- SSHRC’s mat leave policies
- I’m collaborating with another prof (also female) on an edited collection. One of the contributors (male) continually refers to the two of us as “ladies” in his emails, but to the male contributors as “professor x” or “professor y.” It’s driving me up the wall.
- From my friend’s teaching evaluations: “She should spend as much time on her lectures as she does on her outfits.”
- Which is the worse form of sexism?: A female colleague tells the honours seminar, “All men are rational, scientific.” When challenged (by a student, bravo!), she responds, “Yeah? Are men ever called irrational?”
- After showing a film clip to her class my friend is asked by a student to “complete the lecture in a sexy voice like the woman in the movie.”
- “Be sure to put on your application that you only took a 6 month maternity leave. That makes you look more serious.”
- The most terrible and egregious act of sexism this month was the Harper government’s decision regarding the “renewal” of funding for Sisters in Spirit, a Native Women’s Association of Canada initiative that has documented 582 missing and murdered aboriginal women and is developing policy recommendations on violence against aboriginal women. In true Harper style, the feds reduced funding by one third for the next five years and made “renewal” subject to the following conditions: that the initiative be called Evidence in Action and not Sisters in Spirit; that their well recognized Grandmother Moon logo not be used; that they cease doing “research” on the missing and murdered women (to focus on action); and that they not maintain their database.
I’m a regular reader of University of Venus. I like the mission statement, I love the variety of voices, and I appreciate the range of perspectives the writers offer. My post comes by way of a response to Mary Churchill’s post Why do Academics Write? from a few months ago. I guess you could say I’m a percolator: I think think think about something for quite some time before I formulate a response to it.
In my post last Friday, I celebrated 50 posts and a new community here at Hook and Eye. Earlier in the month, I told other people how awesome I am. In October, I “gave it up” (as the kids say, meaning, I think, “applauded”) for my students, in a tryptophanic fit of thanksgiving.
It was easy to brag about my students, and not that hard to whoop it up for Hook and Eye‘s little milestone, but it was very very hard, as I noted at the time, to boast about myself.
I think we need to boast a little bit more, generally, as women in the academy. Why not start here? What would you think about a regular–maybe monthly?–“Boast Post” feature where we could applaud one another’s accomplishments? The trick would be this: you have to nominate your own accomplishments. That’s the hardest part, I think, so I’m willing to let you boast about yourself anonymously if that’s what you need to do in order to get the words out. We can compile them into an omnibus of fabulousness, glorying in our own accomplishments, together.
It’s easy to complain. Hell, there’s usually no shortage of legitimate stuff to complain about. But there’s a lot of good out there, too. Why not bask in some sunshine? Or, if you want to make a self-improvement project out of it, consider this an exercise in overcoming what I imagine to be a pretty widely-shared collective aversion to self-promotion.
Own it, sister.
Why don’t you try it out in the comments? Or if you’re not ready to boast, let us know if you think it might be a neat monthly feature. If you’d like to submit a boast ‘anonymously,’ you can send it to our email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll start: I just handed in the final revision on an article that has been accepted for publication. I’m proud of how the paper turned out: I worked really hard on it, and really pushed my research and my thinking. It’s going to be published in the coming weeks. Woohoo!
Now, you …
Here’s a post by Janna Flaming, a student in “English 108D: Digital Lives”; she wrote this in September, for a response paper assignment, and it was just so great, and so related to what what happening on the blog (remember those posts?) that I wanted to include her ideas in the conversation. Thanks to Janna for being the first student guest poster!
In the current digital age there have been many problems that have occurred because of unclear boundaries in the geography of cyberspace. Since student/teacher relationships were traditionally built on the university grounds, the hierarchy and boundaries between them were clearly defined. However, in cyberspace, because geography is ambiguous and professorial governance is unclear, when professors and students become Facebook friends, the established hierarchy starts to waver and the boundaries between personal and professional lives are blurred. In Denise Horn’s article, I agree with her colleagues who express concern about privacy when connected to students on Facebook. A breach of privacy in cyberspace may also change professors’ ability to have authority over students. It is better to leave Facebook out of professor/student relationships, because professors allowing students to befriend them on Facebook raises questions that have no clear policies or procedures to provide answers.
Professors should also not befriend students on Facebook because there is a social digital divide. Those professors who allow students to befriend them on Facebook may be giving disproportionate time and attention to those students who have a lot of access to technology. Professors may therefore find it difficult to give poor grades to students with whom they have built a personal relationship through Facebook. As a result, professors should leave Facebook out of the classroom, as it might reinforce already present social class divides between students.
