Women, Wikipedia and Flat Tires

A recent New York Times article reports that only 15% of contributors to Wikipedia are women.  As a result, entries on “The Sopranos” or “The Simpsons” are in-depth analyses, while those on “friendship bracelets” and “Sex and the City” are a meagre few paragraphs.

Where’s Camille Paglia when you need her? She writes several possibly ground-breaking essays on Madonna in the 1980s and she is still vilified for her dilettantism (among other flaws, I know).  And now there is the call for more women writers beafing up those important entries on Jimmy Choo shoes and the  Tantric sex episode. The goal is to have 25% of Wikipedia entries written by women by 2015. 

Despite my wee sarcasm, I recognize the need for at least some alarm that women are not participating in one of the most widely read publications on the Internet. Why aren’t we? Do we prefer to give away our writing talents in other forums, such as blogs?  Is the gender gap the same for those other encyclopedias that actually pay a nominal, quite nominal, stipend, and praise us with an actual byline? 

I’m almost motivated to develop/originate a few of those Wikipedia entries myself.  I checked out Louisa May Alcott’s entry, and while it is filled with good links, references, footnotes, etc., it’s rather brief for a woman who has had three  biographies written about her in the last few years. (Her contemporary, Mark Twain, has an entry that is more than double the length.)  If, as the New York Times article suggests, this is true of many of the entries on women, topics of interest to most women, women’s issues generally, then it’s a notable, if also somewhat amusing, problem.

Not unlike the problem a young colleague had last night. She’s a brilliant psychology professor, in her early 30s, athletic, outgoing, and independent. But when she got a flat tire last night, who did she call?  Another colleague/friend, who threw a coat on over her pjs and tried to figure out how to change a tire (undoubtedly Googling instructions), but then gave up in frustration (and, admittedly, lack of a flashlight).

And who did she call? My husband, who, infused with male pride that came upon him despite himself, immediately got off the couch at 8pm, wine glass still half filled, whipped on his shoes, grabbed a flashlight, with extra batteries, and rushed to the young damsels’ aid.  Thirty minutes later, he was back on the couch, and the young psychologist texted on Facebook the following confession: “Nothing like a flat tire to take away all that sense of female independence.”

This is a woman who teaches both the Violence and Aggression class and the course on Positive Psychology, so she has a wonderful sense of irony.

FYI: I stayed home, finished my wine, and read blogs on the Internet while hubby was changing my colleague’s tire. You see, I would have called AAA, a service I can now easily afford, which also affords me that sense of female independence.

I rejoined hubby on the sofa when he returned and we both noted the odd connection between the Wikipedia stats and the Feminist Psychologist’s Flat Tire Plight. A woman needs to revise the How to Change a Flat Tire entry, stat!

Added 2/7/11: WikiProject Women’s History is one response to the gender imbalance at Wikipedia! Read all about it at Cliotropic’s place.

Introduction to Women Writers

Ho hum. The course title doesn’t exactly wow them at registration. (And we’ll see how well it does as a blog posting title!)  In the past I’ve had sexy themes and posters to entice students (most of our students are not English majors), and I generally teach the course in the spring after I have a few terms to recruit. But with the massive influx of students lately, recruitment is no longer necessary: the class will have seats, and they will mostly fill.

What I do need to address is retention. How do I keep students in the class, students who generally do not read? A traditional anthology-focused survey course even makes me yawn. But 3-4 novels in 10 weeks generally leads to 10+ withdrawals by week 3. 

So, I’m thinking of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale paired with Gilman’s Herland.

And I’m thinking of pairing Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with Bridget Jones’ Diary.

And I’m thinking of pairing Alcott’s Little Women with Chopin’s The Awakening.

Am I crazy? Should I focus more on contemporary works (our course description is vague enough to allow for either breadth or depth)? Do you have other pairings that come to mind?

If anyone in the blogosphere is still even checking in on this “humble” (to quote a not so humble blogger) blog, post the works YOU would include in your own fantasy “Introduction to Women Writers” course, paired or not.

Random Thoughts on Teaching The Awakening

Last night was the last class discussion on Chopin’s The Awakening.  Next week, I’ll receive their essays on the novel, and I’m so very curious to see what I get. The class has 25 men, and 17 women students. Who tends to speak in class? It’s equally divided between men and women, but for the most part, with this novel particularly, the older students (older than 30) tended to speak more, with men (note: there were  three very articulate exceptions)  more vocal in their condemnation of Edna than the women. 

More next week on that, after I read their essays: after all, not everyone spoke during the full class discussion  (but small group discussions were wonderfully animated). 

