A follow-up

You may remember my post from a few weeks ago where I discussed the surprise that awaited me along a portion of my yard in the form of a disappearing fence.

You may also remember, especially if you review the pictures associated with that post, that I had a work in progress garden area containing piles of dirt and garden matter waiting to be hauled away for yard waste.

The fence is complete and nicely juxtaposed against what remains of our old ramshackle  original:

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The great piles are gone as well, and thanks to the hard work of my daughter what used to be an area filled with moss cover and ground plants in various stages of death is now an emergent zen like area of quiet.

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I realize it looks rather sparse, and it is that, however getting water to this area is difficult as it must be carried in one can at a time and so we are going the minimalist route with just a few pops of color.

All of these pots contain perennials that will eventually make their way into some corner of the back garden but for now they provide a bit of visual enhancement.

By the way, that fence…the Young Couple has never approached us to aid with the financial aspects incurred in replacing the shared portion. I think we are keeping quiet, at least for now.

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What I’m about this summer

I’ve mentioned before that my learning is not going to stop simply because I’m not enrolled in college at the moment. I also think that I noted some classes I planned to take in an earlier post. So, for an update…

I am moving slowly through my first poetry writing class. I’ll give it a moderately okay rating, say 4 or 5 out of 10. We have a substitute facilitator as the original instructor is out on emergency hiatus. It is really no more or no less than I expected it to be. We’ve been introduced to various styles, had discussions of imagery as crucial to the poets work, and I believe, before the class ends we will also be introduced to publishing our work. The participants are varied, however not very forthcoming with meaningful critiques.

I have discovered that I am most definitely not a poet who enjoys structure of any kind. Our introduction to the sonnet resulted in frustration on my part. Does anyone even write sonnets anymore? We just learned of the sestina and the villanelle, two forms I won’t be employing in my search for expression. I am picking up some useful hints though, so all is good in that regard. Poetry however will almost surely never be a form that I feel fully comfortable with. I am wordy, rambling on at length if given the chance. When I don’t have to be succinct and matter of fact, as in research work, then I want to enjoy what I write. On occasion I post some of my class work at Proudly Poetic. If you stop by please remember that everything there is a newbie work in progress.

Mid week next week is the start of a drawing course for beginners. Absolutely no idea what to expect on that front, and my work their probably won’t be appearing on this, or any other blog, so you’ll just have to take my word for a personal evaluation of my skill level. I have been reading a bit from a text my son let me borrow. It’s called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. Originally published in the 1970’s, with this edition from 1989, the author claims that by retraining the brain to perceive the world differently, as in edges, space, relationships of objects, light and shadow, etc., and in simple terms turning off the analytic left brain, the right brain creative aspect will allow anyone to render an image worthy of being called art. My interest now comes as this class begins. I wonder if the constructs within the class will differ greatly from the concepts in the book. My initial thoughts: I’m going with the one that allows me to actually draw a face that looks like a face.

Also starting next week, Sunday actually, is an intriguing MOOC I ran across from the folks at Coursera. I am deeply historically challenged, but Deciphering Secrets: Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Spain, just seemed too good to pass up as a free class. This class is associated with a huge project jointly managed by multiple, international universities. In short, the project is a massive undertaking to transcribe Jewish, Muslim and Catholic text from the ancient walled city of Plasencia, Spain. The teams undertaking this project have devised a transcription program designed for the lay person to be utilized within this MOOC course to help transcribe text. Students get to explore ancient Spain plus help to accomplish critical aspects of the work associated with this historical project.

That was a sad excuse for some real insight into how I might be spending the next 12 weeks so I would suggest if you are interested in details jump over here for more information. I’ve briefly seen the transcription software being used and it seems pretty manageable. I received a reminder email today telling me that I am one among 7500+ lay persons going on this journey back into Spanish history. I have high hopes for this course just from an academic standpoint as I get to experience history, anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, religion, probably some art, plus do something useful as well.

