Monday, November 21

Cultural waves: men's temptation, women's dress

Middle school principal sends suggestive texts to a 22yo intern.  She says "Stop."  He says "You're being a tease" and sends more texts and a picture of his penis.  She says "Stop or I'll call the police."  He doesn't stop right away.  Texts her over a period of several months.  Two years ago.  Just recently the story hit the news.  Middle school principal has resigned.  Fallout continues.

Israel, where gender equality has existed, even in the military, for years.  There seems to be a growing influence of the ultra-orthodox who are challenging the women behave and dress.  One of the most telling statements in the article is this:
Those traditional values typically include restrictions on television and the Internet, modest dress codes and segregation of the sexes, which haredi leaders say is needed to protect women from sexual exploitation and men from temptation.
Some time ago a group of Christian executives gathered to discuss a particular proposal.  They were reluctant to consider it because the woman who brought it forward was wearing a top that showed a bit more decolletage than the men were comfortable with, though the women present seemed to think it was reasonably modest.

In the 21st century, though we know sexism remains a problem, most American women may tend to associate such thinking with Muslim conservatism because of the burqa, a form of covering up we tend not to understand.

This isn't a new story, and the custom of modest dress (with its own wide range of definitions) is not limited to the ultra-orthodox Jews nor the more conservative Muslims.

For several reasons, I'm going to set aside my simmering outrage that women have to dress more modestly so men won't be tempted, which is to suggest, in my mind, that those big, strong, brave men aren't able to manage or control their temptations.  Samson and Delilah?  Cleopatra and Mark Anthony?  Goodness knows women have been using their "feminine wiles" since women realized they had such wiles to use.  And let's not complicate things by suggesting the serpent in the Garden of Eden was male and the first temptation was that by a man of a woman.  Let's not suggest that one of the reasons women have used their looks and decolletage is because of the way some men hold power and because of the way some men demand a certain kind of obeisance because of the way those men understand power.

While I find the "boys will be boys" argument insufferable, sexist, and absurd, I also understand that our world is complicated.  When I was still teaching, I was often alarmed by the lack of fabric that constituted some of female students' clothing.  I confess that on first sighting that some of those skimpy outfits were distracting to me because I wondered what that young woman was trying to convey about herself.  While I appreciate wanting to reduce the cloth-to-skin ratio when it's hot and humid, there are limits.  Should be limits?  That's why businesses and some schools have dress codes.

There really isn't an easy answer.  I understand women wanting to look sexy; and I appreciate that men appreciate women looking sexy.  Knowing what's appropriate for which circumstances shouldn't be that hard and yet we seem to struggle with that.  Still.  Again.

I'd love to oversimplify and suggest that men should be responsible for managing their own temptation, but I know it's not that simple.  I know that, whether innocently or unscrupulously, women dress provocatively to be provocative.  What they don't always anticipate is how far that provocation might go.  Sure, girls just wanna have fun, but it's really stupid to test the limits.  The problem seems to be knowing the limits and realizing that not all of us have the same limits.

The middle school principal is a good example.  The 22yo intern didn't dress provocatively.  She just happened to be young and, apparently, incredibly erotically attractive to this middle school principal.  He chose to yield to his temptations and, even more stupidly, chose to think "No" meant "Tell me more, baby."  Even so, expecting women to conform to a particular dress code for a minority (I hope) of men just doesn't seem to be the best solution.

I also hope that we can all tamp down the simmering outrage we may feel because of our own perspectives and try to have reasonable conversations, respecting divergent opinions and perspective and trying not to demand that everyone else conform to our way of thinking.  Sigh.  Yes, can't we all just get along?

Tuesday, November 15

Time to grow up

Generation O.  The "ground troops" of the Obama campaign.  In a Forbes article, Maura Pennington explains why she believes it is past time for Generation O to grow up.  Pennington writes
Hemingway and Fitzgerald chronicled the lost generation of the 1920s.  If someone were to write a great novel about our lost generation, the unthinking public would pass it up, but we would devour it.  We talk incessantly about ourselves, post links that mirror our feelings, troll the same blogs, rehash the same ideas, trying to bond ourselves in the experience of being adults at a time when being an adult is unappealing.
We’ve been accustomed to unsustainable standards of living, yet aren’t adapting to the reality that life just isn’t going to be the same as it was for our parents.  We aren’t adapting because we don’t understand why it can’t be like it was for them.  We’re stubborn in our sense of what can be ours, what should be ours, just by virtue of our having gone to those schools and being the people we are.
In our eyes, we’ve done everything right.  We played sports and acted in plays even though we are not currently pro athletes or actors.  Shouldn’t it count for something that we were captains of JV tennis?  That’s what is most difficult to face out here in this adult world.  It doesn’t matter what we did.  It matters what we do, the creative choices we make to adjust, the people we have real live conversations with.  Because no one is going to get a job, live in a nice place, have money to date and take vacations simply because he was president of the campus doing-good society, no matter what he’s been told.  The sooner we stop demanding the world to mold to the rosy, impractical view we had as undergraduates, the better for us all.
"Entitlement" may seem to be the watchword of Generation O, but they are not alone in culpability.  Their parents and many of the rest of us encouraged them to believe that if they went to college, were involved in a host of extracurricular activities, did all the "right" things, the world stand aside and
applaud as they made their entrances into it and would be grateful for their presence.

