Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More Annals of the Great Depression: What Divides Us And Why

At Zenith University, like everywhere else, there are budget cuts. There were cuts last year; there will be more cuts this year; one imagines there will perhaps be more cuts next year. Everyone thinks of us as a rich little school, and compared to some we are: compared to many schools with which we are associated (Amherst, Williams) we are not. What compounds the problem (and I won't bore you with the details) is that up until about a decade ago, the combination of poor investing, insufficient fund-raising and living beyond our means meant that not only did Zenith's endowment not grow, it shrank dramatically from the bountiful era of owning My Weekly Reader, a period which shaped the expectations and thinking of several generations of faculty still working at the university. Assertions that we are very short of cash are met with varying levels of disbelief, even though we all also know that it is true.

To make a long story short (and not be revealing in ways that will make me even more unpopular at Zenith today than I was yesterday) budget talk reveals many things about the normative assumptions of one's organization. Chief among the assumptions under discussion in mine yesterday was that the "normal" Zenith employee has, or wants, children; and that the childless among us benefit in countless ways from their colleagues' desire to have and raise children. Another is the extent to which many of my colleagues believe, despite reassurances to the contrary and the ongoing scrutiny of the budget process by a committee of trustworthy people we elected, that any attempt to curtail faculty benefits and privileges (even those unequally distributed, as I will discuss below) is part of an ongoing conspiracy by the administration to proletarianize the faculty. This conspiracy has been in the works for decades, so its proponents believe, and is now being activated by the global financial crisis, which will allow the Zenith administration to do what they have wanted to do all along: strip us of every last right and privilege.

Loud protests that there is "fat" elsewhere that can be cut rend the land. No one who has made this claim has been specific as to where such cuts might be usefully made, or why, other than the fact that they do not represent direct faculty interests - from what I understand, budgets like financial aid, University Relations and student services are where "fat" can be found. Some colleagues make unproven claims of varying extravagance about how they only came to Zenith in the first place because of the benefit currently under discussion, or that they have turned down attractive offers from other, unnamed, institutions only because of promised benefits that Zenith now threatens to rescind. Still others assert that it is only the excellent benefits that allow people to take moderate-wage academic jobs in the first place, and that benefits cuts will send high quality potential scholars into other fields.

This, of course, ignores the fact that some academics (economists, scientists) are paid dramatically more than others (historians, literature professors); and that there seem to be, depending on the field in question, between ten and fifty well-qualified people for every position at an American college or university. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe all those people teach adjunct because they love the freedom and hate TIAA-CREF.

Of course only in academia would anyone imagine a set of conversations with a dean as a promise, or as some have claimed, a “contract,” to be kept in perpetuity regardless of the financial circumstances of the institution. Even unions have to negotiate their benefits periodically to reflect a new economic climate. In fact, anyone who has had their eyes open lately knows that, except for not getting a raise this year, the faculty has been the last place Zenith has targeted for actual cuts. All the administrative departments are letting people go and not replacing them, and Zenith administrators did receive what amounted to a salary cut last year when their annual performance bonuses were canceled. Offices like Admissions, for example, are doing more with less, processing more paperwork (financial aid requests have grown, as have applications to Zenith) with fewer staff.

So imagine my surprise when, in response to what has been framed as a temporary scaling back in Zenith's tuition benefit (in which the University proposes that it will continue to grow, probably not at the rate tuitions will increase, but constituting tens of thousands of dollars per dependent child) created a storm of unreasoning protest. Of all the benefits we have, this group of faculty declared, this was the one that could not be tampered with. Imagine my further surprise when, in response to a number of us who have no access to this benefit suggesting that we could support a cut in the tuition benefit equal to all other cuts being made, we were roundly scolded for being ignorant, uncaring, unfeeling and deluded.

This is a more civilized critique than those who questioned child-supremacy used to get: the child-free, regardless of why they were in that position, were until recently routinely spoken of as narcissistic, selfish, or child hating. Now we are just patronized because of our failure to understand why a continuing, although smaller, increase in a benefit we do not receive is something we should be willing to fight for while our own paychecks are frozen and our health care costs rise. That we are also appalled, distressed, and alienated at how quickly the child supremacists are willing to throw us under the bus to preserve a large benefit that we do not share; or that our primary human attachments might be to ourselves, or to members of a non-hetero/homonormative social formation, many of them find naive and morally questionable.

I would like to point out that the loose coalition of the willing that does not consider this cut unthinkable is made up of gay people and straight people; the coupled and the uncoupled; the married and the unmarried; those who have dependent (or formerly dependent) children and those who do not. I mention this because one of the first things people make sure to tell me in particular is that they are not homophobic (you know what? If you feel you have to say this, you are homophobic. I didn't bring it up, you did.) Several of the kinder scolds suggested that we who were not with the program would understand this issue better if we actually had children and better understood the sacred bond between parent and child. The most ignorant argued that the childless were not excluded from this benefit, and could access it any time we liked by having, adopting or inheriting children. Of all the unspoken assumptions, perhaps the one best masking itself as intellectual common sense was that we who are childless at Zenith do have a moral and ethical commitment to our colleagues' children, because it is these children who, as adult workers, will earn the professional wages to pay for our government benefits in retirement.

In other words, because I haven't had children, regardless of how much I have paid into Social Security over the years, I will become a welfare queen in old age. And as I sign my government checks over to the BMW dealership and the grog shop, it will not be just any children who support me in the style to which I am now accustomed, but the children of my Zenith colleagues. That I might have ethical obligations to children who are dependent on a network of adults for their education is not even worth arguing to these vigorous proponents of the nuclear family, nor that I might specifically wish to sponge off them in the future, rather than trust that my colleagues' children aren't going to use their fancy liberal arts educations to become itinerant folk singers. That this is a benefit that ought to be extended as part of an equal compensation package granted to every worker for whatever educational purpose s/he chooses (which might require capping the benefit at a certain amount per worker, or per beneficiary) is even more unthinkable to many of those who have Gone Nuclear even though, to date, two of my colleagues who are, I think, heterosexual, have articulated this position. My point is, either we have all earned it, or we all haven't earned it. Pick one, and that's where we can start the process of coming to consensus about this little plum in the budget.

No, they respond: nothing will do but an unlimited benefit reserved exclusively for the children of Zenith.

This ugly, divisive incident has reinforced my belief that one of the major, under-examined flaws of New Deal liberalism has been the extent to which it left intact the assumption that our fate, as human beings, should remain tied to so-called traditional notions of the family and the workplace. This was not, of course, an entirely unexamined assumption. One of the most graphic examples of how this played out was Social Security. Labor historian Alice Kessler-Harris's In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth Century America (2001) has documented the lengths to which framers of the original legislation passed on August 15, 1935 went to limit women's secondary access to funds that were the legal entitlement of a male breadwinner. Kessler-Harris and Linda Gordon, among others, have written about the systematic exclusion of workers, primarily of color, who were specifically written out of Social Security legislation because they were employed in seasonal, at will, or non-organized workplaces.

Although legally these exclusions no longer exist, in fact, they do. Because one’s social security benefits are paid according to the amount and duration of what a worker has paid in, people who enter the workplace late, or work sporadically (often women) have fewer benefits. Because their work takes place in a home or a workplace that is lightly scrutinized by the authorities (a farm, a sweatshop) the immigrants and people of color who do what amounts to day labor often do not have social security contributions made in their names. And we who are prevented from marrying our partners and creating federally recognized families do not inherit a spouse's Social Security benefits, nor can we designate them to anyone who is not a dependent child.