Professors should not befriend their students on Facebook since this relationship may inadvertently heighten an already present social digital divide and have an impact on professorial access. Furthermore, because of unclear geography in cyberspace, professors’ ability to govern students may be compromised when issues arrive online. I believe that professors should not allow students access through Facebook to prevent any possible issues that could occur because cyberspace is changing traditional university relationships.
What’s colder than Edmonton in November? A climate of disrespect. Tell us about it. sexism [at] hookandeye.ca.
What’s hard about my job isn’t the work, and it isn’t the people (though believe me, I have my days). What’s hard about my job is me – specifically, the fact that I have never learned how to not take things personally. Part of this is A Heather Problem: I tend to be intemperate, drawn to extremes. I love what I like and I hate what I dislike, and there is a special place in my heart for the Brussels sprout (a mean little vegetable). So, sure, part of it is me.
But I suspect that it’s also A Gender Problem. Having been “made” a woman (Beauvoir), I am now someone who acts, and feels, and responds, like a woman. What does that mean? Among other things: I want my colleagues and students to like me. That’s certainly not the only thing I want, and I wouldn’t say it’s what I want the most – but do I want it? Yeah, I do. Also, I work to make people happy. When they are unhappy, I don’t shrug it off; I work harder. Although I don’t mind honest confrontations, it upsets me to be in the middle of intractable discord, particularly with people who have no interest in working things out. Other examples: when a journal turns down a publication, I think I’m stupid. When a colleague attacks a process I’ve put together, I assume s/he speaks for everyone. When I find myself in a why-do-the-wicked-prosper moment in public, my blood boils, my face reddens, and my voice shakes. The strongest emotions – fear, rage, frustration, incredulity, resentment, envy, homicidal PMS – are disfiguring for everybody; for women, they can be professionally debilitating. Angry men are respected; angry women are shrill. Etc.
Understand, please, that this is not an intellectual problem. Philosophical disagreements?: you win some, you lose some, you change your mind on some. I am fine with the fact that we academics make our living on principle. Nor am I asking for therapeutic advice. I don’t wish to be a different kind of person. I don’t imagine the academy to be my world; my job is not my life; I know that institutions have no soul. I know all of that, in my head. But in my heart? I’ve never figured out how to park my emotions at the committee room door. I can’t seem to find a way to care less.
And here is the real kicker. The very things that make me susceptible to bruising (bruise = internal bleeding, remember) are the things that make me really good at my job. As a woman, I have developed exceptional emotional intelligence. I can read the feel of a room within seconds. More importantly, I can work with that. To tension I bring peace, to shyness I offer inclusiveness, and I ease social awkwardness with good humour. When I’m confronted by someone who is angry, or upset, or frightened, I know what to do – I know intuitively, I want to say, though what i mean is: I know because I have been made a woman.
I believe these are important skills – important to the individuals involved, but also important to the institution, and therefore important to all of us. (See “cycle of abuse.”) But these so-called soft skills play in the most undervalued aspects of our universities: teaching, meeting, mentoring, supervising. When it comes right down to it, whether by reputation, by conviction, by tradition or by culture, the university still values the disembodied thinker above all.
And that – I find enraging.
(Okay, readers: some hefty claims here, I know. Bring it!)
Let me be right up front with you: writing is difficult for me.
I’m not talking about article or lecture writing (both of which are also difficult, but in more specialized ways). I’m talking about writing right. Good writing. Utilizing the kind of style that would make Strunk and White proud. I’ve been guilty of almost all of the writing mistakes that make top ten lists. And what’s more, I don’t like talking about how difficult I find putting words together on a page to convey meaning.
However, I find myself wanting to talk about writing now in part because I’ve done so elsewhere this week, and in part because my department has started discussing pedagogical strategies for teaching writing to first year students. We had out first brown bag pedagogy session this week, and quite frankly it was a highlight of my entire week (yes, I realize that is mildly pathetic. What can I say? I like my colleagues). It isn’t often that I get together with colleagues to discuss teaching strategies, and I can tell you that as a new teacher I am more than a little excited for any new (or tried and true) ways of teaching first year students to write.
