Friday, April 29, 2005

OK, enough already

One more post about fairy tales, only to say that if reading fairy tales predisposes one to submissiveness and victimhood--well--what about the perpetrators of domestic violence? What did they read?

Does this story blame the victims, in other words?

Just asking.

Now I'm done.

more on fairy tales

Read this one first.

OK, now. I'm a little amused by my defensive response to the fairy tales and domestic violence study, because in fact when I teach fairy tales I often try to convince my (mostly female) students that in fact fairy tales might teach some, shall we say, submissive and/or unfeminist behavior, or (to be more subtle) might suggest that such behavior is rewarded in the world, and my students invariably say, "yes, but..."

Yes, but we still love fairy tales and won't stop reading them.

Yes, but there are other good things going on in fairy tales.

Yes, but kids don't know what the fairy tales imply so it's ok. (This is my favorite, actually, My current response to this is that kids don't know what's in their breakfast cereal, either, but that doesn't keep it from affecting them.)

Or, some even say, no. No, fairy tales aren't anti-feminist. No, fairy tales don't suggest that beauty and passivity are rewarded over brains and talent. When I point out that Snow White, for example, is really really stupid (I mean, come on, she keeps letting the evil stepmother give her stuff, even after the dwarves warn her over and over again!) they laugh, but still refuse to believe that fairy tales have any real ideological impact.

So, I think they do. I think fairy tales may indeed teach (or at least subliminally suggest) that, in women, passivity and beauty are to be valued over brains and talent. But I think it's a huge leap from that to being prone to domestic violence. I guess I can't really imagine that fairy tales alone could have that big an impact. Do I contradict myself? Very well then...

Fairy tales linked to violent relationships - Yahoo! News

Fairy tales linked to violent relationships - Yahoo! News: "A study of both parents of primary school children and women who have been involved in domestic abuse claims than those who grew up reading fairy tales are likely to be more submissive as adults."

I have two responses to this: one, it seems way too simplistic. (Read Karen Rowe's classic article, "Feminism and Fairy Tales," for the origin of the argument, and multitudinous studies since then about the ways in which children remake the stories they hear for a refutation...) And two, who's this grad student's publicist? This is an unpublished, not-yet-delivered conference paper that's getting press already!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

move reviews

Two movies in two weekends! This never happens. Not that we actually got out to watch them in a theatre--that would be too much--but, still. At the conference the weekend before last, the movie was Hitch, on pay-per-view in the hotel room, with friends. Picture four middle-aged academics (sorry, R. that's what we are now!) flopped on the luxurious Hilton beds, laughing over Will Smith. I laughed until I cried, more than once.

Then this past weekend, Stage Beauty. Again, Billy Crudup is eye candy, definitely worth watching, even in drag. (Though, in drag he's actually a little scary-looking, if you ask me.) But this one didn't make me laugh. In fact, it's a mess. It seems to begin with the premise that gender is a role, playable by anyone who bothers to learn the rules. But soon we learn the rules have mostly to do with the "five attitudes of feminine submission" (not an exact quote, but close). That is, femininity has mostly to do with submission. OK, fair enough in Restoration England, I suppose. But it gets worse. Crudup's character is "feminized" by his beauty, his love of beauty, and his sexual submissiveness. We get the sense that he was abused in childhood and thus "damaged," thus feminized. Nice.

Anyway, the movie begins in a sort of titillating, "weren't those people from the past decadent" sort of way. Kynaston (the Crudup character) is attractive to both men and women, and he obliges both. Upper-class men and women alike are somewhat disgusting: overly madeup, over-powdered wigs, over-interested in his plumbing, as it were. Out of makeup, Crudup looks like a modern man set against all these decadent aristocrats of the past. (This seems typical of Hollywood treatments of history: the more "like us" someone is, the better.) It's hard to tell what the movie is "about" at this point, except "aren't they creepy," which only takes you so far.

But then there's the whole question of role-playing as well. Kynaston/Crudup can play a woman better than the "real" woman, "Margaret Hughes" (Claire Danes). She gets to play Desdemona only because it's a novelty to have a real woman on the stage, but she's actually terrible. (Her terribleness, however, consists in imitating Kynaston rather than trying to interpret the role herself. That is, a woman imitating a man imitating a woman is less convincing than a man imitating a woman. Makes sense to me.)

