Woohoo, Spring Break Reading List!

It’s Spring Break for Gettysburg College, which means I have jetted off to somewhere it decidedly does not look like Spring. Well, perhaps at least in the conventional definition. I’m quite happy to see snowflakes my entire break, but many of my students were appalled that I wasn’t heading south for warmer weather. Oh, well.

A break from classes means work with new data, getting caught up with student blog posts, and of course books. Below is a peek into what I’m reading this week, though it likely won’t be the last you hear from me about these books.

March 8th is really one of the best days of the year

I love March 8th. First of all, it’s my mom’s birthday. Who wouldn’t love a day that set the stage for me coming into the world. More importantly, though, it’s International Women’s Day. And though this week, it also happens to fall on the day of Hugo Chávez’s funeral, that really only serves to remind me of the last International Women’s Day I spent in Caracas.

The last week has been filled with lots of news on the ladybusiness front. The Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization (VAWA) passed both houses and was signed by the President after much too long a delay. Domestic violence is getting all kinds of attention due to the murder of a South African woman who happened to be in a relationship with a somewhat famous Olympic athlete. Vida’s annual count of women writers, book reviewers, interviews, and contributors in major magazines came out. In many cases, it’s worse than you thought. I mean, really, essentially no change over three years?

So, for this Women’s Day, I thought I would mention the names and sites of a few female journalists and academics who I think are kicking a** for women all around. Some write on “women’s issues.” Some are so-called “feminist bloggers.” Some I saw in San Diego at the meetings and am still kicking myself for not introducing myself. Next year, Betsey, next year.

Without further ado, in no particular order, a list of women writers you should be reading.

There are so many more. I think that’s enough for today! Tell a woman you know she’s amazing and deserves to live a life free from violence.

My Chávez

Unlike most, I didn’t have my Chávez obituary ready. Folly, I know. But I also made a conscious decision to put it on the back burner for a few days. I may have missed the media frenzy, but if you’re not totally sick of reading about the passing of Venezuelan leader Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, here’s my two cents.

2012 Re-election campaign poster in Caracas City Center

2012 Re-election campaign poster in Caracas City Center. It reads “Chávez, Heart of my Fatherland.”

Starting around 4:45 on Tuesday, March 5th, my facebook wall and twitter feed were filled with the laments of mourners, obituaries, links to photo essays, exclamations of grief and of hope, and exhortations for a country divided to remain calm and be sensible. It’s a lot to take in. It’s a big deal when a head of state dies, but an even bigger deal when your head of state dies. And yet, Chávez wasn’t actually mine. He led a country I called home for a time, and though I have been tear gassed on Caracas streets, though I dance salsa like a Venezuelan, speak a lilting, eat-your-esses, caraqueño Spanish, and make arepas with the best of them, I’m still just a girl from suburban Colorado.

Much of what you’ll read over the next few days and months on Chávez’ death and the transition to a new government comes from people I worked with, people I went dancing with, people I debated with over the relative merits of some rum or another in one breath, and some policy or misión in another. Anything I write won’t compare to the access enjoyed by Jon Lee Anderson, or the passion for the paradox from Francisco Toro. Jens Gould, Simon Romero, Rory Carroll, Juan Nagel, Peter Wilson, and many more have several lovely turns of phrase in an attempt to sum up a man who was so adored, so reviled, so polarizing, so mesmerizing, so befuddling.

I won’t try to add to their stories, try to tease out the politics or predict what comes next. I can tell you, though, that Chávez had a tremendous influence in my life, though somewhat indirectly. Though I never met him, he opened doors for me and he shut them in my face. Through telling the stories of the country, mythology, government, and cult of personality he created, I found myself a different person. I cut my teeth as a writer, a journalist, a feminist, and an economist picking apart his words and policies, talking to his constituents, listening to his endless cadenas. I made some close, dear and wonderful friends, some native Venezuelans, some who ended up in Venezuela by chance, some who followed the almost unbelievable story that was Chávez. I quit the second real job I ever held in journalistic defiance of a Chávez-sympathizing (Chávez-bankrolled?) editorial board who mangled my words to fit their narrative. I made friends of strangers and enemies of friends debating Chávez, his programs, and his legacy. I was granted job interviews where the interviewers told me straight up they really just wanted to hear about my time in Venezuela and no real intention of hiring me (yes, more than once).

It may seem like a lot for any one man to have had such an influence, but Venezuela was, and still is, very much a world that is steeped in Chávez. My being in Venezuela, my friends’ and colleagues’ being in Venezuela, whether by choice or fate, was shaped so dramatically and fully by him. No other country I’ve spent time in has been quite like that, where the totality of an experience is so profoundly based in a single individual.

Caracas from Hornos del Cal Metrocable Station

Caracas from Hornos del Cal Metrocable Station

I’m not sure how well any of us can really convey that. I’ve tried. Many more have tried harder. And though plenty of people will try to explain to you what is going on in Venezuela over the next few days and months, I’m sure that most of them have no idea. For all her outward friendliness and beauty, Venezuela is not an easy place to know, and Chávez only made it harder.

