A new study on the differential earning power of male and female movie stars beings with a quote from Jennifer Jason Leigh:
It’s the nature of the business. People equate success with youth (source).
She’s half right. Irene Pater and her co-authors looked at the pay of 265 actors and actresses who appeared in Hollywood films from 1968 to 2008. They found that the average earnings of actors rises until the age of 51 and remains stable after that. The average earnings of actresses, in contrast, peaks at 34 and decreases “rapidly thereafter.”
Source: USA Today
Sarah Jessica Parker, then, was more on the mark:
There is still a discrepancy in earning power between men and women in Hollywood. And it becomes doubly unfair when you think of our earning potential in terms of years. Actresses are like football players. They have a small window of prime earning ability (source).
So, is this sexism or just “market forces”? That is, is female acting work devalued compared to men’s because people in positions of power don’t value women? Or is it because casting women over 34 decreases box office returns, whereas casting older men does not? Pater and her colleagues suggest that it’s sexism. One study, they explain,
…actually examined the combined effect of gender and age on box office performance [and] revealed that casting a female lead older than 32 years of age does not influence a movie’s box office performance, whereas casting a male lead older than 42 decreases box office revenues by almost 17% (source).
So the presence of male actors in their forties and over decreases box office revenue, but they still get paid more than women of the same age. In contrast, casting women in their mid-thirties and over doesn’t bring down profits, but she’s still less valuable in the eyes of producers. Sexism sounds like a plausible explanation to me.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Thanks to advances in early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, white women’s survival rates have “sharply improved,” but black women’s have not. As a result, white women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but black women are more likely to die from it. Researchers from the Sinai Institute found that Black women are 40% more likely to die from the disease than white women.
Experts trace the majority of the widening gap in survival rates to access, not biology. Black women are more likely than white to be low income, uninsured, and suspicious of a historically discriminatory medical profession.Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Some of your old books may contain hidden artworks: Beginning in the 17th century, a book’s binder would sometimes paint a watercolor scene on the edge of the book’s page stack. If the pages were then gilded, the image might remain hidden for years until the pages were fanned.
Sometimes two different images are hidden in the same book, revealed successively when the pages are fanned “up” and “down.” In rare cases paintings are hidden not just on the book’s fore edge but on the top and bottom as well, offering a panoramic view of the painting’s subject.
A couple days ago Henry Gee tweeted what he believes to be my real life identity. To address the elephant in the room, if such things are important to you, he was correct in his identification of me. But, really, what Henry did required only high school level sleuthing. Any amateur with a Cracker Jack decoder ring could have figured it out, largely because my pseud has eroded as you all have become a more important part of my life. When you’ve reached out and needed me, I’ve never hesitated to help you as my real self when that has been helpful to you. Even when we haven’t agreed. I’ve met with many of you in real life and we’ve laughed and cried together. I’ve read fellowship and grant applications and manuscripts. It’s makes me chuckle and brings me happiness to see myself (as my real named self) acknowledged in book chapters and in publications and know that there was something I could do for some of you to help you succeed. I started doing Pub-Style Science with Michael Tomasson because he had a neat vision for how science communication should look and an openness and enthusiasm for hearing a diversity of voices. We don’t see that in science communication and I saw what he wanted to do as an opportunity to do something good. I never wore a mask to hide. I knew that when many of you heard my voice, or saw the lower half of my face, you’d know who I was. I wore it as a symbol of our relationship here. When we meet as professionals, that’s how I promised to engage with you. The things that you may have shared with “Dr. Isis” remain with Dr. Isis.
Henry referred to me as an “inconsequential” scientist. In the long term, he could be right. But, that comment has made me think a lot about the person I am and the person I want to be. I have been humbled by the support I have received in response to these shenanigans. While I may be inconsequential, maybe never winning a Nobel, I’ve been generally pleased with my work. But, who do I want to be here? I have been happy to share with you the up and down realities of my life. I’ve been happy to help when you’ve called for me, and I have been happy to help people find the resources they need. I realize more and more that this is what I should be doing here. There’s no point in getting through doors if you can’t help others find them and walk through them with you. I have been helped substantially along the way and am thankful for it. I also think that I should speak out when I think something is not just. Otherwise, what’s the point? I am neither brave nor revolutionary. I sit in a place of privilege compared to where I came from and I see no point in having it if I don’t use it for what I think feels meaningful and right.
So, to address the question that so many of you have lovingly asked in the last 24 hours, “Am I ‘ok’?” I am fine. My pseudonym has never been a secret to the people I work with and they all know what a swearing, scotch drinking, pain in the ass I am. I will admit that it has given me pause to have online people contacting me through my professional email, especially in light of some of the crazy, sexually explicit, and violent email I get. But, I always knew that level of wackaloonery reaching my real life was a possibility. My silence over the last day came only from that – from pondering the realization that the probability of that sort of nonsense reaching my real life was increased by his actions..but I won’t be afraid. I have always been motivated by the goal of increasing the participation of women and minority scientists in science and I can’t be surprised that this ruffled some feathers. It feels like the right thing to do.
So, while I am “ok”, were his actions “ok?” Of course not, and they give me pause. I have undoubtedly been vocal over the last four years of the fact that I believe Nature, the flagship of our profession, does not have a strong track record of treating women fairly. I believe that Henry Gee, a representative of the journal, is responsible for some of that culture. That’s not “vitriolic” and it’s not “bullying”. That is me saying, as a woman, that there is something wrong with how this journal and its editors engage 50% of the population (or 20% of scientists) and I believe in my right to say “this is not ‘ok’.” Henry Gee responded by skywriting my real name because he believed that would hurt me personally – my career, my safety, my family. Whatever. Regardless of the actual outcome, the direct personal nature of the attack is highlighted by its support from some that I “had it coming..
Henry Gee’s actions were meant to intimidate me into silence. He took this approach likely with the thought that it was the most powerful way he could hurt me. Nothing more. Although I am ok, there are some recent victims of outing behavior that are not. That’s frightening. To think that the editor of a journal would respond to criticism of his professional conduct regarding the fair treatment of women by attempting to personally injure and damage..
Michael Eisen raises a valid point – what about the other identities that are trusted to the editors of that journal?
And, what about people that might submit to Nature? He’s clearly willing to use his knowledge of people’s identities to injure them personally. If you’ve ever criticized him, or the journal, in the past, can you really be confident in fair peer review?
I speak only for myself and I have no personal feelings about Henry. My only concern has been in his conduct as an editor of a journal that very publicly represents my profession. When Henry Gee said, in reference to my self-professed boycott of Nature (until they get their act together regarding the treatment of women), “Nature boycotted by [an] inconsequential sports physio… Nature quakes in its boots”, he spoke as a high level representative of that publication, making a statement as to how that publication regards me.