An even knottier issue, from my perspective, is the extent to which New Deal social legislation, and reforms associated with post-war prosperity and the rise of workplace benefits, depended on the private sector to support middle-class expectations of comfort and security. From what I know about the New Deal state, this dependence had two broad origins. The first was ideological: southern Democrats vigorously resisted any shift of power and authority to the federal government that might eventually be used to overturn racial subordination. A more national political problem for the Roosevelt administration was the danger of totalitarianism that was becoming prominent in Europe and Asia in the 1930s, and the fear that New Deal initiatives would be perceived as socialist or fascist.

What has been less written about is the extent to which the New Deal state simply did not have the capacity to run a large social welfare system and turned to Fordism as a solution. An early prototype of national welfare, the Civil War pension system, was notorious for its inefficiencies and corruption, and because it only extended benefits to Union veterans, was never meant to be comprehensive or permanent. By the time the American state did prove itself capable of creating a fully functional national bureaucracy capable of large-scale taxation and disbursement during World War II, the ideological moment for the creation of a social welfare system had both passed and never arrived. I say passed, because the crisis of the Great Depression was finally ended by putting the nation on a war footing for the rest of the century, thus making prosperity the "norm" and effectively re-stigmatizing the poor. I imagine the ideological moment as never having arrived because, as Kessler-Harris and Gordon point out, the notion that what we now call “benefits” were permanently sutured to the notion that the normal condition of individuals was to belong to a patriarchal family living off a family wage that freed women to be full-time mothers and children to be full-time students. Furthermore, Cold War heterosexual parenting was articulated as service to the state, supported by an elaborate series of tax deductions, workplace benefits and enhanced public education designed to help (white) families become and remain middle-class. "Benefits" are part of that structure, even though we have come to think of them as something we are owed, separate from salary, because we so depend on them to remain middle class. They operate in part as an enticement when the labor market is competitive (not a stage of history we are in right now), and they are a way of shielding what are essentially salary bonuses from the Internal Revenue Service.

Whether the United States, as a cultural, political or economic formation, actually values children is debatable. But what remains relevant from my point of view is that little that has changed over the past several decades to alter the basic assumption among many liberals that workers who are married and/or have children actually deserve more benefits from their employer. Gays and lesbians are now included in this ideology because we are no longer always prevented from marrying and having children (even though these are much more difficult hurdles than the vast majority of heterosexual people understand.) I think this is interesting, because certainly at Zenith, years ago when many of us questioned why unmarried workers were not entitled to health insurance for their domestic partners, the very same people would shrug their shoulders and say some version of, "That's the way of the world, I guess," but they also refused the notion that unmarried workers were not being equally compensated. Now that we (the unmarried) actually have such benefits, they forget that they never supported them, or that many of them said openly that the flood of claims from the unmarried would overwhelm the system, causing a reduction in everybody's benefits.

And this is what they believe, but will not say, about the tuition benefit. They believe that if it is extended to every employee, there will not be enough left for them. All the rest of it is just smoke, mirrors and ideology my friends. But it is also pretty insulting, because it expands the dictates of the nuclear family to all of us who, frankly, do not benefit from it at all. Most important, it avoids the main point: the major systems that have made this country one of the most prosperous in the world have always been discriminatory. Now that they are in crisis, this is glaringly obvious, and falling back on families and family wage models to fix that crisis is mere tinkering with a system that was designed to fail in the first place.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Our Person In Tegucigalpa: Zelaya Returns to Tegucigalpa, Honduran Police Violence Escalates

As the Obama administration clicks its worry beads over Iraq, Afghanistan, and the potential for a nuclear Iran, threats to democracy in our own hemisphere fight for attention as they often do. I call your attention to the fact that political violence in Honduras has escalated this week. Crowds gathering peacefully to demand that the President they elected be restored to office are being assaulted; some protesters have been killed, and many others have been arrested. The photo at left, taken in Tegucigalpa this week, is of a police surveillance helicopter. With new elections coming up in late November of this year, the stakes for democracy in Honduras are very high.

Many of you may recall that Manuel Zelaya was arrested by the military last summer, flown out of Honduras in his pajamas, and dumped like a bag of laundry. Roberto Michiletti, the choice of the country's oligarchy, assumed the presidency. While Michiletti has been strongly rebuked by the United States and the United Nations, pressure on the de facto regime has been feeble and ineffective. One possible reason that the Obama administration is not being more forceful is that Zelaya's regional allies include socialists like Venezuala's Hugo Chavez and Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, who have worked effectively to counter US policy and corporate influence in the region.

On Monday, it was revealed that Zelaya had re-entered Honduras successfully (possibly with the aid of a military faction loyal to him) and sought sanctuary in the Brazilian embassy, which has launched the current wave of demonstration and violent repression.

Regional military intervention to end the violence and restore the regime does not seem to be an option, given a US attitude towards its neighbors in the Americas that has not progressed far beyond the principles of the Monroe Doctrine (1823) and the Roosevelt Corollary (1905). The propaganda campaign being waged by the regime against Zelaya this week (which highlights allegations of corruption and incipient terrorism) is calculated to make any intervention by the Obama administration on Zelaya's behalf politically costly, but it is also a calculated attempt to fill the US media market with stories that falsely portray Zelaya supporters as the kind of dangerous rabble that Americans have historically believed ought to be repressed, both abroad and at home (witness the lack of curiosity in the media about the police violence in Pittsburgh this week at the G-20 demos.)

Fortunately, Tenured Radical has an excellent and well-placed correspondent on the scene (who also contributed the photographs in this post.) On Tuesday, September 22, this dispatch arrived from our person in Tegucigalpa:

"Things here in Honduras have gotten very bad very quickly. As you may know, the democratically-elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, who was overthrown on June 28th, returned to the country yesterday and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy. He gave a speech anouncing that he had returned to open a dialogue with the de facto authorities, since they had failed to participate succesfully in the negotiations sponsored by the president of Costa Rica and backed by the entire international community.

"The de facto regime, rather than deal with this unexpected development peacefully, has reacted with great force. The authorities have spoken primarily in hyperbole and lies, pretending that the constitutional president has made statements about retaking power and revolution, none of which are true. They have shut down the entire country. We are on indefinite curfew, meaning anyone outside of their home is subject to immediate arrest. They have cut electricity to various parts of the city. They have closed the borders and airports. They have forced the opposition media outlets off the air and off the web. They have ordered the military and the police to attack the several thousand people who were peacefully camped out in front of the Brazilian embassy; they used pepper and tear gas, fire trucks and what appear to have been rubber bullets. Casualty totals are unknown at this point.

"I think the authorities´ willingness to shut down the entire country reveals more than anything the dictatorial nature of this regime. Their ham-handed response to a peaceful political development they cannot control reflects their willingness to stay in power no matter what the costs to society. They would rather the entire country grind to a halt than engage in dialog. They have no problem using force against people who exercise their constitutional rights in a way they don´t like. The elections they have scheduled for November 29th are just a manner of ensuring the continuity of their regime, as they have made clear their willingness to take any measure to prevent change of which they do not approve."