One of the MetroCable Cars. This one says Pasión Patria, or Passion for the Fatherland. Others say "Love," "Freedom," etc.

One of the MetroCable Cars. This one says Pasión Patria, or Passion for the Fatherland. Others say “Love,” “Freedom,” etc.

What we do know is that lots of people are mourning today, and will be for some time, officially or unofficially. A very large segment of the Venezuelan population genuinely loved and adored him. Even for those that didn’t, his passing leaves a gaping hole in Venezuelan politics, in the Venezuelan psyche, and the future is rather uncertain.

I can’t imagine there will ever be another like him. My condolences to his family, his admirers, and the people of Venezuela. May he rest in peace.

New Mausoleum for Simón Bolívar's remains at el Panteón. And possibly those of Chávez?

New Mausoleum for Simón Bolívar’s remains at el Panteón.

Mental labor of the always connected

Amanda Marcotte has an excellent piece out on the mental labor that falls more heavily upon women in the household. While chores may be more evenly split, women are still the ones exerting the effort to split the work, to nag when it doesn’t get done, and finally, likely to do it if really doesn’t get done.

Though perhaps unrelated to gender, the piece prompted me to think about how my workload has changed over the course of my short teaching career. In particular, I find myself spending a lot more time with my students than I did when I first started, and more time fretting about them getting their work done. This is my invisible work, keeping track of student assignments, making sure they’re on track to finish their research papers, worrying about their sick grandmothers, and more. It reminds me of my college roommate, who since we’ve aged and mellowed a bit, has reminded me several times how stressed out I made her through my procrastination while students at Duke. As the years have gone by, students seem to want more of my email time, and at all hours of the day, even as the face time has not changed much. Like many professors, I try to limit my time on email. There are many activities and conversations that can be more efficiently performed in person. For instance, if you email me asking how to calculate Adjusted R squared and ask why it’s different from R squared, I’m going to ask you to come talk to me instead of typing out those equations. I promise you’ll learn it better and it will take both of us less time.

More and more of these emails seem to come in the middle of the night, before exams, before homework assignments are due, etc. I tend not to answer those late night emails and I don’t accept them as excuses for not doing work. I have a policy about late work; It’s in the syllabus. I’m not going to remind you of it a million times either. It’s your job to keep track of your work.

I do this partly for my own sanity (avoiding mental labor at least a few hours of the day), but also because I believe that as an educator, I should be preparing my students for the real world. They need to learn to produce timely work—even if it’s not perfect—to manage their time, to realize that help is not available at all hours. That’s the real world, right?

More and more of what I hear though, is that it’s not. One serious problem that professors have is that they don’t live in the real world they’re trying to prepare students for. The only jobs I’ve worked outside of academia since 2006 have been consulting, hardly indicative of day-to-day office jobs that are commonplace for recent grads (when they’re getting jobs, that is). While some friends assure me I don’t want to be there among the unwashed masses, it’s a real liability for professors, especially if a whole new economy has popped up around being constantly available and connected and cheap, as some are claiming.

In response, some universities are advertising for positions to be just that for students: constantly available, connected, and (likely) cheap. This Western Governors University position wants a PhD economist to be available essentially 24/7 to tutor students who are struggling. I admire them being honest about the hours and expectations, but is that really the most efficient use of a PhD’s time? Answering the same email over and over again at 3am about opportunity costs? And they have similar positions open in almost every field. Is it really in students’ best interests to reinforce that work should be round-the-clock? That someone will be there to answer questions all the time?

Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo!, was recently lambasted by any number of individuals and groups for telling telecommuting employees that their flexible work schedule days are over and that employees can’t work from home anymore. While I disagree with the fundamentals of the decision for reasons that have to do with supporting working parents and caregivers, I’m sure she has internal reasons for her actions and the point about separation is important. It’s ridiculous how many of us check our email at the bar, respond to a client in the middle of dinner with another client, interrupt play time to read another message from our bosses. The WGU positions mentioned above actually erase all of those boundaries between work and home, keeping us constantly connected, constantly answering emails. There is no office, no in-real-life contact with students. It’s not teaching, but “mentoring,” and it reinforces the idea that someone should be working constantly. If you’re a student, it’s you and your professors. If you’re in the workforce, it’s you and your boss. If you’re the boss, it’s you and your employees.

College is kind of a special time. If you’re not up all night writing a paper, you’re up all night debating philosophy, or driving to the nearest Krispy Kreme, or or doing all manner of legal, illegal, silly, and serious things. There’s a reason that we don’t continue that madness (or at least some of us don’t) into our 20s and 30s, and especially not into our work.

And if work is really now 24/7, how the heck do we get it to not be? Certainly not by hiring people specifically for that purpose.

Thanks to @katinalynn for comments on a first draft of this post.