Adrienne Rich · feminist win · grad school · learning · solidarity

Let’s see some feminist WINS

So here’s my December 6th story.

It was my second year of graduate school in the bewildering universe known as Stanford, where the sun shone every day on the matching sandstone buildings. The late 1980s were the glory years for raceclassandgender, even though most of us didn’t know how to think multidimensionally. In my feminist theory class, we were asked to analyze our families in terms of race, class and gender, and I didn’t have a clue where to begin. What is “class” under democratic socialism, as Canada appeared to be? Is “Canadian” a race? My bafflement only grew when a classmate from New England broke down under the impact of the assignment: “I never realized,” she said, tearing up, “that all of our maids were Filipina.”

This was before the first Gulf War, which we didn’t know we’d have to refer to as the first Gulf War. Our politics were US Out of El Salvador and Divest from South Africa. Jesse Jackson came to campus recruiting for the rainbow coalition; ROTC came to campus recruiting for the CIA. My talented friend Diane used Madonna lyrics (early Madonna: we didn’t know we’d have to say that, either) to challenge George Bush (yes, the first George Bush) to “justify my war.”

I felt my difference from all of this daily. It was super exciting, but it was someone else’s reality. I couldn’t put the “ultimate” into “ultimate frisbee”; I charmingly took the term “unearned income” to be an oxymoron; and even my disordered eating appeared amateurish by comparison. Well-meaning friends would say things like, “I keep forgetting you’re Canadian!” or, “Face it, you’re basically American.” What could I say: “You hoser!”?

December 6, 1989 is one of the few times I heard Canadian news in California.

On December 7th the sun shone again on Stanford, as it always did. I was walking insensate across the quad when Adrienne Rich hailed me. She was sitting on a little sandstone wall under a palm tree, alone.

“Heather. I heard the news. I am so sorry.”

I was shocked. I was not used to being seen. But I was also shocked the way you are when you suddenly learn something big. It was as though all that Stanford sun served to illuminate one single concept, the politics of location. Everything that Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, the Combahee River Collective, and Rich herself had been saying suddenly made sense. I understood the politics of location because Adrienne Rich, there on her little wall, lived it. She modeled a solidarity that informs my feminist politics to this day.


I know that sounded like a middle-aged ramble across memory’s palmy quad, but it was actually a carefully crafted homily. How so? Well, what with December 1st and December 6th and December 21st, this month feels dark enough already. So instead of running “This Month in Sexism,” we want to run a post called “Feminist WINS” as our last offering before we take a year-end break.

What’s a feminist win? You tell us! Same format as TMIS, but this time tell us what’s working, what feeds and soothes and reassures you that goodness (i.e., feminism) is not gone from this world. Point form is fine, personal stories are great, institutional triumphs always important – the only thing we’d ask is that your stories have something to do with women working in the Canadian university system.

Write: editrixes [at] hookandeye [dot] ca
Deadline: Tuesday 21 Dec
Post to run: Wednesday 22 Dec
hookandeye to resume: Wed 3 Jan 2011.

One thought on “Let’s see some feminist WINS

  1. These thoughts have nothing to do with women in the university, specifically, so I'll just jot them down here.

    This is a beautiful and sobering account that makes me ashamed to say that this year I let Dec. 6 pass by with only a very brief pause from my marking (ah — there's the university after all!) to think of the heavy significance of this date. But maybe it's just as good to take a proper pause two days later, term grades in, last lecture done.

    Two things came to mind as I read Heather's entry. First I remembered the candlelight vigils that happened, first in my highschool gym, and later outside the MB legislature, every year on this date when I was a teenager trying to understand. The silence at these gatherings was overpowering, but in it I always felt a kind of hope mingled with the shared grief — a sober, serious hope, open-eyed rather than innocent, that things had to get better for women.

    Second, I found myself thinking about my 4-year-old son. He's growing up taking for granted all kinds of good things that I didn't (despite my progressive Winnipeg granola-belt upbringing). It is his sense of families that I find particularly reassuring lately. He knows that some kids have a single mum or dad, and some have two dads, or two mums and no dad. Not long ago I overheard his friend Clara (also 4) explaining matter-of-factly that when there are two mums they “they need to get some sperm from someplace else, but then they can do everything themselves.” I know this isn't only about feminist politics, but it says something, I think(/hope), about kids no longer being constrained by rigid gender roles, and, perhaps most importantly, not being afraid of women.


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