Is gender stifling our scientific imaginations?

This week, we showcase Conceiving Masculinity author Liberty Walther Barnes’ recent TEDx talk at Cambridge University. 

Is Gender a Liquid or a Solid?

In sociology we like to say that gender is “flexible and fluid,” because gender norms change over time and across cultures.  Men and women can choose to enact, perform, and express masculinity and femininity in a variety of ways regardless of their sex chromosomes or anatomy.  Just as liquids take the shape of their containers, we can shape our gender identities to fit us.

While personal gender identities and expressions are malleable, the gender system that structures our social world has proven able to withstand some pretty impressive seismic shifts. As sociologists Cecilia Ridgeway and Shelley Correll explain, the gender system is a large apparatus that determines who gets access to resources and opportunities. The gender system – invisible yet ubiquitous – is solidly grounded in very traditional gender beliefs, which prevent the system from being toppled. Because gender beliefs are pervasive and durable, we might say gender is a solid.

Conceiving MasculinityMost of us agree that gender stereotypes are silly. We laugh when people break the “rules” of gender in TV sit-coms and films. In our everyday lives we feel free to break the rules of gender to accommodate our personal preferences and life goals. In other words, we appreciate the fluidity of gender.

While researching male infertility for my book, Conceiving Masculinity, I discovered that gender is a more powerful social category than most of us realize. Just how solid is gender? As I explain in my TEDx talk, when gender and science come crashing together, something’s gotta give. And it’s not gender.

Gender, it turns out, is a stronger, more solid, and more powerful social category than science. Whodathunkit? Science is rigorous and robust, defined by hard facts and well researched, evidence-based truths, right? If we had to categorize science as a liquid or a solid, we would certainly call it a solid.

However, gender beliefs shape science. How we think about men and women, masculinity and femininity, channels the direction of scientific thought and shapes medical practices. Sometimes society has a hard time accepting scientific truths when they are glaring us in the face, because we cling to gender ideology. Rather than reconsider our gender beliefs, we bend science to accommodate our timeworn gender beliefs.

Temple University Press staff selects the Books of the Year to give, get, and read

As we wish everyone Happy Holidays and happy reading, the staff at Temple University Press selects the memorable titles of 2013.

Micah Kleit, Executive Editor

The Press published a bounty of riches this year, from Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer’s Envisioning Emancipation to Dean Bartoli Smith’s Never Easy, Never Pretty, an exciting account of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl win. But the book I’d most like to give as a gift is Philipp H. Lepenies’ Art, Politics, and Development: How Linear Perspective Shaped Policies in the Western World. It’s the kind of work that represents, to me at least, the best of what university presses do in advancing scholarship.Art, Politics, and Development_sm

I’d love it if someone bought me a copy of Boris Kachka’s Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.  It’s just the kind of inside-publishing book that reminds me of why I love what I do!

The book I’m planning to read over the holiday — in preparation for the “sequel” that’s due early this Spring –  is Robert Coover’s The Origin of the Brunists.  It’s one of his earliest novels, and I’m excited that he’s returning to this story and continuing it, since it speaks (like so much of his work) powerfully to the ideas of what makes up the American character.

2013 was a great year for big novels from emerging and established writers, and the very best I read this year had to be Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, a book that was at once really economical in style but epic in scope: about 70s radicals, motorcycles, Italy and America.  I don’t think I’m the only one who thought of Don DeLillo when reading Kushner’s wonderful novel.

Sara Cohen, Rights and Contracts Manager

G-000865-20111017.jpgThe best TUP book to give?   My loved one are going to have to wait until Presidents’ Day to receive their Christmas gifts so that I can give them Thomas Foster’s Sex and the Founding Fathers.

The book I most want to receive for the holidays? The first book of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. A friend sent me Zadie Smith’s New York Review of Books piece “Man vs. Corpse,” which cites My Struggle, and I’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since.  I also hope to receive a vegan cookbook (maybe Veganomicon)  so that I can start the new year off with good dietary intentions.

The book I plan to read over the break?  I’m supposed to be reading A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn with my husband and one of our friends.  I’m going to spend the break trying to catch up to the two of them.

Aaron Javsicas, Senior Editor

MoreMuralsEarlier this year I read and very much enjoyed Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford. It’s engrossing historical fiction about what it might have been like to live in the Khrushchev-era Soviet Union, and to feel real optimism about the country’s future even while beginning to see cracks that would spread and destroy it.
I look forward to reading and giving Temple University Press’s Philadelphia murals books Philadelphia Murals and the Stories they Tell, and  More Philadelphia Murals the the Stories They Tell, as a new volume, Philadelphia Mural Arts @ 30,  is forthcoming in 2014. I’m from Philadelphia but only recently moved back, after thirteen years in New York, to come on board at the Press. The terrific Mural Arts Program expanded a great deal while I was gone, and I’m excited to catch up with it through these beautiful books.

Charles Ault, Production Director

This year I read A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, which is now on my all-time favorites list. Ruth Ozeki is a 40-ish Buddhist priest who lives with her husband on an island near Vancouver, Canada. Her book features a writer named Ruth who lives with her husband on an island near Vancouver. She discovers the diary of a 16-year-old Japanese girl in a waterproofed bundle that washes up on the shore. The girl is contemplating suicide and has decided to write down the story of her grandmother, a Buddhist nun, as her last act. We (the reader) read pieces of the diary as Ruth does and then we read Ruth’s reaction to the same thing we just read (and reacted to). But I haven’t mentioned the Zen philosophy and ritual that pervades the story. Or the discussion of quantum mechanics. Or contemporary Japanese pornography….

