January 31, 2005

what to eat, #3

Migas always make me think of this weekend in late October 2002. It was the first weekend of a really wonderful relationship, and we made migas that Sunday morning and talked about food. Migas make their own good memories, though. They're pieces of fried tortilla scrambled with eggs and served with whatever you like. They're a Tex-Mex breakfast food, but I've been known to eat them whenever and wherever the fancy strikes, because they're easy, filling, and delicious.

one small corn tortilla (some recipes call for tortilla chips; because I usually have flour tortillas on hand, I often use just over half of one of those, which is absolutely not traditional)
fat of some kind - my preference order goes butter, neutral (canola, corn, etc) oil, olive oil
2 or 3 eggs, depending on how hungry you are
cream or milk
hot pepper (ideally a bit of jalapeño, but cayenne, hot pepper flakes, and black pepper are all fine)
at least one more tortilla
embellishments: onions, mushrooms, other veggies, guacamole, salsa, chopped tomatoes

Heat a scant tablespoon of fat in a skillet until the butter foams or the oil is warm; tear the tortilla in pieces - an inch square is a good size, but they can be rough - and throw them in. Stir to make sure they all get coated in fat, then cook over medium-high heat while you do the other stuff. Check regularly to make sure they don't burn. If there's not enough fat, add a little more.

Break the eggs into a glass or jar and add a little cream or milk. It helps keep them soft and custardy when cooked. Add a pinch of salt, the minced jalapeño or hot pepper flakes, and whisk it all together with a fork until it's pretty uniform. Check the skillet: the tortilla pieces should be toasty-looking. Pour in the eggs, and immediately take the heat way down, to just above low. Stir everything together, and cook the way you would cook scrambled eggs. I like my eggs custardy, so I keep it on low heat and stir periodically but not all the time. Not stirring all the time lets big soft curds set up. At the end I stir a lot. Make sure you scrape the bottom of the skillet pretty often, or you'll have a mess of burned eggs at the bottom of your migas pan.

Serve with embellishments and another tortilla, heated briefly in a warm oven or on another skillet.1 Tear off pieces of your tortilla and use them to scoop up guacamole and migas. Mmmmmm.

If you're using onions, mushrooms, or other vegetables that you want to cook, you should throw them into the skillet with the tortilla pieces, and before the egg. This is also a good time to add garlic or other seasonings that do better with a little cooking. Onions always go in first, and cook til they're translucent before anything else goes in.

1. It really is worth heating it up.

January 27, 2005


I keep being tempted to tell people about it, though.

lost in cyberspace

This blog is on the internet, and I am the only person who knows it's here.

I love that.

taking it personally

The Well-Timed Period, an excellent and expert blog about reproductive health, recently wrote a long, furious post about Bush's conversation with the leaders of the pro-life march. It reminded me of Kameron Hurley's post about a country without Roe. Reading Kameron's post was what made me consider the possibility of losing Roe in a serious way, and it made me incredibly depressed. Reading both of these posts, it's clear that Kameron and Ema are both really, really personally angry about this, and I feel like every time I read stuff like that there's this voice coming in over my shoulder saying, "Hey, it's politics, don't take it personally. Don't be an angry feminist." I hear that voice a lot: when I'm the only person talking about gender issues at my job, when I get pissed off because some kind of mainstream media obviously thinks I don't exist,1 when I'm talking about social services being cut.

Of course I fucking take it personally. It's my life these jerks are talking about controlling. That picture of the patriarchy at work? They're deciding what I can and can't do with my body. They're making my medical decisions for me. And they've never even met me. They don't know anything about my life, but because I'm a woman I get no say in my own reproductive health. And make no mistake, the anti-abortion movement is about controlling women's bodies. When the same people are working to outlaw abortion, prevent access to over-the-counter emergency contraception, prevent access to routine contraception, encourage marriage for its own sake, promote the idea that women are naturally better caregivers, stop anything that addresses sexism, prevent access to sex ed, make sex ed about gender roles.... I mean, it's not hard to see the pattern here. Being able to have sex without risking pregnancy, being able to make a living without a man, being a legal person were big changes in the social order and women's lives, and these people want to go back to how it was before. And that's my life. That's my life they want to wreck, my body they want to commandeer, my sexuality they want to control.

