogy. What is a revolutionary leader to do if the oppressed simply don’t want to be liberated? I suspect Freire believes he answers this question in his final chapter when he says that the oppressed must be awakened to their own position as victims of conquest, division, manipulation, and cultural invasion. He says that, “the leaders go to the people in a spontaneously dialogical manner. There is an almost immediate empathy between the people and the revolutionary leaders: their mutual commitment is almost instantly sealed” (164). I don’t buy this, even a little. Maybe the problem here actually is transference to an institutional classroom in the U.S., but I’ve never experienced this phenomenon as a teacher or as a student.

Though I love most of this book, and I can fully get behind the general attitude it espouses, I do encounter a number of difficulties like this in putting it to use. Perhaps what I’m feeling is a dissonance between the kind of open education Freire is actually theorizing and the institutionalized education system here in the U.S. It seems that there are just too many problems with picking up the “pedagogy of the oppressed” from the countryside of Brazil and plopping it down in the middle of Illinois. Are my students here really oppressed? But maybe this dissonance is the result of my subject position as a middle-class, apparently white, heterosexual person of privilege. bell hooks doesn’t seem to encounter the same problems that I do with this transferance, “Because the colonizing forces are so powerful in this white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (in the U.S.)” (47).

In an effort to make some meaning from Freire’s work that is relevant to my own teaching context, I’ve been searching out works that showcase the usage of his pedagogy of the oppressed in classrooms in the States. In doing so, I found myself relying also on hooks’s interpretation of Freire, largely because her words on his work—especially her thinking about “a generous spirit, a quality of open-mindedess that I feel is often missing from intellectual and academic arenas in U.S. society” (54) and her point that “ … notwithstanding that there is so much that remains liberatory … Freire’s own model of critical pedagogy invites a critical interrogation” (49)— have been so influential in my own understanding of it.

Ownership, Bodies, Legality: Culture in Tech Comm

This post is a critical response to readings in English 451: Cultural Studies in Technical Communication

It is unsurprising that the part of Williams’ text that interested me most came in “Owning the Self in a Disowned World.” Williams, in her curious style of narrative anecdote and theoretical reflection, discusses the case of a woman charged with homicide after a miscarriage, and juxtaposes it against the case of a woman suing for the right of her fetus not to be in the prison she herself has been sentenced to; meanwhile, she remembers the case of a woman jailed to protect her fetus from drugs (183-184). “My head is throbbing because these cases don’t make sense to me … I’m not sure I believe that a child who has left the womb is really a separate person until sometime after the age of two. The entire life force is a social one …” (184). While this passage is of interest to me because of my research in technical communication and gender studies, especially as it relates to reproduction and women’s bodies, I also think it gets to the heart of Williams’ book. Time and again, she argues (with herself, with the world) over the disjointedness of trying to impose neat legal limitations on human beings who are so complexly, messily, socially un-limitable and whose “legal rights” often overlap or are taken up in frightening and unjust ways.

The whole book is a passionate, angry, sad response to the fragmentation imposed on people, people like Williams. More than once, she notes her own isolation as a single black professional woman. In many contexts, she wrestles with the notion that “allowing the separation in order to benefit the real mutuality, they enslave themselves to the state” (185). Reading this on the heels of This Bridge Called My Back, I often found myself conflicted about the promise of unity for women, for people of color, for gays and lesbians, for the poor. I struggled to read this text. It was emotionally difficult, both in terms of sheer exposure (an eleven-year-old slave girl impregnated by her white master! the acceptance of that girls’ descendants that the master is also part of their inheritance! A fifteen-year-old black girl raped physically, then again in the media/social aftermath!) and in terms of my own implication (as a white woman, my thoughts about affirmative action programs are a hopeless mess of conflicts). There were many subjects on which I agreed with Williams; there also were areas where I disagreed but recognized my own privilege and historical context as influencers in my disagreement.

(The one disagreement I just have to mention is Williams’ idea to stage “guerrilla warfare” by secretly impregnating white women with black sperm (188). Although she then does “disclaim this as a serious exhortation,” she does so defensively. I found her entire treatment of the issue to be highly problematic; to me, any case of a woman impregnated with sperm—black or white—that she did not want—regardless of why she didn’t want it—is a form of rape, and Williams does not deal with this violent trespass into female bodies as a feminist issue at all.)

I was so involved with Williams’ book that I now find myself worrying about involving the field of technical communication in this response. Much like Williams’ students who claim she doesn’t teach law, I find myself struggling to connect the content of the book to the subject of our class. But at the same time, these subjects—race, gender, sex, disempowerment, oppression, subjugation, discrimination, hate, privilege, the veil of transparency—are endemic to technical communication. Mark Hannah exhorts technical communicators to re-envision their own production of legal rhetoric and technical communication teachers to take up legal issues in the classroom. At stake is that technical communicators “not see themselves or their companies simply as subject to or victim to the limits and restrictions of the law” (14). Hannah’s work could perhaps be seen as a response to Williams’ book; here is a way to do something about all the injustices she makes visible.

(Hannah’s suggestions, of course, represent just one angle of a whole spectrum of responses. As Christian argues, there is no need to produce a particular theoretical response representative of my own situatedness and stick to it “as if I were a mechanical man” (53).)

I have brought legal rhetoric into my own classroom when I teach technical communication. My students study a body of lawsuits surrounding nail gun accidents. However, the combination of Williams and Hannah’s pieces have prompted me to reconsider the way in which I present this information. I have asked students to think in complex ways (including thinking about social class and gender) about how instruction manuals for nail guns function rhetorically. Now, I’ll add some new subjects of focus. I’ll ask students to look at the lawsuits themselves and examine the ways in which we value law as neutral or transparent, and I’ll ask students to review each others’ work (as Hannah demonstrates on page 19) with an eye to legal potentiality.

This seems a small step in the face of a text like Williams’. For now, it’s all I know to do.


Works Cited

Williams, Patricia J. The Alchemy of Race and Rights. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1991. Print.

Hannah, Mark. “Legal Literacy: Coproducing the Law in Technical Communication.” Technical Communication Quarterly 20.1 (2011): 5-24. Print.

Christian, Barbara. “The Race for Theory.” Cultural Critique: The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse 6 (1987): 51-63. Print.