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The day after November 10, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in Politics, societal commentary, teaching.
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I went to bed Tuesday knowing that Trump was president.  I didn’t wake up to a shock, and even when I went to bed, I wasn’t that shocked.  I guess having lived through 8 years of George W Bush made me rather cynical about the way our country deals with problems and adversity.  (That is, usually in the least constructive manner possible.)  Unlike a lot of people, I’m not raging and upset at the outcome: I’m just disappointed and know the next four years are going to be tough.

I pondered how to handle it with my class, though, and decided the best solution was to not bring it up.  As I’ve mentioned before, this is one of my most diverse classes ever.  About 1/3 of them are international students (whom I suspect believe Americans are nuts), 1/4 Latino (whom I suspect are stressed about the election), a couple of black students (who keep their thoughts to themselves), and the last third are from the midwest (and I suspect there’s a few Trump supporters in there).  I figured it had no place in engineering and I didn’t want a fight to ensue on top of that.

After class, a student walked into my office, quite upset, and closed the door.  Then he asked if I’d voted for Trump.  I’ve had encounters with angry students before, so I, to be perfectly honest, was rather scared in that moment.  I simply said, “No, I didn’t.”

At that point, he sunk into a chair and started venting.  This student was very upset because of dealing with some other students who were Trump supporters.  I think he just wanted to be around someone who would understand where he was coming from and as I’m female, he felt there would be a good chance I would agree and possibly validate the frustration and anger he was dealing with.  He did calm down and seemed to be in better spirits when he left.

This has made me ponder if “keep quiet” was the right thing to do, however.  If I could go back, I would probably have said the following:

Some of you are probably pleased with the election.  Others of you probably are not.  Regardless of which side you’re on, I’d appreciate it if you gave everyone some space to deal with their thoughts on this.  It’s important to remember that we all have to live with each other after this, and there’s no reason to be gloating or angry because someone made a different decision than you did.

Not sure if it would help or hurt, but maybe acknowledging how everyone was feeling (and has a right to feel) would’ve helped remind the students how we are supposed to behave as mature adults.  That’s part of what they’re supposed to be learning at college, too.

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Sanders’ “sexist” behavior March 7, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, Politics, societal commentary, teaching.
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I almost made a tweetstorm about this topic, but when you have to confine your thoughts to 140-character morsels, it kind of ruins the flow of ideas.

Apparently Bernie Sanders is sexist for asking Clinton to stop interrupting him during last night’s debate.  You won’t believe how hard I laughed at that notion.

Let’s start by looking at the other debates that have been going on.  Part of the reason that the GOP debates have been such a horrible mess is because the candidates constantly interrupt and talk over each other and then someone gets mad and starts shouting.  As many people have noted, these debates haven’t exactly been the high point of civility, and the behavior of interrupting and talking over other candidates is exactly some of the problem.  I am taking the tack, therefore, that interrupting is rude.

Let me restate that.  Interrupting is RUDE.

This is something that, as a woman, has made me absolutely insane.  I have had a couple male colleagues in the past who would not let me finish my sentences.  I don’t think they’re doing it because they’re sexist (although one of them certainly is).  It’s something they often do to men, as well.  I think that interrupting is just a jerk thing to do because you’re telling the other person that you don’t care what they have to say and that whatever is going on in your head is more important than whatever idea the other person is trying to get across.

When dealing with one colleague, I’ve seriously had to bite my tongue.  I had fantasies of offering to bring in the younger son to demonstrate to him how to have a respectful conversation.  Failing that, though, I’ve also fantasized about telling him simply, “Wait your turn! I’m talking!”  I spent a lot of time wondering how to say it so that it wasn’t perceived that I was being rude…despite the fact he was being rude to begin with.

I see a lot of this dynamic when teaching, as well.  I had one individual student who would sit and talk with his friends in the back of the class, often to the point of being loud enough that nearby students couldn’t hear.  As the teacher, though, there was a bit a power dynamic I could use, so the student and his buddies were told to move to the front row of desks in the classroom where they would sit for the rest of the semester.  I told the students that I liked them which is why I moved them to the front of the class instead of just kicking them out altogether.  Was that rude?  Perhaps, but so is disrupting the class and, as the teacher, I need to maintain at least a minimal level of authority and dominance in the classroom.

If you look at interrupting in the big picture, there’s a dynamic in the workplace where men are more likely to interrupt than women are.  This is because men’s communication style tends toward using conversation to express dominance and women tend to use other styles more geared towards making connections.

On stage, Clinton was adopting, very appropriately for politics, a male style of communication where she was attempting to use discussion as a way to maintain dominance.  It’s a way to mow down Sanders’ ideas and make her own dominant.  In politics, like in many professional areas, women have to learn to adopt this communication style in order for their male colleagues to take them seriously.  Sanders did the thing that so many women have a hard time with but need to learn to do.  He essentially said, “Stop talking. Stop interrupting.  I was speaking. Wait your turn.”  It wasn’t sexist: it was a way to prevent himself from being mowed over.

