Listen to your teachers, kids

When I was a senior in high school, I took an English Class that really challenged me as a writer. It was called “Advanced Composition Methods,” but we referred to it as the Writing Center. There were only about twenty students in that class, the majority of them my friends, and we were the best writers who wanted to take the class. We were trained as tutors to provide free lunch-time one-on-one tutoring available to the rest of the student body. But we weren’t allowed to rest on our laurels ourselves. No, besides helping every freshman who needed help with their To Kill a Mocking Bird essay, and every sophomore who needed help with their personal narratives, we were to produce two polished pieces of writing, and a research paper each semester.

The research paper wasn’t the typical kind that you think about, with a stilted omniscient voice that presented itself as an authority. This paper was about a personal quest, about our own personal journeys to seek knowledge. It sounds really hokey, and the majority of us scoffed at that. But the least sentimental teacher who helped coordinate the class said, “No, really, guys. You’ll be writing these papers for the rest of your life, even if you don’t write them down. I have three or four topics that I’m investigating right now, myself.”

Well, Mr. Thompson, you were apparently right. I know I have three or four things that I’m researching right now, trying to understand, trying to put together as I’m trying to become an adult. And the last couple of posts speaks to one of those themes, which I’d like to formalize here as an i-search.

But what does an i-search look like, you ask? I actually had to look it up again, though I still have the two i-searches I wrote back in high school that I could have looked through as a guide. The i-search involves an introduction, where you explore what you know about a topic, and what you want to learn about it, and what your plan is. The “body” of the paper involves many different types of sources, including books, magazine articles, academic articles, interviews, documentaries, and the like. The formalized outline says three different sources for each type of source. I’ve already got the three books sourced that I want to read and talk about in my search, but I also have plans to interview both my mother and my mother-in-law, as well as some of my friends who are mothers. I know of a couple of academic articles I could look at, but I’m willing to see what comes up in the course of my search. Finally, there’s a conclusion, in which I discuss what I’ve learned, and, in my case, what comes next.

I’m a little embarrassed by needing to formalize this like an assignment. I’m reclaiming structures and practices that worked for me in high school, and I’m afraid that it might be an unhealthy coping mechanism. What’s next, me claiming that high school was the best years of my life? But on the other hand, I’m recalling my skills and strengths, and using them to discover myself, go on an intellectual journey, and reach conclusions. I hope you’re up for the ride, dear readers.

Do you guys have any research projects you’re doing now, floating around in your brain, even if you don’t have to write papers anymore?

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Deconstructing Housework Priorities

One of the hardest things about living with other people, especially other people whom you are romantically involved, is negotiating differing standards of cleanliness, different understandings about the priorities involved with keeping house, and managing your home together. This is harder when you’re the type of person, like I am, who is aware of the symbolism of everyday acts, how things like cooking and cleaning and doing laundry, beyond their basic utility, are imbued with the expectations of society.

There is nothing remarkable about the fact that I do the majority of the meal planning and grocery list making, and cooking in my household. However, there seems to be something remarkable and praiseworthy of the fact that Tim volunteered to do all of those chores in November 2009, so that I could concentrate on writing a novel. The voluntarism shown by Tim in this example is an exception — when I don’t complete the menu related chores, and I don’t specifically ask Tim to do it, it doesn’t get done.

It isn’t that Tim doesn’t realize that the act of planning a menu is something that keeps our lives low-stress. And it isn’t that he can’t do it, and it isn’t that he thinks it’s unimportant. It is just that chores like menu planning are just something he doesn’t think about.

Why don’t they care? Why do we?

I’ve spoken with a number of other twenty-something women who are in long term and committed heterosexual relationships, and they all express similar frustrations: they care about the state of their homes, and think about home management, but their partner doesn’t think about it nearly as much as they do, doesn’t seem to care.

I can’t deconstruct why men don’t care about housework, but I can deconstruct why women care about housework — or at least why I care about housework. (After all, I am a white, cis gendered, heterosexual, upper-middle class woman. I can’t speak to the experiences of women growing up in poverty, or women of color. I want to recognize that there could be other intersections of oppression that could change this perception of the world.)

I grew up as the oldest child and oldest girl in a family with a stay-at-home mom and a bread-winning dad. I have two younger siblings, a sister and a brother. My mom subscribed to Good Housekeeping and Parenting, and at a young precocious age indeterminate, I began flipping through them and reading them too.

My little brother was born when I was 9. I was, of course, Mama’s little helper — carrying and fetching, and also picking up little chores, like folding laundry. By the time I was 10, I was responsible for doing the dishes as my family chore. I have distinct memories of cooking dinner, with some supervision — an adult put dinner in and out of the oven. One summer, when I was in high school, and my mom’s business was in full swing (out of our dining room), she paid me in books to keep the house clean, including wiping down the kitchen every day.

My mom was one who cleaned up everything — including vacuuming the draperies and washing the windows — when there would be an extended family party. There, I was pressed into service too, and when I complained, it was explained to me that while our normal state of cleanliness was okay for our immediate family, extended families and guests would judge us (and more importantly my mother) for the state of our home.

