Saturday, August 25, 2007

A whole different kind of Women's Studies

I support informed homemaking 100%.

With proper instruction, my muffins could be light and fluffy instead of little banana-bran bricks. A single quarter of middle-school Home Ec, combined with leaving my parent's house halfway through high school, failed to provide all the skills necessary to live efficiently -- with or without a husband and herd of children. I don't think I'm alone in fumbling through what were once standard women's skills, hemming pants, baking bread, remembering to dust. While I'm happy to live in luxury to the extent that I can pay someone else to do some of these things, I enjoy baking and ironing, et cetera. I think it's important to be self-sufficient, and I don't feel at all degrading baking a pie. There's no reason feminism and domestic chores can't co-exist peacefully. I thought it was settled for me.

Then I saw this headline and furiously switched headphones from iPod to CNN yesterday morning at the gym:

Southern Baptist Seminary to offer Academic Program in Homemaking

A fairly standard liberal arts education, with a more unusual track (23 hours) devoted to homemaking. Specifically, the making of a happy traditional christian home with subservient mom, babies, and bread-winning husband. My belief in a woman's right to choose extends to her occupation, so I was initially ambivalent.

If a nice woman find a nice man, and is inclined and financially able to spend her days at home, why shouldn't she be prepared?

Then I asked a question I often ask: What would Martha think?

Would Martha Stewart, my surrogate home ec tutor, support this? No. I think not. Martha may have built her empire on pie crust and pressed shirts, but it is the empire that makes her significant, not the pie. She is a business woman first, with a DIY bent. And while she comes off a bit conservative, she most definitely does not seem like a subservient homemaker. (She went to prison, for pete's sake!)

A little research later revealed details that turned me pretty firmly against Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's program.

1: The only woman instructor at the seminary is the president's wife, and the seminary does not seem to support women in the clergy.

2: The program is available strictly to women, in deference to traditional ("biblical") gender roles. While it may be vaguely biblical, I imagine most writers of that text intended women to learn these skills in the confines of her parent's house, not as part of a college degree. I also take issue with justifying anything as a biblical example, since the bible also recommends we stone women who are raped and drive them from the village.

3: Frankly, the curriculum seems insufficient. I couldn't clarify from the seminary's surprisingly beautiful web site (although I did notice the unusual Hispanic Studies program), but I'm guessing 23 hours equals 23 credits (meaning 34.5 quarter credits if they use semesters). Basically, the equivalent of a minor. Minors are pursued on the side of your real degree, generally for the sake of some personal interest. Minors add to your resume, help you start conservations -- they do not form the foundation for a successful life.

While sewing and budgeting classes are valuable, I can not believe that a scholastic track successfully replaces the years of instruction girls used to (and many still) receive from their female family members. I also do not believe this successfully replaces other degrees women could earn, in which they'd gain academic or professional knowledge to help them succeed in life -- beyond the home.

If the program claims to prepare women for motherhood, etc, it should provide more than 3 hours on "the value of the child." There's a lot more to know than can be taught in these classrooms. The purpose of this program is not to further women's education but to establish a women's place as in the home.

Do women have the right to choose homemaking over other opportunities? Certainly. But I would rather see women use the educational rights for which older generations fought to pursue something more lofty than cooking and cleaning tips that could be picked up via Tivo.

Martha airs at 10 am on KING 5.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

... but please don't ask me that.

There are many good reasons to walk around public places with a large Azure sign reading "ASK ME." I do it because it's what the Seattle Art Museum asks me to do when I volunteer. And I imagine that beyond simply advertising my purpose in the galleries, the sign lends me a certain air of ridiculousness that makes people more comfortable approaching me.

Unfortunately, along with restroom and Botticelli requests, I've recently received a number of more personal requests. I don't mean the nerdy older men who embarrass their teenage sons by asking me to marry them. No, I mean the younger men with more interest in eyeing women than the Andy Warhol.

I brushed it off when one followed me to the coat check two weeks ago, but this week my attempt to escape a more leering man into the minimalism room failed, and he followed up a compliment to my my sandals with the very cultured. "I like the way you look, very sexy, that's my friend from LA there, why don't you come with us and tell us about the city?" Here I am, completely appalled, spending as much time in the more secluded galleries as possible.

