Wonk Wednesday (sort of): The Purpose of Schooling

Ed. Note: Okay, so I am not doing a good job with the whole posting on a schedule thing. We’ll get there, I swear.

Last week, I read Larry Cuban and David Tyack’s book Tinkering Toward Utopia, a history of education reform in the United States. One of the biggest challenges that I saw coming up again and again is the question of WHY we have schooling, particularly universally accessible public schooling.

On the one hand, we want to believe in equality of opportunity; we want to believe that our country is a meritocracy. The idea of everyone having the same chances in life is the foundation upon which we built the narrative of the American Dream and the Horatio-Alger-esque “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mantra.

On the other hand, we want to WIN. So for our own children or communities or what-have-you, we want to have the BETTER equality, essentially. It’s fine for everyone to have schooling–but for our group, we want the best schooling. Everyone can have an opportunity, but we want to have the success.

In my opinion, it boils down to the ferocious individualism that underpins so much of the American ideology–although we are all in this together, as a society, we are more concerned about the success of ourselves and our “people” than we are with the success of our society. If we were worried about our society as a whole succeeding, then welfare and Obamacare and whatnot wouldn’t be so controversial and consistently contested. However, we are concerned that by providing for others, we are lessening our own chances. Rather than seeing “good” as a common pool for all, where the more our society wins, the more we win, we see “good” as a finite resource, and if we are sharing with others, then there is less for us.

This fear of losing comes into play in how we approach education. However, because our country was also founded on the idea of being a “city on a hill” and being an example to the rest of the world, because of our extreme pride in our excellent values and equal society, we cannot actively voice these beliefs. While this is quickly changing–one need only look to a great deal of our welfare debate to see the fact that it is becoming more and more common to loudly proclaim that we are not all equally deserving–it is still fairly taboo in education to admit that we wish a lesser quality upon groups who are “other.”

In fact, education remains so firmly rooted in this idea of equality BECAUSE it justifies our ability to deny welfare or the necessity of affirmative action or anything else like that. So long as we continue to buy into the narrative of equal opportunity that is provided by our universal public schools, then we can blindly insist that because everyone had the same choice to make something of themselves, those who are on welfare or don’t get into elite colleges or so on have only themselves to blame and we shouldn’t be responsible for helping them, as they CHOSE not to help themselves. Education is, when you get right down to it, one of the most basic foundational principles that justifies discrimination in our society.

So what I looked at in my essay for this week is the idea of education as a lofty narrative, but actually a very selfish and grubby purpose. It is our unwillingness to be honest about what we want out of education that makes it so difficult to reform schools and actually succeed in creating quality education in America.

So, it’s a really light-hearted and cheerful read is what I’m saying.

The Purpose of Schooling – PDF


10/06/2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. 3 comments.

What’s in a name?

After all, a feminist by any other name would smell as sweet.

So yesterday on Jezebel, they brought up the issue of taking your husband’s name when marrying, particularly as regards to the impact it may have on your salary.

This has long been a loaded issue.

First off, there’s the issue that getting married can have any number of implications on a woman’s life–it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t type of situation. If you DO get married, it’s generally assumed that you’ll get pregnant and leave the workforce, so why bother promoting? If you DON’T get married, you’re assumed to be frigid or defective. That’s the short version; I think most of us are familiar with the long version, so we’ll settle for that recap.

So there’s already the social issues with getting married. Then there’s the whole feminist bit, where, when you get right down to it, marriage is patriarchal and implies a sense of ownership over a woman, there’s the religious history, and of course there’s the current issue of marriage equality.

But set all this baggage aside. Say you’ve decided you’re getting married. Now there’s the conundrum of what to do with your name. On the one hand, if you take your new husband’s name, that’s ceding the patriarchal establishment of him owning you, you becoming part of his family, etc. On the other hand, the last name you have is probably your father’s last name, so it’s not like that’s any less patriarchal. Are we really winning any victories by keeping one man’s last name over another? If your parents were modern and hyphenated, that’s cool. So do you hyphenate too, thus ending up with a triple hyphenated last name? What if you end up with kids, so they end up with a super-duper-hyphentastic last name?

