#womensmarch · fast feminism · solidarity

Guest Essay: A Canadian Feminist in Washington

Note from Hook & Eye Managing Editor Erin Wunker: This post by Margeaux Feldman is long–it is an essay. We here at the blog feel it is important to read it in its entirety, and so we will leave stand as the sole post for this week. Take your time. Follow the links. Think with Margeaux and with us. 
 
In solidarity, 
Erin, Melissa, Aimée, Lily, Boyda, and Jana
I. Preamble; or the Work of Situating.
When I woke up on November 9th to find out that Donald Trump was the President Elect, I was in shock. It felt like someone had died unexpectedly and I was in the beginning phases of grief. And then I read an essay by Courtney Parker West, “On ‘Woke’ White People Advertising their Shock thatRacism just won a Presidency.” In the essay, West addresses all of those “white people whom I often love,” and tells them how “advertising your shock and surprise that racism, sexism, xenophobia, and bigotry are pervasive enough to hand that man the Presidency is a microaggression. Please stop.”
Reading her words, I had to admit that I was one of the folks she was addressing. For folks of colour, for immigrants, and Muslims, and members of the indigenous community, Trump winning the election wasn’t a shock. It was a confirmation of the racist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, and sexist world that people of colour inhabit daily. As a privileged white woman, and one who lives in Canada, I had to confront just how privileged my shock was.[1]
So I interrogated my shock and tried to figure out how to mobilize. But I felt stuck.
Overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the work ahead. And again I had to encounter the privilege of being able to inhabit a space of stuckness. I was left wondering, as Erin Wunker does in Notes From a Feminist Killjoy: “Where do we being when the work of deconstructing, dismantling, and burning down oppressive systems seems so immense?” (39). Wunker’s response to this question: “First, we situate ourselves. Then, we widen the scope of our looking. Then, we situate ourselves again. And repeat.”
There is something hopeful in the repetition of this act. And something forgiving.
When I fail at being a feminist killjoy, when I refuse to speak up when I see racism and misogyny taking place, and worse, when I say or do or think something racist, it’s all too easy to get caught in a shame spiral, to inhabit that space of stuckness. But if I can situate myself as a feminist who is striving to be intersectional,[2]then I need to confront my shame, my humiliation, and my failure, then “widen the scope of [my] looking,” and figure out how to do better next time.
Trump’s win forced me to think about how my allyship needed to grow and shift. I decided upon two different actions that I would take:
1. The first was to educate myself.
Specifically, I would educate myself so that I could do the work of educating other white women and men. And I wanted to do that work outside of the neoliberal university that supports transphobia and racism (see: Jordan Peterson’s refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns; see: theanti-racism protests at Ryerson that the director of the School of Social Work to step down). I put out a call on Facebook, asking if anyone else might be interested in joining a reading group where we exclusively read work written by authors who are indigenous, black, or from other POC groups; who are disabled; who are Muslim; who are part of the queer community, especially from the trans community.
In other words, we will not read anything written by a cis white man. And if we read anything by a cis white woman, we will, as I state on the group’s page, “interrogate why that voice and not another. I would prefer that we ask ourselves how reading something by a white woman will help us become better intersectional feminists. Is that author intersectional in her approach? Does she provide us with an example of how we can live our intersectional feminist politics?”
This group is a space where we are actively working to interrogate our white privilege, where we can address the ways in which we are racist because we have been raised in a racist world, and where we can figure out what it means to be an ally. This is a space where we can say, “I’m trying and I’m failing, and I’m continuing to try.”
2. I would go to more protests.