Joan Vidal, Production Manager

Justifiable Conduct_smThe best TUP book to give: If you have a group of friends who like to read and discuss books, I recommend Erich Goode’s Justifiable Conduct . Filled with examples from the memoirs of public figures who seek absolution for their transgressions, this book is sure to spark conversation.

The book I most want to receive for the holidays: I would like to have The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss, by Theodor Geisel.

The book I plan to read over the break: Next on my list is Waiting for Snow in Havana, by Carlos Eire.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

Don't Call Me_smThe best book I read this year?  The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. This year’s National Book Award fiction winner is the wild story about John Brown and his raid, narrated by a freed slave boy masquerading as a girl.  It’s hilarious.

The best TUP book to give? Don’t Call Me Inspirational, Harilyn Rousso’s compelling memoir.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.

The book I plan to read over the break: I will finish Edwidge Dandicat’s
Claire of the Sea Light and begin Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck.

Brian Murray, Marketing Assistant

How We DIe Now_smThe best TUP book to give this season is Never Easy, Never Pretty by Dean Bartoli Smith. My father has been a Ravens fan his whole life and reminisces about going to games with his father when he was growing up. This book is perfect for him and perfect for any other Ravens’ fan or football fan in general.
The book I plan to read over break is Karla Erickson’s  How We Die Now. What better way to celebrate the holidays with my immediate family and older relatives than to evaluate my own mortality and the cost of living longer? Also a perfect gift for my great Aunt Lenora who will be celebrating her 82nd birthday this January.

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

WHAT I WILL GIVE: Music, Style, and Aging by Andy Bennett. Because holidays should be filled with sex, drugs, rock and roll and reading, right? Music Style Aging_sm

WHAT I WILL READ: Ink, by Sabrina Vourvoulias (one of the co-authors of 200 Years of Latino History in Philadelphia by the staff of Al Día). Ink looks at immigration issues through multiple lenses and I really admire Vourvoulias’ work.

THE BEST BOOK I READ IN 2013: Night Film, by Marisha Pessl, is not so much a book you read as a story you investigate. It involves a disgraced journalist and a cult filmmaker, whose daughter has died—or possibly been murdered. What’s intriguing is not just the mystery, but the format of the book: an impressive collection of photographs, website downloads, dossiers, missing persons reports, institution assessments, and created articles. It’s a fascinating interactive experience.

WHAT I WANT TO READ: I’m almost ashamed to admit that I really want to read James Franco’s Actors Anonymous.  I’m an unabashed  Francofile and a completist. I’ll also likely see his film adaptation of As I Lay Dying over the break as well.

Maybe Alligators Don’t Mind Toxic Pollution

In this blog entry, Stephanie Kane, author of Where Rivers Meet the Sea, offers advice on how to clean up Guanabara Bay for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Alligators thrive along Rio de Janeiro’s coastline and even the most famous beaches are subject to swimming advisories for pollution. Although the Brazilian constitution promises the right to clean water and habitat, up and down its coast, wherever urbanized rivers meet the sea, industrial and household toxins and sewage degrade water habitats. Brazil is not unique. Worldwide, cities destroy the habitats and hinterlands upon which they depend.

That statement did not constitute news until November, when a story came across the AP newswire: Sailors, who had begun training in Guanabara Bay, became more than a little concerned about the bay’s pollution; the visuals startled them although the contaminants that frighten health professional are visible only through microscopes, especially fecal coliform bacteria that could cause dysentery and even cholera. Rio organizers pledged to clean up and monitor Copacabana, the designated swimming venue. But consider: INEA, the state environmental agency, “has classified nearly all the 13 bayside beaches it monitors as ‘terrible’ for 12 years running. . .” AECOM, the company that built London’s Olympic Park, designed the Olympic Park site for Rio 2016; although lovely, as Oliver Wainright noted,  the design does not convey the stagnation of the surrounding Jacarepaguá lagoon. The video-plan evokes AECOM’s  “water strategy” with a visual gloss of rainfall—captured, filtered, recycled and revitalized. Really?  Carlos Minc, state secretary for the environment, says for 20 years, everyone has known that the “bay is rotten.”  This time, he adds, there is something new in the government’s response.  Landfills around the bay have been closed (at least legal landfills), some industrial pollution has been “curbed” and programs to collect floating garbage and install “river treatment units (RTUs)” are in the works. Built over rivers, the RTUs are meant to filter garbage and human waste as it slides by on the way to open water. But contaminated water flows everywhere, above and below ground, through the dense, diverse human development spreading outward from the bay’s edge. How can AECOM’s site-specific water strategy possibly trigger significantly cleaner water for the Olympian swimmers and sailors in 2016  or more importantly, the people of Rio who will still be there in 2017? Will there be RTUs installed on every stream and river? Can RTUs substitute for centralized urban garbage and sewage infrastructures that retrieve and manage waste before it befouls the water?  Even if those responsible manage to keep the water looking clean enough for a few days, is that really a good enough aim? Couldn’t the “legacy” of Rio 2016 be a serious effort toward functional urban infrastructure and to implement and enforce anti-pollution laws?

Where Rivers_smThe special few apparently believe that they are protected from regional water degradation. Earthworks, filtration, labs to monitor fecal pathogens, gestures toward environmental law enforcement—this infrastructure sustains an unequal, exclusionary and paranoid security logic: urban elites wall themselves off within zones deemed free of toxins and criminals and wall out the masses who are left to struggle, to effect real change, to invent and extend sustainable habitat—or merely to withstand and survive. Although well-funded materialized illusions  may make it seem so, islands are not separate.  Rain, mist, subterranean fossil water, cycles, tides, and surges—water brings back whatever we give.

