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.

day in the life · femimenace · style matters

Hey good lookin’!

One Wednesday, in January, despite my best efforts, I did not manage to shower. I wound up, at 4pm, at the local Fancy Pants Bar with some of my favorite colleagues, looking sort of like this:

Exhibit 1: Eye makeup never helped anyone write better.

And then I go to campus to pick up some books, looking like this:

Exhibit 2: Sabbatical sweater. Hood keeps the ideas from falling out.

 Let’s just call that first picture “January” and the second one “February.”

So I shouldn’t have been too surprised when, in March, when I was showered with praise by grad students and colleagues when I showed up somewhere looking more like this:

Exhibit 3: No, really, it’s still me!
Gosh! You look nice! Everyone said. I did look nice, comparitively, and it’s the comparisons that have got me thinking today. People, in general, treat me a lot nicer when I look like Exhibit 3 than Exhibits 1 and 2. A lot nicer. 
On campus, when I’m well dressed, people assume I’m a faculty member. Staff do not glance at me askance, but rather, expectantly. Professors I don’t know banter with me, or respond happily to my unprovoked friendliness. When I’m not so well dressed, people I know walk right past me, and look right through me. People I don’t know give me static: everything seems a little … bit … harder. They don’t smile at me as much, they seem a little suspicious. I wonder: is it because the no-makeup-all-hoodie look disguises my insitutional positioning? I am possibly an aged graduate student, or maybe a staff member who works so far back in a back office there is no dress code? Who am I? Or is it simply that I don’t look attractive?
Off campus, when I’m well dressed, I get free stuff. Really. Like a break on a taxi fare, a free pastry at the coffee shop. The bus stops pulling away from the stop, and lets me on. The clerks at the drug store are actively friendly. These things are not true when I’m in my ratty jeans with pouffy hair and pale lips. Maybe when I’m well dressed I look like I have money, or like I’m competent. Or maybe when I’m not well dressed I look like a middle-aged woman, and they’re not worth much attention or kindness.
But it’s striking, the difference. I can switch my ‘look’ (such as it is) from day to day, and the differences in my experience of the social world are profound and discomfiting.
On the one hand, it’s good, I guess, that I can smooth my own damn path in the world simply by brushing my hair and wearing pants with a zipper. On the other hand, that’s kind of offensive. I mean, I like to cute as much as the next professor, but it seems rude that people treat me less well when I’m in my Super Productive Magic Writing Outfit. Then again, it seems rude that people give me free stuff when I put on lipstick.
So. “Good looking” is a complicated thing, and how I look alters how the world and I interact, shifts my potential for action in the world. I can be ambivalent about it, but it’s true. I am ambivalent about it. And if I’m perfectly honest, I’m a little worried that the option to “dress for success” gets a little harder to access year by year, as I move from young woman to middle-aged woman. Maybe that will be freeing. I’m not sure. I’m looking for a day when I can wear my hoodie, and get my free donut, too.

administration · femimenace · intolerant shrew · politics · reflection

Idealism: the life of the mind versus institutional cynicism

I don’t know about you, but when I decided, back when I was several inches shorter and living rent free with my parents and legally obligated still to attend school, to be a professor when I grew up, one of the main inducements was this:

I would never have to sully myself with the concerns of the world.

By that, I sort of understood that most private sector jobs (my mom, I should note, was an elementary school teacher before retirement, and my dad worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources before his, so “private sector” was always sort of imaginary for me) involved worshiping the god of profit, which seemed sorta Glengarry Glen Ross to me, or maybe Clerks. And I always imagined this worship was going to involve compromising my principles. I just couldn’t square that circle in my head, of being a Nine Inch Nails / Nirvana-listening, nose-ring wearing, Salinger reading, Sassy subscribing weirdo social justice vegetarian eco-friendly feminist, with … what other people called “real life.” So I chose what I imagined to be the intellectual meritocracy of School-for-Life.

And I kept choosing it, because, as a bachelor’s then master’s then PhD student, it kinda is an intellectual meritocracy. Learning for the sake of learning! Taking the long view! Searching after (contingent and partial, but nevertheless meaningful) truth!

Even seeking out The Job still seemed to be the path of ideals: what is tenure after all but the guarantor of academic freedom, the heady amazing freedom sometimes to say, when no one else can risk it, that the emperor has no clothes?

