Wednesday, August 25, 2004

too much workshopping

I'm so exhausted after three days of "investigating US history" workshops that I fell asleep three times while trying to read Bush's Brain, and now all I seem to be able to do is watch television. This was not a total waste of time, however, as I saw this new, improved version of Robert Weide's documentary, Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth. You can read all about it on this website:
Weide writes there that he was obsessed by Bruce as a teenager, and so was I. I don't know why, but I checked out a bunch of Lenny Bruce concert records from the Chapel Hill public library, taped them and then listened to them over and over. He was my hero. I loved this documentary mostly because it had all kinds of bits I'd never heard or seen before, including Bruce on Steve Allen's show.

Why am I sleepy? Today I was the only woman in a room full of men, all white and much older than I. I was already feeling good and hostile toward them, because the day before, one guy had described a relatively inocuous comment I made as an example of the hegemonic "neo-progressive" ideology that has overtaken the American historical profession. Since I'd read Novick's That Noble Dream in college and turned in a final paper with "progress" crossed out as the title, I took silent, personal umbrage at this.
This was my day to present my project-to-be to the group and I was unprepared, having spent the previous three days in mind-numbing workshops and the previous weeks desperately trying to use the last weeks of vacation to improve my book.
The workshop's organizer had asked me to design a "course module" on a women's history topic. I was bored by this prospect and had done almost nothing with it.
Today, as I was doing my presentation to the room full of men, speaking to them about the problems of women speaking in public, I realized, "oh the project is still very relevant." I had that feeling I used to have in Love and Rage meetings that almost none of the people I was speaking to could take even my most basic points seriously. This was especially the case when I started talking about corsets and how I was thinking about taking advantage of the web as a visual medium to talk about how women political activists looked, what they wore, etc. - especially, because students are "obsessed with fashion." Clothing might not seem serious, but really, can you imagine how crippling it must have felt to try to speak and go around and do things when wearing something that necessitated "fainting benches" on stairway landings?
People must not think about how much clothing affects the way their bodies feel. I had an intense argument with V. last year after I read an article about the girdle industry and girdle-fitters. The experience with the historians today was not so intense, but I got similarly frustrated. I'm sure that Lenny Bruce would have been sympathetic to the plight of the girdle-wearing, would have had something funny to say about it, at least. He was funny because he took things so seriously.
My plan is to do a web-based assignment using both written documents and photographs to teach intro level college history students about women activists in the 1890s-1900s. I'm not sure exactly yet how it will work, but the large questions will be "what makes something a 'woman's issue' and to whom? How did women both maintain and challenge feminine norms and conventional notions of "respectability" through what they said and how they presented themselves? I'm thinking of using Margaret Sanger, Emma Goldman, Frances Perkins, Ida B. Wells, Alice Paul and Frances Willard.

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