The image of Olympian athletes skimming along the murky surface, intermingling with the city’s disgusting outpourings warns of a dangerously unhealthy situation requiring either sure action or speedy retreat. Surely, the catastrophic air pollution in the 2008 Beijing Olympics was a clue: the environment cannot be ignored. Who knows? Out of pure pragmatism, the International Olympic Committee could actually transform itself into a global engine for start-up urban environmental sustainability projects that could lead to larger projects after the Olympians have gone home (like Bahia Azul, a project that cleaned up the Bay of All Saints in Salvador). Political will and imagination is what is needed here, installing a few RTUs simply won’t cut it.

Remembering and Honoring the Late Adrienne Asch

Adrienne Asch, co-editor with Michelle Fine, of Women with Disabilitiesrecently lost her battle against cancer. In this blog entry, friends and colleagues remember  and honor the late Temple University Press author and disability activist.

“Adrienne Asch was brilliant, funny, and provocative. In the early 1970s, just after abortion rights were secured, she would turn to me and say, ‘We need to write on disability justice and abortion rights.’ When the families of babies with spina bifida were denying them treatment at birth, she would say to me, ‘We need to write on the autonomy and human rights of these babies.’ With wisdom and reflection, Adrienne dared to enter intellectual and political territory that others (including me) feared. Gifted with an outstanding mind and a compassionate heart, she was patient with my stumbling responses: But what about the consequences of such writings? And might these efforts be used against women’s rights? Or against families’ rights?  Together we navigated politically and ethically treacherous territory, gently carving a space for dialogue and debate, honoring sacred rights to reproductive freedom and to disability justice.  She held my hand as we wandered with pen and paper into territory where varied social justice movements sat in silent tension. This is perhaps just one instance of the myriad ways in which Adrienne transformed my life. women with disabilitiesShe was a friend and a colleague who taught me about music, food, the depths of loyalty, the significance of thinking deeply and dangerously about what is and what could be. We would walk across the street, and strangers would grab her arm and escort her in another direction—all in the name of ‘care.’ She was outraged; for years I would secretly apologize to these strangers after her brusque response.  Soon I too took offense, stopped apologizing, and appreciated the incredible patience she exercised with those of us who are temporarily able bodied, deluded by our own sense of ‘innocence’ and ‘care.’ I miss her much, owe her much, love her always.”—Michelle Fine, coeditor of Women with Disabilities 

“Adrienne was a brilliant thinker on so many topics; women and disability, the area in which I worked most closely with her, was just the tip of the iceberg. But aside from her many professional accomplishments—her resume was 33 pages—she had an extraordinarily large, diverse network of friends, who stayed in close touch with her virtually as well as literally—some traveling from across the country and around the world—during the last months of her life. In the last few weeks, her bedside was crowded with people from all walks of life who shared stories and remembrances, read aloud some of her many writings, organized early music concerts, participated in Shabbat services, and were just there for her.  There are enough Friends of Adrienne, as we were called, to form a small town and definitely a community. Her death is an irreparable loss to all of us who knew her and to so many fields to which she made major contributions—disability rights/studies, women and disability, reproductive rights, bioethics, and numerous others.”—Harilyn Rousso, author of Don’t Call me Inspirational

“I have known Adrienne since I was seventeen, and she a year older.  My relationship to her was a personal, and not a professional one.  She came to my wedding, knew all my children from birth, and developed her own independent relationship with them over the years.  Despite our never living in the same city, and often not the same country, we always stayed in touch with telephone calls and visits, and of course since the advent of email, in that way as well.  I may be one of the few people who did not develop that personal relationship out of a professional one.  She dated my brother in high school, and I think we both assumed she might be my sister-in-law one day.  Instead, we became sisterly without the assistance of my brother, and shared over the many years we have known each other the ups and downs of relationships, and the happinesses and setbacks of life.  We shared a deep love of Judaism, and of Jewish liturgical music.  We went to syngogogue together during our visits, and attended our first Havurah Institute together in 2000, and then continued to attend together over the next few years.  She went on to become a board member of the Institute.  Adrienne never did things half-way.  Of course I have read Adrienne’s books, and some of her many articles, and attended the “famous” Peter Singer debate at Darmouth.  And of course we have talked about the issues for which Adrienne is so well known—prenatal testing, abortion, surrogate motherhood, disability.  But mostly, we lived into some of those issues together in our real lives.   Adrienne also shared in my life as well—she never forgot  single important date in my life, and came to every single important event she could.  She was as rigorous in maintaining the work of our friendship as she was about her professional work.  That we never lost touch, even when I lived in Canada and Israel, is to her credit.  She came to visit me wherever I, and my family, was.  I will miss our long telephone calls, her taking my arm when we walked as a concession to me and my fear of tripping over her cane. I will even miss her despair and anger when she was treated like a child during our travels together.  Her anger, though sometimes uncomfortably sharp, was well-placed.  I attended  the National Federation of the Blind convention this year for the first time, and came to understand why this organization was so important to her.  I had a wonderful time, and learned to dodge hundreds of canes, and laugh about it.  I know Adrienne’s death is a big loss to many professional communities, but for me, I will simply miss her presence, her indominable spirit, her stubbornness, her deep capacity for love.”—Randi Stein, dance/movement therapist, M.A., DMT

 Adrienne Asch’s obituary appeared in the New York Times on November 23, 2013.

Decent Care

In this blog entry, Karla Erickson, author of How We Die Nowwrites about the big step toward decent care taken last month when home health care aides were granted federal protection.

In the late 1990s, a McJob—a low paid job with few future prospects like a fast-food job– was the most common way to earn a living in the United States. Quietly and quickly, the fastest growing job category has shifted to a form of work that is far less visible and, until now, far more precarious: home health aide.