On Friday, September 25 we received the second dispatch:

"We're disappointed to report that the security forces today failed to respect the law and attacked unarmed protesters without provocation or legal justification. Thousands of marchers gathered on the Boulevard Miraflores for a peaceful march toward the Brazilian Embassy to express their support for the overthrown president, Manuel Zelaya. At the corner of Avenida Jerez and the Primera Calle of Colonia Palmira (the traffic light a block from the United Nations building) the marchers were stopped by a line of police and a line of soldiers, backed by two police anti-riot vehicles, a police helicopter, and a military helicopter. Prevented from reaching the Brazilian Embassy by these forces, the march continued peacefully toward the Parque Central. There was no conflict between marchers and security forces at that intersection. The march arrived in the Parque Central around two.

"The marchers entered the square and remained there chanting slogans and singing. There was no vandalism and the atmosphere was festive. Marchers were not blocking traffic, as all of them were able to fit within the square, and none spilled out into the adjacent streets.

"Several dozen police deployed across the street leading into the south side of the Parque Central at two forty-five. At three precisely, the police launched tear gas into the crowd and launched a baton charge into the park, hitting any number of people within their reach. They also trapped a number of men - I counted at least twelve - against the fence in front of the Cathedral, handcuffed them, and loaded them into two or three waiting patrol cars.

"As I mentioned, the police had no legal motive to do any of this. The marchers were not blocking traffic, nor were they failing to follow a curfew order, since the curfew didn't start until five and the police attacked at three. The marchers had no weapons (you can see from the photographs that they carried in their hands only parasols, if anything - no weapons or even stones) and were not engaging in any criminal activity nor were the police preventing any crime.

"Subsequently, as the marchers and everybody else who found themselves anywhere near the Parque fled north and west away from the tear gas, the army launched a sweep on the street westward leading to the Chile Bridge. Several dozen soldiers deployed across the street and walked toward the bridge hitting anyone they reached with wooden clubs. I also saw two people seized and detained. Again, these people were not committing any crimes nor violating any orders - indeed, they may not even have been marchers, since the area was already crowded with people returning home from shopping during the brief window in which the curfew was lifted. (I have to apologize that the picture of the bridge is so bad, but you can see the line of green-uniformed soldiers with riot gear just below the El Chile bridge sign in the photo).

"In addition, we just received news from Choloma, Cortés, that Carlos Turcio, the neighborhood association president of Colonia López Arellano in that city, was arrested at four o clock. Eyewitnesses said the police explained he was 'violating curfew' - again a legal impossibility, since curfew hasn't started yet - and 'lacking respect for authority.' He is currently being held in the Jefatura Departamental (número cinco) in Choloma."

Our correspondent, and Tenured Radical, ask you to contact the State Department and your representatives in Congress to express your concern at the de facto regime´s violence. Ask them to do everything they can to ensure that constitutional rule is restored in Honduras. The State Department´s number is 202-647-4000. You can also send emails to your senators and members of congress. Addresses of the Congress can be found here and here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Speaking Of Gender, Facebook Is Concerned About Mine

I read somewhere recently (and I thought it was the New York Times but now I can't find the story) that a great many women are removing their date of birth from Facebook because they are sick of getting gross and insulting ads about their bodies. It is simply true that nothing is free, even on the internet: everything one signs up for has some kind of questionnaire aimed at creating a marketing profile for you -- oh, excuse me, "opportunities" for you -- that can be squeezed in everywhere. You can always check the box that prevents them from selling your identity to every spammer alive, but what you can't prevent is advertising tailored crudely to those of your gender and age.

Yahoo! is terrible, although I realize that were I to agree to pay for email I could get rid of their ads in a heartbeat. Endless acai berry products are the best ones. I'm not sure whether my least favorite ads are the ones that promise weight loss, complete with pulsing, saggy body parts poking out of ill-fitting garments and dripping with puckered cellulite; the sponge that de-wrinkles a craggy woman as if by magic; or the mortgage ads with manic, dancing figures that command me to get a second mortgage now because President Obama wants me to.

To quote Britney Spears, "Lollypop, do you take me for a sucker?"

The Facebook ads are less gross, mostly because they are smaller, but it's the same theme: you grow old, you grow old, you shall wear the bottoms of your trousers rolled. Hot flashes, wrinkles, flab. This is your future. get used to it.

No! No! No!

Now I happen to be in pretty good shape, am quite athletic, and would never color the gray hair that I have. But middle age causes anxiety all the same. Add to that the specifically female afflictions that I am being hammered with, and the female shame that I am supposed to feel about aging, and it has been a constant irritation to this butch lesbian feminist.

What to do? I didn't want to remove my birthday, because I like the idea that people will wish me happy birthday (even though you will notice that I never look for or acknowledge yours; sorry, it isn't one of my strengths.) But I thought: how about if I remove my gender? Is it required information?

Why no, it isn't, and I did just that. Hooray! Suddenly the ads changed. Games! Continuing education! On-line accountants! Psychics! Horoscopes! Problem solved.

"Not so fast, Mister. Or Miss. Or whoever you are," some Facebook administrator muttered. Now I get a little message every time I click on my profile page that says:

"Which example applies to you? Right now your profile may be confusing. Please choose how we should refer to you. Click one:

Tenured Radical edited her profile.
Tenured Radical edited his profile."

Are you talking to me? Are you talking to me?

What a hoot. And I have to hand it to them, the tone is perfect: friendly, non-antagonistic, encouraging. I imagine it's how people might talk to me if I were on a four-day crying jag, or had had a terrible nervous breakdown, or were crashing after a methamphetamine binge. I imagine myself wrapped in lovely warm towels, on soothing drugs and in a pink room with soft music playing in the background. Nurse Ratched is smiling encouragingly with a big, whacking hypodermic in one hand, trying to encourage me in the least threatening possible way to remember what my gender is or to commit to a gender at least, even if it's not one we can agree on. "Because you see, dear," Nursie is saying in my imagination; "People may be confused...other people are, well, upset about this, and if you could just answer the question it would be so much better for them."

I am going to see how long I can tolerate the pop-up instead.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

In Search Of The History That Hasn't Happened: Caster Semenya, Gender Barriers And The Right To Compete

Several weeks ago, while watching some early round matches at the U.S. Open, a friend of mine and I were discussing how unbelievably homophobic the world of sports still is. Of course, you might point out that we were having this conversation at the National Tennis Center, which is named after a lesbian. Billie Jean King first fought sexism in the sport; was then forced out of the closet; and then, having lost all her sponsorships, competed as an out lesbian. Subsequently, Martina Navratilova (pictured at left in all her glorious butchness) came out, lost her sponsorships, competed as an out lesbian and -- also like King-- became a serious player in the political and legal struggle for civil equality.

But friends, this boundary in tennis was broken thirty years ago. Where is the history of queer athletes moving into the mainstream that should have followed? Can you name more than one or two openly queer tennis players who are active today? Are any of them men? Can you name any other active, queer professional athletes, men or women? Even though there must be hundreds -- thousands -- of them?

The conversation with my friend easily slipped over into a related subject: transphobia in sports, why it affects women exclusively, and the ongoing investigation of the outstanding South African runner Caster Semenya. For those of you who are not sports fans, Semenya's gender identity as a woman has been challenged by some of her competitors, prompting an official scientific inquiry by the governing body in international track and field as to her "real" gender. I say "a related conversation" because, despite the critical alliances between gay and lesbian people and people who identify as transgendered, it's not the same conversation and sometimes it is a very different one. Perhaps the most prominent thing shared among those people described by the initials G,L,B and T is that we do not enjoy full constitutional rights. Hence, we are often unable to fully merge our private and our public selves without becoming the objects of bigotry and violence, and our access to status and success is often limited by our inability to present ourselves as simultaneously legally, physically and socially "normal."

