being undone · feminist communities · solidarity

Surviving Our Questions

we learn from those who help us survive our questions by inviting us into their own

— from Gila Ashtor, “Two Girls2″

 

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I think maybe my whole life as an academic has revolved around asking questions, or trying to ask the right questions. But, until I read Gila Ashtor’s essay, I don’t think I realized that there is also, always, the question of surviving my questions. I didn’t know that my questions — the ones I wanted to ask and the ones I was afraid to ask and the ones I finally got the guts to ask — were something that I had to live through, endure, move past.

I knew that asking a good question, the right question, could disturb, unsettle, intervene. I worked hard at doing that. I tell my students that they should try to ask good questions. That such questions can make a real mark whether they are posed at the end of a lecture or whether the are the beginning of what will be a doctoral project or book or lifelong intellectual investigation. In this sense, I thought of questions, my good ones anyways, as something unambiguously good. And if they unsettled or disturbed people or fields of study, then good.

But I never stopped to think that such questions exact a cost and demand that a burden be borne. I did not understand that asking a question was also about testing my own ability to survive the act of asking.

I love the turn that Ashtor takes in this densely beautiful essay on relationality, Mary Gaitskill’s novel Two Girls, Fat and Thin, and Lauren Berlant’s essay on that novel, queer affect, pedagogy, and so much else. It is a turn that finds solace in a kind of doubled questioning: we survive our questions by learning from those who invite us into their own. Surviving our questions is all about finding a way into the questions of others. And those others need to be generous enough to invite us into their own questions.

Reading Ashtor somewhat out of context, I have been thinking about how to survive the questions that have been unleashed in the wake of the deeply complex waves of recognition and sadness and awfulness and solidarity that is #metoo and everything that came before and everything that will come.

What now? You too? Can we say the names? Are you scared? How can we stop being scared? When do I stop being so enraged and exhausted?

Who will invite us into their questions so that we can learn how to survive these questions? I thought a lot about this and, because I work in an institutional context, I immediately thought about feminist leaders, senior academic allies, women who will know stuff. But then I realized, yes, them (and how lucky we are to have them), BUT also: us. We have turn, more than ever, to each other. We have to invite each other into our questions.

And it is going to be hard and we will only survive if we can find what is transformable and be ourselves transformed:

To the extent that “history” is not only what “hurts,” it is also in no small part a result of whom we meet and what, because of who they are, we find transformable, and transformed, about ourselves. (Ashtor)

Let’s keep asking our questions and do it knowing that we can survive them because we have to keep inviting each other in.

academic reorganization · Audre Lorde · feminist communities · guest post · writing

Guest post: It’s Personal

by Marie Carrière

I am on a half-sabbatical leave from my university. And lo and behold, I am working on a book! In a nutshell, my reflection focuses on our present, or late, feminist moment that I call metafeminism. Here is how I am defining metafeminism: I find the idea ensconced in the prefix meta central to understanding this moment; it delineates the reflections and deflections of the several recognizable faces of feminism with which Western culture has grown familiar. Such vacillation of feminism’s tropes, waves, and manifestations is at the heart of my understanding of metafeminism.

But I want to slow down, and I want to write differently.

In Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks argues that revolutionary feminist theory – meant to inform masses of people and transform the societies we live in – is not, ironically enough, readily available or accessible to a non academic public. It “remains a privileged discourse,” hooks writes, “available to those among us who are highly literate, well-educated, and usually materially privileged.” This is more than a fair point. But unlike hooks’ work here, my essay cannot claim to address anybody other than those already with an interest in feminist thought and writing. I cannot claim nor do I want to pretend that the book I’m writing is not an academically driven project. It stems from my long-standing research into contemporary feminism, especially of the late twentieth century and new millennium. But I am looking to break with the monographic tradition that continues to render so much academic writing, including my own, relevant only to… academic reading and yet more academic writing… I look to also speak to skilled readers and certainly to students curious about feminism’s trajectories through thought and literature.

Of course I am not writing in a generic vacuum with no history. The French essai is a literary genre of writing that comes close to what I have in mind for my book. I’m not sure that “essay” is the most accurate English equivalent. But for now, I’ll take it, with a few qualifications. The online Larousse defines the French term essai as follows:

ouvrage regroupant des réflexions diverses ou traitant un sujet qu’il ne prétend pas épuiser; genre littéraire constitué par ce type d’ouvrages […] action entreprise en vue de réaliser, d’obtenir quelque chose, sans être sûr du résultat ; tentative.