How the hell can I not take it personally? How the hell can any of us not take it personally? And then when we do, we get told we're being too emotional. It's an implicit argument against feminism, because feminism gets associated with angry women, who are simultaneously too feminine (too emotional) and not feminine enough (loud and outspoken). The hell with that. We're not going back.

They're brave words, of course, but we may not have much of a choice. We may lose every legal battle, and see the US government slowly tighten into something pretty close to actual fascism. We may lose Roe. We may not have time to worry about Roe because we 'll be too busy with total environmental collapse. And thinking about those things a couple days ago made me despair. Because as far as I can tell, there is nothing I can do about it.

I don't feel that despair as strongly now. It's only a little because Amelia told me encouraging things about judicial respect for precedent and how things aren't that bad, yet. It's mostly because I thought about it, and yeah, there's not much I can do to affect national politics right now. But I thought about it, and we'll fight. There will be battles to fight and ways I can fight them. I'd rather not have to, but if push comes to shove I'll be there. Taking it personally, even when it's not about me.

1. Cosmo and magazines like it do this all the goddamn time.

January 26, 2005

literary trash

I went to the Berkeley Public Library today and got my card reactivated from when I was here three years ago, then walked over to the Central Library to get some entertainment. I've recently started reading Derrida's The Gift of Death, and the minute I picked it up I knew I wouldn't be able to get through it without a fair amount of trashy, entertaining scifi.1 This is how I work. I read really dense, complicated books, but I have to be able to take breaks from them. The distractions also push me to go back: enough trash makes me need substance and enough substance makes me need trash.

Looking at the science fiction shelf in the library, though, made me think about how much terrible science fiction there is in the world. Holy shit. And I don't even mean bad in comparison to people like Ursula LeGuin who are serious art-novel writers; I just mean bad. Formulaic and pretentious and gawd, is it poorly written. Not even entertaining. It's sort of depressing, because I love scifi. I love the super-brilliant stuff and I love the entertainment and I have trouble picking up new writers. If I don't have a pretty solid recommendation for someone, I end up worrying that it's going to be impossibly bad and just returning to the books I've read over and over, or to new books by the same authors.

1. I mean scifi the way it's shelved in the library: science fiction and fantasy. In terms of what I actually read for this purpose, I'd also include a fair amount of pseudo-historical fiction - the kind that's about myths, legends, and pre-history - and young adult fiction.

socialist utopias

Sometimes Berkeley seems too good to be true. For my last couple of weeks in Philadelphia, I kept talking about how I wanted there to be a public space with tools and materials for cooking and crafts and building. Like a sewing cafe. Places that would stock tools that are expensive for an individual or household to get, and that nobody needs to use all the time. It turns out that there are two in the Bay Area: the Tinkers Workshop in Berkeley and CELLspace in San Francisco. And they both have bike workshops and youth programs too. Plus there's a tool lending library for Berkeley residents or anyone over 18 who owns property in Berkeley, at the goddamn Berkeley Public Library.

Stuff like this makes me want to stay here forever. It feels like home. It also makes me worry that I'd get too comfortable too easily, though, and not feel like I had to really work to make it better, because it would already be so awesome.

January 24, 2005

what to eat, #2

If you happen to go snow camping, I strongly suggest the following breakfast:

Naan (or pita, or whatever they have at your grocery store)
Peanut butter - I like the crunchy peanuts-and-salt version

Take a small tupperware and fill it with peanut butter and nutella: you can put one on each side, and they'll stay pretty separate. When you're actually snow camping, you'll have to put this in your sleeping bag or bivy sack, because otherwise it will freeze and you'll have to eat it for lunch (assuming it gets pretty warm during the day). But it's the best damn thing ever, whether you actually bother to spread it on the naan or just eat peanut butter and nutella with a spoon and alternate with bites of naan.

January 19, 2005

what to eat, #1

Have I mentioned that avocadoes are in season? Here's what I've been doing with them:

1 ripe avocado1
half a lime
a very small handful of cilantro

Scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl large enough to hold it and let you stir things too. Mash the avocado up with a spoon or a fork until it's a good texture - a few small chunks, but mostly blended up. You can put the lime juice in right away, to keep the avocado from discoloring and to give you a little liquid to help with the mashing. Don't squeeze the lime all the way out, though. Add less than you think you need, taste, add more. Add the salt: put too little in, then taste it. I find that it takes a generous pinch, but you can always add more; and we might pinch differently. When the salt and lime and avocado are all well balanced, chop the cilantro up as fine as you can get it and stir it in. Eat it with a spoon.

