A Really Fantastic Meme: Fictional Characters You Identify With

Here is a really cool blogger with a really cool meme that I could never resist:

Name six fictional characters in whom you could see yourself, and explain why you were able to do so.

As we all know, most of the interesting fictional characters are male. Finding a female character that would not be stupid, pathetic, whiny and even more stupid is a feat of incredible proportions. Nobody expects me to identify with the likes of Anna Karenina, do they? This is

1. Bernarda Alba from Federico Garcia Lorca’s play The House of Bernarda Alba. Bernarda Alba is quite a horrible character. She is a matriarch who rules the lives of her miserable daughters and imposes her will on them in everything. However, given the dearth of powerful female characters in world literature, I have to take whatever I can get. Bernarda Alba is undoubtedly strong and she is a female character who has a personality.

2. Vasilisa Mikulishna is the protagonist of a great Soviet cartoon. She has this beautiful long hair but she cuts it off in order to save her husband who has been imprisoned by the prince of Kiev for bragging about how smart and resourceful his wife is. Scroll the video to 03:48 and you’ll see that she is totally me.

And this was kind of it in terms of female characters I identify with.

3. Gregory House of House, MD. When this show first started airing, I had several people phone me to announce happily, “Clarissa, there is a new show and the main character is you! You have got to watch it.” I can’t say that I see the likeness but people keep insisting that House, c’est moi. So who am I to argue?

4. A lot more than House, I think I am Robert Goren of Law and Order: Criminal Intent. He’s smart, complex, and tortured. I really get that. He also has to be autistic, even though nobody ever spells it out.

5. Fermin de Pas, the protagonist of one of the greatest Spanish novels ever, La Regenta, by Leopoldo Alas. He is ambitious, mean, obsessed with power, manipulative, a social climber, and has an unhealthy relationship with his mother. God, I like him. As you can see, I’m honest enough not to say that identify only with the perfect characters who walk on water.

What characters do I remind you of?

If you are participating in the meme, feel free to leave links to your posts in the comment section.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns in an Academic Article

OK, I have a question for fellow academics. In an academic paper, is it acceptable to use gender-neutral pronouns (zie, hir, etc.)? Or not? Have you ever seen it done in an academic context?

More specifically, if I have a character (in a novel) who lives the first half of their life as a woman and the second half as a man, whose genitals make it impossible to identify them as either male or female, and who uses both male and female pronouns to refer to themselves, how do I refer to this character in my article?


It is often our own dependence on the gender binary that makes us organize the narratives about the intersex people along the lines of  the “true, biologically defined gender.” In many cases, the problem is not that the intersex child was placed into a wrong category at birth but that there was any attempt to categorize that intersex child as male or female at all.

While intersex people should be absolutely free to identify as either male or female if that’s what they choose, there should also be a space for those who don’t want to identify as either and who see themselves as intersex and not as female or male. Such people exist and their reality deserves respect.

Is There Indoctrination in American Universities?

“The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America. And it is indoctrination. If it was the other way around, the ACLU would be out there making sure there wasn’t one penny of government dollars going to colleges and universities. If they taught Judeo-Christian principles in those colleges and universities, they’d be stripped of every dollar. If they teach radical secular ideology, they get all the government support that they can possibly get.”

—Rick Santorum

I don’t know what Santorum, who thinks that a pregnancy ensuing as a result of rape is a gift from God, considers to be “Judeo-Christian values.” I don’t know if he understands the concept of values at all. I’m pretty sure, however, that he doesn’t have the slightest inkling as to what college teaching is all about.

I come into the classroom and every single time do all I can to ensure that my students feel completely free to express and explore any opinions and beliefs they have. When I was a union organizer, for example, I had a student deliver a passionate presentation on the evil nature of unions. Santorum probably thinks I, an evil commie-pinko Liberal latte-chugging college prof, eviscerated him for that. The truth that this vile ignoramus cannot even begin to comprehend is that I gave this student 100% because his presentation was extremely well-researched, well-argued and delivered in amazing Spanish. And I felt proud of him.