So it has proven to be in my scholarship. I say whatever I want, on the basis of my critical judgement and careful research. I am of course subject to peer review, and rigorously held to high standards of enquiry. Totally fair, and totally awesome. And so it has been too in my public pursuits: public and university lectures, news interviews, TV punditry, national radio–I say what I want, on the basis of my expertise, serving no agenda but what I perceive as what’s right and what’s true.

But in my service? In my teaching? Hm. Maybe not. I’m a staunch idealist in these areas, too, but I don’t know if that’s what’s required–if that’s what’s effective, or pragmatic, or leading to anything but frustration and eye-rolls all around. Over my seven years here, I have both earned the nickname “Gosh, tell us what you REALLY think,” and been counselled to choose which battles to fight, to be more pragmatic, to engage in horse-trading, etc.

As I enter the mid-career stretch, facing more administrative work, and more important administrative work, I wonder: what is the place of idealism in the academy?

Was I wrong, in high school, to think I could do this job and keep my ideals intact? To not have to hold my nose and go along with something I think is wrong? To not lobby hard for something I think is right, and damn the torpedoes?

I’m no saint, nor am I omniscient. Sometimes I’m wrong–I’m always willing to change my mind in the light of new evidence or clearer thinking. But I always vote / write / grade / decide according only to my best judgement of what’s really right: I proceed according to my ideals, not any other kind of calculation. I’m worried, though, that being effective at this level means believing one thing, but doing another, in some kind of cost-benefit calculus where I play the balance of effects rather than the absolutes I currently hold so dear. And I don’t like the person I am when I think about doing that.

Am I naive? Am I avoiding the hard decisions? Am I being a Pollyanna? Or a priss? What do you think?

body · broken heart · clothes · femimenace · righteous feminist anger · sexist fail

This is not the female empowerment you are looking for

Well, the shit has hit the fan, gender-wise, at Waterloo. Again. Please go read the news coverage to know what I’m talking about, and then come back. Let me just say there are bikinis, and Formula One racecars, a dean of engineering, and some corporate sponsors.

Wednesday’s headline: UW shuts down student car team over racy photograph

Thursday’s headline: Car sponsors decry UW decision on bikini photo

My reaction to these stories is complicated. Issues of money (corporate sponsors, the charity), power (the university, the engineering faculty), academic culture (grades and teamwork and academic integrity involved in facility use), sex (she’s not wearing coveralls in the photo), gender (the discussion of expressing femininity in a male-dominated faculty), and even feminism (the university’s efforts at equity and at female recruitment and retention, successful or not) intermingle in ways that are hard to disentangle, let alone understand.

I’ve tagged this post “righteous feminist anger,” but I’m not altogether sure who I’m angry with. I’ve tagged it “sexist fail,” too, without being able to say quite who has failed.

Overwhelmingly, though, this makes me sad. Here’s why:

  • I am sad that this student needs explicitly to look for an outlet to express her femininity–engineering is still a gendered course of study, I guess, and that gender seems to be male. Having part of yourself necessarily suppressed every day to fit in can make you wiggy.
  • I am even more sad that this expression–this self-expression!–of femininity takes as its form the the most clichéd of sexualized postures/costumes for the pleasure of the male gaze.
  • I am sad that the shoot was for a charity: how awful that the best thing a female engineer can contribute to charity is an image of her own hypersexualized body? 
  • I am sad that if we’re going to celebrate our beautiful bodies, we twist and contort them (hip jutted out, back arched, breasts out) instead of showing their strength and power. By way of contrast, this is beautiful and strong together, I think.
  • I am sad that I don’t know her name: out of delicacy, her name is deliberately never mentioned in the reporting. Her body we see, but her name is veiled. Is this to save her some anticipated shame at being exposed, while we are nevertheless entitled to enjoy our collective titillation, on the front page of the paper, over our morning coffee?
I don’t know what to think. 
I do know what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominate field. I started my academic life in a male-dominated field–computer science–and I hated it. I felt alienated, and unheard, unimportant, and disregarded. Sometimes, the teachers made fun of me. I quit and moved to English, where I felt freer to be myself. How brave, how strong, do you have to be to stay in one of those fields? What kind of daily strength and perserverence might that take?
I also know what it’s like to be a young adult–a young woman–testing out the boundaries and contours of what it means to be a woman in a world where that … is second best. I think I was 25 before I felt comfortable being called a ‘woman’–it seemed to me I was more a ‘girl.’ It’s hard, growing into this role, this identity, this putatively second-best self. 
I know what it’s like, too, to test out the limits of self-presentation in this overdetermined body: in my early 20s, I went goth, and the bikinis I wore in public were made of PVC, paired with combat boots and blue lipstick. There were photo shoots. Did people stare, look at my boobs, make rude or lewd comments? Sure. And I tried to feel like I was in control of that. At 38, though, I tend to side more with Stacey and Clinton: people read you according to the scripts we share as a culture. 
Don’t get me wrong: I like bikinis. I like high heels! I don’t, however, see much empowerment in wearing them together, for a camera, while someone aims a gas-powered leaf-blower at you for that wind-blown effect. The clothing, composition, genre says object of the gaze, rather than subject of action. And aren’t we, girls reluctantly become women, finally ready to be the subjects of our own narratives, rather than the (leggy, nameless) objects of someone else’s?
bad academics · bad news · broken heart · femimenace · righteous feminist anger · sexist fail · solidarity · turgid institution

