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!