Thursday, July 31, 2008

Advice Please!

Dear Readers,

I have a task for you. I am considering applying for Ph.D programs for next fall (2009). This is a huge life decision that I am struggling quite a bit with. My family is very opposed to it because it will require a move even further away (right now I am about 200-250 miles away). I am looking at programs in Women's Studies and American Studies right now. I am leaning toward American Studies to make myself more marketable but ideally, I'd like to do both.

My family is also opposed because I haven't had a "real" job and if I do this I won't until I am 30+. I am okay with that but I know it is a gamble. Once I have a Ph.D I will be over-qualified for many jobs and I will be rather old to start a whole new career, which is not something I want to do anyway. Further, getting into those programs could prove difficult. I have never taken the GRE and am not sure I'd do well on it. Has anyone here taken it? Any advice? Based on what you know about me and my writing, would I even do well enough to make it worth the time, energy and money? I am no good at math! Is anyone familiar with programs that do not require GRE scores? What about foreign language proficiency? I have taken high school Spanish and I am taking a beginner course right now but would that be enough? I am in no way bilingual and am pretty sure it'd take years of intensive study for me to become bilingual.

My academic advisor said Ph.D programs typically take about four years and that I'd be a teaching assistant or research assistant during that time. I should be able to get scholarships/fellowships to cover tuition but will likely have to work an additional job to pay the bills. The bills, however, would be much lower living in a place like Ohio or Kentucky... I would have to leave all of my friends and live in a place I am pretty sure I'd hate. And I'd likely have to get a car which is so undesirable.

So those are the cons. The pros list is a bit shorter but the points are much more important. My long-term goal is to be a Women's Studies, American/Cultural Studies and/or Gender Studies professor. I know that I want to teach. I am very certain about that. I also know that I love being a student, I cannot imagine ever not being a student. I know I am a good teacher. I know I am a good student. I have no doubt that I'd be able to write a dissertation. These are things that not only am I capable of but that I'd LOVE to do. Women's Studies is my life, it is my passion. What else would I do?

What types of jobs are available to people with Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Women's Studies? Could I work at a community college? What am I qualified to teach? I am quite sure I don't want to work in non-profits for very long. I enjoyed teaching high school students but at a college level I'd have more freedom to teach what I am passionate about.

Has anyone taken a break between a Master's and Ph.D? Is this a more desirable way to go? Does experience in the field make or break an applicants candidacy? I have not had a lot of experience working in the field because I am much more interested in the scholarship and theory.

Anyway, these are my questions and concerns. Any advice (seriously, any) would be welcome. Right now I am gathering as many opinions as I can and weighing them. For the record, I have no personal reason to stay in Chicago or even the midwest other than my friends who will likely be moving after graduation as well.


For your enjoyment here is a photo of the love of my life: Jasmine!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Men's Rights" on The Dr. Phil Show

I don't want to go too much into this episode of The Dr. Phil Show because it certainly is complicated. A thirty seven year old alcoholic, drug addicted, man had 'sex' with a nineteen year old young woman. A pregnancy ensued. The man proceeded to stalk the young woman until she simply told him she had had an abortion so that he would leave her alone. After the baby was born the young woman placed her for adoption. When the father discovered this he decided that he wanted custody and began a lengthy legal battle for his rights despite a rather odd law that requires fathers to register with the state prior to birth if they wish to have any rights to the child after birth.

I will not suggest that this man doesn't have some rights. My problem with this episode is that the "expert" opinion that Dr. Phil solicited was that of Mel Feit, patriarchy-denier extraordinaire. Feit identifies himself as a Men's Rights Activist. Having recently studied at some length MRA movements I have to concur with one of my favorite feminist scholars, blogger Twisty Faster.

Quoth Twisty:

“Massively [W]rong Assholes, or ‘men’s rights activists’ are patriarchy-deniers. The ideologies of this violent and knobbish subset of the Male Dominion spring from male fear of women’s personal sovereignty, and manifest in practice as active misogyny. Men suffer, O how they suffer, at the hands of subhuman conniving bitches who seek world domination through insane women-are-human propaganda and the misguided attempt to claim their own internal organs as private property. The MRA imagines that women’s interests control and abuse him in an ever more feminized world; he erroneously sees himself as a battered victim of women’s agency, rather than what he actually is: a moron.”