After the session I found myself wondering who else was talking about student writing. Turns out lots of people are talking. One of the things I find so troublesome about many of the article about student writing skills (or lack thereof) are their titles: Students Can’t Write and They Can’t Spell. While there are a myriad of great articles out there suggesting proactive ways of curtailing bad writing, the consensus tends to be the same: writing is getting worse.
I managed to miss grammatical instruction as an elementary student. I’m one of the whole language generation, which may explain both my interest in close and critical reading, as well as my need to look up what the future anterior actually means. Or, perhaps the wholes–I mean holes–in my writing education are a result of moving from the Canadian education system to the American one as an elementary student: I simply slipped through some cracks and missed the joy that is sentence diagramming in both countries (& yes, I do actually mean joy). And while I managed to makeshift my own grammatical education (mostly through university Italian language classes: absolutamente fantastico! Grazie Senor Sergio) I’m less interested in the whys and wherefores of how student writing has reached this point. After all, I’m not trained in elementary and high school curriculum development.
What I am interested in is this: Teaching my first year students university-level writing skills. I’m not of the mind that I shouldn’t have to teach grammar or essay structure for that matter (though, of course, I would rather spend the entirety of class time discussing literary scholarship of higher orders). The fact of the matter is that I spend a goodly portion of time on writing instruction. Here’s what I do in addition to lecturing about literary interpretation (bearing in mind this is for a first year course that fulfills my university’s writing requirement):
1. Assess individual student abilities. On the first day of class I ask them to respond in writing to three questions: Why are you taking this course? What do you hope to learn? What is the last book you read for fun? These questions are in part to help me remember my student’s names, but also to help me get a preliminary sense of writing abilities.
2. Develop a class-specific top 10 list: after the first set of essays are due I go through and select examples of the most common writing errors. We workshop these in 15 minute slots each week.
3. Devote 15 minutes of class time per week to Grammar Slammers.
4. Twice a semester we run peer-editing sessions as a part of the revisions process for essays. I do this because I think it is important for students to start to talk to each other about writing, and because I’ve always wanted to have a writing group myself. It works really, really well. There are many resources online that can help you construct a peer-editing session. I use the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s writing resources as a template, but that’s mostly an Alma matter fidelity thing.
I also feel quite certain that students would learn by osmosis if I had The Oatmeal‘s entire poster series in my office. So if you’re wondering what to get me for Christmas…
What about you, readers? What are your proactive strategies for teaching first year writing?
Hey everyone, we’re celebrating 50 posts of Hook and Eye! Why, it seems like only just yesterday that Heather launched our first missive into the Ethernet, September the 6th, and 371 of you dropped by to see what she had to say. Since that first post–and those 371 readers–we’ve added 49 more (counting this one), with 9 guest posts, and two editions of This Month in Sexism. The conversation has been excellent: 297 comments in total, and more every day.
Since our launch, the site has had 13,937 visits, from 4,137 different readers, who’ve examined a cumulative total of 23,988 pages.
Wow! I’m pretty sure I speak for Heather and Erin when I say we’re pretty pleased that what happens on this blog appeals to so many of you. I’m really pleased that we’ve had nearly 20% of our posts contributed by guest bloggers–please, won’t you write for us, too?
One of the really interesting things for me about writing for this blog has been using my own name. I’ve been blogging for more than four years already, but never out in the open like this and never–of course!–writing about work. It feels exciting, and risky all at once.
I’ve been thinking this week, too, about what it means to be a professor ‘out loud’ like this. I forget sometimes what a hothouse a university can be, how it nurtures the growth and development of ideas and interactions and processes that don’t seem easily to survive transplantation to the harsh climate of public life writ more broadly.
For example, this story in Inside Higher Education, on viral classroom videos, some clandestinely taken and published, others captured through legitimate means, yet others heavily edited and annotated. I watch the videos and I see … teaching. I see teachers and classrooms and it all seems so familiar and normal. I see also the danger of taking what happens in the classroom and broadcasting it outside of that classroom.
Inside Higher Ed classifies this kind of video as “gotcha” … journalism? media practice? These videos remind me, though, of why I don’t allow anyone to tape my classes, even just the audio. It’s why, further, I don’t give out lecture notes to anyone. See, I think that what happens in the classroom is much bigger than what the lens sees: my teaching is built on a relationship I develop with a particular group of students in a particular learning context in which we are all invested. In some ways, we build the class together: “the class” is me and my lectures and the syllabus and the students and their interests and their training and what happened in the news that day or what the weather is like. It is a living thing. A raised eyebrow and a shouted admonition to a student to put down the damn cellphone already elicits a sheepish acquiescence in the classroom … it might draw a firestorm online. A student challenge to what I’ve just said leads me to rethink, on the spot, what I’m asking the class to believe. I sit down, change my mind, and tell them so, tracing out explicitly the outer edges where my understanding of a topic has veered towards … bullshit?
