Monday, March 30, 2009


My kids are almost 10 and almost 7. My daughter went to a party once, and a guest, same age, was glued to her cell phone the whole time. I also teach college, and I have students surreptitiously texting all the time, then "forgetting" what I said in class 10 times.

So I found this article and especially its comments interesting.

My favorite comment: "I hope he comes around too. So that when I catch Precious Daughter in my college classroom texting her friends and otherwise goofing off, I can toss her out of my class. Learn now, or learn later."


Another comment: "Your Blackberry makes you feel 'connected and important?' That is perhaps among the saddest things I’ve ever heard."

I know I'm addicted to my computer, but I'm not addicted to the social contacts/status so much as I am to getting info. Is there something new and interesting out there to think about? Can I look at the pretty words some more, please? Is there a new way to save money I need to know about?

From TPP, the editor of the blog:
"Interesting reaction. My 10 year old has a cell phone, but not for friends. She uses it to keep in touch with her parents after school, on the bus etc. It gives me great comfort knowing I can reach her when I need to."

*headdesk* Do we need that comfort? Do the kids need to know we know where they are at all times? Do we really know where they are?

One last comment from the very defensive Tara Parker-Pope:
"Technology is not a bugaboo. It has pros and cons sure — but for me, technology has been really liberating, giving me so much more flexibility to meet the demands of my job and still be available to my family. I remember one Saturday taking part in the school run-a-thon with my daughter. I had a work demand that day that I was able to manage because I had a blackberry. A parent made a rude “crackberry” comment that really annoyed me. I wasn’t addicted to my blackberry — I was BALANCING my life and quite well actually."

This reminds me of the breastfeeding debate we had over at 11D a few weeks ago. If a technology makes it easier for someone to balance life, is it necessarily a good idea? Did having the Blackberry mean TPP could balance her life, or did it mean that she couldn't? Does her willingness to carry the Blackberry to a family event mean that people who don't want to are pressured to do so? Does her choice make it harder for others to find a balance that works better for them? And is it her responsibility to consider these aspects of having a Blackberry/using a technology?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Name Changing

I usually keep this to myself, but hey, I'm feeling a little counterhegemonic.

If you are a woman in a heterosexual marriage who changes your name when you get married, I think a little less of you (as I do for the husbands who support/encourage/require such a change). Sorry, it's true. In the long run, it doesn't really matter, because you may have many other excellent qualities that will make up for the fact that you've chosen to do something I find to be incredibly stupid.

The reasons women give for changing their names are ... wow, I have to find different ways of saying "stupid" if I'm going to write this post.

1. "My husband's name is better/shorter/prettier/whatever than mine." Mm-hm. My friend whose last name was Stryjewski changed her name; her brother never changed his.

2. "Why shouldn't I take my husband's name? After all, right now I have my father's name." Well, that's between you and your parents. But the longer you have your name, the longer it becomes a part of your identity. When you parents gave you your father's name at birth, yeah, that would have been a great time for you to change it, if you could. But by the time you're 18 and can change your name, you've had your father's name for 18 years, and it's YOUR NAME. You've been interpellated, I guess. (Yeah, my Althusser is way rusty.)

3. "How will people know that I'm my children's mother if we don't have the same name?" Hm. Gee. I don't know. Every day when I go stand outside my kids' school to pick them up, I wear a sign saying "WIFE OF HUSBAND'SLASTNAME" so that my kids know whom to run to. Thank the FSM that they're old enough now to walk themselves home, because once I forgot the sign and my kids wandered around the schoolyard for hours, and Child Protective Services was called and it was A Thing.

Oh wait, that didn't happen.

When I call the school or the pedi or something, I say "Hello, this is Wendy MyLastName, Eric and Sophie Husband'sLastName's mother." If you have a common "easier" name (See #1) you probably have to say that anyway. Here in SE Mass, chances are if your name is Medeiros, for example, you will probably have to say "Hi, I'm Jane Medeiros, Ashley Medeiros' mother." As opposed to Jacob Medeiros', Samantha Medeiros', or Joey Medieros' mother.

The fact is that divorce is common, and plenty of children have last names that are different from their mothers. When people express the desire for all members of a family to "have the same name" for convenience sake, they're really making it much more difficult for those who don't have the same last name. By using the issue of names to trumpet a 2-parent family that fits a social ideal, are women subtly marginalizing those who don't have that 2-parent family that fits the ideal? My daughter and I don't have the same last name, by my husband's and my choice. And her friend Kaylee has a different last name from her mother (who remarried) and her friend Rachel has a different last name from her mother (who also remarried). Is it really important for us to be able to look at a family's names and judge whose biological parents are still married to each other? When did that become important?

Basically, women change the names they have had for over 18 years to the names of their husbands because they don't want to challenge the status quo. This is why I reserve a little bit more disdain for the upper middle class women who have tons of social capital already but don't want to give up this little bit extra in the name of understanding the varieties of family structures there are out there.

