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Writing for a Public Audience

New Newsletter for the New Year

Hello, readers,

As 2018 comes to a close, a dumpster fire of a year, I am re-evaluating a lot of things, including my newsletter (and this blog) as well as reconsidering how how I’ve been reaching out and writing to all of y’all.

You might have noticed I sent less newsletters and wrote less blog posts this year. There were lots of reasons for this. I was finishing and then promoting a book (Sexism Ed!). I was working to get a handle on my mental health (anxiety and depression), which remains a work in progress. I helped launch and now edit a new magazine, Disability Acts. I was working on other books (zombies! zombies! zombies!) and book proposals (endings! apocalypses!). And this year, I needed to keep my attention and energy on my family.

All of this to say, 2018 was a lot.

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Sexism Ed Redux

*The academy has a gender problem. And it’s not new.*

So, Sexism Ed has been out for 28 days. (Who’s counting? I am clearly.) And there are few things that I want to direct your attention to.

First, The Revealer published an excerpt recently, which is one of my favorite essays on all the men who pretend to be allies, but really aren’t. Here’s a glimpse:

A man, who claims to be an ally and/or a feminist, has become a red flag for me. Especially if he loudly proclaims to be an ally. Especially if he looks around to see if everyone is paying attention to him. Especially if he insists on telling me about his feminism in detail while ignoring my arched eyebrow.

Second, David Perry was kind enough to interview me about the book and sexism in higher education more broadly at The Pacific Standard.  We talked about the push back I received for even bringing up sexism in academic circles:

I received emails, comments, tweets, and messages from academic men, who wanted me to know that sexism wasn’t a problem in academia. They told me about how their universities (or colleges) had women presidents. Or how their departments had a lot of women. Or how there were women in their grad programs. Or how they knew a women academic once. They sent me anecdote after anecdote about how women were doing fine in the academy to tell me that I was wrong. It was bewildering to see so many men try to shout me down for mere mention of a gender problem, which really just seemed to prove my point.

Previously, David also hosted my cover reveal, in which I wrote a whole essay (of course!) about how I came to write the columns for Chronicle Vitae that eventually became the foundation for the book:

What I found instead was that I would write about sexism, and later contingent labor, in the academy for the rest of my life. The limits that I thought I would encounter were not there. The academy has a gender problem. And it’s not new. This shouldn’t have surprised me. We live in a patriarchy, but I had hoped that academia was somehow better than the culture surrounding it.

Third, I am guest hosting this week at Nonfiction Fans: Illuminating Fabulous Nonfiction over on Facebook. I’ll be giving away a copy of Sexism Ed and a copy of Grace Period later in the week. So, make sure to pop by and ask me questions. Here’s part of my interview that started off the week:

You’ve written books on very different subjects. How did that happen?

Oh, boy, I do *write* on very different topics from white supremacists to zombies to sexism, which tends to surprise people, who, I guess, think writers stick to one topic or two. I write about what interests and fascinates me but also I write about topics that make me nervous and uncomfortable. It’s kind of like, “What’s keeping me from sleeping at night? Yes, I’ll write about that.” But, I also like to write about topics, in which we already assume we know the shape (narrative) of the story, so that I can show how the topic is always more complicated than the popular assumptions about it.

Check out the full interview here.

And finally, I wrote about my very complicated feelings about this particular book in my most recent TinyLetter:

An author is supposed to be elated when her book is published. She’s supposed to shout from the rooftops (or tweet or email or message) about her accomplishment. She’s supposed to be beaming with pride. She’s not supposed to look weary when you congratulate her about her new book. She’s not supposed to seem bummed.

(If you haven’t signed up for my sporadic newsletter, you can here.)

Lovely readers, I have a small request for you. If you pick up Sexism Ed (or any of my books), please let me know. It is the best feeling in the world to know that someone is reading my book or books.

