Thursday, November 16, 2006

Marching Through The Archives

Well, there was less for breakfast this morning because the entire Clemson swimming and diving team, men and women, are staying at the Hampton Inn. They are all incredibly tall, except for the women divers, who are incredibly short, and they all hoover up food. My theory is that that the "Lady Tiger" divers are gymnasts and figure skaters who, to someone's dismay, actually went into puberty, with the result that they look healthy and happy.

But this leads me to another issue: manners of the young. Every time I leave the Northeast, which I experience pretty much through the student populations of Zenith and Oligarch Universities, the young people are nicer, cleaner and more respectful of total strangers who happen to be adults. Perhaps it is a sign of middle age that I have come to value this, but I don't care. For example, the dining room this morning was really crowded with very big kids. And yet they managed not to take up all the room, made space for other people (two athletes actually crowded in with their friends at another table so I would have a place to sit), and cleaned up after themselves.

My research -- which is on feminists and the modern conservative movement in the Reagan eighties -- takes me to all kinds of places where I actually, for a short time, live among people whose parents I am writing about. Last year I went to a Christian college in the Midwest to work in the archives of a prominent national evangelist, and the students there were unbelievably sweet and decent people. They held doors for each other and for me, they were affectionate and polite with each other (do you know Christian boys hug a lot? They do.) They didn't run around making noise to get attention, like the kids at Zenith often do. And they were extremely courteous in their speech, and dressed neatly without large parts of their bodies hanging out (what is it about stomachs hanging out all over? And tube tops in Northeastern winters?)

When I came home from the Christian College, people asked me if I didn't feel weird there -- and you have to get it that I am the kind of lesbian you can not only pick out of a crowd, and I am not infrequently mistaken for a man, depending on what I am wearing and how short my hair is and what the gender conventions are in the location I am in. And the truth is I did feel weird, to begin with, but honestly -- I think it was me, not them, and it was a reminder that good manners go a very long way to put differences on the shelf and create superficial, comfortable relationships. Which is also, by the way, a reminder of why in many of the local cultures that make up "America" people regard folks being publicly gay as more or less bad manners, since if you didn't insist on being "in their faces" they could treat you as if you were a normal person like they really want to. This is how people like Mark Foley, and other highly placed Republican queers get along happily for years. It is a contract of sorts, although not one that sits comfortably with civil rights or the kind of full, personal disclosure that the culture is often simultaneously demanding and saying it values.

Combat Philosopher said in a comment I should go further South --- indeed I will, since part of what I am interested in is southern left feminism and right-wing feminism (no, this is not an oxymoron, people -- leave Chicago and the coasts and you'll see.) In the next few months I do a reverse of the March, and go to Clemson, then Atlanta. And yes CP, I haven't been to New Orleans since Katrina, and I miss it. Hope y'all are well down there and I'm very glad the hurricanes didn't show up this year. And here comes another truck of archive boxes.....


Anonymous said...

Having been one of those nice Christian boys in the 80s, I can tell why we hugged a lot...It was touching we were allowed to do. That and football. And people wonder why I'm interested in sex, sexuality, and performance.

But seriously, do you find that there's a correlation between all of this politeness and a perhaps overly healthy respect for authority and hierarchy? and is this problematic for you?

Tenured Radical said...


I do think there is a correlation: you are right. And I'm not sure where you draw your students from at BRU, but we at Zenith draw mainly on an upper-middle class to middle-class bunch who often perform, simultaneously, no respect for authority and a kind of weird submissiveness to power, claiming that they harbor tremendous fear that they will do something that will cause their upward and onward path in life to be blocked. An example: as someone who teaches queer studies, I have noticed that hte same group of students will, on the one hand, demonstrate, sometimes in vile and rude ways, for the creation of a separate department for queer studies -- and then won't actually take any of the numerous courses in the curriculum unless they are offered under some euphemistic title, for fear that a future employer or a parent will see it.

Of course you are right -- all that repression is not nice at all, and the coercion at Christian schools is so much greater than I could certainly bear as a faculty member (hell, they wouldn't hire me!) Part of what I als think about is how we could have a radical pedagogical relationship to students (you suggest in one of your own posts how great it would be to teach without coercion!) and ensure civility at the same time.

Horace said...

Don't get me wrong...I like polite people and civil discourse. But sometimes the stepfordesque nature of a lot of my experiences as a Jesus Camp-er make me really suspicious of the underpinnings of ostentatious courteousness (which I think of, for some reason, as different from actual courtesy).