Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On Boys to Men (Not a Music Post)

Tonight I got to hear a wonderful talk by Rosalind Wiseman, author of many books including, Masterminds and Wingmen:  Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfrends, and the New Rules of Boy World.  You might know her as the author of the book that inspired the movie Mean Girls. She's been doing a lot of work on boy culture of late and the talk has inspired me to finally commit to a post I've been writing in my head forever.  I'll hit on what I believe to be the boy crisis, #gamergate, deconstruction, and histories of masculinity.  Hang on, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Fairly early in the talk Wiseman pulled off a move that we, in the cultural studies biz, call deconstruction.  (Deconstruction is not a synonym for analyzed and anyone using it that way will be roundly mocked in these parts.  You have been warned.)  Rather deconstruction is a particular analytical technique wherein the critic shows that the assumed dominant category is, in fact, the absence of the assumed subordinate category.  In this case, Wiseman was talking about the ways we structure the discourse around parenting boys and girls.   Working from my notes I understand Wiseman to argue that when we say "Girls are hard, boys are easy" we are actually loading tons of meaning into the category of girls.  That is, we understand girls to be conflict-ridden, emotional, and subjects with deep authentic feelings that we might antagonize.  And we understand boys to be "notgirls".  Wiseman points out that this means that "Adults don't allow boys to have the emotional lives they deserve."  This is absolutely true.  And it's a nifty bit of deconstruction.  We don't define girls as notboys, we define boys as notgirls.  Wiseman's talk was largely about how to get boys (and girls) to be conscious of, articulate,  and act on their feelings so that they can create more positive social worlds.  That's all well and good.  Her talk was amazing in this regard and she had many helpful ideas that I could totally see working with my students and my own kids, especially for my middle child.*

But I'm not going to write about that.  She wrote about that and you should by her book.  Go do it now at the link above, I'll wait.

What I am going to write about is this idea of boys being notgirls and the larger implications of it.  Since the rise of separate spheres ideology (and at times and places before that all the way back to the Greeks or earlier) we in the United States have typically coded activities as being for boys and girls and set aside those for boys and whatever was left was for girls.  Thus, with the rise of the Market Economy when all this was working itself out, boys and men claimed the world outside the home: the professions, politics, and the marketplace all of which were ok because these things could and would corrupt one and men were already corrupt.  Women were left with the home and morals and primary education.  Women were notmen.  (NB:  this required a shift in thinking about women's morality.  Women were now thought of as innocents to be corrupted by men, which totally inverted traditional Christian thinking in which women were primarily Eves corrupting innocent boys and men.)

Now at some point fairly recently, within my lifetime perhaps, boys stopped identifying themselves by positive traits and starting identifying themselves as notgirls.  Anything girls did, boys defined as feminine and not worth doing.  As a 6th grader, I loved disco music but quickly learned to disavow it publicly lest I be called "faggot" or "girly."  I asked for a copy of Bruce Springsteen's The River and tried to man up, but it went unlistened to for many years.   As girls claimed more and more cultural space, boys shrank their worlds.  Virtues that used to be considered masculine - like working hard in school - are now associated with girls.  I teach many boys that are "secret studiers" because they don't want other boys to know that they are trying.  There is a whole culture of "Chill" that disavows both feelings and effort.  Meanwhile, boys now apply to and attend college and graduate schools at lower rates than girls.  I know many little girls that are ambitious enough to want to be President (as I did when I was in 1st grade).  No boys I know make that claim.  They all want to be rappers or athletes, or perhaps, professional gamers, if they know such a thing exists.    These are basically three professions where there are not enough girls to matter (at least not widely visible girls in these sub-cultures). 

If you are wondering why the fake scandal of #gamergate is getting traction or why gamer critic Feminist Frequency is getting death threats it's because men who define themselves as notgirls are threatened by the mere presence of girls in their self-defined domains.

So, for those of us who care about boys (and by that I mean all of us, people) we have a tough road ahead.  We need to define a positive masculinity for boys to aspire to.  We need to announce loudly and proudly the values that we believe are necessary for boys to grow into men.  And we need to stop defining boys by what they are not, and affirm them for what they are:  human beings.  

*The middle child is the one whose life is like a reverse of the dinner scene in Annie Hall.  He's eating dinner with four other people who won't shut up and consider dinner conversation a competitive art and he doesn't want to say anything.    

