backlash · bad academics · copper-bottomed bitch · hiring · job market · professors · righteous feminist anger · structural solutions

The backhand side: stupid job ads and equity

I hate red tape. I hate that every time I travel for research, I have to ask for and then save the receipt I get for buying a $5 sandwich on the airplane, and that if I get breakfast in my hotel room because the conference starts at 8:30am, I have to make sure that my toast and eggs are itemized on the hotel invoice because “Room Service Charge” is not reimbursable. This feels petty and annoying to me.

But sometimes, the pettiness and rules of the bureaucracy are an equity-seeking device.

Last year when I taught our graduate professionalization class to the second-year PhD cohort, we had as a guest lecturer a departmental colleague who was chair for a long time, and was hired in the 1980s. He was talking about the academic job market now and then. Now, as we all know, it’s a paper-heavy bureacractic mess. But then, it was a phone call between two dudes, exchanging grad students and privilege. No application, just backchannel.

In this vein, Sydni Dunn in Chronicle Vitae just reported on Jonathan Goodwin’s work with vintage MLA job ads (building on prior work by Jim Ridolfo). Here’s an ad that really stuck with me:

This is a marvel of insider-clubbiness. There might be an opening, and it doesn’t matter what field you’re in, but we’d like your degree from somewhere good and you should be able to play tennis and engage in repartee about same. The vague requirements leave the position completely open to whim; the emphasis on the rank of the school tends to reproduce privilege. The only real metric you could use to distinguish among candidates is actually tennis: publications are “helpful” but not required, so you can’t compare candidates on research record. You can’t distinguish by specialization, because none is required. You could in fact not hire at all. I can just imagine the deliberations. Oh wait: there wouldn’t be any. Because this was before committee-based hiring. Shudder. I’ll take Interfolio any day, frankly.

In my Facebook feed, then, in 2015, I was surprised to see a link to this ad from MIT. It starts out okay, or at least standard:

The MIT Media Lab ( is seeking candidates to fill two tenure-track positions. Appointments will be within the Media Arts and Sciences academic program, principally at the Assistant Professor level. 

Successful candidates for either position will be expected to: establish and lead their own research group within the Media Lab; pursue creative work of the highest international standard; engage in collaborative projects with industrial sponsors and other Media Lab research groups; supervise master’s and doctoral students; and participate in the Media Arts and Sciences academic program. Send questions to faculty-search [at] 

MIT is committed to building a culturally diverse educational environment; women and minorities are strongly encouraged to apply. EOE.

Yes, that sounds like a job ad. Job type, job rank, job duties, number of jobs available, contact information, assessment criteria. Also, equity statement.

Good. Then the two available positions are listed out. One, in climate change and environment, is pretty standard, too. But then, this, in “undefined discipline”:

The Media Lab is a cross-disciplinary research organization focusing on the invention of new media technologies that radically improve the ways people live, learn, work, and play. 

We are seeking a new kind of early career faculty member, not defined by discipline, rather by his or her unique and iconoclastic experience, style, and points of view. You can be a designer, inventor, scientist, or scholar – any combination – as long as you make things that matter. Impact is key. 

This means somebody with at least these three sets of characteristics: 

  1. Being deeply versed in a minimum of two fields, preferably not ones normally juxtaposed;
  2. Being an orthogonal and counter-intuitive thinker, even a misfit within normal structures;
  3. Having a fearless personality, boundless optimism, and desire to change the world. 

Any disciplines apply as long as their confluence shows promise of solving big, difficult, and long-term problems. And, most importantly, candidates must explain why their work really can only be done at the Media Lab. We prefer candidates not be similar to our existing faculty. We welcome applicants who have never considered academic careers. If you fit into typical academia, this is probably not the job for you. 

Applications should consist of one URL—the web site can be designed in whatever manner best characterizes the candidate’s unique qualifications. Web site should include a CV or link to a CV.

