Saturday, February 28, 2009

Maybe I'm Just a Snob

Holy Suckfest of a weekend. And not the good kind, either. I'm gonna lay out all the gory details for you folks, despite the full knowledge that if someone from the program I visited happened upon my blog they would undoubtedly recognize my tale of woe. I don't think I care - maybe they can use it to improve their plans for next time. 

The trip did not begin well. What was supposed to be a 2hr flight turned into me being stuck on the goddamned plane for 8 hours, including a re-route to a different state due to weather conditions. I arrived in MidWestern City at 11pm, well past the time I was supposed to have dinner with Potential Advisor. Therefore, I did not get to eat until 11:30pm, and it was airport food. Yuck. It took 1hr and 10minutes to get a cab from the airport because all flights that had been re-routed all came back to the City and landed at the same goddamn time. Something like 20 flights. Rather than being met at the airport by my grad student host, I had to take a cab and arrived around 1am. Thank goodness I had enough cash on me. None of this was really the school's fault, though I wished they had just put me in a hotel where I could've taken a shuttle, especially considering what I found at my hosts's place. 

I don't know what I expected, but it certainly wasn't a camping-size air mattress on the floor of a living room in front of a big-ass drafty window. I froze my ASS off, and maybe got 2 hours of sleep the entire night. My host was nice, but extremely clueless. 

I paid for my own transportation to the university at 7am or so the next morning. Besides my complete and utter exhaustion, the interview day itself wasn't that bad. It turns out that I have not yet been accepted and neither has anyone else. 4 of us were interviewing with Potential Advisor, with the expectation that she will be accepting 3 students for next year. We're supposed to find out our status next week.

First, the most basic details about the trip:

There were about 25 of us interviewing for the entire psych department, 7 for social psych. Out of the entire 25, I think 6 of us were NOT wearing suits. A couple people were wearing jeans. I was like WTF happened to business casual? (Not that they actually told us that, this is just what I was told by grad students at my MRU.) I don't know if maybe the high number of suits were due to people being clueless and erring on the side of being overdressed, or if I just missed something. Either way, I didn't think it mattered. But my advice to those of you seeking future grad school admission - if you get an interview, email current grad students at that U and find out what people normally wear. Don't go by what anyone else says. 

Another thing I did not expect - a fucking LOT of walking. And I don't mean around campus, I mean around the CITY. Instead of having lunch delivered, we walked like 5-6 blocks to a restaurant. In the FREEZING COLD & SNOW. We're all looking at each other like "Don't they know we're all wearing HEELS??" A few of us almost busted our asses on patches of ice, and one poor girl got splashed by a passing car that hit a puddle. She was from FL. I wanted to give her a hug or something. 

The entire schedule for us was 16 hours long, nonstop. I shit you not. Interviews and presentations from 8am until 5pm, then off to dinner with grad students, then off to a grad student house party. No one was told to bring a change of clothes or shoes ahead of time, so only the lucky few whose hosts had cars were able to change before dinner. I was not one of those lucky few, which means my ass was stuck in 4" heel boots that were forced to walk probably a total of 30 blocks of the city over the course of the day. Not only that, but my ride to dinner and the party took the girls she was hosting back to her place so they could change into sneakers, and for the rest of the night I was the only one of 4 people lagging behind as we walked to the restaurant, back to the car, out to the train station, from the train station to the party, from the party to the bus stop, from the bus stop to my host's apartment. All on 2 hours of sleep. I wanted to kill someone and was amazed that I managed not to cry from the pain in my feet. And my boots are comfortable! Just not for that much walking and standing for over 16 hours!

The grad student party was held in an apartment and there were about 100 people there. You could barely move without stepping on someone. The department-bought booze was gone about 2 hours in, but I managed to drink enough Tom Collins so that the pain in my feet escaped from my awareness until I had to head back out in the cold to walk some more. 

It was by far the longest day of my life. I paid my own cab fare back to the airport this morning, which I'm not happy about. If I could've taken a plane home last night after the party I totally would have, but luckily my host gave me an extra blanket and TURNED THE HEAT ON last night so that I was able to actually get about 4 hours of sleep before heading out this morning. 

As I'm sure you can imagine, given the circumstances described above, that I was not exactly at the top of my game this weekend. I was much quieter than I normally am, and had little interest in socializing with anyone other than the professors until I had a couple of drinks in me at the party. But even in my frazzled state, I still think I managed to impress the important people. 

And now on to the real details of the experience....

I was shocked when I met my Potential Advisor. She looked like she was my age, and I was like "This is not going to work. I will be reminded of how far behind I am the entire time I'm here." But it turns out that she's actually the age I thought she was, so it's all good. Don't get me wrong, she's still really young, especially for a tenure-track professor, but there are enough years between she and I that I can maintain the same level of respect for her as I would someone much older. 

And I loved her. Just like I thought I would. My interview with her was not "Where do you see yourself in 10 years" like it was with the other students who applied to work with her. Instead it was me saying "Are you familiar with studies X, Y, and Z? Those are great examples of the kind of work I would like to pursue, except I think a better methodology for what I would specifically want to look at would include doing A, B, or C." I somehow, in my extremely sleepy state, managed to convey my enthusiasm for and knowledge about my research interests in a specific yet still open-minded way. I think that she and I really clicked, but the verdict hasn't come in yet so we'll see. 

In an interview with another faculty member I asked questions about his research that he had never considered before, which prompted the response "Wow, I never thought of it like that. You've just given me ideas that'll end up in me writing some new proposals on Monday morning!" I didn't even do it on purpose - he's not a potential advisor, but I do know a lot about his line of research and my goal had to include impressing all the faculty, not just PA. 

Another interview included the professor describing the overall theory behind his work to two of us. He spoke using incredibly technical terms (as technical as psych gets), and at first I had difficulty knowing WTF he was talking about. Other students told me that their eyes were just glazing over talking to this guy and they just nodded and smiled. But something about what he said clicked with me all of a sudden, and when he stopped I asked "So your particular line of work sounds like an extension of Mega Rockstar's theory, but with Z and X modifications to account for A and B. Is that accurate?" He grinned. Turns out that Mega Rockstar was his grad school advisor! While the other student sat in silence, I then explained "Even though I did not apply to work with you specifically, here's how I think your theory might be relevant to my research interests....."

My final interview was with a faculty member who is responsible for teaching all the stats and methods courses and two other students were in the interview with me. Both of them were very concerned with the amount of stats work required and kept asking about being placed on academic probation because of her classes, how hard they are, etc. I asked about what is covered in each of the courses in the sequence: "Is the first course mostly concerned with ANOVA and basic stats models using pen and paper versus SPSS or SASS? Are linear regression models covered in the first course or the second? Does the department mainly use SPSS for analysis? Etc." I was really surprised by how intimidated these other students were about stats, considering how utterly crucial it is to an academic career. But maybe I'm just a snob. 

I really liked the faculty there. I am not a fan of the facilities. My MRU has an entire building devoted to Psych, and though I feel the department there is just way too big, the drawbacks of a smaller program were not apparent to me until this weekend. What's weird is that this program is one of the better-funded programs in the country, with lots of federal grant money. Yet I asked a current grad student (out of curiosity only) if they had an animal lab, and the response I got was "I don't know.....maybe in another building or something......?" It just seemed off

My Potential Advisor is very well-funded - we're talking millions of dollars in NSF grants, plus another source of funding from a huge national organization. I know most of you don't know a lot about psych research - but millions of dollars is a LOT of money for psych studies, especially considering that most money is spent on computers and surveys. She's in a fantastic position, particularly for a brand-spanking new faculty member as young as she is. It definitely makes her lab attractive. 


I don't like the campus. That's not the real problem for me though. The real issue I'm struggling with is that (with the exception of 1 person who will be done in a year) I don't really like the grad students. I can't figure out why. I get the sense that most of them are doing research for the sake of doing research - they're not considering or focusing on the value of their research. They're not looking outside the social psych body of research in their lit reviews for other information that is extremely relevant to what they're doing. I pointed out a series of studies in Personality Psych that deal with the very foundation of one student's research, and they had no idea what I was talking about. They looked it up during downtime I guess though, because they came up to me later and said "That was a great point. I looked it up earlier, and I've added several controls to my proposal to account for that phenomenon." 