Last Tuesday, students in one of my courses once again tried to gang up on my sole Conservative anti-Obama student. Santorum probably believes that I encouraged my fellow Liberal students to pounce on her. The truth, however, is that I made everybody settle down and said, “Sheila has some very important and interesting things to say. Let’s listen to her and not interrupt.” And then I helped her argue her anti-Obama case. And the reason why I did this is because when I teach my course, I could care less about Obama and the elections. I care whether all students get a chance to speak and that they use the subjunctive correctly when they speak.

As much as I might want to share with my students my deep-seated belief that Santorum is a blabbering idiot and a vile jerk, I’ll never do that. Because contrary to what Santorum thinks, I don’t indoctrinate. And the reason why he finds it so impossible to imagine that thousands of professors come to work to teach their students French literature, mathematics, geography, physics, Arabic, etc. and never try to indoctrinate anybody is because Santorum thinks that everybody is as dishonest and willing to force their ideology onto others as he is.

And to conclude: when Santorum gets pregnant as a result of rape or absolutely anything else, he is entitled to treat that pregnancy as a gift from God, a Nobel Prize, or a manifestation on Judeo-Christian values. In the meanwhile, though, he should stop make pronouncements about things he knows nothing about, such as pregnancies, college education, and values.

Saturday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion

The crop of great posts has been really good this week, which is why I’m posting it a day early. Otherwise it will grow to an even more humongous size. Sorry if it’s too huge. I just didn’t want to deprive people of some really good sources. If enough readers tell me that they want to see a shorter Link Encyclopedia, I’ll try to control myself in the future.

A really great article on why teenagers spend so much time online. (If you have no time to read the article: because that’s the only place where they can be away from the gaze of the helicoptering parents.)

An absolutely brilliant article on the parents who concealed their son’s gender for five years. “She is afraid to break society’s rules. That’s why she got someone else to be transgressive for her. She wants to be (thought of as) a progressive, to (appear to) challenge society’s rules, but being a coward she instead forces her kid to bear all of the negative consequences of this challenge.” That’s what I’ve been saying from the start.

“French Children Don’t Throw Food.” And their poop surely smells of roses.

I’ve read many fantastic posts during the Blog for Choice Day, but this one really stands out.

Adjuncting and Stockholm Syndrome. Casualization of academic work force is a tragedy for educators and students alike.

A great post and great comments on the nature of privilege.

Some well-known facts about abortion that the anti-choice crowd somehow manages to disregard.

Zizek on the revolt of the salaried bourgeoisie.

An anti-bullying campaign. Visit, link, spread the word! Bullying is never acceptable.

Newt, in his latest flight of fantasy, has no hesitation in declaring that the Moon will become America’s 51st state during his second-term presidency. . . Presumably, the Moon State will provide Newt with an inexhaustible supply of ever-younger wenches and an inexhaustible supply of pork to satisfy his twin appetites.”

What science isn’t.

The creepiest pictures of mothers holding children that you will ever see.

Arranged marriage explained in depth by somebody who knows what they are talking about. Great post!

I recently found this fascinating blog of a Dutchman in Missouri. Highly recommended.

Finally, somebody writes a post dispelling the pernicious mythology surrounding the physiology of the hymen: “It usually doesn’t bleed. Any blood with first penetration is more likely due to general vaginal tearing from lack of lubrication.” Got it, ignoramuses? This is what I’ve been saying for years, but people never wanted to listen.

The Canadian immigration minister who banned the face-covering burqa in citizenship courts was honored by a Muslim group Sunday. The Muslim Canadian Congress praised Jason Kenney at a Toronto reception for prohibiting new citizens from wearing the apparel during swearing-in ceremonies, clothing described by former Congress President Farzana Khan as symbols of gender inequality and Islamic extremism.

A woman kidnaps and sexually assaults two 11-year-old boys and gets only two years in jail for that. Completely egregious.