Taking up space in the streets is a necessary act for me because it feels unsafe and thus forces me to go outside of the comfort zone of my white privilege. It means that I might have to place myself in a zone of conflict, and I don’t do well with conflict. (My brother and I had a pretty volatile relationship growing up and conflict was a constant in our home. I was taught that it was safer to say nothing than it was to stand up for myself and deal with the screaming and slamming of doors and silence from my father. I’m still dealing with the trauma.) And yet, women of colour find themselves time and time again in conflicts that they haven’t chosen, conflicts that have been forced upon them just because of the colour of their skin. They don’t get to choose this discomfort – but I can.
I decided that I would try to go to the Women’s March on Washington. My best friend and I talked about driving down together, but unfortunately the plan fell through and I basically gave up on the idea and decided to attend the sister march in Toronto. But then a woman in a Facebook group that I’m a part of posted that her bus had a few empty seats and I jumped at the opportunity. We would drive overnight on Friday, arrive Saturday morning, attend the rally and march, and then get back on the bus Saturday night, arriving back in Toronto Sunday morning. It would be an intense trip, but it felt like it was meant to be.
The reasons it was “meant to be” were much different than I had anticipated.
I thought that I would go and feel overwhelmed by all of the solidarity amongst the feminists in attendance. And that did happen. To see so many folks who support feminism and women’s rights was a truly incredible experience. And I went aware of the issues within the organization, from the fact that it first took its name “The Million Woman March” from the 1997 protest of black women, to the erasure of a line in support of sex workers from their Unity Principles.
The March both produced a feeling of solidarity and it revealed just how divided feminism is – and just how much more work I need to do if I want to consider myself an ally.
II. Learning How to Do Better
i. The Future is…Female? 
Okay, it’s called the “Women’s March” and so automatically we’re talking about a particular gender identity, one that doesn’t account for those gender-queer and gender non-conforming individuals who don’t identify as “woman” or “man”, “girl” or “boy,” “male” or “female.” I put these words in scarequotes because, following Judith Butler, I believe that these gendered and sexed categories are products of the social world that we live in and that they are not fixed categories.[3]
And yet I packed my “The Future is Female” sweatshirt for the March – a slogan that I love and feel ambivalent about, for it privileges the biological category of “female” over the socially and historically constructed category of “woman.” I’ve tried to tell myself that it just sounds better to say “female” (I can’t count the amount of times I’ve tried to write a sentence using “woman” instead of “female” and felt frustrated by the ways in which “female” reads much more smoothly). But this ambivalence over the trickiness of language is trumped by what I see as the slogan’s utopian vision: a world that isn’t run by the patriarchy.
It is this utopian vision that was at the forefront of the Women’s March, a vision that is desperately needed in the face of a President who has openly promoted rape culture with the words “Grab her by the pussy.”
Throughout the March you saw signs that read “Not this Pussy” or “Pussy Grabs Back.” And all around you was a sea of pink and red Pussy Hats. I was one of many wearing a Pussy Hat. My decision to wear one came about by accident. My friend’s mother was making one for herself and asked if I wanted one and I said “sure, why not?” It wasn’t until after the March that I started to read people’s criticisms of the hats for being transphobic: because trans women do not have pussies – biologically speaking – and because pink is a highly gendered colour.
While I’m all for utopian visions of the future, especially ones in which the patriarchy has been dismantled, I think that we need to take a moment and realize how utopias can be exclusionary. It is useful to think of queer scholar José Muñoz’s definition of abstract and concrete utopias. In Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, Muñoz argues that abstract utopias are “are akin to banal optimism,” while concrete utopias “are the realm of educated hope” or what Muñoz calls “critical idealism” (2-3). In not thinking about how all of the pussy signs and hats were exclusionary, all we have is an abstract utopia, one in which banal optimism evokes utopia’s definition as a “no place.” And those on the margins are forced to occupy the “no place” in very real ways.
One way that we can think about the different between abstract utopia and concrete utopia is by looking at this viral photo taken at the March. 