Again, maybe I'm just a snob or something. But in talking to these students, most of them are not familiar with the current research in their own areas - areas that I've mostly just skimmed over. I have no way of figuring out if it's the program that's causing them to focus so narrowly, or if it's something about their personalities. The faculty talked a lot about viewing things from different perspectives and keeping up with other sub-fields, but maybe it was just lip service. My Potential Advisor knew her shit though. I'm not sure what's going on there. 

I don't know how important the other grad students should be in considering a program. Maybe you all can help me decide. But I have a really hard time keeping my mouth shut when I see possible errors or blind spots in someone's research, and I don't want to gain a reputation as a meddling know-it-all. The alternative, of course, is to just keep it to myself and let them produce faulty research, but I don't want to be affiliated with a program that's churning out bullshit or narrow-minded studies. (Not that I know they're doing that, but I get the sense that it's a real possibility.)

Again, maybe I'm just a snob. But collaboration is something I value, and I would rather collaborate with and learn from people who pay as much attention to the field as I do. I know that I have lots and lots to learn, but if the students who are ahead of me aren't people I can learn from, isn't that a problem? I really want to be in an environment where the enthusiasm and love for my field is shared by everyone (or at least almost everyone) around me. The faculty has it - how can a 1st or 2nd year grad student already be so jaded and still be so clueless?

It's breaking my heart a little. This is a very well-funded R1 university with a Potential Advisor I can just tell I would develop a very close mentoring relationship with. I'm torn between wanting constant intellectual stimulation from those around me and knowing that if I went to this school I would stand out as a stellar PhD candidate. I know it sounds incredibly arrogant, I know. I can't help it. 

What about the rest of you? How do you (or did you) feel about the other grad students in your program? Because I feel like those of you I regularly interact with share the same level of passion and knowledge about your respective fields and you guys are the kind of people I would love to spend the next 5 years with. During the whole day yesterday all I could think was "I found a Dr. Isis. Now where's my Ambivalent Academic? My SciCurious? My PhizzleDizzle? My Leigh? My Juniper? Bueller? Bueller????"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I'm Off To See The Wizards

I'll be hopping on a plane later this evening to head out to the midwest for my first grad school "visiting day." I'm pretty nervous, mostly about staying in a complete stranger's home for two 

Any last minute advice? I think I figured out the clothing situation. For my first meet & greet with Potential Advisor and fellow applicants tonight (which is right after I get off the plane), I'm going Dr. Isis-style in a nice pair of jeans, boots, and a waist-length blazer with Awesome Scarf. Tomorrow I'm doing dress pants, turtleneck, boots, and Awesome Scarf. 

I'm printing all of my application materials including my personal statement so that I have copies with me, several copies of my updated CV, copy of Potential Advisor's Major Article with my comments and questions in the margins, and I think that's it. Did I forget anything?

I don't expect to be accessing the web, but I will get blog comments and emails via my Almost IPhone. 

I'll be back Saturday afternoon with full updates and details!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I *Heart* My CV

There is no better way to remind yourself how much ass you kick than to look at your consistently-updated curriculum vitae. I figure it's in my best interest to bring it with me for the interviews this weekend, so I pulled it up on my nifty little Macbook. 

It's so pretty. And not in a fluffy, over-done way. It's pretty in that it's extremely well-organized, easy to read, with nice, neat, bulleted black text and burgundy headings. I love it. I'm damn stinkin' proud of it. 

I hate resumes. I hate making them and I hate updating them. I hate that you have to try to keep all of your relevant work experience to a single page, and to somehow very briefly describe all of your work responsibilities for a position. Then you have to go back and edit it depending on the job you're applying for. It sucks. I hate it. 

But the CV is beautiful. You make one, and then you just have to go back and add stuff to it. I like the categories, the simple format, the LOGIC of a CV. And an academic/research job is an academic/research job. Period. You don't really have to change anything before submitting in order to "tailor" it to that specific position. 

I love that it includes an awards/honors section. I love that it separates things into type of experience so you don't necessarily have to try to sum up every important thing you did during that time. For example, "Research Experience" is exactly what it says. For a potential grad student, you just need to briefly list your duties. Eg., complex coding, method design, data analysis and graphing, etc. And if you did something really cool during that research that was presented or published - guess what! It goes under a separate category - "Publications/Presentations." And for that category, all you need is the title (appropriately formatted), and the journal or conference it was submitted to. 

And as I move on in my academic career, the CV will change in logical ways. "Research Experience" will be replaced by "Publications." "Teaching Experience" will be replaced by "Positions Held." My high school education will be deleted, as will my associate's degree. My gpas will also eventually be deleted, but I get to keep Summa Cum Laude on there for-EVER. 

A resume always feels like it's bullshit fluff. But a CV is a record of your accomplishments and recognition. It's straightforward. It's logical. It's confidence-boosting. 

As a potential grad student, the more relevant categories + lines you have, the better you feel. Mine is 3 full pages, withOUT fluff. As a full-on academic, the fewer categories + more lines you have, the better you feel. 

I just love it because it makes sense. :)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wow. Just Wow.

Courtesy of Google Analytics, some of the search terms that have been used to find my blog:

  • psychology crock of shit (fuck you, whoever you are)
  • alternative meanings of lol (are there alt meanings? LOL)
  • baby doll stroller porno (really? OMG)
  • becoming an egg farmer (lmao)
  • boys fucking part 1 (again, OMG)
  • men who dress up dolls and video game research (dissertation, perhaps? lol)
  • sexy female fear 2 (I don't even want to know....)
And my personal favorite, somehow resulting in the longest pageviewing time:
  • whores
What on earth must people think my blog is about??? LOL

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I Hate Sundays

I've decided to skip the conclusion of my Gender Interactive post. Basically, you are supposed to notice that boys' games have clear winners and losers, rules, and are most often reflective of career paths that boys could actually engage in, while girls' games are cooperative, life-reflecting, without the clear winner/loser dichotomy and rules that can easily be modified to reflect the players. 

Bleh. It's more interesting to do in a classroom. 

So my husband is in FL until next week. I'm bored without him here. I should probably be doing something productive, but oh well. I've been doing the P90X fitness program to try to get myself back into something resembling being in shape. It's fun, painful, exhausting, and possibly worth it (I don't really know yet). 

The grad school thing is consuming my thoughts. I've started feeling that if I don't get accepted to programs #2 and #3, that I may not want to go to grad school, at least not this time around. I know, I know. But I busted my goddamned ass for the last 3 years, and if I don't get into one of my top-choice programs, WTF is the point? To get a PhD for the sake of doing so? This is no offense to program #4 where I am interviewing this weekend, but I feel like I busted my ass for nothing. Why give up everything to be a Top Student if you can't then get into Top Program? 

I just got a letter the other day from my MRU announcing that I was selected as a Scholar of something or other. No money attached to this award. I wanted to tell them to go fuck themselves, because nothing they have done for me has made a difference with my prospects for the future. As a matter of fact, they haven't done a fucking thing for me, period. Oh, except increase my student loan debt. They did that with gusto. 

I could not possibly have done anything differently or better as an undergrad. I really couldn't, given my life circumstances and everything else. WTF - a single grade of B compared to all A's for undergrad would be enough to disqualify me? Second authorship on a paper/presentation with RockStar Researcher's name as 3rd author? Sorry I couldn't be first author, because I HAD TO WORK TO PAY MY MORTGAGE.

Maybe they looked me up on Facebook or MySpace and decided that I use the f-word too often. Or that I look too good in a bikini with a monkey on my shoulder, and it would be distracting. Who the fuck knows. 

Now I know some of you are out there who got where I'm trying to go. Those of you who managed to get into Ivy U grad programs in your field - WTF did you do to get there? 

It's not about names or prestige for me. It is about the programs that are going to allow me to research the things I am interested in alongside faculty whose work I respect and admire. I still have yet to hear from #2 and #3, and I'm hoping that no news is good news. But if I did not do well enough to merit those opportunities, I need to know. 

