Protecting Futures or Promoting Profits?

I’ve decided to use my excessive TV watching for good, and comment on recent Tampax/Always advertisements touting Protecting Futures, a partnership with the United Nations Association of the USA HERO campaign. The program urges women to “use their periods for good” — saying that purchase of Tampax or Always will allow the company to donate 1.4 million dollars to provide feminine protection and education to girls in Southern Africa. According to the website, “hat money will be used to provide health, hygiene and puberty education. It’s also going into building classrooms, toilets, wash stations and dorms. And it’s being used to provide the students with meals and clean water. In addition, we’ll be providing pads to these girls to help them not miss school when they get their period.”

My quick survey of reactions to this campaign on various blogs and forums indicates there has been much criticism of this campaign — some say “yuck,” others say this is just encouraging more pollution of the environment. The most cogent (and funniest) comes from a fellow fiber-addict, Knitted Bikini, who observes “these women have had to endure missing school and much worse, and they’ve had to endure it for generation after generation. I’m glad you’re finally interested.” She adds that perhaps they should also find a product to deal with more critical issues, such as female circumcision.

To add an historian’s take on this — this reminds me of arguments made in Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s book, The Body Project, about how the menstrual hygiene product industry taught girls in the early twentieth-century United States how to menstruate the “modern” hygienic way. Menstruation then became a “hygienic crisis” rather than a female right of passage that connected women across generations. I wonder if this sort of thing will happen with the campaign in Africa. Still, the Protecting Futures seems to be promoting what Brumberg calls the “whole girl” by promoting health education and sanitary facilities in addition to plugging a product (which P&G is distributing for free). Also, at least they’re not giving out cigarettes. . .

[Further thoughts: I chatted about this with the colleague next door — she suggested seeing this as part of a larger “click for the cause” phenomenon on the Web. Also, note to self — think about how this relates to issues of “ethical consumption” raised in Landon Storrs, Civilizing Capitalism].

How to be an Author, or the Need to Advertise

Just read a column in the Careers section of this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “How to Be an Author.” For those interested in writing the great American novel, look elsewhere. This article is how to promote your book once it’s been published. Here’s a summary of their advice and what I’ve done to follow it:

Talk to Your Publisher’s Publicity Department.

Yes, I did that and dutifully filled out the author’s questionnaire. This isn’t a trade book so I’m not expecting to get on Oprah, or even Fresh Air, although I did make the Tri-Town Post! And, my buddy Gil has booked me for the Central Authors Series on local access TV.

Make the Net Work for You.

Yup, got it on my blog — for the dozen or so folks who read it! Seriously, I also posted an announcement on several listservs and got a bunch of hearty congratulations from by friends around the country (and Canada). I did have some trepidation (like many women) about “tooting my own horn” but in reply to my reservations, received the following reply from someone on WMST-L:

Tooting your own horn can be a public service — that is why you wrote
the book — to serve an audience like the students and faculty on my
campus (and others). It’s very important to let us know that the
material is there — think of how much time and effort you took and how
little we have to pay for all your work.

The rest of the article has advice about going out and giving lectures, making your work accessible to the general public, being realistic about sales, and so forth. So, I shall endeavor to get the word out without looking like a shameless self-promoter!

Go Out and Dramatize.

Check — was on the program for the AHA, will also be appearing at the Berkshire Conference on Women’s History in the summer.

Be Seen.

This means getting gigs at universities — better call up the ones where I did my research . . .

Don’t Get Flustered, Get Coherent.

This involves handling difficult questions.  I may be able to avoid this by NOT lecturing about contraception at Catholic institutions . . .

Inscribe, Dedicate, Thank.

Check — I am always a gracious guest!

Consider Trading Your Labor for Books.

Just as long as they pay my way to the gig!

Be Realistic About Sales Potential.

My husband said the same thing — I’ll be happy if the print run isn’t remaindered!

Stay in Touch.

Our public relations folks are terrific in this regard, although it helps I’m a nudge myself.

Open Up.

Be ready to speak to nonspecialists — well, the book was written with them in mind.

Book Club: Eat, Pray, Love

This month, we read Elizabeth Gilbert‘s bestseller Eat, Pray, Love. This selection generated a lot of discussion, mainly because most in the club didn’t like it and some openly hated it. Overall, I liked it although I did find some things annoying. What I liked: Gilbert is a really entertaining, self-deprecating writer. I really identified with her resistance to family and cultural pressures to have children, something I’ve gone through myself. (even feminist friends who should know better have asked me when I’m having children — never! When one of my lesbian friends said, oh you’ll feel different when it’s your child, I told her, well how would you like it if I said you just haven’t found the right man?)

Gilbert’s writing is certainly colorful — her description of the various folks she encounters in her travels reminded me of Peter Mayle’s work. The section in Bali was probably the best part of the book since that’ where you really get a sense of these individuals as people rather than “characters.” The section on India did get a bit tedious (how many times do we need to hear how hard it is to meditate?) but they did make her seem more human.

Some things I found annoying — well, there are some clunky metaphors that made me go “oh please” (e.g. her toxic boyfriend is both her “catnip and kryptonite”) Another book club member also found the ending just a little too “perfect.” Then of course, there’s the fact that she doesn’t have to worry about money. This is an entertaining journey but not one the vast majority of unhappy thirty-somethings can take.

