Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Women and sex: upcoming film screenings of interest

MIT's Women and Gender Studies has some cool upcoming film screenings, with discussion afterward:
  • The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality, and Relationships (Monday, 2/1 7pm in 6-120) by the Media Education Foundation.
  • Subjectified: Nine Young Women Talk About Sex (Thursday, 2/4 7pm in 6-120) by Melissa Tapper Goldman.
Read more here.

The Facebook generation is getting a little bit married

Upon Feministing's recommendation, I read Hannah Seligson's A Little Bit Married, a book about the phenomenon of today's 20-somethings moving into long-term relationships with cohabitation without marriage in sight. I had picked up this book hoping to better understand questions like what it means to live together, how and when to get out of cohabitation situations, and how to make decisions based on a significant other you're not married to. This book was quite educational with respect to each of these questions.

Seligson writes that along with the courting phenomena of the hook-up and the college marriage is "a little bit married," there is the situation where a couple will be practically married (cohabitating, sharing vacations, sharing family holidays, sharing pets, etc.) for several years without being actually married. These relationships may end in marriage, but they may also end with one person getting a new job and moving away. Seligson states a few reasons for this phenomenon. The biggest seems to be that the twenties have become the "Odyssey years"--people tend to go through several jobs and travel before they settle down in their thirties. Because people are hesitant to settle down and commit before they have "made it" career-wise/financially, there is now this extra 10-year period where people are looking for companionship and ultimately a life partner but this may not be the biggest priority. Seligson calls us the "Facebook generation"--people used to a certain amount of physical isolation, connected through social networks, and used to getting what we want (and hence picky about partners). According to Seligson, to be married in your twenties now puts you in the minority and people of our generation will probably be in several long-term relationships before marrying.

There are many questions that arise in an "a little bit married" (ALBM) situation. (While the cover of the book suggests that it is about how to get the guy to propose to you, this is not the case!) Besides describing "case studies" in ALBM, Seligson discusses how to navigate career commitments and relationships with the significant other's family, how to decide whether to live together, how to negotiate the logistics of living together, how to decide whether to break up, how to break up (when you live together), how to move things along if you want to know where it's going, how to decide whether to get married, and how to view compromise/sacrifice in relationships. She also gives some thoughts on how women can balance the competing forces of "I can't let marriage get in the way of having a career" and "my eggs are drying up." Since most of these issues were not relevant to people who I know of my parents' generation and I haven't had enough friends my age go through this kind of thing, this book gives the best advice I've seen about these sorts of things.

I highly recommend this book, especially to people who are a little bit married (which many of my college friends now are) and to people at transitional stages in their lives (ahem, college seniors) trying to figure out how much to base their decisions on the decisions of their significant others. This book provides a lot of the perspective I haven't gotten from peers and people of the older generation.

Why a woman can't be more like a man

Thanks to Margo for sending me this article last week.

In response to Clay Shirky's "A Rant About Women," Kate Harding wrote this piece answering the question of why a woman can't be more like a man. The "manly" qualities they are talking about here (loosely) are confidence/arrogance, stubborness, and ruthless ambition.

Clay Shirky writes, " would be good if more women see interesting opportunities that they might not be qualified for, opportunities which they might in fact fuck up if they try to take them on, and then try to take them on."

Kate Harding's response is that 1) women are often punished for acting like men (they are considered frigid bitches and still not given recognition), since everyone expects them to act like women and 2) it shouldn't have to be the case that women have to act "like men" to succeed. She writes, "So no it's not like I think Shirky's giving out bad advice here... I want a better world for women who don't have a 'screw you' streak a mile wide, too. The other part, the much greater part, involves recognizing what happens to women who 'act like men' -- i.e., who act like they deserve respect, fair pay and acclaim for good work -- and calling it out until it stops."

For most of my life I've received advice along the lines of what Clay Shirky says and I haven't thought much about Harding's argument, but Harding makes good points that are worth thinking about.

That's Why I Chose Yale: the mini-musical

This Yale admissions video is a must-watch*. It is so well done.