So I can choose another fucking career path. 

Gender: A Question of Diagnosis?

It is pretty much considered common knowledge that women show higher rates of depression than men. 

But what if that's wrong?

Some food for thought/discussion, taken from Terrence Real's book I Don't Want To Talk About It:
"In national figures on mental disorders, women outnumber men by two to one among those diagnosed exclusively as depressed. The lifetime incidence of a major depressive episode in women is 21.3% of the total population, while in men, the disorder strikes only 12.7%. But if we factor into the equation "personality disorders" and chemical dependency, the totals even right back out again. Antisocial personality in women runs at 1.2% of the total population, while in men it is 5.8%. Drug dependency in women runs at 5.9% of the total population, while in men it is 9.2%. And alcoholism in women runs at 8.2% of the total population, while in men it is 20.1%. When the incidence of these disorders is added to the incidence of depression, it balances the level of pathology in each sex" (p. 84).

Here is my best representation of the chart included on the same page of the text:

Lifetime Incidents of Mental Disorders
(as percentage of the population)
                                                        Men        Women        Both
Affective Disorders
Major Depressive Episode                                   12.7          21.3            17.1       
Manic Episode                                                         1.6             1.7              6.4
Dysthymia ("mild depression")                            4.8            8.0            6.4

Anxiety Disorders 
Panic Disorder                                                         2.0           5.0             3.5
Agoraphobia                                                             3.5           7.0             5.3
Social Phobia                                                           11.1          15.5             13.3
Simple Phobia                                                          6.7          15.7             11.3
Generalized Anxiety                                                3.6            6.6              5.1

Substance Abuse Disorders
Alcohol Abuse                                                         12.5           6.4              9.4
Alcohol Dependence                                              20.1           8.2            14.1
Drug Abuse                                                                5.4          3.5              4.4
Drug Dependence                                                     9.2          5.9              7.5

Other Disorders
Antisocial Personality                                              5.8           1.2             3.5
Nonaffective Psychosis                                             0.6          0.6            0.7

Totals                                                                       48.7       47.3         48.0

It seems too simple, doesn't it, to just total it all up and say men and women must be equal. Keep in mind here, that I am not stating any of this as scientific fact based on experimental data - by rules of ethics, any data dealing with mental disorders must be qualitative in nature. But to get you thinking out of the box on this stuff, I present you with Real's argument regarding men and depression.

The first concept to understand is that of "overt" versus "covert" depression. They mean exactly what they sound like. Overt depression refers to the kind of depression that is fairly easy to spot - fitting the "mold" if you will, of a major depressive episode. Click here for the DSM IV criteria for major depression.  Covert depression, by contrast, does not fit the model put forth by the DSM IV. It is largely hidden from those around the person and often from the person him/herself. I, personally, would add to this the idea that the characteristics of covert depression are often believed to be part of the personality of the sufferer. It is also called "masked depression," "underlying characterological depression," and "depression equivalents" (p. 41). 

Keeping in mind the chart above, consider the following:
"A number of studies looking at who gets labeled as being depressed have been carried out nationwide. Some, like the Potts study involving no less than 23,000 volunteer subjects, have been conducted on a massive scale. The results of most of them show a tendency for mental health professionals to overdiagnose women's depression and underdiagnose the disorder in men.

In a study of a different nature, psychologists were given hypothetical psychiatric "case histories" of patients with a variety of complaints. Only one variable was changed, the sex of the client. Consistently, psychologists diagnosed the depressed "male" clients as more severely disturbed than depressed "female" clients. On the other hand, women alcoholics were viewed as being more severely disturbed than their male counterparts. These conflicting results show that an overlay of gender expectations complicates the judgment of clinicians. It seems that they are punishing clients of both sexes with more severe diagnosis for crossing gender lines. If it is unmanly to be depressed and unwomanly to drink, then a depressed man must really be disturbed, just like an alcoholic woman"(p. 40). 

I do not doubt that gender roles and expectations play a large part in diagnosing mental disorders. It is easy to chalk the numbers up to biological sex differences, but we can't get an accurate picture of what is really going on until we remove the bias in diagnosing patients. But there is also the socialization factor to account for:
"The problem with this well-established psychiatric tradition is that it ignores the effects of gender. In our society, woman are raised to pull pain into themselves - they tend to blame themselves, feel bad. Men are socialized to externalize distress; they tend not to consider themselves defective so much as unfairly treated; they tend not to be sensitive to their part in relational difficulties and not to be as in touch with their own feelings and needs....When researchers compared the high rates of externalization in men with their low rates of depression they speculated that men's capacity to externalize might somehow protect them from the disease. But while the capacity to externalize pain protects some men from feeling depressed, it does not stop them from being depressed; it just helps them to disconnect further from their own experience" (p. 82).
We know that there are many more women in this country in therapy than there are men. Why might that be?
"The withdrawn depressed girl in the back of the classroom is seen as somehow less troubled than the acting-out, disruptive boy in the front row. Because psychotherapy since Freud has been 'talking cure,' it relies on the patient's insight into his or her problems and feelings as its chief therapeutic agent. One difficulty with such a methodology is that it is much more in keeping with the traditional skills of woman than with those of men. Men do not have readily at hand the same level of insight into their emotional lives as women, because our culture works hard to dislocate them from those aspects of themselves. Men are less used to voicing emotional issues, because we teach them that it is unmanly to do so. Even a cursory look at gender socialization in our culture indicates that a man would be far more likely to act out distress than to talk about it, while a woman would have the skills, the community, and the ease to discuss her problems. Having forcefully pushed our boys and men away from the exercise and development of these psychological skills, we add insult to injury when we turn around and label them more disturbed and less evolved than women who have been encouraged to keep them" (p. 82).
This reminds me of PhizzleDizzle's comment about boys being diagnosed with ADHD for acting out. I am not implying that many of these boys do not truly have ADHD that requires medication. But one has to wonder if at least some of these boys are suffering from depression that goes unnoticed because of their inability to verbalize what they are experiencing. 

Real and many other men's studies experts believe that the substantially higher rates of substance abuse and addiction in men result from undiagnosed depression which, quite frankly, makes sense. It is a form of "acting-out" negative feelings through self-medication. If we attempt to treat the substance problem without treating the depression, very low success rates will be par for the course. 

Those of you who have some training in psychology courses might recall that Freud's psychoanalysis was done almost exclusively on women. Every single form of psychotherapy has its roots in Freud's work, no matter how differently it may appear from the outside. One could argue that psychology was based in the idea that women needed help in coping with life. Freud set off the chain belief system that male coping skills were the norm, and that women were the exception. 

There are a couple of problems with this, obvious sexism aside. 

First, it means that the very foundation of psychotherapy requires that a client/patient be able to effectively verbalize the difficulties that they are having. If you can't say "I'm really sad" or "this really upset me" - you are at a severe disadvantage in talk therapy. This suggests to me that a large portion of the population out there is unable to get the help that they need. In order to remove the "women as overly-emotional and unstable" stigma, we need to find ways to connect with men who have mental health issues. 

Secondly, it is extremely difficult to change the foundation of psychotherapy as talk-based. We know that psychotherapy is helpful and valuable to those who have access to it. But like anything else, you can't fix something unless and until you know it's broken. Try to imagine for a second what mental health treatments would look like if they were not based on self-reporting. Can you? Because I can't. Only YOU know when you're not feeling right. It would be easier for our society as a whole to start raising boys who are not only self-aware, but who are also able to express themselves to others than it would be to try and find ways around verbalization. 

I wish I could c&p Real's entire book into the pages of my blog, but not only is it entirely impractical, it's illegal. So I implore all of you - if you are a man or you have a father, a brother, a husband, a son, any man in your life period - pick up a copy of this book and read it cover to cover. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with Real, it will make you think.

And isn't that why we're all here, anyway?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Snub Fantasy

This fantasy started fleshing itself out as I was responding to comments on my Grad Admissions Make No Sense post, and I decided to put it in a post all its own. 