That someone would engage a personal vendetta and conflate it with how I should expect to be treated by an allegedly peer-reviewed publication gives me more pause than having my name displayed publicly. And, it should serve as a gentle reminder of the possible outcome women face when they speak up about misogyny and sexism in their field. Retaliation can be a real bitch.
Terrifying proportions (Westfield Mall):
And Good Housekeeping too:
Take care with the placement of that right hip (Victoria’s Secret):
Let us count the ways (Speigel, Victoria’s Secret, and Laffy Taffy via Photoshop Disaster):
See our full Pinterest page here.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
New survey data shows that the average person overestimates the diversity of the American population, both now and in the future. Today, for example, racial minorities make up 37% of the population, but the average guess was 49%.
Many Americans fear rising diversity. Over half worry that more minorities means fewer jobs, nearly half think that it means more crime, and almost two-thirds think these groups strain social services. If people think that minorities are bad for America and overestimate their prevalence, they may be more likely to support draconian and punishing policy designed to minimize their numbers or mitigate the consequences they are believed to bring.
Not all Americans, of course, fear diversity equally. Below are the scores of various groups on an “openness to diversity” measure with a range of 0-160.
For the future, Americans are still strongly divided as to what to do about diversity and the racialized inequality we currently see.Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
n. a lover of knowledge
n. ignorant; lacking knowledge
n. a lover of the truth
“Have the courage to be ignorant of a great number of things, in order to avoid the calamity of being ignorant of everything.” — Sydney Smith
From a letter from Ben Franklin to John Lining of South Carolina, March 18, 1755:
I find a frank acknowledgment of one’s ignorance is not only the easiest way to get rid of a difficulty, but the likeliest way to obtain information, and therefore I practice it: I think it an honest policy. Those who affect to be thought to know every thing, and so undertake to explain every thing, often remain long ignorant of many things that others could and would instruct them in, if they appeared less conceited.
“I am by heritage a Jew, by citizenship a Swiss, and by makeup a human being, and only a human being, without any special attachment to any state or national entity whatsoever.” — Albert Einstein
“I want to be a human being, nothing more and nothing less. … I don’t suppose we can ever stop hating each other, but why encourage that by keeping the old labels with their ready-made history of millennial hate?” — Isaac Asimov
“Patriots always talk of dying for their country, and never of killing for their country.” — Bertrand Russell
“Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.” — George Bernard Shaw
"My son got killed when he was eighteen."
“He got shot, of course. That’s all they do.”
We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in. Enjoy!
We’ve seen a real shift in support for the issue and acceptance of homosexuality in general. Since 2011, the majority of Americans are in favor of extending marriage to same-sex couples and the trend has continued.
What is behind that change? The Pew Research Center asked 1,501 respondents whether they’d changed their minds about same-sex marriage and why. Here’s what they found.
The overall trend towards increasing support is clear in the data. Fourteen percent of Americans say that they used to oppose same-sex marriage, but they now support it. Only 2% changed their mind in the other direction.
People offered a range of reasons for why they changed their minds. The most common response involved coming into contact with someone that they learned was homosexual. A third of respondents said that knowing a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person was influential in making them rethink their position on gay marriage. This is consistent with the Contact Hypothesis, the idea that (positive) experiences with someone we fear or dislike will result in changes of opinion.
As you can see, lots of other reasons were common too. A quarter of people said that they, well, “evolved”: they grew up, thought about it more, or more clearly. Nearly as many said that they were simply changing with the times or that a belief that everyone should be free to do what they want was more important than restricting the right to marry.
I thought that the 5% that said they’d changed their minds for religious reasons were especially interesting. Support for same-sex marriage is rising in every demographic, even among the religious. Following up on this, Pew offers an additional peek into the minds of believers. The table below shows that 37% of the religious both believe that same-sex marriage is compatible with their belief and support it, but an additional 28% who think marriage rights would violate their religious belief are in favor of extending those rights nonetheless.
While we’ve been following the trend lines for several years, it’s really interesting to learn what’s behind the change in opinion about same-sex marriage. Contact with actual gay people — and probably lovable gay and lesbian celebrities like Ellen and Neil Patrick Harris — appears to be changing minds. But the overall trend reflects real shifts in American values about being “open,” valuing “freedom” and “choice,” extending “rights,” and accepting that this is the way it is, even if one personally doesn’t like it.Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Last year a drug store chain in Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart, started playing Christmas music more than a month before the holiday. Customers complained, perhaps, Tom Megginson suggested, because it is customary in Canada to wait until after Remembrance Day on November 11 (a holiday honoring those who’ve died in wars) to start celebrating Christmas.
In response to complaints, Shoppers pulled the Christmas music and announced their decision on Facebook:
How might people interpret this decision? Here’s a sampling of one type of response, collected by Megginson:
Notice that not wanting to hear Christmas in early November is conflated with not celebrating Christmas and that is conflated with a whole host of identities: not being a “real” Canadian and being non-Christian, non-white, an immigrant, and of a different “culture.”
For these commenters, the so-called War on Christmas is about much more than a competition between religious and secular forces, it’s also about the centrality of whiteness and a defense of “true” Canadianness against an influx of foreign cultures. It is worth considering whether, in general, this debate is really code for racism and anti-immigrant sentiment more generally.Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
I’m in Salon today responding to the “men’s rights activists” who spammed Occidental College’s anonymous sexual assault reporting form this week. I, um, compare them to myself as a child:
I thought I failed fourth grade. It’s funny now that I’m a tenured professor at an elite college, but it wasn’t funny then. I lived a 45 minute walk from school and I ran home that day, tears in my eyes, clutching my unopened report card in my fist. I don’t remember much from my childhood, but I remember sitting on my front stoop and opening that horrible envelope. All Es for “excellent.” Huh.
Looking back I realize that my sense that I’d failed was based on how my teacher treated me. She was the first adult who didn’t talk to me in a baby voice like I was the most specialest little girl in the whole world. She treated me like a small adult instead of kissing my ass. But it was terrifying because my ass had been kissed by everyone around me my whole life and, when I was demoted to “regular person” without any special privileges, it felt terrible and unfair. I was being persecuted.
See how special I was? I’m the one with the inflated sense of self.
The men attacking Occidental’s survivors are feeling something similar to me in fourth grade. They’re angry that “women are being listened to… They’re mad because they’re not the only ones that matter anymore.” They’re no longer being treated like they’re the most specialest little girl in the whole world.