This definition appeals to me. Not only does it help me understand how I might distance my work from the comprehensiveness of the standard academic monograph. It helps me imagine how a personalized (but not, in my case, intimate or confessional) academic essay might take shape and give rise to a different form of scholarly writing.

Simply put, how might I say I in my academic writing?

So “simply put,” that when I read out this last sentence to S., my 13-year old daughter, she replied, “It’s not hard, Maman. We learn that in first grade.”

What I haven’t yet explained to S. is that figuring out how to say I, as a woman, within the academy, even from a tenured, white, cis gender privileged position like my own, is not that simple. Although writing in the first person as a woman will not, of course, automatically produce more accessible scholarship, I still hope that in this essay it might give rise to a different form of scholarly writing. How might I say I in an academic book project and write from a place of intellectual feeling, of literary sensation, and of feminist care? How might I tap into what Audre Lorde describes as a “disciplined attention to the true meaning of ‘it feels right to me’?”

Ann Cvetkovich’s remarkable 2012 book, Depression: A Public Feeling is, unlike my own, partly written in the form of the academic memoir, laying out her personal struggle with depression. Of note is what I would call the metafeminist “rapprochement with legacies of 1970s feminism such as consciousness-raising, personal narrative, and craft” that Cvetkovich recognizes in her blending of memoir and criticism. As in metafeminism, there are in fact multiple sites of influence in Cvetkovich’s work. She also acknowledges the legacy of a generation of feminists including bell hooks, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Jane Gallop who have continued the trend of personal academic writing. And she harks back to the influence of a more marginal feminist confessional zine culture of the early 1990s.

And so, perhaps that’s the big deal (with affection, ma fille): I too would like my own personalized essay to be a kind of rapprochement to these different expressions of feminist thought. To recall a context closer to home, the fiction theories (or fictions théoriques) practiced by feminist and queer Québécois writers in the 1970s (Bersianik, Brossard, Théoret) and their Anglo-Canadian counterparts in the 1980s (Brandt, Marlatt, Tostevin) also serve as my models.

(A girl can dream, especially during a thought experiment.)

I discovered these texts during my undergraduate studies in my early twenties, delving deeper into them in graduate school. Bringing together anglophone and francophone influences has allowed this bilingual feminist room to dream across borders and boundaries. In a sense, these texts have been my feminist super-egos, my propédeutique to literary understanding, my entry into feminist ethics. With their blend of female subjectivity, feeling, creative reflection, and aesthetic experimentation, these authors started to write at an exceptional time in Québécois and Canadian literature, which I examined in my first book (a monograph!). Since then, some, though not numerous, Canadian works of more recent personal criticism by women (Lee Maracle, Catherine Mavrikakis, Andrea Oberhuber, or Erin Wunker) have followed in this vein. Finally, just as Cvetkovich’s turn to the confessional in her critical work on affect fittingly sets out to raise public consciousness through the expression of personal experience and emotion, my own personalized essay, like metafeminism, hopes to fittingly oscillate between various manifestations, or waves, of feminist theory and practice.

Further to the resistance of academic exhaustiveness in my adoption of the personalized essay is perhaps the issue of exhaustion itself. Attributing the appeal of personal memoir in criticism to humanities scholarship’s affective turn (Clough; Gregg and Seigworth), Cvetkovich entertains the idea of personalized academic writing “as a sign of either the exhaustion of theory or its renewed life.” I find the idea very provocative. But I’m also a bit loathe to pigeonhole theory in those terms. I refuse to believe that theory is exhausting, exhausted, or even exhaustive.

Theory, I try to reassure my students (to a variable degree of success), is just theory: a thought experiment, a set of principles, a string of ideas; it’s always historical with a material context, and to an attentive reader willing to take a few risks and work a little harder, it should be no more daunting than any other narrative. But I do think there is room for deeper thinking about why more open forms of theoretical writing, that draw from intimate experience and personal understanding, might be apt at this time in feminist, indeed metafeminist, work. I’m thinking especially of theory that draws from intimate experience and personal understanding, and adopts a jargon-free, intelligible, fathomable language. In what is still a profoundly scholarly meditation on the socio-cultural aspects of depression, Cvetkovich’s book, particularly its “depression journals” segment, is as personal and readable as it is intellectually engaging.