I’m proud of my teaching. I’m proud of my students. I’m proud of the teaching spaces we create together, spaces that are sometimes challenging and sometimes awkward and sometimes silly. But you know what? If you weren’t there, I can’t explain it to you. So I will keep my classroom door firmly closed to digital and other intrusions. That space is sacred to me: it belongs to the group that has committed to it.
So my heart goes out to those professors ensnared in their video controversies. Guys, your classrooms look like what I know, and I’m sorry that your sacred spaces have been blown apart. If you want to write a guest post, here at Hook and Eye we–and our 4,137 readers–would be glad to have you.
One of the things I’ve been bending my brain around lately is the question of how a large Faculty (mine has 365 TT professors) might best be organized to provide exciting collaborative possibilities, good support systems, and cross-disciplinary teaching possibilities. While there might have been an organic relationship between discipline, department and program back in the days when, say, papal bulls were big news, nowadays the ties between scholarly specialization (“discipline”), administrative unit (“department”) and area of study (“program”) are at best traditional, the result of historical accretion, and at worst stumbling blocks to the kind of work we’d all prefer to do.
I’m all for reorganizing. But how?
There are examples within the university system. Some have colleges, which allow for at least two simultaneous affiliations among faculty members. It sounds good on paper, but given that a college is, among other things, a building, and since no one has lately written to offer me a building for my progressive think tank (hey, if we’re gonna reorganize, let’s reorganize!), I’m not sure the college route is the way to go.
We could break up: let humanities, social sciences and the fine arts be their own non-departmentalized Faculties, with disciplinary difference built in (Music is not Visual Art is not Drama). But while that would decrease the number of departments, it would increase the number of Deans, and I haven’t heard a loud clamour lately for more Deans. (Kidding! Everybody loves Deans!)
We could organize around objects of study, like Literature, Performance, Cultural Studies, Area Studies. This would potentially solve long-standing schisms like physical vs cultural anthropology, but what are you going to do with the residuum, or as I call them, the people who don’t fit in? Arguably, ahem, this could comprise the majority of our colleagues.
We could number ourselves off into administrative units with no relationship to discipline or program, just take 365 and divide it by, say, 7: a kind of Mao-hosts-the-Tea-Party solution.
Then it struck me. Okay, okay, honesty compels me to say, then it struck my partner Mo, who said it to me, who put it in this blog – that the model for rearranging a large and complicated Faculty like ours might not come from another university at all. It might come from a completely different institution, yet one that is similarly longstanding, well-organized, socially vital, self-sustaining and imaginative.
I mean, of course, drag houses.
Remember Paris Is Burning? Drag houses take wayward souls under their wing and bring them into the kind of kinship network that universities can only dream of. The House of Xtravaganza imparts an identity – or a subjectivity – or both – without worrying the differences between them. Tired of academic patriarchy? You’re in luck: drag houses are typically matriarchal.
Drag culture teaches significant survival skills for the Balls and, I’m arguing, the Academy: “reading,” for sure, but also vogue, snark, thrift, spunk, and shade. Drag mothers show you how to nip and tuck and stuff and paste – and pass. Balls reward you for posing. Just think about that for a second. Drag queens invented the diva. And as for surviving tough times?: the underfunding of the humanities in the twenty-first century has nothing on the redlining of New York neighbourhoods in the 1970s and ’80s.
We’d have to modify drag culture somewhat, of course. Not for us the House of Blahnik, but the House of Butler, the House of Durkheim, the House of Marx (categories: Teutonic Pretty Boy, Working It). We’d turn ghetto fabulous into – well, one can always hope.
I’m writing with my tongue in my cheek, but I actually have a lot of admiration for the African American and Latino drag culture of the 1980s and 1990s. I respect its organic connection to both queerness and blackness, and I admire its resilience. As bitchy as drag queens can undoubtedly be, these houses also nail the mentoring/belonging problem. Ball culture’s focus on performance is both serious and fun, and drag houses also take up other concerns, like community fundraising and leadership cultivation. I think the academy could use more of all of these: mirthfulness, connectivity, fierceness, and the wisdom of minorities.