It hurts when privileges are taken away, no matter how unearned. But that doesn’t make it okay to be an asshole. Just sayin’.
PS – Thanks Ms. Singh!Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
What would you think of Woody from Toy Story if he wore pink?
Would you think the color choice was incongruous — that it didn’t seem masculine enough for a 1950s-era cowboy toy?
Well, you’d be wrong. Check out these images from the 1955 Sears Christmas Book catalog that Elizabeth Sweet, a newly minted Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis, sent me. Here’s Roy Rogers Apparel, featuring Roy Rogers and his son, Dusty – who is wearing a cowboy outfit with red, yellow, and pink accents:
To modern eyes, this is surprising. “Pink is a girls’ color,” we think. This association has become so firmly entrenched in our cultural imagination that people are flabbergasted to learn that until the 1950s, pink was often considered a strong color and, therefore, was associated with boys.
But it wasn’t only for boys. Although gender segregation is de rigeur today, it wasn’t back then. Look at these outfits for boys and girls, also from the 1955 Sears catalog: There are brown and red outfits for boys and girls. Pink and blue outfits for boys and girls. Blue and green outfits for boys and girls.
These spreads make it clear that in the 1950s, when Woody’s Roundup is supposed to have originated, Woody would have been pretty darned stylish in pink.
A decade later, things had started changing; pink was more closely associated with girls. (As Elizabeth notes of the Sears catalogs in her collection, “I didn’t find anything similar in 1965.”)
In today’s marketplace, I believe parents would love to see options like these. In fact, just yesterday, one of my friends posted this to facebook about his failed shopping trip:
Alright, parents, I went to buy my daughter cool costume stuff like pirate stuff and cowgirl stuff and all I found was princess outfits. She doesn’t know the word “princess.” She knows the words ‘cowgirl” and “pirate.” What’s the deal? Why does every company want her to be a princess? Why can’t she be an awesome cowgirl pirate?
Sadly, the reason is that in the retail world, this kind of diversity just doesn’t fly anymore. The status quo is segregation; as Elizabeth Sweet has argued, “finding a toy that is not marketed either explicitly or subtly (through use of color, for example) by gender has become incredibly difficult.” And the more entrenched this practice becomes, the harder it becomes to change, as change is perceived by marketers and retailers as a risk.
Therefore, for the foreseeable future, pink will serve as a clear delineation in the marketplace: If something is pink, it is most definitely not for boys, who regard it as a contagion — something to be avoided at all costs.
So it is that if Woody wore pink today, he would be unintelligible in the marketplace. And so it is that my friend can’t find a good cowgirl outfit for his little girl: he’d have to travel back to 1955 to do so.
The push for “girly” to be synonymous with “pink” saddens me. It has caused girls’ worlds to shrink, and it only reinforces for boys the idea that they should actively avoid anything girlish. Monochromatic girlhood drives a wedge between boys and girls — separating their spheres during a time when cross-sex play is healthy and desirable, and when their imaginations should run free.
Instead, we’re limiting our kids.
A new study has discovered that 48% of the nation’s 50 million public school students are in poverty, as measured by whether they qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches. In 17 states, the majority of schoolchildren are poor. Poverty rates are led by Mississippi, where 71% of children are in poverty.
These data represent a startling rise since 2000:
While the statistics are the worst for states in the South and the West, the percent increase in poor children was the highest in the Midwest (up 40% since 2001, compared to 33% in the South, 31% in the West, and 21% in the Northeast). All, of course, extraordinary increases.
h/t @Miel_Machetes.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
This edited anthology considers impolite Romanticisms, absolutely and unequivocally excluding that total fuckwad Wordsworth, that polite pondscum sucking, ass-kissing douchebag. While we're at it, let's fuck his fucking daffodils too, because they're just fucking weeds, and his fucking leeches and his fucking fuck-all suck-ass cliff. In fact, let's fuck the entire fucking Lake district with its fucking pretty mountains and its Dove fucking cottage -- oh hell, let's fuck every cottage and bower from the get-go, especially lime tree bowers, so we can fuck Coleridge too -- and its little white fucking fence and its fucking pretty mountains. Michael can go fuck himself too, though we will admit we're still rather drawn to that little girl in "We Are Seven." Lucy can fucking fuck herself, though, and so can the fucking Sublime, Picturesque, and Beautiful all at once (so you're fucked too Edmund Fucking Burke), along with every fucking abbey that was ever fucking built. Do you get the fucking point? Fuck the "lyrical" fucking "ballads." Wordsworth can blow his fucking clouds of glory up his fucking ass. We will focus instead upon urban Romanticisms, queer Romanticisms, transgressive Romanticisms, Romanticisms that will fuck anything that moves, angry Romanticisms, atheist Romanticisms, drunken Romanticisms, drugged Romanticisms, and any fucking Romanticism that doesn't give a fuck about forests, lakes, bean fields, and being fucking poet fucking Laureate for Queen Fucking Victoria of all fucking people. Say the things you've always wanted to say but couldn't. Fake names are acceptable only if accompanied by fake biographies and fake CVs that approximate your real ones.
Expressions banned from use in New Zealand parliamentary debate:
Clown of the House
Idle vapourings of a mind diseased
I would cut the honourable gentleman’s throat if I had the chance
His brains could revolve inside a peanut shell for a thousand years without touching the sides
Kind of animal that gnaws holes
Member not fit to lick the shoes of the Prime Minister
Energy of a tired snail returning home from a funeral
Shut up yourself, you great ape
Snotty-nosed little boy
You are a cheap little twerp
Could go down the Mount Eden sewer and come up cleaner than he went in
Dreamed the bill up in the bath
The full list is here. In brighter news, saying that a fellow member “scuttles for his political funk hole” was deemed allowable in 1974.
In many parts of the Western world, Halloween (for adult women, and increasingly for girls too) has morphed into an opportunity or imperative to dress sexy. These costumes for women and girls are par for the course, where men usually go for scary, funny, or creative. Brandi H., however, found a link to “sexy costumes for men” at msn.com that claims “There are sexy options for men, too.”
Let’s take a look. While women’s sexy costumes are typically decidedly sexy (tight with lots of exposed skin), these men’s “sexy” costumes are simply suggestive. In two cases, they “suggest” that men should be sexually serviced or played with (the “breathalyzer” and the “ring toss”):
In a third, the joke is that he is a perfect candidate for casual sex (the “one night stand”):
In a fourth, the costume is simply sexy because it’s related to (stereotypes) about prostitution (the “hustler”):
So, when women go sexy for Halloween, it usually means being seen as a sex object for others. When men go sexy, it means joking about how men should be sexually serviced, have access to one night stands, or being in charge of and profiting from women’s bodies. A different type of “sexy” entirely.
