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Posts Tagged ‘power’

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…)

Fairy Tales

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved fairy tales. Her skin was freckled and unevenly tanned. Her legs always had bruises because she was easily distracted and clumsy. Her hair was not golden like the sun, but that shade of blonde-almost-brown that the adults around her described as dirty or dishwater blonde. When she started squinting at things far in the distance, she had to get glasses. She was a reader with her nose perpetually stuck in a book. She was a daydreamer who imagined different possible worlds than the one she inhabited. Worlds, in which parents didn’t divorce, fathers loved their children unconditionally, people were kinder, she was a princess, and anything was possible with magic.

She imagined a world of enchantment and predictable narratives. She called on these worlds when life around her became too much. If she was being unflinchingly honest with herself, she would have to admit that she was more comfortable inside her head than out. Her imaginings followed certain storylines, the characters were reliable and trustworthy, and evil never triumphed over good. The real world made little sense. People, adults and other children, were mercurial and unpredictable. There were no clear storylines to follow, no patterns that made engaging with others easy or manageable. Kindness quickly transformed into cruelty with little warning. Some days, reality was too much to decipher, so instead of playing with her friends on the playground, she would turn inward to the safe confines of her imagination and create her own fairy tales. Princes rescued princesses. Evil witches were defeated. And often, the heroine would figure out how to save herself. All while, she swung higher and higher on the swing. Her body tethered by reality and gravity, but her mind was gloriously free.

Moreover, fantasy offered up endless happy endings. Real life, on the other hand, had few happy endings. And when the endings were happy, the happiness was conditional and fleeting. Happiness never tried to linger. She often wondered why.


On Amusement and Misogyny

Over the winter break from school and preschool, we took the kids to an amusement park an hour and half away from our house. Our daughter loves to ride the rides. She’s fearless and wants to ride every roller coaster that she can. She’s not quite tall enough for the roller coasters that boast speeds of 60 or 70 miles per hour and turn you upside down. Their names evoke wild cats and/or natural disasters. As she impatiently waits to grow another inch and a half, I get queasy just thinking about them. She’s so close to being able to do something but not there yet, which frustrates her. There’s a lesson here that many adults I know haven’t quite mastered.

I’m her partner for roller coasters, side winders, flyers, raging rapids, and any other ride that catches her fancy. She screams in exhilaration as I wonder at what age these amusements no longer seem fun. For me, amusement parks offer up creative ways to die. While I hold onto bar across our laps tightly, I also trying to touch her hand to assure me she’s still there. As we are tossed side-to-side, I hope that it is actually not possible for us to be thrown out. When we confront gravity, she finds joy. I find terror. Mostly, I try to figure how I became an older, more easily frightened version of myself.

I used to love amusement parks too. Hardly any ride scared me. Defying gravity was perfect. Roller coasters were simply the best. I loved the feeling of hanging upside down. I couldn’t wait to be strapped into a cart on a rickety track.

As my kid and I joined the line for yet another roller coaster, we found ourselves behind four boys, who each looked to be 10 or 11. They were telling each other jokes followed by raucous and loud laughter. I attempted to ignore them while I asked my kid what she wanted to ride next. Her brother fell asleep, and Chris was holding him while she and I tried to ride as many rides as possible.

She listed the rides in order of her preference. The boys got louder and louder. They were telling each other “your mama” jokes. (more…)

Motherhood and Creative Work

12279060_1151170324908256_2735112922242816204_nDearest Liana,

I keep looking at this quote from Miranda July on motherhood and creativity. It has made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, and I shared it too. I read this quote 10 days after reading your most recent letter, and I cried in my office while the dogs stared at me and the cat chose to ignore me.

July describes how our culture grants men the freedom to pursue their work, their careers, and their creative projects without much discussion of family obligations. “We give fathers all kinds of permission to focus on their work, to be creatively consumed,” she writes. Mothers, unsurprisingly, are not granted the same privilege. When mothers are creatively consumed, we face cultural pressures about what mothers should and should not do. (Often, these are pressures we’ve internalized and assume are the way things are.)

Creative work, like many other forms of work, comes with a host of gendered expectations, which I’m still learning to navigate.

In October, I did a series of public lectures that kept me away from home for six days. At the end of my last trip, I was riding in a cab on the way to Fargo airport and making small talk with the driver. He was telling me about the money he was saving by living in the nearby Moorhead, MN, where I just lectured. He asked if I traveled much for work, and I admitted that I didn’t. I let it slip that I had two children. He took his eyes off of the road to stare at me and asked increduously, “Who is watching your children?” I explained that their other parent had the situation under control, but he looked skeptical. I kept the conversation going until I arrived at the airport, but I was unnerved by his question. All of a sudden, I felt remarkably guilty about my trip. My kids were at home while I was off on my own. I was living my life without them. My mood soured. I was annoyed at my reaction to his question, but also his assumption that mothers were the sole caretakers of children. The mommy guilt appeared and remained with me. My trip was no longer as enjoyable as it had been. I ate Skittles for lunch in protest.

For mothers who want to pursue creative work (and any other work), July notes, “The guilt is unreal.” (more…)


I’m headed to Atlanta tomorrow for the annual meeting of the AAR/SBL (#aarsbl15). I’ll be on three panels, so here’s a sneak peek of each my talks. I’m discussing the 1920s Klan, labor, and academic freedom, which is a lot of ground to cover in one weekend.

Please feel free to say “hello,” especially all of you religious studies tweeps. It is always nice to meet folks in real time.

A21-102 Birth of A Nation A Century Later (Saturday, 9:00-11:00 am)

From “Birth of the Klan’s Nation”: The cross burned on top of Stone Mountain marked the beginning of a new Klan fighting to save a white Protestant nation….The robes and the fiery cross, the most recognizable artifacts of the Klan, materialized the order’s commitment to Protestantism and 100% Americanism. The Klan’s material culture tells the story of both their popularity and decline 100 years later. Their shared vision of white Protestant nation defended by Knights in robes no longer appeals as it once did, but it lingers still.

A21-201 How the University Works: A Roundtable on Labor in Religious Studies (Saturday, 1:00-3:30 pm)

From “Academic Waste”: Yet, after I finished the first chapter of How the University Works, I realized how wrong, and arrogant,  I was. What I accepted as facts about how higher ed functions prove to only be assumptions. Bousquet demonstrates that the job market is not actually a proper market but an illusion of one, which relies upon the casualization of labor for universities and colleges to run.

A22-105 Academic Freedom in Peril–And What to Do About It (Sunday, 9:00-11:30 am)

From “Silence and Speech”:  As I considered my response to this panel on academic freedom at the AAR, those two sentences from Lorde repeated in my head. I worked on other papers. I meet my deadlines. I built Lego castles with my kids, but her words wouldn’t dissipate. They captured my attention in the quiet. Were her words revelation, warning, or a strange mishmash of both? That silence doesn’t afford us any protection became the necessary beginning for my remarks on academic freedom in an age of contingency and precarity. Silence and the freedom to speak. Speech and the attempts to curtail it.