Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek movie is anti-feminist

Okay, so this isn't a rhetorical analysis. And it'll probably have spoilers.

The new Star Trek movie is cool. But it is a step backwards in the portrayal of gender. And when I say it's a step backward, I'm not judging based on the recent movies or Star Trek: The Next Generation. I'm saying that the 1960s TV show was more progressive in its portrayal of women.

Aside from smart and successful women like Lt. Uhura and Nurse Chapel, we also get bombarded with single episode female scientists. They're typically quite attractive, but also quite intelligent. Women are sometimes (often?) portrayed as being essentially different from men, particularly in their goals, which usually revolve around romantic relationships.

In the movie, women exist to serve men. They are patient and supportive. They have babies and get killed, which give their men motives to advance the plot.

Let's run down the list of Star Trek women.

On the series:
  • Uhura. Ship communications officer, crushes on Kirk, slightly exotic female presence
  • Janice Rand. Wow, a female yeoman. Seems to be around so that creepy guys can sexually harrass her, but is strong enough to stand up for herself
  • Nurse Chapel. Crushes on Spock, but is otherwise strong, smart, and a bit mouthy.
  • Spock's mom. (Yes, I know her name, but it seems irrelevant for the character also referred to as "Ambassador Sarek's wife.") Supportive of Spock, encourages him to cultivate his human side while usually respecting his choice to be Vulcan
  • Janice Lester. She's the one who switched bodies with Kirk. I mention her here since the female/male body switch is a pretty important episode as concerning gender roles. She wanted to be a Star Fleet captain--really loving her newfound upper body strength but was truthfully hurt that Kirk had chosen his career over her. She was found out because she was too "hysterical" to be a man.
  • The Romulan commander. She might have a name, but I'm not looking it up. She's relevant since Romulans are a big part of the film. She runs a star ship, but reveals her feminine needs and goals to Spock, which turns out to be her undoing.
In the film:
  • Uhura. The object of Kirk's attention, emotional support for Spock. She's good at what she does (xenolinguistics), but takes on a very traditional feminine role.
  • Kirk's mom. She's a baby oven. Couldn't Kirk at least have learned something about life from his mother since she was actually around when he was growing up?
  • Spock's mom. Supports Spock whether he chooses Vulcan or human ways. Her death gives a revenge motive.
  • Nero's wife. Makes a brief appearance as Nero's motivation for destroying planets.
So how could the film do a better job depicting strong women who exist for their own sake, not as someone connected to a man? Scottie's assistant could be a woman--and not necessarily his assistant. Olsen, the guy who gets burnt up, could be a woman. The Romulan ship should have women on it!!!! For that matter, Nero could be a woman. Uhura should be less patient all the time. And Kirk's mom should do something other than give birth.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Obama's illegal immigration problem

So Barack Obama has an aunt who's in the country illegally. Obama says he didn't know aunt's illegal status - Los Angeles Times

What's important about this story (to the McCain campaign) is not Obama's connection with illegal immigration. Few people who would otherwise have supported Obama are going to turn on him because an aunt he barely knew outstayed her visa.

What's important is that it reminds people of Obama's Other-ness. Reminding us that his aunt is Kenyan and has a name we can't pronounce--that's something that really can hurt Obama.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Is the Pope Catholic?

According to a story in Reuters, the Pope is being criticized for a prayer that asks for the conversion of Jewish people. Now, I personally have trouble swallowing the idea that wanting others to join your religion is discriminatory. We're not talking about picketing of synagoges. We're talking about praying to God for more people to go to heaven. Now Jews and other non-Catholics can say "No thanks," but is it really offensive?

This prayer is old news anyway--he brought it back as an acceptable version last year but it hit the news again Good Friday. Apparently he even recently revised the prayer to be less condescending toward Jews.

But here's the really disturbing (and rhetorically relevant) part: Charlotte Knobloch, whom Reuters reports as the "president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany," said "The inter-religious dialogue has suffered an enormous setback because of this version and I assume that one will find a way very soon to continue the dialogue, but at the moment I don't see it happening."

That is, because the Pope allows Catholics to openly pray for Jews, Jews and Catholics can't even talk to each other. Knobloch seems to suggest that all this is Pope Benedict's fault, yet she seems to be wielding cut off dialogue like a threat. If dialogue is as important as Knobloch lets on, it shouldn't be cut off at every sign of offense.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

If I Could Say Just a Few Words...

I've been losing my voice for the past three days or so. Tuesday I woke up with a hint of a sore throat and tried to stave it off with a vitamin and some hot chocolate. But after teaching class, not only was my voice in poor shape, I felt sick. I skipped my own class to take a nap and get some ibuprofen so I could make it to a meeting with my thesis advisor.

I made the mistake of going to work at a fast food joint the next day. I wasn't running a fever, so I figured I was okay. But I did still have a sore throat. As soon as I showed up, the shift manager put me on the drive-thru headset. Not what I wanted to do at all. That meant talking and standing in front of an open window. Better yet, nobody saw fit to give me a lunch break, even though I asked for one, so I did this for over seven hours without stop. This was not good for my voice.

