Marriage Equality as a Conservative Plot

Reader Benoni sent me this article that argues that marriage equality is a conservative plot. According to its author, there has never been any progressive argument for the legalization of gay marriage:

There has never been a left case for gay marriage.  Nothing that the left, progressives, or liberals have stated in support of gay marriage has ever been anything but a profoundly conservative argument.  Gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry for healthcare?  That simply shores up the power of the neoliberal state, compelling people to marry and take on the burden for their own care, instead of creating, for instance, a system that grants life-saving benefits to everyone, regardless of marital status.  This is a matter of “simple equality?”  How is a system that systematically denies those same benefits to single people ever anything but fundamentally unequal?  Denying marriage to some is denying them their ability to love or to have their love affirmed?  If your love depends upon the recognition of the state, your relationship is in greater trouble than you think.  Poor people will somehow benefit from marriage by accessing healthcare through their partners?  Poor people’s problems don’t arise from their inability to get married and in a country without universal healthcare, marriage only compounds your poverty.  And, really, if you’re poor, neither you nor your partner is likely to have healthcare anyway; the last thing you want is to increase the burden on your household by increasing the number of people in it.

It is a well-known rhetorical trick when one ascribes really bizarre opinions to one’s opponents and then denounces them for holding such pig-headed beliefs. Every single person I know is in favor of marriage equality, including people who are passionately anti-marriage. These people are gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, and they all support gay marriage for one simple reason: denying people rights on the basis of their sexual orientation is morally wrong.

So yes, I believe it’s a matter of simple equality and I’ve never heard of anybody denying single heterosexual people the right to get married. It was a matter of simple equality at the time when interracial marriage was made legal, it was a matter of simple equality when women won the right to vote, it was a matter of simple equality when slavery was abolished. And then, as now, there was a  chorus of voices claiming that the world would end if this simple equality were achieved. Many of those voices pretended to be progressive and practiced the rhetorical strategy of “yes, but. . .” Just like this article says, “Yes, but wouldn’t it be much more fun to dehumanize gay people and rob them of their rights in order to spite the mean, bad capitalists?”

The idea that the absence of universal healthcare somehow justifies preventing a gay couple from doing what any straight couple can do very easily is bizarre. But what can we expect from a blogger who claims Jezebel is a feminist website?

By all means, let’s fight for universal healthcare and against the discrimination of unmarried couples. But first let’s make sure that nobody is denied the right to organize their personal life the way they wish simply because they are gay.

Should We Waste Our Time on Teaching?

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed caused so much consternation at my university that there is now a lecture series based on it. This long and confusing piece can be summarized as “teaching is a worthless drain on your time, so don’t do it.” I find the suggestion appalling and the arguments used to support it bizarre.

Here is one of the very weird stories that the author shares to support his anti-teaching philosophy:

An undergraduate in a course for which I was a TA. . . came to me struggling with a particular assignment. I eagerly laid out an ambitious program for extra assistance, study, and readings that would, I promised him, if he fully applied himself, not only reveal the wonders of the course material but almost certainly guarantee him a great grade. His response shocked me: He was taking five classes, working 30 hours a week, his mother was in the hospital, and he was majoring in another subject. He was taking this course only for a distributional requirement.

In other words, as he put it, “I don’t have time for anything but a C.”

What should have shocked this person should have been a realization that his professional persona is not managing to evoke an ounce of respect in the students. If a student thinks it is appropriate to insult an instructor in this way, this means the instructor is in urgent need of taking classes in pedagogy.

The assistant professor sat back and reflected on the narrative of tragedy and frustration in which he had participated. A year before, he had joined a prestigious program at a research university. Within weeks, a doctoral student had come to him seeking an adviser and, their interests being similar, they had agreed on a match.

At a PRESTIGIOUS RESEARCH university, an assistant professor who has just been hired directs doctoral dissertations? Seriously? I never in my life heard of anything of the kind. Are there really weird students who take such an enormous gamble with their careers? And the departments allow that? This is nothing but an issue of idiocy feeding off more idiocy. Last semester I directed senior assignments of our graduating seniors, and I did not do a very good job (which I duly reported to the Chair and the personnel committee.) I’m trying to learn but it is taking time and effort. The idea that a recently hired Assistant Prof can direct doctoral research is simply bizarre.

There is a point when the perennially failing advisee, whom nothing or no one seems able to rescue, would be better helped by your being a kind, encouraging, nonjudgmental, and creative exit counselor than by your continually accepting one more missed deadline or badly written draft.

This sounds like the author of the piece sees no alternative to being the students’ Daddy (both constant acceptance and nonjudgmental counseling are parenting strategies, not a way of building a professional relationship among adults). The possibility of simply failing a student does not even seem to occur to him. It becomes even more obvious that the author of the article is incapable of seeing his students as adults when he says the following:

Take a typical case of a student who is struggling in your class. On the positive side, he comes to your office hours—always. He seeks extra help outside of office hours. He asks lots of questions in class. And you are doing good: The problem child is improving.

A student might be problematic but if s/he is in college, this means there is no way s/he can possibly be a child.

After reading this article, I remain deeply convinced that Chronicle of Higher Ed has a goal of presenting academics in the worst possible light. It invites writers who consistently represent the worst that the academia has to offer. If I had read this publication before deciding to become an academic, I probably would have made a different choice.

Clarissa’s Inspirational Messages

Reader el suggested I put a message saying “Before you knock on the door, or Clarissa’s Inspirational Messages to Worried Students” on the door of my office. I think this is a brilliant idea. Let’s see what I can put on the list.

