Saturday, October 09, 2010

Joining in Other Peoples' Civic Projects Is Good For Me. Case in Point: The World Equestrian Games

The World Equestrian Games have been going on in at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington for the last two weeks. They are a Big Deal, the biggest deal in Kentucky in decades.

I spent a lovely day there today. As I told my class, I am not interested in horses, but I am interested in crowds. I watched "driving" all day, about which I knew nothing when the day began. That was interesting and lovely.

As I reflected on the entire massive event, I was glad that I had done my tiny civic part to help Kentucky put on a world-class event, even if it was not in one of my little areas of normal interest.

Civic participation is itself up-building, both for the commonwealth and for me.

Friday, October 08, 2010

What is a Good Work of Macrosociological Feminist Theory to Teach?

For two years I have been trying to find the right feminist book to teach in my "Macrosociological Theory" course. It has been surprisingly hard to find the right thing. This year I am using Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. It was an important book, and the students have found it the most accessible of anything we have read so far. Nonetheless, it is not really a theory book.

I looked at Nancy Chodorow's The Reproduction of Mothering. This is more theoretical, but is not really macrosociology.

I have consulted with a number of people far better read in feminist theory than I am. To all of our surprise, it has been hard to find a book that really fits the bill. We can think of several calls for developing a macrosociological feminist theory - Heidi Hartmann's and Patricia Hill Collins' have been named several times. But I have yet to find a work that weaves together feminist theory and some kind of empirical analysis of society at the macro level.

I think the main reason is because the movement that made clear that "the personal is political" has done the bulk of its work thinking about the micro level.

I am open to suggestions for works to teach, and analyses of why they are so hard to come by.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

College and Kids Have Switched Positions

Continuing our class discussion of The Feminine Mystique.

For the feminine mystique women in the '50s, marriage and children seemed obligatory, while the substance of college education, or even a college degree, were optional.

Now, the women in class agreed that a college education was essential, as they viewed their lives. Marriage and children, though desired by most of the women in the class, were optional.

I think this says as much about the changing class mores of the middle class as it shows a revolution in women's options.

Since children are not really optional for society as a whole, and smart educated people know that marriage is the best institution to raise children in, I expect that there will be another swing of the pendulum.

What we will try to think through and model, starting with my social theory class, is a view of life in which both college-and-career AND marriage-and-children are equally valued core aims in life.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Feminine Mystique Made Unfemininity Seem Too Weird

A woman in my theory class had this excellent insight on reading The Feminine Mystique:

I had always thought that women, in this time period, were just being oppressed by men, but it turns out they had opportunities to rise above and stand out. But it is the idea of standing out that scared them away. They did not want to be seen as weird or unfeminine.

It has been helpful to us, as I noted yesterday, to see the feminine mystique as a brief interlude, not the eternal condition of women prior to 1970.

What today's insight adds is a psychological mechanism that makes sense to me. Women are more likely than men to place a high value on equal social relations, on doing what other women are doing. If the feminine mystique became the established norm for a time among critical female opinion leaders, I can see how it would spread powerfully among other women - especially if there were other structural forces backing it up.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Feminine Mystique as Summer Vacation

We are reading The Feminine Mystique in my social theory class. We were considering Friedan's point that the feminine mystique was an abrupt shift from the more public role that educated women had had during the Second World War. Knowing that the mystique period was brief, followed by the second wave of feminism, one imaginative student suggested that the feminine mystique was like summer vacation. She said that as summer vacation approaches, students look forward to no more books, seeing their friends, staying home, sleeping late. After a few months, though, they can't wait to get back to their studies.

I think this is a nifty analogy.