Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Not April Fools: Kittywampus Is Moving

So, dear and faithful readers, please follow me over to
or just click here. If you've subscribed to the Kitty, you can set up a new subscription there - and I hope you will! The old subscription will no longer work.

If you've been so kind as to blogroll me, could you please update my URL?

Comments have been turned off on my posts here, but the new site has all my archives. I'll keep these posts up on Blogger as well because some of my oldies still get hits.

I'd like to say the move is to celebrate the advent of spring but that's not the whole reason. I want control over a few features that Wordpress offers and Blogger does not. There's also another layer of explanation that I'm reluctant to go into here, which is related to the hazards of "blogging while feminist," to swipe Plain(s)feminist's eloquent phrase. If you're a regular reader and want the backstory, please email me.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Godless Professors and the Subversion of American Youth

Did you know that universities are subverting the minds of America's young people by turning them into godless socialists? Dr. Mike S. Adams, a professor at University of North Carolina at Wilmington, is dispensing advice at Townhall to a father who is distraught about his daughter coming home with scary new leftist ideas. Jeff Fecke (h/t) has already taken down Dr. Mike bit-by-wingnutty-bit - including his coinage of the oh-so-clever acronym STD for "Socialist Teaching Disorder." I just want to zoom in on one little piece of Dr. Mike's take on university life:
First of all, I want you to understand that many of the crazy ideas you hear your daughter espousing are commonplace on college campuses. Nonetheless, it must have been shocking for you to hear that she supported Barack Obama in the last election principally because of his ideas about “the redistribution of wealth.” I know you were also disappointed to hear of her sudden opposition to the War on Terror and her sudden embrace of the United Nations. Most of all, I know you are disappointed that she has stopped going to church altogether.

Now that your daughter is not going to church it will be easier to get her to accept other policies based on economic and cultural Marxism. Socialist professors like the fact that average church attendance drops dramatically after just one year of college. God and socialism are simply incompatible. One cannot worship both Jesus Christ and Karl Marx.

(If you must, you can read the rest here.)
Although I'm not a real socialist - just a fan of redistribution, thanks to my pastor when I was 14! - I am one of those freethinking university professors. Scandalously, I think it's a good thing when my students start to examine their beliefs and preconceptions.

I just finished teaching a class on religion, gender, and sexuality that might well enrage Dr. Mike. I framed patriarchy in materialist terms and lectured on how poverty multiplies the odds that a woman will terminate a pregnancy. (Socialism!) We discussed the Gnostic Gospels and the struggle between heterodoxy and orthodoxy in Christianity. (Heresy!) We delved into the roots of the Christian valorization of virginity. (Sluttishness!)

At the end of the quarter, students were asked to write a short essay in which they discussed how their views had changed over the past ten weeks. Many of them said that the class upset their certainties. Some of them questioned their faith. How, after all, can you trust the Bible's authority if a politicized Church hierarchy - not divine revelation - determined which books became canonical?

So yeah. Dr. Mike would hate this class. So did one student (out of 85), judging from the final exam. She objected to the feminist framing of the material. She would have preferred ten weeks of Catholic dogma. She transparently didn't bother to engage with the material in any serious way.

The rest of the students - including many current and former Catholics - realized that they didn't have to follow any party line. Not mine; not any religion's. One young Catholic woman had a real crisis of faith mid-quarter. By the end of the quarter, she felt stronger in her beliefs than before. Another young woman who's planning to become a minister wrote of her past and present struggles with her faith.

Did I turn those students godless? Not by any stretch. And that was never my intent. If a person is going to embrace faith as an adult, they're going to have to find it themselves. They can't just continue believing a Sunday School version of it with colorful, sanitized pictures of Daniel in the lion's den and Jesus surrounded by fluffy lambs. They'll have to navigate their way from dogma to actual faith. That's exactly how some of my religious students used the class. They started questions and haven't stopped. And they have matured in their beliefs. (Interestingly, a number of them declare some affinity for Buddhist ideas, even as they remain in their own faith tradition.)

A substantially minority of my students wrote that they consider themselves agnostics or atheists. So did I convert them to godlessness? A few of them did begin to call themselves agnostics during the class, but most of them came into it already rejecting or questioning religion. Many of them felt liberated at being able to "come out" about their unbelief in their discussion groups - something they often had felt unable to do, until now.