At some point the movie shifts from a sort of gothic mode to farce. The king (Charles II) is a witless fop, controlled by his mistress. Both appear in drag, but not the kind Kynaston does--there's no effort to conceal, but rather to point up the differences between themselves and "real" men and women. And from here on out, gender starts to seem like an essential rather than an inessential quality: Hughes still can't play a woman convincingly, but she realizes it and tries to quit the stage. The point is, she's just a bad actress, not an unconvincing woman, as she earlier seemed. Kynaston is reduced to playing in drag in a tavern, since he can't get a job acting legit theatre since he can't convincingly play a man on stage. (Hmm.) But then: miracle of miracles! Kynaston and Hughes get together! (Well, of course, right? It's all about getting Billy Crudup and Claire Danes together, of course!) And when they do, he is no longer feminized--and she can finally play a woman convincingly. And the way they do it? Play the Desdemona's death scene realistically. Oh, that's all it took!? If Kynaston (oh, yeah, in blackface, which naturally makes him even manlier) can just get all aggressive with a woman, and Hughes can just really feel what it's like to fight for her life, then the gender roles miraculously sort themselves out in a really sexy way.

Sigh. So let me get this straight. Cross-dressers are really gay. Women are really submissive. And if men get violent with women then they are fulfilling their "real" roles and all will be well. And modern acting is "realistic" in ways that Restoration acting wasn't.

I'm no stickler for historical accuracy, but this just seemed like a travesty to me. It's conservative, and it's depressing. And it made Hitch seem even better, maybe, than it was. After all, in Hitch the Will Smith character coaches men to be nice to women: pay attention, listen to what they say, do some of the things they want to do. And do it with some conviction. And when that happens, romance can bloom. When Hitch takes his own advice, he still messes up when he's not paying attention to her responses, but when everyone acts their best selves, things work out. (You know, this film has things in common with the surprisingly feminist Ever After, also directed by Andy Tennant.) I know it's a totally heterosexist romance--either gay couples already know how to pay attention to each other, or Hitch/Will Smith would just be out of his depth with them--but in other ways it was really quite sweet and optimistic. (Plus we get to see Kevin James dance uninhibitedly, and I love to see a fat man dance. Why is that?) Whereas Stage Beauty just left a bad taste.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Parents are Teaching Their Infants Chinese to Compete in the Global Economy

Parents are Teaching Their Infants Chinese to Compete in the Global EconomyFrom an article on teaching babies Chinese: "Finding Shirley [their Mandarin-speaking nanny] was no easy task. Jim Rogers put an ad in the China Press and at first got responses only from people who spoke no English or were illegal immigrants. Then, before hiring Shirley, he had friends (Rogers travels to China frequently) test her Mandarin to find out "whether she speaks gutter Mandarin or a queen's Mandarin."

“I don’t want my daughter to grow up and suddenly start talking like a tramp at age 9,” he says.

"Talking like a tramp." Your nine-year-old. I think you have bigger problems than global competitiveness, though I could be wrong.

Thanks to Becca for the link.

and things I don't like quite so much

About those things I like? So going away and coming home are still fine, but the weather got a little too much for me yesterday. 89 degrees in April? I don't think so. The a/c came on, though I turned it off out of some sense of Puritan restraint. You just open windows in April, right?

So about those open windows, and the lovely flowers? Let me just say that I am typing through a thin film of pollen. My keyboard is covered. I dust it off every hour or so. I refuse, however, to close my window, because I am one of that rare species of professor who has a window that opens, and I insist on opening it.

The cherry tree outside my office is no longer in bloom, but the pollen is everywhere.

And, about that last week of classes thing? Of course the pile of papers to be graded, and the exams to be written (and then graded), are not so much fun.

I can't complain, but sometimes I still do.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

things I like

The weather. It's sunny and warm, breezy when it starts to threaten to get too hot. There are flowers blooming.

Going away. I spent a long weekend away at a conference, gave a talk, spent time with friends and colleagues from other schools who gave me much-needed perspective on my own work. Good food, great weather, interesting things to talk about, occasional solitude. I even got some grading done.

Coming home. Everyone was still alive and well (always a plus), there wasn't too much laundry piled up, and Mark cooked dinner. Nice to sleep in my own bed.

The end of the semester. Classes end Friday. 'Nuff said.

Monday, April 11, 2005

movie parents...

(edited to fix the link to Ann's blog. I also strongly considered editing to change the last answer here, fearing that it makes me look like a crazy person, but then again...)

I got this from Ann Douglas, at The Mother of All Blogs: fun with movies and parents. This was hard! But more fun than any number of other things I should have been doing this evening....

• meanest movie mom ever
I think this has to be Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie, Dearest. Or of course the mother of all stepmothers, the wicked stepmother in the old Disney Snow White.

• meanest movie dad ever
I can't think of one, which is intriguing. Off-hand Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining is coming to mind, though he's more creepy than mean, and surely there are even more murderous ones here and there. Dads mostly aren't mean in movies, though, they are incompetent and lovable.