People do all sorts of things with guacamole, but I think this is the best. It's simple and fast, and you can really taste the best parts of the guacamole. Tomatoes and garlic are fine, but who really cares? You're there for the avocado, and maybe the cilantro; the lime and salt just bring out the other flavors. Sometimes I add a little very finely chopped fresh hot pepper. My mom uses brined hot peppers, which disperses the heat more and also adds some salt and a different kind of sourness (from vinegar, instead of lime). I think the biggest advantage of hot pepper is that it balances the guacamole really perfectly without overwhelming any other flavor: round avocado taste v. sharp lime and cool cilantro v. hot pepper. The major disadvantage is that it's very difficult to get the heat dispersed effectively. Using a coffee or spice grinder, a mortar and pestle, or a blender might help.

1. Hass avocadoes - the most common variety in the US - turn black when they're ripe, and get tender. You can buy them firm, and let them soften into ripeness on your counter. If you can get to the Monterey Market in Berkeley, you should. The avocadoes have been perfect.

generalizations from ME

I've been reading the comments for this post about a Dilbert cartoon based on a joke that only women like shopping, and the comments keep reminding me of Larry Summers's latest adventure in stupidity, in which he tried to justify not having a lot of women in top science professorships while claiming he was just explaining.

Both the people commenting on flea's blog and Larry Summers are making vast generalizations from their personal experiences. "I like shopping, but I can barely get my husband to buy his own underwear." "My daughter got two trucks and named them daddy truck and baby truck." They see these personal experiences, they see stereotypes and heuristics which validate them, and they conclude that the stereotypes are accurate and useful ways of seeing the world. And you know, I bet they're confused, because flea and people who agree with her are also arguing from their personal experience (I hate shopping); so is Nancy Hopkins, an MIT researcher who did a major study on gender bias at MIT and has been very clear about her distaste for Summers's remarks (I'm offended because I'm a woman who likes to work 80-hour weeks). But there's a difference. Flea and Hopkins are looking at stereotypes, and saying, "The world is more complicated than that." They're not saying that there are no women who like shopping, or that there are no women who would rather raise children than study physics: their experience provides no basis for stereotypes, just a way to refute them.

For anyone who's forgotten seventh grade science (apparently including the president of Harvard University!) the scientific method works like this: you look around you for a while, and come up with a hypothesis. Your hypothesis lets you make predictions, and then you design an experiment. If the stuff your hypothesis predicted happens when you do the experiment, your hypothesis is doing ok. But if your hypothesis fails - if there are situations where your predictions are wrong - you have to get a new hypothesis, either by narrowing the scope of your old hypothesis or by finding a new explanation with new predictions. You can't just keep bringing up situations where your predictions were right, because there's a counter-example.

This is what flea and Hopkins are doing. They're giving a counter-example. And Summers and the commenters don't have theories that explain flea, or Hopkins, or me. They just keep bringing up times when they were right. Of course, nothing flea or Hopkins is saying means that Summers's daughter has to grow up to be a brilliant physicist or that no women can like shopping, so using that as a response to their arguments makes no sense whatsoever.

The rules of social science evidence are a little different, of course. I know that. One counter-example doesn't disprove the whole thing, because people are ridiculously complicated and varied. There's a lot to say about the real social science evidence that Summers is ignoring, or the way the kind of evidence you allow changes the results you get. But when you look at the logical structure, Summers and the commenters are making nonsensical arguments; and despite their use of the same kind of evidence, flea and Hopkins are making arguments that make plenty of sense.

January 18, 2005

the mystery of the hat

There's this awful woman who's been staying with my grandmother. She's gone now, but she used to say things like, "you're very perceptive for one so young" when I said anything even marginally intelligent (I'm 22, not 8), and constantly talk about all the important people she knew and important things she had done. Totally unreliable. But the other day she said something interesting: "With your cap on, you could easily be mistaken for a boy."