The other two costumes are simply non-sensical in context. I suppose policemen (and men in uniform in general) are supposed to be sexy in American culture. And I guess bunnies are related to Playboy bunnies? But the costume certainly misses the mark.
Cross-posted at Ms.; originally posted in 2010.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Would you put a camera in your daughter’s bedroom? Gordon Ramsay would. Last week, the celebrity chef boasted jokily on Jonathan Ross that he’d done just that to his fifteen-year old to make sure she and her boyfriend aren’t getting up to anything untoward. Barbara Ellen jumped to his defence in the Guardian, explaining that she has installed a webcam to spy on her own teenage daughter just to check that she is always doing her schoolwork when she should be. Parents, it is assumed, are allowed to spy on their children to whatever extent technology allows, particularly if those children are girls. The logic of constant surveillance - already employed in many factories and workplaces, where every minute of an employee’s time is now mechanically accounted for - has been extended to the home in a way that, were it to involve a relationship between adults, would immediately be pegged as abusive.
I was alerted to this disturbing trend by the Telegraph’s Mic Wright. Wright has reported before on the trend of liberal parents using the same tracking technology they would quite like various nation states to stop deploying against citizens to spy on their own children - specifically, on their daughters. It is significant that it is daughters who are subject to this sort of surveillance - being tracked on their parents’ smartphones, having their online activity monitored or, in Barbara Ellen’s case, having to put up with the parental panopticon checking that they’re always working and never fucking.
It has become a cliche for parents to snicker that whilst their sons may engage in whatever extracurricular activities they please, their daughters will be locked in their bedrooms until marriage. The joke wasn’t funny even when the worst concerned parents could do was scrabble under their children’s beds for sex toys and stimulants. Writing in The New Inquiry, Rahel Aima was amongst the first to link contemporary creeping surveillance with the patriarchal gaze, which she says is “something seemingly basic but as yet unacknowledged: these new ways of watching are unavoidably gendered technologies of control and domination.”
Aima quotes Madeline Ashby, who notes that:
Apparently, it took the preponderance of closed-circuit television cameras for some men to feel the intensity of the gaze that women have almost always been under … It took Facebook. It took geo-location. That spirit of performativity you have about your citizenship now? That sense that someone’s peering over your shoulder, watching everything you do and say and think and choose? That feeling of being observed? It’s not a new facet of life in the 21st century. It’s what it feels like for a girl.
It’s not just parents who watch young women, of course. Intimate surveillance, as I discuss in my book Cybersexism, creeps into every aspect of young women’s lives; from curated selfies to policing of Facebook photos to the sexual exchange and currency of nude photos and videos, women and girls grow up expecting to be on camera, and fretting about controlling how and by whom we are seen.
To be a white, middle-class male in this society is to live without a certain sort of scrutiny that people from other demographics grow up expecting. It makes sense, therefore, that one so often sees white, middle-class guys leading the charge against surveillance technology online and elsewhere. People get angriest about rights and freedoms being taken away when they have grown up expecting those rights and freedoms as a matter of course. This does not invalidate anybody’s rage when the rules of engagement with a state are rewritten without our permission.
The special sort of adulthood that comes with not being watched, with being free in the short-term to take responsibility for your own actions, is a privilege of which white men get an extra helping. Women and girls, for example, are generally watched more closely by their parents because of the ongoing terror that if they’re not kept tightly under control they will end up pregnant, unemployed, abused, or all three. Implicit in that that constant surveillance is a denial of adult agency.
One of the uncomplicatedly wonderful things about being a grown up is not always having to explain your behavior. To have ice-cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner until you’re sick of ice-cream. To go to bed with people who are personally unsuitable or politically unsound. To take the train to a new city without saying goodbye. I’m not suggesting you do any of those things, or that they come with no consequences. I’m just saying that if you no longer live with your parents, you probably could if you wanted to.
Part of growing up is grasping for that unwatched place, testing the boundaries of irresponsibility, evading intimate surveillance in order to establish boundaries of our own. We cannot speak seriously of young women’s freedom if we never let them push at those boundaries. To live under constant surveillance is to learn submission, and young women know this more than most. No wonder Barbara Ellen’s daughter chucked her camera in the bin.
For years, George Washington University, one of the country's most expensive colleges, promised families they didn't consider income in the admissions process while secretly rejecting students who couldn't afford tuition.
That was the upshot of a monday article in the The GW Hatchet that, as Inside Higher Ed delicately put it, has left the the university "rushing to explain itself." Until last week, the school claimed be "need-blind," meaning that it supposedly admitted applicants no matter how much tuition they could afford to pay. In fact, the university's admissions office had been taking financial need into account all along. The school has now officially rebranded itself as "need-aware."
Here's how Laurie Koehler, the GW's new provost for enrollment management, described their process:
“We have our internal preliminary decision of admit or waitlist or deny, and then we run the numbers and then we go, 'Okay, we have to do a little bit of shuffling here,'” Koehler said. She said the decision only impacts students who are not among GW's top applicants.
A more straightforward way to put it is this: First the admissions office picks a class based on merit. Then they move some financially needy applicants to the waitlist, which all but amounts to a rejection, and admit richer applicants in their place to make the books balance. Some schools have openly defended this approach by arguing that it allows them to offer fuller financial-aid packages to the lower-income students they do admit. That's the line GW is adopting now, and it may or may not be true. At the very least, their approach is less ethically disturbing than the widespread practice of "gapping," where schools admit students on a need blind basis, but frequently award them a financial aid package that's too small, sometimes with the express purpose of discouraging them from attending. Kids who fail to take the hint just sink deeper into debt.
But don't let that dull your outrage at GW. Students wasted their time and (if the school didn't waive their fee) wasted their money by applying under the mistaken impression that the university didn't care about their family's bank account. It also seems to have been part of a pattern. As Inside Higher Ed notes, these new revelations come less than a year after the school admitted to submitting false data to U.S. News & World Report's college rankings. (Afterwards, the school's dean of undergraduate admissions retired, and admissions office was restructured).
Finally, this incident is also symptomatic of a wider sickness in higher education: the mania for prestige. Even while it's freezing out poorer qualified applicants, the university continues using "merit aid" to recruit desirable students who might be able to pay their own way. GW isn't alone in that practice. It just got caught covering it up.