 I simply love this class–not just the subject matter but the students: it’s as diverse a group of students one could hope for in a generally un-diverse community (in terms of age, economic class, life experiences, literary background, etc).  As a result, the discussions often go in directions I don’t anticipate, even though I’ve been teaching these works for 20 years.  For example, during the 10 minute in class writing I ask them to do each class, several students asked if I could play the Chopin Impromptu and the Wagner pieces I had played during the last class discussion.  So many more students responded to the musical elements of the novel than in the past.  (Note to self: get a music prof to guest lecture next time.)  And, students in this class were more open to a discussion of economic and social class issues than in the past (i.e. If Edna were working class, would she be more sympathetic?).  The same thing happened during our Huck Finn discussions: there are several students with strong biblical backgrounds, so they were much more conscious of Twain’s biblical allusions and, even better, very willing to discuss the various interpretations of those allusions.  And during every class someone returns to my opening lecture about  “literature”: what is it? who decides what it is? why do we read it? why is the literature we read in a “literature class” often so disturbing?  How exciting to see that framework I set up return so regularly during discussions.

On a related note, I injured my knee. Don’t know how, no doubt it’s running related, but it’s bruised, swollen, and by the end of the day quite painful. Thus I taught my night class with what I assumed was my best theatrical face and demeaner, trying desperately to hide the pain. 

It so didn’t work. One student came up to me after class (a man in his 30s, very engaged in the readings and discussions, and an excellent writer) and asked if I was ok, if there was anything I wanted to talk to him about.

First, I was just a bit discombobulated: I thought I had hid my pain so WELL! But I thanked him for his concern, said all was well, just a little knee pain.  Then I naturally spent most of last night overanalyzing the entire class (and yes, I’m tired now).

The class discussion about the novel was the kind that English profs dream of: multiple interpretations, polite and reasoned disagreements, quoting from the text and the critical reviews as evidence: It was a dream class, but for the many, many students who have not taken a lit class in college, it may have been emotionally draining, or intellectually exhausting, or, if they were seriously angry at Edna, it may have made them feel on edge. Perhaps the student who asked me about my pain was reacting to the discussion by seeing pain on my face instead of his own? Or was I really unable to hide my pain, even though I felt engaged and caught up in the class discussion?

Then I remembered, those damned psychologyand/or interpersonal communication professors. They often ask students to conduct “experiments” like close talking to someone, to get their reaction. I wonder if this was one of those assignments?

More random thoughts in a few weeks, post essay grading. We move on the modern poets next week and then Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.  What music goes with that novel, do you think?

Brave Writers

“[M]erely to write fiction is an optimistic gesture: pessimists don’t write novels. To write is to make a plea for some sort of human sympathy and communication. To write is to risk being rejected, ridiculed, misunderstood. To write is to make contact between the world out there and the world in here, both of them mysterious, perhaps ultimately unknowable.”

–Joyce Carol Oates from a 2003 interview with Stig BjorkmanJ_C_Oates

World Enough and Time

If I had world enough and time, I’d be blogging about…

  • the exceptionally decent writing assignments I am spending my weekend reading, sporadically, commenting upon, and evaluating…Did I suddenly TEACH better, or are students just a bit more prepared? motivated? 
  • the odd trend in student e-mails that temper the usual excuses and “just to let you knows” with affirmations of my fabulousness, such as   “I’m going to be handing in my essay late because my computer died. And I want you to know that you’re awesome!” and “My essay will be late, just wanted to let you know. And I really LOVE your class.” What’s with that?
  • Joyce Carol Oates, whose novels, stories, interviews I’ve been immersed in for weeks. She’s a fascinating woman. I’m in the midst of reading what at least one reviewer called her “angry lesbian” novel, Solstice (published in 1985). I wonder why there were so many misreadings of this disturbing story about an odd friendship between women: an instinctive attack on a writer who disdains the “woman writer” label?
  • the early 1960s-dress up party I’m attending in a few weeks. I can’t decide if I want to dress like Jackie O, or one of her more bohemian peers. Luckily, there’s Rusty Zipper, a wonderfully rich site for inexpensive vintage clothes…or, should I do what my mother says and wear a cardigan sweater backwards, with pearls, and one of my new pencil skirts instead?
  • the hairdo that goes with the outfit: the Jackie O flip or the Babs poof (see below)? Or is Bab’s poof too late 60s? (Ah, another excuse to watch Mad Men!).Streisandhairdo
  • and, finally, the big one: the earliest damned snowfall since I’ve lived in this town (with downed trees, no electricity for hours this morning, and it’s STILL snowing)…

But, alas, I can’t blog about any of these potentially fruitful ideas right now. I need to shovel some snow, dig out the flashlight and candles before the next power outage (tree branches are literally cracking and falling throughout the neighborhood), and finish reading student essays.