For many of us, the mention of home health aide may bring to mind a bouncy 18-year-old girl in a candy striper uniform, but we would be wrong. Home health aides are overwhelmingly female, overwhelmingly women of color, and are women, not girls, often with families of their own. Up until now they have worked in the shadow economy: a barely regulated space lacking all of the protections of even a McJob. No insurance, no minimum wage, and no overtime protection.

Up until September 17, 2013, this work has been treated as not work, or at least not work that rises to the level of receiving federal protections for workers. This shadowy, off-the- record approach to home health work has had several costs. First, it linked home health aides’ labor to a long history of underpaid, indentured and enslaved labor in the home. Second, it reduced the complex work of caring for dependent adults to something that women—and particularly women of color–are naturally good at doing. Why pay well for work that is intrinsically rewarding? And finally, it was indecent. Failing to offer even the most minimal support and defenses to the people who work to care for the most frail among us is a sorry statement on our society. It devalues care, the home, and frail people in one fell swoop.

How We DIe Now_smSo thanks to a suit brought by Evelyn Coke, home health workers will now have federal rights. Coke worked for most of her life in other people’s houses to make sure their bodies were clean, clothed, safe, and fed, but she never had the protection of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This moves her and her compatriots one step away from servants, and elevates them to the status of a McJob.

This major victory is one more step toward decency. Labor rights activists often work toward dignity, and I’m not sure we are there yet, but decency, yes. Home health aides link back to a tradition of capitalizing on the caring labor of racial minority women in homes by paying poorly or not paying at all for their service and sometimes-loving care. Racial minority women and particularly recent immigrant women have often been employed in informal labor arrangements that included extraordinarily long days, working over holidays, wages well below the minimum wage, and absolutely no access to recourse if they were treated unfairly. This act is one step away from that history.

The work that home health aides do is intimate, but working in the shadow economy has routinely put them in danger of exploitation, injury, and abuse. We talk about decent service, decent care, but until the passage of this law, we have not had the decency as a society to protect or even recognize the emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical labor of the people who work in our homes and aide us in being people. Home health aides are the quiet assistants who ready us for living if we are recovering from an injury or need help with the activities of daily living and the management of disease. They ride buses, and drive their own cars to the homes of mainly elderly, but any person who needs some help to get through their day. They spend hours bent over, raising and turning bodies, cleaning sheets, changing clothes, ministering to others. Today they did not get their due. But they did move a giant step closer to being treated decently, which after all, is what we expect and ask from them everyday.

Last month’s decision will be remembered for years to come. It is a huge victory. Here’s hoping we use this moment of decency to honor, and begin to offer support for, the people who care for us during our most vulnerable stages of life.

Passing and the Liminal Disability Identity

In this blog entry, Jeffrey Brune, co-editor of Disability and Passing, describes how editing his book prompted him to review his own experiences with stuttering, claiming a disability, and passing.

As co-editor of Disability and Passing, it was not my intention to learn about myself. However, now that the book is done I realize that seems to have happened. Having stuttered to a greater and lesser degree throughout my life I frequently pass between—and defy—the disabled and nondisabled categories that many parts of the anthology call into question.

Disability and PassingGrowing up, my parents sent me to speech therapy and emphasized the importance.  of not letting a speech impediment limit my options in life. My father had stuttered as a boy, was teased for it, and felt his life would have been worse had his stutter persisted. He wanted to ensure that his son also escaped the limitations of a stutterer. Within this family context, I went to speech therapy to learn to speak fluently and thereby overcome my disability. My goal was to pass as a “normal,” fluid speaker. Through my speech therapy, I tried to become normal but, at the same time, not to change my words or refrain from speaking when I was unable to pass successfully.

While my stuttering caused me some frustration, I became accustomed to the discomfort of stuttering. I also became accustomed to never having it acknowledged. By pretending not to notice my stutter people helped me to pass, which I appreciated. On the rare occasions when someone did acknowledge my stutter I tried to move on as quickly as possible.

After my sophomore year in college I attended an intensive summer therapy program at Hollins Communication Research Institute. Before I left for Hollins my undergraduate advisor, college roommate, and the person I was dating all asked me why I was doing this and suggested that it wasn’t necessary. Without using the vocabulary that I now employ in scholarship and activism, those three friends gave me my first exposure to some of the central tenets of the disability rights movement and disability studies. After coming back from the difficult work at Hollins, I felt frustrated that my speech was not improving and questioned whether I needed to change. Not wanting to struggle through grueling, daily homework assignments for the next two years, I finally resigned myself to being a stutterer and declared I would no longer try to change my speech.

Twelve years later, when I arrived at Gallaudet University as a professor with little knowledge of deaf issues, I understood immediately many aspects of deaf identity politics, including resentment toward oralism, speech therapy, and medical efforts to fix hearing impairment. At Gallaudet I encountered many deaf people who articulated ideas that I had been feeling but unable to express for more than a decade. That was liberating. Ironically, that deaf context—which uses American Sign Language for communication—also made me more nondisabled than I have ever been. I will not forget the surprise from one of my closest faculty friends when I told him I stuttered. That knowledge disrupted his assumptions about my hearing, nondisabled identity, at least in that moment. Passing across disability/nondisability boundaries can occur frequently.

It may seem that moving into disability studies would have put an end to my passing, but such has not been the case. This is partly because other people can play a coercive role in the act of passing, as they try to fit me into one part or the other of the disability/nondisability binary. One scholar in the field, who identifies as nondisabled, told me I didn’t have enough personal experience with disability to justify my place in the field. This person told me bluntly, and aggressively, that unless I followed their specific recommendations regarding my scholarship and activism I would have to leave disability studies.

Curiously, I had an experience only two months later that was both similar and opposite. A friend from graduate school—who knew me at a time when my stuttering was at its most extreme—remarked how serendipitous it was that I wound up at a deaf school where I did not have to speak. Although he did not intend to be malicious and was trying to talk about disability in an open manner, he was also saying that disabled voices like mine do not have a place in a mainstream university. Perhaps he forgot that I won a teaching award while in graduate school and had successfully taught at three mainstream institutions.

