Saturday, October 29, 2011

Reproducing Gender Inequality

Sitting through the strange pre-Halloween snowstorm in New York, hoping not to lose power.

Just ran across another great post at Sociological Images. It again examines the sexist double standard between women and men in Halloween costume choices. Lisa Wade provided a nice, quick analysis with the following quote:

This pattern — women can dress like men, but men don’t dress like women — suggests that there is, in fact, something demeaning, ridiculous, or subordinating about presenting oneself to the male gaze. Most men feel stupid, gross, or vulnerable when they do it. This isn’t just about conformity to different gendered expectations. If it were just about difference women would feel equally weird dressing in men’s clothes. Instead, when women adopt masculine ways of dressing and moving, they often feel empowered.

So, when men do femininity they feel ridiculous and when women do masculinity they feel awesome. This is what gender inequality looks like.

Halloween costumes present another way that gender inequality is produced, reproduced and normalized. This past summer, I wrote a post with a similar punchline describing the covert meanings associated with frequently used curse words. Bringing such mundane examples to light contributes to making them less taken for granted and hopefully helps to break them down as well.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thought Experiment on Remaking Economies

Update 11/2/11: Because I'm either prescient or ignorant (much more likely), I just ran across an article describing the incipient development of an alternative currency system within the OWS movement.

the Alternative Currencies Working Group at OWS is putting out for consideration by the General Assembly a software-enabled gift currency called PermaBank, that's premise is "to develop and deploy a set of technologies that align 'financial services' with the principles of permaculture." PermaBank would enable individuals and groups "to post their wish/requests and gifts/offers and indicate whether they've been completed." It would also use paper money and credit cards (on a local credit union).

It seems the currency will formalize and organize an economy that has already spontaneously sprouted, enhancing "the efficiency of the gifting culture that currently exists within Liberty Plaza."

The article also mentions a few other local alternative currencies and institutions that advocate them.

Original Post:

Over the past couple of weeks, inspired by Occupy Wall Street and Florida Governor Rick Scott’s critique of anthropology, a couple of the blogs (Living Anthropologically and Neuroanthropology ) that I regularly read have been exploring potential, anthropologically-grounded ways toward a more equitable economy and society. Those posts got me thinking about how to operationalize anthropological ideas for the purpose of social change. This post is an exercise in that kind of thought.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Students as Individuals and Consumers

Yesterday, my administrative duties included conducting a classroom observation of an adjunct faculty member. These observations have the potential to become very uncomfortable, cringe-inducing experiences. Thankfully, this wasn’t one of those situations. I observed a seasoned instructor who had an easy rapport with students and was clearly in command of the material he was presenting, which he made quite interesting and engaging. Another pleasant surprise was the level of active participation from students in the class (unfortunately, the completely passive class does exist).

While my methodological training is in archaeology, I’m increasingly seeing classroom discussion as an opportunity for ethnographic examination of the cultural worldview of my students, who are largely lower to middle-middle class who’ve grown up in the suburbs of New York. They do provide an intriguing window into how this local population internalizes and embodies larger cultural discourse.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Children's TV and Race

As the parent of two small children, I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur of children’s television programming. While I’d like to be one of those parents that could say, “my children just paint and dance, they’re not interested in TV,” I’m not (and it does really seem like I should be one of those parents). Sometimes, recourse to television becomes a necessary evil--say, like when you’re trying to do something as complex as wash dishes.

I’m well aware that television continues to be an important agent of enculturation in American culture that communicates important symbols to children. So, I do try to monitor the content of what my kids are watching so that it’s consistent with the values I’m trying to impart. I’ve got a lot of things I’m trying to do in raising of my kids, but specifically, I’d like to contribute to the breakdown of racist thought and action that still structures much of the American experience. While many advances toward racial equality have been made in recent decades, we still live in a society in which race is a major dimension of social division and stratification.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rick Scott, Free Markets and Pollyanthropology

I’m feeling the normative pressure to write a post addressing Florida Governor, Rick Scott’s recent comments about the value of liberal arts college degrees, particularly those in anthropology. The basic gist of his comment is found in the following quote:

If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take that money to create jobs. ...So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state.
Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.

Anthropology blogs, listserves and Twitter feeds are full of responses to to the governor. Anthropology bloggers have quickly responded with detailed and specific statements of anthropology’s many benefits. To my knowledge, the most comprehensive compilation of responses can be found at Neuroanthropology. The response of anthropologists has largely been heartening to see a nimble and reasoned defense of the discipline. My post here won’t add too much that hasn’t already been said. Many of the posts I’ve read detail pragmatic messages to communicate the practical relevance of anthropology.

While I completely understand and support the need to promote the economic benefits of anthropology, I just wish it wasn’t so (I feel like a “gosh-darnit” might be appropriate here). I know I’m being a bit idealistic, pollyannish and naive, but it doesn’t change the way I wish things were.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Columbus Day Revisited and Student Ambivalence

Just finished up a class that began with a discussion of conflicting views on Columbus Day. Most of my students expressed the general, “it’s just a day off” attitude and that none of them were out enthusiastically celebrating European contact with the New World. Why could there be much controversy? To be fair, not all students held this view as the student that asked the question in the first place, self-identified as Puerto Rican, expressed skepticism about the legitimacy of celebrating Columbus and his achievement. Most of the those students that seemed uninterested in the question were part of the generic Whiteness that defines so much of “normal” experience. It’s not that the quasi-silent majority was a group of pro-Columbus partisans, but more that even examining the holiday was equivalent to arguing over the existence of Santa Claus (a recent post on Living Anthropologically refers interested readers to how Columbus continued to serve as a symbol for American immigrant groups to negotiate a white identity).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Reflecting on Deaths: Steve Jobs and Fred Shuttlesworth

On my long commute to work this morning, I listened to the concatenation of NPR stations that I can receive on my way up. This morning, coverage was almost completely dedicated to the death of Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs. While death is often a sad event, especially for the friends and family of the deceased, the coverage struck me with how extraordinarily reverent and hagiographic the discussions were. Jobs’s life and career were frequently described as “visionary” and that he “transformed our culture.” Big words.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Myth Making and Child Rearing

What should have been expected event given the time of year, took me by surprise yesterday. I picked up my son from his new daycare provider--an incredibly nice, sweet and nurturing person--and my son began rambling on about ships on the ocean, brave men and new lands. It took me a few seconds, but then I realized they had been talking about Christopher Columbus and his voyages to what would become the New World. “Brave men” out on missions of “discovery.” My cognitive gears slowly began to churn as I thought about all of the implications and ramifications of what had been presented as a children’s story. My son is the child of two anthropologists who have politically left views...how do I deal with what, to the daycare provider is an innocent and simple tale?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Shameless Parental Promotion: New Title Image

Yes, the new title photo is of one of my children. That’s the main reason it’s there, but there are more. At the level of graphic design, I think it’s a very good picture of him in which he looks like an especially thoughtful one year old and its composition nicely balances it with the site’s title.

At a conceptual level, my children are major inspirations for this blog. Staying at home with them over the summer drove me to seek an outlet for me to think about things other than diapers and playgrounds. And, my relatively new role as a father has encouraged me to reconsider my experience as a recipient and purveyor of the symbols of my culture. While I never really was, I am definitely not now a passive receptacle, but a major agent of my children’s enculturation.