Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Unique Public Restrooms

How is this for "privacy in public?" A Switzerland bathroom that uses one-way mirrored glass. What do you think... could you pee seeing the world walking past you? could you poop?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Scattered Thoughts on Public Sleeping

Do you sleep in public? Sure, we've all done the nod-off during a late afternoon lecture or dozed while on the train, but what about intentional nap-taking in a public space?

Certainly it violates many rules of etiquette about being aware and unobtrusive in public. What if you snore or drool? And doesn't it show blatant disregard for "the public" in which we should all be aware actors?

Personally, I find if very distracting to be around sleeping people in public. Why is that? Is it just because they are doing what they shouldn't and my inner Goffman kicks in and I want to police their behavior? Or is it just the (potential) spectacle of what might happen to someone who is 'practicing inattention' in space that is supposed to demand attention? When you do enter a public space where some sleeping is going on, it is the odd person, usually. So I wonder what it would be like to walk into a room full of sleeping people...

My own history of intentional public sleeping has, almost exclusively, involved college campuses or beaches. At Indiana University, I often scheduled my classes so I would have a break which I would routinely spend sleeping in the Union. IU's Union is lovely and huge and has these large halls/lounges with long leather couches and enormous stone fireplaces. I'd wander until I found an open couch, tuck my backpack in behind me, set the alarm on my watch and crash. In graduate school, I had a favorite building with the whole second floor dedicated to grad student study where, again, big club furniture (arm chairs you could sink back into) and fireplaces invited naps.

Somehow the student/study identity and spaces made this acceptable to me but I realize on my current campus there is not a good place for sleeping. Most of the other places I go -- lectures, coffee shops, libraries -- it is not acceptable. I've watched Peter bounce people for sleeping in the coffee shop downtown and the public libraries also boot the sleepers. I do wonder, however, if our reaction to public sleeping is conditioned by (appearances of) class and race. As a middle-class appearing white woman, would the local librarians confront me as quickly as homeless folks who spend large chunks of their day in the library during the cold weather?

Some part of my up-bringing has me convinced that I am not to sleep in public places. I suspect that some of this is gendered, as I was taught to always be on guard because, as a woman, I am vulnerable in public. Then also, there is the willful neglect of the people around me (I can't really be aware of whether I am making them uncomfortable or taking up too much space when I am asleep!), which is another good girl no-no.

Since I'm eager to kick my good-girl ways (or at least engage in them with more intentionality), let me close with this. Mark your calendars, Public Sleeping Day is February 28.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Stalking the Stalkers

The 'anti-groping' campaign on the Boston T seems to have more to it than just the posters.


A bit more about what one can do in the space, not about who you are...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Homeless Republican Dude on a Bike

Last night I stopped off at a Mexican restaurant in Allen Park, a few miles south of campus. In the parking lot, as I was saying goodbye to the friend I had met there, a guy on a bike paused on the sidewalk nearby and did one of those "excuse me, sir (to my friend), can I ask you for 85 cents?"

Friend gave him a couple of bucks, but instead of leaving, the guy got all chatty. He told us about how his family had lost their house and now they were going to have to move back to Detroit with all the "niggers and crack heads." Then he switched gears and started analyzing us. "Are you married?" "That's a pretty lady you got there." "What is she... a teacher, a professor, a doctor?" (note how the guy did not approach or speak to me directly, rather he focused on my male companion and seemed to expect all answers to come through him)

We laughed and said yes ('cuz I kinda am all three). He asked again what "she" did and I answered him. Then he wanted to know where. Well, here I paused. Good girl common sense screamed "don't tell him where you work!" and so I paused and then less-than-artfully fudged with an "up the road" kind of answer.

He interpreted my hesitancy as fear connected to race, not gender. He teased me for being uncomfortable talking to a black face. Well, then my tongue really tied itself up in knots as I considered what I must look like to him. Huh. I look like a little privileged white chick (I was still in my teaching clothes). Oh wait. I am a privileged white chick. But, but, but... But what? "I'm uncomfortable because you're a man, not because you're black!" Gack.

Anyway, him declaring himself a Republican loosened my tongue again soon enough and I returned to my normal opinionated self, able to overcome my good girl training that taught me to never ever ever speak to a male stranger on the street. I have my suspicions that his political views were designed to show us for the bleeding heart white liberals we are, but it was a funny/sad moment to hear him declare his faith in McCain creating a job for him. And then he rolled away. And I told him to ride safely.


Writing about teaching is an odd thing to me. I did it once a while back -- a co-authored piece with a good friend and colleague -- and it was nice because I was leaving the campus where we had taught together and it was our last project together, a way to process the three classes we had shared on Wednesday evenings in winter terms. This time, I did it on my own as a way to process a course that was very much unlike any others I had taught. And thanks to the popularity of civic engagement in higher education these days, an on-line journal dedicated to such topics was happy to publish it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Squandered Opportunities

He is back. I suppose he never really went away, I have just been doing my best to ignore him.