The categories described by the initials often overlap as well (as categories tend to do because they are all intellectual constructions to begin with), which is another important reason for such alliances: people shift from one initial to another, or inhabit several of them simultaneously. In a world dominated by monogamy, bisexual people in the end tend to choose one partner and that choice is a socially defining one: regardless of the gender identity of that person, they have to work pretty hard to remind people that they belong in the B category. Similarly, many female to male transsexuals begin their adult sexual lives as lesbians, become men while still desiring women sexually, and then become socially "straight" - often while still thinking of themselves as queer. Male to female transsexuals who continue to be attracted to women become lesbians, and some FTM's find themselves powerfully drawn to sex with men for the first time in their lives. Some transpeople proudly identify as ungendered, as transgendered, or as transsexual. Others go stealth which, for the uninitiated, means living in the gender that you feel is rightly yours and leaving the gender assigned at birth behind. Hence, some transpeople are freed to no longer be perceived as queer at all.

So let's come back to the trouble gender creates for women athletes, and is currently causing for Caster Semenya (pictured at right) in particular. You may recall that, having come out as a lesbian in 1981, Navratilova intensified her training and transformed her body to achieve a level of athleticism previously unseen in the girly-girl world of women's tennis. As she swept up title after title, there were increasingly nasty public remarks about Navratilova not being a "real" woman; some said she should only be permitted to compete against men. That Navratilova came from the Soviet bloc, where the use of hormones and other forms of doping in national athletic development programs had become state policy, undoubtedly fueled a prejudice that was entirely American: Navratilova was simply not feminine enough in her physical or her social self.

It was probably no coincidence that Navratilova's transformation occurred just subsequent to Renee Richards' successful battle against the USTA for the right to compete against women after having undergone sex reassignment. What is also important, in my view, is that while homophobia affects everybody, it is the female body that is the object of scientific scrutiny in sports. Demands for chromosomal testing for women who looked too powerful to be women have been pervasive since it was possible to do chromosomal tests. As the documentary movie about the history of women's rowing, A Hero For Daisy (Mary Mazzio, 2000) underlines, women who raise the level of female competition are always perceived as being improperly gendered. Chris Ernst, a short, wiry, muscular Olympic rower who won gold in the women's double sculls at the 1986 world rowing championships, was repeatedly challenged throughout her rowing career as to her "real" gender.

According to this article published in 2000 by Myron Genel, an endocrinologist and Professor of Pediatrics at the Yale University School of Medicine, there is a history to this form of scrutiny that begins with women's difficulty in gaining access to national and international athletic competition in the first place. As the resistance of national and international athletic organizations was eroded by the determination of women to compete at high levels, and the popularity of high profile women like Babe Didrickson Zaharias, "increasing attention was devoted to the concept of a 'level playing field.'" As Genel writes,

In a number of instances, questions were raised regarding the "femininity" of highly successful female competitors, in particular during the Cold War era of competition between the United States and the former Soviet Union. These rumors were abetted by anecdotal reports of recognized athletes who were found to have varying degrees of intersexuality. In 1 case, a Polish sprinter with an apparent chromosomal mosaicism was stripped of her medals. Three track and field champions who competed as women before World War II subsequently underwent reconstructive surgery and sex reassignment. These cases led to efforts to ensure that women competing at international events were in fact women, initially with rather crude and demeaning efforts at physical examination. In 2 instances, women athletes were required to parade nude before a panel of female physicians, and at another event women athletes were required to undergo direct gynecologic examination.

By 1968, an unreliable form of chromosomal testing was added to physical examinations, which over the next decade became routine at the Olympic level for men and women. Chromosomal testing has become more sophisticated since then, but no less controversial, in part because the more we learn about the science of gender the less we can say with confidence about gender as a social category. Put simply, our binary gender system cannot account for the many chromosomal combinations that occur in real bodies or the hormonal variations that suppress or enhance gendered physical characteristics. Because of this, in 1999, at the urging of the Athlete's Commission, the IOC suspended routine testing for the Sydney summer games, replacing it with a policy pioneered by by the governing body of international track and field that "permits intervention and evaluation of individual athletes by appropriate medical personnel if there is any question regarding gender identity." But as Genel points out, the only effect of chromosomal testing has been to bar women who exceed the female performance norm from potentially competing against women who are at the norm or fall short of it. People who are socially male and are weaker are allowed to simply lose, whereas people who are socially female face suspicion that they might not be women after all.

For those who have been following the news about Caster Semenya, it may be dispiriting to see how far athletics has not come in being able to imagine that the phrase "female athlete" is not, in some way, a contradiction in terms. But it is even more dispiriting to read the impoverished nature of the public discussion, which posits Semenya and her supporters' claim that she is a "real woman" against the possibility that she is just a "freak." Last week, the Associated Press reported that an Australian newspaper had scooped the gender tests on Semenya (which include an MRI) that are not to be officially completed or released until November, prompting the new rumor that she has internal testicles and no ovaries, and is therefore not "a woman." Meanwhile, the Semenya camp has arranged for a cover shot of her dolled up as a girly-girl which -- for any of us who were forced into clothes that made us feel wrong, wrong, wrong -- is simply horrifying. Yes, she makes a very pretty fixer-upper as a "girl." But she is also very handsome the way she chose to be in the first place, as a no-nonsense, athletic, butch woman.

Defenders of Semenya argue that her privacy has been invaded, which is also so not to the point: gender is social, and a public matter, if it is anything. If gender were private, then we could all change our official documents at random and people with intersexed children wouldn't be told to "choose" as pediatric surgeons were standing by to sculpt a newborn's genitals into something that other people will be comfortable with. Indeed, the idea that not being gendered "normally" is a devastating public tragedy is clear from the response of those friendly to Semenya. Several supposedly sympathetic South African supporters have been quoted to the effect that the revelation of her "true" gender would not only be career-ending it would be life-ending: they have voiced fears that she might kill herself.

With friends like this, who needs the Australian press, I ask you? My old friend Tavia Nyong'o, over at Bully Bloggers has written a beautifully intelligent piece that asks whether, instead of obsessing over the naturalness of Semenya's gender, we might imagine "turning the question around and denaturalizing the world of gender segregated, performance-obsessed, commercially-driven sports, a world that can neither seem to do with or without excessive bodies like Semenya’s and their virtuosic performances?"

It is a very tangled web indeed, which grows all the more tangled if you consider --as Nyong'o does -- that had Semenya chosen to present herself in a "girly" way to begin with she might have been less vulnerable. We can't know that, of course, but there is a certain washroom logic to it (I am referring to the fact that any of us who confuse others as to our gender know that bathrooms are ground zero for the gender police.) Semenya is fast, but she certainly is not the fastest woman we've ever seen (although many of the fastest women later turn out to be hyped up on synthetic hormones), and she is twelve seconds slower than the fastest men. But no matter: it is appearances that count. And these appearances are carefully scripted for women: pony tails, pastels and makeup can accomplish a lot, as any drag queen could tell you. In fact, many female track and field athletes, tennis players, figure skaters and gymnasts, famous for their lack of breasts and ropy, cut muscles, would look like guys too -- or at least little boys -- if you gave them the right haircut and put them in a tee shirt and jeans. As proof of how easy it is to become a "normal woman," Caster's handlers in South Africa have done just that. You have probably seen the femmy makeover pictured on the right which gushes, "Wow, Look At Caster Now!" Because if she's on the cover of a women's magazine, dolled up like a woman, she must be a woman. Right? Can't fake that!

