Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sexuality in the priesthood

In November 2005, the Vatican released a document stating that men who have "deeply rooted homosexual tendencies" are not to be allowed to enter the seminary. (Those with transitory urges can enter the seminary, provided that they have been "overcome" for at least three years.)

Holding aside the fact that I don't agree with the moral censure of same-sex sexual and romantic relationships, I still wonder:

Given that all priests take a vow of celibacy, why does it matter what "tendencies" they have? Clearly, priests are not supposed to be sexually active, whether hetero- or homo-, but that applies equally to those with deeply rooted heterosexual tendencies. Why deter those who have same-sex sexual desires, as long as they can resist expressing them -- why not have the same behavioral standards for everyone and not worry about their sexual orientation?

Ok, let's say that the answer to that question is that homosexual desires are immoral, but heterosexual desires are not, and those with immoral desires can't or shouldn't be priests.

Then we need a similar stricture against all those who have deeply rooted desires which are considered immoral by the Catholic church -- lying, cheating, desire to use contraception, you name it. Heck, they need a screen for those who have deeply rooted masturbatory tendencies, since those are considered immoral, too!

I know the document specifically states that the church "deeply respects" the homosexual persons in question (while at the same time specifically excluding them from the seminary). But I can't see respect here. I only see prejudice and discrimination. And I am deeply disturbed by it.

What would you do if you were brave?

Listening to music I haven't heard in a while, a song by the Four Bitchin' Babes which has a refrain of, "What would I do today if I were brave?"

If I Were Brave
Jane Stanfield, Jimmy Scott

What would I do if I knew
that I could not fail?
If I believed would the wind
always fill up my sail?
How far would I go, what could I achieve
Trusting the hero in me?

If I were brave I'd walk the razor's edge
Where fools and dreamers dare to tread
And never lose faith
even when losing my way
What step would I take today if I were brave?

If I refused to listen to the voice of fear
Would the voice of courage whisper in my ear?
What would I do today if I were brave?

This assumes, I guess, that you aren't already brave (big assumption) and that fear is a substantial barrier to one or more of your actions. I actually think that my biggest barrier is time, not fear, but fear is relevant, too.

Where fear is a barrier...
If I were brave(r), I'd make more art. I'm afraid of making the "wrong" choices and wasting my (sometimes irreplaceable) supplies.
I'd probably publish more -- getting those negative peer reviews and rejection notices really makes it hard for me to persist in submitting the work.
I would be faster at completing a variety of tasks if the anxiety were removed; I do find that worries about doing something "wrong" makes it harder to finish tasks in a timely way.

Where fear doesn't deter me...
I'm not generally afraid of speaking out and expressing my opinion, unless I don't think I have enough knowledge to formulate an informed stance. I've never had a significant fear of public speaking (which is good, since I do it all day for my job!).
Although I'm usually nervous before performing, I don't let that stop me from singing, acting, or dancing in public performances.
I've never been deterred from asking someone out by fear of rejection (at least that I can remember). Right, Q? :)

Well, what would you do if you today were brave?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Inclusion or exclusion in this holiday season

A number of Christians have been expressing offense (or even outrage) at the use of "Happy Holidays"; instead they want people to say "Merry Christmas." There was discontent at the First Couple's holiday card, which did not specifically mention Christmas. Some have stated that they will refuse to shop at any store that has no specific mention of Christmas.

For those who are used to being in the cultural mainstream and having most of the surrounding cultural discourse support their cultural practice, it can be disconcerting to become de-centered. To suddenly become merely one religious/cultural tradition among many, with no special status, seems to connote disrespect.

But only if you are used to being in the cultural mainstream. For those who are accustomed to lack of cultural recognition, the intensity of the outrage seems odd.

No one is claiming that there isn't a Christmas tradition for some people -- merely that it is part of a broader winter holiday season that includes New Year's, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Ramadan, etc... But that lack of privilege, the lack of exclusive recognition, the inability to ignore other traditions -- that is what is most likely the galling aspect.

It strikes at the heart of the key difference in viewpoints: Do we acknowledge and respect diverse practices and cultures, or do we ignore cultural diversity and recognize only the dominant majority?

For those in the dominant majority, there is always the option of ignoring the minority traditions. Those in the minority, however, have no choice but to confront the dominant traditions in everyday life (e.g., Christmas specials on TV, etc.) and to be reminded of their marginalized status. Those in the majority may not even notice these references to their cultural traditions -- they are just "normal" -- but they may become deeply upset at the hint of removing any of these references. We don't notice the culture when it coincides with our worldview, but we notice any perceived "loss" of these cultural supports.

I believe in acknowledging and supporting diversity. I believe it is worth sharing the stage, instead of hogging the spotlight. I recognize that people find meaning in a variety of cultural and religious practices, and I am willing to support their path as long as it doesn't harm others or exclude others' paths. I'm not offended when someone wishes me "Merry Christmas", or "Happy Kwanzaa", but I am sensitive to the experience of being unrecognized and marginalized. And so my reply will typically be "Happy Holidays," with that meaning that you should find joy in the holidays you celebrate. And if you take offense at that, I think you have missed the point.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Abstinence only sex ed: biased, inaccurate AND sexist

It's old news that abstinence-only sex education is chock-full of scientific and medical inaccuracy. In a report prepared at the request of Rep. Henry Waxman (a champion of science) in Dec. 2004, over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula in the study contained "false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health." These programs, which are heavily funded by the federal government, imply that condoms are ineffective at preventing STDs/STIs and pregnancy (in contradiction to actual scientific data), include false information about the sequelae of abortion, and blur religion and science.