These students took my class for one of two reasons. Some had grown up without any religion and felt they needed to close a gap in their education. Others were questioning their religious upbringing or had rejected it altogether, often in the wake of a loved one's death. (It's ironic and sad that religion seems so often to fail people at the very moment when it's supposed to provide the most comfort.) Disproportionately, the students in this second group had been raised Catholic. For most of them, the Church's condemnation of homosexuality was a serious dealbreaker, with its position on abortion and contraception coming in a close second.

This is why the Pope's statement on gender last Christmas made me crazy. There was some controversy at the time about what the English word "gender" connotes when used in Italian (as in the Pope's address), and I can't speak to that as an expert. I know about a dozen words of Italian and I wasn't raised Catholic. But the context - as well as some of the smarter commentary on this - convinced me that he was affirming the church's teachings on the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and traditional gender roles.

More importantly, the Pope was trying to shut down all discussion of all gender issues within the Catholic Church. This is exactly what's driving young people out of the Church. They see the condemnation of homosexuality and the hierarchy's refusal to even discuss it as contemptuous and inhumane.

Dr. Mike, his letter-writer, and (I'm betting) a lot of conservative parents want to short-circuit that discussion too. It's a terrible loss, because their kids want to have it. They need to have it. That goes for everyone from the young fundamentalist to the hard-core nihilist. (And yes, the range in my class was that wide.)

If Dr. Mike were paying attention to his students, he'd realize that whatever their professors do or say, they are at an age where they're bound to question their upbringing. A good university education should help them learn to think for themselves in a more thorough, systematic, and deeper way. It should prod them to question received wisdom and authority. It should expose them to a variety of viewpoints. (Yes, even Dr. Mike's.)

If that's subverting young people, then I'm blessed to be a part of it. One student sent me an email at the end of the quarter saying the class had changed her life; another said the same as she turned in her exam. I don't personally take too much credit, because the potentially life-changing work happened in the discussion groups, not in my lectures. But even so, staying on the job full-time this quarter through weeks of illness and fear was probably the hardest thing I've ever done, and I'd worried that my students got cheated. I blubbed in gratitude when I read that email.

Oh, and as far as I know, I didn't convert a single student to Marxism. Nary a Trotskyist. Not even a mild-mannered socialist-feminist. I guess I'd better try harder.

Sexting TMI Tuesday

Uff da. Back in my premarital days when I was ethically eligible for a booty call, there was something called the "mobile car phone." It was anchored to your car with a 500-pound weight. It did not allow for texting. It barely permitted talking. I think if you tried to do anything sexy with it, you'd be crushed under its heft as soon as even one hand left the receiver.

1. Have you ever sent or recieved a sext message?

This would presume that I know how to text. I'm a kick-ass typist, but I require a querty qwerty keyboard.** I realize I just disqualified myself as an authority on my sexting post from a few days ago. I wouldn't mind receiving a sext message (from someone scrumptious my own age) but I probably couldn't figure out how to retrieve it. Oh, and my phone battery would surely be run into the ground. I am a walking billboard for landlines, pathetic as that is.

2. Have you ever made or recieved a booty call?

Well, this was back when phones were mostly analog, all attached to a wall jack, and still invariably owned by AT&T. But yeah. I'd just broken up with my college boyfriend and didn't foresee getting back together again. If I'd just waited a few days, my luck would've changed again. Luckily for me, I didn't wait, and I got to know the soccer legs of a workmate up closer than I'd ever hoped. (He would be worth a post or two of his own.)

3. Have you ever added or edited a word/entry to Wikipedia or Urban Dictionary or any other online reference?

I haven't added anything, but last I checked "Kittywampus" on Google, the only entry leading this blog was, in fact, Urban Dictionary.

4. At what age did you have your first consensual sexual experience?

Define sexual?

Okay, so there's not much point in nit-picking. I was a young-ish college freshman, and it all happened - everything from glorious oral sex to PIV coupling - the summer after freshman year, in the few months before I turned 19. I was so intent on moving beyond virginity, I wasn't terribly concerned with definitions.