So. Not a real application. Make a website, any kind of website, but unique, and submit that as your application! Also, there’s a personality-based assessment–be orthogonal as well as polymathic! We want you to be young (early career) and iconoclastic! This is a professor job, but if you fit into academia, you’re not the right fit. Except you’ll still need a PhD and do the work of a professor. The ad seems to be asking for a set of personal traits–and personal traits that seem to inhere in a very particular kind of applicant:

Venture-capital tech-dude types who skipped college and traveled to India (not to see family, but to experience life, man) and who have foregone the scholarly article in favor of something showier because they like attention and feel they deserve it and they have rebellious haircuts and gender-bending accessories.

Look. I regularly lobby to have my media appearances and blog work count on my CV. I get “iconoclastic”–and I get weird haircuts and gender-bending accessories. I wear My Little Pony swag to teach. But this kind of ad, in its emphasis on personality and attitude, feels insulting to all the hard, verifiable, assessable work that academics do to become trained and competitive for professorships. And it will lead to bad candidate assessment.

The ability to receive a serve on the backhand side is not named, but implied. Again, how on God’s Green Earth can you sensibly sort a candidate pool? I’ll tell you right now it’ll be like an American Idol open tryout, except many of the sensible people will just not even go.

Once more: in many ways, I’m all about thinking outside the academic box: I take Facebook seriously as life-writing and I refuse to call everyday social media users naive or thoughtless. I’m lobbying hard to change a lot about the PhD at my institution. What is killing me about this job ad is that it gets loosey-goosey about all the wrong things in ways that are going to disadvantage applicants who’ve just barely got a toe-hold into the academy. By removing assessable metrics and by opening the ad so widely, it’s nearly guaranteed that a very narrow set of possible winners is going to emerge.

You can bet your backhand on it.

balance · copper-bottomed bitch · day in the life · emotional labour · femimenace · kid stuff

I’m mad as hell, and I don’t want to feel guilty anymore!

I was having a meeting with my daughter’s principal the other day, about a miscommunication / battle of wills I was having with the grade two teacher around her practice of not respecting our limits around homework. (FWIW, we do 20 minutes a day, and as my girl can’t really read and all the homework is in French, it’s essentially my homework.) In the context of ironing this problem out, I mentioned that we only had so much time in the day, and didn’t want to spend any more of it stressed out about mandatory word jumbles and threats of being sent to the principal’s office for non-completion.

Oh, said the principal, I know how busy you are … I see your husband here, so late, picking her up, and my heart just breaks for you.

Did you catch that?


She’s being picked up from the after school program in the gym. At 5:15. And we move heaven and earth to make it possible, and I’ve just had the mommy guilt bomb dropped on me.

I was too shocked to feel bad about myself. And then I went right to blisteringly angry.

You know, I’ve just plunked my rear end into my office chair. It’s 9:30. This morning I have taken two dogs on individual Poop Walks, snuggled / dressed / coiffed my kid, made her lunch and organized her backpack, got myself showered and dressed and packed up, brought my kid (and two dogs) to the bus stop and sent her off, grabbed a latte from Starbucks, and driven to my Far Off parking lot before the Long March in. My husband got up at 5:30 this morning, to prep for a meeting he had off campus at 8:00 am — he’ll have to bus it into campus from there. He fed and dressed our kid before dashing off. He’ll leave a bit early today so that he can walk a dog before picking up our kid from after school care and meeting me at home.

Both adults in my house work full time, demanding jobs. I travel a lot and he has crunch times that are beyond his control but necessitate some weeks of 15 or 20 hours overtime, a couple of times a year. We’ve paid a real estate premium to live much closer to where we work, to cut our commuting time. I ask for my teaching schedule to accommodate my not starting before 9:30, so I can bring our girl to the bus every morning before bussing in myself. You would not believe the number of meetings I’ve been involved in, fighting for faculty rights to express preferences like this, because there’s a movement to make us all normatively available from 8am to 5pm, M-F for teaching at will. My husband starts before me, and takes a shortened lunch so he can pick her up from after school care (after walking 15+ minutes out to our parking lot, then driving 10 minutes) just after 5. He has to juggle meetings and coworkers who tease him about doing so much child care. He’s usually the one who has to pick her up in a crisis, as she only seems to throw up / get diarrhea / hit on the head while I’m teaching, and so the school can only get him. We’re pretty proud of the juggling and the arrangements and making ways to prioritize our girl’s needs.