Monday, September 29, 2014

More diversions

Watch this: 

And think how far Native American rap has come from here:

Seriously.  "Come do my body good like milk" was once the cutting edge of rez rap.  And no, nobody ever called it rez rap. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I'm buried under summer reading stuff and generally need to pay attention to school.  In the meantime, enjoy the travelogues of my colleague, Matt Noricini.  Funny stuff:

Picture, for a moment, your fondest – or most horrifying – memory of a middle school roller skating party. The intense awkwardness. The desire to impress. The gawkers and the showboaters – the whole intense, adolescent mess that was the rollerskating rink at that moment. That is giro in Albania, and it happens every night.
Read more here:


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Yik Yak Yuck

Anybody have any bright ideas on how to deal with Yik-Yak in schools?  For background see here.  We will do the usual exhortations to not be jerks on social media (which has worked somewhat well in the past) but this is a whole new level of yuck. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

More on SHEG

So if you're teaching a lesson on the Philippine-American War and you go to the SHEG website, you get this lesson.  On the surface, it's okay.  It presents two views of the War from a supporter of the war and someone who opposed it.  So far so good.  But the questions that go with it are kind of horrible. 

Here's the second source:

Document B: The following is an excerpt from a letter to the editor of the Kansas City Journal by Colonel Frederick Funston on April 22, 1899.  Funston, who was a war hero for his extensive service in the Philippine-American War, wrote and spoke often about the Philippine-American War in order to increase public support for American involvement in the conflict.
“I am afraid that some people at home will lie awake [at] night worrying about the ethics of this war, thinking that our enemy is fighting for the right to self-government ... [The Filipinos] have a certain number of educated leaders – educated, however, about the same way a parrot is.  They are, as a rule, an illiterate, semi-savage people who are waging war not against tyranny, but against Anglo-Saxon order and decency . . . I, for one, hope that Uncle Sam will apply the chastening rod good, hard and plenty, and lay it on until they come in to the reservation and promise to be good ‘Injuns.’”

Now this source raises a lot of questions in my mind.  Like, "what does the source tell you about how racial ideology played into justifying the war." or "How did recent experiences with Native Americans effect Philippine policy?"  or "What similiarities do you see in this document to recent justifications to end Reconstruction?"  You know what question is pretty far down that list?  This one:

Question 2: How does Document B also provide evidence that many Americans opposed the war in the Philippines?

No questioning of the ideology apparent in the document, no disclaimer about Aguinaldo (who is compared to a parrot).  Nothing.  It's like the last thirty years of history writing never happened.

By the way, here's one of the documents I use to teach the War.



After reading the review and the comments the only question left is how soon until Sam Wineburg wonders if there might be some merit in the argument and leftists are over-reacting. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

School starts tomorrow....

so it's not like I'm going to sleep tonight.  What better time to compile the 10 book challenge.

Books and some articles, one soundtrack.
Waterland - Graham Swift A wonderful book about teaching, history, the environment, men, women, families, pain, memory and forgetting.
My Side of the Mountain - I read it at least 50 times. Along with the Boxcar Children (the first one) it shaped many of my fantasies about wanting to run away and live in the woods.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I spent days one summer looking for a passage to Narnia. Mom had to ruin it by pointing out that Aslan was Jesus and books were never the same again. But in a good way. Reread the series recently and was appalled at how bad and preachy the books were. Still, lifelong fantasy and sf geek here and probably because of that book.
And while were on Jesus books, Stranger in a Strange Land. Because apparently I'm a sucker for SF/fantasy books about religion (setting up my later fascination with Orson Scott Card. Mom "ruined" this one too by helping me analyze it, though I appreciated it much more at the time. (While we're at it, I can still remember mom watching videos with me on early MTV and analyzing them. "That Sammy Hagar - it's just the angry young man trope" (on watching "I Can't Drive 55") I still can't decide whether this has ruined pop culture for me or made it that much better.
William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis. Michigan had no Western historian my first year of grad school. I read this instead. It was better than almost any class I ever took.
Allesandro Portelli - The Death of Luigi Trastulli You'll never look at memory the same way again.
Susan Lee Johnson - A Memory Sweet to Soldiers: The significance of Gender in the American West. David - gender. Gender - David. Nice to meet you. Oh and by the way, Susan, be my advisor? She said, Yes.
Keith Basso - Wisdom Sits in Places. Place - David, David- Place. OHHHHHH!.
Edward Abbey - The Monkey Wrench Gang. I regret my Edward Abbey phase now. And Desert Solitaire is better. But when I was 16 I loved this one more.
Sweeney Todd - The moment when I went from a kid who likes musicals to hardcore fanboy. I had the soundtrack memorized before I saw it. And then I saw it. From "the birthday seats." Wow.   It's very tempting to put South Pacific in here, because it was the first musical I loved.  Or West Side Story, which was the second (and I got to act in one summer) but this was Soundheim and a whole new world opening for me.  Again, the criticism thing from mom and my Aunt Naomi helped me understand this show so much better opening new worlds to me. 
Harry Potter (all of them) - duh

10,000 somethings

Is getting 10,000 page views like doing 10,000 hours of practice?  Can I officially call myself a blogger now?