Family Vacation for a few days. Back late Sunday!
There’s been a lot of focus lately on Crisis Intervention Training for police officers. It’s being billed as an antidote to the failures of police to handle situations involving mental illness. Maryland just became the first state to mandate it state-wide for all officers, thanks to the work of the #JusticeForEthan movement. I’ll be writing more about it over the summer, but here’s a single anecdote from the Boston area.
Earlier this month, Somerville Police Officers Alan Monaco and Timothy Sullivan responded to a call about a fight between two young men. They found one of them, Mike, in an agitated state.
“He started flipping out — get your effing hands off me, don’t touch me!” Monaco recalled. “He was up and down, he would be screaming and yelling one minute, nice and talking and smoking cigarettes the next. We talked about what the issue is; he said the other kid said something detrimental about his mother, and his mother’s sick, and he spit in his face.”
Coincidentally, the two Somerville officers had just been in a training session on mental disorders — including Asperger’s, one of Mike’s diagnoses. So they knew people with Asperger’s can be hyper-sensitive about being touched and insensitive about how close to get to other people. Like Mike, who got far too close to the officers when he talked to them, right up into their faces.
“Normally for a police officer, if you invade our space, we have a safety zone where we don’t want people close to us,” Monaco said. “I would have pushed him away. I would have physically pushed him off me.”
Instead of getting physical, the officers just let Mike talk, and rant, and spit, and de-escalate. No one went to jail. No one got beaten. This is the opposite of the cult of compliance. I’m genuinely optimistic about this training as a pathway forward for us, not just in terms of disability, but in general what it looks like when you have a police force trained to empathize, to guard, not to be warriors.
We’ll keep watching.
I write a lot about privilege and I have a lot of privilege. I’ve long argued that it’s important to be very thoughtful when writing about academic labor while tenured, gender while male, race while white, disability while able-bodied, and so forth.
When writing about a given power dynamic, I often have the power by virtue of my race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. And yet, I really do want to engage on these important issues. What to do?
My response was to come up with some guidelines, writing first about gender (my rules for male feminist discourse) then academic privilege. In the wake of #UCSB, I’ve been watching men talk, even men who take the label of feminist, perhaps especially men who call themselves feminists, who could really use these rules.
For example, here are two posts on Charles Clymer, who has said some amazingly offensive things in pursuit of his perfect male feminism. Some of the issues here aren’t new, but they have re-emerged in recent days. Here’s one particularly telling quote:
“Stephanie, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that, apparently, no one has had the guts to tell you up to this point in your life: having a vagina does not grant you magical powers of perception and nuance anymore than my penis magically blinds me from the horrors of the world.
This may, I guess, have some truth in it. Our genitalia does not necessarily determine our degree of knowledge. And yet, our gender identity does position us on various power spectra that come into play here.
So for Mr. Clymer and anyone else who need it, it feels like it might be a good time to revisit my rules, with a few revisions.
- Don’t talk at all. Listen for awhile.
- It’s not about you (it’s about the people with less privilege)
- It’s sometimes about you (i.e. it’s very important that men talk to men about rape)
- It’s always about them, so amplify their voices.
- When you speak, don’t expect gratitude and take criticism graciously.
Men have a crucial place in this conversation. But instead of asserting it, I try to ask those who are disadvantaged by the power dynamics what would they like from me? Sometimes, I get told to listen. Sometimes, I get told to call out sexism when I see it. Sometimes, I get told there is in fact no place for me in this conversation. I think that’s wrong, but by understanding the privilege at play, thinking about my rules, I let such things go.
My advice for Mr. Clymer, which is clearly too late, is this – When you have privilege, sometimes people will get angry at you, be rude to you. It will feel unfair. It may be unfair. Be gracious. If you are a male feminist, there will be women who are deeply angry at men, who just want men to shut up, or more reasonably want men to allow women to have their own conversation without you. And you will REALLY REALLY want to insert yourself into the conversation, to show that you are a great ally, that you really get it, that not all men are bad, and that maybe you even understand feminism better than lots of other women!
|Not Nico’s Actual Bus|
“It’s so sad when people have special needs.”
A caring, sweet, 4th-grader said this to me at the bus stop a few minutes ago. My son and I crossed the street, running and laughing, happy. Then he asked me to go see a dog that was being walked across the grass, I said no, we had to go get in line for the bus, so he said no to me, and then pouted. Nico is really developing his pout lately.
The girl, M, came over and reached out her hands to Nico asking if she could help. He said, passionately, “No!” Then she turned to me and smiled and said, “It’s so sad when people have special needs.”