• best movie mom ever
Why am I sitting here not able to answer this one? Maybe because so many of the kids' movies I watch don't have moms? You know, that whole Disney thing: the only good mom is a dead one. Sigh. Ah, I know, how about Olympia Dukakis as Cher's mom in Moonstruck? ("Do you love him?" "No." "Good. When you love them they drive you crazy". And, later: "do you love him?" "Oh, yes, mom, I love him awful." "That's bad.") The grandmother in Whale Rider is a pretty good mom, too. And (see below) Susan Sarandon as Marmee in Little Women.

• best movie dad ever
Yes, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is pretty good. The dad in Finding Nemo has his moments, though, don't you think?

• most nauseating movie mom ever
Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment, though she may also qualify as most nauseating daughter.

• most nauseating movie dad ever
Hmm, Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire, maybe? Ah, someone else thought so, too!

• the film character who most reminds you of yourself -- and why.
Lately I feel like a Bill Murray character, only not as funny. Like the guy in Lost in Translation, except without the affair, or the guy in Groundhog Day, except without Andi McDowell. A little purposeless, a little vague. I'd of course much rather identify with Lauren Bacall in almost anything. On good days, I identify with Jo in Little Women (especially the one played by Winona Ryder, since she gets to marry Gabriel Byrne!), or with the Emma Thompson character (Elinor) in her version of Sense & Sensibility: loyal, reflective, a little too inward. These are not reflecting well on me, are they? I also notice I'm not identifying with any mom-characters, though actually Susan Sarandon's version of Marmee is one I'd like to claim, again on better days: she's smart, funny, and productively angry, a little tougher than the doormat Marmee in the novel (I know, I know, the novel is ALWAYS better than the movie,,,but Susan Sarandon is a good Marmee).

Friday, April 08, 2005

fun with blogger

I couldn't get in to post yesterday evening, but then somehow blogger kept three versions of the same post, none of them the one I wanted. So now the one I wanted is up (below).

Thursday, April 07, 2005

do we know each other?

A dear friend sent this over e-mail, and I'm posting it here because, well, I'm lazy and I want a two-fer out of it. So, welcome to anyone I sent the e-mail notification to; I hope you enjoy the blog. And here are the answers to the circulating questions (hmm, is this a meme?).

1. What time did you get up this morning? 7:00, after Mark and Mariah left the house.

2. Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds AND pearls. (Stole this response--but really, why choose?)

3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? Umm, "Sideways." Twice. How did that happen?

4. What is your favorite TV show? The West Wing, or NBA basketball.

5. What did you have for breakfast? Oatmeal with raisins and soymilk, coffee, also with soymilk.

6. What is your middle name? Rose.

7. What is your favorite food? Just one? really? Depends on the day. So, hmm, maybe homemade pizza with caramelized onions and smoked mozarella? Chocolate guinness cake? Lemon linguine? The last couple of days I've been making these really tasty spinach salads, with bacon and hard-boiled egg…mmm, I'm getting hungry!

8. What foods do you dislike? Melon and liver (Stole that answer, too!)

9. What is your favorite ice cream flavor? mocha almond fudge

10. What is your favorite CD at the moment? I think it's a mix CD that I burned out of iTunes. Some of Mariah's stuff, some stuff I like. Laura Nyro, Bonnie Raitt, Maroon Five…

11. What kind of car do you drive? 2002 Volkswagen Jetta Wagon, a diesel. Unless I get to drive the beetle convertible, which is much more fun!

12. Favorite sandwich? the cheese columbo at Coppola's.

13. What characteristics do you despise? Whining (except when it's me). Narcissism. (OK, yes, I suppose blogging is narcissistic, or could be…)

14. Favorite item of clothing? Black cashmere v-neck. New lavender sweater.

15. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation where would go? the beach

16. What color is your bathroom? Green. It was supposed to be blue-green, but that whole color thing is hard!

17. Favorite brand of clothing? Every single item of clothing I'm wearing today is from Target: Mossimo, Merona, Mizrahi (all those Ms!). Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren make pants that fit me. And I do like Eileen Fisher and J Jill on sale…

18. Where would you retire? California. The Bay Area or SoCal beach.

19. Favorite time of day? early morning when no one else is up, early evening in the spring/summer when it's warm but no too hot and we can eat dinner on the porch.

20. What was your most memorable birthday? 30th

21. Where were you born? Oceanside, NY

22. Favorite sport to watch? basketball (see above), or baseball during the Series.

23. Who do you least expect to send this back to you? I don't imagine anyone will. Surprise me!

24. Person you expect to send it back first? see above.

25. What fabric detergent do you use? whatever's on sale

26. Coke or Pepsi? water

27. Are you a morning person or night owl? I usually stay up too late but early mornings are lovely. Afternoons are for naps.