5. What has been the greatest age difference between you and a consensual sexual partner?

Why, that would have to be my husband and long-term mate. He's six years older almost exactly. (I once had a not-quite-consensual experience with someone who might be a bit older yet, but that's a whole 'nother story, not light enough for TMI any day of the week.)

Bonus (as in optional): Why do you blog?

Umm, to embarrass myself in front of my ex-students who read this? To confirm my college friends' worst opinion of me? Actually, I think I do it to play with ideas that are otherwise outside the bounds of stodgy academic discourse. Why do I play TMI? Because I'm plum out of ideas for the moment - and the questions (or at least my answers) aren't so dreadfully shocking for my aforementioned students.

** Update: Seems I overestimate my typing skills! Well, let's just says I type faster than I think, and here's your evidence (if the rest of this blog didn't already prove it).

Monday, March 30, 2009

Love as an Act of Inference

My bedtime reading these days is a novel by Emily Listfield, Waiting to Surface. I'm only a few chapters into it so far, but it's making me wonder how well we can ever really know the people we love. The book's premise is that the husband of the protagonist, Sarah, disappears without a trace at a moment when they are estranged from each other and on a fast track to divorce.

While she's trying to digest the initial, nauseating news of her husband Todd's disappearance, Sarah reflects on something that resonated with me even though I'm pretty confident I'll never go through a comparable experience. (Listfield apparently based the book on her own real-life experience - a fact I'm trying hard to repress because it so horrifies me.)
People offer up fragments of themselves to friends, spouses, lovers, leaving each person to create the remaining whole according to what they have in hand, forensic scientists all. But no two pieces are precisely alike, some barely have any resemblance at all. Love, it seems, and understanding, are largely acts of inference.

(Emily Listfield, Waiting to Surface, p. 37)
Since I don't watch CSI but I did spend enough time in archives to warp my personality, the only metaphor that doesn't work for me in this passage is the "forensic scientist" bit. I'm picturing instead the archaeologist, holding shards of a life. Or even more pertinently, the historian, skimming through reams of documents that time's ravages have rendered fragile and frustratingly incomplete. The history of emotions is especially hard to reconstruct; in my dissertation research, for instance, I typically had to rely on doctors' accounts of how women reacted to giving birth, sometimes reading the doctors' descriptions against the grain.

We assume that the people we know are a whole lot transparent than that. Yes, people lie. But that's not what Sarah/Listfield is saying. She's insisting that it's in the very nature of relationships that we cannot fathom the other in his or her fullness.

In this novel, this unknowability and ambiguity lays the ground for (apparent) tragedy. Even in the absence of high drama, however, I think that our fragmentary understanding helps explain how a partner can demand a divorce, or have an affair, or suddenly declare themselves unhappy with the couple's division of labor - or maybe all of the above - and their partner may be blindsided.

Yet I suspect that recognizing love as an act of inference explains more than just the death of love. It may also hold the promise of greater happiness? Might it also be a call for humility toward our partners, which could liberate us (by, for instance, erasing the expectation that we'll always automatically be on the same page)? Might it open the possibility of continually discovering new and wonderful aspects in them? Might it suggest that terminal boredom in a marriage or other long-term relationship just means we've closed our eyes to how our partners are fundamentally unknowable?

I don't know the answer to those questions, but they remind me of Esther Perel's prescriptions for keeping a marriage erotically alive in her book, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. Much of her message is to cultivate a healthy distance and mystery. What Listfield suggests is that this mystery is always there, always present. Our task is to recognize it and celebrate it.

Perfect crocuses (which have withered since I took this picture behind my house). Relate this to the post as you will.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shaking the Sausage

My penis spam junk mail box has had some marvelous subject lines this week:
Your sausage will be reputable

Women will beg you to walk naked and shake it
Combine those two images and you get a visual that ... well, maybe you'd better not go there. I sort of wish I hadn't.

I'll try to get back to more substantive posting tomorrow; I am completely fried from a long day spent driving to Columbus and chasing our kids around COSI, the science museum. Until then, dear readers, I'll leave you to ponder how exactly a hunk of quivering meat can be "reputable." Better than disreputable, I guess.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Poetics of Heirloom Tomatoes

My Sungolds, August 2008.