I’m not passing judgment on any of these options. I do not hold any one as the best choice. I also think it’s absolutely imperative that each person decide for themselves–some women are eager to shed their history and start fresh with their husband’s last name. Some are deeply attached to their last names and will not give them up for anything. Some just want to go with the flow and change their name. No choice holds more value than any of the others. It’s what works for you (and your husband) and makes you happy.

But me? I don’t know that I’m anywhere near getting married. I don’t know if I’ll EVER get married. But both of my parents are deeply important to me–I can talk to either one of them about anything, and I’ve had a close relationship with both of them for a long, long time (if admittedly tumultuous at times). I love them both very much, and I consider myself a child of both of them, and they are both so important to who I am today.

When my parents divorced, my mother took her mother’s maiden name, because that’s who she felt most identified with. I don’t want to hyphenate my name, because god knows we already have a troublesome enough last name as it is. So, I’ve been thinking about doing what my aunt and uncle did–taking a syllable from each last name and combining it into one.

My sister took her husband’s last name when she married, which means that I’m not alienating myself from her by changing my last name, which is the only thing that would’ve given me pause. By combining the last names of my parents, I’m giving a nod to both of them. Right now, I feel uncomfortable in my last name because it doesn’t represent both of my parents–it’s only 50% of who I am.

I guess this whole self-absorbed musing on my last name was my way of coming around to say that as I grow up, I’m understanding these little feminist decisions we have to deal with. To some women, giving up their last name when they marry is huge–it’s surrendering who they are, where they come from. Since I don’t have a strong cultural history attached to my name, or even a strong sense of family history beyond my grandparents, I don’t have the same kind of investment in my name. In a way, taking someone else’s name would ease my burden over feeling like I’m only partially representing who and what I am with my name. If I shared something of both of my parents in my name, I think the idea of giving that up upon marriage would be very different.

It’s funny–I am nowhere near marriage (hell, I haven’t even had a relationship since 2008, and I haven’t had one for more than six weeks since 2007. I think I’m actually veering FURTHER from marriage the later in life I get), yet it seems like it keeps coming up as an issue that I think about in a social analysis context constantly. Maybe it’s because three of my friends have gotten engaged in the last two weeks (seriously guys, stop it. You’re freaking me out), or maybe it’s just because marriage has become so deeply politicized. It’s hard to not keep coming back to something that managed to get so soured by some cultural wrong turns.

Regardless, it’s gratifying for me to feel like I can truly understand what might motivate people to make decisions that they make, such as keeping their last name. I’ve always grasped the concept, but it wasn’t until I started, in my mind, thinking of myself by the last name I’ve made out of my parents’ combined names, that my name really began to matter to me. And now I get it.

That’s the cool thing about this whole feminism thing, and this whole growing up business–my world just keeps getting bigger, and the things I understand just keep blossoming. Of course, with each new discovery, I can see exponentially more waiting just around the next corner. It’s kind of exciting.

Happy weekend, everyone!

04/16/2010. Tags: , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Feminism and the Sex Trade

I am a bit torn on the sex trade. I’ve turned it over in my head many times and it is just yet another example of one of those things that I don’t think I know enough about to really have a definitive stance on. When I was younger, it was an easily concrete black-and-white issue of “sex trade bad!” Since then, though, I’ve grown up and had a lot of experiences that change things, including being friends with a former stripper (she now sells sex toys). As I’ve said time and again, experience is not monolithic, so what she has to say about being a stripper certainly doesn’t necessarily apply to every stripper, but talking to her has certainly opened my eyes.

Anyways, Iceland has banned all strip clubs, and the Guardian is headlining this as “Iceland: The world’s most feminist country.” I have a hard time sitting by and feeling comfortable with that statement.

