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Mary Anne Mohanraj
Works at University of Illinois at Chicago
Attended University of Utah
Lived in Negombo, Sri Lanka
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Mary Anne Mohanraj

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Started discussion of The Left Hand of Darkness today. We talked about Le Guin's choice to use Genly Ai, a human, as a viewpoint character into the culture of mostly non-gendered aliens of the planet Gethen, aka Winter, and how Genly's assumptions about the people / society serve as a reflection of our own gender beliefs. Perhaps a less perfect reflection now than in 1970, when the book was written. In 2020, I'd love to see a 50-year anniversary panel discussion (or day-long symposium) on this book, asking where we are now re: gender, compared to where we were then.

Most of the conversation was focused on Le Guin's choice to use 'he' for the book -- a choice of pronouns she originally defended in an essay written in 1976, and which, several years later, she recanted in an new version of that essay, in 1987. We spent much of today's class discussing pronouns, job titles that are inherently gendered (see switch from 'stewardess' to 'flight attendant') and started a discussion on whether there are gender traits that are biologically programmed. For example, a few of my students wanted to argue that women are inherently more nurturing, more caring.

I asked them whether, even if it's the case that women are more caring, that might be something culturally inculcated. Whether women are expected / trained / coerced into being more nurturing. When one's parent is aging and needs physical care, is it the son or daughter who helps them bathe? If it's the daughter, why? (Esp. given that the son may well be stronger and more physically capable of lifting an aged parent in and out of a bath.) We talked about Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel's lovely book / film, which centers on an oldest Mexican daughter who isn't allowed to marry because traditionally, it's the oldest daughter's job to care for the aged parents. I believe my (mostly female) students were not thrilled by that prospect.

We'll be discussing The Left Hand of Darkness all week. If you're interested in more on the book (one of my all-time favorites), here's a good intro:

http://io9.com/5555773/the-truth-is-self-evident-ursula-le-guins-left-hand-of-darkness-isnt-about-gender
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Despite repeated tries over more than 20 years of my life, I cannot get interested in reading Left Hand of Darkness. It's a big wash of "why should I care about these people or this story? Nothing is happening and they're all ciphers." Actually, there is no Le Guin I've ever managed to read for pleasure except Always Coming Home (which is a really weird book), and the same goes for Vernor Vinge. I wonder what it is about their style I bounce off of? People summarize LHoD for me and it's fascinating, so I try the book again ... and nada.
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Mary Anne Mohanraj

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Egg dyeing, round one. This year, we tried a few new things -- brown eggs instead of white, and natural dyes in addition to the kit dyes. Personally, I love the colors you get with the kit dyes + brown eggs; just gorgeous, and I'd be very happy to blow out eggs (so I can save them) and dye them for household decoration that way. Have not really mastered blowing out eggs without leaving monstrous holes that needs covering up, though. Maybe next year. This year, we just hard-boiled them, so they won't last. The natural dyes plus brown eggs came out a bit brown/dark for my tastes -- you'll see. I saved the dyes, and am doing a batch of white eggs this morning, just for comparison purposes. You do need to soak in the natural dyes noticeably longer, so if you have impatient children around, you might want to do what we did and do artificial too. Also, they were at least as excited about adding stickers to the eggs as coloring them, and the little rub-on transfers that came in the kit were a bit difficult for this age group, so I'm glad we happened to have some small spring stickers for them to use. 
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Am I weird for salivating over the dye-bath?
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Mary Anne Mohanraj

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I really do need to turn off the work brain, which keeps fretting about unanswered e-mails. It is 8:15 on a Friday night, and I am going to put away the computer until tomorrow. G'night, my dears. Am making a cup of decaf tea, tucking in four children for a sleepover, and then re-reading a Tamora Pierce novel until I fall asleep. That's a much better way to spend Friday night.
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Kat says I have a thing for bunnies, which I think may be true, though I hadn't noticed it before.  I am also very fond of foxies.  But it is spring, not autumn, so here's your morning bunny. :-)
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Mary Anne Mohanraj

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I'm finding it surprisingly difficult, getting my students to connect with the 70s feminist fiction we're reading.  I think the problem is that most of them haven't encountered much overt sexism yet.  They don't resonate with the frustration, depression, anger, fear that suffuses these texts; it's distant to them.  I am thinking that I might need to show them the first episode of Mad Men next time I teach this course before they start reading these stories, just to get them a slightly more visceral understanding of where these writers were coming from.  