Angela Peoples holding sign (photo by Kevin Banatte)

 

The three white women in the background can be read as representing the abstract utopia, in which it’s enough to show up to the March, put on a pussy hat, and call it a day (to be fair, I know nothing about these women and their lives and so I speak of them, in this moment, as representing the white feminism that refuses to be critical of its own complicity in racism).
Angela Peoples, who stands wearing a hat that says “Stop Killing Black People,” holding her sign that reads “White Women Voted for Trump,” presents us with a different form of utopic vision, one that is critical of the current state of things, one that calls attention to the truths that white women would rather not acknowledge.
As Peoples explains in an interview, most women responded to her sign by saying, “‘Not this white woman,’ or ‘No one I know!’ I’d say, ‘[Fifty-three percent] of white women voted for Trump. That means someone you know, someone who is in close community with you, voted for Trump. You need to organize your people.’ And some people said, ‘Oh, I’m so ashamed.’ Don’t be ashamed; organize your people.”
I’d like to turn back to the pussy hats. In an essay for The Establishment, Katelyn Burns explains her own response, as a trans woman, to the overwhelming presence of pussies at the March: “I understand the impulse to use your vagina as your protest image, especially in the face of a president-elect who has boasted about grabbing vaginas, and an administration seemingly hell-bent on stripping women of their reproductive rights — but the fact of the matter is that when you do so, you subtly let trans women know that their place isn’t in your protest. You’re letting trans men know that you don’t see their gender, because your idea of gender is seemingly based exclusively on genitalia. Wearing pussyhats, or chanting about vaginas, lays out a hierarchy based on genitals that is exclusionary and painful.”
In other words, in the pussy-filled landscape of the March, there is no place for those whose genitals do not match their gender.
Upon realizing just how exclusionary these symbols were, I felt horrified.
How could I, as a queer woman and educator, who has been with gender-queer folks and has many trans friends, have not realized how this symbol was trans-exclusionary and therefore transphobic?
When I attempted to process these feelings with a friend of mine, she very gently pointed out how my question could be read as another version of the claim “I’m not racist because I have X number of black friends.”
Ouch. Necessary truths hurt.
My surprise, to borrow the words of Wunker, “is an example of just one of the ways myopias work” (30). Wunker continues: “Situating your knowledge means that you have to start recognizing the ways in which your knowledge has been shaped—for better or worse—by external social forces. It also means opening yourself to the truth that you don’t have access to every experience” (30).
As a friend of mine phrased it, racism and transphobia are so deeply internalized “that when they come up it’s almost like you’re vomiting.”
I want to take a moment to admit that I’m struggling with where to go from here, from this knowledge that the pussy hats and all of the signs depicting women’s reproductive organs are transphobic.
I’m left wondering, is there a way that I, as a cis woman who had an abortion, can connect with these symbols without excluding others? Is it okay to read “pussy” more figuratively? Can “pussy” be detached from its literal connection to the female body and be read differently, as a representation how patriarchal violence is enacted upon cis and trans-gendered bodies? Can “pussy” serve as a metonym for the bodies that have experienced violence at the hands of men?
I ask these questions earnestly, and from a position of privilege: I am a queer woman and a literature scholar – two different forms of privilege – who thinks about the ways that we can queer language, can shift and change the meanings that oppress into meanings that can challenge those systems of oppression.[4]I ask this question and I acknowledge that I’m not the one who has the right to answer it.
For Katelyn Burns, “maybe womanhood is more about the fight and not about the flesh. Maybe vagina symbolism can be more symbolic than exclusionary.” But before that can happen, she notes, we need to focus on creating language that is trans inclusive, we need to acknowledge how the right to surgery that would enable a trans woman to have a pussy is one that we must continue to fight for.
First we situate ourselves: I wore a Pussy Hat. A hat that is meaningful for me as a woman who has experienced sexual assault and who has long thought of the word pussy as a dirty one because I was taught that my body and my sexuality were dirty.
Then, we widen the scope of our looking: I failed to think about how these symbols are tied to female genitalia, and thus work to exclude trans women.
Then, we situate ourselves again: It is my privilege as a cis woman that enabled me to not see how there is more than one way to read this symbol. I can do better. I must do better. I will do better.
And repeat.
ii.  Unity versus Intersectionality: A False Binary
The scene is this: I’m standing in a crowd of people during the rally. I’m many blocks away so I have to rely on speakers and jumbo screens. Based on my location I can’t see the speakers, but I can hear what they’re saying. Beside me there is a short stone partition, and on it stands a sea of white bodies that are able to see one of the coveted jumbo screens. They can see and they can hear. The people standing are mostly women, but some men. And I think, with so much anger, “Don’t these men understand how their choice to stand on this ledge is the perfect manifestation of their white male privilege? Why don’t they get the fuck down and offer their spaces to other women?”
And yet I said nothing.
An hour or so passes and an interruption occurs: a Muslim girl finds her way to the top of the porta potties on the other side of this stone partition. And then this happens: the sea of whiteness protests. “Get down from there! You can’t be up there! You’re blocking our view!”