Uh huh. I am looking at Caster now, and whether she chose that makeover or not, it fills me with dread and sorrow. Because, short of a world where it is acknowledged that we have a right to choose our own gender, it will nearly always be women who are marginalized by these defining practices and, as many black South Africans rightly believe, people like Semenya who come from populations that are already stigmatized in some ways by their racial or colonial histories. A truly just society would simply allow people to compete according to ability, would not require from them as much as we do, and it would not ask them to perform anything as athletes but feats of speed, strength and skill.

Cross posted at Cliopatria.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Do The Wave For Feminism: the Women's Review of Books Blog

In case you didn't get the email, the Women's Review of Books has a new blog: click here to go to it and bookmark. They went live on August 11, but the first real post (written by bioethicist Frances Kissling of the University of Pennsylvania) went up early this week.

Give them some traffic and check it out. And while you are at it, subscribe to the Review. Edited by the intrepid Amy Hoffman, the WRB began publishing in 1983, the year I began graduate school. Those of us who relied on it for reviews of books on women by our favorite feminists were sad to see it go belly up -- err, suspend publication -- in 2004. Hoffman promised all of us that she would try to bring it back, and solicited anyone who had ever written a review for a donation. Since Amy often gave reviews to emerging, as well as prominent feminists, there were rather a lot of us. The WRB even paid a small but significant sum for reviews, so since the feminists in this household are rarely paid by anyone else, we simply totted up the number of reviews we had written between us, multiplied by the standard sum everyone was paid, and returned the money. Incredibly, in 2005 the WRB came back as a bimonthly. It is housed at the Wellesley Centers for Women, which, also incredibly, has a $7.2 million budget.

Happily, we sent the revived WRB even more money and resubscribed. One of the things I liked best about it (and am glad to have back) was the list of feminist books, and books about women, that was published at the back of the book. A quick scan could more or less keep you up to date. The WRB also assigned me my favorite review essay every: about feminists who not only hunt but are fierce second amendment advocates. Now you don't see that in every feminist rag, do you podnah?

So subscribe now. The September/October 2009 issue features a review by Sherrilyn Ifill of the two new Ida B. Wells bios by Mia Bay and Paula Giddings, as well as Miroslavez Chavez-Garci's review of Catherine Ramirez's The Woman in the Zoot Suit (a serious must-read for United States cultural historians -- one of my favorites from last year) and much, much more.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Learning To Say No, Hollywood Style: A Helpful Response To Screenwriter Josh Olson

Since my post on the Teabag Protest has practically gone viral (many thanks to my colleague Bitch Ph.D. for the link) today's post is just a follow up on advice given last week on saying no. Such as, No, I will decline to comment further on why I can't show unconditional love to the beleaguered mommy lobby. However, thanks to my Cliopatria colleague, historian Ralph Luker, I want to pass on this charming tidbit published in the September 9 Village Voice by screenwriter and director Josh Olson. In "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script," Olson announces happily that it will cause people to think he is a "dick" that he does not want to take a look at even a two-page treatment for them. He tells every Hollywood wannabe with a dream that there is

an ugly truth about many aspiring screenwriters: They think that screenwriting doesn't actually require the ability to write, just the ability to come up with a cool story that would make a cool movie. Screenwriting is widely regarded as the easiest way to break into the movie business, because it doesn't require any kind of training, skill or equipment. Everybody can write, right? And because they believe that, they don't regard working screenwriters with any kind of real respect. They will hand you a piece of inept writing without a second thought, because you do not have to be a writer to be a screenwriter.

OK, I am sure I have no idea how frustrating this must be for you Josh, particularly given how fucking busy and important you are. I am busy, but not important like you. People do not go around thrusting history fucking manuscripts on me right and left, nor am I fabulously well-paid and hearing the ching-ching of dollars leaking out of my pocket every time I do a favor for someone. In fact, Josh, our lives couldn't be more fucking different. My whole fucking life more or less consists of doing favors for people, for less money all year than you make in a week. And actually, most people in America make dramatically less than I do, and probably do even more favors for more people -- coaching Little League, working at homeless shelters, tutoring kids who can't read, or helping a fellow worker at Walmart make it through her life. You hear me? Life as a little person is just less stressful than life as a big Hollywood screenwriter. I get that.

But since I am not so busy and important, I will do you the favor of fucking explaining to you why people "think you don't have to be a writer to be a screenwriter." There are three fucking reasons. The first is that everyone knows that without some kind of personal connection in "the industry" (and this goes for publishing as well) even good creative work never sees the light of day. This is why people who want to do what you do come to schools like Zenith, because if you fucking succeed in the film department here, you will automatically be hooked into the network of Zenith film alumni who will promote your career in Hollywood. Yes, Zenith alums are fucking well-educated and well-trained when they leave us, but lots of well-educated, talented people who go to schools that are just as fucking good don't have successful careers in "the industry" at the rate our students do. And it is because they have the fucking connections.

Second, most of what passes for movies or television nowadays is unadulterated, culturally embarrassing crap, with implausible story lines and characters played by people who can't fucking act, produced for people who are more or less in despair about the condition of their lives under advanced capitalism. They will go to movies about vacuum cleaners that fucking talk, and rent DVDs whose best-crafted feature is the size and expense of the enhanced breasts sported by the so-called "actresses." So you can hardly blame people for thinking that anyone can write a fucking screenplay: anyone clearly does write a screenplay. It's how the losers whose screenplays are actually fucking chosen for most of what is fucking produced that is the mystery to most of us.

Finally, the most successful television series and movies rely for their basic plot lines on people having outstanding, high-paying jobs dropped in their fucking laps for no fucking reason whatsoever; becoming successful, despite their autism/paralysis/poverty/lack of education/obscurity because they have (gag) "heart;" going from rags to riches because they believe so deeply in themselves; getting a professional fucking sports contract because they are such a good person and have a nice, supportive girlfriend; defeat complex evil plots because they have inner resources not tapped until that moment (and a great fucking body); receive a vast inheritance by surprise that allows them to follow their life's dream to have their own wildly successful cosmetic line; realize suddenly that they have a calling as a fucking vampire for Christ's sake; or have the wild and crazy notion that losing 300 pounds on television/imitating indigenous people on a desert island/beating out twenty other people to become somebody's fucking fiancee can launch you into lifetime fucking superstardom.

So yes, Josh, you are a dick, but that is hardly the point: you work in a dick industry that mostly puts out a dick product. If you have any further questions, please get in touch with my fucking people.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Professor Radical Goes To Washington To Preview The Apocalypse

Today the Radical got up at dawn, took a cab to Teenie Airport and came to our nation's capital on behalf of an American Historical Association book prize committee. But I was also in for a nice surprise. Because I do not travel in the Right circles, until I checked my Twitter account I had not had it on my radar that the Teabag people were marching on Washington today.

Hence, I got to see history in the making. The hotel where the committee was meeting is right near the Mall, so that when I checked in with half an hour to spare, I rushed back onto the street to begin documenting the event. That's when I ran into the gentlemen in the photo on the left. I saw their flag swirling about and asked them if they would pose. They were happy to do so, but asked me to wait until they could stretch it out completely. "We don't want you to just take a picture that makes everyone think it's a Confederate flag," one said.