The self-appointed defender of "men's rights" against the tryanny of "feminazis", is now suing Columbia University for offering Women's Studies courses.

Sure, why not. He's sued everybody else from his ex-wife, to his neighbors, to night club owners.

What truly irks me about this guy is that, I essentially think he is (legally and ethically) right when it comes to his suit over the allegedly discriminatory practice of 'Ladies Night' -- that decades-old and for some reason still-holding-on practice of letting women into clubs for free or a reduced cover charge. He and I certainly diverge on why this practice is wrong (he doesn't like that it costs men more, I don't like that it treats women as a commodity to attract "paying customers" akin to a good sound system or drink specials), but, damn, he filed the suit that feminists should have filed years ago. It should have followed on the heels of feminist-sponsored suits and legislation to remove gender segregation from bars and restaurants in the 1970s, but it didn't.

When I interviewed Karen DeCrow a few years ago (former NOW president and leading feminist lawyer pushing for gender equality in public space... including both ending restrictions against unescorted women in bars and adding baby changing stations to men's restrooms in public buildings), I asked her about Ladies Night. She agreed it was discriminatory toward men and only furthered second-class status for women. She said she would absolutely file suit on it, if a male plaintiff approached her. I remember her having hopes for a nice young college man from nearby Syracuse University... she had talked to a few about it even... but the men feared that they would look ridiculous for making a fuss. So nothing happened... except that opponents of feminism, namely a person who seems to have no grasp about the ways in which feminism is about non-discrimination and equality for many (not just women) and not about empowering women through disempowering men, have taken control of the issue for their own anti-feminist crusade.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Miss Nude Michigan

I've been writing like mad on the porn project lately -- a look at neighborhood and feminist organizing to move adult businesses out of neighborhoods in South Minneapolis. They wanted to free up the corners of the commercial strips abutting their neighborhoods so that when local folk -- particularly women -- walked by they would not be harassed, grabbed, or mistaken for prostitutes.

I was thinking about this a bit in terms of my own city when I took the kids to the Crossroads Summer Festival on Friday. O and I rounded the corner onto Washington Street from Pearl Street and there on Deja Vu's marquee was "Congratulations Miss Nude Michigan!" Firstly, I was amused. Go ahead. Think of how to explain to a 6 or 9 year old why someone would crown a Miss Nude Michigan and why a theater would celebrate it. Silly humans, we are.

Anyway, this juxtaposition of the city's free on-going summer music festival and a strip club has got me to wondering. Why doesn't anyone make a fuss (especially considering how hard some people -- like those in S. Minneapolis in the 1980s -- worked to get rid of just these types of businesses)? Is this the part of the city that downtown business owners (who fund the festival) want to show off?

There are several things going on here, no doubt. The street is in the center of downtown, but just off the main drag, so it can be closed every Friday without creating traffic issues. The drug and prostitution trade of the city are not located there (go around the corner and up the block to the bus station for that). The owners work very hard to promote their club in conjunction with a piano bar and sports bar, all of which make up, according to their radio commercials, the city's "entertainment district." Also, from what my scouts tell me (rather than link to them, I'll let them chime in in the comments section, if so inclined), this club is pretty mild, friendly, and clean compared to what we might have. Finally, some local residents take pride in our seedier side as something that sets us apart from the "snooty" college town to our west.

For all of that, what is sticking my mind as I compare my city today to South Minneapolis "back then" is the trajectory of the larger area. Even though my city's downtown has plenty of open storefronts, a hodge-podge of old (hair salons, liquor stores) and new (coffee shop, art gallery) businesses, and a healthy drug and prostitution trade going on nearby, the attitude of the business owners and the city's powerbase is that we are headed in the right direction. That kind of boosterish optimism allows us to "embrace" the "diversity" of (legal) offerings downtown.

South Minneapolis, in the 1970s and 1980s, did not have much optimism. There had begun a marked downward slide at the tail end of the 1960s and the perception a decade later was that the neighborhoods were on the verge of being overrun with poverty, pimps, and drug dealers. In that kind of atmosphere, the adult bookstores and theaters served as useful targets of their frustration. They had a permanent location, they were subject to building codes, zoning laws, and licensing requirements, and the staff was far more likely to call the police on you if you protested than pull a gun.

Somewhere in all this are connections between perceptions of women's safety in public space, tolerance for controversial pursuits in public places, and economic trends. Okay, time to pull that article out and get back to work.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Boys Who Read Are Soooo...

I work on public space (as a topic) and I very often, as I did today, work in public space -- which is both distracting and delightful...

Today, for example, I was plunked down in the new coffee shop in the undergraduate library on the main campus (library and coffee? Oh yes, more please). I had sort of dismissed the young guy next to me -- sort of frat boy like -- but then his friend spotted him and they started chatting... and damn if he didn't know an awful lot about how the world works. When he started spouting off about rational economics and tossing out statistics on consumption patterns, he got a whole lot more interesting.