Yesterday I felt better. Only I didn't try out talking before I went in to work. Turns out I still had little voice. But I decided it was okay for them to put me on the headset--it meant I was on a speaker, so I didn't have to raise my voice as much. In fact, we've got the headset on a speaker in the kitchen as well, so I didn't even have to shout to the other parts of the store. Still, the constant talking was a problem.

Eventually I was moved up to passing orders out of the drive-thru instead of taking the orders. This requires less talking, but sometimes louder talking. I stopped asking customers if they'd like any ketchup and figured they could ask for themselves. I stopped asking the cook to make more fries and started making them myself. But I didn't stop talking entirely. I had to give the customers certain cues, like "Have a nice evening," so they would know it was time for them to leave. And interestingly enough, I had to chat with my coworkers. My coworkers don't consider me a talkative person, but even when I was conserving my voice, I still commented about the customer who had twice requested a medium drink and then when I gave it to her said, "I asked her to make it medium." Yeah...this is a medium.

On the other hand, I was annoyed when one of my coworkers started asking me about myself--did I go to school, what does "grad school" really mean, and so on. Like, can she not tell I'm losing my voice? But I wasn't going to tell her that. It would've been rude.

At home, I would become annoyed with my husband asking me questions because talking hurt, but then I'd have stories I wanted to share with him anyway. Over and over again, I wonder--what is most worth saying?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Jane Fonda and Words for Vagina

The Associated Press: Jane Fonda Uses Vulgar Slang on `Today'

The AP leaves you guessing what the "vulgar slang" was, but it doesn't take much guessing. Here's what someone uploaded to YouTube.

There should not have been an apology regarding the word. Does the Today Show not know what the Vagina Monologues are? If you find the word "cunt" inherently offensive you shouldn't interview someone about her role in the Vagina Monologues. She didn't even use the word in a graphic way--she simply said she'd once been asked to perform a monologue by that name. What offends me here is that the Today Show promotes the Vagina Monologues while objecting to its content.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Connors says, "Boo to the Modes"

In fact, what Robert J. Connors said some 25 years ago was, "the only teachers still making real classroom use of the modes are those out of touch with current theory" (119). According to Connors, the modes of discourse (narration, description, exposition, persuasion) died in 1950.

Crap. If I had read this article ("The Rise and Fall of the Modes of Discourse") a year ago, I would probably be teaching basic writing somewhat differently right now. As in, not structured around modes of discourse.

When I taught first-year composition instead, we were given the writing assignments that were required; however, for basic writing, we didn't really get any guidance at all as to what kinds of writing assignments would be appropriate once we were in the classroom. During the first couple of weeks I had second thoughts about the assignments I'd put in the syllabus and my students complained they didn't like the assigned topics.

So I decided to generalize the assignments into their basic forms, letting the students pick their own topics. I remembered high school English, being required to write definition essays, classification and division essays, process essays. Now according to Connors, these aren't modes--these are methods of exposition (115). But every textbook I've looked at that claims to organize itself by the modes makes no distinction between the two. Like those textbooks, I placed narration and description alongside comparison/contrast and definition.

Now I say I wouldn't have organized my course by the modes/methods of exposition had I known before that it had been dead since long before I was born. But I'm not sure that the modes are as awful as Connors lets on. It's true they emphasize product over process. But I find the denigration of product a bit over-the-top. Yes, to teach writing we need to teach process. But isn't the end goal a decent product? Can't we teach both?

I think my students have really learned something by being given a fairly broad form and being told to find some content to suit it. In particular, they've learned that there's more than one way to write an essay. They've even learned that the modes are fluid--that they can incorporate narration into a definition essay with success. They've got a basketfull of techniques to use when assigned a topic. So I don't see what Connors's problem is.

Work Cited
Connors, Robert J. "The Rise and Fall of the Modes of Discourse." On Research Writing: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 110-121.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Don't Stifle the Young Folks

Giambattista Vico argues that it's important not to stifle young people's ordinary knowledge by enforcing Cartesian doubt about all things which can't be absolutely proven. In his own words, "we should be careful to avoid that the growth of common sense be stifled in them by a habit of advanced speculative criticism" (868). Too much modern philosophy stunts growth. Descartes's style of philosophy is better suited to more mature scholars: "Just as old age is powerful in reason, so is adolescence in imagination" (868).

Vico doesn't cite Quintilian, but he has some similar ideas. For Quintilian, the issue isn't common sense, but creativity. A child should be allowed to "be daring, invent much, and delight much in what it invents, though it be often not sufficiently severe and correct" (370). For both Vico and Quintilian, education isn't about making sure the student is never wrong, but rather making sure that they learn as they go. It's important not to lose common sense and creativity along the way. Instead of tearing students down and trying to rebuild what from scratch, we should build on the tools the students already have.

Works Cited

Quintilian. From Institutes of Oratory. Trans. John Selby Watson. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001. 364-428.

Vico, Giambattista. From On the Study Methods of Our Time. Trans. Elio Gianturco. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001. 865-878.