I do, however, applaud Pennington's very adult observation that "we stop demanding the world to mold" itself to whatever view we hold.  But there's more to this that is true for all of us, not just Generation O.

No matter our age or our political affiliation (and I'm not talking just politicians, lobbyists, and self-serving corporate executives):
  • We need to adapt to the realities of life and see the world as it is right now and how it might be in the future if we do not adapt.  
  • We need to accept the fact that just because we believe something should be true, doesn't mean it is or ever will be.  
  • We need to be less stubborn which is not to say less principled.  
  • We need to have real conversations that mean something.  
  • We need to make creative choices with a larger perspective than just ourselves.
So, yes, Maura, it may be time for Generation O to grow up, but so should the rest of us.

Monday, November 14

You cannot "owe" a favor

Amy Goldman Koss recently posted a blog rant about being asked to do "favors" for people, many of which seem under- or unappreciated.  Amy's rant is a reasonable one.  Regardless of one's profession, vocation, avocation, or practice, there are those who will ask for a favor.  Something small.  Something for which they seem, at the moment, immensely grateful.  Amy's observation about why people agree to unpaid gigs rings true: hopefulness that this altruistic gesture will lead to something more, other, and yes, less altruistic.

Recently I was working with an organization to help recruit presenters for a conference.  There is an expectation that presenters will do their thing for free because their travel expenses are paid, they don't have to pay registration for the conference, and they get a bit of free publicity.  Those are legitimate reasons to expect some people to do a presentation for free.  Unless, of course, they are being asked to do something for which they generally get paid.

If a writer, like Amy Goldman Koss, has been asked to write something and present it for a special occasion, she should be paid an honorarium at the very least.  I suspect it wouldn't have to be much, but something so she and those like her feel less like a vulgar shill.  At the end of her blog she repeats what mothers have been saying to daughters for generations upon generations: "If you give it away for free, it must be worthless."

While I agree with Amy to some extent, experience tells me differently.  Yes, there will be situations when you might do something gratis and those who have asked have forgotten or not bothered to be grateful.  But there are those who notice and appreciate what you have done.  There are those who are inspired by that gesture of kindness, of goodness.  You will probably never know who those people are, but that is why you continue to do the "unpaid gigs," though you get increasingly wise and proffer a gentle "No, thank you" to those you think are simply taking advantage of you.

Teachers look for free stuff all of the time to support their students and their students' learning.  Classroom teachers readily and willingly spend their own money for their students, but prefer free if they can get quality at the same time.  That's one of the reasons that teachers support various networks that enable them to share ideas and resources. . . for free.

I hope Amy continues to do those free events.  I hope she is appreciated for those events, introduced, welcomed.  I hope she is able to promote herself and her work without feeling quite so icky about it; self-promotion can be hard.

I hope others remember to be appreciative of those who go out of their way to provide something for free, but are generous enough of spirit not to take advantage.

I hope we learn that we cannot owe or be owed a favor; that we learn or remember that a "favor" is a "gracious kindness" and those of us who ask for and are given such behave accordingly.

Thursday, November 10

Daft thinking about performance bonuses

In The Chicago Tribune on November 8:
When the University of Illinois law school announced a new early entrance program in 2008, the stated reason was to recruit top U. of I. undergraduates and give them "the first shot at the limited number of seats" at their school.
But behind the scenes, now-disgraced College of Law admissions dean Paul Pless revealed another motive was at play.  By admitting high-achieving students in their junior years, without a law school entrance exam, the students' high GPAs would be included in the class profile but no test scores could potentially drag down the class.
In The Chicago Tribune on November 10:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Wednesday the criteria by which high-performing Chicago Public School principals will receive up to $20,000 in bonuses for boosting student achievement this school year.
Charter school principals will be eligible, too, and the mayor announced that network chiefs--who oversee groupings of elementary school and high schools--also can receive bonuses for driving significant gains at their schools.
Seriously?  Has no one been paying attention to scandals in schools?  Changing test scores?  Fudging who really has to take the test to make sure lower performing students don't bring down test scores?  Did no one read the recent articles and NAEP reports about math and reading scores