I would like everyone to know that the teachers in the English Dept at Alamogordo HS do not agree with the knee jerk reaction of pulling Neverwhere from the Dept. library. It has been successful as a supplemental novel and since our goal is to get students engaged and encourage their thinking, this novel is a keeper — the students love it. The passage the parent is referring to is not graphic, but it is an adult type situation…a very briefly visited one.
I am sorry our school administrators did not stand up and support the material the way we all would have expected them to do. Also, as much as we hate to expose anyone for not speaking the truth, this parent had publicly stated that the school was “forcing” her student to read the novel (not true), and she also stated that the school never offered her daughter an alternate selection when she objected to Neverwhere. This statement is one that we will vehemently deny. The mother is stating inaccurate comments publicly. I work with the teacher in question – a very capable and intelligent young woman that is an asset to the English Dept.- and she immediately provided an alternate novel to the student as soon as the mother made the first known objection to Gaiman’s novel.
We simply cannot stand for banning a book for hundreds of students this year and in the years to come because a single parent objected over one brief passage on ONE page. Making inaccurate comments about the teacher (whom the parent chose not to even meet, but publicly disrespected her and questioned her credentials in spite of that), saying we forced anyone to read a text she objected to, or stating that no alternative assignment was offered is absolutely false. Teachers are sensitive to the needs of their students.
Our students have enjoyed Gaiman’s novel for almost ten years, and it saddens us to think that our future students will not have the same opportunity.
The teachers in the English Dept are opposed to any form of censorship. This situation is being handled incorrectly, it makes our school and our town appear as if we are fine with suspending the use of a book that is used by middle and high schools across the country and around the globe. We are not fine with it, and we want people to know that.”
Kathy Wallis commenting in School Library Journal on the banning of NEVERWHERE at Alamogordo High School, New Mexico.
The original article reported from the parent’s point of view has gotten nationwide play, can we boost the signal on this as well please?
UPDATE, 10/14/13: The man is Bora Zivkovic, Blogs Editor for Scientific American. There's no reason for me anymore not to name him publicly, which I'd long wanted to do anyway. Reading about this incident is what reminded me (independent of whether or not he had anything to do with that post's original deletion, which I don't know).
I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to handle this issue in a way that'll both serve other women and, at the same time, honor my own needs.
*trigger warning for sexual violence; not safe for work*
In a wonderful article called It’s Only a Penis, anthropologist Christine Helliwell talks of how her time with the Dayak community of Gerai in Indonesian Borneo changed her perceptions of the sexual body. She writes of a time when a man crept through a window and into the bed of a sleeping woman. She continues:
[She] awoke, in darkness, to feel the man inside her mosquito net, gripping her shoulder while he climbed under the blanket… He was whispering, “be quiet, be quiet!” She responded by sitting up in bed and pushing him violently, so that he stumbled backward [and] became entangled with her mosquito net… His hurried exit through the window, with his clothes now in considerable disarray, was accompanied by a stream of abuse from the woman and by excited interrogations from wakened neighbors in adjoining houses.
The next morning:
I awoke… to raucous laughter on the longhouse verandah outside my apartment where a group of elderly women gathered… They were recounting this tale loudly, and with enormous enjoyment… one was engaged in mimicking the man climbing out the window, sarong falling down, genitals askew… both men and women shrieked with laughter.
Helliwell was appalled. It sounded to her Western ears like a case of attempted rape. It was frightening, not funny. But, when she explained to the local women that what he did was bad, one replied, “No, no bad, simply stupid.” Helliwell turned to the woman who had been approached by the man and said, “He was trying to hurt you.” She replied, “It’s only a penis. How can a penis hurt anyone?” The Gerai had no word for “rape.”
I often think of this story when observing the way that women’s and men’s genitals are represented in Western culture. I find the Gerai’s perspective intuitively pleasing. Penises are, in fact, very sensitive dangly bits imbued with much importance. I can imagine a culture in which their vulnerability was front-and-center, so to speak. I’m reminded of an observation made by my colleague Caroline Heldman regarding the seemingly secret pact of all men not to fight “below the belt” so as to never draw attention to men’s obvious and uniquely male physical weakness.
Yet, in Western cultures, we do imagine the penis to be a potentially threatening piece of anatomy. In contrast, Helliwell writes, the vagina is often “conceived of as a delicate, perhaps inevitably damaged and pained inner space.” Accordingly, we have collectively agreed to somehow believe that penises are potentially brutalizing and vaginas easily brutalized.
Where do these ideas come from? Well, here’s a clue: the frequency with which penises are represented, literally, as weapons. Kira recently sent in this example: a lubricant with the name “Gun Oil” advertised in the San Jose Mercury News (this is also going straight to our pointlessly gendered products page).
A while back, we received this safer sex ad from Germany:
And Julie C. sent along a link to a set of safer sex ads that included these three:
While I am all for encouraging sexual pleasure and safer sex, I would prefer that such efforts not conflate the penis with a weapon. Doing so only contributes to the idea that the penis is inherently useful for enacting violence and women’s bodies naturally vulnerable to violation from men. Moreover, Helliwell’s experience suggests that this isn’t simply imaginary, but may also contribute to the enactment of violence or lack thereof.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
If you’re a boy writer, it’s a simple rule: you’ve gotta get used to the fact that you suck at writing women and that the worst women writer can write a better man than the best male writer can write a good woman. And it’s just the minimum. Because the thing about the sort of heteronormative masculine privilege, whether it’s in Santo Domingo, or the United States, is you grow up your entire life being told that women aren’t human beings, and that women have no independent subjectivity. And because you grow up with this, it’s this huge surprise when you go to college and realize that, “Oh, women aren’t people who does my shit and fucks me.”
And I think that this a huge challenge for boys, because they want to pretend they can write girls. Every time I’m teaching boys to write, I read their women to them, and I’m like, “Yo, you think this is good writing?” These motherfuckers attack each other over cliche lines but they won’t attack each other over these toxic representations of women that they have inherited… their sexist shorthand, they think that is observation. They think that their sexist distortions are insight. And if you’re in a writing program and you say to a guy that their characters are sexist, this guy, it’s like you said they fucking love Hitler. They will fight tooth and nail because they want to preserve this really vicious sexism in the art because that is what they have been taught.
And I think the first step is to admit that you, because of your privilege, have a very distorted sense of women’s subjectivity. And without an enormous amount of assistance, you’re not even going to get a D. I think with male writers the most that you can hope for is a D with an occasional C thrown in. Where the average women writer, when she writes men, she gets a B right off the bat, because they spent their whole life being taught that men have a subjectivity. In fact, part of the whole feminism revolution was saying, “Me too, motherfuckers.” So women come with it built in because of the society.
It’s the same way when people write about race. If you didn’t grow up being a subaltern person in the United States, you might need help writing about race. Motherfuckers are like ‘I got a black boy friend,’ and their shit sounds like Klan Fiction 101.
The most toxic formulas in our cultures are not pass down in political practice, they’re pass down in mundane narratives. It’s our fiction where the toxic virus of sexism, racism, homophobia, where it passes from one generation to the next, and the average artist will kill you before they remove those poisons. And if you want to be a good artist, it means writing, really, about the world. And when you write cliches, whether they are sexist, racist, homophobic, classist, that is a fucking cliche. And motherfuckers will kill you for their cliches about x, but they want their cliches about their race, class, queerness. They want it in there because they feel lost without it. So for me, this has always been the great challenge.
As a writer, if you’re really trying to write something new, you must figure out, with the help of a community, how can you shed these fucking received formulas. They are received. You didn’t come up with them. And why we need fellow artists is because they help us stay on track. They tell you, “You know what? You’re a bit of a fucking homophobe.” You can’t write about the world with these simplistic distortions. They are cliches. People know art, always, because they are uncomfortable. Art discomforts. The trangressiveness of art has to deal with confronting people with the real. And sexism is a way to avoid the real, avoiding the reality of women. Homophobia is to avoid the real, the reality of queerness. All these things are the way we hide from encountering the real. But art, art is just about that.”
A lot of days at work and at home I feel like Eliza Doolittle. I have eschewed much of my East Los Angeles barrio upbringing, learned to speak in the dialect of the people at MRU, and I am totally passing for a refined, well-educated female scientist.
I still allow myself one regular indulgence from my time in the barrio. I have termed it “Fat Kid Wednesday.” I think a lot about Fat Kid Wednesday. Especially on Wednesdays.
Fat Kid Wednesday began when I was in middle school. My brother and I lived with our mother and we were hungry a lot. There was rarely food for breakfast in the house. Corn flakes, if anything. My parents were often too addled to be woken for lunch money, so I often went without. Dinner was also hit or miss. I just remember being hungry a lot.
But, on Wednesday nights my dad would come and get my brother and me. He took us to participate in a particular sport on Wednesdays and we would spend the night at his house after practice. On the way, he’d stop and get us dinner. We’d eat like we’d never seen food. After practice, we often asked him to go get us Chinese food. I remember him scowling and telling us, “You kids can’t keep eating like this without fattening up.” Hence, our coining of the phrase “Fat Kid Wednesday.” After he went to bed, my brother and I would eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes and a bowl of ice cream each. My dad always had cans of orange soda and we’d have several between us. I have no doubt that my brother and I would pack in 5000 calories on Fat Kid Wednesday. I remember how good it felt to be almost uncomfortably full after so many nights going to bed hungry.
I still observe Fat Kid Wednesday privately every week like some kind of fucked up, poor kid’s sabbath. But, it’s a solitary kind of sabbath. I don’t put away 5000 calories anymore, but I give myself permission to eat anything I want. I’m probably the only person in my house that worries about having enough to eat.
There are two things I think about on Fat Kid Wednesday. I think about how good it feels to be full. I think about where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what goals I have for myself and my children. I reassure myself that things are going well for me. I don’t have to worry about ever being hungry and my own children will never be slaves to my strange, midweek religion.
I also think a lot about my dad. I think about how we never told him how hungry we were. It’s funny to me to think about how protective I felt of him. I felt the need to guard him against the knowledge that we were hungry. I still don’t know why I couldn’t tell him, but it always felt as though we were doing something wrong those other six days a week. Like, maybe if we were better children my mother would remember that we needed to eat every day. As far away in time from it as I am, it feels like trying to look back at it through a fog. I can see the shapes of it, but it just doesn’t make any damned sense. I think a lot about what would have happened if I had just told my dad what life was like at home. If he had known that we weren’t really happy…
Then I go eat a big bowl of ice cream and frosted flakes.
Saint Coronatus joined a convent in Heiligkreuztal, Germany, in 1676.
Paul Koudounaris is not a man who shies away from the macabre. Though the Los Angeles-based art historian, author and photographer claims that his fascination with death is no greater than anyone else’s, he devotes his career to investigating and documenting phenomena such as church ossuaries, charnel houses and bone-adorned shrines. Which is why, when a man in a German village approached him during a 2008 research trip and asked something along the lines of, “Are you interested in seeing a dilapidated old church in the forest with a skeleton standing there covered in jewels and holding a cup of blood in his left hand like he’s offering you a toast?” Koudounaris’ answer was, “Yes, of course.”
At the time, Koudounaris was working on a book called The Empire of Death, traveling the world to photograph church ossuaries and the like. He’d landed in this particular village near the Czech border to document a crypt full of skulls, but his interest was piqued by the dubious yet enticing promise of a bejeweled skeleton lurking behind the trees. “It sounded like something from the Brothers Grimm,” he recalls. “But I followed his directions—half thinking this guy was crazy or lying—and sure enough, I found this jeweled skeleton in the woods.”
The church—more of a small chapel, really—was in ruins, but still contained pews and altars, all dilapidated from years of neglect under East German Communist rule. He found the skeleton on a side aisle, peering out at him from behind some boards that had been nailed over its chamber. As he pried off the panels to get a better look, the thing watched him with big, red glass eyes wedged into its gaping sockets. It was propped upright, decked out in robes befitting a king, and holding out a glass vial, which Koudounaris later learned would have been believed to contain the skeleton’s own blood. He was struck by the silent figure’s dark beauty, but ultimately wrote it off as “some sort of one-off freakish thing, some local curiosity.”
But then it happened again. In another German church he visited some time later, hidden in a crypt corner, he found two more resplendent skeletons. “It was then that I realized there’s something much broader and more spectacular going on,” he says.
Koudounaris could not get the figures’ twinkling eyes and gold-adorned grins out of his mind. He began researching the enigmatic remains, even while working on Empire of Death. The skeletons, he learned, were the “catacomb saints,” once-revered holy objects regarded by 16th- and 17th-century Catholics as local protectors and personifications of the glory of the afterlife. Some of them still remain tucked away in certain churches, while others have been swept away by time, forever gone. Who they were in life is impossible to know. “That was part of this project’s appeal to me,” Koudounaris says. “The strange enigma that these skeletons could have been anyone, but they were pulled out of the ground and raised to the heights of glory.”
To create Saint Deodatus in Rheinau, Switzerland, nuns molded a wax face over the upper half of his skull and fashioned his mouth with a fabric wrap.