And I begin to run through all of the reasons why their protests are totally effed up:
1.     This is a rally, not night at the opera! You are choosing to stand on the stone wall, thus blocking other people, and so she can get up on the porta potty.
2.     Could you be a better example of white supremacy??? This Muslim girl spends her whole life being blocked from seeing, being silenced, being called a terrorist. And now she faces the threat of the Muslim registry! And you’re telling her to get down?!??!
This scene reminds me of Sara Ahmed’s theorization of walls on her blog feministkilljoy.com. She discusses how diversity work can feel like you’ve come up against an institutional brick wall, because the institution (in this case the university) does not want to acknowledge that it is racist. For Ahmed, a wall “is what you come up against. It is a physical contact, a visceral encounter. When I write this, I might not at first be talking of literal walls. A wall is an effect of coming up against.”
This girl jumped over a literal wall that was being created both by the porta potties and by the white people who stood behind her, who told her to get down. And then she stayed up there. She tried to figure out how she could position her body so as to not totally block the sightlines of the white sea behind her – but she still stayed up there. She turned herself into a wall: “a wall as material resistance to being changed by force.”
She was this force all on her own.
I, the person who saw the racism she was experiencing, said nothing.
And this is what it looks like to be complicit in racism.
The day after the March I read a Twitter thread by Sydney Rain, in which she describes “one indigenous woman’s take” on the Women’s March on Washington, “in a sea full of white women.”[5]Rain describes how when she left the prayer circle she was a part of, white women (WW) snapped photos of her and best friend, Ashley, in their regalia without asking permission. When Rain and Ashley started to chant, “You’re on stolen land” she tells us how “WW shot us ugly looks. One shouted in her face, ‘We know but it isn’t our fault!’”
While the Tumblr account has cut out all of the responses to Rain’s thread, there was one that summarized all that is wrong with white feminism (and since the thread has been made private, I’ll have to paraphrase): “we need unity not intersectionality.” This line has been repeated by countless others, including HeatherWilhelm of the Chicago Tribune who called the Women’s March an “intersectional torture chamber.” And an essay on Feministing cites responses to a diversity statement on Facebook, in which women wrote, “‘No woman, no matter what race you are is ‘privileged’ in this culture … This division has to stop;’ another white woman chimed in, saying, ‘I will march. Hoping that someday soon a sense of unity will occur before it’s too late.’”
I’m having a difficult time parsing how and why this false binary has been set up. How and, more importantly, why is acknowledging intersectionality antithetical to unity? Perhaps we can return to the distinction Muñoz makes between abstract and concrete utopias. The unity being proposed by all of these white women is akin to the abstract utopia wherein optimism becomes an excuse for refusing to acknowledge the power and privilege we hold. And so intersectionality is read as cynicism.
Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza notes how “cynicism cannot build a movement.”  In a moving, and to me, a very generous response to the criticism surrounding the Women’s March, Garza describes how “Checking my social media feed that evening, I read comment after comment dismissing the march — an experience that was transformative for hundreds of thousands of people. I wondered what would have happened if, instead of inviting people in, I’d told people to fuck off and go home. Would they come back? Did it matter if they didn’t?”
Garza asks those who are committed to radical politics to hold space for those whose politics are new and thus far from perfect: “Hundreds of thousands of people are trying to figure out what it means to join a movement. If we demonstrate that to be a part of a movement, you must believe that people cannot change, that transformation is not possible, that it’s more important to be right than to be connected and interdependent, we will not win. If our movement is not serious about building power, then we are just engaged in a futile exercise of who can be the most radical.
As Garza offers a much needed intervention in the conversation about unity and intersectionality in the wake of the March, she holds space for us to fail – without falling into a shame spiral – and acknowledges that being political is always a process of learning how we can do better.
III. Conclusion: Towards a Critical Utopia
“There’s still so much work I can do to accept my privileges, explore the opportunities I have to use my abilities and access to help myself and others. This is a commitment we can all make for our self-care – because self-care is about nourishing ourselves, not necessarily comforting ourselves.” – Dom Chatterjee, “The Healing Power in Owning Our Privileges”[6]
Where to go from here? What does it look like for me to return from Washington with a newfound sense of my inner white feminist? How can I move forward, towards the critical utopia that Muñoz proposes?
As a PhD candidate and educator, I can use my knowledge of feminism and anti-oppression to teach others how and why we must acknowledge our privilege. I can harness my commitment to a pedagogy of non-mastery to hold space for others to be vulnerable – because encountering one’s privilege is a vulnerable act, and recognizing our complicity can feel devastating. But it need not destroy us. Our privilege can harm others and it can be used to heal others and ourselves.
First we situate ourselves: I am privileged. I can do better. And this is hard work.
Then, we widen the scope of our looking: I can educate others and myself. I can go to protests and speak up.
Then, we situate ourselves again: The work might not always feel doable, but I don’t have to do it alone.
And repeat.
 