The hypocrisy of Rand Paul. I know you know this but this particular instance is seriously funny. In a very disturbing sort of way, of course. just like everything he does.

Finally, when talking about evolved differences in behavior between males and females one cannot make statements like “when it comes to personality men and women belong to two different species”  without noting the biological reality that we are, indeed, the same species.  There are no consistent brain differences between the sexes [iii], there is incredible overlap in our physiological function [iv], we engage in sexual activity in more or less the same patterns [v], and we overlap extensively in most other behavior as well.”

If you are or planning to look for a job in academia, here is a fascinating account of what factors influence the hiring decisions. This rings very true to me, people. This is exactly how things are, and you need to be prepared. Don’t believe anybody’s slogans. Listen to what this anonymous poster tells you.

Another important piece of advice for PhD students: “Start cultivating a third or fourth recommendation letter writer who is not from your Ph.D. granting institution. This may come as a surprise to some of you, but having all of your letters come from faculty from your Ph.D. institution/committee is a sure-fire sign of a job candidate “Not Ready For Prime Time.”

If there is one thing I absolutely detest, it’s animal print. It’s so incredibly vulgar that I can’t stand even to look at it. It seems that it’s coming back into fashion, so poor me.

If you missed the State of the Union address this week, make sure you read this hilarious account of it.

Male victims of sexual assault.

Why is it that everything one ever reads about Israel is so supremely stupid. See this, for example: “If the occupation is destroying Israel’s fundamental character, dismantling the state, and corrupting the people, as Gorenberg contends, then Zionists above all should want to end it, as swiftly and comprehensively as possible, and not try to hold out for the most favorable terms.” I thought we had moved away from discussing the “fundamental character” of nations. How can anybody write books about nation-building without learning even the basic facts of how this process works? Jeez, people, when will this endless stream of “they just need to stop building new settlements and recognize Palestine because it would help them restore their fundamental national character” finally end? How is it possible not to see that such pronouncements are right at the level of “let them eat cake”?

2013 will be ugly.  If Obama wins he will stop pandering to progressives and liberals.  Since he never has to be reelected again, he will be even worse than he was 2009-2011.  If you want anything from Obama, anything, get it before the election, do not believe promises, do not accept promises, accept cash only.  If Romney or Gingrich wins, well, it’s not going to be any better. SOPA and PIPA will be back in 2013 in some form.” Does anybody doubt these predictions? If so, please be so kind as to explain your reasoning to me in the comments and I promise not to argue or even object. I so want to believe.

“If at first the jerks try to stop you, try again.” (This could have been written by me but it wasn’t.) A brave kid defies stupid bureaucrats and helicoptering adults and fulfills her dream. I wish I had more of such feel-good stories to share with you.

Google is going to start tracking what its users do online even more aggressively than before. If you use more than one Google service (say, the email, the Google Calendars, and YouTube), you need to be aware of this and maybe take some action.

Paulo Coelho on SOPA: “Pirates of the world, unite and pirate everything I’ve ever written!”

A post where I get blamed. But this is the kind of blame I am more than willing to accept.

Bloomberg Businessweek thinks that placing a photo of a bloodied and beaten face of Mitt Romney on its cover is funny and appropriate. I find it completely disgusting that violence should be treated in such a cavalier way.

30 top reasons why women don’t get pay raises. Very funny.

If you are a progressive who is sick and tired of voting for the Democrats in the “lesser evil” principle, I think you will find that this post has perfectly articulated your feelings on the subject of American politics. I know it did that for me. A very good post from a talented blogger.

A brilliant strategy to bring thousands of visitors to your blog overnight. I wish I had thought of it. But at least I can be proud that my dear colleague did.

How memes are crated and spread around. Very insightful.

Spain’s unemployment rises to 22.9%. This is tragic, people. Me duele España.

And the award for the most brilliant post of the week, or maybe even the month, goes to: “No woman should need to announce her womanhood, her personhood, either by having a kid or by asserting her “choice” in not having a kid.  At the end of the day, a woman’s personhood shouldn’t have a thing in the world to do with her reproductive organs. That, for me, should be the point of reproductive choice.” It’s nice to know that such brilliant people exist.