I knew about that part of the report.

What I hadn't heard about until reading articles in Salon and Harper's is how incredibly SEXIST these programs are. They are purveyors not only of conservative sexual morals, but also of gender stereotypes. Here is one of the parables that is provided to our youth:

Deep inside every man is a knight in shining armor, ready to rescue a maiden and slay a dragon. When a man feels trusted, he is free to be the strong, protecting man he longs to be.

Imagine a knight traveling through the countryside. He hears a princess in distress and rushes gallantly to slay the dragon. The princess calls out, “I think this noose will work better!” and throws him a rope. As she tells him how to use the noose, the knight obliges her and kills the dragon. Everyone is happy, except the knight, who doesn’t feel like a hero. He is depressed and feels unsure of himself. He would have preferred to use his own sword.

The knight goes on another trip. The princess reminds him to take the noose. The knight hears another maiden in distress. He remembers how he used to feel before he met the princess; with a surge of confidence, he slays the dragon with his sword. All the townspeople rejoice, and the knight is a hero. He never returned to the princess. Instead, he lived happily ever after in the village, and eventually married the maiden—but only after making sure she knew nothing about nooses.

Moral of the story: Occasional assistance may be all right, but too much will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.

What? I don't even think I understand what the point of this is, particularly in a sex ed curriculum. I guess we need to restate that men need to be in charge and to seem more knowledgeable than women. Women, hide your wisdom! Men need to know more, or at least think that they know more, so if you want your knight in shining armor, play dumb.

Oh, yeah, that's a good message to give young people. That furthers gender equality and sexual health. Ladies, don't tell your man how to please you or suggest he wear a condom, because that will lessen his confidence. Hey, what about *her* confidence, huh? It's sure to be bolstered by the reminder that she isn't as bright as he is.

Here's another gem:

While a man needs little or no preparation for sex, a woman often needs hours of emotional and mental preparation.

5 Major Needs of Women: Affection, Conversation, Honesty and Openness, Financial Support, Family Commitment

5 Major Needs of Men: Sexual Fulfillment, Recreational Companionship, Physical Attractiveness, Admiration, Domestic Support

So, women don't need sexual fulfillment and men don't need affection or honesty? I'll remember to lie to my sweetie as I'm admiring his big muscles and draining his wallet dry. That's the ideal relationship for me!

[Sarcasm mode disengaged.]

The really depressing part is that some people believe this *is* the right message to give the next generation, and it's being given out on a massive scale.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Cancer prevents premarital sex?

Paraphrased from today's Washington Post:

A new vaccine will be available next year or soon thereafter which will provide virtually 100% protection against two of the strains of HPV (genital warts; human papilloma virus) that are linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer in women.

Health advocates say: Good news! We can protect women from a cancer which now takes the lives of 3,700 women each year in the US.

Social conservatives say: But wait...if girls and women are protected from the risks of cervical cancer associated with contracting HPV, then they will feel free to engage in risky sexual behaviors, like having more than one lifetime sexual partner. How will we motivate them to be abstinent until marriage, and faithful during marriage?

(I guess that the conservatives forgot about HIV/AIDS, herpes, and a host of other STDs/STIs...)

These two groups are debating whether to make the immunizations mandatory (health advocates) or optional (conservatives) for children/young adults.

Social conservatives are so committed to eradicating sex outside of marriage that they are willing to risk people's lives for their moral vision. It's almost as though they welcome the costs of sexual activity as an impetus for sexual morality. If we can just keep people terrified of the consequences of sex outside of marriage, then they will be abstinent. Maybe if we could convince them that sex without the wedding band causes you to die instantaneously -- you stick it in, and just explode (*boom*) -- then they'd be sure to be abstinent!

Except it doesn't work. Fear is a strong motivator, to be sure, but it is not the only relevant motivation -- pleasure and affection and desire for intimacy are strong motivators as well. And adolescents are often convinced that they will not be affected by risks (termed the personal fable) -- it's hard to get them to wear seat belts, and that isn't even much of an impediment to enjoyment! How many young women think to themselves...Hey, I'd like to have sex, but I might get cervical cancer as the result of an STD. Gosh, it's not worth it...I'll wait until marriage. Many people don't think that their partners could be infected with an STD/STI, and I suspect that a great many young people don't even know that HPV can increase a woman's chance of developing cervical cancer. (Particularly since many sex-ed programs have been eviscerated to a bare-bones "don't do it" message.)

Further, one cannot control whether one's partner is faithful or not -- the abstinent-until-marriage and faithful-during-marriage woman may still get infected with HPV from her she supposed to die as a penance for his lack of sexual fidelity? And this doesn't even consider issues of forced sex. In short, apart from the obvious question of whether having sex with more than one partner in one's entire life is, in fact, the correct moral stance, the fear-based approach is unlikely to succeed in enforcing this stance.

