Legally Brunette

DSC_5735.jpgIn grad school, summers were mostly for research and writing (and re-binging on Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Toward the end, I attended a couple of summer programs, such as the Ohio Humanities’ Oral History Institute and the West Point Summer Seminar in Military History. In the past five years, though, my summers have become full of fun professional development programs.

These are what keep many teachers busy in the summer months (okay, a little binge watching still happens – I’m looking at you, House of Cards). In 2011, my summer teacher PD trips began with the ISACS New Teacher Institute, then I moved on to an AP US History Teacher Institute in 2012. Summer 2013 was all about what I like to call the New Parent Institute, which is just a hyped-up way of saying I was on maternity leave (I read a lot, but I don’t suppose fiction counts as professional development). Summer 2014 included a trip to DC as a chaperone with students, but since there was a PD element, it counts. Last year I attended my first NEH Seminar, Forever Wild, which was AMAZING.

It shouldn’t be surprising that  all these great experiences prompted me to apply a program this summer. This year, I was part of a cohort of 20 accepted to the Federal Trials & Great Debates in US History teacher institute, co-sponsored by the American Bar Association and the Federal Judicial Center.

I just returned last week from the program, which taught me so much about how to teach legal cases and how the federal courts work (and have worked and evolved, historically speaking). Over our six days in DC, we studied the Susan B. Anthony Trial, the Debs case, and the Rosenberg Trial. (The links I’ve provided will give you access to the same files we used – try the first link under the case name on each page).  As we studied each trial, we heard from academics with expertise in the case or time period for their perspective, then from federal judges who offered a legal perspective on the case and their own experiences as judges. We sat in on the June 20 Supreme Court session, one of the last three opportunities for this term. We toured the District Court in DC and spoke with a judge about his experiences in the federal court system. And, of course, you don’t bring 20 teachers together without a chance to collaborate: last week, we learned how to use the c3 framework to help develop dynamic lessons with the content we studied.

I came into the week with a vague sense of how the federal court system works, but let’s be honest – I only really ever thought about the Supreme Court. Working with these cases and learning from the staff and guests brought me a whole new level of understanding about how the judicial branch – much more than just the Supreme Court – works. I’m excited to bring that knowledge to Mock Trial coaching (in a small way) and my US History classes (although I’m not teaching US History this year). The c3 Framework was also a great new way for me to conceptualize how I frame lessons, no matter what field of history I’m teaching.

I recommend this program highly. I knew it would be a useful program for me, but of course it’s never clear going in just how much you’ll be able to get out of a program like this. I feel very fortunate that I’ve had such great professional development programs over the years.

Is it time to apply for summer 2017 things yet?

Back to the Start

And I know
things now,
Many valuable things,
That I hadn’t known before…
-Little Red Riding Hood, Into the Woods

This summer, sitting down to write usually makes me feel a little like Little Red Riding Hood heading off in Into the Woods. I haven’t started my day by stealing treats from the Baker and his Wife, but each day begins with excitement and trepidation. You never know what you’ll find “in the woods” when you’re diving down the long journey back into years of research and writing.

Several weeks in, it’s still exciting. And nerve-wracking.Some days are marvelous, when you know exactly what you want to say and the words come easily. On other days, you quickly learn what Red meant when she said that “even flowers have their dangers.” Some days, those are the distractions; other days, the flowers are the things you desperately need to add in order to make things work.

Today has been one of those days. I’m diving in to a new chapter after more than a week away at a teacher institute in DC. I’ve been a little nervous over it all weekend, partially because it’s easier once I get into the middle of the chapter.

A month ago, I toyed with the idea of holing up in my hotel room each night to write. Two weeks ago, I decided that was a bad idea: if I’ve learned anything while writing my book, it’s been that time does not hurt me. I see the woods differently now. It’s easier to tell which flowers are worth pausing for, and which are going to lead me further astray.

I haven’t gotten very far down the path today, but I think I know the route better for tomorrow.


Source: WiseGeek

Selective Service

Earlier this year, I read a YA novel called Front Lines, which imagines what World War 2 might have been like if women had been drafted. While women served in World War 2, the reality was that they did not carry guns and largely filled roles that kept them far away from the front lines. In this book, women are drafted and taken into combat positions, just like the men who serve alongside them. It was a fascinating exploration of what might have been.