No worries, he was all of 20 (maybe) and rattling on about the exact path his life would take (1 1/2 years to graduation, 1 1/2 years in grad school, 3 years to marriage... blah, blah, blah) so I didn't go over into the world of improper thoughts or anything, but he told his friend he liked to read, and, yes, it did him good.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Where I hit a wall

I had one of those funny moments recently where two people from different backgrounds realize that they have very different meanings for the same word. In this case, the word was "structuralist."

Friend was speaking of the importance of physical structures, the role of the built environment in shaping experiences and actions. I, of course, was thinking that friend was kickin' it old-school, eschewing post-modernism's post-structuralism in favor of lit crit/sociology/anthropology-style structuralism: a hard line stance that individual will/agency is an illusion in the face of societal structures and practices, which ensure the continued existence of unequal and discriminatory power relations. "I am a structuralist," declared friend -- and it gave me quite the case of the giggles to imagine, for just a brief moment, what he might have been (but ultimately was not) saying.
This is in my brain this morning because I'm back reading secondary lit on the feminist pornography wars of the 1980s and I'm realizing that the same inflexibility that turns me off to structuralism is at the core of many anti-porn feminists' arguments about the harm of porn. As one described this piece of the ideology:

"Subordination is so deeply embedded in the system that any individual action is tainted by the subordinating elements of the whole society." (Downs, The New Politics of Pornography, p. 39)
Whatever my scholarly brain might think of these kinds of arguments, the rest of me hits the override switch. If I truly believed this, I would never get out of bed again since any action I might take would only serve to further my own subordination. Don't get me wrong, I believe in the power of institutions to perpetuate hierarchy and forestall change, I'm just saying that I need to believe, just 'cuz I do, that it isn't completely hopeless and however constrained they are, at least some of the day-to-day choices I make matter.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I'm Pro-Urinal

After two encounters in two days with grimy toilets seats left up in single occupancy, gender neutral public restrooms, I've finally got an answer to the question "would women use single occupancy toilets that had urinals?"

Yes. Er, at least I would. Okay, I would have before, but now I actively and enthusiastically endorse the idea.

With urinals, men who like to pee standing up will have an appropriate receptacle and neither men nor women who use the restroom will have to touch the seat to move it up or down.

Thinking about this, I now recall that many modern port-o-johns are designed in this way and probably just for this reason. Excellent. Let's move that idea inside.

As long as the restrooms are clearly marked by function -- and I'd prefer no reference to gender at all -- and they are designed to serve a wide range of people (this means ADA compatible and equipped with baby changing stations), I think women will get used to -- and even come to welcome -- the presence of urinals. Yes, there is the moment of hesitation when one who has been conditioned to view urinals as a marker of male space opens a bathroom door and sees one. I'm fairly sure that way back in the 1980s when courts first decreed that changing tables needed to be placed in men's restrooms as well as women's, there were a few men who had a moment's panic thinking they had entered the "wrong" room. But men got past it and women will too. Let's just make it so there are no "wrong rooms" and we can all relax.

Monday, April 14, 2008

"Rub Against Me and I'll Expose You"

A loyal supporter of "Breaking the Code" sent me a link to this article this morning. I find the last line a particularly telling (and somewhat disturbing) indication of where things stand when it comes to street (or subway) harassment:
"'Maybe the campaign is good because it makes women think about it ahead of time,' added Midgley's mother, Lynn Greiner."

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Funny Feminists and Infuriating Footnotes

While searching in vain for the missing citation I need for a quote* in my very-nearly-finished article on girl watching, I came across Gloria Steinem’s classic “If Men Could Menstruate.” I’ve read it many, many times before, but it gave me a chuckle this morning. So I wanted to share.

*Yes, yes, I know this is silly. I am generally quite anal about such things – I keep all my papers and notes filed by where they came from so that I won’t have unattributed sources, I lecture my students about the need to be absolutely fanatical about keeping track of where their material comes from, I even tell them the story of the quotation I finally had to take out of my book in the very last draft because I could not find from where I had pulled it. And if you can’t cite it, you can’t use it.

To that end, anyone know a reference to secondary issues – or really the snowballing of issues – at the height of second wave radical feminism being referred to as “yeah, that too” issues? I thought it was in Ruth Rosen’s The World Split Open or Susan Brownmiller’s In Our Time, but I’m coming up with nothing so far…

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Standing on the corner, watching all the girls go by
Standing on the corner, underneath the springtime sky
Brother you can't go to jail for what you're thinking
Or for the "oooh" look in your eye
You're only standing on the corner, watching all the girls
Watching all the girls, watching all the girls go by.

(Frank Loesser, “Standing on the Corner,” from the musical “The Most Happy Fella,” 1956)

Well, I think the girl watching article is finally done. Of course, I haven't submitted it anywhere before, so there are certainly more rounds of revisions to be made based on readers' reports. For the moment, however, I declare it done.

And just to be sure that I let it go, I even sent it on its way tonight.

Bye-bye, little article, see you in 4-6 months. Be strong.

This is What a Feminist Looks Like

Super-slick feminism for all. We're many colors and ages. Many of us are famous. We're bold, funny, and pretty. We like sex. We like boys. Don't be afraid. Oh my, did I mention it's slick?