I hope to keep up on my personal reading as well with some commentary on the blog.

As all of the above border on educational endeavors, albeit self-imposed and self-regulated action, I plan to keep updates going on these classes over at The Perpetual Student for the duration of the summer. Join me there on occasion if you like.

What I’m reading Part Two: “Righting Feminism”

I picked up this book purposefully. My intent was to learn about women’s organizations that hold completely divergent viewpoints from my own. Righting Feminism by Ronnee Schreiber fulfilled that purpose.

Taken from Amazon.com
Taken from Amazon.com

Schreiber is a professor of Political Science. Her focus, much like this book, is divergent from my chosen educational focus. Or so I would have thought until I came to realize that feminism is one of the largest, ongoing social and political movements that America has ever experienced.

I don’t plan to debate definitions of women’s movements, when they began, if they are necessary, even how or who defines them. I am a feminist. I have considered myself a radical feminist ideologically, although reading current feminist blogs, social media, news articles and commentary makes me feel that I don’t fit that label, if it’s a label that is even still in use. For now though, it is the closest identity I can use to define my viewpoint although I will qualify that statement with the fact that I see a troubling trend toward blame, overt hostility, and unbending positional rhetoric among many feminists.

I am also an atheist, a declaration that is still hard to write in print as I feel this designation carries much more stigma in our society than my identification with the feminist movement. Simply put, in my viewpoint, the basis of most monotheistic religions stems from a fundamental need to control a given society. What better way to structure power relations than to create an overarching, unseen supreme deity who heralds salvation by compliance.

American patriarchal social order relies heavily on the existence of such a deity. Perhaps I should specify that statement to say the belief in such a deity. Most of both early and current feminist ideology is clearly counter to the beliefs and goals of the followers of our conservative patriarchal social order. Conservative women’s organizations, namely the two outlined in Schreiber’s book: Concerned Women for America (CWA), and the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), have attempted to do their best to use many of the issues concerning feminists to reframe, rework, and reapply the most pressing political issues facing women in our society.

Schreiber covers the process by which both of these organizations began. The CWA has roots in the suffrage movement of the 1920’s with opposition groups strongly opposed to women converging into the male-centric public sphere. They also can claim idealistic association with groups who advocate and condone many forms of social isms: racism, sexism, ageism, maternalism, and of course conservatism.

I am going to utilize the descriptive components associated with each group from Schreiber’s own overview.
The CWA was founded in 1979  and it’s mission is “to protect and promote biblical values among all citizens–first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society–thereby reversing the decline in moral values in our nation” (Schreiber, 2008, p. 26). The IWF, founded in 1992 is based on libertarian premise of limited government, free markets and strong national defense. It’s mission being to “rebuild civil society by advancing economic liberty, personal responsibility, and political freedom” (Schreiber, 2008, p. 26).

Gender identity politics play a large part in the activism of CWA as they promote a decidedly traditional view that gender is not a social construct but a biological fact. IWF tends to lean somewhat away from labels of identity, choosing to stress individualism and determination, however they are capable apparently of using gendered promotion when needed to advance their goals.

Schreiber provides insight into both organizations views and policy work regarding issues of violence against women, motherhood, and women’s health concerns. She contrasts both groups, and closes the book with some insight (current as of the writing of this book) into both Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, two females who may be deemed as figureheads among conservative groups such as these.

My opinions have not changed regarding the viewpoints and goals of groups such as these. I do feel that I have a clearer picture of their focus, the initial impetus for and background behind conservative groups pushing alternatives to feminism, and the ability of all activist organizations (feminist as well as conservative) to use skillful rhetoric to push political agenda.

Coming to a clearer understanding of the other side makes my position crystal clear.

*Schreiber, R. (2008). Righting Feminism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

What I’m reading Part 1: Righting Feminism, but first some self-reflection

In a (possibly) deep, intellectually stimulating conversation with the youngest daughter a few weeks back, while reflecting on the journey’s end to university knowledge and wisdom we now both share, I came to the realization that I really know squat about my chosen discipline.