And I wonder whether the world has really improved so much for women in one generation (they are mostly in their early 20s, compared to my early 40s), or whether they are simply sheltered.  So far, from our discussions, most of them mostly only notice sexism in aspects like who their parents allow them to date, or how far they're supposed to go sexually, or what they're allowed to wear, or what careers they're supposed to choose.  So some overt pressure from parents (explicit or implicit), and some subtle cultural pressure re: clothing choices / slut-shaming / etc.  

Whereas I know multiple women who have encountered domestic violence and/or sexual assault.  I know lots of women who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, to greater or lesser degrees.  I know lots of women, especially in sciences and tech, who have run up against men who didn't think they belonged there.  I know many women who have felt pressured to stop working when they had kids because they couldn't afford decent childcare and their husband made more money than they did, so it just made sense that they were the one to stay home.  I know many women trying to get back into the workplace now that their kids are in school, finding the way far more difficult than they'd anticipated.  I know women writers whose husbands don't support them in their writing, because it's just a silly hobby she has.  I know women who fight bitterly with their husbands about the pitiful amount of housework and/or childcare he contributes.  Etc. and so on and so on.

If I ask these young women again in ten years, or twenty, I wonder whether these stories will resonate more strongly then.  I hope not.
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Sheltered, I guess?  notalwaysright.com has lots of stories of women working at game stores, help lines, car dealers, etc. and male customers asking for someone "who actually can help them".
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Teaching Delany today in my 100-level Women and Literature class. We read "The Tale of Old Venn" and "The Tale of Potters and Dragons" from Tales of Neveryon, both of which lead to fruitful avenues of discussion.  Most of today's class was focused on how money changed Rulvyn society; which led us to a discussion of Marx, the idea of being alienated from one's labor, the ways in which women's work (and the work of people of color) becomes devalued in a capitalist society.  We talked a bit about bankers and the stock market; the richest among my own friends are those who spend their workday moving money around.

I asked them who should be paid more, the janitor or the doctor?  And why?  And which job would they rather have, if pay were equal?  How much would they charge to clean toilets?  (One student said you'd have to pay her $50 / hr.) Why don't we pay people according to how undesirable the work is, rather than its perceived status?  Why is office work often more highly paid than backbreaking physical labor?  (One student talked about his father, and the injuries he's sustained doing hard labor jobs, and the fact that he doesn't get any extra compensation for that.)  Why are teachers so poorly paid?  (I would rather have an office job than try to herd a class of preschoolers for eight hours a day -- the latter would probably make me break down in tears on a regular basis.)  

From "The Tale of Old Venn":  "Now money, when it moves into a new tribe, very quickly creates an image of the food, craft, and work there: it gathers around them, molds to them, stays away from the places where none are to be found, and clots near the positions where much wealth occurs.  Yet, like a mirror image, it is reversed just as surely as the writing on a piece of paper is reversed when you read its reflection on a boy's belly.  For both in time and space, where money is, food, work, and craft are not: where money is, food, work, and craft either will shortly be, or in the recent past were.  But the actual place where the coin sits is a place where wealth may just have passed from or may soon pass into, but where it cannot be now -- by the whole purpose of money as an exchange object.  When money came among the Rulvyn, something very strange happened:  Before money came, a woman with strength, skills, or goods could exchange them directly with another woman for whatever she needed.  She who did the most work and did it the best was the most powerful woman.  Now, the same woman had to go to someone with money, frequently a man, exchange her goods for money, and then exchange the money for what she needed.  But if there was no money available, all her strength and skill and goods gave her no power at all -- and she might as well not have had them…"
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j'en suis tout affaire dacor aek vous
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Mary Anne Mohanraj

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I have been promising Kavya egg-dyeing for days now, so here we are. First step: boiling gazillion eggs.
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Brown eggs make gorgeous rich colors when dyed.
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I managed to work "Let it Go" into the tail end of class discussion today.  In part because I was listening to the lyrics over and over on my drive into work, because Kavi likes it when I sing along with her but gets annoyed when I get the verse wrong.  But mostly because it was relevant to the class -- we're reading Tiptree's "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" and "The Women Men Don't See" and I also had them look at an essay on the coded language of Afghani women poets (where they sing things they're not allowed to say).  