Friday, November 4

A pointless blog on TV talk shows

I taped The Late, LateShow with Craig Ferguson the other night because Neil Gaiman was one of his guests.  I’d never seen Ferguson’s show before because I’m not up late, late and because I’d never seen him before I didn’t know he’s a pretty funny guy.  A bit edgy; okay, a bit raunchy. . . he is, after all, on late, late.  As I watched his opening monologue, I thought I might tape him more regularly because he is a bit edgier but mostly because of the Scottish accent.

As he and Neil started chatting, my brain did one of those “what the heck” slides it so often does as I process some of the oddly disconnecting perceptions I have.  I started thinking about the folks who are or will soon have TV talk shows.  And the distinction of “TV talk show host” is important.  Rosie O’Donnell is already trying to shrug off Oprah’s shadow as she steps into her time slot and her studio.  Katie Couric is rumored to be starting a daytime talk show.  Queen Latifah, who was trying to launch a different kind of recording career using her given name, Dana Owens, is to start her daytime TV talk show in 2013.

Now the radio talk show host has a show during which he or she talks about whatever is on his or her mind.  People tune in to Mike & Mike to listen to two men talk about sports.  They argue, ridicule each other’s ideas, analyze events, speculate, and more.  All about sports.  Other radio talk show hosts have an occasional guest, but it’s mostly about the host talking.

So the format of the TV talk show has to be different because everyone is on television.  I know, duh.  But because we can see them as well as hear them, the interaction between the host and the audience is different.  The host has a live audience plus a camera.  The host and their guests have an audience they can see and hear.  As far as the radio talk show host knows, he or she is talking to the microphone.  Period.  They may know they have an audience, especially if they have listeners call in, but there are few other people in the room to react to what they say and they have to be sufficiently comfortable just talking for an hour or so.

Stay with me.  The folks who do TV talk shows tend to be comedians or former newsies.  They are, in a word, “performers.”  What do they do for a living when they aren’t doing a TV talk show?  Performing.  Talking.  In the case of the newsies, talking, analyzing, and talking some more.  So what don’t they do?  Listen.  Sure, Katie Couric has done some great interviews as has Barbara Walters (The View), but they like to analyze what the interviewee is saying to try to ask more incisive questions because then they really want to analyze more deeply and. . . commentate.  Yep, that’s a fancy word for talk.

Back to Craig Ferguson.  I wanted to hear Neil Gaiman talk about his writing, his interests, his fascinating marriage to the even more fascinatingly quirky, weird, possibly disturbing Amanda Palmer.  But Craig kept talking over him.  Interrupting Neil with one-liners.  My brain already started its sliding thing during the Zooey Deschanel “interview,” but I realized why I stopped taping or watching any of these talk shows. . .except for the monologue though I occasionally watch Graham Norton on BBC and not just for the accent.  Anyway.  I stopped watching these shows because of what I’ve been doing this whole post.  Digressing, looping back over my own thoughts.  But I’m writing.  I’m not sitting down with someone with the knowledge that some people are tuning in as much for my guests as for me.

I suppose talk shows are all about the brand of the host.  People probably watch The Ellen DeGeneres show because of Ellen; they like her, they like her style.  For them, the guests are gravy.  Bonus features.  Because then they get to see their talk show idol interact with other people who may or may not be famous or they’ll get to see or experience their talk show idol do something incredibly amazing and generous.  We all know Oprah was famous for those absurd give-aways and Ellen seems to be doing similar kinds of give-aways, except they’re about the audience rather than the host.

Talk. Show. Host.  “Talk” modifies “show” to tell you what kind of show it is.  “Talk” and “show” modify “host” so you know what kind of host it is.  Each of these individuals is the host of a talk show.  That happens to be on TV.  So if you’re like me and you’re expecting the host to be a thoughtful listener, a good interviewer who actually allows his or her guests to speak rather than try to deliver one-liners or crack jokes over them, then you will be disappointed.  Or you might be entertained because maybe the whole point of the talk show guest is to promote the album or movie or book or whatever and to try to keep up with comic yammerings of the host whose main job is to make sure the promotional event is reasonably entertaining because we’ve all seen those guests who can’t seem to talk about anything if they don’t have a script so the comedic antics of the host actually saves them.  And that, my friends, is entertainment.