Margeaux Feldman is a PhD Candidate in English and Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto and she holds a certificate in Community-Engaged Learning. Her dissertation, “The Hideosity of Adolescence: Refiguring Intimacy and Sexuality in America” draws upon feminist, queer, and critical race theory to analyze representations of adolescent girls in contemporary literature, film, and popular culture. Her essay “Undutiful daughters: growing up in feminism and psychoanalysis” was published in Psychoanalysis, Culture, and Society in 2016. Margeaux also runs the blog Floral Manifesto, which is committed to talking about the intersections of fashion, feminism, and feelings.


[1]I think that it’s crucial to critique the rhetoric of “things are so much better in Canada.”
[2]This term was first coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in her 1989 essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” For Crenshaw, when we discuss systems of oppression, domination, and power (such as the patriarchy, neoliberalism, capitalism, systemic racism), we MUST consider how different aspects of our identity make us more or less vulnerable than others. For a further discussion, you can checkout my blog post “Defining Our Term: Feminism 101”
[3]In Butler’s seminal text, Gender Trouble, she argues that Butler wants to challenge the traditional feminist argument that sex is a biological category while gender is a historic and social category. Butler does not believe that sex is anatomically defined; for example, if one of the characteristics of being a female is your ability to procreate, then what do we do with those women who are unable to do so?
[4]I shy away from using the word “empower” (i.e. “meanings that empower”) because of the ways that neoliberalism has co-opted phrases like “girl power” (see the essay “Girl power and ‘selfie humanitarianism’” by Gill et al) and the ways in which “empowerment” is the privileged cite for thinking about feminist sex, one that, as I argue in my dissertation, refuses to hold space for sex that is more ambivalent, that lies in-between sex empowerment and sexual assault.
[5]Rain has since protected her Twitter account, but her thread has been archived Tumblr.
[6]I want to acknowledge that Chatterjee’s essay isn’t dedicated to or for white people. As a disabled trans man of colour, Chatterjee is talking to those who experience privilege and oppression, and while I am a woman, I want to be careful to acknowledge my own power and privilege as I use his words. You can find the rest of the essay here.

academic work · best laid plans · heavy-handed metaphors · productivity · protip

Two-hour Blinders

Time- and panic management are, for me, inextricably linked. If by “linked,” you mean “hopelessly knotted around my soul and the more I struggle the tighter I’m bound.” I think a lot about time, and my workload, and how many hours a week I’m willing to work (if by willing you mean “what my body and mental health will withstand before breaking down”), and about what you can get done in 30 minutes, and what it means to take time off. One of our most popular posts is guest blogger Julie Rak’s piece on crafting a five year plan.

I have another trick I developed in grad school, that I completely forgot about until someone came to me with a version of the same problem I’m currently suffering from, and for which I developed it.

Let’s say you have a five year plan. You know the big goals you want to hit, and you’ve mapped out what needs to happen along the way to move you toward that goal. You have the big picture, and a sense of direction. Great. Let’s say as well that you know that if you wait to work in 8 hour or week-long uninterrupted bursts, you’ll be waiting a looooooooong time before you ever even start anything: that is, you know the value of 30 minutes.

But what happens to me, lately, and periodically, is that I have so much on my to-do list, that when I sit down for that 30 minute blast of whatever, I … freak out and somehow wind up on Facebook for 40 minutes and then wind up not only not doing what I planned but also rushing to the next class or meeting without having eaten or gone to the bathroom or fixed my lipstick.

It goes like this. Me and my list sit down to do a task, maybe for what I know is a short chunk of time (30 minutes between meetings) or what is a more amorphous block (nothing scheduled, working from home in my track pants all day). I open up whatever I’m working on–assessing grad admissions files, say–and start.

Then: I take myself out of the moment and start to extrapolate. I’ll be reading a file, and start to ruminate so: “Ugh, my eyes hurt, and it’s been 5 minutes and I am still not sure if all the reference letters are here, and I should have looked at this yesterday or last week and there are 10 more to do today, but if I do it at this speed it will take three hours and I don’t have three hours because I have to do that grading and I’ll be tired of assessing things by then but maybe I should be writing now while my brain is fresh but I can’t write now because I’m worried about how many of these files I should read so I should just read them so I can stop worrying but OH! I’M TEACHING A YOGA CLASS TONIGHT so I should prep that, and god I’m a terrible person because now it’s been another five minutes and I’m no farther ahead on this and I think I’ll clear the mental decks by making a status update about almost forgetting yoga because that would be a funny way to reference mindfulness. Ooooh, a link about Twitter and the National Park Service? This is research …”

It’s exhausting (and unproductive) inside my head, some days.

Basically, the problem is that even when I sit down to work, I don’t work, because I’m panicking about work, about how I’ll never get finished, or some other larger looming disaster. I get spooked.

The solution is this: the two-hour blinders. Horse blinders, recall, are those weird little side-eye shades that horses wear in urban areas, that restrict their peripheral vision. The idea is that horses are less likely to get spooked by all the things that go on around them if they mostly can just see the road ahead of them, which is the most salient thing to the task at hand, which is moving down the road ahead of them. For an academic, blinders work differently: they restrict not the peripheral vision (SIDE EYE FOREVER) but the temporal horizon.

To wit: when I use the two-hour blinders technique, the world constricts down to the next two hours. The past ceases to exist, and the future ceases to exist. I make a deal with myself where I promise myself I can panic and freak out and make 40 year plans, or ruminate on what I didn’t get done yesterday but I have to do it later and not in the next two hours. Then I made a plan for those two hours, and I just buckle down and do it. If I’m reading that grad file and my mind starts to wander (“If all the files are this good I might admit too many people and then our cohort will be too big and then I’m going to need to schedule more classes but the curriculum is already set and what am I going to do?”) I remind myself that I’ve scheduled a time for panicking later. And then I made myself come back to the present.

It’s a kind of mindfulness practice, really.