How we’re ‘celebrating’ International Women’s Day at the University of Waterloo

Today is International Women’s Day. While we have much to celebrate–and indeed, have taken to celebrating here on this blog–it remains true that women do not enjoy the full complement of human rights in much of the world. Here at the University of Waterloo, a recent spate of incidents on campus and online demonstrate that even on the campus of a research university in Canada, women are still the targets of hate for some, and, perhaps, not taken fully seriously by others.

This is a guest post by Shannon Dea, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, and Associate Chair of Undergraduate Studies in Philosophy, here at UW.


For just under a month, women at University of Waterloo have been terrorized by an anonymous propagandist who claims that women’s “defective moral intelligence” poses a serious risk to the planet. Starting on February 7, when student election posters for female candidates were covered by misogynistic flyers, there have been three waves of flyers (two of them attached to eccentric and disturbing email messages) and two Facebook messages disseminated by an author who has variously referred to himself as Lord Irwin, nath007, Feridun Hamdullahpur (University of Waterloo’s president), and Sylvester J. Pussycat. The rustic and syntactically idiosyncratic communications, the most recent of which was emailed to assorted students, staff and faculty members late March 1, have bit by bit advanced the thesis that women should not be educated as highly as men, and that universities should not teach gender equity, because woman’s deceptively weak exterior hides her evil interior. When women are educated and treated as equals, according to the propagandist, they pose a real danger to the planet. The poster girl for this campaign is Marie Curie, who figures prominently in all of the flyers, and is characterized by their author as the “mother of the Nuclear bomb,” as the “evil” woman responsible for the deaths at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and as the Eve leading a hapless Adam-Pierre Curie toward the apple of Nuclear weaponry.

Understandably, women at UW are frightened. The day after the first Marie Curie email was sent out, the student government (the Federation of Students) closed the university’s volunteer-run Women’s Centre and LGBT student centre (GLOW), out of concern for volunteers’ safety. And, rightly so. Both centres are obvious targets. And, while the propagandist’s misogynistic ambitions may not extend beyond distributing his paranoid ramblings, no one’s willing to rule out the terrible possibility UW might join the ranks of Polytéchnique Montréal or Virginia Tech.

Well, no one but the University, that is.

Throughout this business, the administration has had remarkably little to say about UW women’s fears that the flyers may be warning signs of a misogynist who poses a real danger to them. At first, the University’s newsletter, the Daily Bulletin, didn’t discuss the flyers, with at least one staffer there dismissing them as a “prank”. Then, when the propagandist sent an email in which he impersonated Hamdullahpur, the Daily Bulletin reprinted an official letter from the president deploring the offensive message conveyed by the flyers and assuring readers that the president wasn’t really the email’s author. Of course, no one had ever taken seriously the idea that Hamdullahpur might really have sent the offending email. This wasn’t the message the university community needed to hear. We needed to hear that senior administrators and campus police were concerned about our safety and knew that the only way to secure it was to devote all of their resources to apprehending “Lord Irwin.” However, in the various official communications since this all began, the university has remained limp.

