March 29th, 2014

It's Complicated

I started writing a piece about mainstream vs. pullout classrooms, and another one about social promotion vs. grade retention, and I had lined up a third about integrated inclusive district preschools and it suddenly dawned on me that for the first time in years I feel like I have a whole bunch of stuff to add to my reproduction/parenting book. Once I started thinking about it that way, I started a list of topics to include, and when I hit The Birds and the Bees, I went, holy moly, that's going to be complex.

I've already shared the initial draft with one person. If you are interested in contributing comments/suggestions/wtf to a draft of what parents should be covering when talking to kids about gender identity, orientation, relationship orientation, consent, sexual repertoire, managing attachment, avoiding disease and planning pregnancy, blah, blah, bleeping blah, I'd love to get your perspective. Feel free to list things you plan to/have already talked to your kids about, or which you wish other parents would, or whatever, in the comments, or drop me a line. If you want to read what I'm working on and comment as I go along, that could be arranged as well. The document is currently living on google docs until I publish it to my website.

_Woman and Temperance_, Ruth Bordin

Subtitled The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873-1900

Published by Rutgers University Press

Hardcover original was Temple University in 1981; the first paperback was 1990. This has the preface for the first paperback thus some retrospective about where it fits into other women’s studies literature and also some comments about how the author would do things differently if writing it at the later date.

The author’s other books include a biography of Frances Willard.

I’ve read at least one other detailed history involving Prohibition (_Last Call_, by Daniel Okrent, which is also excellent). Immediately before this, my previous non-fiction read covering the rhetoric of the women’s movement before, during and after this time (_White Women’s Rights_, so-so).

The WCTU, the organization which is the subject of this organizational biography, continues to exist; you can visit their website here

Whatever you might think of alcohol (whether it is or was a problem, and if so, what if anything should be done to address it), the WCTU served a variety of purposes in its quest for Prohibition. It was an organization which respectable, middle-class women felt comfortable joining: it did not negatively affect their status as prosperous, locally influential wives and mothers nor did it threaten their religious identity or their church affiliation. Their husbands were more okay with them speaking in public in support of this cause, unlike others of the time (such as women’s suffrage, and, earlier, abolition), and were amenable to financially supporting this cause. Because the WCTU never allowed voting male members, the organization was made up of women at all levels of leadership and membership. Because Frances Willard, over time, came to believe that temperance and Prohibition would not by themselves cure all of the ills of the world, the WCTU branched out into numerous other causes (including women’s suffrage, kindergartens, the 8 hour day, Sunday off and half day Saturday, equal pay for equal work, disarmament, peace, international arbitration and numerous other causes), which by themselves had difficulty attracting the attention and participation of these women in support of them.

Willard and the WCTU made conscious choices to encourage local organization with local leadership, including Native Americans, blacks and various immigrant groups. Of course this was in service of the cause of Temperance, but it was also done in recognition that these groups (and Southern white women, for that matter) remained largely unpoliticized and Temperance could provide the same jump-start to political activism of all sorts which it had to the members of the WCTU.

Really, the WCTU is a model of how incredibly effective community organizing can be: a cause with broad, deep, non-partisan appeal combined with good works in communities, local pseudo-autonomy, national leadership, a willingness to join forces with other causes and other groups where membership overlapped in values and current priorities and above all effective legislation to impact education around the country is a pretty straightforward template for how change occurs in our country and around the world.

A good, detailed history monograph -- without even meaning to -- is deeply relevant and resonant in later eras. Ruth Bordin has produced one of the best. You might think of Prohibition with a shudder (honestly, I no longer do, altho of course I do not advocate for it, either), but the women who pushed the world in that direction (in conjunction with organizations like the Anti-Saloon League, which came into existence in part to counter the backlash to the WCTU) were politically brilliant and their example is instructive even now.

There are also some great details. Ohio law at the time of the first Crusade prohibited the sale of beer or alcohol to persons whose relatives had asked that they not be served. At times, Ruth Bordin’s perspective is too obvious, as when she criticizes Willard, describing her Crusade experience as “at best contrived and minimal”, largely because her experience was more as a teacher assigning themes in her classes on the subject, rather than direct action. And also when she describes Willard here: “Women liked Willard. Indeed she was more than liked, she was loved, she was adored. Her intense, almost sexual attractiveness to members of her own sex was a major factor in her success. Women competed for her favors and cherished some intimate moment with her as they would the attentions of a male lover.”

