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January 24, 2008

So, how is school?

Here's the answer to the number one question everyone is asking me these days: 

I go to French class in the mornings, Monday through Thursday. The class is small, and we were all tested to make sure we're on the same level. The course includes vocabulary and grammar, but so far, we've basically just talked a lot - which is good. On Mondays and Thursdays I take classes in economics and politics, including a class on the upcoming American presidential elections.

On Wednesday nights (until 9:30 PM!) I have journalism class. Somehow I ended up in a course that requires students to already have taken a journalism class, and well, I haven't. But halfway through the first day, I was having too much fun to really notice. I bought a journalism textbook last semester on impulse, and I'm glad I did. Otherwise, words like "spin" would have confused me. The teacher is a reporter, and he expects us to bring the International Herald Tribune to every class. In fact, that newspaper is required reading, so I need to look into getting a subscription. For next week, I already have three assignments: a press release about myself, a 250 word article on "AUP: Mac or PC?" and an idea for a feature about some press-related topic. The teacher asked if there were any Scandinavians in class, because he wanted someone to write about the press in a Scandinavian country, so I have a pretty clear idea of the topic for my feature already. And I just found out that writing for the AUP newspaper The Planet will give me extra credit in the class, and I was thinking of doing that anyway. I suppose the danger here is that I spend all my time writing, and no time reading for other classes.

AUP is a small university - 1000 undergrads and 17 students per full-time faculty member. I haven't been in classes this size since elementary school. Compared to U of O, there is less required reading, but more strongly recommended reading, including articles handed out in class, websites we're expected to check, and a general understanding that we all follow the news like "news junkies" (plus check the polls for the US primaries regularly). Unlike in the Norwegian system, the final exam is just one of several tests, and class participation counts. I plan to check out the library tomorrow or maybe tonight after class, since I don't like studying at home. If I don't like studying in the library either, there's always LaSource, the closest café, where they have free wireless and waiters who recognize me already. 


Image via Heidi

Posted by Julie at 12:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 23, 2008

Coffee causes miscarriages, apparently*

I am so sick of health scares like this one.

"The Food Standards Agency recommend 300 mg of caffeine a day as the safe limit for pregnant women, but now they're saying you should just cut it out all together during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy."

Thoughts going through my head as I read this:

  1. I seriously can't believe this. And from a website I actually like no less.
  2. I much prefer to believe that nice nutritionist who came to Coffee Week at the University of Oslo, gave me the best sandwich I've ever tasted and told me coffee was very, very safe.
  3. I'm glad the commentors agree with me.
  4. When you apply for adopting children, and they ask you why, can you write "I need my coffee, so I can't be pregnant"?
  5. I want coffee RIGHT NOW.
* Yes, the Coupling reference is intentional.

Posted by Julie at 2:23 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 21, 2008

General update part 1

This is the first day of school for me here at the American University of Paris. Orientation week is over, which means that real life is starting. I have an apartment  a tiny room ten minutes from school. It's like living on a campus, except it's better. I mean, it's Paris. You know those American movies set in Paris where the Eiffel tower is in the background in every single scene? That is real. I can see the Eiffel tower all the time, which means that my life is a movie now.

Posted by Julie at 4:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 15, 2008

Other people have been blogging

To make up for my unbelievable lack of posting, here are a few other posts you can read:

What did we do in 1996? So much has changed in twelve years. I can't wait for the future.

Childfree or childless?  Not wanting kids doesn't make you selfish or empty.

Babies in the fast lane No, they are not always cute. 

Social networking is yesterday's news "(...) even in the futuristic world of the net, the next big thing might just be a return to a made-over old thing."

Notes to my younger self What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time? 

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For Martine, this is the feminism post I was talking about. I started writing it over two months ago, and it just grew and grew until I finally just had to stop and publish a version of it. It's unfinished, but I won't be updating it anymore. I think the problems I've had with finishing this post really illustrate one of the central points: that feminism is a difficult concept to define. Keeping a post to the point is a challenge when the very issue one is writing about is not so much an issue as it is a label that has been used for several issues - which are not necessarily connected.

I should really write something about feminism and gender roles and women's studies and all that stuff. I've had discussions about it, I read a lot of blog entries about it, and so a lot of thoughts are basically bouncing around in my head. The problem is that I don't know where to start, and the reason for this is that I don't know exactly what I'm writing about.

Well, if that introduction didn't make you stop reading...

I have a book about feminism. It was a Christmas present, it's written for teen girls, and the Norwegian title translates into: "Half of heaven is ours" (note that in Norwegian "heaven" and "the sky" are the same word). According to this book, girls are afraid to label themselves as feminists, but we shouldn't be, because a feminist is really just a person who believes in equal rights for women and men. In other words, "feminist" means "intelligent, modern person living in a Western country today". Ok, so all the people I know are feminists. I've met people who are not, but I have chosen not to know them. (For example, there was a girl in my high school French class who firmly believed that all men are much, much smarter than all women. Guess she had just never met any guy who was more of an airhead than she was. And I hope I never meet a guy like that either.) But if it's that simple, why is there even an "ism"? Why can we study this in college? Why are there "Women's Studies" departments?