Although these two people tried to force me into opposite categories of disability and nondisability, both used those identities to deny or threaten my right to occupy a specific space; one imposed on me a nondisabled identity to threaten my position within disability studies and the other imposed a disabled identity to deny me a place within mainstream academic institutions.

Yet while those two examples show how passing can be used to deny access to opportunities, often the opposite has been the case. Throughout my life many people have thought of me as nondisabled. Views of me as nondisabled (as well as white, male, and straight) have come with privileges and opportunities that would not be offered to many disabled people. I now find this troubling, though I appreciated it when I was younger and had not thought critically about disability. Similarly, being encouraged to pass as disabled can also offer benefits.

Graciously and with the intention of opening doors to me, many disabled scholars have suggested I claim a disabled identity. One historian, who is hard-of-hearing, remarked that when I present at conferences I am more disabled than she because the podium makes my disability more visible than hers. One of the leading scholars in the field, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, has also said she thinks I should identify as disabled.

While I appreciate the kindness of these gestures I still have some problems identifying as disabled. Important among them is my support for disability as a political movement. As Deborah Stone points out in her classic work, The Disabled State, disability functions partly as a political category to offer an oppressed group political privileges such as social aid, exemptions from some obligations of citizenship, and civil rights protections. I have not experienced the prejudice and discrimination that many disabled people face, so for me to claim a disabled identity undermines the political cause of disability.

So rather than claim a disabled or nondisabled identity, I see myself occupying a liminal space that defies the disability/nondisability binary and can best be understood within the broad framework of passing that Dan Wilson and I establish in our book. There are now times when I especially appreciate that my identity defies easy categorization, and none more so than when I give a presentation. When I speak I present problems for my audience; I imagine that many struggle to figure out what category I fit into, given incongruities between my appearance, my mode of speaking, and the topic that I address in my talks. To the extent that my presence raises questions and causes confusion, it becomes an additional tool for pointing out the complicated nature of disability and identity. Nonetheless, it still frustrates me when stuttering makes it more difficult to convey my ideas and to do so within a time limit. For me the issue of disability will probably never be simple and straightforward.

Live to Work or Work to Live?

In this blog entry, Benjamin Hunnicutt, author of Free Time, ponders the mysteries of living to work and the frantic pace of our lives.

July 4, 2013 looms. Fond vacation dreams return—for some of us at least. For an increasing number in the USA, however, vacations are shrinking. Expedia’s 2012 Vacation Deprivation Study, done by Harris Interactive Inc., found that Americans have far fewer vacations days that most people in the industrial world. If that were not bad enough, the study found that on average, we now fail to take about 20% of the vacation days we have earned. [1]

Widespread complaints (Google “overworked” for the past 24 hours!) about the frantic pace of our lives multiply.[2] Everyone seems to be progressively anxious, overworked, overbooked, and overstressed. Few expect relief, even when vacation season begins. “Live to work” seems to have become the unavoidable human condition.

On its face, this seems a strange state of affairs in this, the richest of nations. Set in relief against the backdrop of American history, it is incredible.

For nearly forty years I have been struggling to solve what I am convinced is one of the great mysteries of our time. Beginning early in the nineteenth century and continuing for over a hundred years, working hours in America were gradually reduced, cut in half according to most accounts.

No one predicted that this was going to end, much less that would be complaining about the frantic pace of our lives. On the contrary, prominent figures such as John Maynard Keynes and George Bernard Shaw regularly predicted that a “Golden Age of Leisure” would arrive well before the twentieth century ended when no one would have to work more than two hours a day. As late as the 1960s and 70s, the likes of Times Magazine’s Henry Luce, CBS’s Eric Sevareid, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy were sure that leisure would soon overtake work as the center of life.

However the century-long shorter work hour process stopped after the Great Depression. Since then we have had little or no decrease in our work – indeed, the work year has expanded over the last few decades. We work about five weeks longer now than we did when John Kennedy was president. Most of us would think a return to a forty hour week would be heaven-sent. Unlike previous generations, we no longer worry about leisure’s challenge.

What happened!?

Over the years, I have spent untold effort, overworking myself trying to solve these mysteries, exploring various social, economic, and historical developments. At last, I have come to the conclusion that the most important reason for the end of shorter hours, the frantic pace of life, and the unquestioning acceptance of “live to work” is something like a nation-wide amnesia.

We have forgotten what used to be the other, better half of the American dream. In our rushing about for more, we have lost sight of the better part of Freedom—of what Walt Whitman, with so many others throughout American history, called “higher progress.”

Hunnicut_approved_081412_smIn, Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream, I attempted to re-present the traditional American dream of steadily increasing freedom from work. As we began to “solve” what John Maynard Keynes called the “economic problem,” a host of Americans, from colonial days to the mid twentieth century, assumed that our time would become more valuable to us than new goods and services we had never needed, or even seen before. Then we would welcome the opportunity to live more of our lives outside the marketplace.

Then we could begin to make some real progress, developing our potential to live together peacefully and agreeably, spending more of our time and energy forming healthy families, neighborhoods, and cities, increasing our knowledge and appreciation of nature, history, and other peoples, freely investigating and delighting in the mysteries of the human spirit, exploring our beliefs and values together, finding common grounds for agreement and conviviality, practicing our faiths, expanding our awareness of God, wondering in Creation—a more complete (but far from exhaustive) catalogue of such free activities envisioned over the course of our nation’s history is one of the burdens of  my new book.