In a discussion panel concerning the flyer campaign, audience members were disappointed to hear that the UW Police were pursuing the mystery man for charges of impersonation (of the president) and posting prohibited flyers. If they had any leads, they didn’t let on. Of course, I hope that the reason the UW Police are investigating misdemeanour charges against the perpetrator is that they know it’s important to catch him before he hurts someone and these misdemeanour charges are the best mechanism currently available to catch him. That is, I hope that the police are taking the incidents and the investigation more seriously than the charges they’re investigating would, in themselves, warrant. I hope that these charges are to the author of the posters as tax evasion charges were to Al Capone. While I hope all of these things to be true, no communication we’ve yet received from the University has warranted any confidence in these hopes. Instead, we get periodic reassurances that police are taking “appropriate action” and that all members of the UW community have the right to be safe and to feel safe.

Well, sure we do, but what I need right now isn’t a university administrator telling me “I really want you to feel safe.” What I need is a crack team of computer scientists – this is University of Waterloo, after all! – quickly tracing the emails and Facebook messages back to their author before he hurts someone.

Emblematic of administrators’ blindness to women’s fears was Associate Provost Bud Walker’s advice to audience members at the discussion panel that “You probably think everyone here is on our side, but there might be people walking through this room right now who don’t understand that women have a right to equitable treatment.” [Ok. Full disclosure: Walker has never in his life, so far as I know, uttered the sentence “Women have a right to equitable treatment.” But the foregoing is a plausible, if charitable, paraphrase of what he actually did say.] This shows just how wide the gap is between Walker’s experience and that of women at UW. No UW woman ever enters a public space on campus and assumes that everyone there agrees that she has a right to be there, and to be treated as an equal. As one after another audience member revealed in the Q & A following the panel, the climate for UW women is a chilly one at best, and sometimes it gets downright cold.

How cold is it? Well, cold enough that weekly flyers railing against the evil that is woman have become a thing here. And cold enough that, within days of the scariest of these flyers, the following remarks about the matter were posted on Bill’s Portfolio, a blog authored by a self-described UW student: “Yeah, the campus is full of big bad scary monsters…. Now, most UW students that I know are intelligent enough to know that this shit is wrong…. Yes, it is wrong, yes, it is inappropriate, but get a life if you are going to fuss and cry over stupid shit like this. Because if you do, you must be living in a sheltered bubble.”

Now that’s cold.

femimenace · women

Droppin’ the F-Bomb: Reviwing feminism and women writing in–and out of–the news

OK, first and foremost for those of you looking for Heather today don’t be dissuaded: we switched days so that she could do the Feminist Award Round-Up for women in the other academy.

Picking up–in some ways–where Heather left off, I’m writing today about the F-Bomb. No, not this one. I’m talking about feminism. I’m also talking about women, specifically women writers and readers, as well as readers of women writing.

A few weeks ago Vida: Women in the Literary Arts posted what is now being referred to as The Count. Simply put, The Count, compiled by Amy King, is an easy to read blue and pink pie chart that details the percentage of male and female writers reviewed in major (US) publication. It is hard to ignore the results. Bloggers have responded to The Count at the The New Republic, The New York Times Arts Beat, The Guardian, and many others which I will list (with links) below. The Editors at Vida have been diligent in keeping a list of responses, and have this to say about gender imbalance, representation, and the glass ceiling:

While the Count seems to quantify what many women have privately suspected for some time—that male writers take up most of the space in established literary venues in the States and in Britain—the much thornier question our literary community needs to ask is why. We at VIDA know these numbers bring up a complicated set of issues that deserves much more than a superficial response.

I became aware of The Count via Lemon Hound, a blog originated by Canadian poet and writer Sina Queyras and now run by a collective of writers including Queyras herself. Queyras also calls for a serious response to these imbalances. In addition to asking why they happen, she offers some very clear suggestions for women writers. (Go here for the full how-to’s):

1) An all women’s issue is not the answer
2) Demand a more vigorous and diverse literary weave
3) Make a path for female intellectuals
4) Don’t let the bastards make you bitter
5) The art of pitching isn’t hard to master
6) Biggen your ideas and aims straight at the cannon