Here is the Feminist Majority Foundations' new video.

Watcha think? Don't you want to be a feminist too?

Bathroom 'Integration'

Supervisor Feinstein Integrates Men's Restroom in San Francisco

The men's restroom in San Francisco's City Hal for male members of the S.F. County Board of Supervisors was liberated last month by Supervisor Dianne Feistein. After receiving no response to past complaints that she and Supervisor Dorothy Beoldingen were forced to use a ladies' restroom about 100 feet from the Board of Supervisors' chambers, Supervisor Feinstein entered an unmarked restroom a few feet from the chambers which has been reserved for men. "Its a liberated restroom now," she said. "We have equal rights there."1

I found this little tidbit on Feinstein in a giant stack of notes that I haven't been through in a couple of years. In light of the recent bathroom liberation movement by non-gender conforming activists, I am wondering if Feinstein's efforts led to a "unisex" bathroom or if her intent/the outcome was to produce a new "women's" bathroom.

There are many other cases of women since the 1970s demanding "women-only" restrooms in businesses and public buildings as they moved in greater numbers into jobs that had previously had few women.

But the legacy of sex discrimination is still fairly easy to see. At the Library of Congress, men's restrooms are located around the corner from the main reading room while women's rooms are only located on the floors above and below it. Pictured in this post is the looooong hallway between the stairs from the reading room and the women's restroom. When I interviewed at a certain second-tier state school in the south in the mid-1990s, men's bathrooms existed on each of the four floors of the building wing housing the History department, but there was only one women's room and it was a couple of floors up from the department. The female faculty were lobbying for "women's" restrooms on every floor...

That seems to have been the trend. Second wave feminists realized that the physical structure of offices and public places restricted women's presence in those places and consequently advocated for changes, such as the addition of restrooms. Almost all of the evidence that I have found so far indicates that the new additions were gender-specific spaces -- counter to the gender neutral policies these feminists otherwise advocated and exactly what is being challenged now.2

1 Capital Alert, vol 2 13(8 Sept 1972), 4; in Herstory I Update, Reel 2 [3]).
2 The one exception to this is a brief attempt on the part of Ti-Grace Atkinson at a NOW national board meeting in New York in May 1968 to de-gender bathrooms in the Biltmore Hotel. At least according to the minutes of that meeting, she never got any backing for this idea from other board members. National Organization for Women Collection, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wrong Bathroom

I've been playing in the world of bathrooms again. I am struck this afternoon by how the trans/intersex activist community (here is one example) has been able to get this movement for gender-nuetral bathrooms to take off while older, mainstream, feminist-first feminists have ignored it, reinforced it by arguing for more bathrooms for women (potty parity movement -- expect more posts on that in the future), or defended gendered bathrooms.

Anyway, here is a little video I came across that I thought I would share.

Unbinding the Gender Binary

A good part of the reason that I study public space is that I am fascinated by the 'house of cards' nature of it. Public space is ambiguous because the people there generally have no history with each other, their encounters are fleeting, and there are not the structuring power relationships of work, school, family, neighbors, etc. to maintain order and enforce consequences. Societies then try to create ways to ameliorate the anxiety of public space through etiquette, laws, and even the built environment that reinforce social order through social groupings. We feel better if we know where people fit and we rely heavily on appearances, mannerisms, location, and actions to figure this out. What are they wearing? What are they carrying? Where are they? How are they getting around? Which bathroom did they use?

The problem is, of course, that someone's appearance, mannerisms, and actions do not always tell you where they fit. Sometimes they actively contradict. What do people think when they see someone who presents as one gender but uses a public restroom designated for a different gender? And that right there is the problem with the way in which we have divided up and labeled public space in vain attempts to make public space a little more predictable and orderly.

I find it interesting that the early mass civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s focused so diligently on removing the physical signs of Jim Crow, but feminists have not done the same for the signs of gender segregation. To be fair, second wave feminists did very successfully challenge policies excluding women from bars and restaurants (and the signs the reinforced those policies), but they never tackled sex-segregated bathrooms.

And sex segregated bathrooms do matter. There are signs all over American public space that reinforce a gender binary: there are two genders, you must choose one and act accordingly, these two genders are different enough to merit this separation, and even though we have removed other types of similar divisions this one continues to stand. When a group of my colleagues read a draft of the article I've written on feminist challenges to women's exclusion from some public accommodations, one of them (someone who teaches African American history) looked at me and said, "but I don't get it, what is the problem, women are different from men, just look at how we have different bathrooms." Sex-segregated bathrooms reinforce the idea that men and women are inherently different and must be treated as such, that biology trumps socialization, that women have more in common with women and men have more in common with men, just by virtue of their bodies.

It has been the transgender, transsexual, intersexed, gender queer activists who have taken up the cause that cissexual women have not. Safety was originally stated as the reasoning for this: transgendered people were not safe using public restrooms that did not match their presentation (most frequently cited for trans men using the women's room) or their biology (perceived as most dangerous for trans women using the men's room). The issue seems to have evolved beyond the safety arguments in recent years, however, and the discussion is now much more focused on how build public accommodations that do not rest on a gender binary that is no longer so binary.

