walkitout: (Default)
I keep friendships going. I quit being a JW when I was 25, and in the course of that process, disassociated myself and lost contact with basically everyone I'd been allowed to be friends with my entire life. They weren't good friends. Well, some were, and a lot of them have since left and we have reconnected through the beauty of facebook. But it was a tough couple decades in the meantime.

Possibly because of that experience, I really, really, really try hard to find a way to readjust friendships, rather than definitively end them. However, I also am a huge believer in compatibility and enforcing boundaries. So if someone tells me they want me to leave them alone ... I do. And since I've already had a go-round on the whole order for protection thing (I initiated one against my first husband -- man, that was a tough year), I take the whole Leave Me Alone thing really seriously. You read what can happen to you if you violate, and you don't ever want to be anywhere near one of those pieces of paper.

Because I tend to let other people set the pace and tone of friendship, if someone feels like they want to do a fade, they can. I have friends I've known since middle school that I've gone years not talking to at all, and then recovered to being close enough to travel together again, and talk on the phone regularly. Finding myself at this age on the receiving end of a blunt Leave Me Alone left me asking questions I hadn't given any thought to for a long time. Ah, internet. Google never lets me down.

There's a ton of advice out there. Write a last letter to the ex-friend (and don't send it). Write a last letter in the voice of the ex-friend to you (really don't send that one!). Journal. Meditate. Keep Busy. DON'T be super busy. Get rid of stuff from the friend. No, bag it and keep it. Etc. Do a fade. Don't do a fade. Let a fade happen. No, don't let a fade happen. Get together for a post-mortem. Ask third parties who know you both. Don't make people take sides. Obviously, not all of this advice passes a sniff test -- and it isn't all compatible with the other advice. Honestly, a lot of this stuff is aimed at a particular kind of generally female friendship that I am kind of resistant to. But this time around, rather than roll my eyes and go, who the hell would even want that kind of friendship, I started thinking about how things had gone in this particular relationship, and realized, maybe that's actually where the real problem was. I really _don't_ do certain kinds of cathartic, bare one's soul, constantly communicating, besties kind of thing. Anyone who wants that with me is going to be constantly chasing, constantly frustrated, always feeling as if I am not coming through for them.

Anyway. I really loved the comments thread on this Jezebel post from 2015. The post itself left me fairly meh (altho it does give context for all the commenters who say the article really did it for them). But it has helped me more than anything else I've ever read to understand why some people find me cold, distant and utterly unsatisfying (my long term friends always argue that I'm not, and obviously I agree with my friends! Which is why I believe in the importance of compatibility). I may be a calm oasis for someone whose chaos has gotten out of control. I may be a relaxing place to hang out and let someone else make all the decisions. But wow. All the feelings I apparently either don't really feel -- or do not care to share. Ever.

Enjoy! You can go find your own friendship ending advice. There's plenty to go around.


Oh, if you are thinking, OMG there are some high maintenance people complaining about their friends, I am inclined to agree. Also, that some people take their birthdays more seriously than I do mine. If you find you cannot slog through the whole comments stream, at least check this link out, because it is a hoot:

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I bought this a Really Long Time Ago (October 1998, from University Books in Seattle, so if you're keeping track, I'd retired the previous month from a different bookstore in Seattle). I started reading it a couple February's ago, IIRC, and have finally just decided there are only two chapters left, I can do that, so I did.

Subtitled: _The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920_

On the one hand, it's a really interesting book in a lot of ways. There is good documentary history here about post-Civil War efforts by women, mostly, but not entirely, black women in particular, but not exclusively, to educate and uplift their race out of poverty and oppression. It fits very well into reading I had been doing before starting reading this book (and books I had bought in roughly the same time frame) about the WCTU, and _White Women's Rights_, which is a somewhat flawed book about racial friction within earlier stages of the women's movement. The extensive use of quotations allows the reader to grasp rhetorical techniques that the author isn't necessarily drawing attention to, but which are interesting (turns out that people have been saying, "it's just as bad/worse than slavery" since very shortly after the end of the Civil War. Who knew? And not just white people, I might add.).

Activists used multiple strategies to advance the cause of equality and social justice, and the author devotes individual chapters to major ones. By directing group resources to the education and nurturing of particularly able individuals ("the talented tenth"), the group hoped to benefit by showing that blacks could be doctors and lawyers and learned preachers and academics. By emphasizing manners and demeanor, the group hoped to benefit by showing that while they were poor and oppressed, they adhered to the supposed codes of whites better than they did. Little mention is made of women in the Black Baptist Church and the women's suffrage movement (one gets the sense that they weren't particularly involved, but I'm not clear on that. It was so difficult for black men to vote that there was probably some prioritization going on there). Descriptions of coordination between white women activist groups and individuals and black women activist groups and individuals are included occasionally.