Later, I spent 45 minutes wandering the third floor avoiding another man, who's very basic questions about art made me think he thoroughly lacked any mind for creativity, or he was aiming for a date, or both; either way, I had no interest in repeated conversation with him. I clung to a few security guards as much as possible, listening very attentively to histories of their relationships, details accounts of their moves across the country, and review of every movie they've seen in the last 6 months.

If you're looking for a date, or just some art, feel free to join me at SAM. You can find me behind a big blue sign, wearing my frumpiest outfit -- maybe I can find a big sweater with a cat on it -- and making eye contact with only elderly ladies.

Lacks Persuasion

If I wanted to watch the Pride & Prejudice, I could've stayed home and done so. And maybe I should have.

Friday I was reminded of another Jane Austen theater experience not so long ago. A decent little movie moves along romantically, and I'm almost engaged in the plot when he come slowly across the undulating, green English landscape, coattails flapping in the mist. The fog clears, our hearts beat, and then -- oh, no, no. You're not Mr Darcy. And why is Kiera Knightly here? Where are the real actors?

No, Kiera -- though lovely -- is not Elizabeth Bennett, and no one but Colin Firth is Mr. Darcy. Most dissapointingly, Anne Hathaway is not Jane Austen, and Becoming Jane is not convinvingly about the beloved novelist.

If Becoming Jane was about another of the many British women named Jane, I wouldn't have missed the sharp wit, the social commentary and hint of feminism, the irony and exceptional romance. The film had a few really great moments, and for the most part the acting is convincing, if not inspiring. James McAvoy is absolutely adorable in every way -- fans of the actor would be a better audience than fans of Austen.

But because I went in with certain literary expectations, I left underwhelmed by the tertiary references to Austen's struggle as a novelist, as a female writer, and as a female who wanted to do anything but marry up. Austen's novels are brilliant, quick, dramatic, engaging, relatable -- many flattering adjectives unapplicable to the film. It alluded to her work, but I may have imagined the many poignant connections of her work and life -- the film seemed more concerned with close-ups than statements. And while I inderstand the period covered is when Austen began Pride & Prejudice, undoubtedly her most famous work, it could have drawn from her other works as well.

The plot felt disheveled, clunky. The developments didn't come in a fast-paced theatrical way, but through a very shallow, monotone arch. I was never caught up in a conflict long enough to feel anything before it was swept away. It was a vaguely realistic representation of a woman's ongoing indecision, not more bland than engaging in its familiarity. I can experience bland indecision at home. At the movies, I want drama.

The expereicne was also tained by an obnoxious audience. I blame the lackluster film for eliciting forced sighs, oohs, and oh-no!'s from the women around me. To the woman behind me: vocalizing your own emotions doesn't strengthen a film that lacks its own.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cheap and chic

Possibly the most thrilling personal shopping event since I got my driver's license, and one of the biggest Seattle shopping newsflashes I can think of:

H&M to be accessible to Raven on lunch breaks

Thanks to Kelsey for keeping me and other deprived devotees up-do-date.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

French cooking class deux

Bouillabaisse was great but I'm not ready for another pot of seafood, pasta aux herbs was wonderful, very fresh and light with great texture.

But the real winner was the pine nut tart. If I can squeeze in a trip to a cooking this weekend, for a tart pan and orange flower water, the tart will be mine. Expect post-baking updates.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

French weekend, parts 1 and 2

Part 1: the mussels

We bought the mussels at Costco. The blue mesh bag didn't look so big nestled in our cart with giant jars of artichoke hearts, a flat of coke, and half a garden of spinach. Not until it was time to cook did I realize my regular big pot wasn't big enough -- I needed the extra large pot from the top of the pantry, normally reserved for ... well, I can't remember actually using it before.