Summertime Blogging

The Academic Blogosphere (the blogging world in which I live) seems to go on semi-hiatus once classes end—or at least once they end for you semester system schools. We on the quarter system are still plugging away for 2 more weeks. Interestingly, I’ve found few community college instructors who are bloggers (as is also true with the academic novel—there are few that focus on community college faculty and students—another interesting gap to explore).

But I’m finding that the relatively light blog-reading the last few days has allowed me to get more done. I’m also less writerly these days myself: I have a list of blog ideas, but little time or inclination to pursue them right now. Instead I’m doing the usual end of term/start of summer chores:

  • Reading research paper drafts—in fact, this activity should take every waking moment of the next week despite the high attrition in those classes. Most intriguing fact from this term’s papers: I have THREE papers on “evil” and one intriguing paper on women who choose to be exotic dancers.
  • Reading my online literature class’s weekly postings—this week, they are on Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver, two of my favorite writers, so I’m looking forward to reading their postings. Yet, unlike the research paper classes, this class has no attrition, so I have 40 postings and responses to look forward to….so far, they seem to be getting O’Connor’s wicked sense of humor (and, as always, critiquing the hapless grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”). So far, no one has taken me up on my prompt asking for an analysis of why “Everything That Rises Must Converge” appeared in the season finale of “Lost”.
  • Fine tuning the big speech I’m giving this weekend. I have the meat and bones nicely organized, but now I need to work on wording and delivery, and I should time myself, I suppose. Anyone know how long 1700 words should take to read in a New York-velocity accent?
  • Choosing textbooks for fall—yes, it’s ridiculously early to even think of such a thing, but I’m already a month late on my fall book orders.
  • Planning the summer vacation—this summer, it’s hubby’s turn to plan our vacation in August (itinerary, hotels, etc etc), but I suspect he’ll need a little pushing. Yes, I’m obviously the pushy one in this relationship….
  • Gearing up to teach two back to back online classes this summer—luckily, both are graduate level, small classes, focused on researched writing.
  • Training for two half ½ marathons in June
  • Assorted social gatherings every weekend for the next few weeks (funny how mostly introverted faculty start becoming social and extroverted as the term winds down). One gathering is a “Pure Romance” event: think Tupperware-type party with dildos and edible panties.
  • Still reading “light and uplifting” fiction each week in the endless task of finding a community read book. Has anyone read The Help by Kathryn Stockett? That was has been added to the list. Right now I’m reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: a beautiful novel, not unlike Jewett’s The Country of Pointed Firs in terms of structure (each chapter focuses on a different character in this small Maine town), but so far, I wouldn’t call it “light” fiction.

I suspect in a few weeks, once the grades are submitted, the speech is done, and the gatherings are over that I will be able to do a few meaty blog postings. Till then, I’ll probably just do hit or miss links to interesting stories and sites, which I hope are at least mildly amusing (well, they are amusing to me, and perhaps that’s all that counts in the Daily Me world?).

Top 100 Women in History: Annie’s List

okeefe-cannaFeministe has a post asking for readers’ Top 100 Women in History.  I started to comment, then gave up realizing I’d take over the blog if I kept going—plus it’s too much trouble doing hyperlinks in comment fields. But here, I can go on and on and on……(and yes, it’s very literary-centered, but that’s my thing, and it’s not in any logical order):



·         Mary McCarthy (of the flying diaphragm scene in The Group, and one of the New York intellectuals)


·         Tillie Olsen (writer—“I Stand Here Ironing” and Silences— and activist)


·         Rebecca Harding Davis (working class writer of haunting “Life in the Iron Mills”)


·         Lucille Clifton (who loves her hips)


·         Margaret Fuller (author of Woman in the 19th Century)


·         Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (of course)


·         Judy Syfers (author of “Why I Want a Wife”)


·         Sojourner Truth (“Ain’t I A Woman?”)


·         Louisa May Alcott (not just of Little Women fame, she supported her entire family for decades)


·         Emma Goldman (I still think of Maureen Stapleton playing her in the film Reds)


·         Zitkala-Sa (author of The School Days of an Indian Girl)


·         Sui Sin Far (author of Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian)


·         Mary Wollstonecraft (A Vindication of the Rights of Women)


·         Leslie Marmon Silko (author of Ceremony)


·         Georgia O’Keefe (awesome artist)


·         Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein (literary and social couple of 1920s Paris)


·         Kate Chopin (her story “The Storm” was turn of the 20th century soft porn, and beautifully written; her novel The Awakening is a feminist masterpiece)


·         Alice Walker (for “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens” especially)


·         Charlotte Perkins Gilman (“The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Herland” are both feminist classics)


·         Adrienne Rich (“Diving into the Wreck” and her collection of essays “Of Lies, Secrets and Silences”)



I’ll continue another day….I’ve barely begun with this list!