This work also falls in line with other recent turns to academic memoir, such as Maggie Nelson’s brilliant feminist “autotheory” in The Argonauts, at the heart of which she traces her relationship with her fluidly gendered partner, her experience of queer pregnancy, and her realization that pregnancy is queer. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s personal essay We Should All be Feminists, adapted from her TEDx talks of the same title, is in turn an attempt to free feminism from stereotypical notions that Adichie grew up with in Nigeria and still encounters in American culture. (And this is before that orange fuckface entered politics.) Wunker in turn writes, in her own words, at the “interstices of critical and literary theory, pop culture, and feminist thinking” in Notes from a Feminist Killjoy. She posits her use of the pronoun I as a personal and intellectual gesture of positioning herself, textually and socially, as a white privileged woman writing about feminism in Canada today. Most recent is Sara Ahmed’s highly anticipated, Living a Feminist Life, an academic memoir that Ahmed began to construct through her ongoing blog, feministkilljoys.com.

To my mind, these works are not exhibiting theoretical exhaustion. They are brazen, filled with admirable feminist boldness, as they pursue the more open forms of writing that may, from a neoliberal standpoint, be slowing them down, and that the neoliberal university may not be ready to fully acknowledge. But these are forms that feminism today – whether intersectional, queer, or oriented around affect studies – fully warrants. Given the accumulation of its multiple variables and directions, metafeminism, to hark back to hooks’ argument, “needs to be written in a range of styles and formats.” I would love to continue to see feminist writing that loosens, as do the works mentioned above, age-old boundaries separating the academic and the personal, or the scholarly and the accessible. I believe such efforts can address the need for stylistic diversity and enrich both a common reading experience and a more specialized scholarly one.

It’s difficult not to notice as well the early second-wave mantra of “the personal is political” being powerfully re-invoked by works like Nelson’s or Cvetkovich’s. Hence my argument that my book, my personalized essay is an attempt, my attempt, at a metafeminist form of academic writing. This project is also an attempt to figure out how my scholarly learning, which is always in process, can breathe life, or let life breathe, into forms of expression that fall outside of strict or standard academic norms of writing. Finally, and maybe this is (too) brazen on my own part, but could these personalized moments in my writing be a form of queering such norms? Through Nelson’s own take, I recall Sedgwick’s controversial notion of queer as encompassing various kinds of disruptions and subversions. “Queer is a continuing moment, movement, motive – recurrent, eddying, troublant […] relational, and strange,” writes Sedgwick, to which Nelson adds:

She wanted the term to be a perpetual excitement, a kind of placeholder – a nominative, like Argo, willing to designate molten or shifting parts, a means of asserting while also giving the slip. That is what reclaimed terms do – they retain, they insist on retaining, a sense of the fugitive.

Meanwhile, Sedgwick also acknowledged the danger of dematerializing the term through this removal of “same-sex sexual expression” from queer’s “definitional center.” As Nelson again adds: “In other words, she wanted it both ways. There is much to be learned from wanting something both ways.” (29).

That’s what metafeminism, by the way, is all about: reflecting and deflecting; having it both ways.

Writing about feminism today, at least for me, craves a suppler form than the monograph allows. One that’s less exhaustive and less exhaustible, one that’s fugitive perhaps, and maybe even queer. One that wants it both ways. To write, then, an academic personalized essay. To take the unfinished wave of a scholarly attempt, and to chase the tides of feminism’s first, second, third, and even fourth movements in the texts of Canadian women writers today. Maybe a personalized essay is the only form possible for an academic study of metafeminism. Vast and extensive in historicity as well as content, metafeminism encompasses what has been referred to for some time as feminisms in the plural; it denotes those shifting parts of sexual, racial, gender, and trans identities articulated beyond the normative categories of a very old and very persistent patriarchal tradition. Perhaps metafeminism’s breadth, multidirectional texture, and ambivalences, indeed its queerness, already resist the monograph – the highly detailed, authoritative, legitimized account of a single thing.

Perhaps only the essai personnalisé, with its open process and its desire to give academic discipline the slip, will do.