So, go ahead: sign me up as the Dean of Realness.
Please, when the time comes, retire.
Three things prompted this post:
1. A longstanding concern for several young scholars whom I admire enormously, and the accompanying desire to be able to wave a magic wand and create them the jobs they deserve.
2. Recently, I attended a conference on Canadian Studies, themed to the 1960s. As an historian, I’m unaccustomed to having the audience be both scholar and evidence; but there were those in attendance who commented on papers about Michael Snow, federal drug studies, or Rochdale by recalling their own experiences (or their own entries into university-level jobs before I was born).
3. News items, particularly this one from UPEI this summer, about how universities (and other institutions) are grappling with the implications of the court rulings that deem mandatory retirement a rights violation as discrimination on the basis of age.
I do not argue that many older scholars remain absolutely capable of continuing to do their jobs and therefore it may be unfair to insist that they cease and desist. I do, however, insist that this is profoundly discriminatory in its own way: discriminatory and prejudicial against younger scholars.
When older scholars refuse to vacate their teaching positions with opportunities for tenure at universities, they are violating both a philosophy of institutional renewal and, more gravely, a principle of generational justice.
First, institutional renewal. I secured an academic appointment in 2005, after a postdoc and a year in limbo (also known as ‘working for the government’). My department hired three Canadianists in the space of four years, thanks largely to two retirements. I like and respect those two senior professors enormously, and they remain active in research and in public fora, but there is no arguing that the three hires brought new ideas for research and teaching, and new national attention to the department.
It was a healthy step. As an historian, you might expect me to argue more strongly for institutional memory than for institutional renewal. As the story above suggests, I would argue that balance is key. There are many features of the university structure that serve to protect institutional memory already; change is often slow, and highly considered, and that is a good thing. There are fewer features that guarantee renewal and – ironic for an institution that deals with teaching young people – the entry of younger scholars.
Which brings me to my second point: generational justice. This is a phrase a colleague of mine uses in our co-taught class, Introduction to Environment, Sustainability, and Society. In that context it generally means deferring costs we incur – whether economic debts or greenhouse gas emissions – onto subsequent generations. But it would seem to apply here, too.
If we believe that the university exists to generate new knowledge and to communicate past discoveries, then that assumes we need, and need to create, young scholars. After all, every serious research institution will defend to the death its graduate programs, as one means for generating new knowledge. But we then owe those graduate students the right to employment, to let them do precisely what we’ve trained them for. This generational question pertains to those of us hired recently, too, in a different way, since many of the same universities facing the ongoing costs of mandatory retirement are also citing fiscal crisis brought on by pensions plans. At a faculty association meeting last summer on the pension crisis, the man reporting on pensions negotiations ended his remarks with a grin and a shrug, saying something to the effect of “I don’t have to worry about this, since I’ll be retired by then.” Ha ha.
Whether by continuing to work or retiring, those in their fifties and sixties have far greater financial and professional choice than emerging scholars in their 30s who usually are carrying substantial financial if not personal costs derived from their educational path and career choice, and I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. Why is not emeritus status enough? The university signals its respect for professional accomplishment, and offers an ongoing relationship (that allows for part-time teaching and supervision, library privileges, etc; although at my university, no one – not graduate students, CUPEs, or emeriti have enough office space). The senior scholar can continue to research, publish, consult, and engage in the scholarly life of the community. If s/he does not wish to retire gently into that good night, or into an (as I – still thirty years away – imagine it) Elysian fields of leisure, golf courses, and Snowbird migrations, they are free to continue – on a pension larger than the full-time salaries of sessionals! – to work as they wish.
(One caveat: Please, work is not the only thing here; again, balance. A few years ago, a retired member of my department flew up to Ottawa to visit his daughter for Christmas. While there, he was waiting for a bus when he suffered a heart attack, collapsed and died. To my mind, one of the tragic elements of this story is that he was waiting for a bus to take him to the national archives.) Many of us – including your humble correspondent – feel overworked and under appreciated. And we worked hard, and often sacrificed, to obtain the positions we have. But at the same time, we have been incredibly fortunate: beneficiaries to some extent of historical circumstances, of situation, of timing, of fluke. We have a duty to share that fortune with the younger scholars.
So please, think about making room for someone else.
Associate Professor of History, Program Director of Canadian Studies