Bathrooms are a hot topic in many public buildings, especially on college campuses. I've seen it even make its way onto my small commuter campus where, at the behest of activists from the Ann Arbor campus, one single occupancy bathroom in the computing building has been changed from a "men's" room to a "unisex" bathroom -- with some rather problematic labelling and singage indicating its new function. What is "unisex" anyway? Wouldn't "omni-sex" be a better label? Or why focus on sex at all (that's easy, because we are trained from early on to match our own personal plumbing up with the plumbing of the bathroom we choose to use)? Why is the fact that this is a public bathroom indicated with the traditional visual representation of a man and a woman? Wouldn't a sign with a toilet on it be a better indication of the room's function? We could have two toilets to indicate that it could accommodate multiple people or one for the single-holers.

Fresh Start

I am now well past the half-way point of my sabbatical. I put the finishing touches on an article for Feminist Studies, I wrote a teaching essay, I'm almost finished turning a conference paper into an article (Girl Watching), the research for the anti-porn district piece is almost finished, and I made substantial progress on conceptualizing my approach to the advice literature for women in public space. I still have to write my presentation for the upcoming Berks conference and get ready for the research I'll be doing on that trip to Minneapolis. All in all, that is not a bad record, but what happened to the book I am supposed to be writing?

Well... it is going slowly. I can't believe how much harder this book is to conceptualize than my first one. Or maybe I am just not remembering how hard the first one was. Maybe it is like childbirth and the body has some sort of natural amnesia response that allows you to forget the trauma enough that you might actually consider producing another offspring/book.

At times, I have nearly convinced myself to not write the book and instead just publish articles. Articles in History are fairly meaty, satisfying entities. There is a lot one can do with thirty or so manuscript pages, but they are not sooooooo long that you have to juggle all at once 20 different genres of historiography and four file drawers full of culled primary sources like one does with a book. There are many directions you can go with an article, and each of them represents some major decision making, but nothing on the order of what is necessary for a book.

I expressed these thoughts to a dear, lovely, amazing, historian friend and this was her response:

I also fully understand the temptation of doing articles and not a book, but I really really want you to do the book. If you end up writing a series of essays tied together with a strong
introduction then that's fine, but a book will make more of a contribution. Plus I want to assign it, make all my grad. students read it, have it reviewed for my journal etc.

Friends are grand, aren't they? Sometimes (often when I am in the shower, on the bike, or falling asleep at night) I can see the book -- the scope of it, the shape of its chapters, the tone.... but then when I look directly at it, sit in front of a blank computer screen and try to record what I saw in those odd moments, it vanishes. Oh sure, I have pieces that fit together and are figured out, but the whole, big picture is not there. Yet. It will come. Or at least I believe it can come... the topic is good, the connections are real, and I am further along than I was six months ago. I just have to keep plodding along.

To that effect, I think the time has come to jettison the old project description that has its roots in 2004 (yikes!) and start over. I will start drafting a new narrative (you know, for grants, book contracts and such) and resist the urge to peek at the old one (because it is just too hard not to fall back on existing language).

What has spurred me to this decision this morning is the feedback I got from the NEH. I got rejection #2 from them last week and the responses from the anonymous reviewers arrived, at my request, in my e-mail box this morning.

One was excellent:
Panelist 1. This project when completed promises to be a very important contribution to the humanities. A project that examines conflicts and demands on behalf of women for accessibility to public urban space, it takes an entirely original approach to the issue of gender segregation, building on recent historical interest in urban geography and the politics of public space. It addresses multiple literatures - urban geography, women's history, politics, civil rights, and early and late 20th century history to name just a few--and will likely be read by a very broad population of scholars and readers with interest in women's history. I was also very impressed by the conceptual link that Hickey so persuasively makes between early-twentieth century reformers and mid- to late-twentieth century feminists. In effect, she proposes to reconceptualize this history in terms of continuities, where previously, these stories have been told in terms of discontinuities.

2. The applicant has a well-established record of publication in the humanities and comes highly recommended. The proposal, which is creative, methodologically and theoretically sophisticated, and persuasively written, also attests to the quality of this applicant as an interpreter of the humanities.

3. The proposal presents a novel issue that is complex and sophisticated and yet the proposal is also exceptionally clear and cogent in execution. It clearly defines the historical problem, the methodology for seeking answers, places the work in the context of other scholarship, defines the work thus far completed, and outlines the nature of the chapters to be written during the stipend period.

4. The applicant proposes to complete drafts of two chapters for which the research will be complete. This seems entirely feasible given the state of the work presented here. I am confident that the applicant will complete the project.

Rating: E[xcellent]

And the others? Well, I got two panelists who thought the project too large in scope and want me to make it more specific and concrete. That is code for 'you can't write a book about the whole twentieth century and include evidence from many cities'. The last panelist went in the opposite direction and argued that the scope was too narrow: "This project does indeed sound like... a "footnote" in the history of the modern women's rights movement." Well, the book isn't really about the modern women's rights movement, per se. Yes they're in there, but they aren't the book.