Let's hope that the health advocates win this one -- I'd hate to see more women die from a preventable disease just to assuage the fears of the conservatives that young people might have sex before marriage.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Marriage: (E)Quality matters

From the Washington Post today...
Poor Marriages, Poor Health
By William Raspberry
Monday, October 24, 2005; A19
Black women are sick of marriage.
Well, lots of them, anyway.
I've just looked at "The Consequences of Marriage for African Americans," a comprehensive review of the most recent literature (since about 1990) on the subject, and the conclusions are generally what you'd expect:
Marriage promotes the economic, social, familial and psychological well-being of black men and women -- as it does for men and women generally. Marriage is wonderful for children, who turn out to be less trouble-prone than their peers from single-parent-households.
The economic benefits of marriage are more pronounced for black couples than for whites, more often keeping their families from slipping below the poverty line.
But when it comes to physical health, marriage is worse than neutral for black women. Listen to the report, newly published by the New York-based Institute for American Values:
"Our research finds that marriage brings small health benefits to black men -- and none to black women. In fact, married black women are significantly less likely to report having excellent health than are unmarried black women."
. . .
"Overall, the study shows the smallest benefit to black women -- but it's still an important benefit," said Malone-Colon, a psychologist who is director of the Washington-based National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, a clearinghouse for resources for strengthening marriages.
But a negative consequence for the health of black women?
"I know. There are some dynamics we haven't given a lot of attention to, though one could hypothesize. It probably has to do with the quality of marriage -- self-reported levels of satisfaction with the marriage.
"In a number of surveys, African Americans report that they are less satisfied. They also report higher levels of conflict -- even violence. Then there's the matter of domestic justice -- sharing household responsibilities. And infidelity rates are higher among African American men."
. . .
As the report itself notes: "There is every reason to believe that increased marriage rates, and especially higher numbers of good marriages, would bring significant improvements to black people's lives. To take one example, we have seen in this review that higher marriage rates among African Americans would almost certainly reduce the risks of juvenile delinquency facing young African American males."
Moreover, the scholars conclude, strengthening marriage in black America might be as effective as "any other strategy" in addressing the crisis of black males.
But the implied caveat is that they'd better be good marriages -- non-conflictual, nonviolent and fair.
Black women have seen the other kind of marriage and they are, quite literally, sick of it.

First of all, the entire premise is flawed: I'm always annoyed by the social science which purports to find that marriage improves the quality of life, whether that is health, mental health, child development, etc. What these studies actually find is that people who are married have higher (or lower or the same) average health, mental health, etc. This is at best a correlation between marriage and health (well-being, etc.) (and even that is not consistently found, as noted above). But now the important part (and this is Psychology 101, people): CORRELATION DOES NOT ESTABLISH CAUSATION. Just because two variables are associated does NOT mean that one of them causes the other. If every time a phone rings in the U.S., there is a baby born in India, does that prove that one causes the other? Not in the least. In this case, it may well be that those who get married are already more likely to be socially skilled, more mentally healthy, etc. than those who do not get married, and that the marriage itself plays no part in improving these qualities. So we can never assume that marriage has any causal impact until we do studies in which people are randomly assigned to get married or not...and I don't think I can get the human subjects board to agree to that one.

(Side note: Even if marriage does have some positive causal effect on people's lives, what would it be about marriage that would have the effect? Is it the legal recognition? Access to partner's health insurance? Social recognition? Different treatment from friends and family? Cohabitation? Commitment? Long-term partnering? Great gifts from the wedding? Without a clear model of what aspect of marriage has the beneficial effect, I'm loath to create marriage incentives, as we are working blind.)

Second of all, note the over-generalization: Even if there is some effect of marriage, it is unlikely to be the same for all people -- no relationship or social context will be universally beneficial to all people. Marriage, like any relationship, is enormously variable, and its effects will undoubtedly vary considerably, as the reporter notes. It's good relationships that have the potential to positively benefit people's lives: An unhappy, abusive, conflictual relationship will be more likely to decrease well-being than increase it.

Third of all, note the gendering: Marriage has generally been found to be much more consistently associated with good health and well-being for men than for women, and yet the social scientists promoting marriage continue to advocate incentives for marriage, as though this will improve everyone's lives. But, as the reporter notes, the report indicates that marriage will improve black men's lives -- to solve the crisis of black males, to reduce the juvenile delinquency among black males. Why is it women's job to improve men's lives? Isn't this just a variant on the Victorian trope that women's purity and moral goodness would save men from their bestial natures? Patriarchy raises its ugly head again.

And now the kicker...why does marriage benefit men more than women? Because of persistent inequalities in labor: Women do more household labor and more emotional/relationship labor than men on average in cross-sex couples. Because of continuing risks of domestic violence: Women are more likely to suffer significant physical injury (and risk of death) from domestic violence than are men. What does it all boil down to? Power. Men still hold more power than women on average, and as long as that imbalance persists, men will benefit more from couplehood than will women. The solution? Egalitarian relationships, which are consistently found to be more satisfying for both men and women. As the reporter notes, women (and men) need "non-conflictual, nonviolent, and fair" relationships.

