What Informs a Reading of a Text: A Teaching Story

Since people say they like my teaching story, here is a very disturbing one from today. I asked the students to read and analyze the following short passage from Sarmiento’s Facundo (if you don’t know what the text is about, that doesn’t matter because the passage is very clear and self-explanatory. Or so I thought):

So after we read this passage both at home and in class, I asked the students to tell me what tasks men and women performed in the society described here.

“Women stayed home and men worked!” students happily announced.

“Please, read the passage carefully,” I asked. “According to this text, what did men do?”

“They worked hard to feed their families!” was the unanimous response.

“Which words exactly make you think that?” I asked, growing desperate.

“It says right here that they exercised physical strength.”

“To do what?”

“To take care of their families and provide food for them. ‘All the burden of work’ is what they did. It says so right here. And women had to be thankful because men worked so hard to feed them,” the students insisted.

In case you are wondering, we read the text in English and the students are all English-speakers.



A Starbucks employee who is probably 10-15 years younger than I am just called me “sweetie” twice as I was ordering coffee.

Note to self: rethink wearing a blue dress with a pale-pink vest with heart-shaped frills to work.

When I Read. . .

. . . something like this:

Nearly every one of these oppressions can be broken down into several different kinds of suboppressions

I don’t want to continue reading the article. Not only does it sound mind-numbingly boring in a really convoluted sort of way but I’m also sure that the word “privilege” is bound to appear right after that in the text. And many times, too.

Keep scratching, my friends, keep scratching really hard. Because not everybody has been convinced just yet that all progressives are interested in is navel-gazing in the form of breaking down oppressions into suboppressions into subsubsuboppressions.

Who wants to make a bet that comments will appear soon in this thread telling me that it’s my privilege that makes me dismiss privilege?

How Do You Deal With Guilt-Tripping?

FeMOMhist writes:

The piece that resonated the most with me was predictably Tom Lutz’s that began,”As an academic, I’m in a profession renowned for its apparently minuscule workweek, so I’ve been the butt of plenty of slacker insults, many that hit my inbox as I worked late at night.”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “so you’re getting half salary to do nothing this year?”

I hear a version of this quite often. My strategy of dealing with this kind of comment is to light up in a huge smile and announce brightly, “Yes! I have TONS of free time to do absolutely anything I want. It’s the best job ever!” And then I proceed to describe gleefully how I can sleep and watch reality TV all the time while getting a good salary in the process. Even if it’s not true, it teaches folks who work for “Guilt Trips Unlimited” a lesson.

The same strategy works with people who see you with a plate of food and say, “Are you going to eat all of that? You obviously don’t watch what you eat at all.” My response is the same super happy, “Yes, I love food. I think I’m going to get two desserts after this one. I HUGE piece of cake and some ice-cream. It’s so great to just eat whatever you want, don’t you think?” It’s a good idea to belabor the point until you see some genuine misery on the interlocutor’s face.

This might sound cruel but remember, such guilt-trippers will dump their aggression on somebody who might be less resilient to this kind of comment. I believe I perform an important public service when I teach them than attempts to guilt-trip or shame can backfire.

It’s crucial not to respond to a guilt-tripper by becoming apologetic (“Oh no, I really work a lot, it’s just that today. . .”) or aggressive (“And what business is it of yours what I eat?”). Remember, a guilt-tripper is a vampire who feeds on the negative emotions s/he manages to awaken in you. Don’t give guilt-trippers what they want. Treating their words as a huge compliment, on the other hand, really makes them shut up and simmer in impotent anger.

If there is something people try to shame or guilt-trip you about on a regular basis, compose a response along these lines, practice (it’s very important to be able to deliver it with a huge happy grin and in an assertive unapologetic voice), and try it. I promise, it will be fun.

Just Wondering

Why do we never hear things like

Barack Obama, father of two, was elected President of the US in 2008


Lech Wałęsa, father of seven, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983

but we do hear things like

Tawakul Karman, Yemen mother of 3, among winners of Nobel Peace Prize

Did she receive the Nobel for motherhood, or something? Mind you, the article I linked to is written by a supposedly progressive journalist. I guess even progressives can’t control their machismo enough to stop talking about female politicians in ways they would have never applied to men. All that’s missing is a gushing “And she’s pretty, too!” at the end of the article. Well, I guess we have achieved some progress in the ways we discuss female activists.


Now Accepting Compassion and Encouragement

So I just got news that my article has been rejected for publication because it’s not original enough.

On the positive side, this is a good journal that sent me three detailed reviews which said very good things about my knowledge of the subject matter and my writing style. They also gave useful suggestions for future revisions of the article. At least, this isn’t one of those cases where reviewers are either mean to you or just tell you “Not acceptable” with no explanation.

Of course, I’m still very sad about this. So now I’m accepting compassion and encouragement of the “Oh no, Clarissa, you are super brilliant and we adore you” variety.

In the meanwhile, I will be weeping quietly in the corner.

How can I develop a healthy, happy, exuberant sexuality?

A reader asks:

How can I develop a healthy, happy, exuberant sexuality?

Here is a very brief (because I’ve been working for 12 hours straight today and I’m exhausted) set of suggestions for people who have the same question:

The first step is look at the things that have prevented you from developing in the direction of sexual health. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How did you learn about sexuality?
  • Were there any early traumatic experiences?
  • What words were used in your family to discuss sex?
  • When did you realize you were a boy / girl? How did it make you feel? What set of characteristics was associated with this gender in your family? With gender relations in general?
  • What early images do you associate with sexuality?
  • How comfortable are you with your body? How happy are you with your body?
  •  Looking at yourself in the mirror naked, does that give you pleasure or not?
  • Were there any traumatic sexual experiences in adulthood? Sexual rejection, sexual failure, etc.
  • Do you have religious conditioning that makes you see sex as dirty, etc.?
  • Health issues?

Obviously, I’m not suggesting you tell me all these things. This is for your own personal consideration. This is crucial process because without understanding the causes of the problem, one can’t hope to address it.

Then the next step is to learn to feel comfortable with your body. Here are some of the things you can start doing on a regular basis:

  • Walking around the house (if you live alone) naked for 1 hour each day does wonders for people. I’ve seen it happen: completely anorgasmic people turn into wildly sexual creatures.
  • Explore sensual experiences. Dedicate an entire night once a week to enjoying every sensual experience you can imagine on your own.
  • Make a list of bodily pleasures you can enjoy (alone is fine at this stage) and enjoy at least one of them once a day.
  • Spend some time each day caressing your face gently while looking in the mirror. If you feel weird doing all those things, you have found the root of the problem: it’s discomfort with your body. Start proceeding in smaller steps to reduce the feelings of weirdness. Five, ten minutes per day. Then, when the feelings of embarrassment diminish, it can be done for longer stretches of time.

A healthy self-esteem is crucial for sexual success. If you have low self-esteem:

  • Analyze when and how it originated. Who made you feel like you were not good enough since early childhood?
  • Remove as many sources as possible of low self-esteem from your life. If, say, you have a friend who likes to put your down or make little criticisms of your appearance, intelligence, etc., the best thing to do would be to stop seeing them, at least for a while. If you have many friends like this, ask yourself what makes you seek reinforcement of your low self-image.
  • Find activities that make you feel good about yourself and in which you excel. If there are people who criticize you for enjoying these activities, try to avoid these people, at least for now.
  • I know it will be difficult at first (believe me, I really, really know) but whenever somebody is critical of you and tries to put you down, you need to stop listening. It’s like medication that is bitter but you have to take it.

Of course, this is just a beginning but it’s a good beginning.

Maybe I’ll write more about this when I’m less tired.