Tag Archives | New York

happy birthday, gloria steinem. I wish you didn’t matter.

Gloria Steinem spoke at my college graduation back in 1986.

At the time, as a graduate of a woman’s college, I thought to myself “oh good lord, her. Couldn’t they find someone more relevant?”  It was the era of “divest now” and “free Mandela;” we’d just spent four years at a single-sex college where “gender issues” were as pervasive as the scent of the clove cigarettes many of us smoked.

Yes, it was the mid-1980s: there were shoulder pads, bad perms, Billy Idol on the radio, and we all smoked like our lives depended on it.  We thought that abortion rights were sacrosanct and that surely there would be a woman president before we turned 30, which was about as old as any of us could imagine being.

Now I’m fifty and Gloria, omigod, is eighty and we all of us, men and women, should hope that we do eighty the way that Gloria is doing eighty. Because her eighty would exhaust my fifty, that’s what I gotta say about that.

But how wrong was I—about so many things — lo those many years ago: we’ve recovered from clove cigarettes, bad perms, Billy Idol, and shoulder pads–but women still don’t earn equal pay for equal work.  Mandela was freed, apartheid was overthrown — but the statistics for sexual violence against women in South Africa and elsewhere in the world continue to rise.  We’ve seen the erosion of abortion rights in the U.S. and elsewhere; we’ve seen health care programs for poor women and their families slashed from state budgets.

And ironically, on the same day I was reading gossip on the internet researching very important researchy things, I saw an article on Jezebel about New York State’s new educational guidelines, which have been overhauled to fit with the new Common Core History Curriculum.

I know, I know, it sounds so totally exciting!  But you have to understand: I’m a literature professor. I actually like to think about things like “curriculum” and “reading lists” and “rubrics.” Well, okay, not so much rubrics, but the other stuff? Love it.

So I read the article and here’s the gist: in the pages devoted to all the elements that students in high school will have to learn about US and Global history, would you like to know how many women get name-checked? About seven.  Would you be shocked to find out that on the lists of What You Should Know there are many, many more men?  Jezebel doesn’t connect the dots they way I do, though, in their discussion of the women who are mentioned on this list: Mary Wollstonecraft, Ida Tarbell, Ida B. Wells, Jane Addams, Margaret Sanger, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  All of them are writers and reformers. None of them are, you know, world leaders.

I’m just wondering … if you’re talking about English history, I’m thinking that Liz I (Tudor, not Taylor) might be a name to consider; ditto Isabella of Span, who I guess maybe didn’t do anything except, I don’t know, bankroll the guy who stumbled into North AmericaAnd what about in the category of “imperialism?” Dontcha think maybe Queen Victoria might have warranted a mention?She’s got an entire era named after her bad dowager self.

A person could read through this list and come away thinking that women have never been involved with any aspect of world governance, anywhere in the world, at any point in time.

I realize lists like these can fuel the “what about” arguments for days; I’ve fought with myself about what to include or leave out, as I write syllabi for my classes (upside? I always win the fight).  I am sure that these guidelines are the product of hours, months, maybe years of people meeting and talking and yelling, of sending endless emails back and forth, of cutting-and-pasting and then cutting-and-pasting some more.  And I know these are “guidelines” and “conceptual” and not meant to be proscriptive or definitive or absolute.

And yet.

If I’m a busy, probably underpaid teacher (yes, I know, hard to imagine but just imagine, okay?) and I were being asked to re-vamp my curriculum for the next school year,  I might just scan these guidelines and zip zap zoop, add some names from the list, swap some titles on my current reading list for the ones mentioned here and be done with it.  Yes, we’d all hope for more thoughtful and considered revisions but I know how hard it is to write a syllabus and I know that it is really tough to teach a brand-new course, much less make sure that I can get all my students to pass a set of proscribed exams as a result of my brand-new course—all of which suggests that following the guidelines to the letter becomes really, really tempting.

That’s how “convnentional wisdom” starts, I think: not with conspiracy or patriarchal malice (okay, maybe a little of that), just an insidious, easily overlooked neglect, and then suddenly there we are (again): women do the soft stuff, men do the hard stuff; women write books and news articles, men write treaties and doctrines and foundational texts; women report on things, men do things.

Happy Birthday, Gloria.  I wish I’d been right, all those years ago: I wish you were irrelevant. But you’re not.