It’s one of those moments when, as a parent, words fall with a kind of physical force. It’s not that they hurt, at least not in this case, but for me my whole body tenses in these kinds of interactions. I know, or I suspect, that I’m hitting a moment in which I might shape language, perception, action, reaction, and more – not just for my son, but for anyone this child interacts with who has special needs, and her friends and family.
If I handle it right, I hope, I might help build a more inclusive society and I might even manage to erode the gap between help and friendship (seriously, follow that link. It’s really interesting).
I said, “I don’t think having special needs is sad. I think it can be sad when people with special needs don’t get the help they need, and even worse when they don’t have a good community of friends and family around them.”
M. thought about this and said, “I used to help my grandpa. He was in a wheelchair because of the war and his leg.”
I replied, “Exactly, and imagine if he didn’t have you and your family and his friends not just to help push his chair, but to be his granddaughter, to be his friends, and to make sure he has what he needs. And if our community didn’t build wheelchair ramps or automatic doors, so he couldn’t have moved around.”
She nodded. Then the bus came and I had to get my surly boy onto his feet and onto the bus, which he did with only mild protest, surrounding by his aide and three girls, M, F and H, with G waiting for him on the bus.
I’m not quite satisfied with my answer, but I’ll keep working on it.
Two other stories about inclusion and the girls who go to school with my son. And yeah, it’s pretty much the girls, a sign of the ways that girls are pushed towards caregiving early, but that’s another essay.
I’ve written about H before, back on the first days of school, when she included herself with Nico in a way that made me weep. She comes over and has playdates sometimes, and while she and my daughter have a beautiful big-sister/little-sister relationship, she’s never satisfied just playing with Ellie for all my daughter provides her with an imaginative hyperverbal playmate for their games. Instead, every few minutes, she breaks away to go find Nico and see if she can bring him in. Sometimes, it works. On Sunday, the three kids sat huddled in a corner of couch passing two ipads around, giggling and happy. It was so powerfully inclusive, especially given that Nico had refused to participate in my daughter’s birthday party earlier that day (too many kids, too loud, too hot).
F, on the other hand, lives across the street, but I haven’t really processed her relationship with Nico. She’s quiet, or at least a bunch of the other neighborhood kids are really loud. Two Fridays ago, though, Nico’s aide wasn’t on the bus and F was one of the girls who volunteered to help. It didn’t go well at all, but everyone made it home safely.
Monday morning, though, I saw F with a plastic bag with little rectangles of paper, pencil drawings, and words written on it. I asked her what they were and discovered that she was trying to replicate one of the communication systems that the teachers and aides use for Nico. They carry a bunch of communication cards (bathroom, thirsty, desk, marker, etc. They look more or less like this.) to supplement the use of an Ipad-based communication program. F decided to make her own cards. As near as I can tell, no one told her to do this or helped her – she just observed what the teachers were doing and decided to generate her own assistive technology.
So, M, thinking more about the community in which my son lives, I can say pretty strongly that it is not so sad when people have special needs. Thanks to you and his other friends who are trying to do their best to create a more inclusive society. I’ll do what I can to help you.
|A representation of possible
intersections. Not representative of Rodger.
The murders in California and the subsequent #YesAllWomen hashtag (an overview) have, appropriately, dominated my social media world since it happened. For some, the murder is a clear call to action – but to act where? How? For others, the response has been to shrug, to say, “it’s complicated,” or just to say the guy was crazy, it’s tragic, but what can we actually do?
Who is to know, such voices ask, why he did it and what we ought to do in response? For some, this shrug of “what can we do?” is genuine. For others, though, it’s a strategy to keep attention OFF of misogyny or gun violence, in particular (two fields relevant to this crime on which large groups of people do not want attention focused). “The shrug,” as I’m calling it, serves the pro-gun and misogynistic status quo.
It turns out, though, that feminist theory has (since the late 80s) come up with a way to proceed through this morass of fields, ideas, and complexities: intersectionality.
I hesitate mentioning the feminist origin of this concept, as it will immediately turn some people away, but perhaps that’s important to acknowledge as well. It emerged as a way of talking primarily about race, class, and gender together, then sexuality, and now any other relevant field. It allows us to say – today, I am focused on one topic, but I acknowledge the others exist. More importantly, I see that they interact.
I see clear arguments to make the UCSB killings about misogyny, about guns, about class, about mental illness. And that’s why the concept of intersectionality is so important – it allows us, when confronted with life, which is always complicated, to get past the almighty shrug.