Now that I’ve put my winter quarter grades to bed, I finally had a chance this week to start my tomatoes, a week or two later than I’d prefer. I grow them from seed for two reasons. You can’t get most of these varieties from nurseries, and I am just endlessly fascinated by seeds. (In theory, I might also save money by starting my own, but I sort of doubt it, since I’m too obsessed with variety.)

Most of the ‘maters I grow are heirlooms, meaning they’re older varieties that will breed true without any human intervention. If I were more dedicated, and better organized, I could save the seeds, but I’m not, so I don’t. I do grow a couple of hybrids: Sweet Million cherries, Brandy Boy (which combines the flavor of Brandywine with much higher yields, but is annoyingly available only through the Burpee catalog. And of course – Sungold cherry tomatoes.

The names of tomatoes are ripe with color and flavor. I’ve got a whole series of purples: Pruden’s Purple. Marizol Purple. Eva Purple Ball. Purple Price. Cherokee Purple. They’re more pink than purple, except for Cherokee Purple, which is actually closer to the blacks, but I love the very idea of purple. I will say that the pictures of Purple Price look close to a real purple, but I managed to kill it last year in the Great Overfertilizing Disaster, so I can’t confirm its color.

I fell in love with black tomatoes last year: Black Cherry (which grows huge but wasn’t especially prolific, Chocolate Cherry (new this year), Black Krim, Carbon, and Black from Tula. They taste dusky and rich. Carbon was great for me last summer, which smacks mildly of irony, since I live at the edge of a dying coal region.

The tomato my family nearly fought over last year was Kellogg’s Breakfast Tomato. No corn flakes involved: it’s a big, juicy orange guy. I’m also planting a couple of bicolors, Big Rainbow and Isis Candy (cherry); they’re prettier than what the Tiger renamed “the Breskit Tomato” but not as flavorful. For the first time, I’m trying a bicolor version of Mortgage Lifter, so named because its original developer apparently got himself out of debt thanks to the variety’s huge fruit and prolific yield.

For some reason, tomatoes – like ships – are more likely to get feminine than masculine names. I’m planting Kimberly, Snow White, Marianna’s Peace, Aunt Gertie’s Gold, and the aforementioned Eva Purple Ball, but only two with dudely names, Andrew Rahart’s Jumbo Red and Matt’s Wild Cherry.

Then there are the names that are all over the map. Bulgarian #7 (no word on the whereabouts of 1 through 6), Galina’s (a tart yellow cherry from Siberia), Azoychka (a medium-sized yellow, also from Russia), Caspian Pink, Stupice (from then-Czechoslovakia), Nepal (from the Himalayas), and Stump of the World. I guess the Stump is where you land after all that traveling. Oh, and there’s Giant Belgium, which is apparently from … Ohio.

To round it off, I started Brandywine, Boxcar Willie, Great White, and Sioux. And did I mention Sungolds?

I do not have space for all these plants. I'll no doubt crowd too many too close, like I do every year. Today I finally finished what ought to have been the fall cleanup (and was grateful to finish the job without fatigue sideswiping me). All those dead vines reminded me that fungal disease is my enemy, air circulation is my friend. By the time I plant this year's babies out in six weeks or so, I will have forgotten that lesson.

I've still got oodles of seeds, so if you want some, let me know in comments! I would seriously send them to you. (You'd need to email me your address.) Or just show up in Athens around Mother's Day, when you'll find me disoriented, circling my garden, desperately plotting a way to squeeze in just one more plant.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Feminism, Sexual Revolution, and "Getting the Milk for Free"

Are men really from Mars after all? I kinda doubt it, but last night I got a comment that seemed to come straight from outer space. It appeared on a post I wrote last month on a study that suggests kissing alleviates stress for men and women. Amy wrote:
Sunglold, I don't know what rock you have been hidding under... but there is a massive difference in the way men and women think and feel about sex (and kissing).

In my experience, men and women are worlds appart when it comes to sex!

Men have at least 10 times more testosterone than women, and testosterone inhibits bonding and increases interest in casual sex and sex with a variety of partners. ...

Women strive for attatchment, bonding, love and commitment. Women can't understand why men don't have more feelings for them. But put simply, men just don't have as many feelings as women. [my emphasis]
I'll agree that in most Western societies, men are socialized to be less expressive with their feelings. That's not the same thing as not having feelings, however. Most of the men I've been close to have stories - sometimes over a decade old - about being painfully, painfully dumped by an earlier girlfriend. Most of them now have children and love them just as fiercely as any mother.

