Archive for the Author blog Category

Gloria Steinem redux

Sunday, April 7th, 2013 | Permalink

IMG_1932 AGloria Steinem

An interesting comment occurred after Gloria Steinem‘s Koryne Horbal lecture when a female student in the audience asked Steinem how she could answer her friends who start their conversations with “I’m not a feminist, but ….” Though she responded with the flippant comment that “sometimes sending them to the dictionary works,” Steinem did not offer this young woman (who could have been her granddaughter) a practical answer.

Ms. Steinem has been on the world stage for over 40 years and for many people serves as the figurehead for feminism in this country. Yet, much like her response to this student’s query, she has not defined what feminism is or what it is supposed to accomplish. Such a laissez-faire stance may well be in keeping with her educational philosophy of tailoring the form of the pedagogy to the talents of the student, but it also serves as a clever way to evade responsibility for making the decision of defining what or who one is. One defining characteristic of leadership is making tough decisions and accepting responsibility for the outcome(s). If an individual cannot honestly define what he or she stands for, that person does his or her cause an injustice, even if that cause is freedom, the ostensible topic of her speech.

She alluded to this issue earlier in her speech in her dismissive mention of reporters asking her what a feminist society would look like. If such a society would tear down the remaining vestiges of the patriarchy as “an experiment that failed,” a fair question to ask would seem to be the nature of the society that would replace it. Though she identified three freedoms such a society would have–freedom to be connected, freedom to be unique, and freedom to be educated according to one’s interests, the power to accomplish such a transformation could never occur “until we solve the masculinization of wealth.”

This statement reflects a criticism leveled at the feminist movement since its inception–that its goals reflect the ambitions of the members of the social class that founded it. Many women and many men who support them emotionally and/or financially do not aspire to membership in the corporate boardroom and question how equal female representation in such institutions would improve the welfare of the general populace. Some would point to the corrupting influence of the corporation itself as the proper target for replacement or removal.

Almost all women and many men have neither the wealth, the influence, nor the aspiration to succeed to the boardroom, but they do seek the same freedoms Ms. Steinem identified in her speech. If she had been able to define feminism with a vision that reflected true equality of the sexes rather than replacing the tyranny of one gender with that of another, she could have alleviated the reservations of her student questioner and of the many who share a similar vision for American society.

Compose, design, advocate: Comments on an IAS roundtable discussion

Sunday, April 1st, 2012 | Permalink

Writing is writing–except when performed on a Web editor such as this one and displayed on countless types of browsers and tablets with different settings, screen widths, and a host of variables that include video and audio. Then the process of assembling words in understandable order becomes the art of  “communication” in all its myriad forms.

That was the message that emerged from the roundtable discussion with Professors Dennis Lynch and Anne Wysocki at the University of Minnesota’s Nolte Center on Wednesday afternoon. The bulk of the discussion as led by Prof.  Wysocki focused upon the notion that the advent of social media has changed how people communicate and their conceptions of literacy. No longer the mere interpretation of words, reading “differs through all our basic technologies.” Where reading and writing once were the basic skills that determined literacy, Wysocki’s search in an ERIC database revealed 84 different versions of the term including computer, emotional, and sexual literacy.

With reading and writing no longer the “be all and end all” of literacy, the people in attendance, mostly writing instructors, addressed the dual challenges of how this expansion of the definition of literacy shapes a writer’s audience and how it can be used to encourage students to take chances as producers of text. Some in the audience sought to expand the definition even further by not limiting literacy to words alone but to the interpretation of all oral and visual texts. A writer’s “performance” in the print medium incorporates multi-modalities that bring his or her body into the foreground of composing a text.

No doubt expanding the definition of writing to include variant forms of graphic design does encourage students to have fun creating their texts and try alternative technologies to reach different audiences.  But despite the literacy displayed by both parties in crafting and reading a message such as “My ♥ bleeds 4 u,” how effective can such communication be if the writer fails to supply the Web editor with properly written instructions to mount it? In their efforts to instill the “physical pleasure” of creating texts in their students, instructors overlook the fact that their students must be conversant in the basics of English syntax to appreciate the ironic subtext of such a deviant message. Sometimes, a clearly written set of instructions is worth a dozen wordless diagrams. Anyone who tackles assembling a piece of  furniture created from IKEA’s interior designers can attest to the truth of that observation.

Glad to be Back!

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 | Permalink

Welcome to the first blog post of my resurrected Web site. More to follow, but let me say that it’s great to be back!