* I rarely watch random videos and only watched this one after multiple people sent me the link.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Next Barbie: computer engineer

I'm really amused by this Barbie vote for the next Barbie: will she be an environmentalist, surgeon, architect, news anchor, or computer engineer? It's especially amusing(/terrible) is that Barbie seems to adopt a new career only every few years.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Some songs I like

It has been noted that I don't really discuss my music preferences*. Below are ten songs I'm really into right now:
  1. Dresden Dolls, "Mandy Goes to Med School"
  2. Tom Waits, "Tango Till They're Sore"
  3. Iggy Pop, "King of the Dogs" (fantastic video)
  4. Amanda Palmer, "Oasis" (great video)
  5. The Bird and the Bee, "Man"
  6. Jesca Hoop, "Silverscreen"
  7. Jill Tracy, "Evil Night Together"
  8. Tom Waits, "Jockey Full of Bourbon"
  9. The Bird and the Bee, "Polite Dance Song" (amazing video)
  10. Alice Smith, "Woodstock"
Side note: I want to learn improvisational jazz on piano. I would consider myself to be an intermediate pianist. (I previously played for 10+ years but haven't really played for the last six...) Any advice?

* This might have started in college when my roommates made fun of me for listening to a lot 90's music (Everclear, Third Eye Blind, and gangsta rap)...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On collaboration

A friend told me that she was thinking about getting a power couple to mentor her and her boyfriend as a couple. She said that people call her and her boyfriend a power couple because both of them are graduate students with ambitious career plans, and that the fact that both of them are so ambitious worries her because it's difficult to negotiate compromise and determine which fights to pick. This got me thinking about how there is little guidance to have the impressive, synergistic net horizontal* collaborations like these couples have.

I have been thinking about the issue of horizontal collaboration quite a bit in an academic context. While I have gotten advice about how to succeed as an individual and how to navigate the vertical advisor-student relationship, I've gotten significantly less guidance about how to handle situations where there are non-binding commitments between equals. I have been given little guidance about 1) finding someone I can work well with, 2) negotiating a set of goals, 3) negotiating interfaces for working, and 4) actually working with the person (communicating with the appropriate frequency/via the appropriate media, negotiating power and respect, compromising rather than withdrawing--and getting the other person to do the same, etc.)**. I am not even sure if this is the appropriate set of questions to be asking.

There are various reasons why I think people don't tend to give advice about how to enter into successful collaborations. First of all, the degree to which people are good at/enjoy working with others is often accepted as a personality trait that isn't likely to change. Secondly, many people have this ideal of the "lone genius" and believe that smart people do not need to work together. (When I told a professor that I wanted to work on my horizontal collaboration skills, he said I didn't need them because the best people work alone or with their students.) People also have a belief that people who don't work well with others don't desire to work with others. Yet another thing is that in many aspects of life, people don't get to choose who they work with, so understanding how to choose people you work well with and how to work with them isn't the most useful skill to have.

When I told a professor from undergrad about my desire to improve at peer collaboration, she suggested that I approach a peer and do a project in the intersection of our interests. Following her advice, I propositioned my officemate to enter not only into a collaboration (on a programming languages topic in the intersection of our interests, specifics to be decided) but also a meta-collaboration about how our collaboration is going. So far we have collaborated on better understanding the components of collaboration (the spectrum from horizontal to vertical, the size of the interface). Collaborate, collaborating, collaboration, collate***. I will let you know how this goes--I think these lessons will apply to life in general.


* I refer to vertical relationships as ones with clearly unequal power balance and horizontal ones where the power is equal and neither person's interests or goals subsumes the others.
** I think these things apply to romantic relationships as well.
*** One of these is not like the others.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

2010 New Year's Resolutions

Given that we're over a week into 2010, it's time I committed to some resolutions. In Influence, Cialdini says that the way to do something you want to do is to commit to it publicly, so here goes.

I have the following two resolutions:
  1. Change how I interact with technology so that it's enhancing my quality of life rather than distracting me from reality. While the things like my phone and the internet (e-mail, Facebook, and Google Reader) are good for connecting me with people and keeping me up to date on current events, I'd like to figure out how much is too much and get rid of everything superfluous. For instance, while Facebook is great for letting me know what friends I haven't seen since high school are doing, it's bad if I'm spending the afternoon Facebook stalking rather than having face-to-face contact. Also, reading random junk mail about EMS sales is about as unproductive and as unrelaxing as watching TV commercials. My friend Chenxing recommended that I look at and gave some other suggestions about reducing junk mail, opting out of credit card offers, etc. So far, I've unsubscribed from 20-30 mailing lists and have set up filters on my e-mail inbox so that there are fewer distractions.
  2. Change things so that how I spend my time reflects what I value. At this point in my life, 1) what I'm "too busy" for reflects my own lifestyle choices rather than anything that's been imposed on me and 2) I'm not actually "too busy" for a lot of things. I've been learning that my being "too busy" is self-imposed barrier to having more fun that results from guilt about not working as much as I could and from living in a culture where how busy you are reflects how cool you are. In the coming year, I want to be more honest with myself about how I spend my time and how I want to spend my time. I will work on recognizing the that I (usually) have time for 1) seeing friends, 2) doing fun things (such as attending fun talks and taking up rugby), 3) reading blogs and news, 4) sleeping, and 5) doing things for other people.

