The freedom of middle age

Objectification theory posits that girls and women are sexually objectified on a daily basis. Not only are they evaluated and stared at, they are routinely regarded as material for the consumption of the gaze. Worse, girls and women internalize the objectification to which they are constantly subjected, pushing themselves harder and harder to provide a more enjoyable experience for the gaze. Countless hours are spent on this project, and girls and women are psychologically “doubled” as a consequence of this objectification. Clothing the body results in immeasurable anxiety and frustration, as most women’s bodies are not the bodies that are constantly “sold” as the ideal. Adolescence is a time of extreme anxiety for girls, as bodies become sexualized and objectified. Conversely, Frederickson and Roberts argue that middle age – which is often thought of as the ‘end’ – should be a time when women can escape the objectification, as long as they can escape the internalized objectifying gaze. When we think of middle aged women, some people think of Helen Mirren and Diane Lane, and congratulate themselves on being politically correct for admiring these older women, though their very selectiveness betrays the internalized objectifying gaze.

“To the extent that middle-aged women are willing and able to step out of the objectification limelight, they should experience (a) less self-conscious body monitoring because of diminished needs for anticipating observers’ evaluations of their bodies; (b) improved subjective experiences, including less shame and anxiety, more peak motivational states, and a potential to reconnect to internal bodily states …” (Barbara Frederickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts, 1997, 195).

So, on the bright side, my young female readers, all you have to do is wait. 

Email Manners: We Still Need Them

chickenregardsCheck out an old post from 2010, called the Internet Newbie Manual, along with a delightful little piece on awkward email situations. I’d like to add a couple of my own pet peeves to these email situations.

The thing with email is that it is ubiquitous, but we have not entirely figured out what to do with it. Can we be funny on email? Can EVERYONE be funny on email? I don’t think so. Deadpan humor, for instance, works well in person, generally, unless you’re a jerk (in which case you have no clue you are a jerk, so you’re on your own, like this guy).

In text-only email, however, humor can be extremely messy, hurtful, and offensive. I have had my share of situations where I’ve cracked hilarious email jokes in order to celebrate a new and growing friendship with people whom I considered smart, ironic, and funny, and after the total silence on email, gradually discovered that these people were no longer so very friendly anymore. You know how it is – as one grows older, one becomes more and more silent because one just doesn’t know how other people will receive humor anymore. I blame this, of course, on other people’s lack of social skills. [IRONY ALERT 🙂 🙂 ].

Women fix the problems with text-only email by generously using emoticons. Men are too cool for emoticons, so they end up looking like jerks. Which they are not.

Then there’s the power dynamic problem. This is a particular issue in work emails. I had a student once. She was prickly and easily offended. I worked hard at understanding her and being open with her. We developed a good relationship. One day, suddenly, she was offended over I don’t recall what – I think it was a 9.5/10 grade. She wrote me an email, and this is how she addressed me:

Mir, 

Okay, seriously, is that the way you address your professors? Is that how you address ANYONE, unless you’re Severus Snape? So I decided to be funny, and responded, starting with:

Smith, 🙂 

This, also, of course, deeply offended her. I learned that the key to communication was to either have it face to face or not at all. Frequently I get a Meltdown Email, such as:

Professor Mir, I have a bad grade and a lot of absences and I wish you didn’t grade me down so much I mean I know I didn’t do so great but I did my best and I attended whenever I could I mean I know you have a policy but why do you have such a strict policy? [and so on for another page or so]

When I was younger, I used to respond right away with a set of informative facts, questions, and answers (e.g. did you check the syllabus? we discussed this on day 1 of the class; what are the reasons for absences? I did give you feedback on your previous assignment and it wasn’t addressed when you revised it). This was a big mistake, because the next email was the Mother of all Meltdowns. Now, I know better. I respond with:

Hi Stephanie,

Great to hear from you. I’d like to chat in person. Let’s talk after class, ok? 

Usually, the response is:

I’m really busy with classes [I only have 30 minutes in between to dash off frantic emails]. I’m ok now. I’ll just try to do better on the next assignment. Thanks for your help.

Some people start every email with “Dear.” This is endearing and old-fashioned, and you cannot go wrong with this. But it seems to be very common practice to address people like this:

Shabana, 

Can you drop the rent check off on time this month? Thanks,

Saul 

Personally, I prefer emails that go like this:

Hi Shabana,  

Hope you’re doing well. Can you drop the rent check off on the 1st please? Thanks,

Saul 

I can’t explain why I like this so much. Funny, isn’t it, how the addition of “hi” and “please” and the subtraction of snippy hints lubricates the angles of everyday tension? This is how the niceties of everyday social behavior work. This is why we use small talk. This is why we use emoticons and gentler language on email than we have to use in person. This is also why we don’t swamp our friends and acquaintances with forwards and sunset images just as we don’t express every single thought that flits into our heads when we are speaking to someone in person. There are parallels. You can apply everyday etiquette to email etiquette. They are still relevant, despite the ubiquity of email. Just because you send four thousand emails and texts a day doesn’t make it any less interpersonal communication.