If there is something missing, it is any kind of detail on conflict in goals and strategies between the separate groups. Sure, there were some heinously bigoted women who said awful things, but they weren't typically all that great on women's issues for white women or black women. I feel some confidence that there _was_ conflict on goals and strategies, but I'm sort of feeling a little weird that I've now read two academic books (well respected ones) that should have given me a sense of where that conflict was, and I still just am not understanding. Perhaps it is my fault. (And before you ask, YES, I do understand the pre- and post- Civil War prioritization of abolition vs women's suffrage. And that's exactly why the weakness on where the Women's Convention was on suffrage stood out for me. Was that perceived at the time as a major difference in priorities/goals? How did groups and individuals talk about that? _Did_ they talk about that?)

It's a monograph. Because it's a monograph about a church, a good chunk of the middle is about women engaging in theology and/or preaching. That may have limited appeal. The author makes an effort to draw some larger themes out of the theology and preaching, but it is tough going. 19th century moralizing is not an attractive activity. At all, and I don't care _who_ is doing it. It just sounds terrible.

The book does provide a fairly good context for the civil rights movement(s) of our own era (it's imperfect, because the section on railroads and separate but equal doesn't get into any of the details of Plessy v Ferguson, which is a real pity, however, scope matters, and including details about women activists trying to get better bathrooms, or at least segregated by gender, was pretty amazing. Having to press for soap and towels is kind of shocking, altho again, this is in the era of lynching, so there's plenty of shocking to go around).

If any of the components of the topic (race, gender, religion, politics, education and activism) are of interest to you, and you have any tolerance for monographs at all, it's a good one.
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The author seems to be a few years older than me, and her experiences exploring self-defense appear to have occurred slightly earlier in her timeline than my experiences did in mine. But they are so close, that the book was interesting to me to buy while I was doing martial arts and taking firearms classes, going to the range and carrying a gun and taking a fencing class and things of that sort.

But my efforts to buy it at the time completely failed. Repeatedly. So it has been sitting on the shelf for more than a decade, surviving purge after purge -- my paper book library is less than a third the size that it once was. In the wake of my dismal failure to read _Smile at Strangers_, I thought I ought to go make a real effort to get through other books I own about women and self-defense.

Here are the problems.

(1) It was written in the first half of the 1990s. So while we had Terminator's Sarah Connor and Alien's Ripley, and we had Thelma and Louise, for whatever that may or may not have been worth, we didn't yet have Long Kiss Goodnight's Sam/Charly, or Barb Wire. And boy that shows in the cultural references. It is hard to really realize just how massive the turn was for women action heroes that occurred in 1996, but it was incredible. In a really good way.

(2) There are a lot of incorrect or very deceptive bits of evidence throughout the book. I've blogged a bunch of them, but notably the summaries of the Inez Garcia and Mary Ellen Nelson cases are incredibly misleading in ways that undermine how they fit into the argument. There are also fundamental misunderstandings of women's power movements of the past (separate spheres) and the interaction of women's activism in the Gilded Age and labor law (the results produce an inaccurate impression of what was actually going on).

(3) Because McCaughey comes at this topic from a Women's Studies perspective, the entire thing is framed through various lenses of feminism. And it turns out that feminism is a truly shitty way to frame self-defense, legally, or as an activity, or as a locus for activism or, really, anything. Who knew? Feminism, especially before same-sex activism beat back gender difference ideology as deployed by several kinds of feminists, was way hung up on rape, and McCaughey spends almost the entire book exploring the potential interaction between rape and self-defense. I spent a lot of time learning a lot of responsible ways to deploy and deflect and de-escalate violence. I am no pacifist and I'm not even particularly anti-violence (I just think you need to carefully consider the amount, type and target). And for all that I was raised to be freaked out about men sexually violating me, my childhood experience was of female on female sexual assault -- no men anywhere involved in it. My self-defense concerns were considerably more ordinary: I worried about property crime pointed at me, and violent interactions with persons experiencing psychotic breaks or otherwise altered. Basically, I wanted to be able to walk around large cities at night by myself and have a reasonable expectation that I would safely arrive at my destination without anything too traumatic happening along the way. If I was with other people, I wanted to be able to also protect them, altho this goal sort of faded as I realized that some people felt emboldened by my presence and their belief that I could cash whatever check their mouth and actions wrote. (Yeah, I got a list of idiot women I won't ever go drinking with again.)