A Disgustingly Sexist Campaign: Boys Suck, Girls Rock

I thought I’d seen every stupid sexist idea anyone could come up with. This website, however, just takes the cake. It publishes admittedly fake stats and slogans to convince people who are expecting a child that they should not want this child to be a boy. Basically, it’s a “boys are bad, gross and useless” campaign. It publishes stories from parents who report on how their sons suck and stories from other parents on how their daughters are a total joy. As opposed to those useless sons, you know. Here, I snipped a small portion of the disgusting website for you (press on the pic for a larger view):

The vile, nasty and stupid (sorry, but I just have no patience with people who unburden themselves psychologically at the expense of children) creators of this stupid, nasty and vile campaign say that their goal is to combat the prejudice that many expectant parents have against giving birth to a girl. Having a daughter needs to be promoted as something good, they say.

Of course, the easy solution here would have been to start a campaign saying, “If you care about your child’s gender, then you are a flaming idiot who isn’t prepared to have a child in the first place.” Or, “I just hope that my kid is healthy and happy. Gender? Why should I care?” But no, these sexist jerks have chosen to reaffirm the most stupid gender stereotypes instead.

Mind you, people can’t control the gender of their child. So what is supposed to happen when a person who spends time on this idiotic website and wishes passionately for a girl, then gets stuck with one of those stupid boys who pee in fish-tanks, destroy furniture and set things on fire (these are all examples from the website in question, of course)?

What’s more, there are already even bigger fools who celebrate this perversion as. . .  a victory for feminism. I mean, the stupid campaign constructs the male identity as aggressive, violent and destructive and female identity as beauty-salon-visiting, obedient and docile even BEFORE the kids are born. A boy who is “a bookworm” is described as a disappointment to his parents because that makes his masculinity somehow faulty. The website uses pink for girls and blue for boys. Yes, this is a definite milestone of feminist achievement.

I also want to remind everybody that at least one person is born every day in this country whose biological sex cannot be determined as either male or female. People who have been brainwashed by the idea that the gender binary is to be maintained at all costs then do horrible things to these children in order to make them fit into a preconceived notion of definitive maleness or femaleness. I have been reading up on intersex recently and let me tell you, it’s horrible to see how often people inscribe gender on the bodies of newborns in very violent ways.

I also wish that people tried to keep in mind the plight of transgender folks who discover later in life that they were born into a wrong gender. It is that much harder for them to confront their families about who they really are if their parents believe in a very strict definition of gender. A definition that this campaign reinforces.

This is why the last thing we need is yet another stupid website pushing the pink versus blue dichotomy. We especially don’t need this garbage to be sold to us under feminist auspices. Countless people suffer every day because of the gender binary. It is a task of feminists to dismantle that binary, not to reinforce it. Why is this so hard to comprehend? Why, people, why?

Sheesh, folks. Do I really need to have my mood spoiled and my blood pressure raised by these vicious child-haters, stupid pseudo-feminists and brainless sexists so early on a Saturday morning?

Double Standard in Action

We called him Loofty. We teased him good-naturedly about how grumpy he was. We screeched and hollered with delight when he’d do something that previous classes had received as evidence of his hardness. . . One day, he came to class wearing, instead of his ancient, tattered, fatigues-green lab coat, a bright, crisp, new white lab coat. “Loofy, looking FOXY!” I said. C and I made exaggerative “sexy” gestures, hands against our foreheads as we pretended to faint, licking our index fingers and sizzling them against our butts.

Of course, if male students did that to a female teacher, that would be bullying, sexual harassment, and evidence that women are sexually objectified at work. When this is something that female students did to a male teacher, it becomes a cute little anecdote a feminist blogger shares with her audience while said feminist audience swoons with delight.

And that, my friends, is the double standard in action.