Young Women Memoirs: Suggestions?

The other night, I held individual conferences with my advanced composition students to discuss their progress on drafting their researched essays.  Since this is a great group of students (I’ve written a little about them here) the 4 hours flew by with conversations ranging from “how do I cite a source that cites another source?”  to “how do I best juggle multiple sources?” to “should I begin by discussing Science Fiction or Dune itself?”

But my last student conference was with a young woman who, uncharacteristically, hadn’t handed in a rough draft to discuss, so I was curious and concerned about her all evening wondering if she would show up.  She did. Her essay is on how children of war are affected morally: a complex, intellectual topic for a first year student.  We briefly discussed her progress on the paper before getting to the real issue: she sheepishly admitted, at the same time dismissing its importance, that she had just broken up with her boyfriend of 5 years (they have been seeing each other since she was 15), and, as a result, she’d been couch surfing all week, thus the missing draft. 

I tried to assure her that it was, indeed, a big deal to break up with a boyfriend, especially one she was with for such a long period in her life, and that I understood completely.  She promised to get me a draft as soon as possible, recognizing that she was now ready to “bury” herself in her school work after a week (!) of mourning.

But here’s where the women’s memoirs come in: she is hiking this summer, alone, on the Appalachian Trail, and hoped to write a memoir about it.  Right now she is keeping a daily journal leading up to the big trip–but she was finding such daily notations unsatisfying.    Yet she didn’t quite get my suggestion that she approach her note taking more organically rather than impose such an artificial structure: I told her to think of the tag clouds in bogs, but she doesn’t read blogs. 

So what I’d like to do is recommend some memoirs for her to read before she heads off to her big hike.  Here are a few I’ve thought of, but I’d love suggestions, especially of works by younger writers that I’ve not included here:

  • Alice Koller/The Unknown Woman or The Stations of Solitude
  • Anne Lamott/Travelling Mercies
  • Annie Dillard/An American Childhood
  • Patricia Hampl/A Romantic Education
  • Dorothy Allison/Trash
  • Sallie Tisdale/Stepping Westward

Updates: Honors Boys and Girls, Inaugural Poem

An update on the self-segregated Honors English classroom. The instructor asked the class to explain why they split up, girls crammed on one side of the room, the few boys spread out on the other. Here was the response he got:

“I asked the question about the room split and got two answers:

  • boys said there was power in numbers
  • girls said they were not interested in the boys

While their response is somewhat defensive (especially the girls), it’s intriguing. The boys feel overwhelmed by the number of girls in the Honors English class (more than double the number of boys), and they admit it. The girls claim that they sit together because they aren’t interested in the boys (which may confirm the instructor’s theory that these are indeed the “nerdy” boys, or at least boys that the girls feel the need to declare they have no interest in, at least in public. 

Now, about the inaugural poem. I finally did see a clip, and noted that not only did NPR talk over poor Professor Alexander’s poem reading, but the crowds were also ignoring her (and yes, Jon Stewart made a joke about the power of poetry to clear a room). 

Yes, her reading style is not effective, and yes, her style as well as the simplicity of the poem make it pale in comparison to the emotional affect of a Maya Angelou reading and poem. But the poem does effectively echo Obama’s speech (which it immediately followed) so thematically it works, and yes it doesn’t rhyme and it has what seems to be a clumsy rhythm, but imagine, if you can, it read by someone who can truly do justice to a West African praise song. It’s a genre that needs a different performer. The poem, read on the page, is quite powerful. I wish we can hear it again read by someone else.

Alexander was on The Colbert Report last night: Colbert (surprisingly literate) was kind to her, allowing her to shine in what seemed to be a much more comfortable professorial role.

More bloggers are coming to her defense:

Inaugural Poem

NPR commentators were clearly not interested in hearing Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugural poem: they preferred to respond to Obama’s speech, speaking over the poet. 

And it seems that bloggers as diverse as Kathleen Rooney and Boy Michael were less than impressed with Alexander’s work and/or her delivery.

I need to actually listen (thanks a lot, NPR) and watch her read the poem before commenting, but the New York Times just posted it for our reading (and analytical) pleasure.  I’ve resposted it below:

January 20, 2009

Inaugural Poem

The following is a transcript of the inaugural poem recited by Elizabeth Alexander, as provided by CQ transcriptions.

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.