Tuesday, December 09, 2008

gender studies in your spare time

(Readers: the epistolary blogging experiment officially begins here until after the Inauguration: Amber and I started at her blog on 10/9, and wrapped up around 11/30, so I figure I've got until the end of January to host it here before we switch again. I wanted to switch because the model is so inspirational, and I was writing there more than here, allowing this blog to die a slow and boring death. We discussed everything from friendship after college to fashion to the limits of love to anti-intellectualism over at her blog, and these conversations are not finished. Our epistolary model is Rhubarb Pie, but less sweet and more tart and acerbic. Like Acid Pie. We have, in our short tenure, become influential--witness the 5402 Review! In theory, we could set up a new epistolary blog, but why should you update your bookmarks? I am glad to have PTN readers, and I would love it if you would read my tart and tangy friend.)


My BigLaw friend, you have often expressed interest in pursuing graduate school in gender studies, but for a variety of very understandable reasons you are sticking with the secure job you have worked so hard to get. As an impoverished grad student wondering how the economic meltdown is going to translate to hiring freezes, I am telling you, stay where you are. Also, anyone contemplating the flesh-mulching that is graduate school should read Timothy Burke's post.

Also, your concerns about "not fitting in" politically and ideologically are valid. For some reason you and I are on exactly the same wavelength about most feminist issues, as we are both militantly pro-choice and sex-positive feminists, and do not identify as, heaven forbid, post-feminists. We differ, perhaps, in degree--I tend to get irked by the more extreme arguments of sex-positivism, because it is not necessarily empowering, and can be considered a form of female chauvinism. While I am something of an equal-treatment feminist (as you yourself identify), I believe that structural discrimination and social constraints persist to the degree that opportunities are never equal, and so correction of these structures and schemas are necessary--and I see a role for government regulation in this. While I continue to make up my mind about the proper forms and reaches of affirmative action, I am certainly not opposed to affirmative action. I believe that you are less enthusiastic about regulation of the workplace and using governmental mandates to ensure equality of results, yes? So yes, we differ, but in ways I think that are reasonable and where reasonable minds can disagree.

But not everyone is as open-minded and small-l libertarian friendly as I am. So much of ideological battles either focus narrowly on the minutiae of policy or abstract to the moral, personal character of the adherents to ideas rather than the ideas themselves, and that's why movements splinter. I am not saying that policy doesn't matter--that's what really affects people's lives, but policy is where reasonable minds can disagree I believe, and so I tend to be more open-minded about whether or not someone who generally agrees with me favors or disfavors some policy. For instance, while I am anti-bullying, I am not convinced that the law should be used to regulate bullying in the workplace, as that would regulate too much social interaction and possibly contravene other liberties such as free speech and association. I am liberal, but even I disagree with my cohorts. But what is annoying about graduate seminars is that by hewing too closely to the maxim "the personal is the political," they can quickly devolve from valid policy debates to therapy sessions about personal experience, and personal judgments about each other's beliefs. Whereas objectively you might have a valid policy preference, in some people's eyes you may hold a morally offensive belief that is pro-asshole and anti-woman or whatever.

I cried in law school the first time I got Bs (which I soon learned to appreciate), but I cried in grad school when I realized that seminars could be total wastes of time when they devolved to therapy sessions for those who want to confess and preach to the choir in an excessively pedantic manner. Not all seminars are like this--I have been fortunate in my experiences at the sociology department and business school, but then again I study relatively impersonal meso/meta level theories of organizational behavior, and no one accuses me of any moral failing when I advocate a different model of endogeneity. My worst experiences are always in the law school, where people will for some reason insist that their anecdotal experience with ___ phenomenon of discrimination is always pertinent and more persuasive than the large-N study or case we're reading, and thus their individual experience refutes the theory. I'm not saying personal experiences are unimportant and shouldn't be discussed, but it doesn't add much pedagogical value if everyone accepts that such behaviors exist; I suppose it would be useful for telling a non-believer that sexism shockingly persists into this century. Hence, anecdotal sharing is somewhat valuable at the undergraduate level and in mixed-major seminars and lectures, but by the graduate level, with that degree of self-selection, not so valuable, and usually it derails the discussion when what you really should be focusing on is the methodology, theory, and results of the work at hand. The personal may be political, but the academic should be rigorous. I suppose you could go on Craigslist and form your own gender studies reading group, but you may fall into the same pitfalls as most badly-refereed seminars.

So read on your own! Be an intellectual, and be proud. Flaunt your knowledge publicly, and share on your blog all that you learn and what you think. Ignore the haterz who think that it's too show-offy or supercilious to show off your specialized knowledge. Read lots of pointy-headed theory and philosophy, and read some good studies that utilize different methodologies, from the case study to the ethnography to the large macro-level survey. It'll change how you think of a your subject: it's pleasing to have the intellectual facility to think of gender as a theory, a construct, an attribute, a cultural value, a group of people, a personal value, etc. I've only been able to do so through reading widely and by covering lots of methodological and theoretical approaches. It's ok if you don't get through as much as you want--with all the work we do during the day, I am lucky if I can get in a chapter before bed, and I consider other disciplines to be hobbies. Here's a bunch of syllabi to get you started. I know I have some gender studies friends reading this post, and I am sure they'd be happy to put up suggestions of where to start and the definitive works you have to read.

Gender studies is everywhere! In the news, on the blogs, in the lamest forms. You already think of this all the time. You can study it by yourself, and we readers can read with you and learn with you.

I suppose this doesn't leave you much to respond to (but it is an open invitation for comments and suggestions), so I'll ask you what you think of this article about interracial dating, and this article against marriage?

ETA: links have been fixed.