It’s not good enough, apparently.

To hell with that. Who are all these parents who are at home for their kids to be bussed back at 3:30? Who don’t need morning daycare (we’re so lucky we can work around that) because school only starts at 9:05? That’s great if that’s your lifestyle and your choices, but can this really be so normal as the principal makes it out to be?

My issue was that I don’t want to spend more than 20 minutes a day doing homework with my daughter. I like to take her to the zoo, to rake leaves and jump in them, watch TVO documentaries about animals, paint her toenails ten different colours that she’s chosen individually, snuggle in the big bed while pretending to be baby bunnies, baking muffins, reading books. The issue somehow became how our poor daughter languishes for ages at school because no one can pick her up until “so late” and that’s why her oh-so-necessary homework isn’t getting done.

I thought, from our tremendous financial, real estate, and job-flexibility advantages, we were probably doing pretty well — that it was probably normal for a kid to be gone for about 8 hours in a day. I was shocked to get rhetorically disciplined in this way.

Mommy guilt and mommy shaming are pretty gruelling: emotionally awful, and unfair, and blind to the ways the world actually works.

I’m a pretty good mom, actually, and my husband is an excellent father. Our girl is happy and secure. I’m not going to let anyone make me feel bad about trying to find a way to have a career, and for my husband to have his career, at the same time.

We’ve managed to do it. And if there are those–some of the actually at the school!–who want to make us feel bad about it, well, I’m pretty much done listening.

copper-bottomed bitch · faster feminism · feminist win · righteous feminist anger · role models

Which is worse: overt or subtle sexism?

Reader, be forewarned: I am in fighting mood today.

What has occasioned this fundmental change from last week’s fatigue to today’s bellicosity? Well, some things that have made me angry, and others that have buoyed me to fight back. First, I received some disappointing professional news. Nothing new there, at first sight, as I’ve been receiving all kinds of disappointments on the job market. What was special about this specific piece was the obvious gendering of the two responses it comprised. One was generous, engaged, and constructive; the other one was resistant, belligerent, and angered. I do not mean to be reductionist, but trust me when I say it was obvious. They have made me reconsider my place within academia: is it worth pushing that rock uphill during application season, only to have it tumble down again and again? And how many times can I bear to listen to the adage “it’s not you, it’s the job market?”

What these responses have also made me rethink was all the other interactions I’ve had throughout my academic career from the point of view of sexism. You know, all the small delays, all the excuses, all the talking over and the talking down to; in other words, all the subtle sexism that the humanities are rife with, for all their declarative adoption of feminism. In my previous career, at least, sexism was out in the open. And so were my weapons. I’ve had to withstand and fight sexual harassment, but I was in full Buffy mode. But how do you fight the very subtle, insidious sexism of academia?

Needless to say, I was feeling hopeless and ready to say goodbye to my beloved academia. Because for all the statements about “women and minorities are encouraged to apply,” when it comes down to choosing between a male candidate and a female one with kids, the actual choice might not really live up to the declared ideals, in spite of everyone’s best intentions. S-u-b-t-l-e. Unexamined. Buried.  Engrained. Sexism.

But then, this video, which I’m sure you’ve seen by now, started making the internet rounds:
Now, I know Julia Gillard has a vexed relationship with feminism. But it’s this video that’s put me in fighting mood. Because when women’s rights are openly trampled on everywhere, who even cares about subtle sexism, right? So, here’s a powerful woman calling a sexist’s bullshit in the Australian Parliament, and making the internet rounds faster than a new bug in a daycare full of babies. I think we need a model or two like that, coming up in the open and leaving their gloves somewhere else, because I’m tired of being nice to people smart enough to cover their sexism and bury it deep enough for a full forensic team to overlook.