So the book hasn't aged well, has a bad frame, and could have used much, much more rigorous editing for argument and evidence deployed in service of same. There are some nuggets buried here, because McCaughey really enjoyed her exploration of self-defense training and the people she met. She is sympathetic and clearly a really compassionate, earnest person who wants the world to get better, and believes that this is a way that women can make the world better for themselves and others.

If you _like_ women's studies arguments, and you read this book, I'm curious to know whether this qualifies as good, bad or indifferent. I can't tell -- I haven't read enough recently to have a decent sample size. I used to read some gender difference stuff, but I eventually gave up on it all because none of it made any sense to me and it just doesn't seem to have any utility.

If McCaughey had been able to take the perspective of the short, light men she ran into in martial arts contexts, she may have been able to work through their Little Man issues enough to understand that a lot of what we frame as _women's_ issues can be better understood as issues for people who are smaller adults. I know, I know, I'm going to sound all MRA here, and these idiots can definitely deploy white male privilege bravado with an offensively heavy hand, and they are often insanely aggressive. But they are coming from the same place of Easy Target, and at least a few of them are worth connecting with. If she _had_ been able to do that, it would have opened up a whole other area of analysis, particularly in the body work section. But, hey, that's okay.

I can't recommend it, but it's entirely possible that McCaughey's later work (she was pretty young when she produced this) is more careful on the evidence and so forth. I wouldn't walk away from a book she'd written. I'm unconvinced by her advocacy for a different self-defense standard for women than men, but I'm prepared to think about how a "reasonable woman" standard might be different from a "reasonable man" standard or even a "reasonable person" standard.
walkitout: (Default)
Subtitled Why Women Drink and How They Can Regain Control

My walking partner heard the author on NPR and told me a bit about the book; it was interesting enough to pick up and read.


The historical coverage is poor; there are numerous errors and misrepresentations.

The comparison of how much and how many women are drinking now versus in the past is baseless and, I believe, completely wrong. I do not believe there is any real basis for believing that more middle class or upper middle class women are drinking in a way that they are unhappy with or that objectively appears problematic now than earlier in the 20th century, never mind the 19th century. Glaser, who in many respects is admirably data oriented, doesn’t have data for this so it’s just kinda commentary.

You might wonder, why the heck bother with such a flawed book? Ah, well, there are not a lot of books out there about women and alcohol specifically. This one includes great coverage of the history of AA with a view to the women who aren’t typically mentioned, in particular Marty Mann. There’s wonderful descriptions of research about how women are affected by alcohol consumption -- and why there is so little research and how that is slowly changing. Glaser mostly avoids blame-the-victim, and for those who are looking for a solution to their drinking problem, she points the reader at what I believe are these people: http://www.non12step.com/ She also suggests Moderation Management, whose book _Responsible Drinking_ I read over a decade ago and found insightful and reassuring; I can’t speak to how effective it is. Glaser notes over and over how unfortunate drinking patterns develop in college and then become very difficult to change; she also talks about how evening is a trigger for many women (can’t really avoid evening, and if you’re already doing most of your drinking at home, that’s kinda tough to avoid, too). She does a nice job of showing how the different way alcohol affects women interacts particularly negatively with 12 Step program which emphasize powerlessness. The stories she includes of sexual abuse in AA chapters are quite harrowing, and accompanied by detailed descriptions of how various people at the national level failed in their efforts to make meaningful cultural changes.

I look forward to future books about women and alcohol, and women and drinking. This is an important and under-studied topic. I expect over time that gender based consumption patterns -- including abuse -- of alcohol will converge (by women consuming more and men consuming less), as we have seen with a variety of other trends. I also believe that we will eventually come to realize that while AA has some particularly negative aspects with respect to women, the built-in dismissal of underlying mental health issues present in AA from the beginning and throughout its history, in conjunction with its relentless (altho increasingly covert) religiosity, will lead to its general loss of credibility in favor of more pragmatic approaches to changing deleterious drinking.

In was a fortunate accident that I happened to read this in conjunction with a book about the WCTU and during Women's History Month; there wasn't a plan.
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Subtitled The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873-1900

Published by Rutgers University Press

Hardcover original was Temple University in 1981; the first paperback was 1990. This has the preface for the first paperback thus some retrospective about where it fits into other women’s studies literature and also some comments about how the author would do things differently if writing it at the later date.

The author’s other books include a biography of Frances Willard.