 

The Men Who Email Me

As I was driving home today from dropping off children at school and preschool, my mind drifted to the men who email me about my writing. I’m not quite sure why I decided to think about these men, who I’ve never met but who chose to contact me anyway. Perhaps, I thought about these men because of the discussions surrounding the #MoreThanMean video, in which men read the harassing tweets that other men send to women sports writers. The catch is that they read the tweets out loud to the writers. Some of the men can’t say what was tweeted aloud. The campaign hopes to bring attention to the online harassment of women in sports. Of course, online harassment of women writers is not just a problem for women who write about sports, but women who write about anything (and women on the internet more generally). I know this factually as well as intimately because it has happened to me.

In 2007, I started blogging at Religion in American History. When I began writing more about racial violence and white supremacy, commenters were not nice. When I wrote about the murder of George Tiller, a commenter threatened my life. I shrugged off the threat; my partner did not. After my book was published in 2011, I started receiving emails from men who read my work and expected me to respond to their criticisms. A Son of the Confederacy emailed to let me know how wrong I was about Nathan Bedford Forrest being a Klansman. He accused me of harming Forrest’s legacy. A man claiming to be the Second Coming of Jesus wrote me a letter, in which he called me “honey” and told me that I was wrong about the Klan, race, religion, and well, everything. If I only would visit him at his home, he would explain what was really happening in the world. I declined his invite. I laughed off the letter; a member of my department told me to contact the FBI.

On the Facebook page I created for Gospel According to the Klan, men have called me a racist, threatened to beat my ass, and promised to hunt me down and show me how wrong my racism is. None of these men seemed to recognize that I’m a historian that studies the Klan, not a member of the order. I took screenshots of their messages and reported them to Facebook. I tried to find humor in the situation.

These emails and messages were anomalies in my life that I tried to make into funny stories about the weirdness of being a scholar in the internet age. When freelance writing became my career, these were no longer anomalies but realities. I’m a woman who writes on the Internet, which means men email me to tell me what they think of what I’ve written whether I want to know or not. My attempts at humor are long gone.

This morning, I found myself thinking about all these men, who are strangers to me, and the routine similarity of their emails in tone, style, and content. 

The men who email me tell me that I’m wrong. I’ve made the wrong argument. I’ve missed the essential issue or the salient details. I’ve made errors and mistakes. I didn’t use data. I used too much data. They assert that gender is not as big of an issue as I make it out to be or that I don’t realize how hard it is to be a man. They assert that I can never be anything but wrong. (more…)

Somewhere Else

She never felt like she belonged anywhere, except for when she was lying on her bed, pretending to be somewhere else.”–Eleanor & Park

I picked up Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park this weekend because I wanted to read a book that wasn’t about the craft of writing, zombies, hippos going beserk, higher ed, or American religions. Someone somewhere mentioned that I should check out Rowell’s novels, so I downloaded Eleanor & Park to my Kindle.

The novel, set in 1986, traces the friendship and later romance of two 16-year olds. Eleanor is the new girl with bright red curly hair and full figure. Her family is poor, white, and dysfunctional. Her stepfather abuses her mother physically and emotionally. Park comes from a loving family. His mother is Korean and his father was in the armed services, but they don’t entirely understand their oldest son. Park loves comic books and music. He meets Eleanor on the bus. Mutual antagonism turns into kindness; kindness morphs into first love.

Never has any other novel I’ve read evoked what it is like to a teenager in such a humane and profound way. Rowell renders the melodrama of our teenage years not as caricature, but as intense, inescapable reality. Everything appears pressing because everything is pressing and significant and life-ending. Bullying is a fact of life as are shallow judgments about worth based on appearance, class, and race. Teenagers come into their humanity fighting against burdens of culture that adults have already accepted as normal and expected. They rail against life being unfair; we’ve already noted that it is and moved on. They think love can conquer all. We wonder if love has the longevity and stamina to conquer the mundane wear-down of life. They think they’re the only ones with these particular problems in these particular times. We recognize the familiar struggle of youth and the pained attempts to figure out what where we belong.

Eleanor & Park transported me back to my teenager years viscerally. The novel dredged up a host of things that I keep trying to forget. (more…)