Mental Health and Grad School

He said that he does not know the historical period in question, and invited me to send my academic material to his boyfriend who is a specialist. If you don’t see that this is not appropriate, you are either incompetent or corrupted. Which one is it?

You say that there is no need for Bailey to apologize?

He referred to the Mother of God as a “symbol” that is not really true. In class, he talked about the “boobs” of the Vigin Mary. What is your field, Barnaby, administration or academics? Do you not know that people can be dismissed for saying this sort of nonsense against other people’s faith? . . .

God comes like a thief in the night for all the corrupted hypocrites of this world. He says so both in the Old and in the New Testament: do you also think that the Word of God is “unprofessional and unacceptable”?

Why don’t you tell Him so when you appear before His Throne, and see how He reacts to that.

Who will save you from your “feeling of grievance” then?

You’d think this is a petulant 11-year-old, firing off angry Facebook status updates, right? You’d be mistaken, though. In a new weird development surrounding my alma mater, a graduate student has been writing numerous long and rude emails to the Assistant Dean of Yale’s graduate school.

I know Dean Barnaby and he always seemed a highly professional and helpful administrator. There were several administrative issues I faced as a grad student (having to do with my visa and financial status) that Dean Barnaby resolved very effectively. I can’t imagine him having any interest in discriminating against anybody because of their Catholicism, which is what this student accuses him off. In my numerous interactions with the Dean, he never addressed my religious affiliation in any way. I always got the impression that he had way too much administrative issues on his plate to care about anything like that. By the way, at my department at Yale, most people were Catholic (for the obvious reasons), and I can’t remember their faith being any sort of an issue for anybody at any point.

In the correspondence with this irate grad student, Dean Barnaby goes out of his way to be helpful. He even states that the student will continue receiving the full stipend in spite of not being able to work as a TA, which is something everybody is required to do at this point of grad school:

Because you have shown no understanding of the inappropriateness of your behavior, you will not be able to continue in your role as a teaching fellow. However, the University will provide you with the standard stipend for a University Fellowship this term.

The student, however, continues to rant in a way that makes one very worried about her mental health.

The reason why I’m posting these excerpts from an extremely weird correspondence between a grad student and an administrator is that people often fail to realize what an enormous emotional and psychological toll grad school can take on them. I’ve known several people who ended up at psychiatric facilities or in alcohol rehab centers because grad school turned out to be too much for them.

Read the entire correspondence, folks. Read it and remember that grad school is very tough. You need to take care of your mental health just like you need to take care of your physical well-being. If you don’t engage in constant and very deliberate psychological hygiene, you might start to unravel. And then, one day, you just might find yourselves firing off completely unhinged emails about Virgin Mary’s boobs.

Thank you, dear fellow Yalie, for sending me this priceless link.

Sloppiness Is Not a Marketable Skill

Out of 41 students (in two sections), 36 lost points on the mini-quiz because they didn’t notice one of the questions. The question was accompanied by a picture that occupied almost a quarter of the page. (This is Spanish Elementary II, we describe pictures a lot.) Mind you, the students knew how to do the assignment because the absolute majority did four very similar tasks perfectly. They just didn’t notice this question. When I asked them why they thought the huge picture was even there if it wasn’t supposed to be addressed as part of the mini-quiz, they just stared at me blankly.

There were several ways of realizing that the question and the picture were part of this mini-quiz. Yet, most students just skipped it. These are very good students, people. They could have all gotten As and Bs if they had done the entire set of assignments. And there was time aplenty. The students rushed out of the classroom at least 10 minutes before the time had run out.

Of course, the students were unhappy about losing points. I, however, think that I was right in reducing their grades. Sloppiness is not a marketable skill. No matter how bright you are, if you can’t be careful and meticulous about your work, you will not be very successful. I say this from personal experience. I don’t find it hard to generate ideas and come up with interesting new readings of the works of literature that I analyze. It’s the sloppiness that often gets me down. Checking all quotes, dates of publication, names, places, spellings – what a drag! I realized, however, that my carelessness was an act of disrespect towards my own work.