A Girl's Life

Rachel Simmons has a documentary A Girl's Life (streaming free online) that talks about the body image, social interaction, and other issues that 21st century adolescent girls face. Simmons discusses media pressure on girls and how it affects girls' self image, how technology affects the way girls interact (addictive texting, cyber-bullying), girl-on-girl physical aggression, and how single-sex education can benefit girls.

Though I have my usual issue with Simmons's work that she doesn't provide insight into why the situation is so precarious for girls, this video is interesting and information and provides an accurate portrayal of certain facets of adolescent life for teenage girls.

I am glad that my all-girls middle/high school took care to discuss these sorts of issues. For instance, we had someone come talk about her doctoral dissertation on the distortion of the female body in the media, from the sexualization of Ariel in The Little Mermaid to editing of magazine model photos. What was the experience of people who did not go to all-girls schools with respect to this kind of thing?

* This presentation, by the way, was met with a good amount of hostility and suspicion by middle school girls struggling to socialize themselves into a world with these media-created standards.

How to have more sex with Richard Wiseman

Friday I went to How to have more sex with Richard Wiseman*, part of Richard Wiseman's book tour promoting 59 seconds, his new book busting myths from self-help books and providing tips and tricks based on psychology and other research. According to his Amazon biography, he has done research in "offbeat areas of psychology, including deception, humor, and luck" and is a "passionate advocated for science." He talked about things like magic tricks and how they take advantage of psychology, optical and aural illusions that take advantage of perception, and his experiences debunking myths of the paranormal (for instance, fire-walking). He showed us a few of his videos, including the amazing color changing card trick.

* It took me a while to realize that the talk title was based on talk titles that parse "How to have more sex, with Richard Wiseman."

When to buy

I came across this helpful blog post about when to buy things. Some highlights:
  • Airline tickets—For domestic nonholiday travel, look for the lowest fares 21 days from your departure. Fares are updated at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 8 p.m. on weekdays, and airlines file one update on Saturday and Sunday. Lowest fares are filed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and occasionally on Saturdays. Wednesday is generally the cheapest day to fly and Sunday the most expensive. (Exception: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving—the busiest travel day of the year.) For holiday travel, start looking in September to get a good price. Fares can change quickly, and much depends on the carrier and the market.
  • Coupons—While coupons are available throughout the year, the most coupons appear in the Sunday paper during November and December. The best deals on turkeys can be found two weeks before Thanksgiving to Christmas. In spring, you’ll find coupons on seasonal produce, ham, and frozen food (apparently March is National Frozen Food Month—who knew?). Summer coupons offer discounts on grilling items and ice cream. Autumn brings coupons on soup and other canned items.
  • Champagne—With steep competition to be your New Year’s Eve bubbly, Champagne houses drop prices during the holidays.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Lawsuit against Dahn Yoga

My friend Arun pointed me to this article about a lawsuit against Dahn Yoga calling it a "totalistic, high-demand cult group." See my previous blog post about Dahn Yoga here.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Is Food the New Sex?

In his Sidney awards II, David Brooks recommends Mary Eberstadt's article Is Food the New Sex?, which makes the observation that while people have become increasingly unprincipled about sex, they have become increasingly principled about food. Eberstadt says that the people who have become moralistic and evangelizing when it comes to food tend to be the same people with liberal views about sex:

In the end, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the rules being drawn around food receive some force from the fact that people are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone — and not knowing what to do about it, they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat.

Eberstadt says that the emotional harm that free sex has caused may cause people to redevelop morals about sex, saying "where mindless food is today, mindless sex — in light of the growing empirical record of its own unleashing — may yet again be tomorrow."

While the tone is somewhat moralizing and conservative when it comes to issues of sex*, I recommend reading this piece. The parallels Eberhadt draws between moralizing about food and sex are interesting and apt. While I disagree with the way Eberhadt frames views on food/sex in terms of morals, her characterization of morals as subject to trends is though-provoking.

* The piece is written from a fairly moralistic point of view in general.