Marie Carrière directs the Canadian Literature Centre at the University of Alberta where she also teaches literature in English and in French. Her most recent publication is a critical anthology co-edited with Curtis Gillespie and Jason Purcell, Ten Canadian Writers in Context.
collaboration · community · feminist communities · grief · guest post

Guest Post: Why my feminist teenage daughter should not despair on the mornings after 8 November 2016.

This is a first in a series of posts about concrete actions we can post-US election take as feminists working in the Canadian academy. We need intersectional and intergenerational feminism now more than ever. 
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My daughter turned 15 about a week ago, and she is a feminist. I love my daughter just for being, and I love her for many reasons, and I also love her for her integrity and her passion and her bravery.  My daughter’s world, High School, is largely closed to me much like her room. When the doors to that world open slightly, I get a whiff of the misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia, ageism, and every other conceivable exclusionary sentiment that reeks in that hot bed and that structures the lives of teenagers in the western world today.  Into that world, my daughter walks every day and proudly declares herself a feminist. She wrote articles to the school paper on sexual harassment, sexism and violence against women. She joined a group advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people on campus. She joined an environmental club. She gets into regular confrontations with “racists” and “xenophobes” and refuses to allow them a free pass, ever. On weekends she volunteers with the public library youth advisory group and with Amnesty International. She is an advocate for social justice. Politically and socially, she is every progressive parent’s dream child.
When America entered this election cycle and my daughter took notice, she identified strongly and predictably as a Bernie supporter. She knew the figures and the positions, downloaded every John Oliver clip on the elections, pulled out a few hairs every time she saw or heard Donald Trump. But with a wisdom, or perhaps cynicism, beyond her years, she reflected on the irony of wishing for the loss of the first credible female nominee in the democratic presidential primary.  When Bernie lost the democratic nomination to Hillary, she was devastated. Then she did some soul searching and came out strongly in support of Hillary Clinton. She bought her autobiography. She became more and more frightened of Trump and of his America. But it was his misogyny, more than anything else he represented, that repelled her. She believed that Hillary must win.
Last night, like millions the world over, she went to bed defeated, broken, incredibly sad. In the coming days, my daughter will be forced to confront the aftermath and navigate her way through this historic slap in the face America has delivered. I can already taste her outrage: how could women, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims vote for Trump? But women especially—how could they?
I steel myself to field her questions and help her walk her way through the oncoming piles of discursive crap, with her passion and her commitment and her feminism intact. How do I acknowledge not only her outrage but more importantly her heartbreak? She is not only angry, she is hurt, betrayed by fellow humans and fellow women she trusted would know better, would choose differently. For she imagined her community: a community of well-informed even if not progressive voters, of committed even if not politicized women.
There is no doubt that the election results are frightening. Support for Donald Trump reflects an America that is comfortable with intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and other exclusionary phenomena. It also reflects an affinity for a brash irresponsible populism that is deeply worrying in the leadership of the most powerful country on earth. Hillary Clinton’s political history is troubling as well: ruthless and hawkish internationally, elitist and opportunistic nationally. Her career is sustained by incriminating ties to the military industrial complex  driving international conflict, and the banking and finance sectors and multinationals fueling rising inequality at home. But at the level of discourse, she presented a vision of America that was more conciliatory, less abrasive, discursively (if not economically or politically) more inclusive. There is value in that. And yes, it would have been a significant achievement for the United States to finally catch up with the many countries all over the world from India and Sri Lanka to Chile and Brazil who have known female leaders for decades now. For many girls and women in the US today, the disappointment must be crushing. In her concession speech, Clinton proved again that she could be articulate, wise, graceful and generous. Adjectives one would hardly extend to the president-elect.