American women have never been subject to a draft of any kind. At moments, it’s been considered, most specifically for nurses more than anyone else (legislation was drafted at Franklin Roosevelt’s request, but didn’t make it past the senate by the time the war ended in Europe).

Yesterday, a friend posted an article for me on Facebook about how the Senate has approved a bill that would require women to register for the draft. Since I’m writing a book on women’s military integration since World War 2, it’s a prospect that fascinates me in light of the history behind such a change. But what does it mean?

It is correct that the new legislation, if passed by both houses, would require women to register for the draft. We’ve been requiring the same thing of young men when they turn 18 for the better part of the last 75 years (there was a break in the middle). According to current law, all men ages 18 to 25 must register for Selective Service. If Congress ever decided to enact a military draft, the registration through Selective Service would give the foundation for actually calling up citizens to serve.

The draft sounds scary to many because we hear “draft” and automatically assume that means “combat.” It’s not a given, but it’s a reasonable assumption. Consequently, the idea of “draft” and “women” calls to mind visions of sending busloads of school girls to the front lines, armed with weapons of some kind. (Personally, I tend to take that image from Saving Private Ryan of troops coming off the boats on the Normandy Beaches at D-Day and replace all the male faces with female ones.)


Imagine women’s face on the men’s: this is probably what many of us associate when we hear “women” and “combat”

While there’s a longer history to the draft, the nutshell version is that the draft ran basically from World War 2 to the end of the Vietnam War in 1973. Just because there’s a draft, however, doesn’t mean that all draft calls are created equal. Draft numbers rose in World War 2, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War because of active military engagements. In the years between (1948 to 1950, 1953-1963), draft numbers were pretty small, and would have involved very little combat (postwar occupation of Germany or Japan, for example – not much direct combat there).

Even after the draft ended in 1973, men were still required to register with the Selective Service until 1975. Registration ended that year….only to be revived in 1980 in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Goodbye, detente…..hello Cold War fears. You can thank President Carter, actually, because he was the one who brought back registration.

…and registration has been on the table ever since, without a requirement for women to do so. Not that this went unchallenged, of course: in 1980, a man sued the government saying it violated his equal rights to have a male-only military registration process. However, in 1981, the Supreme Court said in its decision on Rostker v. Goldberg that since women couldn’t be in combat, they couldn’t be drafted and it didn’t violate men’s due process under the 5th amendment to the Constitution.

But now, things are different. Combat exclusions are gone. Gender is no longer the primary determinant of where and how someone can serve. The new rationale the Senate is acting on is this: if women can participate in any way the armed forces feel they are best equipped to serve, then they should not be exempt from registration for the draft.

Given that, if as a nation we require young men to register for the draft in order to serve their nation (should need arise), then it is fair and appropriate to ask women to register as well. There is no reason why women should not register, particularly since we have more than a century of evidence (arguably more – let’s not forget Molly Pitcher and women who fought as men in the Civil War) that women are capable of serving their country too. It is also worth remembering that military officials do try to put personnel where they will most benefit the institution: not all men are suited for combat, just like not all women will be suited for combat.

Certainly, there are larger underlying issues at stake. Combat barriers may be gone, but that doesn’t mean women are yet fully integrated or recognized as equals in national defense. Requiring any citizen to register for a draft – especially when we have not had a draft for almost half a century – is in itself a little questionable. Since the Cold War ended, our nation has participated in many conflicts, but never to the extent with which a draft would be needed.

But these are deeper issues to consider and analyze, much like the work that must be done to continue to ensure that women are equal partners in defense. Subjecting women to Selective Service registration will not make women equals in national defense, but it will eliminate one more barrier for perceiving them as such.

The Writing Season

Every summer, in those brief weeks “off” from the school year, I try to accomplish certain things. One year, I had a baby and spent the summer on maternity leave, taking walks, reading books, trying to exist at a pace much slower than I’d known for most of my adult life. The next year, I chaperoned a trip to DC with students and threw myself into reading and lesson planning and going to the movies. Last year, I chaperoned the DC trip again, taught a summer class, and spent a week in the Adirondacks for the NEH Forever Wild program. 