It always irks me when people try to add the modifier “pro-sex” when I say I’m a feminist (“Oh, you’re a pro-sex feminist!”). First off, what the hell does that even mean? I know feminists who don’t necessarily agree with my views on sex, but they still like having it. It really bothers me that we are adding the “pro-sex” modifier because that means that being anti-sex is somehow the norm for feminists, and the whole anti-sex humorless man-hating hairy bra-burning feminist is a cultural trope I want to destroy. (For the record, my feminist friends are easily among some of the raunchiest, perviest people I know. We have fun.)

So, I dislike this idea that stamping out sexuality is a feminist victory. Stamping out unhealthy sexuality is a feminist victory, but I don’t think that getting rid of every strip club in Iceland is the answer. You can have healthy sex shows. That much I know. I doubt that every strip club is a bastion of empowered, happy, healthy women, but does that mean that getting rid of all of them is a solution? No, probably not.

I’m unfamiliar with Icelandic culture, so I cannot speak to what might play out there. But in the US, it doesn’t seem to me like it’s the presence of strip clubs that’s leading to women being commodified–that is a symptom. So even if all the strip clubs were shut down overnight, the commodification wouldn’t stop. Instead of purchasing access to look at a woman’s body legally, it will go underground, and that’s when it immediately becomes that much more dangerous, particularly for the women involved. Now it’s a lot harder for them to draw the line and say no to customers, because the customer has the leverage of the woman’s illegal activity to hold over her. It will be that much harder to get help from police. When strippers are harassed or raped, they already face a much harder time getting legal help or taken seriously; make them illegal and it will become quite nearly impossible.

You know what would be a feminist victory in my mind? If women could do what they want–be strippers if they want–without it being illegal, without getting judged, shamed, and scorned by the population, and without being blamed for any attacks they suffer. I would love for the same thing to apply to men, as well!

I had a brief discussion recently about why there are so few strip clubs that have men stripping (related: Nevada’s first male prostitute has quit his brothel after over two months, but only 10 clients) and so on. The initial knee-jerk response given was “well, women don’t want to pay to see men naked! Women aren’t wired like that/don’t have the same sex drive as men/aren’t as horny” and so on. I disagree with that. Women have libidos as well, and we like to look at naked men. However, it’s been socially programmed into everyone that women don’t want this and won’t pay for it, and if we do/would, we’re abnormal and inappropriate. So, the market has been neutered, essentially.

So to me, a feminist victory would be equal opportunity sex trade–anyone who wants to strut their stuff can, without recrimination. They will be provided with safe working conditions, health care, vacation time, etc. The social stigma will be removed. Their clients will treat them with respect and appreciation.

Sexuality is powerful, wonderful stuff. The more we make it illegal and shameful, the further we will have to go to achieve a state of healthy, happy sexuality.

P.S. Would you look at that! In the time it took me to write this, Feministing did a write-up that bludgeons mine into the ground. Go check it out!

03/29/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Ask Me No Secrets, I’ll Tell You No Lies

Tonight is “make dinner from whatever you can find in the pantry/freezer” here at Chateau van der Cake, so this post will be like that too. I’m piecing together this post in a similar way.

For starters, I don’t want to talk about the health care bill. It’s not perfect, so basically no one is happy with it. It tries too hard to make everyone happy, so it’s pretty damn mediocre. Never mind the fact that it still won’t provide abortion coverage. Superb. However, ultimately, I think the best commentary actually comes from 4chan, so have fun with that.

Also, I don’t want to talk about the judge in Ohio who is ordering adolescent girls to undergo a polygraph test as part of their rape trials. But, just like HCR, it’s going on. (It is not, however, a trending topic on Twitter or even showing up at all on my Facebook home page. Notable?) People who have had their houses broken into aren’t being told to take a polygraph. People who have had their identity stolen aren’t being told to take a polygraph. But teenaged girls who were brave enough to report their rapes are. Talk about victimizing the victim. Talk about validating the actions of the rapists and denying the girls their voices. Where does this shit come from?