There's no way for her to know this, but my little brother and I have pretty much exactly the same haircut. We got our hair cut at the same time by the same person, my all-time favorite stylist, who lives in my hometown and makes me ignore all the fancy places in Philadelphia and San Francisco and New York because she's better. When she finished cutting my hair, after her usual comment about not making me look too butch, she said, "Well, they're pretty similar." We both have short brown hair, layered and slightly spiky in the front, trimmed and shaped in the back.

I've also never been mistaken for a boy, or almost never: a friend thinks someone called me sir one day when we were walking down the street, and it may have happened once in an airport, but people basically get my gender right. I have a really feminine figure, I'm short, I have no real facial hair (aside from the nearly transparent peach fuzz that actually makes me look more feminine than shaving would), and even wearing work pants and big sweaters with my boyish haircut or shaved head doesn't override the other gender cues (and anyway, I usually wear girl clothes: butch girl clothes, but girl clothes nevertheless). I'm really obviously a girl. In fact, my hair is often one of the least feminine things about my appearance.

I think she might be right, though. I can't figure out why: maybe the hat gives people less information in general?

January 16, 2005

I used to want to be cool

I love country music. So there. Not radio country, but Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash. Merle Haggard and Hank Williams and Emmylou, oh goodness. It's kick-ass work music, they have awesome voices, and they make fun of themselves and each other like family.

In high school, I claimed I didn't like country. It wasn't cool. I was totally full of shit. Country music will always mean cooking and washing dishes, driving out west, and my parents dancing in the kitchen. Of course it embarrassed me in high school. It's awesome.

January 15, 2005


I came to California, and promptly lost my cds, broke a dish, and ripped part of the toilet paper holder in the bathroom off the wall. Hrrumph.

on running

I've been running a lot lately, and further than I used to think I could. After barely running for the last month, I ran 4 miles on Tuesday, and another 37 minutes (maybe 3.5 miles?) tonight. I've been thinking that by the time I leave California I'd like to do a serious challenge run, something over 10 miles. Maybe the 11 mile roundtrip to Wildcat Camp at Point Reyes, or something up in Tilden Park - I have the feeling that the Inspiration Point trail goes a long, long way. It's a long way to come from sophomore year of college, when I'd never gone running and maxed out, after a couple of months, at 2.5 very slow miles. Even further from high school, when I would get up before 6 for aerobics classes at the Y (can you imagine? me in an aerobics class?) but refused to run under any circumstances. Except, of course, from enemies or to the bathroom.

I know a lot of people who hate to run, and because I used to feel that way, I think some of those people could learn to love it. Not everyone, of course. I come from a family of runners, which in this case means a family full of reasonable but not spectacular athletes and addicts. Everyone in my family gets a rush from doing too much. I remember deciding where to go to college, and choosing the place that would kick my ass. It did - I had no idea how to handle it for the first two years, and would find myself at the end of the semester with a massive pile of back work; so I'd have to work almost straight through for two weeks to get it done, and then I'd feel awesome. This isn't a healthy way to do things: I get a lot done, sometimes, and I like running, but I'd be better off working steadily. We also have a lot of addicts - cigarettes and alcohol, and most of the women in my family have eating disorders. It's the same feeling, right, except starving or binging instead of schoolwork, or exercising compulsively instead of pushing yourself right at a particular moment. And feeling like you have to kick your own ass to be alive is often really unhealthy. If you like it, though, if you really enjoy doing things that are incredibly difficult for you, you might like running. It also helps to be ok at it, and to have good joints: if your joints are bad, running is going to do you very little good.

I don't really think running is good for your body, except for the cardiovascular stuff. For being healthy, as opposed to good at a particular activity (running, boxing, skiing, anything that takes intense cardiovascular power) or high on endorphins, I think walking and yoga are probably both a lot better. Or non-competitive swimming. Walking and swimming have enough resistance to keep your bones strong, yoga gets you flexible, none of them destroy your knees and ankles like running does. There's a cult of running that says that it's the only serious exercise, but that's total nonsense. If you want to love your body and be healthy, you should do whatever physical activity makes you love your body and be healthy. Walking, swimming, yoga, aerobics, canoeing, squash. The people who think their own kind of exercise is the best can all go to hell. For me, though, running is amazing. I like the high and the cardiovascular resource, but I also just like how it feels.