How about:

I’m here to engage with your intellect, not your feelings. The phone of the mental health services is: xxx-xxxx.

Is this too harsh?

Another one:

You are not your grammar mistakes.

And the one that really matters to me:

The easiest way to antagonize the person inside this office is to tell her that you don’t like reading.

Any ideas?

Who Makes Them This Way?

Yesterday, a student sent me a 500-word email where the words ‘I feel’ were used multiple times and where she described in detail how painful it is for her to see my corrections of her language mistakes. Can somebody tell me which system of upbringing creates grown people who:

– believe that the only way to relate to others is to insist that they adopt you emotionally, professionally, intellectually and socially and become very upset when others demonstrate that they have no need of an overgrown adoptee;

– believe that it is acceptable to tell a professor “I’m upset because you didn’t validate my feelings”;

– believe that hard work that produces no results is more valuable than a small amount of effort that produces great results;

– believe that every adult they meet owes them constant praise and encouragement;

– start every other sentence with “I feel”;

– insist that other adults dedicate their lives to their petty emotional crises,

so that I can avoid it? I really don’t want to bring up somebody like this by mistake.

Seriously, though, are these people a product of attachment parenting? They seem to want to attach themselves to people like leeches. Their capacity to regulate their own emotional states – which is something that all normally developing kids have by the age of 5 – is non-existent. Their dependence on approval from an adult is overwhelming. Their understanding of what is appropriate among adults is nil. Their capacity to see themselves as adults is not there. Their emotional instability is scary and their self-esteem is in the toilet.

I see such people more and more often among the twenty-year-olds. They look like toddlers who never managed to grow up, and that is scary.

Gay Rights and Mass Media in XIXth-Century Spain

Somebody started an essay on the nineteenth-century Spanish writer Mariano Jose de Larra as follows:

The only acceptable definition of marriage is that of a union between one man and one woman. Today’s mass media, however, try to convince us otherwise. In his “El casarse pronto y mal” we see how a marriage between Augusto and Elena fails because neither is ready for its responsibilities.

As you can probably guess, Larra, who killed himself in 1837, was not even aware of the concept of gay marriage. Today’s mass media were completely alien to his experience as well. The student simply couldn’t resist the burning desire to plant these pearls of wisdom into his essay with no connection to what went after them.

Believe it or not, this is actually a good sign. Students come to college with a lot of really bizarre conditioning. Then, they start discovering the beauty and the richness of the world and, at first, it scares them a lot. They try to resist the realization that their parochial brainwashing makes no sense and this is when snippets of these weird ideas start bursting out of them. The snippets are the last line of defense against reality. Their appearance is a sign that the students are almost cured and are ready to become integrated into the world.


A student who spent the entire day arguing with me over email about whether the word “surrealism” is a synonym of the word “subconscious” just sent me an angry rant complaining that I don’t praise her for her effort.

I keep forgetting that I need to exclaim “Good job, sweetie!” whenever I see adults manage to use the potty successfully and tie their shoelaces.

Why There Will Be More Drones and Kill Lists

As a conclusion to our discussion about the drones and kill lists, here is an announcement I just received:

This morning during Deans’ Council, the Provost informed us that by directive from the Chancellor, we need to prepare a 5% (ca. 1.2 million dollars) budget cutting exercise for FY14 (July 1st, 2013 – June 30th., 2014). This is just the beginning of a larger process that will culminate with a total possible reduction of budget of 25% over the next three years.

I rest my case. If we refuse to educate our population and make it competitive on the world arena, what is left to preserve our standard of living? Just think about it.

Of course, instead of trying to see the connections between these phenomena, we could continue getting angry with me for not joining the ultra-productive hand-wringing over the drones.

What Puts Male Students at a Disadvantage?

There is so much stupidity floating around that people have to waste time proving the obvious:

Our research shows that boys’ underperformance in school has more to do with society’s norms about masculinity than with anatomy, hormones or brain structure.

Gender expectations put both men and woman at a disadvantage at certain times. Right now, I’m observing how an activity where female students flourish proves more difficult for male students and not because of any intellectual limitations but simply due to the weight of gender roles.

In my literature seminar, each student gets to play the role of the professor once in the semester. They have to analyze the text assigned for that day and prepare a series of interactive activities aimed at involving everybody in the discussion. Most of the students have already had a chance to present, and I have noticed that, irrespective of the level of language competence and the understanding of the texts, male students consistently do significantly worse than female students.

In order to engage successfully with a group in these kinds of interactive exercises, you need to be able to play the role of a clown. It is crucial to have the capacity to leave aside any pretense at gravitas and become playful. Male students, however, seem terrified of playfulness. It is very sad to see the castrating “all work and no play all the time” philosophy of life set in so early in these adolescent males.

This is the reason why male students do significantly worse in language courses than female students  Idiots explain this issue referencing some completely imaginary brain differences but the reality is much simpler. Language courses are all based on group activities, games, role playing, etc. Men find these activities very wounding to the stereotyped image of a male they adopt early in life. According to my observations, gay men – who have a lot less interest in patriarchal gender roles – do extremely well in language courses even though their brains, bodies, and everything else is just as male as those of straight men.

A student came to my office yesterday to discuss his ideas for the final essay.

“This character can’t understand the damage caused by traditional gender roles because he is male,” he said. “He has no experience of this. Not like women do.”

If you are surprised by his statement, note that the current post was not written by a male blogger either.