I love these suggestions for their practicality, for their refusal to compromise, and for the their unwavering focus on women writing, or, as the case may be, not writing. For, in an interesting alignment of RSS feeds, the same week I read about The Count I also saw two posts on feminism. At the Ms. blog Paula Kamen posts what she calls her ‘(very incomplete) feminist poetry syllabus for 2011,’ and in Canadian Notes and Queries Nicole Dixon writes about “The Other F-Word: The Disappearance of Feminism From Our Fiction.” Kamen’s post is about creating a feminist poetry reading list for herself because she “realized last weekend that I owe it to myself to finally update my poetry knowledge past the Reagan years–and make a new, admittedly very incomplete, syllabus for myself for 2011.” Dixon’s is both a critique of the waning feminist movement in Canada, and a critique of the dearth of feminist writing published by mainstream presses. Here’s an excerpt from the opening of Dixon’s article:

“Two months before Canada was to host the G8 and G20 leaders in Toronto, Conservative senator Nancy Ruth told women’s equality rights groups to “shut the fuck up” about abortion. Of greater concern than the fact that Ruth, a self-proclaimed, pro-choice feminist, would make such threatening comments, was the little reaction they garnered and their seeming lack of consequence. Obedient Canadians that we are, we did shut the fuck up about abortion. An anti-Ruth Facebook campaign fizzled out, and only a handful of bloggers complained. That’s because, in 2010, “feminism” is a more incendiary f-bomb than “fuck.” Except on the few university campuses that have yet to rebrand or discontinue Women’s Studies courses, feminism has almost disappeared from not only our conversations, but also from our literature, particularly long-form fiction.”

While I take some issue with parts of Dixon’s article I read her central point as both a Canadian corollary to The Count, and an incisive call that might well be picked up by following some of Queyras’s suggestions. Moreover, I noticed that both Dixon and Kamen drop the f-bomb–feminist–while Vida and Queyras don’t. Let me pause and say that I don’t think this is a problem per se: Vida is calling attention to inequalities happening to women who may or may not call themselves feminists, and Queyras is calling for women to write, to rattle the bars, and to make way for themselves and other women. The point here is that while dropping the f-bomb isn’t a new issue, it is still a pressing and a present one.

I am a feminist. I teach feminist theory, poetry and poetics, and I practice consciousness-raising as a pedagogical method. I am learning, also, to pluck up my courage and create or join networks. But I *do* have trouble when it comes to writing. I’m only just learning how to pitch ideas instead of waiting for that mystical day when someone approaches me and asks for my opinion. And yes, I do really often feel like there are smarter folk in the room than me. I’m loving working on making way for other female intellectuals though (ask me about a conference I’m planing!)

When is the last time you dropped the F-bomb? Where is the feminist movement in Canada–or your context– in your experience? Big questions, yes, but ones that require big conversations as well.

List of responses to The Count compiled by Vida:
Articles on The Count

1.) The Lack of Female Bylines in Magazines Is Old News – Katha Pollitt @ Slate

2.) Being Female — Eileen Myles @ The Awl

3.) How To Publish Women Writers: A Letter to Publishers about the VIDA Count — Annie Finch @ Her Circle

4.) ‘Numbers don’t lie’: Addressing the gender gap in literary publishing — Jessa Crispin @ PBS

5.) On breaking the literary glass ceiling — Jessa Crispin and Michael Schaub @ PBS

6.) Why There’s Gender Bias in Media-and What We Can Do About It — Margot Magowan @ MS. Magazine

7.) Women in Publishing: What’s the Real Story? — Kjerstin Johnson @ Bitch Magazine

8.) Women Get Published and Reviewed Less Than Men in Big Magazines, Say Red-and-Blue Pie Charts — Jim Behrle @ The Hairpin

9.) Bitches Be Trippin’ — Roxane Gay @ HTML Giant

10.) The Sorry State Of Women At Top Magazines — Anna North @ Jezebel

11.) Gender, publishing, and Poetry magazine — Christian Wiman @ Poetry Foundation

12.) VIDA: The Count Roundup @ The Rumpus

13.) Why It Matters That Fewer Women Are Published in Literary Magazines — Robin Romm @ Double X

14.) Women at Work — Meghan O’Rourke @ Slate

15.) The Numbers Speak For Themselves @ Women and Hollywood

16.) Do četiri puta manje tekstova žena! — BROJKE NE LAŽU @ Kultura (in Croatian)