But it is a Confederate flag, I thought. Well no, not exactly. " 'At's the state of South Carolina battle flag," the other guy explained proudly. I took the picture and thanked them, immediately sending the photo via iPhone to the Mother of the Radical (MOTheR) who is, in fact, a Little Old Lady in Tennis Shoes, but of the left-wing variety. Reach out and touch someone, you know what I mean? I was then summoned by the book prize committee, who had perhaps looked out the window and thought they had seen their missing colleague consorting with Civil war re-enactors. At their polite request, I ran inside to eat a turkey club sandwich and to sacrifice for the History Profession, which was Arnita Jones' point in flying me down here in the first place.

As soon as we were done deciding the prize, I skibbled back outside and over to the Mall to gain insight into fellow countrymen and women, the like of whom do not congregate by the thousands in Shoreline. I was also, frankly, intrigued by my first interlocutors' distinction between "the Confederate Flag" and the "South Carolina battle flag" -- in which, as you can see, the Stars and Bars are prominently embedded. The distinction they were trying to make, I think, was that the former was racist but the latter was purely military -- and thus, not racist. In other words, they wanted to be taken seriously as political activists and patriots, not be dismissed as garden-variety white supremacists.

Patriotism was a big theme of a march where participants invoked race and racism only to deny that their actions were racist in origin. However, the occasional appearance of a "redskin," or a minstrel Uncle Sam with blacked face and long, nappy, fake dreds pouring out of his stovepipe hat complicated that claim, as did portraits of Obama in whiteface with large, red lips. Had I expressed my belief that such depictions and performances are racist, however, I think marchers would have told me that was projection on my part. "Liberals carry the race card in their wallets," read many signs.

Perhaps the aggressive denials of racism are inspired by the marchers' fear that their profound hatred, fear and contempt for President Barack Obama will be perceived as racist, when in their view it is merely hatred, fear and contempt of a President who happens to be black. And they do hate him: Joe Wilson's attack several days ago -- "You lie!" -- was echoed on tee shirts, signs and banners; I am told it was an ongoing chant at the rally. The view that Obama lies about everything is reiterated in words and images: the president was caricatured as the Joker and as the Devil, among other things. I am actually quite persuaded that they don't hate him only because he is black. They hate all politicians except Joe Wilson, and they only like Wilson because of his current position as the John Birch of Congress and because he said what they already believe: all politicians, all powerful people, lie. When they say there are no death panels, the reasoning goes, when it's not even in the bill -- you can be pretty sure there will be death panels. Lock and load, boys.

But I am also persuaded that in a paranoid world where our beloved Constitution is being held hostage by mysterious forces (Richard Hofstadter, phone home!) and "they" will be breaking down our doors any day now to pry our guns from our cold, dead hands, there are no black people who are politically legitimate figures. People who valorize the North American eighteenth century as the epitome of freedom and don't seem to remember that this form of freedom accommodated chattel slavery are telling you something about whether black people sharing political authority with white people, much less having authority over them, is natural and normal. I asked one white, professional resident of the District if it bothered her that she couldn't vote for national offices. She replied that it did, but that on balance she was quite glad that the vast majority of the people who lived in the District were also disenfranchised.

Those voters would be black.

My belief that a very complex story about race was played out today on the Mall was intensified by the fact that, in an hour and a half of mingling with the crowd I saw exactly two African-American and one Asian descended participant: everyone else was white. Everyone. The not-Confederate flag was the exception rather than the rule; most people wearing patriotic colors were wearing garish American flag shirts, jackets and hats; tee-shirts commanded the Congress to "get your hands off my Constitution" or insisted that the wearer "loves this country but fears the government." Yellow "Don't tread on me" flags were selling briskly. But there were also real Aryan Nation types there. I saw one group of young men whose tees explicitly identified them either as Klansmen or Klan wanna-bes; and a second group wore Minuteman tees. At another point I was walking and chatting with a group, one of whom asked me if I had noticed how clean the Mall was after the rally (in fact I had; I had also seen marshals walking around reminding people to pick up their trash, and heard, in passing, other marchers proudly pointing out to each other how clean the protesters were leaving the Mall.)

I said yes, the Mall was clean, and it was pointed out to me in a meaningful way that "other groups" left the Mall filthy. "Why do you think that is?" I asked. Six or seven people turned around and said, more or less in unison, "Their culture!" Now, I mention this not to mock anybody, but rather to say that I think that this is an excellent example of how ordinary right wing people, not just politicians, have learned to talk about race in a certain way while still claiming that they don't see race -just "behaviors" or "culture." I asked what they meant by culture, and one person explained that after Symphony concerts the Mall was always clean, but after pop and rock concerts, Boy Scouts had to be brought in from the suburbs to clean it up. When I asked to what they attributed this phenomenon, one of my companions explained that those who don't clean up after themselves in public spaces are "freeloaders" (one of the day's buzzwords) and "people who think they are going to be handed everything they need." I asked whether people who marched on behalf of abortion cleaned up after themselves, and I was told that no one knew, but that "Pro-Life marchers always clean up."

I then asked if homosexual marchers cleaned up, and that brought the conversation to a thoughtful stop for a moment. One person said she didn't know, as she had never been to a homosexual march, and another said, "Oh, I think they would clean up!"

We are a very neat people. And if you are really lucky we divide all the perennials before we go home to sodomize each other.

Please consider that moment of cynicism as the kind of humor that often follows a complex and deeply disturbing experience. That said, it's really good discipline to get out among people you disagree with violently, to just listen to them and to try to understand that these are real people and not some figment of Rachel Maddow's imagination. Although it would have been tempting to push some of the conversations further, I don't think it would have been very smart to get into an argument with anyone, and I'm glad I didn't. It would have been confusing too: while the media and the Republican party may want to bill this as an anti-health care march, as someone who was on the ground, I have to tell you that this was but one of many issues. Furthermore, few people had any sense of what they wanted from a health care system except that it not encroach on their freedom; that they not lose the right to refuse medical care that the government might force on them (like vaccinations, abortion and suicide); and that people who can't pay for health care, for whatever reason, don't deserve it and shouldn't have it. I almost became convinced that health care reform is not, in a funny way, even their issue. On the right you can see a disabled woman in a wheelchair, who may have been there because she truly believes the government will put her to death. She was one of several disabled people I saw who apparently oppose any health care bill the President or the Democratic Party might come up with that is intended to prevent the insurance companies from fiscally raping them or shutting them out altogether. There were other marchers whose health is clearly precarious: elderly folks, smokers, the overweight, people soldiering on with canes, oxygen tanks, scoliated spines and missing limbs. Mysteriously, to me at least, they too oppose better, cheaper and more accessible health care; meanwhile, many of their fellow marchers will tell you that people who smoke, who are fat, who "make bad choices," don't deserve any breaks.