The big question: How do we achieve this in a society still infused with traditions of patriarchy? When men still earn more than women (women earn $0.77 for each $1 a man earns on average), when positions of power are still dominated by men (seen a woman U.S. president yet?), when models of marriage still promote male dominance (albeit more subtly than in the past) do we create a movement of truly egalitarian relationships?

I know it is possible...I have it in my own life. It's fabulous. I want it for everyone.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

No comment

Ms Magazine used to have a "No Comment" section on the back cover where they would place ads or other images that were appallingly sexist. My latest "No Comment" comes from one of my students, who brought in a magazine clipping (I hesitate to call it an "article") from Maxim, entitled "How to Cure a Feminist: Turn an unshaven, militant, protesting vegan into an actual girl!"

The online version doesn't include the charming photos, which show the woman becoming more scantily clad and presumably sexually available as she transforms from a feminist (who wears jeans and a tshirt) to a "real girl" (who wears a bikini and is pulling the bottoms down slightly). The "feminist" is shouting an angry slogan, while the "real girl" is saying that she needs a man and that his car is cool.

Ok, I know that Maxim is probably not the bastion of forward-thinking, feminist men. But honestly...this is outrageous.

It's almost enough to make me a militant, protesting, feminist!

Monday, October 3, 2005

Hair fantasies

I've been having fun playing with yarn. There was a bellydance vendor who was selling hair extensions made from yarns and threads with charms and beads woven in, which are apparently popular with tribal-style bellydancers. So I got a yen to make some, and I've been putting together outrageous yarns and threads for a couple of weeks now. It's great fun and so far, the recipients of these hair fantasies have enjoyed them. Ask faeriemage about hers! I have pictures of two of them below -- these are gifts for two of my nieces (shhh.. don't tell them ... it's a surprise). They are super-glitzy, with all kinds of beads and charms and bells woven into them.

Purple hair fantasies: Hair extension made from various yarns and threads, with beads, bells, and charms tied in.

Pink hair fantasies: Hair extension made from various yarns and threads, with beads, bells, and charms tied in.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Barbie and Ken

So my students and I have been discussing gendered messages in children's toys, and we got involved in a protracted discussion of Barbie. Barbie dolls always seem to provoke a strong response in students; whether it's the unrealistic body image conveyed, the ubiquitous pink displays in toy stores, or general discussions of playing with Barbie or not wanting to play with Barbie, she cannot be avoided in discussions of gender and toys.

But here's a new twist. What about Ken? What is Ken's role in the Barbie world? (One of my students says that Ken dolls are being replaced by Liam, but the question is still valid.)

One of my students made the point that Ken, by virtue of being relegated to the "girls' toys" section, is being framed as insufficiently masculine. He's not man enough to make it in the boys' toys, next to G.I. Joe and the superhero action figures, so the emmasculated Ken ends up hanging with the ladies in the Barbie section.

Interesting point. I, myself, never thought of Ken as especially effeminate -- he's not a bulked up as some of the "action figures" (e.g., boys' dolls), and he seems to have no particular goal in life other than hanging out in Barbie's dream house in his swim trunks, but it never occurred to me to question his masculinity (even though he, along with Barbie, lacks relevant genitalia on which to make sex distinctions).

But here's my thought. Barbie's world is one which is populated predominantly by women, and is suffused with women-identified activities (predominantly shopping and personal beautification, although there are some nurturing roles as well). A number of feminist theorists have noted that women on their own, without male supervision or primacy of male attachment, are perceived as dangerous and evoke strong social response. Hence the historical persecution of widows, lesbians, etc. -- if women can survive on their own, without men, that serves as a potential threat to patriarchy. So Barbie, although she adheres to gender role norms, could still serve to promote the image of an independent, self-sufficient woman who can achieve satisfaction without men...and that is a message that could be seen as very dangerous to provide little girls. Enter Ken. He serves to confirm her heterosexuality and the need for women to have relationships with men. He watches to make sure that she doesn't become too independent. He affirms the heteropatriarchal system.

So, what is it? Ken as emmasculated, or Ken as patriarch? You decide!

Racist, or just stupid?

The Washington Post today reports:
Democratic lawmakers and civil rights leaders denounced conservative commentator William J. Bennett yesterday for suggesting on his syndicated radio show that aborting black children would reduce the U.S. crime rate.

The former U.S. education secretary-turned-talk show host said Wednesday that "if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Bennett quickly added that such an idea would be "an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do." But, he said, "your crime rate would go down."

But wait, why stop there? Why not prevent *all* births -- if no one was ever born, surely that would eradicate *all* crime. Eradication of the human species as a crime-prevention program...

And this is from the author of a book on virtue.

*Sigh* Sometimes it seems that we haven't made any real progress.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Long time, no blog

Gosh, it's been a while since I've posted: Bad blogger, no biscuit! ;)

I have been swamped with:
Beginning of semester -- classes, student interns, meetings, committees...
Travel -- away every weekend in September (to Poconos for family weekend, to wedding in MI, to wedding in Philly...) Weddings were lovely and very wonderful. Family weekend was fun; great to see everyone.
Dance -- performing, teaching one class a week, taking three classes a week... and all the usual stuff.