17.) Submitting Work: A Woman’s Problem? — Becky Tuch @ Beyond the Margins

18.) On Gender, Numbers, & Submissions — Rob @ Tin House

19.) A Literary Glass Ceiling? — Ruth Franklin @ The New Republic

20.) Research shows male writers still dominate books world — Benedicte Page @ The Guardian

21.) Gender Balance and Book Reviewing: A New Survey Renews The Debate — Patricia Cohen @ New York Times Arts Beat

22.) Tickets to an Awesome Future Are Free: Gender, Literature, and VIDA’s Count — Carolyn Zaikowski

femimenace · ideas for change · you're awesome

If I May Be So Bold …

How valuable is your scholarship? How much do your ideas contribute to knowledge about the world, about one small part of it, about the small part of it concerned with Milton’s poetics? Are you an expert?

Try this (say it with me): “My work has value; my ideas are interesting and my research is thorough. I know my field very well. My ideas add something new to the conversation. I am an expert on [X].”

Was that really hard? Awkward? Maybe, in fact, actually painful?

I work in contemporary digital media studies–stuff like blogs, and Twitter, and Facebook, and YouTube, and media design. Issues I research are in the news all. the. time. And in the news, there’s always some professor opining on privacy in the digital age, on social media in municipal political campaigns, on ‘kids these days’ and their dumbass online behaviours. Usually, that professor is someone who is not me, and you can ask my husband what I do when I see this: there’s usually a smacking of the newspaper page, a shout of “I read that guy!”, and then briefly “why why why don’t they call me?” which is immediately followed by (can you see this coming?) …

I’m not worthy. My scholarship is lame and no one reads it. I’m not important enough. I’m dumb. I should just quit right now and crawl in a hole and eat some worms and then self-flagellate.


I was listening this summer to Brooke Gladstone interview new media scholar and pundit Clay Shirky on On The Media on the question of the lack of women doing precisely these kinds of interviews in popular media [transcript here!]. He said this: “Women put each other forward, men put women forward, men put themselves forward. Women never put themselves forward” for media notice.

Then he said this: “I think the concern for how other people think about you is one of the sources of essentially work paralysis among women [….] One of the big skills is to be able to do what you want to do without caring what other people think.”

I’ve been thinking really hard about this for a couple of months now. Earlier this week, screwing up my courage, I wrote an email to a national radio show and told them that they should put me on their [virtual] Rolodex. I told them that my work was innovative and valuable and that I’m fun to talk to and that I have skills at making scholarship interesting to a general audience.

Then I blamed Clay Shirky for my forwardness, in a kind of cop-out. Because it made my skin crawl to be so forward.

You know what? They emailed me back within two hours, told me they’re always looking for better gender representation (remember, I work on digital media). They said they’ll call. They thanked me for reaching out. They thanked me. I almost passed out.

That was really hard to do. And it’s hard to even tell you about it, because I feel like a self-aggrandizing jerk. I feel I will be judged, as Brooke Gladstone suggested to Shirky, like women tend to be: “[You] have to acknowledge the fact that when women put themselves out there, they’re called ‘biatches.’ The word ‘shrill’ is applied to them. They are not called ‘leaders.’ They are not called ‘strong.'”

Do you hide your light under a bushel, dear reader? Maybe you work on cycle plays, and there’s not a lot of media calls for that. But when the university is looking for someone to participate in a lecture series in honour of a big anniversary, do you put yourself forward? When you get something published, do you make sure your colleagues know? Maybe there’s a brag-board in your department: are you on it? Or more simply, when someone asks you about your work, do you tell them your big idea, or do you tell them everything you think is wrong or inadequate about it?

Increasingly, I think, this is a world in which good things come to people who go out and get them. Toiling in obscurity hoping to one day have your obscure labours rewarded or even simply recognized is … well, it’s not likely. Talking yourself down in the hope that someone might correct you is a self-defeating strategy.

Maybe you don’t want to be on TV, or interviewed on the radio. I understand my dreams of a total takeover of CBC, one talking-head interview at a time, are perhaps not universally shared. But I’m sure you do want your work to be read, to have an impact. Otherwise, why do it at all? Is there something you can do to make that impact more likely, to shine your light for all to see?

If we can’t talk ourselves aggressively up, do you think we might manage to stop talking ourselves down?