My #MeToo

There are a million terrible things happening. Nothing happening about gun regulations in the five years since first-graders were murdered at school one year ago today. Losing the neutrality of the internet. I could go on, but I think we all know about most of the injustices happening, though maybe not so much about prison gerrymandering or children with disabilities losing their protections in school or voter suppression of minorities. 

I don’t think I have anything particularly unique to contribute about most of these issues, but I do think I have something to say about the sexual harassment reckoning. So here it is: 

On the biggest day of the #MeToo movement, I wondered why I didn’t have a moment to share. I cringed at the self-exposure, and didn’t want to participate. I didn’t want to say that I had been hurt, because I wasn’t sure if I had been. I haven't had to deal with a hostile work environment, and I wasn't systematically victimized. In other words, I wasn’t sure if I had a #MeToo moment. 

But maybe I didn’t have a #MeToo moment because I hadn’t pursued a career in a male-dominated field? Or because I hadn’t spent much time out late in sketchy bars? Had I somehow avoided all this because of inadvertent choices I made? Or maybe I just got lucky? 

Or what if I did have a moment? Maybe I did, but did it really count? 

That’s how rampant this is: We—women, mostly—lose the ability to discern what counts. But that question itself is suspect. If we question at all if it counts—and we question, of course, because those moments make us question ourselves—then it counts. Of course it counts, I as can see now. 

The male administrator condescending to me counts. 

The male student telling me to suck his you-know-what counts. 

The bad date who spooked me counts. 

The guy who followed me home from the bus stop counts. 

The father of a male student trying to embarrass me in front of other parents counts. 

I used to think it was me they were insulting. I understand now that it was women more generally. These moments weren't about my worthiness, and in fact had nothing to do with me. Each moment was about each man's desire for superiority. 

What I experienced wasn’t assault, and maybe doesn’t even constitute harassment. But it was still men wielding sexual power. And that’s never OK. 

Almost every day now, as new allegations emerge, I see men and women alike state: “I believe her.” Or, “I believe the women.” These need to stop. What these statements imply is that the credibility of the woman is not enough, that her account must be verified, as if it’s a credit card with a security code. When a woman musters the courage and finds the right circumstances to come forward, we need to believe her. We don’t need to say we believe her, we just need to do it. 

This moment has made me feel more rage about gender inequality. It’s not only a problem that individual women are and were being traumatized, it’s a problem that too many women to count have abandoned or foregone entirely careers that they could have excelled in, and it's a problem that we have lost all their potential contributions to society. 

And on top of that, how can these people—who clearly don’t see women as equals—make laws or interpret the laws? I just can’t handle it. So I’m angry now in a way that I wasn’t at the time these things happened to me because I had simply been conditioned to think that this was how things were. 

I truly didn't understand the extent of this problem. I didn't understand how much we still need feminism. I didn't understand how I might have been subtly directed toward a career that was lower in pay and status simply because it has been traditionally female. I didn't understand how pervasive and insidious this—harassment, assault, sexism, misogyny—still is. 


Two Months of Wilfing Later

WILFING: It's not illegal or even salacious, not even remotely devious.

I wish I had coined this acronym-turned-word:

This encapsulates much of what I've done the past two months in the little spare time that I've had.

Sometimes I wonder why the English language still has certain synonymous words. Why don't we prune the unnecessary ones? (By the way, I'm pretty sure there's a character out there in some novel that someone told me about a while ago who prunes words as he ages to eliminate the space they consume in his brain.) Why do we have words that mean almost the same thing? Sardonic and sarcastic, OK, fine--we need both. But what about pusillanimous and cowardly? Redundant! Also, probity and integrity? According to (my very favorite vocabulary site), probity means "complete and confirmed integrity," a definition which implies that the word "integrity" connotes neither completeness nor confirmation. Another case of superfluity.

The term "wilfing," however, captures a phenomenon or activity supposedly bound by our technological era, but which those with wandering minds know all too well. Thanks to Macmillan Dictionary, we have the etymology of this unfortunately obsolete yet still necessary word.