Don't worry, I'm not getting a complex or anything. This always happens. Precisely what will be most loved by some, is exactly what is most hated by others. On my last NEH application (for the big year-long fellowship) I had one panelist declare me unfundable because s/he went and looked up my article in Radical History Review on teaching social change and objected to the basic idea of activist teaching. Funny because it was this same article that received the highest praise by a scholar evaluating my co-author for promotion to full professor!

While I am disappointed not to get the $6000 from this fellowship (882 applicants for 62 awards), I can probably use these evaluations as I draft the new narrative. In particular, I obviously need to show how the time period is manageable and make a case for looking for patterns across cities. I am less certain how to deal with someone who sees the work as too narrow, but I'll do my best.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Told you I wasn't a very good girl...

According to the Vogue Book of Etiquette (1948):

"Nothing is more unbecoming to a woman than a harsh attitude of carelessness and self absorption." (p. 33)

Even better:

"A woman can gracefully play second fiddle, but a man who is obviously subordinated to a dominating woman is a pathetic and foolish figure." (p. 34)

And finally:

"The ideal attitude which should underlie all women's manners expresses kindness, gentleness, good will, sensitive understanding, self-respect and when it is appropriate, deference ." (p. 33)

Um, yeah, I'll get right on that.... I'm nothing if not graceful.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Go Jump in the Lake

I've been getting back into the self-defense manuals I collected while at the Library of Congress this fall. In the grand scheme of things, they will become part of a chapter (?) on advice literature aimed to guide women's behavior in public space. In the short term, they will be a part of my presentation for the Michigan Women's Studies Association meeting next week (yes, yes, I'm working on it now... really).

The whole self-defense craze in publishing (and classes as well, though I am not looking at those) came in the 1970s and 1980s. The literature divides pretty neatly into two camps: (1)feminist and feminist-influenced books that assert women's right to be in public space and right to react aggressively and proactively to anything there that makes them feel endangered and (2)conservative tracts that stress women's need to avoid public space (or at least avoid entering it alone) and practice a whole set inconvenient, limiting, accommodating, and, at times, degrading behaviors to keep themselves "safe" in the hostile world.

Here is just one example from the latter group, from a book entitled The Womanly Art of Self Defense: A Commonsense Approach, by Kathleen Keefe Burg (1979):

"Strolling by the lake. It sounds lovely, doesn't it? But what if you are walking down by a lakefront in a city like Chicago and someone attacks you? If you're a good swimmer (and it's not midwinter), your best escape route might be the water. Jump in and swim underneath the surface as far out as possible... In the water, you'll have a far better chance of survival than on dry land. be sure to stay underwater as long as possible. When you do have to surface, try to come up just enough to obtain sufficient air for you to go under again."

C'mon, what are you scoffing at? As the subtitle for the book clearly indicates, this is just pure common sense!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My _Playboy_ Finally Arrived in the Mail

For the last couple of years, I've been collecting "girl watching" sources. I have several albums of music "to watch girls by," a girl watchers fridge magnet, a Seagrams "girl watchers bar guide," The Girl Watchers' Guide (book), and a few other odds and ends. Ebay has been my friend for this project and allowed me to buy sources and artifacts that archives and museums have not collected.

My most recent acquisition just arrived: the August 1959 edition of Playboy. I finally just bought this magazine because I was having a hard time getting my hands on a copy from that year through traditional library means. U of M Ann Arbor's libraries will collect Good Housekeeping and has microfilmed copies of Glamour, but no Playboy that old.

My purpose in acquiring a copy was to be able to compare The Girl Watcher to Playboy. The former was published only in the late 1950s and I have been able to buy two issues of it off of ebay (I had to bid on one of them many times... someone in Japan really wanted the same issue!). I don't know if there were more ever published. Once they were in my hands, however, figuring out what to do with them took some amount of time.

After carting them around for over a year, pulling them out to show friends and family, I finally decided to call the magazine "soft-core porn." But this label was questioned by my writing group recently... they wanted more information and all of them referenced Playboy. How did it compare to Playboy of the same era. So I bought an issue. But not just any issue. Nope, I bought the issue that had the same model, June Wilkinson, as The Girl Watcher had featured in that same year, 1959.

Now, I have not read the issue cover to cover, but my impression is that Playboy in the 1950s was really, really tame. There are a few shots of Wilkinson's boobs, but that's it for nudity. I'm not sure that even qualifies as soft core! By comparison, there were fewer nipples, but far more 'provocative' poses in The Girl Watcher.