Last summer was also the year I talked about writing and didn’t. I can name excuses – that’s the easy part, right? I cleaned my house. I wanted to read. I taught that class (at the last minute). I planned lessons. I just….got busy (often  watching Netflix; let’s be honest here). It had been a long, long time since writing was a regular habit (again, I can make excuses; I won’t). I know it’s common to say things like “I don’t know where the time went!” but the 2015-16 school year was a lot like that. I thought things would get less crazy once my son got out of infancy, but it turns out I’m very good at making myself busy.

As a result, I started working on my book last fall and didn’t get very far. To be fair, I was going to simply reread my dissertation and begin addressing each chapter one at a time, month by month. I didn’t plan to move fast. I knew better than that, because fall trimester tends to come in like a hurricane, swoop all us teachers up in it, and set us down in the land of November before we know it. By Christmas, I hadn’t made it past “Step 1: reread dissertation”. Things changed with winter break. I worked on a proposal. I began conceptualizing what my project would look like as a book. I attacked all the chapters with venom (and cut one of my favorites – it just doesn’t belong). I made an aggressive writing plan to take me through the spring.

And guess what? This time, I pretty much did it. I wrote in small chunks here and there, week by week. There were some weeks when I wrote nothing and some weeks when I wrote a lot. There was that time over spring break when my son got sick for two days (strep throat…for me, too) and it threw me off. There were all these things I had going on that stopped me in my tracks from time to time, but by the time I hit the end of the school year I had an intro, chapter 1, and chapter 2. Dear reader, it was starting to look like a book.

Now? I’m back. This is the summer of writing, and I feel unstoppable. Well, except for those moments when I get sucked into YouTube for too long. Those don’t really count, though, because I’m not looking at funny cat videos or watching John Green vlogs (I promise). Instead, I discovered that in the past 5 years since I defended my dissertation, about a million archival films have been posted to YouTube, and at least a dozen of those have something useful for my book project.

But still, here I am. I’m writing, and I never want to stop.

Women’s Bodies, Women’s Worlds

A few years ago, in the midst of the Downton Abbey craze, my friends and I discovered another show that’s flown a bit more under the radar. If you’re a PBS watcher, you probably know Call the Midwife; if you haven’t caught it yet, this is the best woman-centered drama you’re missing. (Link to episodes here.)

For the past four seasons (Season 5 just premiered this week), Call the Midwife has consistently brought great storytelling and great history as it recounts the experiences of young midwives in London’s East End in the 1950s and early 1960s. Based on the memoirs of Jenny Worth (voiceover by Vanessa Redgrave), the show follows several young midwives who live in a convent called Nonnatus House. The midwives include both lay midwives and nun midwives, each of whom brings a distinct perspective and background.

What’s remarkable about this show is, in no small way, how it brings attention to the every day, banal facts of life for working-class women in postwar Britain. Their situations may be unique, living in the East End with the rise of the National Health Service after the war, but there is a universality to the experiences as we watch women endure the physical challenges of hardship, navigate labor and delivery, rejoice and weep with them and their families, and just take time to pay attention to the reality that has long been women’s lives.

Women’s bodies are at the center of it all in a way you won’t see on any other medical drama on television. Whether it’s a storyline involving a young unwed mother who gives birth on her own and tries to hide it (resulting in complications from a partially-undelivered placenta), stillbirth, an older woman suffering from a prolapsed uterus, or the complicated, yet everyday fact of labor – women’s bodies matter here. It’s a remarkable thing.

As a historical drama, we watch as practitioners debate the shift to hospital-based maternal care by physicians, or the increased use of gas as a pain relief option for childbirth. The show has looked at what happens when things go wrong, never shying away from considering what happens when someone gives birth to a child with Down’s Syndrome or, most recently, one of the first thalidomide babies.

Call the Midwife is at once phenomenal storytelling and some of the most important attention to women’s history brought to popular culture today. In looking at what might seem like the most mundane of all topics – maternal health in postwar Britain – the producers and writers have tapped in to one of the most crucial topics of our time. Call the Midwife is arguably the most important feminist shows on television today: here, feminism doesn’t appear as a frightening thing, but an empowering and necessary force. Don’t miss out on this – and spread the word.

Using the Force: How Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaches us to stop fearing women in combat

Let’s forget about Luke Skywalker. You and I both know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not really about him at all. For once, a man gets to be little more than a convenient plot device in a movie. I know I’m supposed to care about Luke, but my childhood hero was his sister, not him.