The other thing that’s put me in assertive mode is this wonderful conference I’m going to: Women’s Writing in Canada and Québec Today. I’m going to spend the weekend engaging with some incredibly intelligent people talking about contemporary literature written by women. I’m also going to hang out with Erin! I’m going to talk about Margaret Atwood. Can you think of a better way to fight subtle or overt sexism? [And now I’m off to… ahem… revise my paper.]

copper-bottomed bitch · popular culture · role models

Women in the Other Academy

First, an apology to Erin’s fans, since it’s Monday and this is Heather writing. We switched days so that I could rant rave write about women in that other academy, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, aka the Oscars.

Yeah, that’s right, there were some women this year, though you’d be forgiven for feeling skeptical. Even in the Year of the Maimed Man  – “best pictures” showed a man without an eye, a man without a hand, a man without a voice, a man with a crack addiction, and a man who’s dead for the entire movie (still feeling battered by that recession, boys?) – it was hard to find the women. But they were there, mostly standing right by their men.

So here’s a few feminist awards that didn’t get handed out last night. Oh, I should say that there are no spoilers for Rabbit Hole or Blue Valentine since I didn’t manage to see them. Everything else is liberally referenced in what follows, though. You have been warned.

The GOOD WIFE award: Amy Adams in The Fighter. No, Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech. No, America Ferrera in How to Train Your Dragon. No, maybe Mrs Potato Head – or Barbie – or Jessie (the cowgirl to Tom Hanks’s Woody – yeah, you read that right) in Toy Story 3? Wait, wait, what am I thinking: the award goes to Julianne Moore, hands down (hands down Mark Ruffalo’s pants, that is).

REAL WIFE moment: When Gary Rizzo (Inception) accepted the sound mixing award for himself, Ed Novick and Lora Hirschberg, he thanked “our wives,” and named three women. So if you were thinking Hirschberg looked a little butch for her gown….

For HEAVY-HANDED METAPHOR: the black swan. C’mon, a psychotic ballerina? That didn’t strike anybody on the writing team as redundant?

Best INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY DRAMA: Forget what you learned in Women’s Studies 101, and ditch the creative commons, too. In 2010 the movies argued that an idea is a form of personal property. Given a choice between The Social Network (you took my idea!) and Inception (you took my idea!), I’m gonna have to go with Exit Through the Gift Shop in this category.

MOST ENIGMATIC BOY NAMES: 1) Woody; 2) Dicky; 3) Rooster; 4) LaBoeuf (hint: it’s French).

EMPLOYER OF THE YEAR: the New York ballet. Dude, maybe a little less sexual harassment and a little more clozapine?

DUMBEST BLONDE:  So many contenders. Will the award go to Megan and Kristie in 127 Hours (“We can’t read our map!”)? Girl at Phoenix Club in The Social Network (“You have a big brain!”)? Nina-Pretty-Ballerina in Black Swan (“You have a big ego!”)? Careful, though. This is a trick category, ’cause none of the girls are actually blonde!

BEST ACTION: Who doesn’t like seeing Natalie Portman get off? But unless you count the birds and the bees in I Am Love, which you probably should given how …. long …. that scene was, that’s about it for sex in the big nominees this year. (Weird, given how big the familes are.) Silver lining: for the most part this year women characters were not subject to sexual violence. Even in the scenes where you thought you saw it coming – Pope and Nicky in Animal Kingdom, Rooster watching Mattie sleep in True Grit, every scene for the first 90 minutes of Winter’s Bone – the threat, so to speak, petered out.

For TRUE GRIT, a concept we feminists ought to appropriate (thanks, Mary Churchill!), Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is the obvious choice, and I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) or the Ward sisters, but I vote for Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) and all her relations, especially Connie (with or without the chainsaw). Hey, Winter’s Bone women, I got some folks you can put the hurt on.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE EVENING: I Am Love should have won for costumes. Tilda Swinton was so stunning in those sheath dresses, carrying her five-thousand-dollar handbags, that I almost didn’t want her to get undressed. Anybody know where I can pick up some paprika cigarette pants and a pale blue shirt? I feel the need for consolation.

copper-bottomed bitch · intolerant shrew · reflection · resolution · skeptical feminist

And a Happy New Year, Too

As always, my husband read over the draft of my post before I put it in queue to be published. “Um, Aimée?” he began, delicately, “I think people are going to fight with you.”