What people hated — one book club member gave the whole dark side of the Ashram and guru described in her story (whom she described as “guru give-me-all-your-money”). Her sister-in-law was one of her devotees and wound up spending all her mother’s savings. Another member couldn’t get very far into the Italy section, finding it just frivolous and silly. The general sense is that while we would love to have Gilbert sit down with us at dinner and tell stories, we really couldn’t understand all the hype this book has received.

Now, on to the important part — the restaurant! We tried the highly-rated new restaurant, Firebox, which is Hartford’s take on the locally-grown craze. The food is really great although a bit pricey and portions are a bit stingy compared to the super-size dishes you get elsewhere. My only complaint is the lack of parking at and near the restaurant. It’s not the best neighborhood for a woman (or man) to walk around alone.

Next month selection: Two Lives, Janet Malcolm’s biography of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

Book Club: Run

This month’s book club was our annual holiday outing to Grants Restaurant in West Hartford. Although the place is really too loud to have a good discussion, especially this time of year, their desserts are so great it’s worth it!

Oh, yes, the book. This month we read Ann Patchett’s latest novel, Run. I was looking forward to reading this since I’ve loved her other books. I was not disappointed, although this is more sparely written than her other books. Although the set up for the plot seemed a bit contrived, and the sequence with the ghost just didn’t make sense, overall the interaction between the characters and the trajectory of the novel worked for me. Doyle naming his two adopted sons after Tip O’Neill and Teddy Kennedy, while silly, also reveals his desperation to fulfill his failed political aspirations through his son. Interestingly enough, the others in book group who enjoyed the book, like me, do not have children. The two members with (grown) children found the relationships between parents and children unbelievable and annoying. Wonder if this is a pattern among other readers.

“Fearing our Students” — Chronicle Column

I read Thomas H. Benton’s lastest column in the Chronicle of Higher Education with a mixture of empathy and horror. I definitely have had students who have given me the creeps (including one who followed me to my car after a graduate seminar, although eventually he quit when I told him firmly to cool it). What’s horrifying is his lack of empathy for students with serious mental health problems (and for students in general).

I can’t help wondering if the “glares of hatred” he receives from some students is a product of the really hateful attitude that comes through in this column. Perhaps it’s time for a sabbatical? At any rate, I hope the Chronicle finds some new columnists (moi?) to inject some fresh perspectives into this section.

Happy B-day to Me and DJ Hope


Hi folks,

Today’s my birthday, which I share with my identical twin sister, aka DJ Hope. The theme of this week’s Disability Blog Carnival is my favorite things — my birthday is certainly one of them!

People often ask me, so what’s it like being a twin? I always reply, well, what’s it like being a “singleton”?

[p.s. just got one of my other favorite things — a snow day! Too bad it got called AFTER I drove to work, only to turn around an hour later and spend 1.5 hours to get home (3 times the usual amount of time).

Gig at AHAP

Just returned yesterday from a trip to Akron, Ohio to give a talk at the Archives of the History of American Psychology. The folks there were very friendly and helpful. The talk was a big hit as well. I was a bit nervous because most of those who attended my Cheiron session last summer didn’t seem to get be that interested in clinical issues, and completely missed the point of the disability perspective (John Burnham, for example, said he agreed with most of it but said the seriously mentally ill should really be locked up for their own good — okay he was a bit more tactful than that but it was the general drift).

Most of the audience members at AHAP were graduate students and faculty in counseling or clinical psychology. Some of the most intriguing questions were from a fellow named Fred Frese, who is a clinical professor of psychology at Case Western who is also a recovering schizophrenic and advocate for other mentally ill individuals. He introduced himself right before my talk, which gave me the courage to “come out” right away as a person with bipolar disorder. He suggested looking at the Association on Higher Education and Disability which has a special interest group on psychiatric disability. He also mentioned attempts to reform the Javits-Wagner-O’Day act to include mental illness (originally this legislation was created in 1930s to assist the blind, then was extended to physically disabled in 1970s). As Frese put it, mentally ill individuals want to be on the bus, even if it’s at the back. He asked if I was willing to work for this, to which I said “absolutely!”

Other things to look into: Andrew Sperling, legal counsel at NAMI,
Tony Young, Senior Public Policy Analyst at NISH, decriminalizing mental illness (apparently the LA county jail is one of the largest psychiatric facilities in the country by default!)

New Blog Name

Hi folks(or rather the handful of family/friends who read this thing!),

I’ve decided that since this blog is about more than medical history (and very few of my posts are about medical history), to make a name change that more fully reflects the posts on this site. It’s also a take on the conservative history/current events blog,  Spinning Clio.

Most importantly, as you can see from my many posts on the subject, I just plain like to knit! It’s a way to relieve stress, especially during long meetings of Faculty Senate and AAUP.

Back to School

A recent post on Dan Cohen’s Digital History Blog reminded me to update my blog and use it to brainstorm about ideas for using my recently acquired skills in the classroom! My idea for the week is to do some kind of riff on the uses/abuses of Wikipedia, similar to that described by Christopher Miller in the May 2007 issue of AHA Perspectives. At first I thought I would do this just for HIST 162 (the U.S. survey) but think I may do a version for each of my courses. Wish me luck!