I started moving towards running after high school. I'd taken these weightlifting classes - all women, supportive environment, ages from 15 to 75 - and I kept doing circuit training the summer after I graduated. I also started doing the elliptical cross-trainers, because they were low impact and didn't make my breasts bounce. In all seriousness, that was a major reason that I hated running. I played pick-up ultimate, which involved running, but that was ok because I had some goal (catching the frisbee! blocking my opponent!) to distract me from the way my breasts bounced. Back to the elliptical trainers: they also helped me build up enough cardio fitness that when I went to college and lived with two other people who wanted to take up running for the first time, I could do it. It was fun - we'd go on sunny afternoons and run about 2 miles, very slowly, and then drink tea and bake things to avoid thinking about schoolwork. One of them has since switched to yoga and bicycling as her primary exercise, and the other runs marathons. Go figure. When I decided to play on the ultimate team, I could just barely sort of maybe if I tried really hard keep up with the rest of the team and be completely exhausted at the end of warm-ups. I remember one round of sprints nearly made me cry during the spring break training trip. I quit. It was a kick-ass team, and I contributed just about nothing.

But it made me a runner, sort of. I couldn't have started from scratch and gone running; I needed the gradual build-up. I ran intermittently, always slowly and about the same distance - 2 miles, occasionally 3 - until last spring. I'd been running pretty consistently just then, and I had this realization. I wasn't turning around because I was exhausted or expected to be exhausted at the end. I was just sick of it. I was bored. Running the same route in Philadelphia day after day is boring as shit. It was a great thing to realize. I ended up asking a good friend who can outrun me over any distance to flat-out do me a favor and go running with me to keep me company, and it was a revelation. I could run for almost an hour at a reasonable pace, and I could run almost indefinitely if we went slowly enough. I think the difference between 2.5 miles and 5 is a lot less than people think. It is for me, anyway. I'm running 40 minute increments now, and I want to go out on Sunday and make it 75 minutes because I think it's possible. I haven't run that far in almost a year.

That friend and I actually ended up with an arrangement that I loved, and which is by far the best running arrangement I've ever had. He would run from his house to mine at his pace: about 4.5 miles, and a 7 or 8 minute mile. We'd have some water, drive up to Fairmount Park, and do a nice hour-long cooldown for him, which was my run. I never ran too fast or far for him to keep up with me, and he could push me a little but he didn't need to for it to be a good run for him. The only time I did anything like maxing him out was on this fairly brutal hill, which for some reason I felt like running up. Of course, then he moved to DC.

Running alone has never worked very well for me, until just now when I started running at one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. That's pretty helpful. Treadmills make me crazy, so that's not really an option. I've also learned that I have to be careful about eating when I run. I need to eat before I go, so rolling out of bed in the morning and running out the door is no longer an option, and I can't eat right before I run or I'll want to puke.

I eat an enormous amount when I'm running. I think this would happen with any physical activity, though: whenever I'm really active, I feel like eating anything in my general vicinity. Over the last year I've even started craving meat, something that has never happened before in my nine years of vegetarianism. There are people who run a lot who are vegan, but I don't know how. Actually, I called one of them when I felt like no matter how much I ate I was still hungry, and said, "What did you eat?!" and he said, "Well, I ate probably two pounds of tofu a day. Sometimes three." Oh. Right. My current strategy is avocadoes, because I'm in California and they're in season. I'm trying for one a day, but it might get too expensive.

I have to drink a lot of water. Juice is actually better, because then I get calories too. And stretch - stretching is awesome. You do it for five minutes, and then you're not sore the next day. My friend who I used to run with who did the marathon also has a training technique that she swears by: run five minutes, walk one. Repeat for 26.2 miles. She said it doubled her mileage immediately to walk one minute out of six. I haven't tried it, but everyone I know who has loves it. The major thing I do is to go slow. I'm not super-interested in going fast, so I don't. Sometimes I'm really slow, sometimes I go a little faster, but I'm never going much faster than a 10 minute mile. It's nice. By the time I'm done with my run, my whole body has sort of warmed up and loosened and stretched out.

Those are my running tricks. But I think the most important thing is that if, on balance, you hate it, you shouldn't do it. Do something else. Do something you like. There are so many awesome physical things to do in the world that no one should have to be miserable exercising.