28. What is your shoe size? 8.5 in high school, 10 now. Wanna make something of it?

29. Do you have any pets? Anna the cat.

30. Any new and exciting news you'd like to share with us: I already blogged about finishing the clapotis--what could be more exciting? Oh, yeah, we're spending the summer in Oxford. That's exciting, no?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

damned if you do...

OK, let me get this straight. Women writers are "disappointingly domestic, the opposite of risk-taking - as if too many women writers have been injected with a special drug that keeps them dulled, good, saying the right thing, aping the right shape, and melancholy at doing it, depressed as hell." (From Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Women writers: dull, depressed and domestic)

But let a woman writer take some risks, risks especially with the very notion of domesticity and motherhood, and all hell breaks loose.


I admit, I found some of Waldman's self-revelations to be--disturbing would be too strong, but maybe unseemly? (I'm from New England--we don't do self-revelation.) But in the main, I'm grateful to her for violating these taboos. Careful readers will note she does not hate her children, threaten suicide, or otherwise commit the atrocities of which she's being accused. Yes, she does mine her children's (and her husband's, and her own) lives for material. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that, but she's hardly the first writer to exploit the people she knows best for her work. Mostly, I just think we have an amazing double standard--an unexamined one--when it comes to what we want women writers to write about.

There are lots more links on this one, but I'm too lazy to find them all right now. I did like this one, though.

Monday, April 04, 2005

a post about hair

Mariah got her hair cut yesterday, after cluttering my bookmarks list for weeks with things like "short cute" and "good bangs" and "AWESOME." (I swear, her vocabulary is really better than that!) She got, in fact, a cute short cut. Ten inches came off--enough to donate the shorn pony tail to Locks of Love, which she will do. (I thought they couldn't take dyed hair, but apparently they can.) Now her blackish purplish goldish hair (black dye, followed by some bleaching to mask the growing-out roots, followed by red streaks which are purply now) is shorter and therefore more streaky-looking. It's a choppy, piecy bob--very Julia Stiles. Or, I fear, Courtney Love, but not really.

I've been thinking about hair lately, and not just because of Mariah's hair cut. It started when I was watching The West Wing recently. Mary McCormack, playing Kate Harper, National Security Advisor, has this total Sheryl Crow-thing going on with her hair. (Not in the imdb picture, but try this one.) Last season whenever I saw her she had it pulled back in a bun or a pony tail, something sort of severe and non-sexual. And now it's all Sheryl Crow, really. So I began to wonder what other professional women I could think of with long hair (besides me)? And there aren't too many, really. And certainly, among the highly-visible classes of professional women, the Condi Rices and Sandra Day O'Connors of the world, are there any? Would a National Security Advisor really have Sheryl Crow hair, in other words? Are they trying to say something about this character, or about women in power, with this hair thing? And if so, what? I know, Janel Maloney/Donna Moss has long hair, too, but it's straight and usually pulled back or at least sleek-looking. Remember all the attention Hillary's hair got? (And still gets, I assume, though not being in NY I see a lot less of her than when she was first lady.)

Me, I've had the professional-woman bob, and I'm just too lazy. It has to be cut so often, and cared for so much more carefully than my artfully messy (or maybe just messy) longer hair. I suppose I could go for an artfully messy short hair look, like Mariah's, but why? Long hair can be pulled up off the back of the neck when it gets really hot and sticky, for example. Plus I'm pretty sure they'll never make me a dean if I keep it long and unprofessional-looking, which is a plus. (OK, they'll probably never make me a dean anyway, but that's another issue...)

Enough about hair.


Spring hits hard and fast here in central Virginia. Saturday was cold and wet: downpours blown sideways by wind, umbrellas turned inside out. I wore the clapotis and wished I had worn a coat. It was that cold.

Today the cherry tree outside my window is in full, glorious bloom. Clouds of puffy faintly-pink blossoms are massed on the otherwise bare branches. My students asked to go outside and I said yes, knowing they wouldn't pay attention, knowing I wouldn't either. We needed the sunshine, the warmth. We soaked it up.

There are little tiny daffodils all over campus, and now there are bigger ones as well. The little ones are all yellow, and even in the sunshine they look a little peaked, a little as if they came out too early and haven't gotten over it. The big ones hold back, come out slowly, yellow and white, standing tall on green stems. They're in charge right now.

I drove Mariah's friend home to Petersburg yesterday and the interstate even looked good. (This is one of the ugliest stretches on the Eastern seaboard, and I've driven most of it.) There were masses of purple and yellow flowers everywhere: plum trees and forsythia, tulip trees and daffodils. White Bradford pears and pinkish cherries. Purple misnamed redbuds.

I've never lived anywhere with so many flowering trees, all out at once. Soon the yellow-green pollen will cover our cars, the front and back porches, the walkways all over campus. But right now it's all good.

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