(Still) Damning with Faint Praise

I am in the midst of reading applications for a graduate fellowship.  I can't tell you which one, but in a way that doesn't matter.  At this point in my career I have read hundreds of applications to our own graduate program here at the University of Minnesota, have evaluated more fellowship, grant, and job applications than I can count, and have read a respectable number of promotion and tenure files.  And the problem of unintentional bias in letters of recommendation is common across all of these evaluative processes.

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Lie Back or Lean In? How about Leave Me Alone?

Of course I was happy to see a well-written retort to Sandberg's "Lean In" appear in The Washington Post. Advising women to "Recline," the author upholds the value of things I also find valuable: reading a novel, having a real conversation, making intentional choices to spend more time on fewer things.  The sense that everything is always frantic, the list of things to do that only ever seems to get longer (and that, I find, runs like a memory-sucking app in the back of my mind, draining my battery but accomplishing nothing) -- these are bad enough. It's worse that women get pressured (lured? suckered?) into taking on the particular, gendered obligation to manage everything on all fronts all the time, to be distracted and worried so others can relax and focus, to skimp on sleep and exercise so others can be well, never to be the one sitting on the couch truly unconcerned with what "the plan is for dinner." 

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Women at Work: When Self Help Isn’t Help Enough

There have been a spate of new books lately advising women how to turn inward, change their behavior, and remake themselves to be more successful and ‘leap over’ gender barriers in the workplace. If a woman is not paid what she is worth, passed over for promotion, or even harassed, the solution, it seems, is to lean in – because eventually (soon, in fact) everyone will realize that women really should rule the world. The latest is a book by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Confidence Code, in which the authors argue that the primary barrier to women’s success is not sexism but rather women’s own lack of confidence. And in one way, they are right. Confidence is gendered. Women are less confident than men (and men tend to be over- confident relative to their abilities). Of course confidence matters. But trying to solve a problem of structural sexism with a good night’s sleep, a self-help book, and a smile is a losing proposition.

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Same-Sex Marriage? Well, the data say. . .

The most recent Economist has, as usual, a helpful chart summarizing Americans’ attitudes towards same-sex marriage, using Pew Center data from 2008 on.  The data show that, for the first time, a majority of Americans approve of same-sex marriage, with the most significant movement (towards more favorable attitudes) occurring among White Catholics and White “mainstream” Protestants.

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How many “nones” make a secular nation?

What is the relationship between rates of church attendance and national identity? When more than 50 percent of a country’s population does not attend religious services, is that the tipping point that makes for a secular nation?

The Economist just published a very short notice reporting on an analysis of the European Social Survey from 2008 and 2009. It’s not terribly surprising. In many of the countries surveyed, well over 40 percent of respondents say they “never” attend religious services except for special events (like weddings); in most, the figure is well over 30 percent.

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Generic crisis or defining moment?

Crisis talk is the currency of the mass (and niche) media, and it can lead to a mentality that is paradoxically anxious (always attuned to the next crisis) and numbed (unable to distinguish the crises that lead to serious and long-term problems from those of momentary urgency — or the events that are merely outrageous or scandalous).  Sometimes a crisis becomes a turning point, for an individual or a group, but for this to happen, there needs to have been an already-established potential, and openness to the possibility of a new direction, an awareness of the problems and tensions in old approaches.

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When the personal keeps on being political

Susan Jacoby is, indeed, a “spirited atheist,” and a very smart one.  Her most recent post for On Faith,the religion blog that is a joint venture of Newsweek and The Washington Post, is biting, and one of the best statements I’ve seen in opposition to the “mamma grizzly” feminism of Sarah Palin et alia.

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The prescient Ms. Palin

You have to hand it to Sarah Palin. She knows how to make a splash.

I was surprised at the fuss that erupted when Ms. Palin started giving speeches calling for “mama grizzly” feminists on the Right to organize and . . . (okay, so the “and” is a bit unclear to me). But to organize, anyway, and take back the feminist label. (A good overview from a range of perspectives is available at The Week’s website.)

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The church as source of emotional support (part 2)

To understand how religious support fits with other aspects of individuals’ lives, we performed a 2-step analysis. First, we used a statistical technique called latent class analysis that can analyze patterns of responses across survey questions; using this technique, we could understand how religious sources of emotional support were combined with other sources into an overall profile of emotional support. 

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The church as source of emotional support (part 1)

Robert Putnam, the influential political scientist, has argued that religion undergirds the well-being of individuals and promotes healthy, strong communities, because it provides “social capital” -- relationships of trust and care-taking. Religious capital can be either bridgingcapital, which links individuals to others who are socially (racially, economically, ideologically) dissimilar, and bridging between the world of the congregation and the larger social context. Or it can be bonding capital, which primarily builds relationships of trustwithin the congregation among those who are probably very similar in terms of race, education, and income.

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