January 14, 2005

we should NOT return to modesty

I just finished Wendy Shalit's A Return to Modesty and nearly threw it into the Pacific Ocean, which was about ten feet in front of me.1 Holy shit, it's annoying. Her argument, as briefly as I can make it, is that women should be more sexually modest (i.e. not have sex or any significant sexual contact) because that's the best way for women to be happy, individually and as a class. She says a couple of things that strike me as both interesting and important, but none of them are about sexual modesty; the best I can say for her ideas about sex are that, yeah, fine, no one should harass her for having them. Other people who feel the same way should join with her to create a subculture in which they're all happy. Meanwhile, I'm annoyed. Why?

1. She's constantly talking about "now that we've gotten rid of the patriarchy..."2 Hey! The patriarchy is still here! I even have a picture of it. Alternatively, please look at any photo of the US Congress or a state legislature, or think about the fucking pay gap. The people who make decisions about women's reproductive rights (i.e. my body) are all old guys. That's patriarchy, folks.

2. She's advocating for a return to a "true" womanhood, which existed in relationship to a "true" manhood. It's interesting - everyone I've ever heard say this is a good idea fits fairly neatly into gender norms. I don't. I can do a passable imitation of femininity, but I'd rather be out in the woods not showering and kicking ass, and I'm certainly not interested in being quiet and sweet. Barry at Alas, a Blog and Kameron at Brutal Women occasionally write about growing up as a less than masculine boy and a less than feminine girl, respectively. It's hard and often miserable, and the more people like Shalit prop up those norms (even arguing that people who have abandoned them should go back), the worse it gets. Which brings me to the next problem.

3. Shalit romanticizes the past, when men were men and women were women and gender norms created courtesy and made everyone nice to everyone else. But you know what? Women couldn't own property. Women couldn't vote. Women weren't legally persons. Not only that, but the women of that time worked their butts off to make sure that things changed; Shalit doesn't seem to notice that the world she romanticizes created the feminist movement. She talks a lot about how happy her grandmother and her friends are, but they can't have been that satisfied with gender relations: they and their daughters moved heaven and earth to change them. It reminds me of Kameron's neat way of phrasing a big problem that feminist (or otherwise tough) women have: the simultaneous desire to be a real person and to be loved. Shalit comes down squarely on the side of trading personhood for her version of a satisfying romantic life. It seems like that isn't a trade-off in her life: the kind of person she is and wants to be is modest and feminine, and this book comes out of her frustration with not being able to find men who want to be chaste with her. It's about her struggle to be a real person and be loved, but at the same time she undercuts everyone who doesn't want to be the same kind of real person as her. There must be something wrong with us. We're not really women, because women, says Shalit, are naturally modest and embarrassed and want sex to be the same thing she wants it to be. The hell with that. I'm a real woman, and I like messing around in the woods and fighting and being strong, and having egalitarian buddy relationships with people. One major goal of the last, say, 40 years of feminism has been trying to convince people that women aren't all the same. Shalit apparently hasn't noticed.

4. She also never considers queer people. The words queer, homosexual, lesbian, and gay do not appear in the index. The only mention of queerness is in the context of virgins being teased that they may secretly be "lezzies," and it's in a quotation from someone else. This is a book about sexuality by a woman who went to a small liberal arts college in the late 90s. She must have known that queer people existed.

5. Feminism is about way more than romantic relationships, and all the behaviors Shalit recommends will keep us from those other goals. She doesn't even think of it. The pay gap? Female legislative representation? Women judges? Being modest, decorous, and following the gender rules will keep us from those goals, which, frankly, are a pretty big deal to me. It shows how little Shalit understands both feminism and gender that she doesn't consider this.

6. This is yet another book about gender that says, "you know, if women would just go back to their places and be more feminine, we wouldn't have all these uncivilized males running around being sexually violent." Shalit argues over and over that women's job is to be feminine and thus "civilize" men, and that it's therefore unsurprising that men are "rude"3 to women. I find this kind of logic insulting to men, who are presumed to be wild and uncivilized and in need of women to be human. It also places the major burden for sexual violence on women, and you know, that's just stupid. I may not be very inspirational to a man looking for civilizing influences, but that does not make me responsible for sexual violence. It just doesn't. And that kind of argument tends to restrict women's choices by predicting the downfall of civilization if they act like themselves instead of like a gender norm. It also helps justify blaming the victim: it's pretty easy to move from Shalit's argument to the argument that women who aren't modest, or aren't feminine, have no one but themselves to blame if they are sexually assaulted. After all, they didn't inspire proper masculinity in the men around them, and they didn't look for protection to the men in their lives. Shalit has a particularly stupid section in which she basically blames a woman's murder by her abusive boyfriend on her independence and her family's respect for it. What exactly was this woman supposed to do? Refuse to leave the house without a male relative for protection? Shalit never gives us anything specific.