This stems from my desire to eventually snub SuperFuckingRockStarHolyShit school - my top choice for grad study and also the first rejection I received, suggesting I did not make it past the 2nd round cuts. So my goal now is to work my ass off so I can someday snub them. The following is my fantasy of that going down:

Dept Head: "Oooh....who is this amazing rising star of social psych that I'm hearing all about??"

Grad School Head: "JLK, sir. She's just been given superfuckingmegahuge grant to study XYZ all over the world. People are calling her the next Freud/Milgram/Zimbardo/Eagly/Bem."

Dept Head: "Really? But she's so young! That's very impressive. I'm surprised she didn't apply here for grad school, seeing as we are like #3 SuperFuckingRockstarHolyShit program in the world."

Grad school Head: "Well actually she did apply here, back in '08. We rejected her in the second round because her GRE quant score was only in the 53rd percentile, though her verbal was in the 96th. We were her top choice. She didn't even apply to #1 SFRSHS program in the world in Awesome Climate, where her advisor at #4 choice program came from as a grad student."

Dept Head: 'Wow, you guys really screwed the pooch on that one. Are you telling me that I never even saw her application because of a goddamn GRE score, like any of us in psych really give a shit about math when we have all sorts of fancy programs to do stats for us?"

Grad School Head: "I know, it sucks. But we can't let everyone in, otherwise we would no longer be SFRSHS program #3 in the world. We had no way of knowing."

Dept Head: "Didn't she graduate Summa from somewhat-nearby-MRU? I think we have enough contacts over there to get her entire life story. We certainly DID have ways of knowing. You bastards in the grad school really fucked me over here. I hope you know that. Luckily I have a tenure-fast-track faculty position I can offer her with a kick-ass salary from our ginormous endowment that I was going to squander on a new evolutionary psych program. I'm sending her a letter right now."

****JLK opens letter in the mail from SFRSHS school****

JLK: (laughs) Assholes.

(sits down to write response):

Dear Dept Head of SFRSHS program,

       I wasn't good enough for you when I was 26 and thought the sun was shining out of SFRSHS school's ass. You are delusional if you think I am going to take my superfuckingmegahuge grant money to your school when a $10k/yr stipend was too much to ask for back in '08. 

      Kiss my ass. If you have difficulty finding it, it will be in SFRSHS #1 in the world program in Awesome Climate, where I have been guaranteed tenure and a salary higher than yours. 



Friday, February 20, 2009

Grad School Admissions Make No Sense

Okay, so I'm being courted pretty heavily by grad school program choice #4 on my ranked list. U #4 is a pretty big MRU with multiple campuses and is pretty competitive as far as admissions go. It's more competitive than the grad program at the MRU I did my undergrad at. 

SuperFuckingRockStarHolyShit program, which was #1 on my list, rejected me. It is a top 5 program in the world, I can accept that decision as unhappy as I may be that it appears I didn't make it past round 2 cuts. 

Today I got a rejection letter from WhoGivesAShitMarginalProgramInAwesomeClimate school. WTF? It is much less competitive than program #4, and is not even ranked on my list. It's well-known for other psych fields, but not so much for social. I chose to apply only because of the faculty members there. 

None of this makes any sense. I could see if I had an application with some weaknesses, but other than my only slightly better than average GRE quant score, my application is fucking stellar. My personal statements are awesome. I did heavy research on every single faculty member I applied to work with, the department/program requirements and courses, etc. 

Here's one thing I noticed that I hope someone, somewhere out there can enlighten me about - why do applications ask for the other schools you're applying to? Can that information be used against me? Allow me to use some examples to show you what I'm thinking:

#1 - A faculty member at school #2 really, really wants a particular applicant, but is nervous that the applicant will choose to go somewhere else instead. So they look at the application listing of the other schools the student is applying to, call faculty friends there, and try to persuade them to reject this applicant in order to increase the chances that this student will choose their program. Does this happen? I don't know.....can someone confirm or deny?

#2 - A program has one slot left to fill and two equally good applicants to fill that slot. They look at the other schools these students are applying to, call the other programs and ask whether those students will be accepted. They reject the student who is going to have more options, filling the slot with the student who is more likely to go there. Does this happen? I don't know......can someone confirm or deny?

Yes, I know it sounds incredibly arrogant of me to be coming up with conspiracy theories to explain my rejections. But after the recent post over at FemaleScienceProfessor about accepting desired students' spouses/partners in order to get the desired student, I feel like this stuff isn't that far of a stretch. 

And really, the fact that I was asked to list all my applications for all of these programs has bugged the shit out of me since long before decisions started rolling in. 

I mean, WTF else could they be using that information for?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Please Pass This On

The Courage Campaign is fighting a Prop H8ters attempt to get the California Supreme Court to invalidate all same-sex marriages that took place prior to the Prop 8 passage. Thank you to DrugMonkey for posting this. 

I have no doubt that I don't get very many readers who would disagree with this, so please pass it on to anyone and everyone. As DrugMonkey said - "Prop H8ters, at least look them in the eye."

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

Gender - Why Only 2?

First off, I wanted to mention that DuWayne over at Traumatized By Truth is asking for your own personal definitions of addiction - so head on over there and help him out. 

A little earlier tonight I received an email from an individual who wrote the following:
"I'd love to discuss gender theory with you more in depth. Do you focus at all on queer culture or more on the binary?"
I spent a large chunk of time responding to this message, and in doing so two things happened. First, I got really, really into the subject matter (as I often do) which made me want to blog some more about it. And second, I depleted all of my cognitive resources in responding to this message, and so I had nothing left with which to sit down and write a whole new blog post. 

So what follows is the response I sent. 

As far as the issues I have gotten into with gender studies, I look at the similarities and differences between men and women, especially how children are raised and communication styles both verbal and non-verbal. Of interest to me is finding ways to raise boys and girls so that they can just be who they are, regardless of biological sex or sexual orientation. So for example, finding ways to create a culture where a little boy can play with dolls and assumptions about his sexual orientation are not made, where a teenage girl or young woman can be androgynous without being labeled. But it goes much further than that.

This is where transgender issues come in. If a man grows up feeling like he has always been in the wrong body - that his parts don't match his brain, so to speak - is it to some degree due to the fact that society subscribes to this binary gender where biological sex MUST match personality and outward appearance? I don't know how clearly I'm going to be able to express myself here with this because it's difficult to describe what I mean. I guess what I wonder is why some trans individuals feel so strongly that their biological sex must match their inner selves. And I don't say that in the "I just don't get it" kind of way, but in the "is there something about our society that makes it necessary" kind of way. Because the basic issue in societal acceptance is that people have a problem with other people dressing and acting as a different sex from what they were born as, even though it has no affect on them whatsoever. But when the parts match the appearance, it becomes acceptable. Why, in our society, does masculine have to mean male and feminine mean female? There is so much in between. I really hope this is making sense.

As far as gay and lesbian culture is concerned, I haven't really looked at it in terms of gender because I consider sex, gender, and sexual orientation to be 3 separate and distinct things. Homophobia, however, has everything to do with gender and socialization. It is much more common in men, but it tends to be selective homophobia - many of these guys are just fine with girl-on-girl porn and the like, but the idea of two men together is a real problem for them, because it challenges their masculinity. Women are much less likely to be homophobic (religion and upbringing aside). In my ideal world, if you change the gender rules, you eliminate homophobia. 

Sexual orientation and gender are probably related to some degree, but to what extent we probably will never know. There are hypermasculine gay men and feminine gay men. There are "femme" lesbians and "butch" lesbians. But the same spectrum exists among hetero and bisexuals. It's an amazingly complicated puzzle that I'm not sure my brain could even handle trying to put together. So I try to focus on just one set of pieces.

A whole new set of issues arise when you consider intersex individuals, especially those who were "corrected" as infants by doctors and parents who, quite frankly, have no fucking clue what they're doing or about the huge implications of a choice they're making for a child who cannot yet speak for him or herself.

It's dangerous stuff that people out there are fucking with. I've heard of doctors that try to force patients who are struggling with their gender identity to just get the surgery. "Gender Identity Disorder" is listed in the DSM-IV as a mental disorder, possibly in the same spot on the page where PMS used to be. It's fucked up that we try to shove people into one mold or the other, without questioning whether there might be something wrong with the molds and not the people who don't fit them.