I checked Dollymix, which is one of the many websites I vaguely associate with feminism. The subjects of the 149 posts tagged "Feminism" ranged from Sesame Street's "Women can do anything" song (which obviously fits the definition of what feminism is) to offensive Youtube comments and what to do if something you publish online is exploited (where I would argue the connection to feminism is vague). The same site also has a tag called "Women's Ishoos". While I agree that Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and words for vagina are "women's issues", that's not what they're studying in "Women's Studies", right?. And what about rape and the right to safe streets? Norwegian readers know how I feel about connecting those issues to feminism. (To summarize: I just want to get home safe, so stop debating theory already!) The thing is, guys want to get home safe too. Granted, rape is a crime where women are usually the victims, but that doesn't make it "our" problem. It doesn't mean that it's less of a problem if a guy is raped. And let's not forget that keeping the streets safe means keeping them free of armed robbers and drunk people who pick fights too. Safety from any kind of nighttime assault is a human issue. The same goes for war, poverty and eating disorders. The question isn't who the victim usually is statistically, but who should care about the problem.

According to this same book, there are two kinds of feminists. One kind believe that men and women are born psychologically the same, and that any mental differences are learned through our culture. The other kind believe that men and women are inherently different, that the male way of thinking has dominated our society, and that it's time to make room for female values. What really irritates me about this is that it shouldn't be a question of belief at all. Whether our brains are the same when we're born is not up to anyone at the Social Studies or Humanities side of campus to decide, it's for the Natural Science side to figure out. As long as they're not sure, I can only work with what I have. I don't know if my love of shoes comes from nature or nurture, but I know that it exists. I also know that when they describe the male and the female way of thinking, most of the time I agree with the male - what is that supposed to mean? That my emotional, empathetic female mind has been corrupted by male role models like my dad? That Anna is right, and I'm actually a man? (Oh, that's why I don't like pink! Although the need to wear heels and skirts is kinda weird.) It just doesn't make any sense. Furthermore, whether or not we're identical shouldn't matter in the least when it comes to determining whether we are equal in terms of value. This is one of my favorite points in the wonderful Blank Slate by Steven Pinker. He has written the best text about feminism I have ever read. (Sadly, that book has been  somewhere in my friend's apartment for a long time, and I only just got it back before I left for Paris. I have the feeling he waited for as long as possible to give it back to me because he knew that I would start quoting it again. I kind of got the hint that it was annoying him when he said: "Julie has a new boyfriend. His name is Steven Pinker.")

The book also refers to "master suppression techniques", better known in Norway as "hersketeknikker", "discovered" by the Norwegian feminist Berit Ås. (Again, calling her a feminist shouldn't really be necessary if we're all feminists.) I remember learning about these techniques in ninth grade - because the girls used them on each other. Again, this is a human issue. Maybe it happens more often that men use these techniques on women, but theoretically, that's not the point.

Maybe I've just been extremely privileged (ok, scratch the "maybe"; I have been), but I don't see a lot of the problems that "feminists" are supposed to see. I don't see how emotion-free rational thinking is male and therefore wrong, I don't see how wearing high heels is degrading as long as I choose to do so myself, and I truly believe that much of the wage difference between men and women can be explained by barriers we put up ourselves, rather than discrimination from male employers. I didn't even interpret the Meredith Brooks song "Bitch" as being about female capriciousness in general; I just thought it was about Meredith Brooks. When I was looking at colleges, a friend encouraged an all-girls school, because it would make academic choices easier if I wasn't thinking about certain subjects and college roles as male and some as female. I thought: "If a girl isn't mature enough to choose a "male" subject or major when she really wants to, than she's not ready for college at all." If we (women) want to be treated "like everyone else", maybe we should stop defining ourselves as a unique group of people who are firstly characterized by our gender and only secondly by our personalities. It just makes it seem like the world is divided into "women" and "all the other people", and isn't that exactly what we're fighting against? Maybe we should, as one blogger writes, stop whining and focus on real issues:

"Sometimes I think if modern feminists stopped focusing on children's toys, women's fashion, chivalry, and how middle-class white Western women like themselves were being oppressed, and directed their collective energy completely towards fighting domestic violence and countries where girls cannot walk to school without being raped, the latter problems might not be so prevalent-- and might even be abolished." (Source)

Again, these issues are not women's issues, but really important issues in general. So where does that leave feminism and Women's Studies?

Posted by Julie at 9:22 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 14, 2008

Blogging from Paris

I'm not dead. I have recent Facebook activity after all. But there have been complaints about this blog not being updated, and to that criticism, I would like to say: Thanks for noticing - thanks for reading! I have been really busy, and my mind has been on personal things not fit to be put on my blog. When I tell people this in real life, they ask if its serious. No, I'm definitely OK, but since the last time I blogged, I have more or less finished my bachelor's degree, celebrated Christmas, packed all my belongings into either suitcases or my attic, said good-bye to friends and family and moved to Paris.

I know I said I wasn't going to do that, but it suddenly worked out. And although the pain of leaving people behind really makes me realize what a wonderful life I lead in Oslo, I am (so far) glad that I am here. And I will keep you posted.

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