His pursuit of the bones soon turned into a book project, Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, in which he documents the martyred bones’ journey from ancient Roman catacombs to hallowed altars to forgotten corners and back rooms. Though largely neglected by history, the skeletons, he found, had plenty to say.
Resurrecting the Dead
On May 31, 1578, local vineyard workers discovered that a hollow along Rome’s Via Salaria, a road traversing the boot of Italy, led to a catacomb. The subterranean chamber proved to be full of countless skeletal remains, presumably dating back to the first three centuries following Christianity’s emergence, when thousands were persecuted for practicing the still-outlawed religion. An estimated 500,000 to 750,000 souls—mostly Christians but including some pagans and Jews—found a final resting place in the sprawling Roman catacombs.
For hundreds of skeletons, however, that resting place would prove anything but final. The Catholic Church quickly learned of the discovery and believed it was a godsend, since many of the skeletons must have belonged to early Christian martyrs. In Northern Europe—especially in Germany, where anti-Catholic sentiment was most fervent—Catholic churches had suffered from plunderers and vandals during the Protestant Revolution over the past several decades. Those churches’ sacred relics had largely been lost or destroyed. The newly discovered holy remains, however, could restock the shelves and restore the morale of those parishes that had been ransacked.
The holy bodies became wildly sought-after treasures. Every Catholic church, no matter how small, wanted to have at least one, if not ten. The skeletons allowed the churches to make a “grandiose statement,” Koudounaris says, and were especially prized in southern Germany, the epicenter of “the battleground against the Protestants.” Wealthy families sought them for their private chapels, and guilds and fraternities would sometimes pool their resources to adopt a martyr, who would become the patron of cloth-makers, for example.
Saint Valentinus is one of the ten skeletons decorated by the lay brother Adalbart Eder. Valentinus wears a biretta and an elaborate deacon’s cassock to show off his ecclesiastical status. Today, he is housed in Waldsassen Basilica in Germany, along with his nine brethren.
For a small church, the most effective means of obtaining a set of the coveted remains was a personal connection with someone in Rome, particularly one of the papal guards. Bribery helped, too. Once the Church confirmed an order, couriers—often monks who specialized in transporting relics—delivered the skeleton from Rome to the appropriate northern outpost.
At one point, Koudounaris attempted to estimate in dollar terms how profitable these ventures would have been for the deliverymen, but gave up after realizing that the conversion from extinct currencies to modern ones and the radically different framework for living prevented an accurate translation. “All I can say is that they made enough money to make it worthwhile,” he says.
The Vatican sent out thousands of relics, though it’s difficult to determine exactly how many of those were fully articulated skeletons versus a single shinbone, skull or rib. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where the majority of the celebrated remains wound up, the church sent at least 2,000 complete skeletons, Koudounaris estimates.
For the Vatican, the process of ascertaining which of the thousands of skeletons belonged to a martyr was a nebulous one. If they found “M.” engraved next to a corpse, they took it to stand for “martyr,” ignoring the fact that the initial could also stand for “Marcus,” one of the most popular names in ancient Rome. If any vials of dehydrated sediment turned up with the bones, they assumed it must be a martyr’s blood rather than perfume, which the Romans often left on graves in the way we leave flowers today. The Church also believed that the bones of martyrs cast off a golden glow and a faintly sweet smell, and teams of psychics would journey through the corporeal tunnels, slip into a trance and point out skeletons from which they perceived a telling aura. After identifying a skeleton as holy, the Vatican then decided who was who and issued the title of martyr.
Saint Munditia arrived at the Church of Saint Peter in Munich along with a funerary plaque taken from the catacombs.
While there doubters within the Vatican, those on the receiving end of these relics never wavered in their faith. “This was such a dubious process, it’s understandable to ask if people really believed,” Koudounaris says. “The answer is, of course they did: These skeletons came in a package from the Vatican with proper seals signed by the cardinal vicar stating these remains belong to so-and-so. No one would question the Vatican.”
The Dirt and Blood Are Wiped Away
Each martyr’s skeleton represented the splendors that awaited the faithful in the afterlife. Before it could be presented to its congregation, it had to be outfitted in finery befitting a relic of its status. Skilled nuns, or occasionally monks, would prepare the skeleton for public appearance. It could take up to three years, depending on the size of the team at work.
The talented nuns of Ennetach decorated the ribcage of Saint Felix in Aulendorf.
Each convent would develop its own flair for enshrouding the bones in gold, gems and fine fabrics. The women and men who decorated the skeletons did so anonymously, for the most part. But as Koudounaris studied more and more bodies, he began recognizing the handiwork of particular convents or individuals. “Even if I couldn’t come up with the name of a specific decorator, I could look at certain relics and tie them stylistically to her handiwork,” he says.
Nuns were often renowned for their achievements in clothmaking. They spun fine mesh gauze, which they used to delicately wrap each bone. This prevented dust from settling on the fragile material and created a medium for attaching decorations. Local nobles often donated personal garments, which the nuns would lovingly slip onto the corpse and then cut out peepholes so people could see the bones beneath. Likewise, jewels and gold were often donated or paid for by a private enterprise. To add a personal touch, some sisters slipped their own rings onto a skeleton’s fingers.
Saint Kelmens arrived in Neuenkirch, Switzerland, in 1823 – decades after the original wave of catacomb saints were distributed throughout Europe. Two nuns decorated his bones.
One thing the nuns did lack, however, was formal training in anatomy. Koudounaris often found bones connected improperly, or noticed that a skeleton’s hand or foot was grossly missized. Some of the skeletons were outfitted with full wax faces, shaped into gaping grins or wise gazes. “That was done, ironically, to make them seem less creepy and more lively and appealing,” Koudounaris says. “But it has the opposite effect today. Now, those with the faces by far seem the creepiest of all.”
Saint Felix of Gars am Inn, Germany, was regarded as a miracle-worker.
They are also ornately beautiful. In their splendor and grandeur, Koudounaris says, the skeletons may be considered baroque art, but their creators’ backgrounds paint a more complicated picture that situates the bones into a unique artistic subcategory. The nuns and monks “were incredible artisans but did not train in an artisan’s workshop, and they were not in formal dialogue with others doing similar things in other parts of Europe,” he says.
“From my perspective as someone who studies art history, the question of who the catacomb saints were in life becomes secondary to the achievement of creating them,” he continues. “That’s something I want to celebrate.”
Devoted patrons often gave their own jewelry to the saints, such as these rings worn on the gauze-wrapped fingers of Saint Konstantius in Rohrschach, Switzerland.