That's where I hope my research will come in - examining these molds and determining if maybe we need more than just 2.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Last night my husband took me to see Confessions of a Shopaholic because he knows how much I love the series of books by Sophie Kinsella. Becky Bloomwood is a frustrating yet lovable character and the books are intelligently funny. So I walked into the theater hoping for the best. 

They bastardized the books. In fact, that is exactly the statement I made to my husband last night, to which he responded, "That's not a word." I proved to him via Merriam Webster that it is, in fact, a word. I guarantee he'll start using it in conversation in a matter of weeks. But I digress.

My first issue - Becky is supposed to be British. British characters are always better than American characters. They fucked that up. 

In fact, they fucked up pretty much everything they possibly could have, resulting in the movie not resembling the books really at all. So much of the irony was lost because they changed the timeline of things. They made her boyfriend her boss! 

Anyway, I still enjoyed the movie for its lightheartedness and laughs. 

But why do movie producers and screenwriters always have to fuck with everything? Did any of you see Eragon after reading the books? That movie was a fucking travesty. Running With Scissors was another one that made me want to cry with disappointment!

Do they not realize that most of the people who go to see these movies do so after loving the books? I don't get it. 

The only exception I've seen so far is The Devil Wears Prada. The movie was soooooo much better than the book (which sucked ass, as far as I'm concerned). 

What's the worst movie you've ever seen that was adapted from a book you loved?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Why Am I A Scientist?

A recent post by Ambivalent Academic on the positive side of her ambivalence to academia and a spinoff post by PhysioProf over at DrugMonkey have got me thinking about why I'm embarking on this journey into academia in the first place. 

I never really thought of myself as a "scientist" in the making, even though my field is a social "science." Even though the term should be defined by the use of the scientific method for the purpose of inquiring into the ways the world works, my image of a scientist has always included test tubes, bubbly liquids, expensive microscopes, and lab animals. The field of psychology has historically fought to be recognized as a science, and in my mind I guess that fight wasn't all that important. My thought process about the subject included the line "As long as I get to do what I want to do, who gives a shit if the rest of the world considers it a science or an art?"

When I joined the blogosphere, I was (and still am) reading blogs by physiologists, computer scientists, neuroscientists, biologists, pharmacologists, and I just recently added a human embryonic stem cell researcher to my blog roll. Psychologists are scarce in the blog world that I have come to be a part of, and I largely expected not to be taken seriously in the science aspect by my blogger pals. 

That has absolutely NOT been the case. 

For that reason, I have begun to think of myself as a scientist-in-training, rather than just some random prospective grad student interested in the art of understanding human behavior. This revelation has not changed my goals, but it has given me a great amount of confidence to know that my field is respected by the scientific community (at least the blogging niche anyway). 

And thus I decided to write this post as I realized that psychological research qualifies me to answer the question, "Why am I a scientist?"

I could have gone into counseling or clinical psychology and spent my days in an applied setting where someone else's research and theory dictates my ability to help clients and patients. I flirted with the idea for awhile, mostly because of the independence the field provides. What stopped me was realizing that most clinical and counseling psychologists are outside of the research community and very few keep up with findings in related fields that could have implications for their work. It's not their fault that this happens - juggling a schedule of clients and maintaining connection to the clinical/counseling fields is more than enough to fill their time. 

I wanted to be one of the people generating new ideas about human behavior. I wanted to be one of the people whose research may influence policy decisions on a local, national, or even global scale. I can't say that I'm in it for the money (heaven knows....) or the fame, but my ultimate goal would still be to become a world-renowned expert on gender and intergroup processes. I would love to be just like this guy - to be awesome AND have a TV series based on my work!

But none of that influenced my initial decision to pursue academia. The real reason behind that stems from my desire to be a professional student for the rest of my life. Seriously - if I won the lottery, I would spend the rest of my life taking college courses and racking up degrees in every field I had time to study. Academia is the closest thing I can realistically get to that goal. 

Why do I say that? I consider research to be self-directed learning. I consider academia to be (ideally) an environment that fosters intellectual stimulation and collaboration. I aspire to be a researcher who collaborates with scientists from other fields. For example, in studying gender, why wouldn't a social psychologist want to collaborate with a biologist studying human sex differences? A biologist's knowledge of the psychological side of gender is likely to be limited, and by all means my knowledge of biology is minimal at best. But if you combine the two areas of expertise, logic should dictate that any research that would come of the collaboration would be better than research from just one or the other. Academia makes that collaboration possible to researchers who seek it out. And both of us, in the process, would learn more about the other's field while getting paid for it (professional student).

That's why I love the blogosphere so much. Yeah, I might ask fellow bloggers some seemingly stupid questions about the work that they do, but it's because I'm genuinely interested in what they have to say about it. I much prefer to learn from people than textbooks (especially textbooks I don't have a prayer of understanding without the guidance of an expert). I love hearing ideas that other people have, especially when they come from a different perspective than my own. So you could say that, at the core, my pursuit of academia is really a pursuit of knowledge - just like AA said in her post. 

I also really, really look forward to teaching. I have no doubt that it can be a real pain in the ass, but I have to imagine that those few and far between students who get inspired by your work make it worth it. The undergrads who come to you during office hours and say "I'm really interested in what you're doing in your lab. Can I help out in some way?" Or the idea of prospective grad students from all over the world looking you up on your institution's website because an article you wrote made them think that you'd be an awesome person to learn from. A professor's real legacy is the students they teach and mentor, even (and sometimes especially) when those students go on to disagree with you in their later careers. In psychology textbooks (particularly on personality theory), theorists are introduced by explaining who they trained under in a family tree sort-of way. If I go to grad program #4, a textbook might someday explain a theory I proposed by first saying "JLK was the first graduate student of Dr. Y, where she elaborated on Dr. Y's theory of XYZ until it developed into the following theory." Later, a textbook might say "Suzie Smith was a student of JLK's when JLK was developing ABC theory. Suzie came to disagree with the foundation of JLK's theory, and proposed the following alternative."

I think it's cool how that works. 

So those are my possibly naive reasons for pursuing academia. Who knows? Maybe once I am actually IN grad school I will feel differently about it. But for now, social psychology consumes me on a daily basis and I consider it to be some of the most exciting stuff in the world. And I can't wait to be part of the excitement. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Random Thoughts

I've been almost entirely consumed by my blog series on gender lately, and I realized that I haven't blogged about anything else really since I started it. I am literally kept awake at night silently crafting my next post. Just goes to show how important this subject is to me!

But there are some random things I would like to share with the blogosphere while I wait for y'all to craft your responses to my interactive post (see below). 

1. My access to the MRU library has been taken away (damn graduation). Which means that I no longer have access to any electronic journals that are not published by the APA. It is driving me CRAZY. Thank goodness I obsessively searched for and downloaded a shitload of articles that are relevant to my grad school hunt and research interests, not to mention the evolutionary psych bullshit that I will eventually get back to once I finish the gender series. And all the print journals I get in the mail from my various memberships have absolutely sucked ASS lately, for some unknown reason. (Except for an article on ambivalence that made me think of Ambivalent Academic, but really - it's not exciting enough for me to post about it.) Either way, it sucks. So if those of you who have access to journals and shit want to send me pdfs of articles you think I might like, please feel free. 

2. I'm in the process of moving back in with my husband, which is a PAIN IN THE ASS. I hate moving. This is compounded by the fact that it is now almost guaranteed that I will be moving again this year, a minimum of 3 hrs away. 

3. Speaking of moving - it is so far looking like grad program choice #4 is where I'll end up. Of course, I've only heard from 2 schools so far. But I feel like if SuperFuckingRockStarHolyShit program #1 rejected me, SFRSHS programs #2 and #3 are likely to reject me as well. Regardless, if I end up at #4, I am facing a halfway cross-country move which I will have to tackle by myself as my husband will be away for the military during that time frame. It's freaking me out. 