I don’t want to talk about how we are hurling racist epithets in our nation’s capitol. Bodies remain war zones, whether they are the bodies of women, the bodies of non-whites… God help you if you are both a woman and non-white.

I don’t want to talk about any of this depressing stuff. I want to talk about something cheerful. But the fact of the matter is, this isn’t a really cheerful time. There’s a lot of bright sides to look at, I’m not denying that. But sometimes we have to accept that shit is ugly out there. Looking away and patting ourselves on the back on how far we’ve come won’t change that.

Sure, let’s be happy that HCR passed, but let’s not get complacent just because we were handed a cup of sour milk to go with our stale cookies. Sure, we’ve got milk and cookies, but it’s not exactly a party.

03/22/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Radio Silence

I’ve been going through some personal stuff, so I haven’t been very focused on this blog. I’ll return and get back to posting regularly as soon as I get my personal life under control. For a feminist, I sure do let boys toy with my emotions and make a mess of my world. 😉

Anyways, here’s all I’ve got:

I was recently debating what sandals to buy for the coming summer months, and when considering a pair from Urban Outfitters, was informed by a friend that the owner of UO gives regular contributions to Rick Santorum and other unpleasant, right wing, anti-choice, anti-gay, pretty creepy type folks, and even lists Urban Outfitters as on the donor list. I’ve always had a lot of gripes with a number of UO’s products and marketing (rant for another time), but this is beyond that. This is the kind of thing I boycott over. I’ve been Googling, but I’ve only been coming up with articles on this topic from 03-06. While I doubt that Hayne has stopped giving money to Santorum & Co, I’d love to find some more recent articles to give my information a little more oomph when I disseminate it to friends. Or, if I’m wrong, I’d like to know that too.

Anyways, I wound up buying my sandals at a local business in Harvard Square, so the story has a happy ending.

Is there anywhere else I should be boycotting?

04/27/2009. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Marriage: it’s got nothing to do with politics. Right? RIGHT?!

All I want to know is what the fuck does whether or not you want to marry a woman have to do with a political debate on national TV? Is that really the best possible rebuttal a guy can come up with when a woman disagrees with him? “Well, with that kind of spunk and political awareness, you are not marriage material. Women who talk back are no good. Please to be getting back in kitchen nao kthxbai.”

Seriously, are we still in a mentality where that’s a reasonable thing to bring into a discussion of politics on national TV? Good god.

Just once, I want two men to be debating and have one of the guys say, “I am so damn glad you could never be my husband, because I wouldn’t want to listen to that kind of prattle all day.”

I would LOVE to see the reactions that would get. “What? Why on earth would anyone mention marriage in that context? It’s completely unrelated! How utterly inappropriate!”

Yeah, exactly.

01/29/2009. Tags: . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Equal Access For All

The forthcoming Obama administration has been compiling a list of Bush policies that can be overturned quickly and easily to help eradicate the Bush legacy and make good on some of Obama’s campaign promises as speedily as possible once he enters office.

The good news: among these policies that Obama intends to reverse is the Global Gag Rule, a Bush ruling that prevents any foreign NGOs receiving US funding to council women on reproductive/family planning options, especially abortion.

The repealing of the Global Gag Rule will truly be a great day for the safety and health of women world wide, as well as a representation of the US no longer trying to police where it has no business to be policing.

11/10/2008. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Palin as Woman Candidate

Ah, the gender card. It’s a card that people like to accuse us feminists of playing all the time. I won’t go into it, because that would completely derail this post, but I will simply say that people love to criticize the use of the gender card when it makes them look bad, but they love to leap into action and decry sexism when it will get them somewhere.

In this case, the right wing is having a field day with crying “big bad sexism wolf!” over any criticism of Palin. After all, if people disagree with Palin’s politics, it must be because she’s a woman. If they are questioning her experience, it must be because she’s a woman.