Claiming a vantage point as democracy’s poet that opened to him “Democratic Vistas,” Whitman recorded scenes of an American future in which all would be free to celebrate and sing. Monsignor John Ryan envisioned “higher progress” as increasing opportunities beyond necessary work and the marketplace to “know the best that is to be known, and to love the best that is to be loved.” Struggling to save the Jewish Sabbath in America, Abba Hillel Silver wrote that the Sabbath was “much more than mere relaxation from labor. It is a sign and symbol of man’s higher destiny.” The Sabbath provided a model for “higher progress” because it represented the importance of time for tradition, family, spiritual exercise and for developing our free, humane interests.

New voices joined in during the twentieth century, swelling in a magnificent chorus, singing the praises and possibilities of “higher progress.” Bubbling up from the ranks of workers and their organizations, the chorus was taken up by educators such as Dorothy Canfield Fisher, best selling-author and president of the Adult Education Association, and Robert Hutchins, legendary president of the University of Chicago, who urged teachers and administrators to retool their schools to teach people “the worthy use of leisure.” Conservative business people such as the celebrated cereal maker W. K. Kellogg took the initiative, instituting a six-hour workday in their factories in the 1920s and 1930s. Walter Gifford, president of AT&T from 1925 to 1948, reported that “industry . . . has gained a new and astonishing vision.” The final, best achievement of business and the free market need not be perpetual economic growth, eternal creation new work to do, and everlasting consumerism, but “a new type of civilization,” in which “how to make a living becomes less important than how to live.”

Radicals and socialists such as Helen and Scott Nearing, Norman O. Brown, and Herbert Marcuse saw increasing leisure as a form of bloodless, democratic revolution, and progressively shorter hours as the practical way for Americans to free themselves from the tyranny of corporations. They predicted that with abundant leisure and public education, ordinary citizens would begin to understand that perpetual work and everlasting scarcity were the creatures of capitalism and corporations rather than laws of nature. Increasing free time might translate into the political power necessary to counterbalance the building tyranny of concentrated wealth.

Naturalists and environmentalists such as Aldo Leopold and Sigurd Olson argued that an economy that produced more leisure instead of ever more consumption was the last, best hope for the preservation of the natural world. Parks, wilderness preserves, and national forests held open the possibility that humans could learn and nurture an alternative, leisure-relationship with nature, based on wonder and celebration rather than exploitation and development.

Poets such as Vachel Lindsay; playwrights and theater builders such as Percy MacKaye, Paul Green, and E. C. Mabie; painters such as Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton; architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Flagg; musicians such as Shin’ichi Suzuki; chefs such as Julia Child; and craftsmen such as Elbert Hubbard envisioned a world in which citizens wrote their own poetry, staged their own local dramas, performed pageants, played and sang their own music together as naturally as they spoke their mother tongue, cooked gourmet meals for each other, and helped design, build, and decorate their own homes in their free time.

Understanding our lives as the subjects of our own community-based literature, drama, sports, fine arts, and quotidian discourse, we moderns had the potential to transfigure the commonplace, elevating everydayness with the do-it-yourself creations of democratic artist and artisan. “Higher progress’s” free, creative endeavors would join people in vigorous, free civic engagement, creating communities held together by tolerance, conviviality, and perhaps even affection.

By the middle of the last century, the original American dream seemed to be coming to life. The days were arriving when Americans children devoted more and more of their lives to what John Ryan foresaw as opportunities to “know the best that is to be known, and to love the best that is to be loved.” The day of democratic community and culture was dawning. Real progress was just beginning.

I have long argued that this strange turn of events might be best explained by a new, primarily twentieth century view of work, what might be called, pace Max Weber, “the spirit of capitalism.” This novel belief elevated work, for the first time in history, as an end in itself rather than the means to other, better things— as the main arena in which to  realize the full potential of human beings. Two historical corollaries followed the advent of this belief: the perpetual need to regenerate work continually lost to technology; and perpetual economic growth necessary to support eternal work creation. This new American dream and its corollaries, together resembling, more and more, a new modern faith/religion (what Robert Hutchins called “salvation by work”) eclipsed both the “forgotten American dream” and the shorter working hours process that supported it for so long. As shorthand, I have called this new, thriving faith “Full-Time, Full Employment,” tracing its origins to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first two administrations and outlining its continuing, pervasive political, economic, and cultural ramifications, summed up in the politician’s mantra, “jobs, jobs, jobs”  and the corporate apologist’s  job-creation based justifications of obscene corporate salaries and practices.

But “Full-Time, Full Employment,” is not sustainable. The belief/expectation, “good jobs” for all, is a failing faith: a hopelessly utopian dream. The perpetual economic growth necessary is unsustainable on several levels. The environment: As so many have pointed out, sooner or later, the environment will be depleted— nature  is showing more and more signs of her exhaustion. Politically: governments’ efforts to sustain “Full-Time, Full Employment” have passed the point of diminishing returns as progressively slower economic recoveries and mounting debt complicate governments’ attempt to stimulate their economies. Economically: as governments’ efforts fail, chronic unemployment and more frequent and severe cycles result as job killing machines continue to outpace the job-creating abilities of modern economies (economic growth will have to advance at record high levels for decades in order for most of the modern industrial nations to grow themselves out of chronic unemployment). Globalization and the Internet compound the problem of chronic unemployment. Ideologically: what Robert Hutchins called “salvation by work” is progressively unable to fulfill its promise of good jobs for all, creating new generations that feel betrayed by their jobs.

Economic growth has become cancerous, destroying healthy culture and civility, destabilizing the vital functioning of society and undermining the essential foundations of trust. “Full-Time, Full Employment” has produced what Herbert Marcuse called  “one-dimensional man,” nearly incapable of imagining anything better than work for more work, or of recognizing when he has enough, pilling up evermore wealth, security, reputation, and consumer goods with no destination in sight.