I’ve read at least one other detailed history involving Prohibition (_Last Call_, by Daniel Okrent, which is also excellent). Immediately before this, my previous non-fiction read covering the rhetoric of the women’s movement before, during and after this time (_White Women’s Rights_, so-so).

The WCTU, the organization which is the subject of this organizational biography, continues to exist; you can visit their website here http://www.wctu.org/

Whatever you might think of alcohol (whether it is or was a problem, and if so, what if anything should be done to address it), the WCTU served a variety of purposes in its quest for Prohibition. It was an organization which respectable, middle-class women felt comfortable joining: it did not negatively affect their status as prosperous, locally influential wives and mothers nor did it threaten their religious identity or their church affiliation. Their husbands were more okay with them speaking in public in support of this cause, unlike others of the time (such as women’s suffrage, and, earlier, abolition), and were amenable to financially supporting this cause. Because the WCTU never allowed voting male members, the organization was made up of women at all levels of leadership and membership. Because Frances Willard, over time, came to believe that temperance and Prohibition would not by themselves cure all of the ills of the world, the WCTU branched out into numerous other causes (including women’s suffrage, kindergartens, the 8 hour day, Sunday off and half day Saturday, equal pay for equal work, disarmament, peace, international arbitration and numerous other causes), which by themselves had difficulty attracting the attention and participation of these women in support of them.

Willard and the WCTU made conscious choices to encourage local organization with local leadership, including Native Americans, blacks and various immigrant groups. Of course this was in service of the cause of Temperance, but it was also done in recognition that these groups (and Southern white women, for that matter) remained largely unpoliticized and Temperance could provide the same jump-start to political activism of all sorts which it had to the members of the WCTU.

Really, the WCTU is a model of how incredibly effective community organizing can be: a cause with broad, deep, non-partisan appeal combined with good works in communities, local pseudo-autonomy, national leadership, a willingness to join forces with other causes and other groups where membership overlapped in values and current priorities and above all effective legislation to impact education around the country is a pretty straightforward template for how change occurs in our country and around the world.

A good, detailed history monograph -- without even meaning to -- is deeply relevant and resonant in later eras. Ruth Bordin has produced one of the best. You might think of Prohibition with a shudder (honestly, I no longer do, altho of course I do not advocate for it, either), but the women who pushed the world in that direction (in conjunction with organizations like the Anti-Saloon League, which came into existence in part to counter the backlash to the WCTU) were politically brilliant and their example is instructive even now.

There are also some great details. Ohio law at the time of the first Crusade prohibited the sale of beer or alcohol to persons whose relatives had asked that they not be served. At times, Ruth Bordin’s perspective is too obvious, as when she criticizes Willard, describing her Crusade experience as “at best contrived and minimal”, largely because her experience was more as a teacher assigning themes in her classes on the subject, rather than direct action. And also when she describes Willard here: “Women liked Willard. Indeed she was more than liked, she was loved, she was adored. Her intense, almost sexual attractiveness to members of her own sex was a major factor in her success. Women competed for her favors and cherished some intimate moment with her as they would the attentions of a male lover.”

I’m mostly okay with the “almost sexual”; I’m _really not okay_ with the “male lover”. That male really does not need to be there; it is straight up (ahem) heterocentricity at a moment where heterocentricity is least justified.

WCTU was instrumental in getting the age of consent raised in many states, in part as a way or reducing prostitution. “In 1886 the laws of twenty states placed the age of consent at ten years, and one at seven. 86 By 1894 only four states (all in the South) still put consent at ten, and in twenty states legal consent had been raised to sixteen, an accomplishment for which the WCTU could take substantial credit.” A clearer example of good work done in the service of a cause that we may no longer approve of would be harder to imagine.

I picked my copy up at Half Price Books for $5.98, over 10 years ago, possibly closer to 20. If you would like my copy (it’s not available as an ebook, as near as I can determine), let me know and I’ll send it to you. I will hang onto it for at least a few months and will edit this review to indicate when I no longer have it.
walkitout: (Default)
Subtitled The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States
OUP 1999

I bought it in October 2002 in Williamsburg while on a road trip.

I rarely comment on the physical characteristics of a book, beyond noting whether I read it on the kindle or not. However, the print in this book presented enough problems for me to feel compelled to mention those problems. First, the print is small and I, increasingly, am old. Second, the ink or toner is weak or faded, or inadequate, particularly on the left hand pages, and more towards the spine. I did not consciously notice this at first, but it contributed greatly to my difficulties reading the book (along with the prose style, which monographs sort of universally suffer from, and the trigger-y nature of the topic). After a while, I asked R. to take a look at it, and he was able to identify the toner or ink problems (he thinks this may have been a POD edition) which, combined with the font (there’s no colophon — maybe no one wanted to take any responsibility for this) result in o’s which are not complete, etc. (He said it was like reading a whole page of captcha. Which it is.)