I probably have more reasons why name-changing is so offensive, but I can't remember them right now. I'm sure if anyone comments, it will be to challenge me, and then I'll remember the other arguments. :)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I haven't breastfed for almost 6 years, and I was never militant when I was doing it, but for some reason I get increasingly annoyed by what I consider to be anti-breastfeeding (BF) rhetoric. Discussions are going on at 11D and Crooked Timber.

Background: I breastfed both my kids, S till she was 14 months and E till 11 months. I supplemented both with formula. I pumped with S (I worked 3 to 4 days a week when she was a baby); I was a department head and had a door that locked and had no see-through windows. The first 6 weeks I breastfed by daughter were miserable. It got better. She slept 8 hours a night starting at 2 months or so. It was easier with my son, but I never felt like I had enough. This is all in the interest of full disclosure. I never got the happy hormones, I never lost massive amounts of weight while breastfeeding, I don't look back at those days as halcyon times with my infants.

OK, so Hanna Rosin publishes an article in Atlantic Monthly, and she is apparently such a brilliant reporter and analyst that this means she, not the American Academy of Pediatricians (PDF), is correct in saying that breastfeeding doesn't matter much. This revelation is accompanied by resentful attacks on the "breastfeeding extremists" who deliberately misled everyone!!!

So why am I so pissed off? Well, first of all, I hang out with those "breastfeeding extremists" on an online list for working moms who practice attaching parenting (which includes BF). They're not cariacatures, scapegoats for whatever parenting resentment you have. They're people, and they're complex. Some of them BF their kids past the age of 1, past the age of 2, past the age of 5. Some of them have nursed other people's children a la Salma Hayek. So on their behalf, may I quote Jon Stewart and say "f**k you."

Second, the comment on CT by Matthew Zuzma that "Breastfeeding is a natural and inherent part of the mammalian lifecycle and if there is any social construct that doesn’t mesh well with it, it’s the social construct that is inconvenient" really resonates with me and explains a good deal of my annoyance. Formula was devised as a solution to a problem, the problem being women who have problems producing milk and children who have problems ingesting it. What has happened is that the technology has become the be-all and end-all.

Harry threatened to mention c-sections. Bad idea, Harry. :) C-sections to me are like formula--a sometimes necessary intervention that has become vastly overused to accommodate people's (I think) unreasonable (or maybe the term is overreactive) discomforts and convenience. Yeah, childbirth frickin' hurts. I was a little luckier than most in that my labors were relatively short (10 hours and 8 hours), but it still frickin' hurt. But you know what? We are human beings designed to reproduce ourselves. I would never have considered having a c-section in order to avoid *potential* problems. To schedule it for my convenience. Because I was afraid of pain. Am I a birthing extremist? Yeah, I guess. Me, I just see it as letting my body do what it needed to do and saving the technology to deal with any problems.

Here's another example: poop. Sometimes you strain when you poop. Does that mean you should run off and take laxatives? Should you take laxatives every day to make sure you poop regularly? I mean, if you've had a problem in the past, BETTER YOU DEAL WITH IT NOW instead of having to waste your time sitting on the toilet TIME YOU COULD BE SPENDING WITH YOUR CHILDREN!!!!

(And if you have never seen Sarah Haskins, her piece on women and poop is an awesome place to start. :)

This evasion of life's unpleasant side (poop, childbirth, BF, pubic hair, leg hair, normal body smells, unpainted toenails, etc.) is that social construct I think Zuzma is talking about--this idea of what a woman is "supposed" to be. Well, life sucks sometimes. Sometimes it hurts when you BF, or it's annoying to be sucked on when you really just want to sit at the computer and play Freecell. Sometimes you have to strain to poop, or wait a little longer than usual to poop. Sometimes hair grows places and it makes you look less attractive than a porn actress. Sometimes it hurts like hell to push out a baby.

I'm not sure it's even really about pain and discomfort but about our idea about how we're supposed to be. Life is messy, but women aren't allowed to be messy. You know, it was *after* I'd stopped breastfeeding that my daughter became repeatedly sick, then repeatedly demanding of a bottle every two hours at night. When I had just started a one-year visiting position with a possibility of getting the tenure-track job. (I know the day care is the reason she started getting sick, not the stopping BF, btw.) The chair of my department wasn't the least bit sympathetic. Yeah, stressful.

I guess my problem is the idea of supporting someone by telling them to stop when it turns difficult. I have no patience for that. And there is way too much of that in the parenting community, and there is such a negative effect on people. You increase the fears that something will go wrong, then when something does go wrong, it seems like it was INEVITABLE and it will NEVER STOP and the woman might as well just give up right now.

Instead we should be saying "shit happens, then it usually passes." True on so many levels.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Student Evaluations

A colleague of mine just told me an interesting story. She's part of a new faculty assessment project. I'll spare the details, but she did an experiment. There are two questions on the evaluations of faculty (completed by students) that ask for the student's assessment of very measurable things:
1. Is the faculty member accessible outside of class?
2. Does the faculty member return graded work in a timely manner?

She made sure that she handed back every graded essay at the very next class. She made sure she was in her office during office hours every time and that she responded to all requests for appointments positively.

And yet she did not receive the highest score on either question on the evaluations.

I think she has done a pretty good job of indicating that the evaluation as a tool of assessment is invalid.