Much will be said in the coming days about the need to reflect on the shortcomings of what stands—only in America perhaps—as the left, or more accurately the center right represented by Hillary Clinton’s democrats, and on the need to listen to the silenced majority in rural areas and non-coastal states. Experts will pontificate on Trump’s instinctual control of and affinity for the dynamics of reality television, and of the increasing tilt in American politics towards populism. As in the shocked and humbled voices that rose after Brexit, some will call for a deeper understanding of the roots of anger against a political system dominated by elites.
But what about the women of America? And what about feminism in America? Overall Clinton won among women by a margin of 54% to Trump’s 42%, a respectable margin but not exactly impressive. Among white women, however, Trump beat Clinton by 53% to 43%, and among white women with no college degree by 62% to 34%. Why did the white women of America not only reject one of their own, but give their votes to a man who openly and proudly denigrates women in almost all spheres of life?
Many commentators are thrown by the fact that Trump’s overt sexism did not repel women voters. Many women, many feminists, are today outraged, dumbfounded, unmoored, despairing. The results are mad, crazy, incomprehensible. I heard all three words over and over from friends as the results started coming in late last night. The words also dominated Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. The words dominate my daughter’s world today as she struggles to lift her head up and find her voice. I hope that the voice she finds in this cacophony of hurt indignation is not that of the enraged despairing feminist, but of the committed curious one.
The charge of madness is silencing and dehumanizing, and, as women especially have known for centuries, it is a handy patriarchal charge. The political act of those who voted for Donald Trump, but especially the political act of the women who chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, cannot be dismissed as mad or incomprehensible. If we find it so, it is because we are unable to comprehend, wedo not have the knowledge or the tools to read that act and recognize its context. It is because we, the ones whose feminism is fixated on breaking glass ceilings in Washington may well be unaware of who walks the grounds of the cities and towns beyond Washington’s radius, and the conditions that structure the reality and the imagination of those women who rejected Hillary Clinton.
And ultimately, it is because as feminists, some of us are unable or unwilling to concede that different women in different places and in different times have the right to comprehend their own reality and prioritize their own goals differently. It is because as feminists, some of us are still unwilling to accord respect to women who may code their struggles for justice in language other than that of educated middle class feminists. Women who may see their struggles against racism or neoliberalism or imperialism, for example, as constitutional of their feminism, but not to be subordinated in its name. Women who have the right and the awareness to strategize their engagement with the political spheres of their communities and country.
Many feel today that Hillary Clinton lost the election because she is a woman. We could note, and take comfort even, that 80% of black men voted for Hillary. 62% of Latino men voted for Hillary. I am not sure of the numbers but I would guess that the majority of Muslim men in the US also voted for Hillary. While gender may have certainly been a factor, for us to insist that Hillary lost because she is a woman is to reinstate a worldview bleached of race and possibly class as well. Only in a posited non-racial world would we discount the votes of the majority of non-white men and women in the US who voted for a woman. If we only see that Hillary lost because she is a woman, then we do not see those who voted for her regardless of her gender or because of it, and more importantly, we do not hear their voices, we do not consider their political act, we do not give credence to their fears.
I do not necessarily know what reasons the majority of white women who voted for Trump have for doing so. But I extend them the respect to recognize that they must have their reasons and that those reasons are varied. And those reasons may ultimately turn out to be regressive, or at the very least unsavory, even plain wrong. Perhaps. I do not know. And if I want to know, I should go find out. I hope my daughter tries to find out. Despair follows from incomprehension. We despair when we no longer know what is to be done, when every effort has been spent and yet no enlightenment has been reached, no change is forthcoming. We have not yet spent every effort to understand. In some cases we may not have even begun. This is not the day to despair. I hope that today of all days my daughter is filled not with a desire to drown out the madness of the crowds but the drive and determination to ask questions and listen and learn. For women, a lot of women, in the US, have spoken. As feminists, we need to listen.