I would say that the spine of this protest is not any well considered opposition to health care, but to taxes, and to the idea of government itself. This is not news, but I did want to emphasize that I am aware of this. How we pave roads and fight Holy Wars against the Taliban without government is not clear to me, but my guess is that those are details that would naturally resolve themselves if we could just get the yoke of bureaucracy off our necks. One of the pamphlets I picked up was from FairTax.org, which proposes to run what is left of the country, and the gargantuan military that right-wingers believe is indispensable to preserving "our freedoms," through sales taxes. The IRS would be abolished! "No Income, Payroll, AMT, Corporate, Estate, Capital Gains, Interest of Dividend Taxes; Keep your whole paycheck -- No withholding." Astonishingly, they also have a plan to tax "illegal and underground economies." But everyone else was there too: the anti-abortion folks; the gun folks; the anti-sodomy folks, the birthers, the anti-immigration folks, the home schoolers, the prayer-in-schoolers, and the folks who are always telling you the end is near. There was one person carrying a sign with his three issues, none of which had to do with health care: "The CIA protects our freedoms; End forced abortions; Child molesters deserve life in prison." Another sign read: "Thank you FOX News, for telling the Truth!"

I am sure the Republicans will try to bill this as "the people" rejecting "the President's proposals," but take it from me -- there was something far more opaque and interesting going on than that. I think the Republicans are holding on to these shock troops by a thread, and perhaps not at all. Astonishingly, one theme that seems to be emerging (and it is particularly prominent in a DVD I was given that contains two short films, The Obama Deception and America: From Freedom to Fascism) is that there is no difference between Obama and George W. Bush, a fantasy that I thought was the exclusive purview of Ralph Nader and Alexander Cockburn. One sign that pictured Obama as the Anti-Christ, when flipped, displayed Bush as the Anti-Christ. In fact, the Obama victory is proof-positive of the conspiracy that this right wing fringe has warned us about since the 1930s. In this apocalyptic scenario, Obama's election is part of the Wall Street plot to bring America to its knees, and now it appears that George W. Bush was a critical agent in that plot. This was a very interesting discovery. Indeed, if you go to Freedom's Phoenix, who produced the films above, our hero, Congressman Joe Wilson, is revealed as a "hypocrite" who voted for health care for illegal immigrants in 2003. (I wouldn't take this to the bank: Freedom's Phoenix also hints that Barack Obama may be involved in the Kennedy assassination cover up, and that MRI brain scans can detect a tendency to "freeload" that could then be corrected through medical intervention.)

There's more, but I think you get the picture. Here's the good news: a group that is so internally fractured, unfocused and opposed to the political system is not a powerful interest group but a Frankenstein monster. These folks hate the Republicans too, and I think a lot of them are disappointed Goldwaterites for whom the conservative revolution that we historians are so fascinated by never happened. Their history is a story of decline, and of brave individuals fighting back against freeloaders, financiers and foreigners. "Everything Barack Obama says means something different," The Obama Deception warns, For the Teabag people, this is a lesson to be learned more broadly about a political class that, from their perspective, only pretends to be a two party system. When they protest big government," they are not Republicans, or even conservatives in the conventional sense of the word. They are defenders of personal liberty against a one party state linked to a secret global system, a state that floods a nation of good white working people with illegal immigrants and freeloading welfare cheats, chuckling relentlessly about how they are fooling all of us.

I want to thank the people who shared their stories with me today, and those who agreed to have their photographs taken to document this march on Tenured Radical.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Just Say No (But Not To Me): Achieving Balance in Your Work

I wish I had a dollar for every time in my career at Zenith that, upon noticing or being told pointedly how many responsibilities I have, a senior colleague or administrator has said: "You just have to learn to say no."

It makes me want to punch them. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Sometimes it is said in a genuine attempt to be helpful: "Perhaps," my colleague is thinking, "TR doesn't know that she isn't expected to respond to every last living human being who asks her for something, and I need to reassure her that it would be OK to say no to many of the things people are asking her to do." Sometimes (and the older you get, the more likely it is that the message is delivered in this spirit) it is patronizing. The colleague is saying some version of, "No wonder you haven't finished that book yet -- don't blame the rest of us if you haven't learned time management skills, and if you choose to waste your energies on everything but your scholarship!" Sometimes the churlish colleague in question is someone who is working at least as hard as I am and hates being reminded of it; sometimes it is someone who comes to work two days a week between 1:00 and 4:00.

In either case, the message that if you are overworked you should Just Say No rests on three assumptions: that it is universally understood what constitutes a reasonable work load in one's institution, as well as a reasonable balance between teaching, colleagueship and scholarship (not); that your overload is really a compliment and a sign that you are a superb colleague (true dat); and that you should say no to everyone but the colleague in your presence who will probably ask you to do something in a week or so.

The dilemma escalates on the day you wake up and realize that your choices are not really the issue here, and that the work load in your institution is not distributed in any kind of an equitable, thoughtful or even well-managed way. In fact you have more students and advisees because other faculty have fewer; you serve on more committees because other people serve on fewer; you chair things because other people don't know how and/or don't wish to learn. Here's a news flash: when the active hand of management (something we academics deplore universally on the theory that the freer we are the better off everyone is) fails to organize our workplace equitably, committees, students, and advising have a tendency to distribute themselves, much as free radicals find a place to settle down and cause cancer after roaming the body for a spell. Some people do a ton of work -- others, not so much. I have colleagues who are at their desks five days a week; I have colleagues that come in once a week. I have colleagues who work into the summer to get everything done; I have colleagues who give an exam a week or so before the semester ends and leave the country.

If any attention is called by those who are working hardest to those who are making themselves unavailable, shrieks about academic freedom, child care, and commuting rend the land (despite the great number of people with small children, or who are in commuting relationships, who do manage to come to work.) At the risk of annoying the hard-working parents who do come to work and carry a fair load with the rest of us, I need to ask: if you have a child and I don't, and we get paid the same salary, why am I doing your work for you? I didn't have children because I wanted the time: instead, I got no child and I got no time. You get someone to help you navigate the nursing home, I'll end up with a big bottle of Klonopin mixed in a bowl of ice cream.

What is worse, instead of recognizing that there is a problem, those who are working hardest are often targeted as the problem. Either you walk through the Looking Glass, where you are reassured that people who have five advisees are doing just as much work as you, who have forty; or your forty advisees reveals you as a masochist and a complainer: "You just have to learn to say no, I'm afraid," you are told. But how many advisees should I have? you think. And what is supposed to happen to the advisees I got because their last advisor doesn't hold regular office hours? Or the students I got because, even though there were spaces in other classes, they weren't allowed to enroll because they were not there on the first day?

The Just Say No (to everyone but me) issue is a problem that, frankly, untenured people, adjuncts and visitors are not responsible for managing; and that achieving tenure can make worse, not better. If you belong to the untenured masses, it is not unreasonable -- nor does it represent a failure of maturity -- to choose a senior colleague, even better the department or program chair, to help you manage the demands on your time. How many advisees is reasonable? How many students should you take over the stated limit, if any? If you agree to non-departmental obligations when they coincide with intellectual, institutional or political interests of yours, will the department understand that it is part of your overall load, or will your colleagues add on departmental tasks regardless of your overall work load?

But I would like to emphasize that the Just Say No philosophy misses the larger point of how poorly understood and ill-managed the average work load of the average faculty member is. Many colleges and university faculties, committed as we are to a model of scholarship that is predominantly individualistic, spend little time thinking about what constitutes a reasonable work load, as well as how (and by who) it should be assigned, monitored and evaluated. What does remain constant are expectations about scholarly production: in other words, regardless of how many committees you are on, advisees you have, enrollments and/or overloads you are juggling, every person who is coming up for an evaluation -- whether it is promotion to tenure, to full professor or for annual merit raises -- is expected to have moved forward in hir scholarship in approximately the same way and to a similar standard of excellence.