I learned in grad school that fixing the past and knowing the future are alike impossible. That extrapolating from what’s happening right now (reading Judith Butler verrrrrrrry slowly) to what will happen in the future (I will not only never finish this book, I’ll never finish another book ever) is a fool’s game. And if we play it too often, we don’t do anything else. It becomes all consuming. Every time we sit down to work, we spend that time worrying about work, instead. That’s untenable. The two hour plan works by acknowledging that panic is likely to happen, but that it cannot be indulged right now. Especially when you start with this plan, you should really actually schedule the panicking time so that you are more willing and able to let it go when you are trying to do something else. Panic time, for me, looks like this: I schedule half an hour of the day to sit down with some paper and write down everything I’m worried about. Even just doing that is remarkably soothing: I can see that some of my fears are existential and unfixable and I can stop trying to solve them. I can see that some of my fears are really very minor and I can solve them in two minutes. The other stuff I can then spend a few minutes trying to figure out a plan of attack to address. Then I stop panicking.

My happiest and most productive days are the ones where I have a clear sense of purpose, a more or less complete schedule of how I’m going to allot my time, and where I get into a flow. The flow comes from the two-hour blinders because I release my worrying and just work.

Experience has shown that sticking to this plan means I can get a remarkable amount of work done. And the things I would have been spending all my work time worrying about just never come to pass. It might take you a few weeks to start to feel this result in your own work, but once you do, the blinders become easier and easier to put on. Try it! Let me know how it goes!

#alt-ac · altac · flexible academic · grad school · jobs · PhD

Oh, The Things You Can Do (with a PhD)!


Can you believe it’s already the middle of January? As we race full speed ahead to the end of another academic year, lots of soon-to-be finished graduate students are thinking about what comes next. My latest article for Chronicle Vitae shares some strategies for identifying the skills you develop during graduate school and translating them into the language of job postings, which can help you identify the kinds of jobs you can and might want to do:

Employers might not be looking for experts on 19th-Century French literature or CRISPR-Cas9. But they are looking for people who can speak and write effectively, process and communicate high volumes of complex information, create project plans and see them through, work with (and for) a wide variety of people, identify gaps (in knowledge, processes, understanding) and propose how to fix them. Ph.D.s learn how to do all of those things, and much more. 

Check out the full article over at Chronicle Vitae!

Original image: Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!, by Dr. Seuss
generational mentorship · global academy · literature · righteous feminist anger

Reading as Resistance

What does reading do? Or rather, what good does reading do? 

As a scholar of literature I find my self thinking about this big (too big?) question a lot. I think about it on bad days when I wonder what on earth I have devoted my life to, this fighting windmills business trying to find work teaching literature. I think about it on my good days when the answers are so fundamental to moving through life with an ethic of care and what Rey Chow calls responsible engagement that I can hardly believe my good fortune. Teaching books! Reading books! And I think about this on the average day, when I drive the 200km to work and back listening to audio books, or writing lectures trying to think through how to convince a room full of students that yes, it is meaningful and relevant to think about Kate Chopin‘s The Awakening or James Baldwin‘s Giovanni’s Room or Lucas Crawford‘s Sideshow Carnival today, now, in their very own lives.

This week I will be thinking about reading even more as I steel myself for the inauguration of the next President of the United States. I will think about reading and how it is a revolutionary act to think and listen to the perspectives of people whose lives and experiences and oddities differ from my own. I will think about reading as resistance, as solidarity, and as an act of joyful insurrection and radical self-care. 

On Friday January 20th I will also think about what it means to read with and in community as I take my place with sixty other humans to participate in a collaborative reading of Operations by Moez Surani. Operations–or more properly, ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация–is a book-length poetic inventory of contemporary rhetoric of violence and aggression, as depicted through the evolution of the language used to name the many military operations conducted by UN Member Nations since the organization’s inception in 1945. Moez has invited sixty-one people around the world to each read a year from the book. Some people will be gathered in Toronto at Rick’s Cafe for the reading. The rest of us will read from wherever we are and tweet documentation of our reading. For me, this invitation is an act of hospitality, care, and solidarity: I will be able to participate in an action of protest and witness by reading. Through reading. Through the attentiveness that reading requires. And, while I know that reading will not be enough to resist the current and coming civic aggressions, I am glad to move through this week with reading as a mode of resistance and revolution in my heart. 

In honour of Moez’s invitation and with a nod to the recent circulation of top-ten lists of the albums that most influenced high-school you, I close with another list. This one answers Paul Vermeersch‘s invitation to document the ten books that influenced high-school you. I offer these as document to my sixteen year old self, who was just learning about resistance, revolution, and being a feminist killjoy. I invite you to add your own list. And I send you warmth as we move forward in solidarity, and with attentiveness. 