 

Maisaa Youssef has a PhD from the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. She works in international development and her research is in the areas of biopolitics and social justice.

#shinetheory · academic reorganization · feminist communities · you're awesome

Hot Topic: How to Amplify Women’s Voices in the Academy

Last week a short article was making the rounds on social media. The article was about how women in the Obama administration managed to make their voices heard. The interviewees in the article noted that initially it was difficult to even get into the important meetings. And, when they did get into the meetings they were often overlooked. Or their ideas were not heard and credited as theirs.

Peggy accurately captures my feelings.

So they made a plan.

The women got together (hello, shine theory!) and decided that each time a woman made a suggestion in a meeting other women would repeat her suggestion while naming her and giving credit.

There they were: women boosting other women’s ideas and demonstrating how to give credit where credit is due. Think of it as amplification.

I love this idea, and since I read the article I have been thinking about how to bring this more deliberately into my practice in scholarly writing. So here is the beginning of a list of ways to amplify  work by women and other marginalized people:

Citations

I often make an effort to write two lines of argumentation into one paper. Rather than being confusing (two thesis statements?!) this is fun and political. Here’s what I mean: I regularly make an effort to cite friends, peers, colleagues, and mentors in my paper if their thinking is relevant to the work I am doing. I’ve done this since I was a graduate student, and I learned the practice from some of my mentors who thanks me and other students in the acknowledgements of their books. Now, I go out of my way to reference the intellectual work of women when I speak publicly and write. It’s my academic version of Le Tigre’s anthem Hot Topic.

Invitations
If you’re on advisory committees or in department meetings or have any opportunity to influence who gets brought to your campus then speak up! Bring in women. Bring in women of colour. Bring in Indigenous women. Bring in differently abled women. Bring in trans people. In fact, bring them into your classroom! Skype and google hangout are free. Departments often have some sort of funds for guest lecturers. Getting invited to speak, getting paid for your public thinking, and getting your work introduced to a new group of people is invaluable. So speak up and suggest names when you have the opportunity to do so!

Book Reviews
In one of my other writing lives I chair the board of Canadian Women in the Literary Arts aka CWILA. Every year we do a gender audit of book review culture in Canada and one of the things we’ve found that doesn’t show up in the metrics (yet) is that reviews matter in terms of how books and ideas circulate. You know: buzz. It is a real thing. And here is something I have found, though again anecdotally: there’s not as much buzz around academic writing by women and other Others. So pitch book reviews! And feel good about the crucial contribution you’re making to a richer, more diverse and representative discourse of writing happening in academic circles. Hype books you’re excited about (I for one cannot wait for Professor Karina Vernon’s book to come out, for example). And speaking of hype…

Referrals
When you’re in a conference Q&A or sitting in the department lunchroom talking to colleagues or speaking with graduate students and the inevitable “do you have a text to recommend?” question comes up… recommend with relish and enthusiasm and care! Reference diverse work in your lectures! In your conversations! And…in order to do this, challenge yourself to keep a current sense of new and archival work by to draw on. When’s the last time you had Mary Ann Shadd on your early Canadian Literature syllabus, for example? Or what about Tanya Lukin Linklater‘s work on your Performance Studies syllabus? Referencing and referring feels awesome and it is awesome.

feminist communities · grad school · making friends · mental health · solidarity

Healthy Friendships Within Academia

Departing from the Women, Academia, Sport theme for a minute – I am so not the person to write about such things, though the posts have been excellent! 

Have you noticed? There’ve been a string of articles recently about the value of female friendships, and how they supply alternatives and perhaps stronger bonds than marriages and romantic partnerships (or how they themselves can offer to straight women a different form of romanticism). There was this one in NYMag about a stormy “friendship affair” between two women; this one about love that sits outside of friendliness and sex and “both inside and outside of ‘family'”; and most recently, this one in the NYT about what friendships offer women outside of love (written by the author who writes about single women dominating the political landscape in America). Maybe this is following on the wake of Elena Ferrante frenzy (there is now a TV series in the works!), or maybe it just reflects a general across-the-board questioning, broadening, and even dismantling of traditional marital structures.

Personally, I have always been deeply reliant on friendships, perhaps because I do not have an especially large or close family. Maybe I expect my friendships to supply the permanency associated with family, and so find myself struggling–like, a lot–when friendships fade, when people move away, when I realize it’s been a minute since I’ve had a quality conversation with someone.

As I’ve discovered, academia presents particular difficulties to strong friendships.  This cleverly diagrammed listicle by Tim Urban from Wait But Why offers what I think is a stimulating system for thinking through the healthiness quotient of friendships. Consider this graph:

If you’re in the first stages of a PhD program, I would especially urge you to consider this graph, because these are some of the times when you’re likely to achieve the first-tier brother- and- sister-like friendships described in the Urban article, due to what sociologists identify as the ideal environment for making lifelong friends: “proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other” (generally associated with undergrad degrees, but I’m a late bloomer). At the beginning of a grad program, you’re taking the same classes, writing the same papers, gossiping over which professors are in touch with and available to students, or who gives minimal feedback on papers and holds office hours only by appointment. Together you are excited and proud to be enrolled in the graduate program, and eager to form new friendships that bridge the personal and the professional. Perhaps you hold area reading groups, language groups, writing workshop groups, you organize meals and drink dates together, and schedule regular coffees to talk through that final paper. You’re in the process of exploring yourselves and each other. You share hotel rooms at conferences and sometimes even plan vacations together, and you practice-test each other in the months leading up to oral exams. Together you build a uniquely generative and intimate intellectual community of scholars and buds.

