Weekend Reading

April showers bring holy crap that’s a lot of links.

Is academia a cult? That is debatable, but it is certainly a caste system. Outspoken academics like Pannapacker are rare: most tenured faculty have stayed silent about the adjunct crisis. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it,” wrote Upton Sinclair, the American author famous for his essays on labour exploitation. Somewhere in America, a tenured professor may be teaching his work, as a nearby adjunct holds office hours out of her car.

On Twitter, I wondered why so many professors who study injustice ignore the plight of their peers. “They don’t consider us their peers,” the adjuncts wrote back. Academia likes to think of itself as a meritocracy – which it is not – and those who have tenured jobs like to think they deserved them. They probably do – but with hundreds of applications per available position, an awful lot of deserving candidates have defaulted to the adjunct track.

The plight of the adjunct shows how personal success is not an excuse to excuse systemic failure. Success is meaningless when the system that sustained it – the higher education system – is no longer sustainable. When it falls, everyone falls. Success is not a pathway out of social responsibility.

[N]eoliberalism thrives on structural misogyny. Gender is one powerful mechanism by which the neoliberal order converts our potentially resistant common worlds into positive externalities, into social formations functional for the maintenance of life in an unlivable world. After all, the state’s abdication of its responsibility for social care does not mean that care disappears. (Well, for some it does.) The burden of care, rather, is displaced (in part) to the family, as Thatcher made clear, which means that this burden is displaced disproportionately (if not entirely) onto women caught up within patriarchal family structures. For poor women of color in particular, neoliberal structural adjustments create conditions in which the routinized hyper-exploitation of unsalaried care labor intensifies. To take an example geographically proximate to me, consider Rahm Emmanuel’s impending shutdown of over 50 Chicago public schools. Kids slated to travel to out-of-neighborhood schools will have to get up earlier. Maybe they’ll have to be dropped off or picked up. Maybe they’ll have to travel through inhospitable neighborhoods or feel sad and isolated in their new worlds. Maybe they won’t learn as well and so require extra hours of tutoring. Maybe available social services (one or two meals a day, say, or after-school care) will be cut. Negotiating these transformations will require new investments of time, affective energy, attention, and (if it is available, and even if it is not) money. Someone is going to surrogate for the dismantled structure of care. It’s not hard to guess at the demographic profile of this someone.

When Secretary Sebelius rejected the FDA’s recommendation in 2011, the president let drop this paternalistic gem in support: “As a father of two daughters … I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.” And it’s Obama who now has to decide whether to appeal this ruling, or to allow Plan B to be finally shelved where it belongs: next to the condoms and lube, where women and girls can access the care they need without having to submit themselves to the moral judgment of a doctor or pharmacist.

Memo to Obama: “Common sense” says that the government has no public-health interest in shaming sexually active girls or in increasing the odds they’ll become unintentionally pregnant. Quite the contrary: The Supreme Court found in 1977 that teens have a right to privacy, and that the right includes access to contraception, and that states can’t use “moral” arguments to obstruct that right.

Don’t want your kids to use Plan B without your knowledge? Then do the hard work of parenting and build the kind of relationship with your kids that will let them know they can have frank and open conversations with you about sex. Let your daughters know that their “purity” is less important to you than their health and happiness. Instead of teaching them that sex is bad and wrong until a man turns you into a wife, equip your children to make positive sexual decisions on their own terms.

One thought on “Weekend Reading

  1. “The Lady’s Not For Turning” got me rereading Thatcher’s interview where she says the society quote. I’ve known the typical outrage about it was off base, but it seems like the piece here misses the point as well. The image she uses to illustrate her point is a tapestry–something that doesn’t lend itself to private hierarchies at all. It’s made up of individuals who are each responsible to one another for the quality of that tapestry. Throughout the whole interview, and in that section specifically, she talks about the role of neighbors, the role of institutions, and even the role of government in supporting people. I think if she hadn’t said that line about society, we’d all understand that she’s talking about everything that makes up (what everyone else would reasonably consider to be) society.

    I think what she’s saying in that part is that a person can’t blame society writ large for being less fortunate. The real political theory seems to be that society is abstract, that social issues are caused by concrete things, and that those concrete things are often personal. There’s plenty worth criticizing about that, and of course that conversation has been happening for decades. But to say she’s promoting private hierarchies over the general concept of society seems like a real stretch from the language she uses.

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