I've also felt overwhelmed by recent world events, and it's been hard to know how to formulate a fully meaningful and appropriate response.

So I needed some downtime, I suspect.

Today's fortune cookie said, "Come back later...I am sleeping. (yes, cookies need their sleep, too)" I think that about sums it up. ;)

I've determined that there are two different places within which time stands still for me: The gym, and G Street Fabrics. I know that time continues outside of their walls, but I have no sense of its passage. It feels like sanctified space somehow. It's not the same as the sense of flow I get in activities like teaching and dance (see Milhaly Csikszentmihalyi's work on flow states), where I don't have the awareness of time passing or of myself as a separate entity, but there is a sense of standing outside of time as if one could watch its passage through a window but not be part of it. I'm not sure what the significance is, but it makes me want to stay longer in these places.

Garden update: I have managed to produce a single, very tasty zucchini. And a small handful of green beans. And six gold raspberries. And more basil than I can keep up with (anyone want some?). And a whole bunch of weeds which need to be dislodged.

Such are today's random thoughts.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Latest movie: Donnie Darko. It's a bizarre film, a compelling film, a disturbing film, a strangely intense film...I'm drawn to it over and over, and I keep finding more symbolism and more details of the film every time I see it. It's definitely one of those films that gets better every time you watch it; the first time it just seemed weird and disturbing, but further viewings and hearing the commentaries really made it clear how tightly-plotted and filmed it is. Cool film.

Latest technology: I am the proud owner of an iPod! Q got me the iPod as a gift to celebrate the completion of my summer semester of teaching -- yay! It took a little doing to get the thing working...for some reason, the menu was in Japanese, and of course, I couldn't change it, because I can't read Japanese...but we did finally get it working, and I love it! I can't wait to put most or all of my favorite music on it and make new playlists for dance workouts and classes.

Latest gig: Sunday I danced in a fundraiser for another dancer. I wore a new dress -- turquoise with gold and silver beading -- a Madame Abla original. Fun gig, but it was really HOT!

Latest realization: Tuesdays this semester are long days -- first class at 11am and last class ends at 9:10pm. Teaching stamina is definitely in order. ;)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Computer coma and recovery, gearing up and digging out

So my new computer was running fine for about a week, and then it started crashing (everything froze and I had to shut it down manually). Then it wouldn't boot up at all -- just black screen. Poor computer went into a coma. But luckily, Q suggested having it built in a local shop, so I could take it back there for repair. They had to replace the power supply, and now the computer is back up and lively again! Yippee!

I am still in the process of "digging out," as one book calls it -- I am in the midst of my semi-annual clear out the clutter phase. I have almost finished my office at work (which looks remarkably and almost frighteningly neat), and I am almost finished with my study at home (although we have visions of some new furniture configurations which might require an additional pass at a later date). I am partly through with my art studio area, although it never seems to really get straightened up -- I think I need to finish a lot of projects before that area can look really organized. I finished a book on organizing for the creative-minded person, and although I found some aspects of it annoying, I learned two things. One, I really do want things out in plain sight, so I should figure out ways to have them organized, but not out of sight. Two, it would probably help if I spent a little time every day or so putting things away, filing, etc. This semi-annual process feels very rewarding to me, but it takes a long time and I would probably be better served by dealing with things more regularly. However, I truly dislike filing and clearing-up, so I'm simply not sure how that will work.

Classes start on Monday, and I want everything in order before then -- but I still need to finish revising my syllabi and setting up the course websites. Ack! Where did the summer go?

I did a bit of yoga the other day for the first time (one of the workouts on the DVD Yoga for Inflexible People), and it was surprisingly relaxing. It was somewhat physically challenging at times, but I did feel very relaxed, sleepy and at-peace at the end. Of course, the computer crashed after that, so my peace was short-lived, but I think I'll try it again soon. I had no idea what the narrator was talking about sometimes, though -- she talked about bringing your thighs up and back...what? There were a bunch of physical descriptions that I just couldn't figure out. Oh, well, as long as I don't injure myself, it should be fine.

Now I'm off to pick up the stuff that came from my grandparents' house in Wisconsin -- my brother has been storing it in a storage unit, and we are going to move it all out today. Oh no, more stuff!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Who am I?

Writer's block -- don't you hate it? I have been struggling for some time now with the task of writing text for my dance website. Poor Q, who worked tirelessly to create a gorgeous website for me as a Middle-Eastern dancer, has been waiting for months for me to write text to go on the website. But I'm stuck -- I can't figure out how to describe myself as a dancer. I've never much liked this task, although I have figured out a formula for writing dance introductions for an MC at this point. But now I need to come up with some overall description of my dancer-self, and I am stymied. I have some text for specialties that I have in dance, and who I've studied with, but the introduction -- how I frame myself as a dancer -- is still giving me trouble.