In no particular order:

1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

2. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

3. Beloved by Toni Morrison

4. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

6. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

7. Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

8. The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

9. The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

10. Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Dandicat

mental health · mindfulness · reading · social media · winter

An internet vacation, and a new approach to being online

I finished the 2016 work year on December 23, and on my way home I deleted the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Feedly, news, and email apps from my phone. I also put the browser icon somewhere really inconvenient and set up a Freedom App block that would last until the night before I returned from work on January 9. I started my holiday vowing to go completely social media and news free. I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference to my everyday life, but after weeks of feeling like I was drowning in stories of horrors and problems I couldn’t solve (or even make a dent in), a break sounded good. I knew that I was going to be spending a lot of time with family and friends, so it seemed like a good plan to take one when I knew that I was going to be pulled offline a lot anyway.

It turned out that my internet hiatus made way more of a difference to my life than I thought it would (you’re not surprised). I missed people a ton–Facebook is wonderful for that. And I missed the learning that happens on Twitter, the way it exposes me to ideas and viewpoints and lived experiences I can’t really get anywhere else. I didn’t do the work of sharing resources with PhDs looking to explore non-faculty careers that I usually do on Twitter, and that made me a bit sad. I didn’t read terrible things about Donald Trump, which did not make me sad at all.

My phone became mostly a book ingestion device, and I’d find my thumb flicking to the missing social media icons whenever I got uncomfortable or bored or sad. (It happened way more than I was okay with, and it weirded me out that this had become such a habit without my noticing). Without the internet to distract me, I read A LOT. I also did a shit ton of stuff that I wanted to do with my vacation, and I don’t think that I’d have been able to do all of that with the internet in my life. I was also less anxious, less angry, and less distracted.

Coming back from my internet hiatus, I’m trying to be more considered about how much I use it, and how I use it. I’ve reactivated an old Buffer account, and I’m spending a bit of time creating a queue of useful tweets so that Twitter is doing my resource sharing without me having to be on it. I’ve set up Freedom so that I have a short window every day to be on Facebook and Instagram. I already did a big RSS feed cull last year, but I’ve done another so that only the things I really want to read show up in my Feedly. And I’ve kept the news widgets deactivated on my phone, because I don’t need a 24/7 view of the terrible things happening in the world, a connectedness that I’m just figuring out keeps me from being active and activist in the ways I want to.

I’ve also created something like Sarah von Bargen’s gallery of goals. It hangs on the wall next to my desk, and reminds me of the things I really want to do with my time. Some are practical but dull (get my driver’s license), some are aspirational (swim three days a week), some are a stretch (finish a full draft of my novel this year). But I’m hoping that by having them there, I’ll be reminded regularly about what I’m giving up when I lose a couple of hours to mindless scrolling or, worse, to the brain fog and paralyzing anger I felt for much of the fall when I was trying to keep myself as informed as possible about what was happening in the world.

I’m still trying to figure out what a useful, considered, and balanced approach to social media and news looks like for me, so if you have any strategies, ideas, or tools that you’ve found helpful, I’d love to hear them.

best laid plans · new year new plan · teaching · twitter

Draining & Sustaining: My Relationship With Social Media

I like to think of myself as a pretty dependable correspondent. Email, text, social media: I’m on it. And if I’m not responding then I am there, listening. I know the conversations, the key talking points, the hot takes and the thorough think-pieces. I can point you to a dozen “important” conversations in my field (which is, cough cough, Canadian literature…)  At the very least, regardless of the length of my to-do list, I get the emails sent on time. I tweet back. I message. I respond. I engage. I try and listen. But today when I signed in to schedule my post and found two dozen emails, a few direct messages on Twitter, eighteen notifications on Facebook, and read Aimée’s piece on Lindy West’s departure from Twitter for the first time (she published it four days ago) I finally had to admit what other people have known for a while: I’m dropping some balls.

Or rather, I am tired. Existentially. Politically. Poetically, even, if you count the gorgeous one-liners I think up in the liminal space between waking and sleeping. What has tired me out, I think, is not social media per se, but rather what my friend Sue Goyette identified the other day as the slippage between impact and intent. Let me break it down: I love Facebook for the news. It keeps me in contact with people I would otherwise have long lost touch with. Sure, we don’t write to one another daily, but seeing photos and thoughts and comments from far-flung friends and acquaintances has broadened my access to other people’s lives and perspectives. It isn’t a stretch to say I feel enriched by the connections of many people I know and “know” on Facebook. I like Twitter too. I like the speed of conversation, the way that information and ideas and writing and news travels. It feeds the impatient part of me (a big part of me…)

But for about two years now social media has felt at least equal parts draining and sustaining. I have been trying to mark a moment when that shift started happening, and I think there are, for me, two. The first was when Chief Theresa Spence was on her hunger strike in Ottawa, and the second was was when Emma Healey published her brave, necessary, and gutting “Stories Like Passwords” on The Hairpin. There have been many many more moments since these two, but for me those events mark moments in my digital life when it was made clear to me that hate–in the form of racism and misogyny and rape culture–was so clearly fed and fanned by the conditions of social media.