The Force Awakens is really a movie about why we should stop fearing strong women, and women in combat in particular. The Force Awakens is, of course, the classic tale of good versus evil, and struggle for who will dominate the galaxy. The Force may be strong on each side, but the Resistance has something the First Order doesn’t: equality. Ultimately, The Force Awakens is a morality tale on the importance of gender equality in achieving organizational success.

Women’s presence in the First Order occurs on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it basis, not unlike the Supercut of all the Non-Leia Female Dialogue in the original trilogy.  In The Force Awakens, the First Order loses because they can’t be bothered by women. At minimum, they haven’t thought much about recruiting women to their faction. Look carefully, and you’ll spot few women in the First Order’s ranks. Captain Phasma is the most obvious, but she doesn’t get to do much other than hold a gun and play tough. Phasma’s even a problem, because she gives in to Finn with no second thought. She might get a little more to do in the next film, but since she didn’t really do her job well at all in The Force Awakens, it’s likely that Kylo Ren has other plans for her. Beyond Phasma, if you pay close attention you might notice several women hidden amongst the rank-and-file desk clerks in the control room on the StarKiller Base (one female Storm Trooper even tells Kylo Ren there’s a problem in the prisoner area). That’s it.

Finn’s own behavior illustrates the First Order’s clear cultural bias of classifying women as a subordinate, protected group. When he meets Rey, his first impulse is to “rescue” her from the fight she’s in, and his second impulse is to grab her hand and guide her, shielding her from the First Order’s attack. Finn assumes Rey needs protection, and never quite lets go of this belief at least as long as he’s conscious. If you cut the lines “Are you okay?”, I’m pretty sure Finn would have basically no speaking part left. Finn is so preoccupied with his inculcated sense of men-as-superior-beings that he doesn’t even get to witness Rey’s final stand, in part because he believed she needed protection.

Finn’s protective instincts towards Rey demonstrate the results of growing up in a culture that views women as second-class citizens. Although he wants to extract himself from this culture for his own reasons, he never quite breaks the habit. While there are female Storm Troopers, Captain Phasma is even an anomaly – the exception, not the rule.

It’s clear that the First Order is a culture that thrives on both assimilation and masculinity within the ranks. When most members in the organization wear the same body armor and helmets, it’s easy to ignore women’s presence at all. It’s okay to have a woman in a leadership role like Captain Phasma because regulations keep her gender in line. Women’s presence is permissible, but in order to serve in combat they must cover their gender identity altogether. Consequently, Finn doesn’t think about the fact that a woman might be able to fend for herself because he doesn’t ever see women in combat as women, but only as Storm Troopers. Erasing women’s gender identities under helmets might seem like a great way to create a post-gender binary culture, but not so much.

Storm Trooper uniforms make gender assimilation possible, but that makes things better for men, not women. Women can be Storm Troopers because they can be hidden: it’s possible to forget (or never know) which Storm Trooper is female, which means their presence doesn’t jeopardize male domination. Even the more visible female presence in the StarKiller Base command center is non-threatening because the women there always take orders given directly by men.

From top to bottom, the First Order’s women are there to do the men’s bidding, from Supreme Leader Snoke to General Hux and Kylo Ren. In the First Order, men – and these men in particular – make the decisions and drive the action.  It’s the ultimate boys’ club, in which Captain Phasma can be tolerated because she’s not really necessary and thus doesn’t disrupt the balance in their force.

In contrast, women are key to the Resistance’s success from start to finish. Women participate as women: there are no indications that anyone fears someone’s gender will hamper a mission. All participants are valued. Working as a whole, in the Resistance, the feminine and the masculine balance and team together to achieve success. (Not so in the First Order, where everything is about masculinity and the only remotely feminine thing about the First Order’s leadership is the length of Kylo Ren’s hair.)

From the beginning, it’s clear that General Leia Organa is in charge, leading a “mission to restore peace and justice to the galaxy”. While that could be an anomaly, once we arrive at the Resistance you can’t help but notice women everywhere. It’s Kylo Ren’s worst nightmare, given that he lives in a world dominated by male power. In the Resistance, women plan and execute missions, present around the drawing board, in the fighter planes, and on the ground. To the Resistance, women are essential, from General Leia Organa on down.