Where were these questions during Clinton’s campaign? Nowhere, because the right wing was very busy criticizing Clinton for, you guessed it, being a woman.

These days, the Daily Show is pretty much one of the best news sources out there (scary, innit?). So here’s a personal favorite clip of mine on all the double-standards that the right wing has wrapped itself in, like a snuggly burrito of hypocrisy, to make Palin seem to have merit:

Oh Jon Stewart, why are you so great?

Think about it this way–Palin is being praised by the conservatives as being a new kind of ideal feminist. Why? Because she “put a skirt on.” Because she embodies the woman-in-her-place position. Because Donny Deutsch wants her laying next to him in bed.

Yes, beddability is a quality I often look for in a Vice President. Never mind where she stands on the environment, on domestic policy, on separation of church and state, on the economy, on whether or not to charge a woman to get a rape kit exam… These are not things we should worry about. What’s REALLY the meat of the matter is whether or not she’s a VPILF.

People are praising Palin for being a candidate for women–after all, she has kids, she, uh, maybe drove a minivan at some point… She wears lipstick! She’s got ovaries! Aww man, look at how she and I are nearly identical! I should immediately disregard all of my political values so that I can vote for the person who also stores the reproductive organs on the inside. Yup, that is my priority. Internal baby-makers.

If I may quote the fabulous Feministing once again:

A woman candidate is not the same thing as a woman’s candidate. Sarah Palin does not speak for me.

Know it, love it, look for the double-standards, call them out.

09/16/2008. Tags: , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Cake: Who knew it could make me so angry?

See, sex is like cake, right? And everyone likes cake! So therefore rape can’t actually be a bad thing!

“Rape is simply sex. Women enjoy sex, so rape cannot be such a terrible ordeal.
“To suggest that rape, when conducted without violence, is a serious crime is like suggesting that force-feeding a woman chocolate cake is a heinous offence.
“A woman would be more inconvenienced by having her handbag snatched.”

Thank you, BNP. No, I’m not SURPRISED at things like that coming out of the BNP. But that doesn’t make it any less atrocious, or any less the kind of thing that I see all too often in this culture, particularly in the way rape trials are conducted. Well, she shouldn’t have been wearing that short skirt. But, come ON! Look at how many previous partners she’s had–you know she wanted it. OH PLEASE. Like it is so amazingly astonishing to men that there are times when a woman doesn’t want to have a penis put in her. Don’t get me wrong–sex is great. But there’s a lot to it. Women are quite literally letting someone else inside of them. (I once had a conversation about this with a guy. He got very uncomfortable, and I felt bad, but it was actually a really fantastic conversation.) But how can we NOT want to just give all-access passes to our bodies? I mean, it’s just cake, right?

Yet, at the same time, the virgin/whore dichotomy rages on. If you’re not a virgin, what does it matter if you’re raped? If you are, it really only matters if you were saving it for marriage. If you were just some shy or homely girl, it doesn’t matter. Also, husbands can’t rape wives, boyfriends can’t rape girlfriends, women of color almost never get raped, and queers are downright unrapeable.

Some days I want to scream and pull my hair out. We can’t all be virgins or whores; rape DOES happen and it IS awful. Patriarchy, sexism, wage gaps, glass ceilings, lookism, ageism, etc, IT IS ALL STILL HAPPENING. I would appreciate it, world, if you would stop trying to convince me otherwise, because I’m not buying it.

I think one of the things that particularly bothers me with that is the way the dude also assumes that a woman would ENJOY being force fed chocolate cake. Because hey, you know us silly girls, we can’t get enough of that cake. Why, without our husbands around to pinch our tummies and make jokes about our burgeoning asses and thighs, we’d all be morbidly obese and STILL just munching on bonbons 24/7!

((Originally written 4/9/2008 in my LiveJournal and reposted here.))

06/06/2008. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.