A modest proposal

12 April 2011

Free speech can sometimes be a hard thing to stand up for (witness the Terry Jones and Fred Phelps groups), and likewise the concept of Freedom of Information. In Wisconsin, state Republicans are using the latter to get access to all the email of a prominent University of Wisconsin professor, William Cronon (who has criticized efforts to strip state workers of the right to join unions), looking for times when he crossed the line from state employee to political advocate using his university email account. In Michigan, Republicans have submitted FOIA requests for vast swaths of faculty email from targeted departments at Wayne State, the U. of Michigan, and Michigan State. There, they’ve narrowed their search down by looking only for certain keywords, including:

  • Scott Walker
  • Madison
  • Wisconsin
  • Rachel Maddow (?!?)

So here’s my proposal: I suggest all of us put the term Scott Walker into every single one of our university emails. Every time we schedule a meeting by email, stick “Scott Walker” in the middle, no matter how nonsensical. Every time we grant a student an extension by email, Scott Walker. Every time we fill out a form and submit it via email to some university office, Scott Walker. I suggest we request of our students that if they’re going to send an effusive email to us thanking us for the 15 letters of recommendation we wrote on their behalf, they ought to mention Scott Walker.

I don’t doubt that these FOIA requests amount to an attempt to embarrass Bill Cronon in Wisconsin and faculty in Michigan. I also don’t doubt that this is acceptable and legal under the idea of Freedom of Information, which is intended as a value-neutral attempt to make government more transparent. I just think that if people try to embarrass university faculty — truly one of the least radical and most fearful groups of individuals in the US today — those activists ought to have to wade through an awful lot of the quotidian work we do every single day on behalf of universities and students. This work is burdensome, generous, and utterly apolitical. If activists seek to humiliate faculty, they ought to have to see our labor in its entirety.

More Maddow

17 May 2010

Rachel Maddow’s commencement address at Smith College this spring, which had me smiling from the outset, despite the slightly longish middle (because for you latecomers, I want to be, do, and be friends with Rachel Maddow):

Watch here at SheWired.com.

…in which I think about smart objects of desire and girls’ willingness to identify with both boys and girls.

I used to have a crush on Jon Stewart, but for a long time now it’s been Rachel Maddow.  Exemplary of her crush-worthiness is when she interviewed J. D. Hayworth — the conservative Tea Party opponent of John McCain in the upcoming AZ Republican primary — who’s been making a lot of political hay reviving the gay marriage “problem.”  The homophobic Hayworth claims that the Massachusetts Supreme Court defines marriage as “the establishment of intimacy,” and argues that such a definition leaves open the possibility that men will marry horses:

Maddow:  “Where in Massachusetts law or in the Supreme Court ruling does it say, ‘the establishment of intimacy?’ I read, spent the whole afternoon sort of looking for that, and couldn’t find it anywhere.”

Haworth:  “The high court in Massachusetts defined marriage in a rather amorphous fashion, simply as, quote, ‘the establishment of intimacy.’  Now, I think we all agree there’s much more to marriage than that.”

Maddow:  “Sir, I’m sorry, it didn’t.”  (Goes through every example of the use of “intimacy” in the decision and MA state law and shows it doesn’t appear.)

Hayworth:  “Well, that’s fine.  You and I can have a disagreement about that.”

Maddow:  “Well, either it’s true or it isn’t.  It’s empirical.”  (Hayworth stumbles and fumbles on his way out of the interview.)

Me, fawning:  “Rachel, will you marry me?”

It’s not just that Maddow speaks truth to power, like Stewart did on “Crossfire” back in 2004; it’s the brevity and lucidity of her comments like “it’s empirical” that make me go mad for Maddow.  (Plus, obviously, she takes no prisoners, likes cocktails, speaks frequently of her partner Susan, and is a geek).  But then I have a long history of wanting to be with smart girls, wanting to be them, wanting to do them, wanting to watch them.  It’s baffling to me that, according to received wisdom, men only want to watch men.  (Cheers to all those actual men out there who feel the same way I do about smart women.)

Smart girls are hot.  Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) in “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”; Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn) from “The Wire”; Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) from the “Prime Suspect” series; Sybylla Melvyn (Judy Davis) in “My Brilliant Career.”  They’re hot because they don’t need to please men; indeed, much of the time they’re smart enough to do without them altogether.

One of the problems I keep circling as I write this blog is that according to popular culture, men are the privileged readers/viewers:  they avoid women’s films and “chick lit.”  Women will read/watch everything, but men only read/watch stuff by/about men.  Because of this, it’s no surprise we have Harry Potter rather than Hermione Granger as the main protagonist.  I remember reading Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three aloud to a ten-year-old girl who unabashedly identified with both male and female characters.  When Scott O’Dell wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins in the 60s, he had to fight to keep the protagonist a girl.  (Never mind that it was based on a true story, or that he won the Newbery Medal and other prizes — the important point, from a publisher’s perspective, is he didn’t sell as many copies as he might have otherwise.)

In a different mood, this might be the opening for me to denounce the sidelining of women authors and women characters — and the concomitant emphasis on all those male buddy films, the fact that children’s shows have three male characters to every one female character (according to the new Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media), “The Frat Pack,” and all things Judd Apatow, in which men bull-headedly just don’t get women, and engage in a lot of fag and fart jokes.

I’ll keep denouncing those things, to be sure.  But for the moment I’m struck by something else:  the fact that, in essence, female reader/viewers learn what you might call a queer view of self.  I think women learn to see the world with queer eyes, a perspective that holds the possibility of allowing women simply to enjoy looking at women in a non-male-oriented way altogether.  The problem comes when women simply channel this toward making themselves attractive to men — but I think that if we can teach them to emulate the smart girls rather than the Playboy bunnies, we might see this queer view as really pretty subversive.

Now, Rachel:  please cover women’s issues more.