So, for those of you who have seen me perform: How would you describe my dancing? What adjectives come to mind? What was most memorable? I welcome ideas, suggestions, and testimonials of all kinds (well, almost all kinds...keep it clean, folks!) ;)

Friday, August 19, 2005

Vagina Hearts

I wanted to post some of the pictures of my recent foray into vulva/vaginal textile art. As I mentioned in a previous post , I was inspired by my experience of working on the campus production of The Vagina Monologues to make a series of "Vagina Hearts."

The quality of the photos is not high; I'm still learning the nuances of the digital camera, and it shows. It's hard to photograph shiny beads and sequins, as well as get the focus right on such small items. But I think you can get a sense of the pieces, in spite of the flawed photographs. Enjoy!

An homage to Keith Haring's work, which I love.

Inspired by the monologue "I Was Twelve. My Mother Slapped Me"; the bead fringe represents the first flow of menstrual blood.
"I like the drops that drop into the toilet. Like paint."

Inspired by "My Angry Vagina." "My vagina's furious and it needs to talk."

"If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?"
"Purple feathers and twigs and shells."
The "clitoris" bead here is paua shell.

Inspired by the "Hair" monologue. "You cannot love a vagina unless you love hair."

"If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?"
"A leopard hat."
The actress I worked with who had this line was shy and quiet, but she said this line with enormous enthusiasm and playfulness -- I just loved it.

Inspired by "The Flood" monologue.
"If your vagina could talk, what would it say?
It would say 'Closed, due to flooding."
For all the women who were taught to be ashamed of female ejaculation.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Reading, reading...

One of my favorite aspects of train travel is the opportunity to read on the train. So in my recent trip to NYC, I was able to finish reading a new book of essays on brief sex therapy:

Green, S., & Flemons, D. (Eds.) (2004). Quickies: The Handbook of Brief Sex Therapy. W. W. Norton.

I have little background in the theory and practice of brief therapy, so it was fascinating to learn more about the brief therapy approach. Each essay was by a different clinician, and each approached therapeutic practice slightly differently. Each then discussed how their therapeutic approach was applied to sexual difficulties, with examples from individuals and couples they had treated.

Overall, I was impressed by their sensitivity to the client's worldview -- most of the essays emphasized respecting the client's understanding of the problem, their framing of the issues, their values, and their current stage of change. At the same time, the therapists stressed the potential for the therapeutic context to shift the client's framing of the problem and perspective in ways that facilitated positive change and greater satisfaction. Over and over, the therapists revealed the power of language and how the problem was framed. By normalizing the experience, being nonblaming, stressing the strengths of the clients, and reframing the issue in ways which emphasized new possibilities, the therapists could promote positive change in remarkably short periods of time. While certainly not all problems can be solved in 5-10 therapy visits, and no therapist can claim universal success, many of these cases revealed dramatic change within a few sessions. This was particularly impressive when the couple has been struggling with the problem on their own or with doctors for years, and they saw resolution of the issues in only a few therapy sessions.

In addition, I appreciated the emphasis on understanding sexual issues as contextual and relational, best understood within the clients' relationships and current context. The therapists resisted the notion of one member of the couple being "the patient with the problem", and instead engaged both members of the couple in defining the issue and moving toward resolution. As many sex therapists have noted, a great number of sexual problems are related to relational issues, each influencing the other.

Finally, I really valued the willingness of the therapists to embrace sexual diversity. Not only were there several articles devoted to treatment of same-sex couples, there was also a strong emphasis on sexual expression beyond traditional phallocentric intercourse models and on intimacy, not just goal-oriented sexuality. Several articles stressed the necessity of being open to varied sexual expressions, as long as they are consensual and not harmful or abusive. For example, there was a fascinating article on sex addiction which challenged the application of this diagnosis, focusing on whether the sexual behaviors are actually harmful within the client's life or not.

Overall, an excellent book which broadened my knowledge of therapy and sex therapy. I recommend it to anyone interested in couples therapy or sex therapy.

Computer and visiting -- whee!

New computer has arrived, and Q set it up -- yay! New OS, DVD player, good stuff. I was finally able to install Photoshop with the new OS, and I got to play around with some digital photos last night. I can tell there will be a steep learning curve, but everyone seems to like the capabilities of Photoshop, so hopefully it will work well.

I went to NYC from Sunday to Tuesday to visit with my sisters, which was really nice. I got to see three out of four sisters (one was out of town), and one of my nieces (she's very cute!). It was a short visit, but it was great to see them; I won't be able to go again for a while, so I wanted to make sure I got to see them. When I got there, it was BUCKETING rain -- I haven't seen such intense downpour in a while! But it signaled a break in the heat, which was fortuitous for me. I am also amazed at how many people are packed into Manhattan -- it's an incredible density of people.