Whaaattt? How can this be? Doesn’t one graduate from college with all the world’s greatest knowledge base jammed, crammed inside their brain cells, ready to spread their profound wisdom to just about anyone who will listen?

Come on, who’s kidding who here. The ironic thing is that I fell into the same egotistical trap that probably many college grads find themselves in which I am fondly calling the “I-think-I’m-pretty-smart-and-knowledgeable-right-about-now-but-the-reality-is-that-I-don’t-know-s**t-about-anything” syndrome.

My epiphany came simply enough. I am still struggling with that idea of extending my educational endeavors into higher education. I like to learn. Challenging myself to learn something new is okay in and of itself, but I learn more with structured assignments and deadlines hanging over my head. My lack of knowledge smacked me in the face when I was casually cruising through Amazon.com looking for new writing on feminism and women’s studies. I could feel that thrill of discovery creeping into my inner student with each new text in the list, yet something was amiss.

Most, probably 90% actually, of the focus presented during my college classes centered on decidedly biased feminist theory through the years, women’s writing on issues central to mostly liberal American women, and strongly ignored, or perhaps purposefully left out, discussions of other women’s organizations that present themselves by imparting deeply contrasting and controversial viewpoints seriously not aligned with feminism’s goals.

I can recall reading essays that touched briefly on feminist impact in areas outside of America written by up and coming young feminists from India and Southeast Asia. These usually centered on the lack of interest and focus by American feminism regarding anything outside the North American continent. Central to most of this writing was the ideal of intersectionality and a widening of worldviews involving women of all cultures who seek social change. A few essays also touched on the experiences of early Black feminists and activists: the Combahee River Collective, bell hooks, Patricia Hill-Collins.

These brief introductions provided my first encounters with the fact that feminists can be deeply and profoundly white-centric and just as easily able to avoid seeing feminist place from divergent class levels, lifestyles, and cultural positions. It was really rather disturbing to realize that the label of feminist truly did not make us all sisters in the same social change family.

A second area completely lacking in the available courses within my program was essentially the opportunity to learn about those other women’s organizations that consistently work just as hard as feminism to push their views and agendas to the American public.

My own hazy research into religious conservatism and full-blown patriarchy for a paper on atheism as central to feminist belief systems was truly one-sided. At the time, I wanted it to be that way because I was pushing my own agenda regarding religiosity. Papers on women’s healthcare issues, such as access to pregnancy planning and abortion services, also presented my adamant opinions regarding the flawed beliefs of conservative Christians who felt they had the right to speak to my choices. In both of these examples, the points of view of conservative women’s groups was gleaned through my own research. Textual discussions, and opposing viewpoints on these, as well as other topics, didn’t exist in my required reading.

While I still strongly believe that my views are correct, that epiphany related to my true lack of knowledge after graduation was pretty profound. I don’t have to agree with other’s views. I can still believe that I am correct in my opinions. However, I am sorely lacking in credibility without having a working knowledge of the other side. I was never naive enough to fully believe that feminism, like any social movement, was somehow beyond simply pushing an agenda, or that aspects of the movement were without flaws. How can anyone speak to their beliefs without having a working knowledge of opposing views, or the reasons that those views inform specific positions within a group just as adamant about their own agenda?

In pursuit of a more well-rounded worldview my Amazon.com search led me to purchase texts never mentioned during my studies. Sitting in a stack before me are books on feminism and Islam, South Asian feminist essays, the place of transnational feminisms within American society, a rethinking of the basis of women’s studies core concepts, radical feminism and capitalism, and the text I just finished: Righting Feminism by Ronnee Schreiber, a Political Science professor at San Diego State University.

In part two of this post I will share some of Schreiber’s work as she presents the other side, namely the viewpoints of the two largest conservative women’s organizations directly opposing (?) feminist politics.