Believe me, it is very humiliating to get a response from a reviewer who mentions that I used the word “faucet” instead of “facet” (my written English is very good, so I really know the difference) and that I quoted the title of the novel I analyze incorrectly.

Now that I have learned for myself how detrimental sloppiness can be, I think it’s my duty to transmit this knowledge to the students.

What do you, people, think? Was I right to reduce the grades because of this act of sloppiness?

Why Should My Partner Want to Have Sex With Me?

I have to confess, folks, the following line of argument scares the living bejeesus out of me:

The great sex therapist, David Schnarch, writes in his Passionate Marriage (the best sex advice book for couples in long-term relationships I’ve ever seen) that we do well to avoid the question “Why doesn’t my wife (or my husband, or my bf, gf, what-have-you) want to have sex with me?” The whole structure of the question, Schnarch says, misses the point. It assumes a strong libido is the default setting in any romantic relationship. Rather, we should ask “Why should my partner want to have sex with me?” And also “Why do I really want to have sex with him or her?”

I know there are huge fans of Schnarch hanging around this blog (wink, wink), but, with all due respect, seriously? To me, this entire paragraph sounds like all shades of crazy. What is this “strong libido” thing even supposed to mean?

The way I see it, the only possibility of coexisting happily, joyfully and peacefully with another person is predicated on a profound mutual sexual attraction. If that overpowering physical desire is not there, people will just eat each other alive because of their small quirks and differences. (Or will become so emotionally distanced as to turn into de facto roommates.)

I know I’m super annoying as a partner. I blab on the phone with my sister for hours every day, I’m messy, I cover every area of the apartment with cups of unfinished beverages, I overspend and go on and on about how guilty it makes me feel. Probably, one could see N. as annoying, too. He plays Call of Duty until very late at night every night and then he is cranky and exhausted on the next day.

We never get annoyed with each other, though. Everything he does looks indescribably attractive to me. And he feels the same about me, of course. The reason why we cherish every aspect of each other’s being is our boundless sexual passion for each other. There hasn’t been a single moment in our relationship when I did not passionately desire him.

Desiring a person doesn’t, of course, mean being able to perform sexually at every point. Everybody is human. People get sick, exhausted, whatever. But incapacity to perform right at this very moment does not translate into an absence of desire.

So to answer the title question of this post, “Why should my partner want to have sex with me?”: because if he doesn’t, this means he doesn’t love me. If this ever happens to me in my relationship, I will know that it’s time to move on and let him find a person he will really love.

I believe that if it comes to the point of “Why doesn’t my wife (or my husband, or my bf, gf, what-have-you) want to have sex with me?” (emphasis mine), as opposed to “Of course, he desires me passionately but just can’t perform a traditional, full-blown sex act right now because of health / exhaustion / whatever else”, this is the end of a romantic relationship as I see it.

If you want a really stupid piece of writing on the subject from one Amanda Marcotte, however, here is an excerpt:

It’s an indicator of how male-dominated our society is that the fact that women have diminishing libidos and don’t seem to care that much about it is treated as the problem, when in fact it’s merely the symptom of a larger problem–that women feel overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, understimulated, and shamed about their bodies. If we treated the actual problems that women face, higher libidos would be the happy result, I’m sure.

Got it? Women feel sexual desire in response to being paid more money and being given more help, encouragement, and compliments. From men, as far as I can gather. This is what passes for mainstream feminism this days, folks. Give her a huge cash gift, pay for a nanny and a housekeeper, praise her, and her desire for you – or for somebody – will shoot straight up. The possibility of women experiencing sexual desire as a basic human need is not even discussed. Just substitute any other basic physiological necessity for sexual desire in this paragraph (eating, sleeping, excreting, etc.) and see how much sense it makes to analyze one’s hunger or need for sleep in terms if one has been “appreciated” enough.

As I said before, I’m yet to meet a male chauvinist pig who can manage to make me feel as humiliated as some feminists do.