It might surprise you to know that I have actually written an article on conflict management in personal blogging (under review! At New Media and Society! October 2010!) and that I’m an expert on the building and maintenance of trust relationships online (Volume 4, Issue 2! Cyberpsychology: A Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace!). Because, inadvertently, I started a minor flame war. Now, in the new year, I don’t want to rehash or re-light, but to consider the process of how we frame our ideas, and how we can disagree with each other with goodwill.

In hindsight, I can see that including the phrase “wanna make something of it?” in a post title is obviously a little combative, but I imagined that readers would see me as I saw myself, comically swinging my oversized red mittens in useless little circles and saying ‘pow! pow!’ while dancing about on my tiptoes. And commenters who know me in real life picked up this tone, probably because they know me in real life: that’s how I speak, and they have the context for that. (In this category, please include SC, Joanne Wallace, and Claire, as well as, of course, Heather.) To others I can see that the text may read aggressive. That’s my bad. Arianna’s comment helped clarify that for me, and I appreciate the holiday wishes with which she closed her comment–thank you, Arianna.

Some commenters prompted me to become more subtle in my thinking. Geetabix offered a useful and interesting personal story: thank you for that. Jana distinguishes between individual and institutional practices, in a way I didn’t do, and she’s right: thanks, Jana. I feel that I have benefited from the thoughtfulness each of you exhibited, and I’m grateful.

Other people outright disagreed with me, but not unpleasantly. SC supports my own practice, while articulating one totally different from it: I appreciate the care that you have used in respecting my position, SC, while disagreeing with it! Thank you, also, to those other readers who couched their negative comments in careful wording: thank you jroselkin for noting that what you read in the post might not be what I have intended, and for noting as well that you mostly like the blog. Jordana did this too. You all modeled a generosity of spirit I want to bring with me into the new year.

Heather, using conflict management strategies I discourse on at some length in my article, deflates the conflict with humour: how do I find time to bake? (Easy: my sister and I do it together–multiple batches of 7 recipes, over one 12 hour day, where her oldest kid minds my only kid.) Claire, too, focused on the baking, probably to cool things down. Humour and re-direction are time-honoured mommy-blogging conflict containment strategies, you should know! We must be becoming a community! Joanne just offered hearty well-wishes, probably to raise my spirits. From my hear, I appreciate the emotional labour you each expended to raise my morale, to maintain relationships and to build community here.

A couple of comments, though, attacked me personally. I have received emails from my friends, commiserating, and asking after my feelings. Let me be perfectly honest here: these comments made me cry. After a couple of weeks of dread whenever a comment popped up in my email, I’ve regained my equanimity and can only say: ad hominem is a logical fallacy. I would let this go unremarked but this space is really important to me so I ask: does vituperation maybe prevent other readers, perhaps more marginally situated than I am, but members of this community nevertheless, from feeling safe to participate if participating might mean disagreeing with a prevailing view?

In any case, let me close with this: Happy new year to all of you, and best wishes for a continued, various, multivocal conversation here at Hook and Eye. I hope we all feel safe and respected in articulating our ideas and our beliefs: I do. We may not always agree with each other–God, I hope we don’t always all agree with each other–but this blog has by and large been a very positive experience for me, and, I hope, for you.

copper-bottomed bitch · making friends · saving my sanity · wish list

Merry Christmas! — Wanna make somethin’ of it?

On the syllabus of my first year class this year, December 6th is noted thus: “Papers handed back; receive Christmas cookie.”

Yeah, that’s right. A Christmas cookie. And I wished them all a Merry Christmas on the way out–and told them to relax over the break from studies and the enjoyment of whatever holiday they celebrate. Me, I celebrate Christmas, and wanted to share good wishes from that angle. I bake Christmas cookies, and host a Christmas party, and send out Christmas cards, and hang Christmas lights, and I even have more than one Christmas screen saver.

I was raised Catholic, so I come by this honestly. I’m not Catholic anymore, and my Christmas is more about the secularized rituals of decoration and eggnog and Santa and such. But still. It’s Christmas. It’s not “the season” nor is it “the holidays,” particularly not as such locutions are generally meant, in the most hysterical of politically correct hypercorrection, to not offend someone who might not celebrate Christmas. You don’t have to celebrate Christmas; that’s fine. I’m by no means intending to proselytize. However, I don’t get what’s offensive about me sharing good wishes with you on the basis of a holiday I jump into with both feet every single year: part of my Christmas is smiling at people and wishing them Merry Christmas.

We are arrived at a sorry state when cheerful greetings and a desire to share buttery baked goods chokes up in our throats because we don’t want to offend anyone. Because we’re scared. How on Earth can I offend anyone by smiling and wishing them well, wishing them shortbread dusted in icing sugar and coloured sprinkles?

Surely, we are not so delicate as to be offended by kindness? I am a vegetarian. Sometimes, I go places where people don’t know that, and prepare food with meat, and offer it to me with kindness. You know what? I eat it. I eat it because it was prepared with good will and generosity, as a gesture of human contact. Also, usually, I’m pretty hungry.

So. I think it’s terrible, this slicing and dicing of acceptable phrases of mush that are deliberately context- and culture-free. It’s a vague, bland, nothing kind of self-expression of the sort that if it showed up in an essay I’d draw a field of Rudolph noses all over it. What do you mean? Be precise! Weasel words!

In this vein, I’m actually a lot more sympathetic to those who lobby to “keep the Christ in Christmas” than I am with the purveyors of “season’s greetings” and “holiday sale.” They are trying, at least, to keep some specificity and rootedness in their celebration. Still, I’m a sucker for red and white decorations and for the (religious) traditions of my own childhood.  So yeah, I’m secularizing and generalizing Christmas. But I draw the line at changing the name. And I draw the line at the idea that calling Christmas what it is is somehow offensive. One of my friends and I were out for supper the other night, and heard a really loud someone at another table speaking loudly of “ghetto blasters” and we looked at one another, askance: we call them boom boxes now, because ‘ghetto blaster’ is a derogatory term. Christmas, I suggest to you, is not a derogatory term, and needs to emendation.

So then. From my keyboard to yours: Merry Christmas, goddamnit.

Have a cookie. I made ’em myself.

copper-bottomed bitch · emotional labour · skeptical feminist

Working like a Woman

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!)

bad academics · classrooms · copper-bottomed bitch · reflection

Feminization of Education? Nah, dearth of critical thinking.

This week the Globe and Mail published a small article called “Five Reasons Why Boys Are Failing.” A friend of mine sent me the link to the article and, as I read it, I was more and more astounded. Here are the five reasons boys are failing:
1. Role Models
2. Video Games
3. The Boy Code
4. Developmental Differences

And, wait for it,

5. The Feminization of Education

I’m going to speak to the last point, but I have to say that one of the things that concerns me about this article (which is written about elementary school and high school boys specifically) is its dearth of critical thinking.

Don’t get misread me. I’m not implying that I don’t want boys to do well in school. I am, however, certainly implying that this article suggests the shift to more single-parent homes, the emergence of stars as role models, the masculinization of “toughness,” and the size of one’s brain cannot be the only factors in an individual’s education. If the system isn’t working, it isn’t working for everyone. The underlying message in this article seems to be that if these five issues are solved boys will do better.

Huh. Which boys? Where? Boys in Hobbema? Boys in Bella Bella? Boys in the G.T.A? Boys in Yarmouth? But I digress.

OK, let’s look at section five: This section is accompanied by a still from the 2008 film remake of Anne of Green Gables. Referred to as “the darling of English teachers everywhere” Anne of Green Gables is also a good way to stop boys from wanting to read. Well, as performance artist Dayna McLeod has shown, Anne can also make you gay. So watch out.

The argument in this section claims that boys don’t like flashbacks, but prefer linear narrative; they don’t relate to their English teachers who are “mostly all women,” and they prefer male protagonists. Disregarding for the moment the lack of evidentiary support here’s my issue: making declarative claims about choice seems, oh, I don’t know, presumptuous at best. At the worst it is myopic and deterministic. These claims shut down the potential for making choices, they disregard those boys (and men!) who don’t prefer linear narrative (or girls and women who do…), and most insidiously, these claims assume that a teacher—male or female—isn’t teaching his or her students the critical thinking skills they need to think through a text’s construction.

The Globe article is by no means the first to talk about the feminization of education. As one of the commentators notes, Christina Hoff Summers has been writing about this for a while. Yes, this C.H.S…

I’ve only started to touch on the myriad of issues here. As I see it this article indicates a gendering of education that is binary, Anglo-centric, and dangerously conservative. But maybe I’m being grouchy. What do you think?

classrooms · clothes · copper-bottomed bitch · sexist fail

This month in sexism: September

Welcome to the first edition of “This Month in Sexism,” an anonymous compendium of gobsmacking true experiences.

Unless we’re sorely mistaken, feminists don’t really have time to take on the re-education of everybody who says something dumb, intentional or not. At the same time, we are tired of pretending it just doesn’t matter. Our solution? Send us your FAIL stories (see the link here for how) and we’ll compile them into a post that will make you groan, laugh – and move on.

Here are this month’s jaw-droppers:

  • I pause during my lecture to ask if anyone has any questions. A hand from the back shoots up. “Yes,” I acknowledge a male student who rarely speaks. “Where do you get your clothes?,” he asks.
  • In a public meeting, my VP referred to 4 senior academic administrators as “ladies” – as in, “Thanks, ladies. Good work!” (This happened twice.)
  • A senior colleague in my field patted me on the head.
  • My new dean looked me up and down and said, “You didn’t have to dress up, you know.”
  • My first professional advice? “Women can’t direct Shakespeare.”
  • Sitting beside a (female) colleague from another institution during dinner: “Wow, you sure can pack it in, young lady! Better watch your figure.”
  • As I walked up the aisle of the classroom distributing notes, a male student complimented me on my skirt, which I guess is okay . . . sort of. Then he complimented me on on my legs. I told him that I grew them especially for his pedagogical benefit. I suspect it was this student who described me as “a sarcastic and cynical feminist” on my teaching evaluations that term.
  • For a slightly longer rant, see Mama non Grata’s blog entry for today!

What’s that? You can top these? Email us at sexism (at) hookandeye (dot) ca and show us!

copper-bottomed bitch · making friends

Why I don’t want to be friends: a word from Dr Chary

I’ve been thinking about Erin’s Monday post about friendship and mentoring – and everybody’s smart, smart comments. I agree with a lot of what she says. I agree that inter-generational conversations are a joy. I really like my students; I am amazed by their energy and their wit and their ingenuity. I have feelings of warmth, respect, and concern toward them. I am thrilled by their successes and I will always make myself available to talk about their institutional, personal, or intellectual difficulties. In addition, and less personally, I think our highly cerebral institutions should be friendlier. I believe that it’s important for women who have ‘made it’ to hold out an open hand to those who want to. So I facebook current graduate students and former undergrads, if they want, though I don’t take it personally if they don’t.

I’d bank on the fact that many of my students and mentees (as the lingo has it) are reading this, which makes what I am about to say kind of awkward:

I do not necessarily want to be friends with them.

It actually has nothing to do with them; I don’t really want to be friends with anybody. I am not looking for new friends. My friend drawer is full. I barely have time to stay connected to the friends I do have. I have made approximately three new friends in the last five years – okay, maybe four – okay, maybe one a year. (Okay, yes, you’re right, maybe a few more than that.) Each one is a surprise. We are thrown together by circumstance (leadership training, the academic plan, a queer festival, to cite some not-so-random examples, or the job market drops someone in) and gradually what’s between us becomes more than that. I cannot identify the moment when it happens – I find that growing sense of commitment and interest, those tendrils of inchoate affection magical and mysterious, and I like it that way – but I can mark the moment when I realize we are friends. It is kind of like the moment I admit that the seemingly disconnected sensations of sore throat, itchy eyes, and muscle aches are not just random, but evidence that I am actually coming down with a cold. A cold! The common cold! Same sense of disbelief, similar sense of outrage.

Outrage? Yes. Because friendship demands a lot. My friends have always been the most important source of succor to me, and there is nothing I would not do for them. Deliver your babies in Portland? Check. Fly to Seattle to help you through a rough patch? Wouldn’t think twice. What, you need to move in with me for a while? No problem.

Maybe I have a ridiculous understanding of friendship; maybe those thousands of dollars in therapy would have been better spent on shoes, since evidently I have no boundaries where my friendships are concerned. Or maybe I should be less uptight and allow the facebook standard (“I know you, therefore we are friends”) to characterize the mutual caring, understanding and trust that passes as friendship today. But let me get to my point.

The problem I have with befriending students is that women are already disproportionately called on to do unpaid emotional labor in this profession. We do this work because we believe it is important. Reread Erin’s post: everything she says is true, and her gratitude is heartfelt. We believe we have benefited from such care; we believe we can help others by extending an open hand and a listening ear. I believe all those things. I also believe – though we admit this far less readily – that we get something (re/assurance? a sense of worth? an optimistic glimpse of a profession after the old boys’ game?) from the sense of being needed by someone junior. But this is not exactly friendship, with its ragged and unpredictable demands and its besotted joys, or at least it shouldn’t be.

And I’m not convinced that the concept of “mentoring” solves the problem, either. In fact, I worry that mentoring – particularly now that it is shaping up to be another institutional command (enhance your teaching! engage your students! mentor your colleagues!) – is just one more way of masking women’s unpaid emotional work. While I like Julie R’s articulate response in Monday’s comments – that mentoring is a relationship initiated within and largely determined by institutional conditions that we forget at our peril – her proposal presumes that what students need from us is a relationship, and if a relationship is done right, it can’t be predicted or easily parceled out into chunks of time and attention. Students will drop issues into the middle of a crowded inbox and their crises are blind to whatever is going on in your life (even if students themselves are considerate, which mine most certainly are). If you ask me, our feelings are no less genuine for being institutionally mediated – and no less complex. But mentoring talks about boundaries and modeling as though human interactivity is a technology, as though any situation has a pat answer that will protect everybody’s individuality and model appropriate behavior, when in reality we live most days like battlefield surgeons: you live! you die! you wait! you’re next!

I’m willing to bet that what guides most of us through this chaotic minefield is emotional intelligence: a well honed sense of what others need, what we can provide, and what’s sustainable. It’s so well honed it feels intuitive. So we drop everything (or not), we take our junior colleagues out for coffee, we make the time and find the energy to stay connected.

But do you think men do? Do you think our male colleagues steer through chaotic days according to a goal of cultivating the whole person? Do you think they feel the same sense that the university’s very livability rests in finding the right email tone, making a prompt and compassionate response, offering understanding as well as solutions? Doubtful. (Cue the standard caveat: not all women, not no men.) And will the institution ever sufficiently reward women for the actual work we do in the name of mentoring? Just think of it: teaching seen as more than classroom practice! graduate supervision recognized for its quality! tenure and promotion: more than a research sweepstakes!

Until that happy day, we will keep mentoring and even befriending our students and junior colleagues because we genuinely care, because it’s the right thing to do, because we believe in paying it forward, because we need each other, and because we crazily, optimistically, recklessly hope that these human interactions might help build not just a better institution, but also a more equitable future.

(PS: M, I’d still like to come over for dinner on Saturday – if you’ll have me.)