I’m not sure what I will do with this copy. In general, I prefer to destroy physically flawed books (provided they are not rare), to save future readers the agony.

The author “is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Florida” at the time of publication, and the CV I found online for her looks like Associate Professor now. The text is informed by her use of the material in teaching.

Chapters 4-7 are character studies of particular women: (4) May French-Sheldon (who went on safari in Africa), (5) Alice Fletcher (who administered allotments of land on reservations), (6) Charlotte Perkins Gilman (and Mary Roberts Smith Coolidge) and (7) Margaret Mead. These chapters aren’t just character studies; they argue that these women modified cultural discourses involving the place of (white) (middle class) women, vis a vis (white) (ruling class) men and POC, both in their writings and in how they lived their lives.

Chapter 2 is more or less the same thing, for Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Catharine Beecher, Mary Dodge/“Gail Hamilton", as (white) (middle class) women abolitionists (mostly) were prevented from participating in abolitionist organizations dominated by men, started their own, and (sort of) started the woman’s movement as well. This _could_ have been a really great analysis of differing perspectives on whether and how much to work towards Someone Else’s (Primary) Goal vs. focusing on One’s Own (Primary) Goal — a real classic dilemma of identity politics when the identity groups are each a minority but collectively the majority. I don’t know if Newman didn’t want to frame it that way, because that’s a modern frame, or she didn’t think to frame it that way, because she did all that work in the 1990s, and those ideas were not yet dominating academia yet? In practice, all the information is there, but without any frame that I perceived.

Chapter 3 is a mess, and it’s probably not the author’s fault. She’s attempting to describe the convergence of the Serious Thinkers Becoming Aware of the Demographic Transition, the industrial revolution in full swing and total control of the judicial system (thus rolling back all labor protection that had previously been put in place), and increasing female participation in the labor force. What women’s organizations decided to do (agitate for access to college/careers, agitate for protective labor laws for women, since they couldn’t keep them on the books for everyone, and back anyone who had an intellectual/academic fig leaf to justify these two goals) was entirely reasonable, but if you’re parsing the rhetoric, it seems a little odd. Hence, the mess.

And that brings me back to chapter 1, which sets up the book as a whole. Newman’s overall frame is the use of social evolution, Spencerian and Lamarckian conceptions of racial progress/devolution, by (white) women to carve out a better place in society for themselves and future generations of men and women (and I didn’t put white in parentheses there on purpose). Newman talks throughout the book about how evolution and ethnography and ideas of race and sex difference were modified by women (and men) for various purposes. What she _doesn’t_ do is talk about how this discourse interacted with the historically more dominant and still very powerful religious frame — which was even worse for women and for POC, but much harder to rework directly, much less attack directly.

That, in combination with her extremely limited treatment of the temperance movement, make this book a lot less powerful than it could have been. It’s sort of an interesting oddity, rather than a Must Read. Because this is basically a horribly detailed analysis of a strain of rhetoric that wound through a whole lot of very exciting political times — while mostly ignoring all of the excitement. This book supports the thesis that the history of ideas separate from, well, everything else is hugely problematic.

Next up: either Ruth Bordin's _Woman and Temperance_ or Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham's _Righteous Discontent_. It's like I planned this to coincide with Women's History Month or something. (I didn't.)

Additional complaint:

p 166: "In this climate of racial tension, Anglo-Protestant women often saw themselves as potential rape victims, even when no sexual interest was shown them," Erm. What's that clause doing there?

Further observation: It's clear that this book was written at least partly in response to arguments that the women's movement (in its various incarnations over the decades) got more racist after the Civil War. Newman exhaustively demonstrates that race (and racism) was part of the discourse and the way (white) women thought about themselves and their place in the world from well before the Civil War, and that to the extent there was a trend, it wasn't to become more openly contemptuous of POC (altho it wasn't necessarily to become _less_ racist, either -- just different forms, alas).
walkitout: (Default)

After hearing about That Woman's Phone Call, I was just going to call her a series of names and then justify it on the basis of shared race and gender. Woolner is _much_ classier than I am, however, so I'll just point to her and call it good enough.

A quick skim of earlier columns suggests I really should be reading Woolner the way I read Gail Collins.

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