Years later, when you’re still waiting for those letters to appear after your name and some of the prestige of being a budding PhD has worn down, when you’re unsure how you’re going to pay the bills the following year, when you’re competing with colleagues for courses and even jobs and facing the harsh reality that writing a dissertation is perhaps the most psychologically demanding thing you’ve ever attempted in your life, things change. The paths of you and your friends are diverging, perhaps in ways you don’t even realize. Sometimes, friendships end for reasons that are somewhat mysterious. Inherent in romantic relationships is an expectation that you provide some kind of explanation when things go awry. Not so with friendships.

So, if you’re an early graduate student, I’m here to offer you a couple tidbits of advice as you form bonds with the grad students around you.

  1. Be cautious when developing close friendships with people who tend toward excessive gossip or cattiness toward other people in the department. If you spend most of your time talking shit about other people, chances are the some day you’ll be talking shit about each other. I mean c’mon, Mean Girls taught us this. 
  2. Don’t feel you need to accept all offers of friendship presented to you. Is there something about this person that attracts you to them as well? Do you find him/her inspiring in some way? Or are you just feeling pressured to enter an academic clique? 
  3. Be intentional about reaching outside your institution and forming connections with other people, either at other institutions (if you are in an area with multiple universities), or outside academia entirely. Join a basketball league! Find an online community with shared interests or a hobby you’d like to develop! Take an art class! One of my favorite circles is the feminist book club I’m a part of which is composed mostly of nonacademics. In addition to ensuring that the sum total of your identity is not tied to academia, and helping you maintain a healthy work-life balance, these connections may open up inspiration and creativity in ways you don’t expect. And, with friends outside your department, the stakes are lower. I can celebrate my friend-outside-Fordham’s Teaching Excellence award with nary a twinge of jealousy–to which, let’s face it, we all fall prey.
  4. Be thankful for the lasting, genuine, tier-one and -two friendships that you have. These are the friendships that contain minimal suspicion and jealousy; regular, reciprocated enthusiasm; excitement and positive vibes. With these friends, you’re on the same team–and that is truly beautiful. Any kind of relationship that relies upon effort and enthusiasm rather than contractual obligation to enhance some aspect of our lives should be celebrated. And in that vein, why not pick up your phone and shoot off an expression of gratitude to someone dear to you right now!
#friendshipgoals
What about you, readers? Have you struggled with friendships within your academic environments, or found them to be generally fruitful and positive? Any advice you’d like to add?

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community · emotional labour · feminist communities · in the news · risky writing · women

From the Archives: To Build Sustained Discourse on Rape Culture is a Feminist Act

If you’re in Canada you will know that today marks the start of the trial of former CBC darling Jian Ghomeshi, who is being accused of four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking.

We have been thinking about how to have mindful, generative, public discussions about rape culture for a long while here at Hook and Eye, and our thinking is built on our identification as feminist academics.

If you’re looking to think with us I have pulled some of our writing on the subject from the archives, as well as one brilliant piece by Lucia Lorenzi which was originally published at rabble.ca

Lily, on silence, forgetting, and being at the Ghomeshi bail hearing.

Erin, on social media, slow academe, and building sustained public conversations about rape culture.

Lucia Lorenzi at rabble.ca on how the burden of healing is still placed on women.

Erin, a year later, on the how the Ghomeshi scandal changed her.

Erin, asking what it is going to take to have sustained and generative public discourse about rape culture.

Jana, on reading the comments.

Erin, on healthy communities and mentorship in the wake of public revelations of misogyny in Canadian literary circles.

And Erin again on restorative justice, social media, and why it is important that #BeenRapedNeverReported hashtag went viral.

And Erin once more, with an open letter to Rex Murphy about why language matters when we are talking about rape culture, racism, and systemic violence.