Denying that men can feel deeply amounts to denying men their full humanity. And they say feminists despise men?!

Women can get hurt in casual sex. So can men. Women can get their hearts broken by a lover. So can men. It happens to virtually all of us who aren't celibate. It even happens to celibate people, too! (Some of my worst heartbreaks came during my virginal teen years.)

Where Amy and other anti-feminists blame feminism for bringing on the sexual revolution and leading directly to the shattering of young female psyches, the history is much more complicated, and most of it has little to do with feminism. Heartbreak goes back at least as far as Sir Lancelot and Lady Guinevere. The sexual revolution on the 1960s had its roots in youth culture, drugs, and rock and roll. The advent of the birth control pill in 1961 enabled young women to try out sex - whether in hippie communes, bars or with a committed boyfriend - without fear of pregnancy paralyzing their pleasure.

Second-wave feminism was generally chilly toward the sexual revolution, at least as most young heterosexuals were experiencing it in the 1960s and 1970s. Nowhere in The Feminist Mystique did Betty Friedan suggest that the path to women's liberation required shagging anything that moves. By 1970, Anne Koedt was assailing men's sexual incompetence in "The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm." The Redstockings saw men as well-nigh irredeemable; why would you want to sleep with the enemy? While the Redstockings Manifesto (1969) didn't go so far as to repudiate all relations with men, within a few years political lesbianism and separatism became a major current within feminism. Needless to say, none of these women were advocating casual sex with men, either. Third-wave feminism has generally repudiated separatism and criticized slut-shaming, but that's not the same as positively advocating hookups and casual sex for all women.

Where feminism made a difference was, of course, in opening up historically new educational and economic opportunities for women. These made it possible for women to defer marriage and to enjoy sex without bartering it for economic security. This, to my mind, was the real sexual revolution. It's just not the one people mean when they blame feminism for the failings of the hookup scene.

So yes, in a materialist sense, feminism enabled casual sex. But more importantly in the long run, feminism has opened the possibility of for us (men and women alike) to have sex only when we want to, not under duress, and not for economic security or survival. In a perfectly feminist world, no one would stay married against their will, for example, or submit to a spouse's unwanted advances. We don't live in that world yet. Plenty of people stay married for economic reasons. (Some of them are men.)

For those of us who aren't trapped by economics, feminism allows us to say no to the sex we don't want, and an enthusiastic, lusty, happy yes to the sex we do want. That's revolutionary, all right. It's just not identical with "the sexual revolution." It's also antithetical to the idea that anyone needs to participate in hooking up.

Contrast this with the bleak view of sex and men that Amy expresses at her blog:
Casual sex makes men LESS likely to commit, he’s not going to buy the cow when he can get the milk for free. At least the whores are setting the price for sex! Casual sex means no flowers, jewellery or chocolates. Engagement rings, marriage and kids will be even further out of your reach. Always wait as long as possible before sleeping with a guy; because once they get you, they don’t want you anymore.

(More here, including advice to flatter a man, then knock his ego back.)
Viewing sex as a commodity is almost certain to lead to heartbreak. I can buy my own chocolate. I can't buy love at any price.

And then there's a pesky little Kantian ethical issue with regarding sex, and by extension one's partner, as a mere means to an end. I don't much care whether the end is "getting some pussy" or "getting married." Either way, it dehumanizes and disrespects one's partner.

Amy expresses a lot of frustration with men who are users and losers and just general douchebags (my word, not hers). She has apparently had a run of bad luck, and I'm sincerely sorry to hear about that. She's also young and has a lot of time to meet someone who's kind and warm and interested in a real relationship. I hope she'll find her heart's desire.

My advice (not that she asked)? Stay away from the bars and the hookup scene if what you want is a relationship, because it's true that among college-aged people, more men than women will want to keep it casual (see Kathleen Bogle's Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus.) Don't play games; any guy worth loving is one who won't be impressed by manipulation and scheming. Avoid casual sex unless it appeals to you. If you do have casual sex, remember that you don't need to justify it by immediately deciding you're in love (thus preordaining later heartbreak). Be true to your own desires and respectful of your partners'; you might still get your heart broken, but you won't end up embittered.