I'm pretty sure I stumbled on this wonderful word by wilfing, and even though I found the entry only a few minutes ago, I couldn't tell you how I ended up on it. I couldn't tell you how I find most of the things I find. While the word originated from people loafing around on the Internet, it applies to my off-screen life as well.

So, I now present the possibly amusing highlights of the past two months of wilfing:

Ginger -- This app/web extension (I have the free version) works as a spellchecker, grammar-checker, and sentence-structure-suggestion-maker. It's very easy to use, as you just paste in the text you want to check, and then it offers suggestions. From the app, you can send email, messages, etc. I'm hoping it will be a game-checker for some of my students for whom a regular spell check will not catch their mistakes.

Georgetown's Mascot, Jack the Bulldog -- This canine rides a skateboard. What else is there to say?

Other than this, that is!

Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay -- She writes about a feminism that is strong, confident, and accepting, not one that insists on a requirement of "nots"--not shaving, not wearing a bra ... because that's not what feminism is about. I've only read the free sample, but what I've read is challenging and insightful.

Invisibilia, The Podcast -- A new podcast from NPR about all things invisible. Per NPRInvisibilia (Latin for all the invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior - ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. It's conversational enough so that I don't have to work so terribly hard to understand it (because 1. that's annoying, and 2. I'm not good at listening, especially when doing something else, which is usually how I listen to podcasts because there's no way I can ever--barring illness--just sit still and listen) but not so chatty as to seem unedited. There are some podcasts out there in the ether that are on such fascinating topics but cry out so desperately for editing that I can't bear to listen. Seriously, editing out "ums" is not that difficult.

For more, here's a New Yorker article about it.

Massive Headphones (Bose Quiet Comfort 25) -- Ever since massive headphones became a cultural phenomenon, I have judged people who wear them. Seriously, what is so wrong with the ear bud? Well, I was very wrong. This discovery emerged from desperation. Back in November, about to board a Wednesday-Before-Thanksgiving flight filled with rowdy toddlers, I panicked. I walked over the kiosk with overpriced electronics and asked the man which listening device which was the cheapest that would also block out noise. I paid $18 for in-ear buds that blocked out most noise. Bliss ensued. But my ears began to hurt. A little bit of research later, I found these. Here's the thing: I can actually concentrate. I can think clearly in a way that I've never been able to before. You know when you get run-down and then develop a cold, and then you get well, and you realize you've forgotten what it's like to actually be well? These headphones are like being well, only for the first time. I developed an instrumental music playlist on Spotify (how am I just realizing how amazing that is, by the way?) that helps me drown out inanity when I am trying to get work done in a public place. I'm still self-conscious when I pull them out on the bus, but the peace of mind gained is worth a little self-consciousness lost.

Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi — Definitely didn’t find this book just by wilfing, but finally got around to picking it up. And couldn’t put it down. It’s the first novel I’ve read in a long while that I was absolutely absorbed in. It feels silly to say that this book is about race and identity, because that diminishes the nuance of both subjects, but at the same time, it is about both race and identity. But not in an overt or obnoxious way, but instead in a brilliant, enlightening way. I’ll leave you with these snippets.

With a "K"

With a "K." Karabell, with a "K." Not a "C." It's not like Caroline, or Carolyn, or Care Bear, or Coffee, or Caramel, though it does rhyme with the latter. Play a "K" in Scrabble, and you'll earn more points than if you played its evil twin.

Now that I am no longer a Murphy, at least legally, I have developed a deep retrospective appreciation for simple names, or, more specifically, distinguishable consonant sounds. I like the name Karabell. It has a ring to it, as we Karabells like to say. And I have to admit that the sonorous quality of the name had an effect on my adoption of it. Coupled with its consistent ring, it is unique, and it also has bestowed on me some quality initials: AMK. Say it aloud. Or you can say it how Jacob does: A to the M to the K! It sounds good. Much better than ANM. Sorry, mom and dad, but it's true. The tongue can only move so quickly from the N to M, whereas the tongue position for the K naturally follows that of the M.

Why do I tell you this? Well, this weekend, I had a wish come true. After being married for 15 months and being addressed as one these variations ...

  • Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Karabell (absolutely unacceptable) 
  • Mr. and Mrs. Karabell (decent, but not ideal) 
  • The Karabells (totally acceptable, but let's remember who the name Karabell first belonged to) 
  • Mrs. Jacob Karabell (the worst) 

... Jacob and I were jointly referred to as:

Well, hallelujah! Justice! Equality! Feminism! A big shout out to Jessie and Matt here, who remembered that I had been less than excited to be addressed as Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Karabell at a previous wedding. Jacob didn't mind one bit, and as far as I'm concerned, people can address us as this for another 15 months, just to even things out, whereupon we can then be referred to as Mr. Jacob and Mrs. Annie Karabell. To make things even better, Jacob should be Mr. and I should be Ms., eliminating the gender double-standard when it comes to formal naming conventions. Why? Well, I have a name, too. Yes, I have a name. I took on his last name, happily of course, but I still have a first name. In fact, now that I think about it more, I'm considering pressing for a change in social etiquette: If a woman takes the man's last name as her last name, the couple should henceforth be addressed as Mr. and Ms. HER FIRST NAME THEIR LAST NAME. That way, her name--and her existence as an independent human being--is primary, and is more important than the fact that she has committed herself to someone else for the rest of her life. The union of names represents a joining of families, a sentiment I appreciate, just so long as the woman's identity isn't subsumed as part of the man's and disappears forever.

Jacob and I have a pretty swell thing going here. We make decisions together, we clean together, we share dog duties. I don't belong to him. He doesn't belong to me. In fact, he didn't even have a preference about whether I became a Karabell or not. I took on his name because of its aesthetic value, its uniqueness--beneficial if I hope to continue writing, which I do--and for the sake of simplicity with regard to hypothetical future offspring. So my plea to you is this: Think anew about how you want to be addressed. And insist on it.

On another note, one of the many reasons I have failed to write consistently here is because I cannot decide what to write about, or rather, what not to write about. Is this an education blog? If so, is it a compendium of teaching techniques and tools, a narrative of what I do, or way to share my voice about education policy? Or maybe it's a let-me-experiment-with-long-form-journalism blog? A book review blog?

Here is a sampling of topics I might write about here:

(a) Feminism and Society (above)

(b) Books

This week I finished listening to An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. It's one of those books that is really worth listening to, mostly because the strain and cadence of her voice reveals so much more than the words on the page can.

I want to read Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart after listening to several interviews with him, especially the one by Michael Silverblatt on KCRW's Bookworm. Have you read it? If so, dish!

(c) Articles

Ron Suskind, a writer I admire, wrote this article about his son's journey with autism last week in the New York Times. From there, I meandered to Hanna Rosin's piece in The Atlantic about her son's Asperger's diagnosis and the end of Asperger's as a distinct diagnosis. It's now encapsulated within the Autism Spectrum Disorders and is considered a high-functioning form of the disorder because those afflicted still have speech and sometimes high verbal abilities.  That led me to The Atlantic's collection of responses to her article, when then led to me one mother's web site about her daughter's experience with autism. I'll post the links when I'm able to find them again.

(d) Education

Over the past week, my students have begun reading books in small groups called Literature Circles. They have had to make their own reading calendars, create their own vocabulary lists, and keep each other on track with their work. I am so impressed! It is working out much better than I thought it would, and they are generally much more engaged than they otherwise are. I made time to speak to them all (well, almost all) individually on Friday, and ALMOST EVERY SINGLE ONE (except two) said that he/she was enjoying the book. Moral of the story after week 1: Choice and ownership make a tremendous difference.

So I'd like your input ... what would you like to hear about?

(a) Feminism and Society

(b) Books

(c) Articles (and links) and my *ideally* articulate rants responses to them

(d) Education (meaning, what I do in my classroom, and how I am a real teacher, unlike those referenced in this article from the Onion, which, albeit satirical, is most reflective of trends in education these days. Special thank you to SD for sharing the article!)

(e) Whimsical story ideas (though no promises here!)

(f) All of the above, all at the same time (this option most closely resembles the play-by-play of my mind, though, perhaps, this does not easy reading make).

Please vote by posting a comment!