Citizen of the world

calvinAs a critical scholar of citizenship and pluralism, I can’t really celebrate almost anything. Nerds are a somber and disconsolate breed. Still, passing my U.S. citizenship test as I did this week gives me pleasure. Let me tell you why.

  • First, I now share the same citizenship as my husband and child, so we can stand in the same queue on arrival into the U.S. If the political climate in this country takes a serious downward turn, I won’t be so fearful of becoming separated from my family.
  • Second, my daughter now sees that I am not an unalloyed foreigner but am Pakistani, British, as well as American. Like Lola, I am collecting a collection.
  • Third, I am from a test-and-rote based culture but I have not had the chance to practice my mad cramming skillz in a very long time. Cramming the 100 questions forced me to put aside work on my article on Muslim American women and dance, but it was a highly edifying process. For example, I now know that the Mississippi and Missouri rivers are the longest in the United States, and that a male citizen of any race can vote. This changes my perspective on life in a significant way.
  • My only complaint is that my interviewer at the Chicago office did not ask me all ten questions and did not test me on three sentences each for English writing and reading. She only asked me 6 questions – and yes, she asked me for one of the two longest rivers and I told her both, hoping to get some kind of extra credit. I was actually hoping she would ask me for the names of Native American tribes so I could go through a beautiful list of names – Hopi, Inuit, Cherokee, Choctaw, Apache, Sioux, and so on. I’m glad, however, that I was tested on my knowledge of the Speaker’s name, though I resent not being asked about my local Congressman, Illinois Senators, and our governor, especially after I had managed to stop getting them mixed up. The interviewer gave up after having me read one sentence in English, which is patently unfair.
  • She asked me if I had a middle name. I said no. This is kind of a sore point for me. Despite all my marks of cultural assimilation, I have only two names. I feel like a rapper – Snoop Dogg; Ice Tea; Vanilla Ice; Shabana Mir – instead of a scholar and writer with a respectable series of three names. At the very least, a middle initial that didn’t stand for anything except appropriate rhythm would be handy. One feels so much weightier with three names.
  • Maybe this is why my interviewer asked me if I wanted to change my name. I was a little stumped. Was citizenship contingent upon my response? I took a chance and said no, since I am in the illustrious company of Omid Safi and–okay, that’s it.
  • Notably, my interviewer asked me if I’d ever been arrested, convicted, or addicted to drugs. I decided to forego all mention of coffee and the occasional allergy medication and continued to say no.
  • She asked me if I’d ever been a member of any terrorist organization. I really should mention academe because this is a pretty terrifying institution.
  • In response to at least 4-5 different questions, I expressed my total and eager willingness to bear arms and hurt other people for the United States, whether in the army or under civilian command. Knowing as Svend White does how terrible my aim is, I would be concerned for any army or civilian command that handed me weapons, but if the United States doesn’t mind, well, why not.
  • I should lodge a vociferous complaint about the Immigration and Naturalization Service because I was forced to sign my name on the absolute worst passport photographs I have EVER had. I am hopeful that they won’t stick it in my passport because this is a mug shot. I look obese, puffy, and ill; I have stringy, blond-streaked hair hanging over my forehead; and the Walgreens photographer instructed me specifically not to smile, so I look like I’m ready to fall down dead. If this picture ends up in my passport, I’m going for my fourth nationality.

cartoonNaturally, my family and I celebrated U.S. citizenship by escaping to the Pakistani neighborhood on Devon Street in Chicago, pigging out on Karahi Chicken, picking up halwa puri and gajar halwa, and praying my afternoon prayer in the basement musalla at Tahoora bakery.

Like Diogenes, I aspire to cosmopolitan ideals, and like Anthony K. Appiah’s (see Cosmopolitanism), I am an American citizen who is also Pakistani and somewhat British. I say ‘somewhat British’ because I catch myself whenever I describe myself as ‘British’ and recall a professor who scrunched up his face with ill humor saying, to the Zambian students at Cambridge University: ‘She’s about as British as I am Zambian but she’s got a British passport.’

I want to ask that professor exactly what he meant by British – since he was White, a social-justice-educator type who does – ironically – inclusion in education. He does inclusion in education, though: his inclusion is focused on particular student populations, not on interlopers in the British bodypolitic who were born in the U.K. and happen to have very good English. So I want to ask him, and myself, and my daughter, where do we draw boundaries and borders and lines? Which ones serve a good purpose? Which ones can we cross? I have just crossed another border, in terms of my official paperwork, but I can’t help asking myself if I have actually also put myself behind another boundary, line, demarcation that divides me from humanity.

Cramming my way to America


griffin

Tomorrow I take the U.S. citizenship test and interview.

It has been an edifying process, of course. Among other things, I have discovered my old cramming-for-test skills are still as bright and shiny as they were when I took my B.A. examinations in Lahore. Meet the student who memorized the entirety of ‘Macbeth’ so she could respond to any questions about ‘If it were done when ’tis done’ or ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,’ and likewise for ‘Hamlet,’ ‘The Rape of the Lock,’ and much of ‘Emma.’

For the woman who could memorize Harold Pinter’s plays, factoids about the number of Congressional representatives in the country, a Senator’s term, and the Bill of Rights are fairly manageable. Still, wish me luck!