I grew up thinking that housework, that caring for a family, that cooking and cleaning — all of these things were part of what it meant to be a grown-up woman. Somewhere along the line, I came to expect that I should be embarrassed by clutter. At some point, I came to expect that I would be caring for others — at least a husband, probably kids — as an adult. And I was taught through the example of my mothers and my aunts, through the media that I consumed that all of this was to be woman, and that a woman’s self-worth and identity are somehow tied into housework.

I am not saying that my entire identity is housework, and I’m not saying that even that any woman’s identity is entirely formed around housework. I’m saying that on some level, housework factors into the calculus of my self-esteem and self-worth.

This is also not to say that I don’t have a choice in the matter. I’m exploring what got me to this crossroads of thought.

I think this the first in a series. Next week, I want to look at the current state of things in our apartment, and how Tim and I share the work of having a home. Until then, my tiny parcel of readers — how do you view housework? It is something you feel guilty about? Is it something that you see as a necessary evil, or something just evil? Or do you enjoy it?

Affordable Housing is a Human Right

I spent the first few days this week at a professional conference: The Michigan Conference on Affordable Housing. It’s a fascinating conference to me in many ways: it’s pretty expensive, so it’s cost prohibitive to many nonprofits; the exhibition hall is filled with banks and builders, as well as statewide nonprofits — in general, it’s a confusing combination of people who want to build affordable housing, and people who want to help put homeless people into that affordable housing so that they’ll no longer be homeless.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a good conference. But it’s times like this that I am reminded that housing is a human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a non-binding document of the United Nations, states in Article 25:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (The emphasis added is obviously mine.)

I’m reminded by my foray into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by something else: a mentor I once had.  She was a school teacher going to graduate school writing fanfiction for fun, and before she turned into a Big Name Fan, I instant messenged her and we struck up something of a friendship. She grew up in Detroit, black and female, and she had a lot to teach me, if I was open to learning.

A quote from my journal back then (March 24, 2002):

I still wish to know what a human rights violation is. When they spoke of the horrible violations of human rights on television during Kosovo, you think of the holocaust which occurred there and assume that that was a human rights violation. And it was.

And I was speaking to an adult friend of mine, trying to understand where she was coming from, why her point of view was so solid, why groupthink was intact, I said that there were no human rights violations against African Americans and she told me that there were. In the year 2002. But I see no holocausts here.

When I think about this subject, when I try to grasp concepts I wasn’t… socialized to, my heart breaks. I feel like I’m doing something wrong, that I should understand something, but I don’t. It’s sorta hard to explain.

I went looking for what human rights are. And I found the United Nations’ Universal declaration of human rights.

I was wrong Eb. There are human rights violations. None of the people I asked today could or would give me an answer, starting with you. Holocausts are only small parts of a bigger whole… I want to enter the dialogue. Having human rights assured would not be utopia, it would be… dare I say it, what America is supposed to be.

But, now that I know what human rights are, what’s a dialogue?

What’s fascinating to me here is that it is an example of how my sixteen-year-old self had some sort of concept of privilege (talking about ideas she was socialized to), and that she was willing (or perhaps justifiably pushed) to educate herself on issues. This journal entry goes through section by section the Declaration and imagines how the US is probably breaking the tenets. Surprisingly, I didn’t recognize that there were people without homes in the United States — people who are homeless.

I think it is important to remember that human rights violations occur anywhere and at anytime that the essential humanity of a person is ignored — my perspective on this is much expanded in the last 8 years. Thank you, Ebony, for asking me to educate myself, and for being my mentor all those years ago. (Congrats on your PhD!)

Sometimes I forget that my day job is in Human Rights.

How I became an anti-rape activist

Just Like This OneI was sexually harassed and assaulted for the first and second time in the third grade.

A boy whose name I’ll never be able to remember was under the mistaken assumption that putting his finger up my butt was a way to show that he liked me. Being a third grader in the 1990s, I was wearing leggings on the playground, sitting on the top of a piece of playground equipment everyone called the spider web. Everyone I was sitting and talking with shrieked and scrambled away, but I stayed, bewildered and unawares of what was going on. Afterwards, I shrieked at my peers, demanding to know who thought of such a terrible thing that a finger up the ass was any sort of amorous gesture.

This boy decided that I was the object of his affection, and the harassment continued. He (or his mother?) bought me a small chocolate sampler for Valentine’s Day, and he made a big deal out of giving it to me, as I did my best to absolutely ignore him, ashamed and embarrassed. I brought it home, where my mom cooed over the anonymous-to-her boy’s crush, and I was silenced, the thought of those chocolates making me nauseous until my mom volunteered to eat them a month or so later.

The second boy’s name was Aaron, and he sat at my four pack of desks. He was the son of one of the two kindergarten teachers at Oak Hill Elementary. Aaron saw his mother’s position as power that he could leverage. He demanded to borrow my school supplies, he demanded that he be able to copy off of me. He threatened to have me kept inside during recess, he threatened to have me suspended and expelled. He threatened my sister, who was in kindergarten at the time, with similar things for no apparent reason other than to control me. When I stood up for myself, he called me nasty, horrible names that I can’t remember. I burst out sobbing in the middle of homeroom. Continue reading