The problem is that, like Sanders, women who assert that they won’t have their ideas mowed over are often seen as rude and pushy.  The consequences for drawing  your conversational line in the sand can be pretty severe, especially if you’re a woman.  If the roles were reversed, Sanders would have been seen as sexist for interrupting and not letting Clinton speak.  Clinton would have been doing the right thing to tell him to stop interrupting.  If it had been two men, it would’ve been shrugged off.

My take away from this is that the conversation dynamic between Clinton and Sanders shows Clinton and Sanders see each other as equals.  Clinton attempted to dominate the conversation (the way many men do) and Sanders wasn’t going to play the subordinate.  If you really want to make something sexist out of this, maybe more women need to learn to follow both of their examples, and more men need to not freak out when it happens.

Why should I vote for Bernie? February 5, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in Politics.
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I don’t too often veer into overtly political topics, but I keep getting this question and this seems as good as any place to discuss my views openly.  (If you’re a republican or non-American and couldn’t figure it out from the title, this post will most likely not be of interest to you.)  I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter (having been a fan of his since his early days in congress) and I’ve been asked why I would vote for him rather than Clinton.

Don’t you want the US to finally have a female president?

Yes, I do.  But in this case, principles are a bit more important than a uterus.

Now that we have that out of the way, I want to make one thing expressly clear:  I think both of them are immensely qualified. They both vote similarly 90% of the time.  I don’t think either of them would be a bad president, but that’s not the issue in securing the nomination.  The question is, in my mind, which one would be a better president?

In my mind, the biggest difference is their definitions of success.  Bernie wants to be a public servant, and Clinton wants to be elected.  I’m not saying it’s bad to want to be elected, but I don’t think that should be the primary driver for a public servant. Bernie is extremely constant in his views and that hasn’t changed over the tenure of his time in congress unless his constituents have requested something to change.  Clinton has made a lot of very good career moves, but I really think they’ve been a lot more about securing her position than about the people she serves.

For instance, it has always bothered me that she went to New York to become a senator rather than back to Arkansas.  It was no doubt a smart move, but it wasn’t a very principled one.

Another example is the Trans Pacific Partnership (which I am very disappointed that Obama has signed).  This was something that Clinton had been pushing for when she was in congress.  Bernie has been against it since day one.  However, with it becoming clear that Bernie was going to be her main competitor (and to some extent, O’Malley), she waffled for a while and then finally came out against it.  It isn’t just a shift: it’s a complete 180 from her previous position.  It’s become clear that Clinton has been making a swing to the left to get primary voters.  Guess what she’ll do for the general election to pick up undecideds from the republican voters: shift to the right.

I would like to know what I’m voting for, for a change.  And I suspect that Bernie isn’t going to change his views just to pick up voters.  He doesn’t need to because it’s pretty clear he has most voters’ interests as his primary concern, unlike most politicians who are encumbered by the lobbyists.

A pretty common critique is that Bernie is unrealistic and because he is so principled, he won’t be able to get anything done while Clinton is claiming that she’s “a progressive that gets things done.”  I can’t vouch for the Clinton claim (though I don’t personally agree with it), but I can say that the criticism of Bernie is completely uncalled for.  All you have to do is look at the fact that he’s a democratic candidate.  If he was so principled as to not accomplish anything, he would’ve run as an independent and you probably wouldn’t have any idea who he was unless you belong to that particular group of fringe voters and politicos.  His existence as a democratic candidate upends that argument.

The final consideration is what you’re hoping to get out of a democratic nominee should s/he become president.  The political winds, in congress at least, are blowing to the right.  Obama certainly hasn’t accomplished what he wanted.  I don’t suspect that would change for either Bernie or Clinton.  In fact, I actually think Clinton will be at a disadvantage relative to Bernie on this front.  Clinton is…well…a Clinton.  All of the vitriol that the right had for Bill Clinton is going to be aimed front and center at his wife.  Bernie has an advantage in that he has learned over a few decades how to deal with congress.  He also has a strong set of principles.  Conservatives typically appreciate that more than compromise, something that the left tends to underestimate.

By having a strong set of principles that, to some extent, appeal to the right (particularly veterans) as well as an ability to work with congress, Bernie is set up to be able to get at least some legislation through.  Clinton could do the same but her approach will be to move to the right in order to do so.  This means that the things we could see coming from a Clinton administration will be very much in line with what has been coming from the Obama administration.  While that’s better than what would happen should a republican presidency take place, I think Bernie could actually shift the center just a bit farther away from corporate interests.

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