I’m mostly okay with the “almost sexual”; I’m _really not okay_ with the “male lover”. That male really does not need to be there; it is straight up (ahem) heterocentricity at a moment where heterocentricity is least justified.

WCTU was instrumental in getting the age of consent raised in many states, in part as a way or reducing prostitution. “In 1886 the laws of twenty states placed the age of consent at ten years, and one at seven. 86 By 1894 only four states (all in the South) still put consent at ten, and in twenty states legal consent had been raised to sixteen, an accomplishment for which the WCTU could take substantial credit.” A clearer example of good work done in the service of a cause that we may no longer approve of would be harder to imagine.

I picked my copy up at Half Price Books for $5.98, over 10 years ago, possibly closer to 20. If you would like my copy (it’s not available as an ebook, as near as I can determine), let me know and I’ll send it to you. I will hang onto it for at least a few months and will edit this review to indicate when I no longer have it.

Daily Activities Include: open gym, Julie's Place and McDonald's, grocery store, scooter/walk, etc.

Today, R. and I walked around the block while A. and T. scootered. It was a lot of fun and unlike a similar outing a couple years ago, we returned undamaged.

After our scooter/walk, we went to open gym. After open gym, I took A. to McDonald's, while R. and T. went to Julie's Place. T. got "the usual" at Julie's Place: chicken fingers, fries and apple juice. A. had the 4 piece chicken nugget happy meal and was very excited to get a My Little Pony toy with it.

R. and I are still sick. We mostly just hung out. The kids played together. I finished my book, wrote and posted a book review; wrote most of a book review of another book I read recently (will post that shortly). I also wrote a couple of short parenting articles that will become an extension of my online reproduction book.

Overall, a pleasant day, especially considering the weather and the state of our collective health.

T. and I also called his cousin J., who had a birthday today. I sang Happy Birthday to him. T. did also.

_Her Best Kept Secret_, Gabrielle Glaser (kindle)

Subtitled Why Women Drink and How They Can Regain Control

My walking partner heard the author on NPR and told me a bit about the book; it was interesting enough to pick up and read.

The historical coverage is poor; there are numerous errors and misrepresentations.

The comparison of how much and how many women are drinking now versus in the past is baseless and, I believe, completely wrong. I do not believe there is any real basis for believing that more middle class or upper middle class women are drinking in a way that they are unhappy with or that objectively appears problematic now than earlier in the 20th century, never mind the 19th century. Glaser, who in many respects is admirably data oriented, doesn’t have data for this so it’s just kinda commentary.

You might wonder, why the heck bother with such a flawed book? Ah, well, there are not a lot of books out there about women and alcohol specifically. This one includes great coverage of the history of AA with a view to the women who aren’t typically mentioned, in particular Marty Mann. There’s wonderful descriptions of research about how women are affected by alcohol consumption -- and why there is so little research and how that is slowly changing. Glaser mostly avoids blame-the-victim, and for those who are looking for a solution to their drinking problem, she points the reader at what I believe are these people: She also suggests Moderation Management, whose book _Responsible Drinking_ I read over a decade ago and found insightful and reassuring; I can’t speak to how effective it is. Glaser notes over and over how unfortunate drinking patterns develop in college and then become very difficult to change; she also talks about how evening is a trigger for many women (can’t really avoid evening, and if you’re already doing most of your drinking at home, that’s kinda tough to avoid, too). She does a nice job of showing how the different way alcohol affects women interacts particularly negatively with 12 Step program which emphasize powerlessness. The stories she includes of sexual abuse in AA chapters are quite harrowing, and accompanied by detailed descriptions of how various people at the national level failed in their efforts to make meaningful cultural changes.

I look forward to future books about women and alcohol, and women and drinking. This is an important and under-studied topic. I expect over time that gender based consumption patterns -- including abuse -- of alcohol will converge (by women consuming more and men consuming less), as we have seen with a variety of other trends. I also believe that we will eventually come to realize that while AA has some particularly negative aspects with respect to women, the built-in dismissal of underlying mental health issues present in AA from the beginning and throughout its history, in conjunction with its relentless (altho increasingly covert) religiosity, will lead to its general loss of credibility in favor of more pragmatic approaches to changing deleterious drinking.

In was a fortunate accident that I happened to read this in conjunction with a book about the WCTU and during Women's History Month; there wasn't a plan.