4. I am currently suffering from Babies on the Brain syndrome. They are everywhere! I swear, if I went to a strip club, someone would have an infant sitting next to me cooing in my face. The upside of this is that it's making me feel better about the idea of not getting into a single grad program. At least I have options. Though the time frame would still be the same. My plan is to have my first in June of my first year of grad school, so 2010. I know the timing won't work out the way I want it to, but still - that's my goal. But I've become somewhat obsessed with knowing what it's like to have a baby in grad school, and unfortunately the only blogger I know of who has done this hasn't posted in FOREVER. So if you've got stories, please share them!!!

5. Why is it that when I have a million things to do, people are blogging and commenting up a storm, but when I've got diddly-shit going on, the whole blogosphere seems to have disappeared? 

6. The Center for a Commercial Free Childhood annoys the fuck out of me. Mostly because of my job. I won't elaborate, but savvy readers could pretty easily figure out why I'm saying this and the company I work for. (But that won't help you figure out who I am IRL, just FYI.)

7. I hate it when people tag me on facebook in a note (aka a meme) and don't fucking comment on the shit after I put the time in to respond. 

Okay, I think that's it for now. Back to brushing up on my gender reading. :)

Gender - Interactive!

Calling all commenters to participate in this!

I have a plan for my next post on gender, and I am hoping that you will take part in the following exercise so that I don't have to rely only on my experiences. 

What I would like you to do is post in the comments:

Games that boys play, and games that girls play (5+ for each of you would be GREAT, but I'll take as many as you can think of. 

Keep in mind, I am looking for commonality, not anecdotal experience. So if you were a girl who played football as a kid, that still doesn't count as a girl's game because most girls don't play football as kids. 

Imagine that a big group of kids of all ages has been locked into a gymnasium with various sports equipment, balls, and toys of all kinds. What kinds of games/sports would you expect to see the boys playing and what would the girls likely be playing?

I promise, this has a purpose as you shall see in the follow-up post. :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gender Part 2: Feminism Broadly (no pun intended)

On my Sugar & Spice post, the ever-lovely PhizzleDizzle brings up a great topic. In the comments, she writes:
"So I wonder, how can I be a feminist that espouses choice for everyone, if deep down I feel like my choice of selectively rejecting certain feminine traits is "better"? There's a whole lot going on here in this here brain of mine."
And my favorite blogmale DuWayne writes in response:
"It's not the underlying reaction that's a problem. It's when assumptions are made and accusations are made that it becomes a problem. Feeling like she made the wrong decisions, that the decisions were not really "feminist" decisions is just fine. But turning around and accusing me of trying to subjugate my children's mom, or accusing her of bowing to the whims of the patriarchy, would be entirely unreasonable and ultimately antithetical to the notion of feminism."
I love my brilliant blogpals. :) And so the inspiration for this post was born. 

I hesitate to call myself a feminist because the term implies that I value women's issues and rights over that of men. You should be able to tell by now that this is not the case

But what is feminism, really? The problem is that there are many contemporary variations of feminism. From Transformations: Women, Gender & Psychology by Dr. Mary Crawford (UConn):

"Socialist feminism emphasizes that there are many kinds of divisions between groups of people that can lead to oppression. Socialist feminists believe that acts of discrimination based on social class, race, and gender are equally wrong. Moreover, it views these forms of discrimination as inseparable.

Woman-of-Color feminism, or womanism, began with criticism of the white women's movement for excluding women of color and issues important to them: poverty, racism, and needs such as jobs, health care, good schools, and safe neighborhoods for all people.

Radical feminism emphasizes male control and domination of women throughout history. This perspective views the control of women by men as the first and most fundamental form of oppression. 

Liberal feminism is familiar to most people because it relies on deeply held American beliefs about equality -- an orientation that connects it to political liberalism. From this perspective, a feminist is a person who believes that women are entitled to full legal and social equality with men and who favors changes in laws, customs, and values to achieve the goal of equality....It emphasizes the similarities between men and women, maintaining that given equal environments and opportunities, they will behave similarly. 

Cultural feminism emphasizes differences between women and men. This perspective stresses that qualities characteristic of women have been devalued and should be honored and respected in society. 

Global feminism focuses on how prejudice and discrimination against women are related across cultures, and how they are connected to neocolonialism and global capitalism."

Dr. Crawford continues:

"However, feminist perspectives share two important themes. First, feminism values women as important and worthwhile human beings. Second, feminism recognizes the need for social change if women are to lead secure and satisfying lives. Perhaps the simplest definition of a feminist is an individual who holds these basic beliefs: that women are valuable and that social change to benefit women is needed.....Therefore, perhaps the simplest definition of feminism is one proposed by bell hooks (1984): It is a movement to end sexism and sexist oppression.

Feminist perspectives in general can be contrasted to conservatism. Conservatives seek to keep gender arrangements as they have been in much of the recent past, with males holding more public power and status and women being more or less defined by their sexuality and their roles as wives and mothers."
This last paragraph is where many of us start to have problems. If we believe that it's just fine for a woman to express her feminine sexuality, to be a wife and mother, to be a "girly-girl" - then how can we be a feminist? And if we don't believe that those things are just fine, then how can we be a feminist?

The real issue that I choose to focus on as a feminist is the freedom of choice. The freedom for a woman to  choose how and when to express her sexuality and to what extent it defines her. The freedom for a woman to choose career over family or vicer versa as it suits her needs and goals. The freedom for a woman to choose to wear high heels, lipstick, and get breast implants if it makes her feel good about herself. 

But because I value equality of ALL people, I (as I said earlier) hesitate to actually call myself a feminist. Therefore, I prefer to consider myself a humanist: someone who firmly believes in the inherent equality, worth, and value of all people, regardless of sex, gender, race, social class, age, etc. 

With respect to PhizzleDizzle's comment, it can be difficult not to look at stereotypical "girly" choices with disdain. With respect to DuWayne's comment, it can be difficult not to look at stay-at-home moms as having sacrificed their own fulfillment in order to fill a traditional role in the home. 

What we have to remember is that the most important element here is that of choice. If  a woman chooses motherhood over her career or vice versa, that's fantastic. Because she had the option. If a woman chooses to be a "girly-girl" and decorate herself with pink and bedazzles or dresses in man's clothing and plays football, that's fantastic. Because she had the option. 

It's not about agreeing with, liking, or disliking the choices another person makes. It's about respecting the fact that they made a choice for themselves. That, in my opinion, was what the women's movement was meant to achieve before it became a convoluted mess of contradictory beliefs. 

Here's a controversial analogy for you: abortion. I am pro-choice. Period. That means that I believe a woman has the right to have an abortion if she believes it is the best move for her to make given her life and circumstances. I would never, ever, ever vote to have that right taken away. 

I, however, would not judge a woman whose religious or personal views led her to decide that abortion was not an option, and chose an alternate path whether it involved raising the child herself or giving it up for adoption. The freedom to choose abortion also MUST include the freedom to choose NOT to have one. 

Likewise, the freedom to choose a career must also include the freedom to choose NOT to. The freedom to choose to subscribe to feminine values that include motherhood, fashion, being a stripper or an escort, whatever, must be supported as well. 

So for PhizzleDizzle - it doesn't matter whether or not you agree or like women who are girly. Don't feel guilty for "throwing up a little" in your mouth when you see frighteningly pink images of little girls' rooms. The important question for you to ask yourself is whether, if your daughter wanted to surround herself with the color pink, Barbie dolls, and little girl make-up, if you would allow her to make that choice for herself. If the answer is yes (despite your vomit), you are a feminist (just not a radical one). 

For DuWayne (and you already know this) you are not a misogynist unless you create an environment in which it is impossible or otherwise incredibly undesirable for the mother of your children to choose anything other than staying home with your boys. If the man makes more money than the woman, has more job security, both partners want the children to be raised by their parents instead of daycare, and both partners agree to the solution - that is a feminist act as long as she has the choice. 

Remember in an earlier post I said I would continue to emphasize a certain point? Here it is again:

We must ALL be FREE to be who we ARE. Period.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Brilliant As Usual

In which Stephen challenges Republicans to really take a stand by not taking a dime for their congressional districts from the economic stimulus plan they were so firmly opposed to. 