Intersectional thinking allows us to:
…take his misogynistic words and link them to other groups who say the same things, and say that perhaps these trends in our culture matter, but that we tend not to notice the quotidian horrors and only the extraordinary, and maybe think about what it might take to classify such as hate groups and how we might want to respond after that, given that MRAs (Men’s Rights Activist – here’s a not-objective primer on the movement) and their ilk have regular access to mainstream discourse (as opposed to white power, for example)
…think about the limitations of psychiatric care and how we might do better with people experiencing these kinds of issues and try to better integrate, if that was indeed his needs.
….think about the complexities of class privilege, race, bullying and all the other categories that intersected in this lone, deranged, killer.
Then ask – in which of these fields might we reasonably do better?
I personally have spent many hours in my context as a writer about gender talking to MRAs, trying to see their side of the story, trying to find common ground. I wonder if it’s time to shift and deal with them as I do antisemites and the white power folks who, like MRAs, do sometimes notice real problems with their lives but blame them on the wrong things and inspire fringe members to direct acts of terror.
Intersectionality matters. We can focus on the controlling ideology of misogyny that underlies this particular crime without losing sight of the intersections.
In case you aren’t convinced, here’s another way of looking at it:
On Saturday, three people were shot at a Jewish Museum in Brussels. There may be many things involved with the shooter, but it’s reasonable to suspect antisemitism is part of the cause. A month or so ago three people were shot near Jewish community center in Kansas City. It was reasonable to suspect antisemitism was the cause, and it was, even though one can certainly argue the killer was mentally ill and could have done the killings without firearms, and even though he actually killed Christians.
It’s necessary, in the wake of such killings, to think about the ways that antisemitism is replicated in our country and what we might do to change attitudes.
In Isla Vista, a man said misogynistic things – he hated women, he hated men who had access to women – and then he killed people. Like the killers in Kansas City and Brussels, we can note that other factors matter.
Note: heavily updated with an explanation of intersectionality after 10:00 CST 5/26:
It’s Sunday and it’s my birthday. Here’s my blog post.
I wrote good stuff this week. Please go read it and share it. 🙂 I published three essays – Chronicle on being a working dad, CNN on trigger warnings, and Chronicle Vitae on labor identity for full-time faculty, which is a record for me. All of these are themes to which I will return frequently in the year ahead.
- I wrote about Scorn in the Trigger Warning/Commencement debate – Resources: Scorn
- I wrote about avoiding the phrase “last acceptable” when talking about prejudiece in – The Last Acceptable Prejudice is ________.
- I added on to my essay on labor identity from Vitae: Work is Work!
- I added on to my essay on Academic fatherhood from the Chronicle: Awww, What a Good Father
- I added in to my essay from CNN on Trigger Warnings: Trigger Warnings Continued
- Still more on my essay on Academic Fatherhood from the Chronicle: Working Dad
- And a collection of Resources: Trigger Warnings in the Classroom
If as professors, we just teach empathetically and respectfully, and think about what is our material and who our students are, I do feel that we’re going to take care of a lot of these cases before it comes up.
To some extent students are taking responsibility, it’s students who are driving this conversation who are asking for these policies. And we need to listen to them. That doesn’t mean we have to enact the policy that they are requesting, but we do have to be very open to the conversation and think about what’s happening in our classroom.
As an off-the-cuff remark, I’m pretty pleased with that. Approach conversations as dialogue, meet people with respect, and we’ll accomplish a lot in trying to be good humans.
Thank you, as always, for reading. Next week I am probably on semi-break as I work on footnotes. I do have a dozen essays I want to write, but I really need to do these notes.
And now, Venice cake.
|Not actually my cake!|
I’m working on a piece about the various ways that writers about higher education, especially those within the academy, write about students with absolute disdain. Here are some of the responses to the Trigger Warning and Commencement issue, both filled with scorn and not getting it.
Maybe not, for such unfamiliar and provocative views might make them, precious as they are, feel unwelcome, excluded, even distressed. And they surely don’t want that. Let’s face it. A growing portion of today’s student population, at least on elite campuses, holds expectations that are both schizy and spoiled: They should be free to do absolutely anything they want without institutional barriers or interference of any kind, yet the institution must protect them from every conceivable sort of harm or upset. Try to thread that needle. While you’re at it, write a very large check to pay for your child’s opportunity to benefit from four years in such a high-status center of learning.
There’s another conservative voice, “No Wonder Putin Sneers at Us” from a non-educator who makes much the same argument.
What a bunch of titty babies American college students can be. Who spends $50,000 per year to send their kid to a college where they are coddled like mental invalids? These aren’t institutions of higher learning; these are sanitariums. These Special Little Snowflakes are going to be as bunnies in the gator pit when they hit the real world.