We talked about the ways in which women historically haven't been allowed to speak, how they've been told to be 'good girls' and conform, and how literature is sometimes the only available avenue for expressing your anger / frustration / desire.  We briefly mentioned the occasional broken-hearted middle-of-the-night Facebook post that you perhaps regret a bit in the cold light of day.  But really not.

"Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know…

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free…

Let it go, let it go
And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone…"
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I am feeling completely, paralyzingly panicked about how behind I am.  For no good reason, because I am actually less behind that I was for most of February and March and somehow I survived those months.  But nonetheless, panicked.  Am implementing calming strategies -- have taken to my bed with laptop, am going to turn off Facebook for an hour and run The E-mail Game to at least process some of the backlogged e-mail.  Hopefully that will help.  I also have an urge to make cheese toast, but given that I have already had quite a filling dinner, I am going to ignore that urge for the moment.  Cheese toast is good for many things, but I suspect it will not save me now.
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I find wine helpful!
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Oh, I probably shouldn't have taken two hours out of my day to do this today, but Roshani wanted to see a garden store I knew, so I took her there, and once there, you know I'm not leaving without plants. So yes, it's silly and risky to plant this early (Chicago's safe planting date is the ridiculously late May 15), but look! Here are some early spring plants: stock, nemesia, pansies, alyssum. There are so pretty. We're supposed to have a low of 30F tomorrow night; I think they can handle it. 

And now, back to grading and class prep.
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Have her in circles
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Writer and English Professor
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  • University of Illinois at Chicago
    Clinical Assistant Professor, 2008 - present
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Negombo, Sri Lanka - New Britain - Chicago - Philadelphia - Oakland - Salt Lake City - Oak Park
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Trying to fail better.
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Writer, professor, mother. http://www.maryannemohanraj.com

Mary Anne Mohanraj is the author of Bodies in Motion (HarperCollins) and nine other titles. Bodies in Motion was a finalist for the Asian American Book Awards, a USA Today Notable Book, and has been translated into six languages. 

Mohanraj founded the World Fantasy Award-winning and Hugo-nominated magazine, Strange Horizons and the erotica magazine Clean Sheets. She was Guest of Honor at WisCon 2010, received a Breaking Barriers Award from the Chicago Foundation for Women for her work in Asian American arts organizing, and won an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship. 

Mohanraj has taught at the Clarion SF/F workshop, and is now Clinical Assistant Professor of fiction and literature and Associate Coordinator of Asian and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She serves as Executive Director of both DesiLit and the Speculative Literature Foundation.

Recent publications include "Talking to Elephants" (Abyss & Apex) and "Jump Space" (Thoughtcrime Experiments).  She lives in a creaky old Victorian in Oak Park, just outside Chicago, with her partner, Kevin, two small children, and a sweet dog.
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Author of ten books; mother of Kavya and Anandan Whyte
Education
  • University of Utah
    Ph.D. in English Lit. and Creative Writing, 2000 - 2005
  • Mills College
    MFA in Creative Writing, 1995 - 1997
  • University of Chicago
    BA in English Literature, 1989 - 1993
  • Miss Porter's School
    High School, 1985 - 1989
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The Pabellon empanada is delicious -- chicken or beef with black beans, fried plantains, and cheese, wrapped in a tasty fried empanada and served with green salsa. I would have liked it a little spicier, but they do have Tabasco there to heat it up; next time, I might ask if they'd be willing to throw some green chili in too. I had the chorizo arepa another time -- good, but very rich (with all the fried chorizo), and the arepa was too big for my appetite. The empanada is a perfect size for lunch.
• • •
Food: ExcellentDecor: Very goodService: Excellent
Public - a year ago
reviewed a year ago
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