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Problematic Gender Politics of Katy Perry

Because I find most of it nauseating, I tend not to listen to pop music. When I was in grade school, I used to have a little radio that I would secretly plug my headphones into to hear to Top 40 on Sunday nights. My mother did not approve of pop music and it was a major battle between us during my adolescence. I don’t listen to the radio anymore mostly because I don’t drive and because I listen to music on my iPod and/or on my computer. Also, I really like industrial/EBM/synthpop, etc. which they do not play on the radio. Last week I got a ride to Brussels with my cousin and his twelve-year-old daughter. Like I did when I was her age, she really wanted to listen to pop music on the radio. This is when I came across the song “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry.

When I first realized what Perry was saying, I thought ‘how progressive… a lesbian on pop radio and here is my little cousin singing along.’ That is until I listened closer and heard these lyrics:

"This was never the way I planned
Not my intention
I got so brave, drink in hand
Lost my discretion
It's not what, I'm used to
Just wanna try you on
I'm curious for you
Caught my attention

I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry Chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don't mean I'm in love tonight
I kissed a girl and I liked it
I liked it

No, I don't even know your name
It doesn't matter
Your my experimental game
Just human nature
It's not what, good girls do
Not how they should behave
My head gets so confused
Hard to obey

Us girls we are so magical
Soft skin, red lips, so kissable
Hard to resist so touchable
Too good to deny it
Ain't no big deal, it's innocent."

This is one of those backlashy situations where we make a small step forward while simultaneously taking several steps backward. While Perry does say that she enjoyed kissing a 'girl' she says it within the context of a safe heteronormative relationship which is reminiscent of all those drunk college girls who make out with their girlfriends to impress the boys (or was it just my friends...). "I kissed a girl just to try it/I hope my boyfriend don't mind it."
There is no greater capitulation to the patriarchal powers that be than feigning lesbianism for male approval. Perry's song, from the album One of the Boys, was obviously written with a male gaze in mind. Perry sings, "I don't even know your name/It doesn't matter." In her attempt to be "one of the boys" Perry too must objectify the women around her.

In the video for "I Kissed a Girl" there isn't a man in sight. This could be seen as a radical statement of woman-centeredness. However, I see it more as Andrea Dworkin might. Though I don't have the text with me, I am fairly certain that she wrote that girl-on-girl porn does not need a physical man present to be a creation intended for a male gaze. Dismembered female bodies abound in this video. It seems Perry is more concerned with being seen by heterosexual men than about making a radical lesbian political statement. Further, her depiction of femininity consists of fishnet stockings, lacy bustiers, red lipstick and mascara.

Beyond just that one song, lets take a look at Perry's other well-known tune "UR so Gay." Considering the controversy surrounding satire and irony in mainstream media lately, I think it is important to say that the video for this song is obviously a satire. However, the song alone does not immediately come off that way.

"I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf
While jacking off listening to Mozart
You bitch and moan about LA
Wishing you were in the rain reading Hemingway
You don’t eat meat
And drive electrical cars
You’re so indie rock it’s almost an art
You need SPF 45 just to stay alive

You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys...

You’re so sad maybe you should buy a happy meal
You’re so skinny you should really Super Size the deal
Secretly you’re so amused
That nobody understands you
I’m so mean cause I cannot get you outta your head
I’m so angry cause you’d rather MySpace instead
I can’t believe I fell in love with someone that wears more makeup than…

You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys...

You walk around like you’re oh so debonair
You pull em' down and there’s really nothing there
I wish you would get a clue that its not all about you

You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys...
No you don’t even like… PENIS"

As far as I can gather, not considering the video, this song does not seem all that ironic. It seems to be about a woman using the term 'gay' to insult her ex-boyfriend who she deemed too effeminate. The themes of homophobia and woman hatred seem to permeate Perry's work. When I consider that many of Perry's listeners are 12-year-olds like my cousin in Freedom, Wisconsin, I am concerned that they aren't in on the 'joke.' And frankly, I am not sure Perry really means it as a joke. Calling someone gay and/or equating him with femininity as an insult AND feigning lesbianism for male sociosexual approval are the furthest thing from progressive.