Last week we saw the Lemony Snickett movie, which was excellent! Accurate to the books, good acting, and beautiful visuals. They did a neat job of combining the feel of the Victorian era with modern technology and other anachronisms without it being distracting. Plus, it had some great music and some of the best end credits I've seen in a while.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Movies, TV, and pesto

First basil pesto of the season -- yummy! Basil from the garden, made into delicious pesto by my Sweetie. And then we ate some -- even better! -- while watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. So now we're caught up on the HP movies; 2nd and 3rd movies were quite good: Some compression and changes from the book, but nothing that violated the spirit of the books, and generally strengthened the pace of the screenplay. Oh, and fabulous special effects! We decided to take our next vacation at's a beautiful campus, even if it is a bit dangerous. ;)

We went to see the new version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last weekend. I liked it, but it is a dramatic shift from the first film, and, although in some ways more closely allied to the book, it represented a different overall theme arc. I won't give plot spoilers, but: I loved the musical numbers (more consistently entertaining than the original film, and lyrics from Roald Dahl), the special effects were excellent, and the overall "feel" of the film was very good. I think my only reservations were related to Johnny Depp's characterization of Willy Wonka and the shift in the overall theme arc. This movie is much more about Willy Wonka's character development than it is about Charlie's, and I don't think that improves the film (IMHO). Depp is definitely eccentric and offbeat, but I'm not sure he captures what I think of as the essence of Willy Wonka (though I do admit that it would be hard to replace Gene Wilder as the quintessential Willy Wonka in my book). But Depp's reaction shots are GREAT -- he has fabulous facial expressions which are truly creepy.

I watched the first 6 episodes of Kids in the Hall [yay, Netflix!], and I had forgotten how odd it was. It's a very absurdist show; not consistently funny to me, but some very amusing bits within it. I loved a monologue by Dave Foley, excerpted below:

Dave: Hi, my name's Dave Foley, and, uh, something you might not know about me is that .. I have a good attitude towards menstruation. That's right, I'm the guy! The guy with a good attitude towards menstruation!

Oh, I know a lot of men are made uncomfortable by this monthly miracle. But not me. No, I embrace it. Embrace it the way the way some men embrace the weekend! Why I anticipate it the way a child anticipates Christmas!

. . .

That's why the woman I shall love will be able to menstruate as fully and freely as she desires. Even if her monthly flow should build in intensity to a raging rust colored torrent! An unbridled river of life giving blood flowing from between her legs! An awesome cataract plunging off the edge of our couch. I wouldn't be fazed! No, no, even if coureur de bois would come up stream, battling the rapids, and singing a 'jaunty song'! I would take no offense, rather I would ford across that mighty womanly river, and fetch herbal tea and Pamprin. And then I would mop her brow and admire her fecundity. For I...Have A Good Attitude....Towards MENSTRUATION!

Now, why can't more men (and women) feel that way! Although, at least Q does. ;)

After a long day of gardening, I'm off to a hot bath to ease VERY sore muscles and then bed.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Sad news

I just found out the my graduate advisor passed away recently. I had been out of touch with him for almost a year, and I was just thinking of revisiting some of our mutual projects and contacting him. I wish I had stayed in better touch. He was a terrific advisor -- smart, incisive, funny, he provided guidance without being controlling. He was never afraid of critiquing the mainstream approaches in the field and he inspired me to look for alternative explanations for social phenomena. I learned so much from him about writing, critical thinking, research methodology, and how to be an academic psychologist. I hope he knew how much I appreciated his mentoring. I'll miss him.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Too many chives and other important gardening facts

I awoke with the determination to get outside and clean up the ridiculously overgrown front garden. It's in the style of an English cottage garden, so I can get away with it being overgrown, but it was getting to be a bit much. So, on with the sunscreen and the floppy hat and out into the garden. That's when I discovered some vital, hiterhto unknown, facts.

For example, it is possible to have TOO MANY CHIVES. I cannot stress this fact enough. I was tired of looking at the row of floppy chive plants, so I figured I would cut them all down to half their height. This would give me neater plants, and some chives to eat, thought I, plus stimulating the plants to grow more. So I cut...and cut...and cut. My basket filled with chives. There were too many -- I threw some in the compost. I dug some up and put them in pots; maybe someone else would like chive plants. I finally finished the job and lugged the load of onion-grass into the kitchen to wash it. It completely filled the kitchen sink. It took me almost an hour just to wash it all. I finally realized that I had TOO MANY CHIVES. I could give onion breath to the entire population of Istanbul. I could cover a baked potato the size of Kentucky. And worse yet, I have no potatoes in the house, and precious few recipes that even call for chives. What was I thinking? I cannot change my predicament, but I can at least let others know of the dangers of growing TOO MANY CHIVES. In the meantime, if anyone needs 10-20 cups of chives, or some chive plants, let me know. ;)

I discovered, or re-discovered, some other facts as well:

Sometimes it is TOO HOT to garden comfortably. I'm pretty sure I already knew this. I seem to recall a dreadfully hot day last summer that I alternated between weeding the garden and sitting, slumped and panting, in the delightfully air-conditioned house, wondering what the signs of heatstroke were.

No amount of bug repellant will actually keep mosquitoes from landing on me and attempting to feast on my blood. However, bug spray does seem to reduce somewhat the final number of itchy bumps I develop after being in the garden, just enough to keep me using it (surely the intent of the manufacturers, who are sitting in a bug-free office somewhere laughing their heads off at me). And bug repellant does seem to confuse the mosquitoes enough that they don't just feast and leave, but rather they circle my head and fly at my eyes, wondering in their tiny neural circuits why the walking blood-bag smells funny today.