I guess I just find it amusing that, despite its reputation, Playboy of the 1950s doesn't fit into any definition of pornography that I've ever come across. The old adage of "I just get it for the articles" really had to apply in 1959, anyway, because there really wasn't much else!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I dropped by campus yesterday to check in with my office and pick up some ILLed materials. To reward myself for this effort, I took along my skates so that I could spend an hour with my I-pod on the always-empty ice in the field house. Before lacing up, I stopped to pee and found this in the women's restroom:

It is on the wall, beside mirror and above the hand dryer. It is not a "fire alarm," it is not a simple "in case of emergency" alarm, either. Nope, it's a "panic" button. Hmmm.... What would cause one to hit this panic button? Certainly a fire. How about a plumbing emergency? Nah, probably not -- we usually just run away and pretend we didn't notice that toilet overflowing... What about a man... If you were a woman in that bathroom, standing at the sink and washing your hands perhaps, would you hit the panic button if a man walked into the restroom and stayed for longer than 2 seconds? Does it matter that this restroom is in a field house -- a traditionally and still heavily male space? And the historian in me wants to know when was this installed...

While I skated I also pondered what I hope all of you are pondering right now... Is there a panic button in the men's restroom of the field house? That is what you were thinking, right?

Well, I don't know. I considered marching up there with my camera in hand and checking it out. I also thought about trying to find a willing male to go in and check it out for me. But the field house is pretty deserted on a Tuesday in the middle of the day in the middle winter. That meant that it would be hard for me to find a helper and also meant that it was probably not the wisest choice for me to go in there on my own. Sure, my chances of getting caught were slim, but.... But what? But, as a woman in a men's room, I'd be out of place and therefore not entitled to the civil treatment I can expect when I am in a proper place for my identity (gender, race, age, etc.). Okay, so yeah, I chickened out but I'll go back. In the next two weeks I will have to go back to campus to return library material and I'll find out for you, I promise.

In the meantime, what do you think? Will I find a "panic" button in the men's public restroom?

Why blog?

Well, there are scholarly outlets for the work I'm doing on public space, but I want a place where my personal experiences and half-baked ideas can play along with my more academic and intellectual interpretations. After all, I may be all credentialed up as a scholar, but I am still a woman and I still negotiate allegedly "public" spaces everyday from that vantage point -- I watch people, I get harassed, I wait in lines to pee, I go to marches and rallies, I follow the rules of engagement (mostly), and I wonder about why my world looks like it does and how that built environment shapes my perception of what is right, good, and possible...

I started doing this type of pondering on my "regular" blog, so I think I will copy those posts and paste them up here. Unfortunately, I'll lose the comments they generated, but you can go look for them on Yesterdaylooksgood, if you are interested.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

News Roundup

As I've wandered about on the internet lately doing research and lounging about, I've come across a couple of interesting articles I thought I would share.First up, and very much related to my research, is this article on Mexico City introducing sex-segregated buses in order to protect women from harassment. The piece does a nice, quick job of summing up many of the tricky issues involved in addressing public harassment. Segregation provides small, temporary "safe" spaces for women, on the one hand. On the other, however, it smacks of "protectionism," which only reinforces women's inferior status (i.e. they can't take care of themselves, so the bus company or city government must take care of them) and limits their options (what does it mean if you are a woman and don't take the "women's" bus?). I am both amused and saddened to see that this article from 2008 is still stuck on the same issues that trouble feminists in the early 1970s.

Next up, and hopefully more related to my life than my research, is the release of a research study completed last year at Rutgers that found that folks who identify as feminists have healthier intimate relationships. There are some blogs about this study and this article in the The Guardian that, to my mind, wanders off topic a bit, but has the basics of the study. As the blog and comments note, the mainstream press didn't report much on this study.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What's wrong with this picture?

I've been reading some classic treatments of social behavior lately. On my lap this morning was Goffman's Behavior in Public Places (1963). The book (tho he persists in calling it a "report" for some reason) came out of his experiences observing patients in a California mental ward. Basically, watching all these people not following the conventions of society, convinced him that the rest of us actually do a pretty damn good job of following the "rules" of the societal game -- so much so that we don't even notice that we are doing it.

The only time the rules generally come to the surface, is when someone does something that breaks the rules -- and then they receive negative sanctions. In general, however, responses only go in that negative direction. In other words, we receive little direct positive response for doing the "right" thing, but people are free to call us out if we do the "wrong" thing.

Take this fine specimen spotted in an Ann Arbor coffee shop yesterday:

Yep, he is flossing his teeth. In public. And the price he had to pay for having the broken the rules was to be heckled, photographed, and blogged about by me. (Great, now I'm the enforcer of all things proper?!?!?)But what is it that he is really doing wrong? Well, part of the rules are that we are supposed to show up in public ready to play the game. Goffman refers to the combination of "controlled alertness" (behavior) and appropriate appearance as "interaction tonus." It is something that is supposed to be "on" all the time when in public, not something you put on when you get there or, as was the case with the flosser, you drop and readjust and then put back up while you are there.

Fortunately, there are spaces and props in public space that help us to maintain the fiction that our interaction tonus is our "natural" state. If we need to drop it temporarily or adjust it, we can retreat to the bathroom (a semi-public space with its own set of rules that allow for such activity) or hide behind a newspaper.