Gloria at my commencement

Continue Reading · on March 26, 2014 in aging, Education, Feminism, Gender, Politics

Monday Listicle: Hometown Boys

Stasha, aka list guru, asked Amanda from Lilahbility to curate this week’s topic, and she chose “anything about your hometown.” Leaves it pretty wide open, doesn’t it? And as so often happens, this list topic hits…well, it hits close to home. I’ve been thinking a lot about “home,” both literally and metaphorically, because we’re flying back to New York for the holidays and so the talk around here is all about “going home.”

Can New York be my hometown even though I wasn’t born there? Husband (a true born-and-bred New Yorker) insists that I’m Midwestern to the core but my twenty-plus years in New York ought to count for something, don’t you think?  I moved to New York in 1988, intending to leave immediately after I finished my doctorate.  I thought to myself, who in their right mind could actually live in New York?

Apparently, I can. And what’s more, not only did I stay in New York, I had children in New York. On an English professor’s salary. Children who needed food and clothing and shelter and then, eventually, schooling. I’m here to say that basically I lived in New York inside a mathematical impossibility.

I may not be allowed to call myself a New Yorker yet but my kids certainly are. Sometimes I think the best preparation I could have given them for life in Abu Dhabi is life in New York.  Here’s how you know your kids are New Yorkers:

1.  By the age of three, they know how to hail a cab and can shriek “taxi” louder than any Coney Island native.
2.  They learn their alphabet from the subway signs.
3.  Elevators and escalators are not novelties but regular parts of daily life
4.  “Backyards” exist only in New Jersey.
5.  They have favorite exhibits in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the armor! the room of weird sculptures! the chariot!)
6.  They accept as a given that their classmates will not necessarily look like them, talk like them, or dress like them.
7.  “Going for a walk” usually means it’s time to do errands.
8.  Nature happens in parks or after a long drive in a rental car.
9.  They don’t stare at the lady pushing her dogs in a baby stroller, the man in the tin-can suit peddling a unicycle, or the woman yelling that the rapture is coming.
10. They know to put a dollar in the bucket of the cellist, the mime, and the man dressed as Boba Fett playing the accordion in Union Square.

photo from Patell and Waterman’s History of New York

Continue Reading · on December 13, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, Monday Listicle, NYC

I Heart New York

The masthead of this blog says that I am a perpetually ambivalent New Yorker. Which is to say that, while I have very strong opinions on most things, I am ambivalent, always, about New York.

Riding a crowded 14D bus crosstown on a rainy day, 6 year old in tow? Hate it. Never having enough closets? Ugh. Ridiculous prices on rent, food, and entertainment? Sucks. Endless noise, eternal crowds, slow-moving tourists? Feh. I could go on, but this post is meant to be about hearting NYC, not hating NYC.

Do all New Yorkers have their own individual hate-it lists? And does that mean that all long-term New Yorkers exist in a state of urban ambivalence? I wonder.

But today? Today I loved New York.

An early morning with Caleb at Patisserie Claude–a little bit of buttery Paris goodness in the West Village–and then scootering back through Washington Square Park:

And then up to Lincoln Center, where Caleb and I spent an hour or so learning about The Magic Flute: we heard excerpts from the opera, listened to the story, and then had craft time (glue! scissors! sparkly things!). Caleb made a portrait of himself as Papageno (remember that Tamino falls in love with Pamina’s portrait–remember too, that no one goes to the opera for the plot):

After our encounter with culture? A mildly terrifying game of hide-and-seek in a very crowded playground. (Terrifying because in those crowds, losing Caleb seemed like an all-too-real possibility. See above on hating NYC because it’s always so damn crowded. And who on earth thought this tiny chain would keep people from climbing the rock?)

But once you’re up on the rock, you might as well…indulge your inner moutaineer, right?

And then? What could possibly finish off our wonderful New Yorky day?

A bird on the make, that’s what. As we walked towards the train for home, we saw Big Bird wandering the park and giving people hugs.  Caleb isn’t so far removed from the days of Sesame Street that he could be blase about the bird, so he got himself a hug:

Lovely, right? Then Big Bird asked if we’d like to make a donation. “To what,” I asked.

The woman with Big Bird shrugged and smiled, pointed at the Bird.  “To him,” she said.

Ah New York. Everyone’s got an angle.

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Continue Reading · on November 13, 2010 in NYC

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