The other issue: I knew from my Provence class that Mussels are alive until they're cooked, that's why they're fresh, that's how they open up when cooked, and why you have to rinse them well and rip off their "beards." But I didn't actually participate in the debearding in class, and didn't grasp that alive meant actually living -- closing and opening in the fridge, and closing again when I took them out, making little squeaking and gasping noises. I dropped the bag in the sink, drew away in fear, approached it hesitantly, heard noises, ran away again, called Brian for help, Brian took pictures or my terrified attempts to tackle the little monsters, and eventually he took over while I went for the bottle of wine for cooking.

Eventually, many, many debearded mussels later, after sauteing and simmering, et cetera, Brian and I had 5 pounds of mussles between us, plus most of the Costco-size bottle of chardonnay left over. I definitely will invite friends next time.

Part 2: la Vie en Rose

Edith Piaf came to me via iTunes -- a cursory discovery, but the drama and emotion of her music was riveting despite my nonexistent knowledge of French.

I remembered a sophomore-year class on east German culture post- 1989, in which we discussed the attraction of music in languages we didn't understand. Beyond basic orientalism, we wore foreign lyrics like chameleon skin, interpreted them like all-purpose code for our own ideas. Edith Piaf, to me, was an articulate cacophony of feminism and revolution, history and culture, ruined romance. The trials of my own little affairs and college stresses magnified, via headphones on bus rides through the rain, to some operatic life where I got to wear fancier dresses and red lipstick.

The film was very different from my vicarious interest in Piaf. Her life spilled over two and a half hours, tragedy after tragedy, a hyperbole of hardship. It's an unbelievable story, and the film shows many events very quickly, sans chronology.

Although Marion Cotillard carries the film with a great performance, I don't feel particularly close to the Piaf. She comes across as both excessively emotional (good for her music) and selfishly heartless (bad for her friends). And despite her unparalleled success, she's also completely self-destructive. It's not the fame that's unbelievable -- we see an excess of celebrity every day -- but her fame, in the context of a personality and a life that should have made even minor success impossible.

Fortunately, I did not make the connection to our contemporary addict-celebrities until after the film. The thought of Lindsey Lohan stumbling toward rehab is not nearly as romantic as Piaf collapsing mid-gala.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Beyond Ratatouille

Tuesday night I dined in Provence via U-Village, at the first of two French cooking classes I'm taking through the Experimental College. I and 12ish other 20-somethings (give or take a couple years) chopped and sauteed alongside a center-of-attention instructor, pouring tiny glasses of wine from giant bottles, scribbling notes and dribbling sauces over our photocopied recipes.

The menu:

Salad a la Maroc
(Moroccan Salad with lentils, cous cous, herbs, vegetables)

Gratin aux Courgettes
(baked zucchini and tomato with onions and parmesan)
Mouclade aux Moules
(Mussles with curried cream and fennel)

Sorbet a la Framboise
(Raspberry Sorbet)

I think more than anything French cuisine seemed daunting in its subtlety. Not like spicey Mexican or garlicy Italian, where flavor excess is intentional. Butter and cream should be easy, but a pinch to much or too little pepper and the whole flavor's askew. I imagine this is expecially true with the seafood-oriented Provence, where heavy cream sauces are not entirely ubiquiteous.

Another surprising element, and an intentional motif for the class, was the diversity of foreign influences: Moroccan salad, Italian-esque gratin, muscles with Indian curry. Next week, with a bouillabaisse and souffle, may be more French standard.

This weekend, I plan to try the mussels for Brian, so I can take any questions to class next week. With La Vie en Rose at the Guild 45th, it could be a very French weekend.

Living in the future

It's August and 80˚ but I'm feeling a bit Autumnal. Could we get a few grey rainy days please? I'd like to wear boots.

Last weekend, the Nordstrom Rack basement hosted a war between me and an olive green Marc Jacobs coat. Heavy cotton, lots of big buttons, deep pockets for storing iPod, phone, candy canes while christmas tree shopping -- it was a decidedly cold-weather coat. Unfortunately my pockets were not so deep, and the battle was decided when a slim emerald green wool coat joined the fray , armed with a much lighter pricetag.

If I told you this was my second long, solid-color wool coat to purchase this summer, would you hold it against me? But the other's kind of a slouchy-drapey cranberry piece from Brooks Brothers. Not at all the same. I went home and wore them around the air-conditioned house with sandals.