Economists since John Stuart Mill have repeatedly suggested shorter working hours as one of the few solutions to the problems caused by capitalism’s cancerous growths. In order to encourage the renewal of the shorter hour process, we must recover the forgotten American dream. We need to hear again the words of Jonathan Edwards: “Labour to get thoroughly convinced that there is something else needs caring for more.” We need to listen again to Walt Whitman, passionately calling us to the “Open Road,” urging us to live out our humanity to its fullest—to search out and experience “the thing for itself” and to realize “only the soul is of itself . . . all else has reference to what ensues.” We need to hear again the voices of industrial feminists such as Fannia Cohn urging us to cultivate “deep community” in a shared “spirit of intimacy,” making progress in both aspects of our lives, “Bread and Roses.”

We are prevented from realizing the forgotten American dream by no inexorable political or economic reality. Shorter working hours remains the portal to the “realm of freedom,” offering an eminently more practical and sustainable future than the pursuit of eternal economic growth and everlasting job creation. What only is lacking is belief and commitment.

With the revival of the forgotten American dream the will to change might reemerge, either by government regulation of work hours or, much better still, at the level of individual firms such as Kellogg’s and through individual choices in the marketplace. Higher Progress will be possible once again when more of us choose freely to liberate more of our lives from the economy, making the most basic of consumer choices to forgo new spending and luxuries, as well as modern illusions about the everlasting need for more wealth and work, in favor of spending our lives beyond work and outside the marketplace.

Quoted passages are from Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream


[1] The 2012 study was conducted online by Harris Interactive among 8,687 employed adults in September and October 2012 on behalf of Expedia.com in North America, Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. Go to http://www.expedia.com/p/info-other/vacation_deprivation.htm

[2] see Tim Kreider’s “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” New York Times, Opinionator Blog, June 30, 2012

A response to Michael Douglas’ recent news item that links HPV and cancer.

A re-posting of Damaged Goods? author Adina Nack’s feminist research blog entry from Girl w/ Pen that addresses the recent story in the media surrounding Michael Douglas’  oral cancer.

Having written about sexually transmitted HPV (human papillomavirus) for 13 years, I’ve been waiting for the day when  celebrity would lend his or her fame to spotlight the realities of HPV infection, especially of HPV-related oral cancers. My hopes were that big news could bring about big change.  Today is that day, but it remains to be seen if it can be long-needed catalyst for change.

When news first broke, about three years ago, that Michael Douglas had oral cancer, my gut instinct was that it had been caused by HPV, likely one of the same types of HPV that has been causally linked to cervical cancer. The mucus membrane tissue of mouth and throat are similar to those of genital skin, so researchers have known for some time that, like herpes, HPV could be transmitted oral to genital, as well as genital to oral.

Back in 2009, the research findings were already clear: oral transmission of cancer-causing HPV means that almost all of us are more likely at risk than we are safe from risk.  For my 2010 feature article in Ms. Magazine, I focused on the importance of not only educating the public about HPV-related cancers in men but also about the HPV-oral cancer link. In addition, I advocated for the need to destigmatize all STDs: my research and book have shown that STD stigma makes it more likely for at-risk/infected  individuals to put off getting tested and treated. Damaged Goods revised coverSTD stigma also makes it less likely for individuals to disclose their sexual health status to partners, placing those partners at greater risk for infection.  In addition, negative stereotypes about the ‘types’ of women and men likely to be infected distort our ideas of who is at risk.

I’ll wrap up this post with a call: for us to come together, to learn the facts and not be swayed by incomplete media coverage and confusing pharmaceutical claims.  We must support significant funding increases to investigate exactly how we can prevent HPV-related oral/throat cancers, which research shows to be steadily on the rise and more fatal than cervical cancers in the U.S.

Considering the lives of transnational adoptees

This week in North Philly Notes, Kristi Brian, author of Reframing Transracial Adoption, reflects on the assumptions commonly articulated by non-adopted people that rightly infuriate many adult adoptees.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow earlier this month to protest the adoption ban that prevents U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children. Although the turnout was impressive (reported estimates range from 7,000 to 50,000 protesters) I have to wonder what really brought all these people out.  Are the protesters genuinely united for the sake of Russian children as much as they say they are? Do people feel that they honestly need to help preserve the interests of the mostly white, middle-class, U.S. adopters left with pending or halted adoptions? Of course, it’s not too tough to get folks to stand up for the sake of “poor, orphaned children,” but it’s especially easy if a critical mass of people stands practically “at the ready” to yell at the big state machinery that hasn’t done much for them lately. I suspect this was the predominant unifying element of the protesters and I certainly can’t blame dissidents for making the most of a “hot” moment to demonstrate their democratic freedoms. However, when it comes to rallying behind precious, romantic statements about the immensely better life adoptees are destined to have in the U.S., I urge caution.

Reframing Transracial AdoptionsmAs my research on transnational/transracial adoption from South Korea explains (see Reframing Transracial Adoption), “the better life in America” assumptions commonly articulated by non-adopted people rightly infuriate many adult adoptees. Many of the adoptees I spoke with helped me to understand their reality of navigating the imposition of gratitude that surrounds being “rescued” from a nation often implied as inferior.  While it is true that Russian adoptions into white U.S. families are often pursued as a way to avoid the racial component of adoption, questions of belonging, origins, and abandonment are nearly universal to all state-regulated adoptions.

Not only do we have a lot to learn from adult adoptee perspectives, but critically observing the rise and fall of massive adoption projects, such as Korean-American adoption (the first and longest-running form of transnational adoption) should allow nation-states to learn from one another’s mistakes. Korea went from being the world’s top “supplier” of children for adoption in the mid-1980s to a “sending nation” that is, at least to some degree, more conscious of the meaning and impact of that history. This change happened through internal and external criticism, and most notably, in recent years through the dedicated reform work of the Korean adoptees who have returned to Korea to help keep more Korean children in Korea.

