Sunday, October 14, 2012

Emily W. Kane

Emily W. Kane is Professor of Sociology, and a member of the Program in Women and Gender Studies, at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

Her latest book is The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls.

Late last month I asked Kane what she was reading. Her reply:
I tend to read two categories of books, social science studies as my professional reading and novels as my personal reading. And my favorites in both categories usually capture the intersections of inequalities of gender, race, class, sexuality and nation. A few examples of what I’m currently reading or have recently read in each category may help explain what I mean by that.

I’m teaching a seminar on gender and family right now, in which my students and I are currently reading Cameron MacDonald’s Shadow Mothers: Nannies, Au Pairs, and the Micropolitics of Mothering (University of California Press, 2010) and will next turn to Lisa Brush’s Poverty, Battered Women and Work in U.S. Public Policy (Oxford, 2011). Both of these interview-based analyses engage the intersecting effects of gender inequality, racial inequality, class inequality and national/international public policy in shaping the daily lives of families in the contemporary United States. The first of these books addresses the constraints felt by upper income professional women (largely white and heterosexually-partnered) and by the nannies (often lower income women of color, sometimes documented or undocumented immigrants) they employ to help them resolve the inherent incompatibility of ideologies of intensive mothering and ideologies of the ideal professional worker. The second addresses the constraints faced by poor women ensnared at the crossroads of a stingy public assistance system and an insufficiently attentive criminal justice system. Both MacDonald and Brush offer engaging accounts of the everyday lives of these women, and a broad sociological analysis of the structures revealed by those individual lives, with particular attention to structures of inequality by gender, race, class and nation.

On the fiction side of my stack of recent reading, three books come to mind as capturing the same set of tensions in a very different way. In the order I read them, beginning with the most recent, they are: Tatjana Soli’s The Lotus Eaters (St. Martin’s, 2010), Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder (Harper, 2012) and Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie (Picador, 2009). All three are beautifully written narratives. Each captures the journey of a central character navigating the complexities of colonialism and gender, with sensitivity to the matrix of constraints shaped by these forces and the economic and racial inequalities embedded within/between them. Soli’s novel is set in Vietnam at the time of the fall of Saigon, and follows a young U.S. woman trying to make her way in the fiercely male-dominated world of professional journalists and photographers during the 1970s. Patchett’s landscape is a very different one, as she traces the path of a U.S. pharmaceutical researcher who is drawn into the Amazon rainforest to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a colleague. But she too highlights the tensions of globalization and imperial power as they intersect with gendered patterns. Finally, Shamsie offers a journey across both time and place, following generations of a family from Nagasaki during WWII to India to Pakistan to NYC and Afghanistan during 2001, weaving a beautiful multi-generational family saga with a nuanced geopolitical commentary that highlights colonial power and privilege as well as their intersections with gender.
Learn more about Emily W. Kane's The Gender Trap at the New York University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue