faster feminism

Notes from the Road

Last week after teaching classes in Wolfville I packed my carry-on suitcase, kissed B. and bébé goodbye, and got into a taxi. I was heading to Toronto for my first ever reading from my new, non-academic book. Three and a half days later I am sitting in the Montreal airport waiting for my delayed flight to take me home to Halifax. I will hug B. and bébé. B. and I will get ready for the week. I hope to get home with enough time to take the dog (and me, really) for a walk. To have enough time to get my lectures ready and help with the things that need doing over the weekend. What follows is a collection of loosely connected thoughts and moments from my time on the road with my still-new-to-me book:

Book readings are fun!
Several years ago I had the opportunity to see Erín Moure and Karis Shearer talk about the reading as a public and discursive space for poetics to unfold differently. (You can read their essay here). I have only ever been an audience member or a facilitator at a literary reading, so I had no idea what to expect when I shifted to the other side of things and was a reader myself. I know how to give a lecture and a conference paper, I said to B., but what makes a good reading? 

I’m not sure I know, but I can tell you this: preparing for a reading was fun. When I started to get out of my own way (you know, when I started to quell those imposter-syndrome voices) I realized that reading a book I wrote meant I was the subject-matter expert! This might seem obvious, but for me it was revelatory. Even when I am presenting a conference paper I am keenly aware of how partial my subject expertise is–I almost always present work that is in-process or being aired in public for the first time, and while this was true for the new book it felt different some how. Lighter? I’m not sure that’s the right word. Perhaps its just the cliched-but-true saying that a change is as good as a break. And yesterday, as I sat beside my dear friend Johanna Skibsrud waiting to hear her read from her newest book of poetry, as I listened to a former student and now friend, graduate student, writer, and conference co-organizer Karissa Laroque introduce us and talk about intergenerational friendship, I’ll tell you this: I was feeling pretty wonderful about the CanLit world despite/in spite of news to the contrary.

Writing a non-academic book doesn’t mean its a non-academic book
On Thursday, the day after I got to read at the Pivot Reading series with Stevie Howell and Leesa Dean and Rob Taylor I drove to Kitchener-Waterloo. There, I got to speak with the Gender and Women’s Studies Students at the University of Waterloo, and then to give a lecture at St. Jerome’s University as part of the UN Women Solidarity Movement for Gender Equity. I know, I’m lucky. What surprised me so much, though, is that these universities were willing to bring me in to speak to their students and read to them from my book. A book that I thought–until recently–wasn’t “academic enough,” whatever that means.

But we know what that means, don’t we? I thought an academic book was one that underwent peer review, was published by an academic press, and helped one’s tenure file (if one has a tenure file). Those books–those academic books–are the kinds of books I am familiar with, they are the kinds I strive to write. When I wrote Notes from a Feminist Killjoy I wasn’t thinking about whether or not it would get me an academic job. I was thinking about how much I love Sara Ahmed’s thinking, how much I love Maggie Nelson’s thinking, how much I love Zora Neale Hurston’s thinking, and how I wanted to try and write out my own attempts to think with them and others.

I wrote an academic book, it turns out, but it turns out that in working with a non-academic publisher (yay BookThug!) I wrote it for me, and not reviewer #2. The research is there, the footnotes are there, the rigour is there, but in a different form. And what I remembered, in trying to reconcile what I’d made with where I trained, is what I try to teach my students: epistemology is not uniform. Funny, how we have to keep remembering to unlearn our habitual lines of thought.

There are more innovative ways to run a roundtable discussion

Off the Page is part of the Writers Read Series at Concordia. See the schedule here.

 


On of the last roundtable discussions at Off the Page–a student-facilitated conference co-ordinated by the inimitable Sina Queyras and Concordia students–was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, much less had the opportunity to take part in. Here’s the scene: several months ago I received an invitation from Off the Page to come participate on “A Roundtable Discussion on Appropriation.” The prompt I was given was Lionel Shriver’s unapologetic and racist speech defending her own caricatures of people of colour and defending anyone’s right (white rights, it would seem) to write whatever they please. Participants of this roundtable discussion were given a few articles to read. We were also asked about dietary restrictions. Why? Because, as the organizers wrote, we’d be sitting on stage eating dinner together while talking through appropriation, “rights” when writing, and who has a place at the table. This invitation made me nervous and excited. Of course I said yes.

So, last night at Temps Libre, I walked into a room with a small stage. On the stage was a dinner table replete with wine, water, cheese and bread and tapenade, and four other people I had not met until that moment. Indeed, as we quickly learned, none of us knew each other (though some of us knew of each other). At the table was Trish Salah, Kai Cheng Thom, Madelyne Beccles, Fariha Roísín, and me. As we sat across from one another, first introducing ourselves, then, at Kai’s suggestion, doing an emotional check-in and intentions-setting for our selves and the audience, we were served food. The food had been prepared for us by an amazing member of the organizing committee, and they carefully placed plates of it in front of us as we, five strangers to each other, grappled with questions of ethics, accountability, and belonging from our five different histories.

The conversation wasn’t so much slow as careful and tentative at first. It seemed, without saying, that we were trying to go around the table and make sure each of us responded to an idea or a question before we went on. But, as the evening progressed, as we became not so much less aware of the audience than more comfortable with it and each other (I think, at least that’s how it was for me) words moved across the table more organically. People talked, they fell silent. Always, though, we were listening to one another. We started leaning over and giggling. At one point our amazing chef brought figs with pumpkin seeds out and I whispered to Kai “hold me while I swoon.

There was a sixth chair at the table, which was meant for audience members. It was empty for a while, and then one audience member came, sat with us, had a glass of wine, and contributed to the conversation. From that point on there was a line to come sit at the table. We shared food. We talked. I know I learned for everyone, and I felt listened to when I spoke. When it was over I felt something had shifted, if only for the time we were at the table.

How much more can we ask from a panel of relative strangers getting together to talk before an audience?

academy · dissertation · faster feminism · grad school · parenting · PhD · productivity · reform · women

Parenting in the PhD: Round II

It was with mixed feelings that I welcomed September and the onset of autumn this semester. Most years, with the yellow-tinged leaves and the crisp morning dew, I find myself back in the classroom, gearing up for a semester of teaching, welcoming new students, or training incoming RAs.

This year, I’m gearing up for a different kind of semester. I began the term filling out Employment Insurance (EI) forms instead of post-doctoral applications. Instead of stacks of papers mid-semester, I’ll be dealing with stacks of diapers. Instead of scheduled student hours, I’ll be at the beck and call of unscheduled infant cries: my second child is due to arrive at the end of October.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how different my experience of pregnancy, parental leave, and the academy has been on the second go-around.

Although both my children will be born during my PhD, the first arrived at the end of my first year, while I was funded through SSHRC. The second comes at the tail end of my program, as I submit my final chapter, re-write my introduction, and finish my conclusion. My funding has shifted from scholarship-based to teaching-based, and with that shift comes a complete alteration in how (and whether) I qualify for paid maternity and parental leave.

As it turns out, there are vastly different parental benefits available to graduate students at the University of Alberta depending on the source of their academic funding. Although every graduate student is permitted to take up to three years of unpaid parental leave, qualifying for paid leave depends on precisely how you are paid: 1) by scholarship, 2) as a Graduate Student Research/Teaching Assistant, or 3) as a Contract Academic Employee. Each of these options has various benefits and drawbacks, but most graduate students don’t actively chose which one they happen to qualify for. Much depends on how a particular department happens to be able to fund its graduate students, or the scholarships those graduate students themselves happen to win.

1) If you are paid by scholarship, paid parental leave depends on the scholarship itself. If you hold an external SSHRC doctoral award, you qualify for up to six months of paid parental leave at 100% of your stipend. If you hold other awards, it depends on that award. Surprisingly (to me, at least), many of these awards, both external to the university (like the prestigious Killam) or internal (like the now-defunct Dissertation Fellowship) offer no paid parental leave at all, meaning you would qualify for nothing if you happened to need parental or maternity leave while holding these awards.

2) If you are paid as an Research or Teaching Assistant (either full or part-time), you are permitted to take either: parental leave, which allows for 16 weeks of leave at 75% of your current stipend; or maternity leave at 100% of your stipend for six weeks, followed by 75% of your stipend for the remaining 10 weeks. (For more, see the Graduate Student Assistantship Collective Agreement).

3) If you are paid as a Contract Academic Employee, you *may* qualify for leave through Employment Insurance as long as you meet the requirements (you must have worked 600 insured hours as a Contract Academic Employee in the previous 52 weeks, which is not typical for most graduate students). This would permit you to take a full year of paid leave, at 55% percent of your salary.

These, of course, are just the policies at my own university–the University of Alberta. While other Canadian universities operate on similar lines (ie: whether you qualify for leave depends on how you are paid), many actually don’t offer any paid leave at all for students supported through the university (ie: as a research or teaching assistant).

In my particular case, in this second pregnancy, I managed to qualify for a full year of leave through EI by working as a Contract Academic Employee. I got a bit lucky because I was offered an extra course through another department at my university, and a spring course through my own department (which I was not guaranteed with my particular funding package). This meant I was able to work the amount of insurable hours I needed to qualify, and it means that this time I will be taking a full year of paid leave, versus four months last time–which I felt was insufficient (in fact, I wasn’t able to find full-time childcare until well after my four months of official leave). There was, of course, a trade-off: I almost certainly slowed my progress to completion by taking on the additional teaching work.

How, then, might universities better support graduate students who become parents during the course of their degrees?

What I’d really love to see is a full year of paid parental leave for all graduate students, regardless of how they are paid. This would go a very long way in helping women to succeed in academia. However, given that even the best leave (SSHRC) only pays six months of leave (albeit at 100%), I feel like this is a good second choice. So, I’d love to see all graduate students qualify for six months of leave at 100%, regardless of their funding sources. It would also be great to see the qualifying period simply be based on the student’s previous four months of pay. This would negate the need for students to undertake more work (and thus slow their time to completion) simply in order to qualify.

Both these things would help reduce the academic opacity that seems to surround the decision to have a family, and make it more fair for students who happen to be on scholarships or funding packages that mean they don’t qualify. Really, all graduate students should be entitled to paid leave, regardless of the source of their funding.

faster feminism · gradschool · guest post · running

Guest Post: Being What You Are

September is my favorite time of year, which is a sure sign that I’ve spent almost my whole life going back to school as the season changes. I love the fresh, chilly air, the eagerness in my new students, and the return to routine after the casual chaos of summertime. Like New Year’s Day, the first weeks of classes come with resolutions, good intentions, and enthusiastic motivation, but I know that these will soon wither as the stresses of teaching and writing bear down on me. This year, though, I’m really hoping to make at least one of those resolutions stick.
As a PhD student, I really love the work that I’m privileged to do, but I have to admit that I don’t always feel like the real deal. I know everyone struggles with feeling like an imposter sometimes, but the courage and confidence to think of myself as an academic are so often in short supply, especially after the starry-eyed hopes of September have faded. Unfortunately, motivating oneself to read, or write, or be otherwise academically productive is particularly difficult when it all feels pointless, because that too-busy-for-its-own-good brain is so sure that nothing it ever achieves will be good enough. This year, though, I’m determined to change my perspective.
I received some very simple advice a couple of years ago, when I decided to take up running. I was very reluctant to call myself “a runner,” and I had it in my head that, in order to define myself as a runner, I had to be an Olympian. I needed to be running marathons, to have the fancy shoes and the hardcore 6-days-a-week schedule like the people on the covers of fitness magazines. But one day, when struggling to articulate my love for running without actually calling myself (gasp!) a runner, someone asked me a simple question:
“Do you run?”
I said, hesitantly, “. . . yes?”
“Then you’re a runner. That’s all there is to it.”
This was a breakthrough for me. The next time I tied up my running shoes and hit the pavement, I thought to myself “I’m a runner!” It turns out that I’m not any different from the people you see out the car window, sprinting along the sidewalk in the rain. I’m badass too, just like them! And when I ran my first half-marathon last fall, I really felt badass. I obviously didn’t finish anywhere near the top; I wasn’t the fastest one out there, but I finished, and I was so incredibly proud of my time. Now, I really do feel like a runner, but I’m convinced that starting to think of myself that way even before I had run my first race really did help me get there in the first place.
What I’m hoping for this year, then, is that I can apply that same principle elsewhere in my idea of myself. I have a feeling that tricking Keely-the-PhD-student into understanding herself as a scholar, a writer, a teacher – all the things I long to be but can’t quite convince myself that I am – will be a lot more complicated than lacing up a pair of running shoes. I realize that changing the way I see myself is going to take some work, some serious, intense, painful growth. But I think – or at least I hope – that changing the way I think about myself will help me do that.
Because it turns out that, even in the midst of all my self-doubt, I was “a runner” all along! It also turns out that I’m already doing the things that make me a writer, an academic, and a teacher. Of course, if I’m going to meet the goals I’ve set for myself, academic or otherwise, I’ll still need to work my butt off, to push myself, to be disciplined. But thanks to my newfound confidence as “a runner,” I know now that if I’m ever going to become who I want to be, it will take a shift in the vision I have of myself – and I’m determined to sustain this vision right on through the 2015-2016 school year . . . or at least until Christmas.

Keely Cronin
University of Waterloo

collaboration · DIY · faster feminism · feminist win

Faster Feminism Spotlight: Talking to GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine Co-Founder Cynthia Spring

Have you had the pleasure of discovering what, in my humble opinion, is currently Canada’s best feminist magazine? Yes, friends, I am talking about GUTS: A Canadian Feminist Magazine, which lives online and was started by two women in Edmonton, Alberta. (Yes, Edmonton, recently voted the worst city to live in if you are a woman. It is also a city in which women fight back using creative and effective tactics.) 

I first discovered GUTS when Cynthia posted the first issue on social media. I was thrilled. What was this new, sharp, sassy, and unapologetic periodical? How did the founders and writers–many of whom I had the pleasure of knowing when they were students in Halifax–find the time, energy, and creative and financial resources to get the thing going? How do they keep publishing cutting edge conversations, issue after issue? 



I decided that rather than speculate alone (whilst feeling pleasantly envious that I hadn’t come up with the idea myself, to be honest) I would contact co-founder Cynthia Spring and see if she’d be willing to talk with me. Lucky for us, she was. Here is how our conversation has started to unfold:

Erin: Tell our readers a bit about yourselfwhat is your field of study? When did you first encounter feminism? When did you first self-identify as a feminist?

Cynthia: I studied literature during my MA, and while feminist theory and practice wasnt a major focus in my research, many of the seminars I took touched on gender and queer theory, sexual politics, and feminist histories. In my own academic writing, I was drawn to literature that focused on girls and womens and mothers interior and domestic lives, not just those stories that were so accessible and familiar, but the ones that could capture the mutability of the self, the instability of gender, the gap between how women are supposed to be (i.e., caring, beautiful, good, generous, happy, etc.) and how they sometimes really feel (underappreciated, overworked, unhappy, ugly, etc.).

It wasnt until I participated in a Marxist feminist reading group in the summer of 2012, however, that I really started to think about how this ideal of womanhood and motherhoodmanifested in our contemporary society as the woman who has it all in terms of her career, her family, her economic independence, and her social lifewas so important to our economy, to neoliberal capitalism. When we aspire to the myth of the good woman, we actually help to conceal all the intersecting forms of injustices and oppression that women, trans, and queer people continue to face every day, and whos exploitation underlies the foundations of other peoples success both in the workforce and at home. This changed a lot for me. Although Ive identified as a feminist since my older sister first taught me to play Ani Difrancos Both Hands on the guitar, my understanding of this identity became so much more complicated when we started talking about how expansive and messy feminism really is.  


Erin: How did you get involved with GUTS?

Cynthia: My co-founder, Nadine Adelaar and I were talking about starting a magazine pretty much as soon as we finished our MAs in Edmonton. We wanted to keep thinking about some of the feminist ideas and writing we had encountered in school and elsewhere, but we wanted to do so in a more accessible, creative, and effective way. For us, feminism is about pointing out the everyday injustices folks experience and talking about ways to change those oppressive and alienating social relations we are so accustomed to. The work that we were producing in the academy didnt always leave room for ideas that are informed by personal experiences, and we were inspired by feminists who were talking about theory in the context of real political struggles. All that said, weve never wanted to do away with the theory and ideas that come out of the academy. We want to hold theory and practice together, and I guess thats part of our ongoing project.

Erin: How did GUTS move from idea to actuality?

Cynthia: During the winter after we finished our MAs, Nadine and I were both looking for full time work and had some time on our hands. So we decided to go for it. We started learning how to build a website, which took a number of months for us to do without any web development experience (Nadine took to this much more quickly and creatively than I did, and is now actually a web master!). We spoke with writers who were trying to get their work published. We had Jonathan Dyck, our art guy, make a logo. We had a pre-launch party with Edmonton art collective Lart. And then we did a call for submissions. The first issue featured writers and academics we already knew, people who wanted to share their experience or their ideas and were willing to do so without compensation. We decided to keep the content online and free for everyone to access, we worked on it during our spare time once we got jobs, and we were able to start producing a magazine without any financial support.

Erin: What are some of the challenges the editors of GUTS face?

Cynthia: I think our biggest,  most persistent challenge is that while we want to invest the time and energy that is necessary to broaden our publishing program, expand our audience, and improve our community engagement, we are quite limited because we have to divide our time between GUTS and our real paying jobs.

Erin: How do you balance academic work and the work of running an online feminist publication?

Cynthia: The short answer: I quit the academy! But I do still work full time in production at a small academic publisher, so there is a lot of work to balance. Involving more people who want to help with editing and promoting the magazine has made it possible for us to share our workloads while increasing the amount of content we can publish on the site. Having more people editing and acquiring content also means that we have more ideas circulating and more opportunities to work with new writers and artists, and thats really motivating.

Erin: We speak a lot on this blog of the tensions between vocation and remunerationdoing the work because you believe in it, and trying to keep afloat. How does GUTS function? How do you manage innovation and avoid burnout?

Cynthia: I think this conversation is so incredibly important! None of the editors at GUTS are paid for what we are doing. We are all driven to work this hard for free because its what we love and we believe it is important. And yet, so much of the feminist research and theory and activism we talk about in the magazine is very critical of this type of work. Were aware that its a bit of a contradiction to be a feminist project that survives on the unwaged labour of a group of precariously employed women who can afford to take this risk because of certain privileges. And while paying our editors and contributors fairly for their work might not be possible right now, its definitely a dream we are always looking towards. We recently started to pay writers and artists contributing to the magazine a small amount of money for their work with the funds we raised at parties.  Its not much, but we feel its an important step towards paying people for their work and attracting new contributors and collaborators. We have other plans to generate more funds, but its a learning process for us. Id love to talk more about this with you (and the H&E community!) 


Erin: What are, for you, some of the most pressing issues for feminists in Canada?

Cynthia: We have so many issues we need to deal with! Our conservative government has really done some damage in recent years. Some of the issues I find most frustrating and urgent right now include: accessible and affordable childcare models, adequate social supports and services (shelters, healthcare, affordable housing, counselling) available to women and trans people who need them, legislation that ensures sex workers rights, raising awareness about and preventing violence and sexual assault against women and trans people, inquiries into missing and murdered Indigenous women, raising the minimum wage, reproductive justice, support for independent feminist research, the list goes on.

Cynthia Spring edits and writes for GUTS magazine and is the acting production assistant at Canadian Scholars’ Press and Women’s Press. 

emotional labour · equity · faster feminism · righteous feminist anger

Anger: We Need It

There is a place for anger in feminism.

This statement seems incontrovertible. But what about this one?

There is a place for anger in academia.

It seems like this should be an incontrovertible statement, doesn’t it? But is it? What about feminist anger in academia? 

This is a blog that works to bring together, explore, and work in the intersections of feminism, gender, and academia. With that in mind, here is what has been keeping me up at night, not just this week, but certainly more so this week.



This week I have been watching three events unfold in the news: the ongoing strikes by precarious workers at York and U of Toronto; the discussions that are unfolding after conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith read Michael Brown’s autopsy as a poem at Brown University, and the jury handed down the shameful not-guilty verdict for the man who murdered Cindy Gladue.

They are not directly connected to feminism and academia, at least not at first glance, but I am trained as a literary and cultural critic. I can’t help but read these events through the theoretical lenses I’ve developed over the years. I am also a woman who (sometimes) works in academia, who lives in Canada, and who writes about women, poetry and poetics, and the Canadian nation. And each of these events make me ask: where is the collective anger?

Don’t get me wrong, there is anger out there over each of these events. Take, for example, the #ImNotNext hashtag that Indigenous women have been using to raise awareness about and gather collective momentum for a call for a national inquiry. Or the series of articles written by precarious workers on the line. Or the work of the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo. Oh yes, there is righteous and active anger out there. 

What I am wondering is this: where are the places where anger crosses lines and forms coalitions between academics and people outside the academy? Between people with more and less privilege? Between people who are “seen” by institutions and those who are not seen? 

Remember when I wrote about Sara Ahmed on the necessity of anger for not just the individual, but also the feminist movement to advance? She does this iThe Cultural Politics of Emotion. Anger, for Ahmed, is vital. It is vital for the feminist movement to stave off apathy, exhaustion,and isolation. Further, she surges readers to consider the ways in which anger is a necessity for a future-oriented hope:

If anger is a form of ‘against-ness,’ then it is precisely about the impossibility of moving beyond the history of injuries to a pure or innocent position. Anger does not necessarily require an investment in revenge, which is one form of reaction to what one is against. Being against something is dependent on how one reads what one is against….The question becomes: What form of action is possible given that reading? (175)

Ahmed draws on Black feminist writing and Audre Lorde specifically to think through the ways in which anger is crucial for the necessary energy to react against injustice. Lorde writes

My fear of anger taught me nothing…. Anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification….Anger is loaded with information and energy. (Sister/Outsider 124, 127)

Anger, as Ahmed puts it, is framed here as a “response to injustice; as a vision and version of the future; as a translation of pain into knowledge; and as being loaded with information and energy” (175). Anger, she writes, is not simply a response to the past, it is an opening up into the future. It is a means of moving forward out of what is without forgetting what was. “If anger energizes feminist subjects, it also requires those subject to ‘read’ and ‘move’ from anger into a different bodily world” (175).

Too often women are told that their anger is a waste of time. Of course, this devaluation and depoliticization of women’s emotions only increases if you are a woman of colour; especially, as Blair M. Kelly writes, if you are a Black womanAhmed and Lorde are not the only writers who extol the vitality of anger for a feminist, anti-racist, social justice movement, but they are two I find myself coming back to again and again, because they articulate so clearly for me why anger is necessary and empowering. 


I want to return to them today for the specific reasons I mentioned at the start: 


The material conditions of precarious academic workers.

Questions about racist, white male privilege, art, and (in)appropriation.

Canada’s ongoing and disgusting disregard for the human rights and dignity of Indigenous women.


Bear with me, I know these reasons are not coequal. They do intersect. They are, I think, legible together when read through my main argument: we need anger right now. As feminists, we need it. As academics, we need it. As humans living in this world and caring for other humans, we need it. 

These three connected but discrete examples remind me of the importance of anger for feminists as individuals and for the feminist movement in all its iterations. 

In short, these reasons make me wonder: where is the anger in academia? Where is the anger and outrage in Canada?


I mean really, where is the anger? Where is the out-in-the-street supporting-each-other-across-disciplines-and-employment-statuses? Where is the collecting-national-demand-for-an-inquiry-into-Missing-and-Murdered-Women? Where is the broad-scale, national-level use-your-tenure-to-speak-up-risk-taking? Where is the collective action in service of the academic mission as well as the publics on behalf of whom we work. 


Let’s not forget, after all, that in Canada at least most of us are working at public institutions. What is our responsibility? How can we activated those responsibilities in collective and sustainable ways that attend to immediate issues as well as long-term structures of inequality that cross the bounds of gender, race, and class? How can we use anger to fuel our work? And can we salvage hope in the process?  

community · contract work · faster feminism

Solitary or Solidarity?

I don’t know about you, but many of the events over the last few months have left me thinking about feeling solitary. Not loneliness, per se, but a sense of separateness, of needing to take time to think and process while feeling a little isolated in the process. I am talking about disparate events—stories like Emma Healey’s piece in Hairpin, of course the on going revelations of Jian Ghomeshi’s actions and the complicity (is that what we call and open secret in this case?) of so many, but also the Dalhousie Dentistry “Gentlemen’s Club,” not to mention the ways in which the administration has missed an incredible opportunity to take a swift and proactive stand on misogyny and gendered violence on this campus and across the city. I don’t want to rehearse these events, even though I feel compelled to write about the one unfolding on my own campus right now. What I want to think through are the ways in which events like these open up space for solidarity. Events such as these are also isolating. They create the need for reflection, self-care, and, if you’re anything like me, they elicit an almost inarticulable need for solitude.
And yet.
And yet, these events alsoelicit an urgent sense that I need to act. Now! Five minutes ago! All the time! These kinds of events also remind me of the need for solidarity, organization, and collective action. That word needalso reminds me that so often the collective action and solidarity require grassroots and ground-up work. People need to be rallied, priorities need to be identified and articulated, and actions need to be delegated. This kind of work is hard and only possible with a dedicated group of people. Those people are out there, certainly, but they are usually over extended. Take a moment and jot down the names of people you wanted to talk with when you heard about the Ghomeshi scandal. Or, jot down the names of people and organizations you think of when you want to address job scarcity and precarity in academia. How many do you come up with? Why do you gravitate to those names? And how many of the names appear on both lists?
Strangely, I found myself thinking about solitariness and solidarity this past weekend. I was at the MLA in Vancouver where I was representing ACCUTE as their Contract Academic Faculty member on the executive. The paper I gave was entitled “Making ‘Solidarity’ Real: Campus Labour Movements and the Precarious Worker,” which, with some theorizing and discussion of the Canadian context versus the American one, was a narrativization of my own experience of being on strike while precariously employed. The panel was about contingent labour and campus labour movements; I was the only Canadian. Indeed, 80% of the audience was American. So, while everyone in the room was concerned with the same issues, the means for addressing them were radically different. We spent the bulk of the question and answer session trying to hammer out the possibilities of cross-border collaboration on issues of precarity. Practiacally speaking, there aren’t very many.
It was an empowering panel, most especially because it was the first time I have publicly presented on my own experiences. My experience on the panel also reminded me of the sometimes-tense poles of solitariness. On the one hand, I need solitude to process. On the other hand, solitude can be incredibly isolating. It can, I think, at times compound the issues that evoke the feeling in the first place.

My question for you, readers, is this: how do you balance the need for solitary reflection with your own need for urgent and sustainable solidarity? Really?
empowerment · enter the confessional · faster feminism · righteous feminist anger · sexist fail

This life in sexism

Imagine this: you’re going out for drinks with fairly new work colleagues to bid another work colleague farewell, as they* are moving on. Lots of the people present have not met each other before, because some of the people present there have been in that work place for long, while others are quite new. So, you’re walking into the pub accompanied by men and women. So far, so good. When you reach the table, however, it’s all men, some of whom you’ve never met, and who get up to introduce themselves and shake hands with… the other men in your group *only*, while ignoring you, and the other women. All this among the usual banter, posturing, and performance of masculinity of the most patriarchal kind.
Welcome to the club. Not.
Ever since Hook and Eye has started, I have been a fan of reading the positive stories, the wins, the triumphs, etc. My thinking was we all know we deal with sexism and other kinds of discrimination every single day, so let’s rally around the good stuff, to remind ourselves that we can move in better directions. I still am.
However, since 2010, I’ve gotten older and more cynical, and to tell you the truth, I have lost patience with this type of effrontery. I want to pull an SNL-style “Really!?!” whenever I meet with this level of blatant erasure of any gender that is not aggressively in-your-face, homosocial-style masculinity.
My jaw dropped on that occasion, and I could not pick it up off the floor during the entire event. I had trouble speaking, and you already know I’m a talker! My jaw still drops every single time one of my friends tells me about yet another encounter with sexism of the nth degree, because you know what the cherry on top of this BS-filled cake is? We’re talking about academia. Where we all think ourselves high and mighty and feminist and all, but when it comes down to it, we pat young women on the head, and declare them “Charming! Like Heidi” or we withdraw job offers when they try to negotiate a living wage and maternity leave
So, let’s have an Expose Sexism Fest, Academic Style, and denounce it right here and now. If you feel like keeping it anonymous, send it my way at margrit at ualberta dot ca, and I’ll post it in the comments. Otherwise tell us what happened to you or your friend or “your friend,” and let’s expose this life in sexism.

*as much as I loathe grammatical disagreement in number when it comes to personal pronouns, I think that’s the way English is going (or has already gone). On the bright side, it does enable gender-neutral expression.
backlash · faster feminism · race

"Merit," Casual Racism, Gender Balance, and Snow Days

I guess the administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign takes as dim a view of the dangers of wind chill as does the University of Waterloo. Students there complained much as students did here, only a significant number of UIUC students organized themselves into racist, sexist Twitter campaign under the hashtag “#fuckphyllis,” Phyllis M. Wise being the Chancellor who made the decision in question. Scott Jaschik reports on this in Inside Higher Ed; you can look up the hashtag yourself if you want but I’m not going to link it. Buzzfeed has screencapped some, and put together an overview.

I’m appalled but not surprised that the perhaps legitimate beef about the closure rapidly turned to to gender- and race-based expressions of hate. I’d like to compartmentalize that feeling and direct it at “American schools,” nice and far away from me, but I can’t. Because Waterloo has its own casual racism problem, it’s own casual sexism problem.

Did you know that a common nickname for my instutition among students is “Waterwoo”? I’ve had teenagers as well as adults reply with a laugh when I tell them where I work: “Oh! You’re at Waterwoo?” Har har. It’s got an entry in the Urban Dictionary. There is hashtag activity on Instagram, and on Twitter. This has mostly flown under the radar, but we could easily have a UIUC social media blowup on our hands, and in any case, shouldn’t we call this out as the structural issue it is, rather than wait for a crisis to tut-tut about, where we can satisfy ourselves by disciplining the more egregious outliers?

We should probably talk about “Waterwoo.”

There’s some complicated intersectionality at play: gender imbalance, racial sorting, privileging of some fields of study over others. Waterloo is considered to be a STEM powerhouse: mostly, math, computer science, engineering. These fields draw a lot of really smart kids, kids who work very hard all through high school. This includes many Canadian-born and international “Asian” kids whose parents place a premium on academic achievement, and particularly in these fields. The entrance grades are very high: “Asian students” are more likely to earn these kinds of grades. These fields, too, are more likely to draw male students, which also leads to the well-known fact that Waterloo is among the very few Canadian universities where male undergraduates outnumber female undergraduates

You can see all these elements bubbling around the edges of a controversial piece by Macleans a few years ago. Originally titled “Too Asian?” but renamed “The enrolment controversy” after heavy social media panicking, this piece describes white, Canadian-born high school students picking their universities on  grounds both explicitly and implicitly about race: lower entry requirements, better parties, which some come out and say means fewer hard-studying Asian students. Waterloo features prominently in the Macleans “Too Asian” article–indeed, we have a dour and studious reputation among our own students, who both mock the more fun-loving (and white) university 500m down the road from us, and try to attend their parties. They made a video. Then the engineers made a video. Our public relations department also made a video, responding to prominent PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, an engineer who chose Queens over Waterloo, because it had more women. For him to date, presumably, rather than to provide a more diverse and concomitantly richer set of study partners. The Macleans article references American conversations about high grades and the “model minority”–see also this article from Inside Higher Ed about how white subjects in one research study tie themselves into knots to maintain their own privilege in merit-based admission.

This usually simmers below the surface: the videos get respectable numbers of views but don’t go viral; the hashtags stay in use but never trend; the magazine retreats from actually having the conversation it started; coded language reframes issues of race around “study habits” or “party schools.”

How can we talk about this, taking everything into account? I’m not sure.

I wrote a piece about the no-win situation for women in engineering. That piece addressed gender and field of study, but not race. We have more serious issues of threatened violence against women as well, that Shannon Dea wrote about here. And in the fall I also wrote about the constant stream of men whose reasearch was featured on the university home page. I did again make explicit that they were all in the engineering, comp-sci and math fields. I didn’t note that they were mostly of Asian or South-east Asian descent. The preponderance of STEM research is what struck me as salient, while the race issue totally did not. But of course, it’s all linked in one messy intersectional soup: the neighbourhood where I live is overwhelmingly white, while campus is much more racially, ethnically, and culturally divers in ways I appreciate, but which are probably owing to our STEM dominance as much as our proximity to major immigrant diasporas in Toronto, Mississauga, and Brampton paricularly. What the (white) students complain about are inflated entry averages and a too-studious atmosphere and “accented” teachers they link to race. I am concerned about the humanities being devalued, and about the gender imbalances. It’s hard, ultimately, to tease all these issues apart.

I wanted to mark these issues, here and now, on the hook of an American controvery, before something blows up here. Maybe we can have a conversation oriented to structural, simmering resentments, exclusions, and stereotypes in a more programmatic and wide-ranging way. Before something goes viral, before something terrible happens.

faster feminism · writing

On Violence: Call for Posts

Hook & Eye: Fast Feminism, Slow Academe SPECIAL ISSUE

CALL FOR POSTS

December 6 is the Canadian National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

On December 6 we remember Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewiczthe – the fourteen women murdered on December 6, 1989 at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. We also remember all the missing and murdered women in Canada. We live in a country in which violence against women is systematic, institutionalized, and pernicious: it happens on campuses, it happens in communities, it happens in this country every day.

This fall, we’ve had two more reminders of the importance of addressing violence against women. We’ve seen university students singing out rape chants as a part of first-year orientation. This September, we have also seen the Canadian government reject the United Nations’ call for a national review to end violence against Aboriginal women. Indeed, a recent study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives concludes that “Canada lacks [a] coherent response to end violence against women” altogether. 

With but two recent examples in mind we ask: what does it mean, in this context, to participate in a National Day of both “Remembrance” and “Action”?

This December, Hook & Eye will host a collection of posts that address this question. Posts might reflect on the the Polytechnique massacre directly, investigate the intersections of gender/violence/academia, and/or denounce gender-based violence elsewhere and everywhere. 

The December 6 series will be curated by Erin Wunker and Andrea Beverley, two feminist scholars currently based at Mount Allison University. We invite 500-700 word texts (in French or English) or non-text pieces (video, photomontage, visual interventions). They may be critical, creative non-fiction, fiction, or poetry.

Please send submissions to ewunker [at] mta [dot] ca and abeverley [at] mta [dot] ca by Friday November 22.
faster feminism · free time · popular culture

Popular culture, gender, and enjoyment

Encouraging things are happening in gender-progressive news these days. Germany instituted a third gender option on birth certificates in November: parents can now choose between M, F, and blank. I love the multitude of possibilities opened by “blank,” instead of having a designated new category with a name, or using the already-existing neutral personal pronoun. As a political move, too, I think it has more progressive potential than any declaration. Alongside this move, but on a different level of impact, Swedish cinemas have taken the step of providing viewers with ratings according to the Bechdel Test, in an attempt to stamp out sexism and promote gender equality. The Bechdel Test, if you remember asks two interconnected questions: 1. Are there at least two women talking to one another in this film? 2. Are they talking about something else than a man? If the answers to both those questions are affirmative, then the movie passes the test.

On a similar note, I’ve been thinking about my (scant) leisure time activities, and the way they allow me to enjoy myself. I won’t get all psycho-analytical on you and talk about jouissance or anything like that, but I just want to know and understand better how to make free time pleasurable, in a deliberately useless and guilt-free way. Isn’t that overanalyzing! But really: I’m so good at “making use” of my (again, very limited) free time, that I always end up making it useful for work, instead of making it into a break from work. For goodness’ sake, remember how I was talking about scheduling yoga, so I can stay sane, last week? What does it take to enjoy something for its own sake, for using free time as time away from work, rather than rationalizing it as “time for renewal so I can work better.” Really, that’s what it’s come to?

Here’s the thing, though, which brings me back to the progressive move regarding gender and popular culture in Sweden: there isn’t much in the way of popular culture that is both gender-progressive and to my liking. I’m on a mission to amass items that fulfill both categories, and while the latter is rather subjective, it’s usually contingent on the former: stuff has to not be sexist or, worse, misogynist, for me to like it. It also has to NOT be classist, racist, ableist, sizeist, or ageist. A tall order, I know. Also: it has to be a conclusive waste of time! It has to be something that I will not teach. Or write an article on. Or a conference presentation.

I might have found just the thing*: an Australian mystery series featuring a sexually-liberated (though decidedly hetero, so far) flapper, who emerged from extreme poverty, and became rich, “because too many young men died in the Great War,” which made her father inherit a large fortune and a title. After a few formative years in Britain and Europe, she returns to Australia, and uses her fortune to solve crimes, and support women’s rights all over the place. Phryne Fisher, Kerry Greenwood’s protagonist empowers women to take charge of their lives. The women whom she helps are not victims, so Phryne [pronounced ‘Fry-knee] is not a female version of Prince Charming rescuing damsels in distress Down-Under. Instead, she’s a stylish and fashionable woman determined to share her newfound wealth and improve the world for women. A veritable superhero, with perpetual shiny hair and perfect attire!

I’d say this series fulfills, and even goes beyond the Bechdel Test. Moreover, I refuse to make any academic use of it: I will not teach it, write (any more) on it, or even analyze it too much. I will, however, take any other recommendations you might have of books, movies, TV series, that I can consume and not use. What’s your popular cultural fix these days? The more guilt-free, the better!

*Thanks to Sarah Gilligan (@idleponderings) for leading me to this series!