Gender Part 2: Sugar & Spice

Gender Part 2: Chapter 2: The Girls

In my WTF Do I Do post, I briefly mentioned the imposition of gender onto infants and children through gender-typed clothing and toys. In continuing my discussion of women and girls, I would like to elaborate a bit more on that topic. 

Imagine a typical little girl's room. Chances are, the image that comes to mind looks something like this:

In addition to the god-awful amount of pink, what else do you see? Toy baby doll with stroller and swing. Lots of Disney princesses. 

How about this one:

The first thing I want you to notice about this image is the CRIB. Yes, this room is for a baby girl. And yet.....we have another baby doll set up with accessories, some fancy dress up clothes, and again - LOTS of pink. 

Sure, it's all very cute. I love pink on little girls as much as the next person. But what does this all MEAN?

Let's start with the baby dolls. What is the purpose of a baby doll? Little girls basically learn to be moms to their plastic babies. It is teaching them caretaking skills. Some might argue that it's making them learn caretaking skills. 

Think about it. Picture 2 shows a baby's room. That child has already been given a baby doll to play with, long before she even learns what it is or whether it's something she might want to play with. Most of us probably had some sort of house-playing toys when we were little as well. I know I had the big plastic kitchen complete with dishes and fake food. 

But you know what else is out there for little girls' toys?

This image used to be much bigger, but it seems the pink toy washer/dryer has been removed from the market since I first wrote this post, and none of the links are valid anymore. Hmm...

Yup. A toy washer and dryer set and a toy vacuum. 

I'll grant you that I am guilty of having desperately wanted a Dyson for Christmas. (And got it.) But a little girl wanting a toy vacuum cleaner? Or washer and dryer? Really??? What the hell is fun about pushing a plastic vacuum around?

Don't get me wrong. If a little girl WANTS these things, I have no problem with that. But the ages of the children these toys are appropriate for suggest that they are most likely being given as gifts. 

Social learning theory suggests that the reason little girls play with toys like these are because they see their mother using the grownup versions. If they identify themselves with their mother (as they should identify with the same-gender parent), and their mother does the majority of the household duties, then little girls view these things as gender-appropriate toys. They are a means to "be like mom." 

I would like to see toy preferences in children where their parents' gender roles in the household are switched. If mom does all the fixing, will little Sarah ask for a pipe wrench for her birthday? 

The point here, though, is that little girls learn the skills of caring for others and taking care of a household from a very, very, almost obscenely early age. This becomes cemented in their identity as women. There are very few women in this world who were never given a toy doll to play with as a child. And chances are that if, as a little girl, you didn't own Barbies - you were ostracized to some extent by your peers. In my childhood, whoever had the most Barbies and various other Barbie shit was always the most popular girl in the neighborhood. It was never me. :(

JLK's closet never looked like this. 

I did have this though. Albeit without the remote control.

Gender Part 2: The "Real" Female Fear

Gender Part 2: Introduction: The Women & The Girls

I have some reading that I want to brush up on before I really delve into the gender issues surrounding women, because I have been away from these books for some time. What I hope to accomplish with this post in particular is to give you some thoughts to chew on before we get into the heart of the discussion, and to introduce you to some really amazing texts that I think should be mandatory reading for EVERYONE, male and female, young and old. 

First, I would like to quote to you from Jean Kilbourne's book Can't Buy My Love, a treatise of (mostly) depictions of women in the media. The images alone will shock you. Social psychology has shown time and time again that we are ALL affected by advertising and the media, even when we firmly believe that we aren't. When you take some of these images, slogans, commercials, etc. out of their context in a magazine or tv channel, we begin to SEE the messages that are conveyed. Normally they slip past our conscious awareness, but when you really look at what's there, you will likely be stunned. Google Jean Kilbourne to see some of these images. Her speaking engagements can be found on YouTube. Here is a sample summarizing the major themes of her lectures:

But here is a (long) quote from her book that really, deeply struck me when I read it:

"When men objectify women, they do so in a cultural context in which women are constantly objectified and in which there are consequences - from economic discrimination to violence - to that objectification. 

For men, though, there are no such consequences. Men's bodies are not routinely judged and invaded. Men are not likely to be raped, harassed, or beaten (that is to say, men presumed to be heterosexual are not, and very few men are abused in these ways by women). How many men are frightened to be alone with a woman in an elevator? How many men cross the street when a group of women approach? Jackson Katz, who writes and lectures on male violence, often begins his workshops by asking men to describe the things they do every day to protect themselves from sexual assault. The men are surprised, puzzled, sometimes amused by the question. The women understand the question easily and have no trouble at all coming up with a list of responses. We don't list our full names in the phone directory or on our mailboxes, we try not to be alone after dark, we carry our keys in our hands when we approach our cars, we always look in the back seat before we get in, we are wary of elevators and doorways and bushes, we carry pepper sprays, whistles, Mace."(p. 279-280)
When I read this paragraph, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. Men (in general) truly do not and cannot understand what it's like to have that constant fear. My husband doesn't check the backseat of his car before he gets in it. He's not afraid of being in a parking garage at night. He doesn't understand why I feel the need to firmly latch and lock every window and door in the house before going to sleep at night when I am alone. It's not that he doesn't sympathize, it's just something he doesn't GET. 

Now the flip side of this, of course, is that it's unfair for women to immediately be wary of all strange men. The men's movement hates the idea that they are all labeled as potential attackers until proven otherwise, but they also understand that this MUST be the case. At least for now. 

This will come up again in the subsequent posts regarding transgender and intersex individuals, but Sandy Shoes and DuWayne mentioned the concept of the unisex bathroom in the comments on a previous post. 

For a woman, transgender, or intersex individual, a multi-stall, public, unisex bathroom is a scary place. It is out of public view, it has locks on the stall doors and often on the outside door as well. Unless we know every single person well who uses said bathroom, it is simply not a safe place to be. If a woman in an office goes into a supply closet that locks from the inside, and a male co-worker who she doesn't know very well enters this closet, she is going to feel uncomfortable. A unisex public bathroom is no different from the closet, except our pants are usually already down while we're in there. 

Should it be that way? Absolutely not. 

But women are raised with a heightened awareness of possibly threatening situations and places. We are taught from a very young age to avoid them whenever possible. 

The mentality of fear that women possess is often silent, extremely subtle, and most of us are not even aware of it until it is pointed out, such as in Kilbourne's book. But it is very real. No amount of feminist rhetoric can make it go away. 
"Nonetheless, the rate of sexual assault in the United States is the highest of any industrialized nation in the world. According to a 1998 study by the federal government, one in five of us has been the victim of rape or attempted rape, most often before our seventeenth birthday. And more than half of us have been physically assaulted, most often by the men we live with. In fact, three of four women in the study who responded that they had been raped or assaulted as adults said the perpetrator was a current or former husband, a cohabiting partner, or a date."(p. 280)
Quite often, what we are taught to fear in the outside world is what we ought to fear in our own homes, schools, and social events. 

But what we see in the media is much more often violence at the hands of a stranger. What follows is the most disturbing portrayal of violence against women that I have ever seen in my life. I cried when I watched it, because it shook me to the absolute core. (The first minute or so is just the beginning of the scene. Bear with it.)

****Advisory: This is very explicit, very violent, and very disturbing. Please do not watch when children are present****

(I couldn't find it on YouTube, YouTube failed to convert it when I tried to upload it, so please go to the following direct link to watch):

Now, assuming I haven't upset you too much (I personally can't watch it again), here are the books I highly recommend that deal with the material I will be covering in subsequent posts about women:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Gender Part 1: Defining Manhood

It's been awhile since I've done any work or research with men's issues because my focus has primarily been on women for the past year. Writing these posts has brough it to the forefront of my brain, and in the words of Celine Dion: "It's all coming back, it's all coming back to me noooooowwww...."

Gender Part 1: Chapter 3: The Men & The Boys Cont'd  (I expect this one to be short.)

Manhood. It is a term associated with a certain stature in society. It is something that boys are told they must (and must want to) achieve. To not "be a man" is to be of lowly status, to be worthless, to be shameful. 