I think what I find most frustrating is that, hidden in this incredibly irritating book, are a couple of really important insights. Our culture is, in fact, really fucked up about sex.4 Sexual violence is a huge problem. Most of the mainstream discussions of sex I've seen - primarily in Cosmo, Maxim, etc, but also in mainstream news media - talk about it in a transactional, exploitative, mechanistic way that makes me feel vaguely ill. I'm not promiscuous, and I doubt I ever will be: in friendships and romantic relationships both, I tend to want depth of attachment and understanding more than I want lots of casual interaction. I'm not particularly personally threatened by the idea of having fewer sexual partners. But that's me. And if others can have healthy, meaningful relationships casually, that's fine with me. What's not ok is the kind of 'how to get what you want from other people regardless of what they want' that appears in Cosmo, Maxim, etc, and that seems to be an integral part of some people's dating lives. It's manipulative, disrespectful, and gross, and I have no idea why anyone would want that kind of romantic life.

This isn't the same as saying that you shouldn't be friends with your exes, or shouldn't have casual relationships, or shouldn't go on dates: those things are all possible (and I have seen them and sometimes done them) without manipulative, disrespectful behavior.

The most interesting conclusion she comes to is something along the lines of, "liberalism has made us independent, but it has not made us free," coupled with the conclusion that some ways of life work only with enough social support. The cult of the individual - the idea of the unencumbered, rights-bearing self who enters into the social contract - is one of the founding elements of the modern American public philosophy, though Michael Sandel argues5 that it wasn't always so. I find the idea of myself as an unencumbered, rights-bearing individual absolutely inadequate in just about every circumstance: figuring out what kind of life I want to live, what kind of educator I want to be, what kind of government I want, who I am. Part of what makes us human is that we are encumbered, that we have relationships and obligations and that some of those obligations are to our society as a whole. We need social context for our lives, and we need the kind of narrative structure that Shalit constructs for herself as a modest woman. She is also right that social codes of decency and virtue (by which I mean honesty, compassion, courage, etc, rather than chastity) are important: we need guidance in conducting our daily lives and becoming better people that the law does not and should not offer. But our need for such rules doesn't mean we have to accept whatever ethos is handiest. Especially not when we've spent the last hundred years trying to get rid of all the ways it's sexist.

1. I'm just bragging here. Sorry.
2. Starting on page 10.
3. In quotation marks because I don't think rape and sexual harassment are about rudeness.
4. Please, pardon the pun.
5. in Democracy's Discontent, which is less brilliant than I used to think.

January 12, 2005

in California, where all things are possible

1. Avocadoes are in season. Who knew?

2. I learned to drive stick on Saturday, in suburban Philadelphia on a sunny day in a relatively new, well-maintained car. On Monday, my first day in California, I took my grandmother's battered and ancient Honda Civic (stick shift) on the freeway in rush hour traffic during a rainstorm with directions that made no sense. Except for a couple of bad moments on hills and the moment when I tried to shift to fifth and it wasn't there, I was fine. Trial by fire, anyone?

3. Land's End. Not the clothing company, the spot in San Francisco. Whoooo eeee. My soul feels showered and massaged.

4. I ran four miles up at Inspiration Point last night. More than I've run in two months, and the first time I've run in over two weeks. Then I came home and did 55 push-ups and sit-ups, which I've certainly never done. I recently discovered the ladder concept - do 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups, 9 push-ups, 9 sit-ups, ...., 1 push-up, 1 sit-up. It's kind of miraculous. Because of course I can't do 55 push-ups straight, but I can do ten. And after ten and a bit of a break (during which I do sit-ups, or more accurately crunches) I can do nine. By the time I'm exhausted, I only have one left. And I hurt this morning, but not as badly as I expected.

5. I'm seeing an old high school friend a lot. It's amazingly great. I always remember how much I like him and all my fears that he doesn't really like me, and you know what? He does.

January 1, 2005


The Life Aquatic might be the most post-modern movie I've ever seen.