“Titty” babies.” Mental invalids? It’s interesting how Finn, with “schizy,” and this author, with “invalids,” relies on such language to talk about something that is in fact about mental trauma.
Jonah Goldberg, of the American Enterprise Institute, does some similar work in the LA Times, writing:
I can sympathize. But this way leads to madness.
And what a strange madness it is. We live in a culture in which it is considered bigotry to question whether women should join combat units — but it is also apparently outrageous to subject women of the same age to realistic books and films about war without a warning? Even questioning the ubiquity of degrading porn, never mind labeling music or video games, is denounced as Comstockery, but labeling “The Iliad” makes sense?
I do wish these people would make up their mind. Alas, that’s hard to do when you’ve lost it.
The psychologist Michael Hurd, in “Is Academia Going Mad,” ruins some interesting points when he writes:
Why is it automatically and always assumed that people wish to be taken care of, fussed over or given special attention because of their victimization? In my experience, people actually want just the opposite. They’ve been put upon enough and they don’t wish to draw even more attention to their problem. It’s not that they’re ashamed. They’re desperately looking for a way to move on, and being given an Official Victim Permission Slip in order to make some vapid college undergraduate feel superior does not help them
“Vapid college undergraduate feel superior.”
In The Stranger, we get “not about protecting delicate flowers from the sadz”
Salon calls it “dumbing down education.”
In the New Yorker, Jay Caspian King is really upset that someone told him Lolita is about the systematic rape of the young girl, because it distracts him from Nabokov’s amazing sentences. I’m not really sure how to respond to that.
Then there’s the strange argument: Life doesn’t come with TWs, so why should the classroom? Professors who think their classroom is “life” are, I believe, not thinking about the complexities of their highly mediated environment.
Karen Prior comes out against empathy in The Atlantic.
Meanwhile, in the commencement story front, we see some similar patterns. Stephen Carter, law prof at Yale, writes in a spoof address:
And, before I go any further, I would like to express my personal thanks to all of you for not rescinding my invitation. I know that matters were dicey for a while, given that I have held and defended actual positions on politically contested issues. Now and then I’ve strayed from the party line. And if the demonstrators would quiet down for a moment, I’d like to offer an abject apology for any way in which I have offended against the increasingly narrow and often obscure values of the academy.
In my day, the college campus was a place that celebrated the diversity of ideas. Pure argument was our guide. Staking out an unpopular position was admired — and the admiration, in turn, provided excellent training in the virtues of tolerance on the one hand and, on the other, integrity.
At Haverford, William Bowen, former president at Princeton, did Carter one better. Carter was an op-ed for Bloomberg. Bowen actually scolded the graduating seniors:
A commencement speaker at Pennsylvania’s Haverford College called college students “immature” and “arrogant” Sunday for protesting a different speaker who ultimately withdrew.
Bowen and Carter are criticized nicely here on “Dad’s Rule.”
Then there’s Matt Bai, who ultimately blames us for being too soft on our kids.
America’s college kids are back and resting at home this week, which is a good thing, because during the long months away they seem to have gone completely out of their minds.
Bowen talks about Vietnam war protests. Bai talks about PC protests. These were “real” debates. More on that later.
UPDATE: From the Wall Street Journal, this diatribe. I can’t even quote it, as the whole thing says – students are babies, parents and employers will thank me for being cruel, and you humanities professors (i.e. me) are semi/post-literate.
So, what did I miss?
Brief rant: 1) Nothing is EVER the “last acceptable” anything. There are multiple types of prejudice at work in pretty much every situation.
— David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) May 20, 2014
2) Calling something “last acceptable” is a way of saying no one is paying attention to your cause! But it’s not needed.
— David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) May 20, 2014
I think those four tweets say it pretty clearly. I link to two higher ed pieces. Both pick an issue – rural and religion – that imply the following. Higher Education may still contain prejudiced people about all kinds of things (race, gender, sexuality, for example), but those “mainstream” prejudices are at least not broadly acceptable. MY CAUSE, whatever it is, remains under the radar – it’s the last acceptable prejudice we hav to deal with.
People, there are lots of prejudices. Some of them are more called out than others. Some of them in fact need to be rendered more visible. None of them are “last.” I wish it were otherwise.
I am by far NOT the first person to notice this. s.e. smith wrote a great post in 2013 that said (focused on the widespread use of “last acceptable” in regards to obesity):
The phrase keeps popping up, over and over and over again, in a wide variety of media, and it often remains unchallenged; I see it coming up in quotes, in titles, in lengthy essays, with minimal pushback. When Tasha Fierce confronted it at Bitch magazine a few years ago, people seemed genuinely surprised and offended when she said she didn’t agree that fat was bigotry’s last stand.