In that vein, Koudounaris dedicated his book to those “anonymous hands” that constructed the bony treasures “out of love and faith.” His hope, he writes, is that “their beautiful work will not be forgotten.”
Fall from Grace
When a holy skeleton was finally introduced into the church, it marked a time of community rejoicing. The decorated bodies served as town patrons and “tended to be extremely popular because they were this very tangible and very appealing bridge to the supernatural,” Koudounaris explains.
Saint Gratian, another of Adalbart Eder’s Waldassen skeletons. Here, the saint is decked out in a re-imagining of Roman military attire, including lace-up sandals and shoulder, chest and arm guards.
Baptismal records reveal the extent of the skeletons’ allure. Inevitably, following a holy body’s arrival, the first child born would be baptized under its name—for example, Valentine for a boy, Valentina for a girl. In extreme cases, half the children born that year would possess the skeleton’s name.
Communities believed that their patron skeleton protected them from harm, and credited it for any seeming miracle or positive event that occurred after it was installed. Churches kept “miracle books,” which acted as ledgers for archiving the patron’s good deeds. Shortly after Saint Felix arrived at Gars am Inn, for example, records indicate that a fire broke out in the German town. Just as the flames approached the marketplace—the town’s economic heart—a great wind came and blew them back. The town showered Felix with adoration; even today, around 100 ex-votos—tiny paintings depicting and expressing gratitude for a miracle, such as healing a sick man—are strewn about St. Felix’s body in the small, defunct chapel housing him.
As the world modernized, however, the heavenly bodies’ gilt began to fade for those in power. Quoting Voltaire, Koudounaris writes that the corpses were seen as reflection of “our ages of barbarity,” appealing only to “the vulgar: feudal lords and their imbecile wives, and their brutish vassals.”
In the late 18th century, Austria’s Emperor Joseph II, a man of the Enlightenment, was determined to dispel superstitious objects from his territory. He issued an edict that all relics lacking a definite provenance should be tossed out. The skeletons certainly lacked that. Stripped of their status, they were torn down from their posts, locked away in boxes or cellars, or plundered for their jewels.
Catacomb saints were often depicted in a reclining position, as demonstrated here by Saint Friedrich at the Benedictine abbey in Melk, Austria. He holds a laurel branch as a sign of victory.
For local communities, this was traumatic. These saints had been instilled in people’s lives for more than a century, and those humble worshipers had yet to receive the Enlightenment memo. Pilgrimages to see the skeletons were abruptly outlawed. Local people would often weep and follow their patron skeleton as it was taken from its revered position and dismembered by the nobles. “The sad thing is that their faith had not waned when this was going on,” Koudounaris says. “People still believed in these skeletons.”
The Second Coming
Not all of the holy skeletons were lost during the 18th-entury purges, however. Some are still intact and on display, such as the 10 fully preserved bodies in the Waldsassen Basilica (“the Sistine Chapel of Death,” Koudounaris calls it) in Bavaria, which holds the largest collection remaining today. Likewise, the delicate Saint Munditia still reclines on her velvet throne at St. Peter’s Church in Munich.
In Koudounaris’ hunt, however, many proved more elusive. When he returned to that original German village several years later, for example, he found that a salvage company had torn down the forest church. Beyond that, none of the villagers could tell him what had happened to its contents, or to the body. For every 10 bodies that disappeared in the 18th and 19th centuries, Koudounaris estimates, nine are gone.
In other cases, leads—which he gathered through traveler’s accounts, parish archives and even Protestant writings about the Catholic “necromancers”—did pan out. He found one skeleton in the back of a parking-garage storage unit in Switzerland. Another had been wrapped in cloth and stuck in a box in a German church, likely untouched for 200 years.
After examining around 250 of these skeletons, Koudounaris concluded, “They’re the finest pieces of art ever created in human bone.” Though today many of the heavenly bodies suffer from pests burrowing through their bones and dust gathering on their faded silk robes, in Koudounaris’ photos they shine once more, provoking thoughts of the people they once were, the hands that once adorned them and the worshipers who once fell at their feet. But ultimately, they are works of art. “Whoever they may have been as people, whatever purpose they served rightly or wrongly as items, they are incredible achievements,” he says. “My main objective in writing the book is to present and re-contextualize these things as outstanding works of art.”
Only the head of Saint Benedictus – named in honor of Saint Benedict, the patron of the monastery – arrived in Muri, Switzerland, in 1681.
Accomplishing that was no small task. Nearly all the skeletons he visited and uncovered were still in their original 400-year-old glass tombs. To disassemble those cases, Koudounaris thought, would “amount to destroying them.” Instead, a bottle of Windex and a rag became staples of his photography kit, and he sometimes spent upward of an hour and a half meticulously examining the relic for a clear window through which he might shoot. Still, many of the skeletons he visited could not be included in the book because the glass was too warped to warrant a clear shot.
For Koudounaris, however, it’s not enough to simply document them in a book. He wants to bring the treasures back into the world, and see those in disrepair restored. Some of the church members agreed with Koudounaris’ wish to restore the skeletons, not so much as devotional items but as pieces of local history. The cost of undertaking such a project, however, seems prohibitive. One local parish priest told Koudounaris he had consulted with a restoration specialist, but that the specialist “gave a price so incredibly high that there was no way the church could afford it.”
Still, Koudounaris envisions a permanent museum installation or perhaps a traveling exhibit in which the bones could be judged on their artistic merits. “We live in an age where we’re more in tune with wanting to preserve the past and have a dialogue with the past,” he says. “I think some of them will eventually come out of hiding.”
Bri & Alex sent in one of those “oh sigh” submissions. It’s a marketing poster illustrating a gadget that makes it easier to open your door when you have your hands full. With what might you have your hands full? Well, if you’re a dude, it’s probably a briefcase and suitcase from a business trip. If you’re a woman, it’s probably laundry and groceries.
Good work, Brinks Home Security! You wouldn’t want to offend a customer by suggesting that women have jobs or men do laundry!Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
"There are two books in America: one for the poor and one for the rich. The poor person does a crime, and gets 40 years. A rich person gets a slap on the wrist for the same crime. They say that the poor person doesn’t want to work and the poor person just wants a handout. Well I picked cotton until I was thirteen, left Alabama and got my education in the streets of New York. I drove a long distance truck all my life and never once drew welfare, never once took food stamps either. I sent four kids to college. But they say all poor people do is sit around with a quart of beer. Look in this bag next to me. I’ve got three things in this bag next to me: a Red Bull, a Pepsi, and Draino, because my drain is clogged. But you see, even if I do everything right, I still have to play by the poor book.”