BTW, and this continues a conversation Steve Krause and I have had, I'm liking the Primo coffee shop in AA (on Liberty and Fifth). They have two walls of windows overlooking the street, it is warm (even if the fireplace is fake), and they serve their coffee in real and big ceramic mugs.

The only part that disappoints me is that they have single-occupancy (one-holers), gender segregated bathrooms. Riddle me that one, batman. I checked them out -- both bathrooms are the same. No gender specific equipment in either one. But labels matter, as evidenced by the man that showed up to use the restroom and found the men's locked. I had just checked the women's, knew it was empty (and the door was even open), and encouraged him to go on in (he had a sense of urgency about him...). He hesitated. I encouraged more. It took a promise that I would stand outside the door to get him in there. Now what was that all about? Was I there to protect him? Nah, there was a lock on the door. Nope, I was his "excuse" -- if he got strange looks coming out (as he might -- he was acting out of role by presenting as a man but coming out of a door marked "women" so others who were sticking to their appropriate roles would be playing by the rules to call him out -- just as I had done with the flosser), I was supposed to explain it away. As in, "it's okay, the other was full so I told him to go in there." And yes, that I am a woman is the largest part of what would have made that possible. If I'm a woman, and I gave him a pass to use the "women's" room, it must be "okay."

Posted by Zoe the Wonder Dog at Friday, January 25, 2008
Labels: , , , ,

biscodo said...
You should be careful with that "price he has to pay for having broken the rules" photojournalism business - you never know when someone might have some look-what-you-did-in-public photos of you. I'm just sayin', ya know?I wholeheartedly agree with you about Single Occupancy Gendered Toilet (SOGT) segregation though. I'm tempted to make a personal crusade over it. Somewhere in public architecture standards of practice, there might be a reason for SOGTs. It might just be a reason to sell different signage. It might be a "boys tolerate dirty bathrooms, so let them wallow in it". It might be that builders/architects expect that retailers/customers expect there to be SOGTs (the "I-thought-that-you-thought-that-I-thought" problem). I know there's a nugget of a reason in there somewhere, it just needs finding.As far as your encounter with the man going into a woman-designated SOGT, I say it's both a Territory and Permission thing. It's clearly marked territory. Like a No Trespassing or Employees Only sign, we are taught from a young age to drive between the lines, stop at the red light, listen to what the police officer tells you, and don't go where you're not allowed to. The REASONS aren't understood (if at all) until later in life. But for children to be able to operate in the world, they are taught to take certain rules/cues as axiomatic. One of those is that the room labeled "women" is for women, and the one labeled "men" is for men. I'm wondering if the genders were turned around and you were a man, the waiting pisser was a woman, and the open SOGT was labeled "men", what the waiting pisser would have done? And what would your reaction have been to their choice to go or wait? and why? Riddle you that one too. As for Permission - yes, once you have the notion of marked territory (not the fire hydrant version, the Employees Only version), then you are giving him permission. And that permission is social liability protection for him ("it's not my fault, she said I could"). And going a step further, because that space is marked, you and your gender "own" it. Only you (women) can be perceived to release control of it. Same is true for socially perceived men's spaces.As far as SOGT permutations of will-they-won't-they... Are you looking for an assistant in some urban social experimentation? I work for very reasonable rates.

January 25, 2008 12:36 PM
Zoe the Wonder Dog said...
Yes, yes, I'll have to mind my p's and q's tomorrow night at that social gathering, lest I end up as blog fodder (can that be shortened to "blodder"?)I'm up for the experimenting, but we need more folks. Wonder if we can set W up for stealth video taping... It's always better with video. I think we should enlist some of those tweener sprogs our friends have too -- kids that are obviously not adults but do look like they are old enough to "know better". We could get a whole passle of people who appear on the boundaries of categories we use to organize society (gender, obviously, but also class, ability, etc.) and test just how the rules get applied... [mental wheels turning furiously]Think I can get an article out of it? :)

January 25, 2008 12:55 PM
TeacherPatti said...
I like Primo, too!Speaking of breaking societal rules...I was at Hillers the other day, and the lady in front of me had a few items on the belt, and was fussing with her purse and wallet. I figured that she had loaded all of her groceries, so I put mine on the belt. A few seconds later, she was all, "Wait! Stop!" and then fussed at the cashier, demanding, "What are you going to do about this???""This" was the fact that she had unloaded a few items and then stopped, leaving the rest of her items in the basket. Therefore, after I unloaded mine, they traveled merrily down the belt, thus preventing her from putting the rest of her stuff up there.After the lady left, I commented to the cashier on how the lady had broken the social norm and had no business fussing. Sorry folks, but the "rules" say that you unload all and THEN worry about money. Why? I don't know, but that is the rule. And see what happens when you break it? My lovely Guernsey Farms milk bumps against her nasty-ass generic brand.

January 25, 2008 8:23 PM
Daye said...
I love primo too!!! Izzy's piano lesson that is where I get my chai latte fix!!

January 27, 2008 1:37 PM
Warren said...
The enforcer of all things proper.