Ants are weird. I think I knew this already, too, but I am struck with renewed astonishment that they can create an entire ant-nest in an empty plastic pot I left next to the shed. And they seem to love the taste of gladiolas. Since most of my gladiolas had fallen over (because I forgot the important fact that they need to be staked to stay upright...*sigh*), there were thick lines of ants bustling in and out of the flowers, hoping for a hit. "Hey, man, I really need a fix, and the other gladiola bar is already out of juice...just let me in for a minute, huh?" And what are those little white things ants always seem to be carrying? Are they bits of food, or eggs, or ant-suitcases, or what?

I suck at growing vegetables. This is my first year trying to grow vegetables, and apart from a few kohlrabi (which were, admittedly, tasty), my vegetable growing has been pretty dismal. I have raised some mutant cauliflower, which looks bizarre and tastes terrible, some zucchini flowers (but no zucchini yet), and some lacy fronds of asparagus which I can't harvest for three years. I put in some beans and corn, with the (probably unrealistic) hope that they will produce edible produce, but I remain unconvinced of my ability to raise food. Maybe that's why I live near three grocery stores and scores of restaurants -- the universe is telling me to give up farming. On the other hand, I do very well with herbs, so we'll be swimming in basil pesto by the end of the summer.

And now, I'm off to dinner with colleagues from work. Poor Q, who has to spend the whole night listening to psychology-talk -- that's the cost of living with an academic! But it promises to be a good meal, since my colleague's wife is a professional chef (studied in France, I think), so maybe Q won't mind too much.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Movies movies and V-hearts

In response to several rave reviews for Netflix, I finally decided to sign up -- maybe now I'll finally actually see some of the movies on my "I really should see that" list! So let me know what your "must see" DVDs are, and maybe I'll add them to my queue.

I managed to get some sewing done this week. I helped organize the campus production of The Vagina Monologues (by Eve Ensler) in the spring (I was the main director), and it made me think a great deal about the issues and symbolism she evokes. If you aren't familiar with the play, it is about women's experiences of their sexuality and their bodies; Eve Ensler allows college campuses to perform the show for free in February/March as part of V-Day, the initiative to end violence against women (all proceeds go to organizations focused on violence against women).

In the final monologue, she compares the vagina to a heart:
The heart is capable of sacrifice.
So is the vagina.
The heart is able to forgive and repair.
It can change its shape to let us in.
It can expand to let us out.
So can the vagina.
It can ache for us and stretch for us, die for us and bleed and bleed us into this difficult wondrous world.
So can the vagina.
---Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues (2001, p.124-5)

So I got the idea of making fabric hearts which evoked vulval/vaginal imagery (a la Georgia O'Keefe's flowers, for example) -- vagina hearts, in other words (although actually it is more a representation of the vulva than the vagina, but Eve Ensler, like most of our society, underutilizes the word vulva). I wanted to make one for each performer in the show (which I haven't managed to finish yet), some of which would be inspired by some portion of their monologue. It has been great fun: It's making me get some textile art done, and encouraging me to stretch a bit in my textile art. I've also made a couple for friends -- they are a big hit with everyone, so far. I'll post pictures soon, once I get a photo editing program that works with my OS. I tried using the GIMP, which works fine under Linux, but crashes under my Windows OS. I suppose I'll get Photoshop, since that seems to be the most popular program for all kinds of photo editing.

It's storming today -- thunder, lightning, rain, and more thunder and lightning. Maybe I can garden tomorrow, if the storm system moves on. Storms make me sleepy, so there was a vital nap this back to work!

Saturday, July 9, 2005

First post

After many months of reading others' blog posts, I finally create one of my own. It's a bit daunting, really. The idea that these words go out around the world for anyone to read activates my perfectionism -- but that merely leads down the road to never writing or posting anything at all! So I alleviate my anxiety with the almost sure knowledge that few people will actually read the post. I'm reminded of the Blue Man Group piece which illustrates the proliferation of media sources leading to little overlapping exposure to any particular media message -- that is, when there are a myriad of media sources available, it's increasingly unlikely that you and I have had exposure to exactly the same media (particularly with increased "channel surfing"). So I write, but without any knowledge or surety of being read; ever the dilemma of our age.

With that sop to an introduction and the exorcism of my blogger anxiety, I can move on to more substantive material. Yesterday was full of weeding the garden, which is satisfying, but strikes me to be fundamentally similar to cleaning. I remember when I worked in food service, how frustrating it was to mop the floor and know that it would just need mopping again in a few hours or a day -- what was the point? Weeding has that same quality; one weeds and then two weeks later, one needs to weed again. While I admire the tenacity of the weeds themselves, I can't help but feel a combination of satisfaction and futility when I pull weeds. It feels great to get them out and see the cleaned beds, but I know they will be back and I'll just have to do it again. Maybe I can just view it as exercise -- after all, we go to the gym with the idea that we will have to do it again, and that rarely feels futile to me. It's all about the cognitive framing, I suppose.

With that said, I go back to revising my course materials for the summer classes which start Monday -- futile or satisfying? You decide! (I vote for satisfying, with some sense of non-futile repetition thrown in for good measure.)