Thursday, May 10, 2007

Remote Blogging

I am blogging while proctoring a final exam. This just happens to strike me as amusing.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A Hopeful Post

I am embarrassed to report that I am watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition as I am eating dinner tonight. (I live alone, okay, and I like a little background noise while I'm downing my carrot salad.)

Anyway, on tonight's show, there were twin four-year-old boys. The designer people asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. The first said, definitively, "fire fighter." Yup, "fire fighter," not "fireman." That was pretty cool. Then they asked his brother. He said he wanted to be a "police woman."

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Bumfest '07

I live very near to that venerable bastion of Old Berkeley known as People's Park. This afternoon marks the start of the summer "concert" series, which I have insensitively dubbed, "Bumfest '07". Why, oh why, must I be subjected to hours and hours of bad rap every Saturday afternoon? Whom does this acoustic abomination benefit?

Do these sentiments make me a fascist pig?

After several years living in the People's Park neighborhood, I can tell you this about the homeless: Except for the disaffected punk-à-bestia kids and their pitbull puppies, the homeless are either mentally ill, drug-addled or both--and perhaps there is very little difference between the two states. They are sick. Allowing people to live outdoors in a park full of human feces and used needles does not constitute support for "freedom", "free speech", or "the pursuit of happiness." It is a particular abomination when the people in question are sick. Berkeley's homeless need real help, not a big outdoor flophouse.

And bad amateur concerts audible for blocks are also an abomination.

More Anna

Friday morning I meet with Anna to talk about the disaster otherwise known as my dissertation. Anna immediately sets me straight on a number of things I have to do (most of which involve the creation of a giant map... don't ask). Then EDC interrupts. She has some question about dialect in some piece of the Attic scholia (again, don't ask). Anna is the dialect expert. Anna answers EDC's question without batting an eyelash. Then she adds a couple of her own observations.

It is sort of like watching fireworks. I am also filled with a strong sense that this is a club I would really like to belong to. I like to think that I could hack it in Anna's world, as a pioneer without female role models, but who am I kidding? Every so often, it is just really nice to witness every misconception about women's intellectual and professional capacity so elegantly and effortlessly disproven.

It is also kind of awesome to watch EDC defer to someone. I am not sure why - I think it's because she projects a little bit of the Better Than God image. I wonder whether I would feel the same way about a male professor. I think I would. My Infinitely-Better-Than-God thesis advisor (that dude is no dummy--and no shrinking violet in the ego department; he also never sleeps) messed up a date in an email he sent me last week. It was sort of gratifying.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Role Models?

Tuesday afternoon, around 4 pm, I am wandering the halls of my department trying to decide whether I should do some work or throw the towel in and go home already. I pass the open office door of a certain Elder Female Professor whom I am hoping to pin down for some dissertation advice. She is visiting, not permanent, so I only have a week or two left to meet with her. Said EFP is two generations older than I am, a real trailblazer for women in the academy, and the most reknowned, if not the only truly reknowned, female Indo-Europeanist. (Which will indicate to anyone familiar with this sick, arcane little corner of scholarship exactly whom I mean, so it is okay that I reveal that her first name is Anna.) As much as I want her input on this dissertation chapter, I simply want to spend time in her general presence because I admire her so deeply. And because she is extremely kind and fun to talk to.

So we schedule a meeting and then, somehow, end up talking about feminism. (Gee, I wonder how I could have steered the conversation in that direction - I have only wanted to get Anna on the topic for five years or something sick like that... ever since she explained in a paper she was giving that relatively unknown Alice Kober did the real work on decipering Linear B.)

Anna asks me what I think of the role-model school of feminism. That is, the notion that having women faculty around is important for female students. She offers this anecdote: Her college at Oxford was originally an all-women's college, which meant that both students and faculty were all female. At some point in the not-too-distant past, an American woman colleague visited. Said colleague apparently could not get over how much more friendly the place was, in comparison to her experience as a female philosopher in the US. Apparently, a professor had told this woman that women, generally, could not become good philosophers.

Here is Anna's take: What was wrong with this woman that she believed this awful professor? In her own career, Anna's only choice was to ignore any comments or intimations of that nature and simply do her work. While she could agree that there are certain practical matters it is difficult to discuss with a male adviser, she left to the woman student a lot of personal responsibility for her own self-image and the run of her career.

Then Anna told me about the 5pm meetings her department used to have. All the women faculty used to get babysitters, make special arrangements, etc. so that they could make it to the meetings. They never dared beg off a meeting or leave early for family reasons. Now that men are taking increasingly active roles in childcare, however, the situation has changed. The men constantly absent themselves to pick baby up from daycare or something, no apologies, no questions asked.

Here, confronting a deeply practical and tangible manifestation of gender inequity, Anna held the typical feminist view: Damn those entitled-ass men! (Except she didn't say "ass".)

I was raised to believe that there is some intrinsic value in seeing authority figures who look and sound like oneself--and to believe that intangible manifestations of sexism (or racism) are still pernicious and "can be blamed", so to speak, for discrepancies in performance, etc. Talking with Anna has given me pause.

But maybe that's also a reason to keep believing in the power and importance of women role models.