Therefore, it is a not infrequent phenomenon that those who work hardest for the institution reap the fewest material benefits because they publish at a slower pace. Ironically, they often acquire tremendous respect from those other colleagues who are working equally hard, are viewed as really good citizens, capable people, and the sort who you really want to have around when solving a problem, running a tenure case, or starting up a new project. If you are an energetic, responsible teacher, you will also feel the love. Students will be drawn to you, and will beg to enroll in your classes: as a reward for your achievements in the classroom, you will have higher enrollments, more students wanting you as an advisor, and more recommendations to write.

The rewards inherent to being respected by others, and the feeling of being truly valuable to an enterprise, is seductive, and for good reason. Colleges and universities could not get the work done without people like you-- particularly since they are unwilling to set expectations for those who do less than their share of the teaching and advising, or who are indifferent to how others inside the university perceive them. And most important -- you can have a career as a writer without an academic appointment. But many of us fought our way through a difficult job market, often taking jobs that were less prestigious than we might have wanted, and in places we wouldn't live by choice, because we are committed to a teaching life. If you love students, when they also seem to love you, on what grounds would you send them away?

But -- do you need to learn to Just Say No? Alas, yes. But how would that happen?

Well first of all, I have to tell a brutal truth that administrators and faculty colleagues know but cannot, for a variety of reasons, publicly acknowledge: those of us who overwork are covering up for and enabling those who under perform. Most universities have no mechanism for forcing tenured people teach better, teach more, show up at office hours, give students responsible advice about their program of study, or do the committee work they have been assigned. Certainly they have no mechanism that is not going to make the entire faculty, especially those who are already overworked and fear the loss of the choices they do not yet exercise, from rising up and rending their garments. So what do you do, dear?

Teaching. Meet with your chair to establish a reasonable cap for your class that also bears some reasonable relationship to average enrollments in the department. If possible, ask if you can see last semester's final enrollments with the names of colleagues removed. Then stick to your cap, no matter what.

Major Advising. Ask your department's administrative assistant how many majors there are in the department, or in your field within the department, then divide by the number of faculty available to serve them that semester. If you are in a program as well, do the same thing. Add them together. Then call the registrar, find out how many upper-level students are registered in the college as a whole, and how many advisors are available; divide total number of students by total number of faculty. This is the critical number that you must not exceed by more than one or two students: trim your advising load in the department and/or program to meet this second sum by asking your chair to reassign students, or not taking on new advisees when the ones you have graduate.

Non-major Advising. This is a burden that is theoretically equitable (in other words, total number of first and, in the case of Zenith where students do not declare until the spring of their sophomore year, second-year students divided by advisors available.) But guess what happens? Starting on day two or three of advising, new students begin to vote with their feet, and this process continues as they begin to figure out what good advising is supposed to look like. If the resident advisors know your excellent reputation, or are actually your advisees, in their role of helping students settle in, they will encourage students who are getting haphazard or impersonal treatment to seek you out. Worse, your advisees will return to the dorm glowing about you while their hall mates are trying to decide whether to re-pack now and take a chance on community college. The glowing ones will helpfully redirect their friends your way. Once I had a (large) young man on Zenith's plucky football team assigned to me as a sophomore, and he came back to ask if I would mind talking to some of his friends, who had been more or less told by their advisors that football players were not worth their very valuable time. Needless to say, this made them feel crummy and unwanted. That year, I ended up advising the starting offensive line, a lovely group of (large) young men who went on to be very successful. Their former advisors, having behaved atrociously and unprofessionally, had fewer advisees.

Committees. I have a highly ideological, and controversial, position on this one. Committee assignments should be rotated, not elected, except in very rare cases. What I see at Zenith is two phenomena, at least one of which will be familiar to you. The first is that certain committees require certain skills, and rather than elect colleagues who have not demonstrated those skills yet, the faculty will repeatedly elect the same people to serve on these difficult, demanding committees. The second phenomenon is that scholars self-sort into categories marked "Competent" and "Incompetent," usually by choice. People with pride sort into "Competent," and people who value their time more than their reputations sort into "Incompetent." Demonstrating one's supposed incompetence is a strategy masked as involuntary helplessness: the incompetent establish their potentially Kryptonite contributions to any enterprise by being late, by missing meetings without explanation, by failing to do what they said they would and generally by demonstrating in word and deed that they are not to be trusted. However purposeful this behavior is, being incompetent assumes the kind of naturalness as a category that Foucault so eloquently introduced us to way back in the twentieth century. Conversely, people who are judged competent are seen to be naturally endowed with the ability to get vast amounts of work done gracefully and well.

This is an absurd situation, in my view, for at least one glaring reason: a colleague who is blowing off other colleagues is likely to be doing the same to hir students and advisees; furthermore, doing committee work is considerably less challenging than teaching and writing books, but we expect everyone to teach well and to write. Having done it twice, I can testify that the administrative responsibilities required to be a department or program chair, for example, meet the basic minimum standard of organization and responsibility required of a prep school senior; the politeness and concern for others of a camp counselor; the capacity to run a budget of the average propertied citizen; and the ability to process work in a timely fashion of an administrative assistant. It is harder to staff a company of Marines at Camp Pendleton than it is to run a department, and sergeants barely out of high school do it very, very well, even when being occasionally bombarded by rockets in Anbar Province.

How might we solve this problem? By creating a new ethic based on an assumption that we all share as educators: people are teachable. A special effort might be made to teach tenured faculty who are doing their jobs poorly to do them better, perhaps by assigning a peer to work with them who would convey by example and instruction the standard that needs to be met over time. People who resist raising their standard might be asked to undergo career counseling to help them transition to another line of work that would encourage them to -- well, come to work and do work when they are there.

But we also need to start from the ground up by recognizing that most institutions of higher education expect faculty to learn their jobs by osmosis. In recent years, there has been more attention to the most visible work we do, which is teaching, but little attention to all the institutional work faculty do that supports the teaching mission. Few institutions have any structured way of training faculty to perform the executive work that we so zealously claim as our privilege -- curriculum, hiring, tenure, budget -- to a high standard. I would suggest that all faculty in their first year be given a course off. In lieu of that course, they would attend seminars in which the workings of the university and its committees is explained to them, they would learn to write grants and make use of university resources designed to enhance their careers, and they would be asked at various points to shadow the work of an administrator, committee chair or department chair, as well as spend at least one complete day with the President and the Provost. This process should be repeated after tenure, with the added mandate of teaching newly senior faculty how to mentor junior colleagues responsibly, review colleagues for tenure and reappointment, manage a budget and balance their new responsibilities in the institution with the enhanced recognition and challenges they will be encountering as senior scholars. This would accomplish three things at least: it might relieve the mystery of how the university works for the newest faculty, it would allow new faculty to meet colleagues and administrators across the university and understand what they contribute to the teaching enterprise, and it would deliver a set of expectations about how to do one's work well.

So my advice is: you may need to say no, and you may need to figure out how to achieve an equitable work load by yourself, turning a deaf ear (and a deaf ego) to those who claim that only you can solve their problems, staff their committee, write their recommendations. But if you are in a position of power, start saying yes. Yes to institutional solutions to overloads that are controllable. Yes to raising expectations for some and lowering expectations for those who are working the hardest. And yes to a university that, in the end, will work better for everyone.