Later, smith adds [my emphasis]:
There’s a bigger issue at play here, which is the genuine belief that something is the ‘last acceptable prejudice’ in a world full of prejudicial attitudes. People use this phrasing because they think it’s true, and because they think it furthers their activism, and in the process, they do a lot of damage, in addition to making themselves look absolutely ridiculous…
More than just being wrong, it’s also a classic example of setting marginalised groups against each other, rather than helping them work in solidarity, and it explains why intersectionality and an understanding of intersocial prejudices is so important. Because when people hear that ‘x is the last acceptable prejudice’ and they’re members of group y, what they’re hearing is that they don’t experience prejudice—which is in direct opposition to their personal lived experience of the world, and to what members of their social group know to be true.
I am focused on issues related to disability and gender, where they intersect and where they don’t. I recognize all other kinds of intersocial prejudices exist. I am a little more concerned about the visibility of disability issues. I do think people in higher ed, and elsewhere, are more aware of sexism than ableism. So I try to raise the profile there.
But it’s not the last anything.
When you are an activist and you see your issue being ignored, it’s frustrating. Fat jokes, class jokes, rural jokes, religious jokes (just to take a few) permeate our culture, even our leftist intellectual academic culture, giving the sense that they might be “acceptable.” That’s a good conversation to have, the ways in which our ignorance of difference might lead us to perpetuate discrimination and prejudice.
When we privilege one category over the other, though, we say that it is only our issue that needs attention. That we are the most oppressed. That you (collectively) are the most ignorant in regards to our cause. It’s not true. It is easy rhetoric to use, but it’s actually not all that savvy for building alliances and trying to shift language, perception, or policy.
As s.e. smith says – the pathway out of these “last acceptable” woods remains: intersectionality.
On International May Day I wrote a little hymn. I wrote:
Teaching is work. Programming is work. Scholarship is work. Science is work. Grading is work. Committee service is work.
Today Chronicle Vitae published a column on academic work as labor, as work.
It’s a linked column to this first piece on the language of adjunct labor. In that piece, I worked through a number of different ways in which adjunct advocates speak about their work, using the language of slave, sharecropper, or migrant laborer. I think this language is mistaken. But here’s how I finished the piece.
The issue here is not that writers are loosely deploying hyperbolic metaphors. The real problem is that adjuncts and their advocates believe the rest of us aren’t on their side.
We tut-tut and say it’s too bad, but then throw up our hands, blame the budgets, and let the system continue. Civil rights, slavery, sharecropping, migrant laborers—these are terms that evoke sympathy and demand action within the neoliberal world of higher education in ways that just calling adjuncts “temps” does not.
So let’s not be too quick to blame adjunct advocates for invoking historical inequities when trying to change the system. Instead, let’s question why such metaphors seem necessary. I propose that the plight of the adjunct lies squarely alongside that of a long-recognized historically oppressed group: the working class. Why are faculty so resistant to seeing themselves as labor who need to act in solidarity with the exploited adjuncts?
In my next column, I’ll look at what happens when we put all these metaphors aside and just look at adjunctification as a basic labor issue, one in which we all have a stake.
In today’s piece, I really just want to make a simple argument.
Work is work.
As academics, we know a lot about the nature of labor, the ebb and flow of power mostly up to management, but not always. We read about the changing nature of the workforce across the country, but for those enough of us lucky – and let’s be clear that luck is a huge part of it, there is no meritocracy – to be on the tenure-stream side of things, it’s hard to apply such lenses to ourselves.
I find it hard. Maybe you don’t. But plenty of other people see little connection between the plight of the adjunct and their own labor situation.
Work is work.
You are paid for your work. You should be paid for your work. Let’s apply the lens of “labor” to what we do in academia, to think of administration as management – maybe nice management, maybe trusted management, but management none the less.
I am very lucky in my job and my bosses. I trust them. But they are still my bosses (some of them read my blog! Hi there!). There’s nothing wrong with having a boss, but we need to remember that there is a power dynamic here. And once you bring power into the equation, well, we’re back to the labor movement.
I finish today’s piece with the following:
We need to recognize that what’s happening to our universities is happening across the North American labor market (and beyond), and that we’re not special. Other highly-trained, specialized industries have turned to contingency work. Higher ed is no different. In fact, we could learn from the industries that increasingly argue that one must treat contingent workers as full members of the community.
Why not embrace the pressures that are falling on the university? Be proud of being laborers, identify with your fellow workers, and organize across the tenure-adjunct divide. Ultimately, it’s the only thing that’s going to improve the situation.
Best of all, it’s the right thing to do.
It really is the right thing to do.