The Resistance has a lot to teach the U.S. military, which has been trying to fit women into a heavily male-focused organization since World War 2. Since 1948, women have been legally permitted to serve in all military branches, but only now are all gender-based combat restrictions being eliminated. In the process, the latest political commentary has turned to the question of drafting women. All of this seems to frighten many Americans, who assume women aren’t strong enough to perform in combat, or find it inappropriate based on traditional gender roles. While no one wants a draft (we haven’t had one since the late 1970s), even the spectre of making women register for Selective Service is enough to send hardened politicians wailing in the streets to bemoan the fate of the nation’s women.

It’s enough to make Leia’s and Rey’s eyes roll. Star Wars may take place light years away from here, but we could learn a lot from the gender culture in the Resistance.

“Not Less a Mother”: Military Motherhood, 1953 and 2015

The woman who leaves her children to work for them, the woman who makes herself available for civil defense, the woman who serves in a governmental position of responsibility, as well as the woman who participates in Reserve activity, is not less a mother for having done so. – Major Alba Martinelli Thompson, 1953 (1)

Today, CNN published a powerful image: a group of soldiers in uniform, breastfeeding their children. In the midst of a year when women continue to make history for breaking barriers in the armed forces, one of the things that is powerful about this image is that it simultaneously underscores the ability of women to be both soldiers and mothers. This dual identity has long been contested; it wasn’t until the 1970s that mothers could remain in the service at all after having children.

In the 1940s, as Congress debated the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act to allow women a permanent place in the military, the question of motherhood was on the forefront of many minds. For instance, Carl Vinson (D-GA) argued “we should not put anything in the law which should cause them [servicewomen] to hesitate getting married or to raise a family; on the contrary, we should encourage it.”(2) Today, that might sound very forward-thinking, but in 1947 and 1948, that really meant “let’s make sure women have a way out so that they can become wives and mothers.”

For the next 30 years, the assumption that women would become wives and mothers – and thus lose interest in working – underwrote all military policy regarding women in the services. Until the 1970s, motherhood in all forms (childbirth, adoption, or by marriage) meant automatic discharge for servicewomen. In fact, following Vinson’s comment, the head of the Women’s Army Corps confirmed that yes, a provision in the act that allowed easy discharge for women was designed in case of pregnancy. A few years later, President Truman further clarified policy with Executive Order 10240, which authorized women’s discharge if she:

(a) is the parent, by birth or adoption, of a child under such minimum age as the Secretary [of the branch] concerned shall determine,
(b) has personal custody of a child under such minimum age,
(c) is the step-parent of a child under such minimum age and the child is within the household of the woman for a period of more than thirty days a year ,
(d) is pregnant, or
(e) has, while serving…given birth to a living child

For 25 years following this, women consistently found themselves out of the military and thus out of work as soon as motherhood entered their lives. While some women may have welcomed or expected this policy, many others challenged it consistently through the years. In 1953, Army Reserve Major Alba Martinelli Thompson, a World War II veteran, became the first to challenge her discharge upon pregnancy.

Speaking in front of a Congressional Committee to challenge pregnancy discharge, Thompson’s words 62 years ago continue to resonate today, reflected by the thousands of women who have combined motherhood and service to their country despite what was so long deemed impractical and impossible by the military and both the executive and legislative branches.

“The woman who leaves her children to work for them, the woman who makes herself available for civil defense, the woman who serves in a governmental position of responsibility, as well as the woman who participates in Reserve activity, is not less a mother for having done so. Not because we love our children less, but because we love them more do we carry our energies and our hopes beyond the walls of our homes…Each woman serves her family who makes use of her skills and talents to bring about the greater security of her home. Some do it from within the home; some from without.”

Major Martinelli Thompson passed away two and a half years ago at the age of 94. Although she lost her bid to retain her Reserve status after becoming a mother, she went on to an active life of public engagement. She’d likely be pleased to know how much things have changed.

(1) Armed Forces Reserve Act: Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate,‖ (HR 5426) 82nd Congress, Second Session, May 1952, 19-20.
(2)House Armed Services Subcommittee Hearings on S.1641, February-March 1948, 5667; Publications of the U.S. Government, Record Group 287 (RG287); National Archives Building, Washington, DC (NAB).