While there may be heartache for families with their minds set on a particular child to “bring home,” I feel abundantly confident that criticism and worldwide scrutiny of transnational adoption serves us all. If nothing else, dramatic legislative actions such as the adoption ban should help us to fine tune our understanding of the relationship between family and the state. Perhaps it will make us ask us what the state has done for our family lately. Or what the role of the state should be in helping us form families. I suspect most of us would like to think of the state as an afterthought. It’s there when we need it otherwise we prefer to keep it out of our family matters. Yet for folks fighting like hell to have the state validate their most intimate, loving partnership as legitimate and legal, the family-state question becomes more vivid. Similarly, for those of us unfortunate enough to find ourselves facing the threat of losing our family members, acquiring them, or reuniting with them based on the intervening policies of a state (including policies of the child welfare system, the police force or the prison system) the power struggle can get ugly.

When it comes to your family or your government, who do you expect to win the power struggle? And in the case of transnational adoption, adopters’ vision for family must interface with the power and politics of two nations.  When the fate of our families becomes heavily determined by the “personalities” of two competitive capitalist nation-states (with many skeletons in both closets) both posturing as the top contender in human rights protections, we can only expect a stampede of contradictions to complicate our attempts at creating family intimacy.

My ethnographic research on adoptive families has led me to a position much like the one being voiced by Russia’s Children’s Rights Ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov. Astakhov has stated candidly at human rights hearings on adoption that the “hysterical warnings” about international adoptions being the best viable solution for Russian children only serves those seeking profit from adoption.

The fact of the matter is, as much as we hate to admit it, transnational adoption is a marketplace driven by and reflective of capitalist modes of production. The desires of white Americans and Europeans (predominantly) are the buyers in that marketplace interested in “giving” a better life to a child of their choice. Race does play a big role in which adoption programs adopters choose. Given this fact alone, transnational adoption offers us a chance to follow the advice of philosopher George Yancy as he urges us to shift our gaze (in Look, a White!) to assess the ways of white folks rather than simply accepting them as the way things ought to be done. Look a Whitesm

My book explores the actions of white adopters in Korea’s history with transnational adoption. But more importantly it highlights the work of the Korean adoptees who have critically observed adoptive family life in the U.S. as well as the politics of race, culture and statehood surrounding their adoptions. Although Korea has provided more children for overseas adoption than any other place in the world since 1955, Korea has dramatically reduced its numbers down to 627 adoptions to the U.S. last year. That is still a lot of children being transplanted through the complex bureaucracies of two national-states that cannot begin to attend to the life-long emotional realities of adoption. The more we see those numbers decrease in all “sending” countries, the better I feel about our abilities to create home-grown solutions to globalized problems that often masquerade as new ways to embrace superficial multiculturalism.

No Magic Bullet When It Comes to Water

In this blog entry, Stephanie Kane, author of Where Rivers Meet the Sea, provides her thoughts about the world’s water crisis.

Muhtar Kent, President and CEO of Coca-Cola, and Dean Kamen founder of DEKA Research & Development Corp, televised their plan for sorting out the world’s water crisis on Charlie Rose’s program September 27, 2012. They were followed by Gary White and Matt Damon of water.org who are also working to extend access to potable water. Impressive as all this may seem, I’ve got to spin out an alternative scenario. For a moment, put aside the video image of Africans laughing with pure joy as they fill their containers. Imagine instead, yourself, living in a coastal village in the year 2015, after the Coca-Cola-DEKA plan has been rolled out. All the rivers, wells, wetlands, and seashore have been poisoned by toxic industrial waste and sewage. But no matter! Bring your bucket to the red and white repurposed shipping container emblazoned with corporate logos in the new town square.

Never mind sophisticated energy technologies (solar panels, biofuel converters, batteries) that run the water distillery. All you need to know about are the two hoses: You can take one hose and stick into the chemical waste pond from the local industry that pollutes with impunity and then take the second hose and put your  plastic container under it to collect clean water. It doesn’t matter how poisoned the source is because the new technology is as good as nature, just like water from clouds. And since there is no point fishing anymore (no fish) or farming (rice poisoned by arsenic), you can hang out at the container, watch TV, and recharge your cell phone: a one stop technology center brought to you by corporate beneficence and facilitated by your government and international NGO’s.

Like the proverbial magic bullet, this “slingshot” technology, named after David’s mythically effective use of a simple technology to bring down Goliath, soothes concerns about the aquatic environment. Who cares? We can go on living without guilt because innovation and corporate goodwill have produced a vision of reality that does not require the extension of municipal infrastructure to treat and deliver potable water through pipes into home or to collect and treat sewage. Nor in this vision do we need to sustain healthy ecologies. Water is essential for life and so is the Coca-Cola corporation.

The basic problem is not about the usefulness of this technology. I’m sure it can be useful in many circumstances. Indeed, using corporate distribution networks for the public good is not in itself problematic. (Is it?) The basic problem is the definition of the global water crisis: it is not simply about expanding access to potable water through technology and infrastructure. The crisis, if we want to organize ourselves by this metaphor, is part of the larger, more complex environmental question: how do we transform our ways of life to protect and preserve water habitats, the very water habitats out of which we will draw our drinking water? Are you OK with sticking a hose into a disgusting toxic pit to get drinking water? I’m not. I don’t want an “ecosystem for life” that comes from Coca-Cola. Do you? I want to be a living being surrounded by an ecosystem (wherever I happen to be located on the planet), not a consumer of ecosystem products.

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