And have patience. I was 28 when I met my husband, 30 when I married him. He was more keen on having children than I was. Fifteen years later, he may be getting the milk for free (or maybe it's the other way 'round?) but he's absolutely not a user or a loser. He feels as deeply as I do; he loves as deeply as I do. This isn't a fairy tale (and lord knows we've had our share of bumps and woes). It's just one example of how we don't have to be trapped by ideas that denigrate one gender or the other. For that, we can thank feminism's real sexual revolution.

Feline GPS?

I am so totally stealing this from Badtux. This is Maru. If you've never encountered him 'til now, he lives in Japan and has his own blog, along with oodles of YouTube videos.

Watch closely and tell me if you see any holes in that bag. I couldn't see any. Which leads me to conclude that Maru is navigating via feline GPS. Pretty cool.

When Slut-Shaming Is Not Enough ...

... then it's time for a legal crackdown!

According to the Columbus Dispatch, an Ohio legislator has proposed a bill that would define "sexting" by teenagers as a first-degree misdemeanor:
Rep. Ronald Maag, R-Lebanon, said he will soon introduce a bill making the creation, exchange and possession of nude materials between minors – commonly known as “sexting,” – a first-degree misdemeanor.

“Local prosecutors have brought to my attention that under current Ohio law these teens could be charged with a felony and classified as sex offenders,” Maag said. “There is concern that this may not be appropriate for these minors.”
Now, in Maag's defense, it's an obviously good idea to ensure that teenagers don't get charged as felony sex offenders! But why criminalize this behavior at all? Adults can send legally naughty photos of themselves via cell or post them to the Internet. Obviously, nude photos of minors bump up against child porn laws, so there's good reason to restrict them on the Internet.

But as long as sexting remains an activity between two consenting teenagers, I see no reason for them to run afoul of the law. Why not use this chance to decriminalize it altogether?

Of course, teens shouldn't have sex until they're mature enough to handle it. Sexting is likely to magnify their vulnerability. I wouldn't want my kids involved in it when they're 13 or 16. There's too much scope for harming themselves and others. So this is an area that sex education ought to be addressing. I don't mean just sex education in the schools; I mean parents, the media, churches - anyone who cares about kids.

But it's a sign of moral bankruptcy, on the social level, if we think the criminal justice system should take over a role that properly belongs to education.

By contrast, it should definitely be illegal to disseminate a person's photos without permission, because it violates his or her consent. The sad story that spurred Maag's bill involved a girl in Cincinnati, Jessica Logan. She killed herself after her photos were circulated throughout her whole school. What drove her to despair wasn't her initial act of sending pictures to her boyfriend; it was the subsequent deception and breach of trust. While this isn't identical to rape, her consent was violated all the same, and in analogy to sexual assault laws, that violation deserves to be punished under the law.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In Which I Apologize to the Wombat

Wombat photo by Flickr user Fifila, used under a Creative Commons license.

Following up on yesterday's post about the disappearance of the beaver, I was asked (offline) why I omitted the wombat from my list of alternative critters that could metaphorically refer to ladyparts. Since I can't see any reason to discriminate, I hereby apologize to wombats everywhere.

A quick Google search turns up a link between wombats and femininity that I had sadly ignored - until now. There's a WOMBAT mailing list - WOMen of Beauty And Temptation - for discussion of women and sexuality. It's limited to bisexual women, so I'm not eligible to join, more's the pity. There's WOMBATS - WOmen's Mountain Bike and Tea Society - for gals "with a passion for pedaling in the dirt." I like a nice smooth road, so I don't qualify for that group, either. But still! Two whole data points!

I dunno. The wombat is definitely as cute as the beaver, so why not? Also, it's a marsupial, which is just unspeakably cool. What that does to the metaphor ... I'd rather not speculate. You get into weird anatomy very quickly. (Actually, the space just behind the uterus and vagina is called the pouch of Douglas, so maybe the marsupial connection isn't all wrong?)

Then again, neither beaver nor wombat is as pettable - or intelligent - as the pussycat. So I think I'm gonna stay with the kitty as my metaphorical animal of choice.