I’m fortunate: I’ve not been cyber-bullied. I’ve only had a handful of rape threats on Twitter. I am not a lightening rod for charged conversation. I have friends, mentors, and acquaintances who are, and while I am so grateful to them and in awe of their energy, I worry for them. I can see the toll it takes, being constantly accessible. Feeling, I suspect, constantly responsible.

And so, as we head into this new year with its uncertainties and ruptures I find myself wanting not resolutions but reorientations. I aim to reorient my relationship with speedy responses. Yes, I’ll respond to students and colleagues on time. But perhaps I won’t keep Facebook on my phone. Maybe I will schedule time for social media and when that time is up it is up. Maybe I won’t do any of this and bring it to my students as a case study for letting ourselves fail and learning from our failures. Who knows. What I do know is this: I’m working to be more generous in my engagements with others–online, in the classroom, in my home, and with myself. And sometimes being generous means taking a moment and a step back.

So here’s to a new term, dear readers. Here’s to another Monday, another opportunity to take a tiny moment for ourselves to reorient how we’re moving through the worlds and with and alongside others. And here’s to writing and reading feminist work. We need it, we’re going to need it.

Uncategorized

The Internet I want to live in

Lindy West left Twitter yesterday. I noticed that around the time I was holding her book Shrill in my hands, so I could transcribe the title of an essay into the syllabus of one of my courses: “You’re So Brave for Wearing Clothes and Not Hating Yourself.” The essay is about the notion of ‘confidence’ and what it means, culturally and personally, to be a confident fat woman. It begins with body acceptance, and according to West, the chapter could be only sixteen words long and it would say this and be complete: “Look at pictures of fat women on the Internet until they don’t make you uncomfortable anymore.”

West reminds us that representation matters. She narrates the process of seeing, over and over, and then actively seeking out and voraciously consuming, photos of fat women, starting with Leonard Nimoy’s Full Body Project, and moving through blogs and hashtags. Seeing her own body type represented, over and over, and celebrated and loved and just simply being, cracked something open.

When West married, she produced this. This is the internet I want to live in.

However, the internet I actually have is a little different. It’s an internet where even after 10 years, Twitter’s best anti-harassment tool is to make is so those who are being abused can “mute” their harassers, whose hate everyone can still see. It’s an internet that Sherman Alexie also just left on New Years, tweeting “Hey folks, I’m leaving Twitter because its negatives increasingly outweigh its positives. Thank you for the follows.” Ta-Nehisi Coates is gone, too, though maybe temporarily. It’s a platform for fake news and gas lighting and hate speech and doxxing and dog-piling. It’s weaponized virality with the aim of silencing oppressed and minoritized populations. It’s developing its own vocabulary, even.

Maybe the internet was started by computer nerds–government funded misfits and model train builders and hippies and prodigies. Somewhere along the line–in Usenet groups, through Reddit and 4chan, and leaping onto the WWW and sites like Facebook and Twitter–the internet itself became a tool of oppression. And I think this was in direct proportion to its utility and effectiveness as a tool of liberation. The internet gave us #GirlsLikeUs, #BlackLivesMatter, #MMIW, #ILookLikeAProfessor and more, a platform that no one gave to us, but that we took. That internet is under attack, and we risk losing it.

To say we live in a moment of powerful backlash against acknowledging and celebrating the always-there-but-often-suppressed diversity and plurality of our shared world would be an understatement.

West deserves a break. Alexie, too. Leslie Jones deserved a break. Hashtag activists deserve a break. It’s time for those of us who have remained behind the front lines, benefiting from their cover, to step forward. We are going to have to fight for the internet we want, because it’s not a given. I’m collecting strategies and resources, and trying to do my part. You might start here, with Femtech Net’s Centre for Solutions to Online Violence. Or, if you you want to get down and dirty, consider something like Sleeping Giants. And, crucially, stay online. Stay on Twitter as a progressive. Stay on Facebook and keep reporting those fake news sites. Keep blogging, keep linking, keep sharing.

Representation matters. Women, people of colour, disabled people, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, rural people, the underemployed, we’ve enjoyed a really good run with online publishing tools, producing vast troves of amazing content, and cobbling together amazing communities. This is all at risk. Fight. And maybe someday Lindy West will come back.