But manhood is not something that, once reached, is permanent. It can be taken away at any point - through the loss of a job or income, lack of a significant other (or one who leaves), loss of hair, sexual impotence or infertility, expressing emotion in public. and myriad other things. A "real man" is always in control of himself, his family, and his emotions. A "real man" doesn't have those problems. 

Compare this to womanhood. Sure, womanhood is also a goal and sign of stature. But it is not something that can so easily be taken away. A woman might question whether she is a good spouse/partner, mother, employee, scientist, daughter, etc., but very rarely does she wonder whether she is, in fact, a "real woman." It's not something that can be stripped of us. When a woman does question her womanhood, it is nearly always a result of issues with infertility. If a woman cries at work, she might berate herself for losing control in front of her superiors and co-workers, but she will not say to herself "Stop it! Be a woman!"

Manhood is something that is bestowed on boys by other males. The constant threat of losing that aspect of their identity requires many men to overcompensate for other areas where they feel their manhood is threatened. This idea of manhood as impermanent is very likely what fuels locker room comments such as "You're gay" and the like. Because in the heterosexual standard of manhood, gay men are not "men." They provide a comparison point for men by which to judge their own manhood through that hierarchical mindset I referred to in my earlier post. There are also the "ultimate" men - action heros, sports stars, Hugh Hefner - no one ever questions the "manhood" of these men. Think of the things they symbolize, and you will get the picture of what American manhood ideals are. 

And think about what happens when an action star or major sports figure comes out as gay. The whole fucking male world goes into upheaval. How many openly gay men are there in the NFL? Now statistically, think about how many gay men there probably ARE in the NFL. There are VERY few openly gay male public figures, period. 

Why is it kept so secret? Why would men who are in a position to be role models and to defy stereotypes, thereby helping the gay community choose to hide it? Because there are major, major consequences for them, including the loss of their "manhood" in the eyes of others. 

Now think about how many openly gay or bisexual female public figures we have. Does anyone question their womanhood? (Beyond the superficial looks/voice comments that are so common.)

Some food for thought. Discuss....

Friday, February 6, 2009

Gender Part 1: Better Than Thou

I realized during my drive home from work today that I forgot to include a couple of very important pieces of masculinity in my post. So here they are.

Gender Part 1: Chapter 2: The Men & The Boys cont'd

Performance-Based Esteem. The term refers to a tendency to base self-worth primarily or entirely on performance. (Compare to Relationship-Based Esteem, which will come up in my post about women when we get there.)

Basically, it means that men tend to derive a significant amount of their self-worth from their ability to DO things and do them WELL. For example, if a man does not make enough money to support his family, he often feels that he is a failure. 

Addendum for Clarification: With reference to Terrence Real's book "I Don't Want To Talk About It":
A common result of masculine-driven fathering is performance-based self-esteem. In his book on covert male depression, Terrence Real explains, “Performance-based self-esteem augments an insufficient, internal sense of worth by the measuring of one’s accomplishments against those of others and coming out on top” (182). A father who offers love and respect for his son only after he has achieved something will lead the son to feel he is only worthwhile if he wins the big game, beats another boy in a fight, or, as he grows older, makes the most money or marries the prettiest wife. The son cannot achieve an absolute sense of self-worth; his esteem changes depending on whether he feel he has failed or succeeded.
Real points out, “Psychoanalysts and developmental psychologists have been clear that the capacity to esteem the self arises from a history of unconditional regard from one’s caregivers” (182). When parents fail to offer this regard, the results can be severe and even tragic. Consider the phrase “be a man!” which so many fathers use to chide their sons. From a literal standpoint the command is rather ludicrous -- genetically speaking, it is impossible for the son to not be a man. What the father truly means, however, is that the son must achieve masculinity, by some performance or another, or else he is in danger of losing his manhood -- and by corollary, his father’s esteem. Sons may resent their fathers for this treatment, and yet spend their entire lives continuing to seek that esteem.

What this also means is that if you take a man out of his comfort zone, they tend to not cope with it very well. Stay-at-home dads (SAHDs) can be a great example of this. Even a man who chooses to be a SAHD will, to some degree, have to deal with feelings of inadequacy. Why? Because how do you measure the success of a caretaking job? Happy kids? The house being intact? There is no clear measure of how well someone does at the job of homemaker and caretaker. This is also why men shy away from doing chores that their spouse/partner criticizes their technique at. 

Some researchers and therapists speculate that performance-based esteem is a large component of why men tend to die at younger ages than women. To believe that your self-esteem is driven by what you do is to set yourself up for workaholism and stress. Some also speculate that this is a force behind the fewer and fewer numbers of males entering college - they prefer the instant reward of a paycheck. I'm not saying I agree or disagree with either of these speculations, but it's something to think about. Regardless, there is no question that performance-based esteem fuels the "man as breadwinner" ideology. 

The second piece of masculinity I wanted to add is what's known as the "One up/One down" mentality. For more on this, check out the work that's been done by Deborah Tannen on gender in conversation, including the book "You Just Don't Understand." Basically, every conversation a man enters into is a "One up/One down" conversation. The goal is to be up. For many men, each conversation needs to make clear the status of each person involved. Things like body language, eye contact, interruptions, and hand gestures play major roles in this phenomenon. When I have a little more time I'm going to search the Intertubes for some pictures and videos that show this stuff and put it in a separate post. 

In the meantime, here is a summary of some of Deborah Tannen's work:
“People have different conversational styles. So when people from different parts of the country, or different ethnic or class backgrounds, talk to each other, it is likely that their words will not be understood exactly as they were meant.” [13] “The desire to affirm that women are equal has made some scholars reluctant to show that they are different .. There are gender differences in ways of speaking, and we need to identify and understand them”. [17]

Men often engage the world as “an individual in a hierarchical social order in which they are either one-up or one-down”, a question of gaining and keeping the upper hand. Women are more likely to approach it as “ a network of connections” in which “conversations are negotiations for closeness and people try to seek and give confirmation and support, and to reach consensus.” [25]

So, to Josh, checking with his wife about a convenient date for a dinner party resembles “seeking permission”; to Linda it is simply a recognition that lives are interwoven and complex. [27] This is the struggle between independence and intimacy. The modern face of chivalry: holding the door is an act of power - showing that I [the male] grant you [the female] permission to pass through. [34] There seems to be a male obsession with ‘freedom’ or independence. Women academics value the opportunity to pursue interests; men value the freedom from others’ control. [42]

Throughout history, women have been punished physically and psychologically for talking too much: yet study after study shows that men talk more and for longer periods. In one study men’s turns ranged from 10.66 to 17.07 seconds, whilst women’s lasted from 3 to 10 seconds. [75] The difference is that men are more comfortable with public speaking [report talk], women with private speaking [rapport talk]. Rapport talk establishes relationships, seeking similarities and matching experiences. “For most men, talk is primarily a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical order.” [77] Men are more likely to tell jokes in public than women: it is another way of gaining centre stage and proving their abilities. [90]

“Whereas women’s cooperative overlaps frequently annoy men by seeming to coopt their topic, men frequently annoy women by usurping or switching the topic.” [212] “Women and men feel interrupted by each other because of the differences in what they are trying to accomplish with talk. Men who approach conversation as a contest are likely to expend effort not to support the other’s talk but to lead the conversation in another direction, perhaps one in which they can take centre stage by telling a story or joke or by displaying knowledge ... Women’s effusion of support can be irritating to men who would rather meet with verbal sparring.” [215]

Women are frequently judged differently even if they speak the same way as men. Hayes Bradley found that women using tag-questions were judged less intelligent than men who also used them. Women who did not provide evidence to support their arguments were judged less intelligent than men who did not. People asked why a baby is crying say - if it is a boy - that he is angry and - if it is a girl - that she is scared. [228] When women and men are together, women tend to follow the topics the males want: “male-female conversations are more like men’s conversations than they are like women’s.” [237]

“If you understand gender differences in what I call conversational style, you may not be able to prevent disagreements from arising, but you stand a better chance of preventing them from spiralling out of control ... Understanding the other’s ways of talking is a giant leap across the communication gap between women and men, and a giant step toward opening lines of communication” [298]
I will get into this a little more deeply when I come to my post on women. 
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