#MLA16 · day in the life · emotional labour · feminist communities

Radical Feminist Self-Care, MLA Style (Towards a Manifesto)

“So did you know that apparently all of us feminists at the MLA are passing one another packages of fancy face masks and holding beauty parties?” This came from Amy as we were getting ready for our first days at the MLA conference in Austin last week. If you haven’t heard about how ten-step Korean-beauty-inspired face masking is, apparently, the new radical academic feminist mode of self care, then let us catch you up. In an article for Slate, former Chronicle blogger Rebecca Schuman posited that a ten-step face masking regime, practiced by women in South Korea for decades, was emerging amongst academic feminists as a new form of self-care.
 
Her article, which now has a substantial retraction, is, we think, ultimately trying to advocate for academic women to take some time for themselves. But it made everyone in the room uncomfortable, and if our social media feeds are any indication, we were hardly the only MLA-feminists having trouble swallowing this prescriptive branding and beautifying of feminism in academia. The general response in our room was incredulity. As we talked about what bothered us, worried us, and made us LOL, we realized we needed to take our discussion public. So here, for you, are some of our collective thoughts around the claims that academic feminists need elaborate beauty regimes to practice self-care, and what our self-care looks like instead.
 
It’s true that there are times when “self care” looks like “self indulgence”–an extra glass (or an extra bottle) of wine, an overflowing bubble bath, a pan of brownies–but the two are by no means identical. What made us go “ick” about Schuman’s article was the conflation of radical feminist self-care with expensive, indulgent attempts to conform with normative standards of beauty–self-care as the pursuit of a dewy, youthful, white complexion–that are often harmfully sexist, racist, ageist, classist, and superficial. The straight up shill for Adeline Koh’s products, as great as they may be, was nearly as galling as the idea that women academics are focused on cosmetics at MLA rather than their presentations, interviewing, networking, and/or reuniting with colleagues.

While we are all for self-care, especially in the way that Audre Lorde talks about it–as political warfare–we think there is something a bit insidious happening in Schuman’s piece. First, it seems to assume a beleaguered female body as the only academic feminist body possible. Second, it seemed to suggest that is you weren’t following this regime, should you be fortunate enough to be in the know, then your fate was to remain beleaguered and haggard. In short, one of the issues we take with Schuman’s deployment of her argument is that she presumes a self-conscious femme body preoccupied with the coercive patriarchal norms that see women’s bodies as always already insufficient, less than, and invisible.

We agree that radical feminist self care at MLA is often necessary. We have very different ideas about what it might look like.
 
Radical feminist self care at MLA means surrounding yourself with people who support your work and career. It means generous professionalism. It means eschewing toxic behaviors of academic posturing and jockeying–rejecting the idea that academia is a zero-sum game–in favor of generating community, camaraderie, and friendship.
 
Radical feminist self care at MLA means self care as group care, as recognizing that caring for yourself can also involve the emotional labour of caring for members of the community that buoys and empowers you. It means building meaningful community with other women in early, pre-tenure, just-tenured, newly-sabbatical-ed, precarious, alt-ac, and other complicated career positions.
 
Radical feminist self care at MLA means calling out male academics on their bad behavior when you have the power to do so.
 
Radical feminist self care at MLA means sitting around a hotel room at midnight, with a bottle of wine, validating the shit out of each other.
 
Radical feminist self care at MLA means attending to your physical and mental health more than your complexion. Sometimes it means leaning out as far as you can. It means saying no to FOMO and yes to naps. It means drinking lots of water between coffee and cocktails.
 
Radical feminist self care at MLA means spending your money on All The Books–The Beauty Myth, perhaps?–instead of pricy beauty regimes containing snail mucus.
 
For us, radical feminist self care at MLA means rooming with a bunch of other meat-eschewers so that you don’t have to fight to feed yourself with the delicious vegan tacos that both your tastebuds and your ethics demand.
 
And you know what? Radical feminist self care in academia isn’t limited to the MLA.
 
We would love to hear some of the ways you care for yourself and your community.
__________________________________
My thanks to Amy Clukey (University of Louisville), Hannah McGregor (U Alberta), and Melissa Dalgleish (Hook & Eye, Hospital for Sick Children) for writing this with me.
 
{Editor’s note: we totally wrote this in our pyjamas while drinking wine and eating vegan donuts. Actually, no, we didn’t. We wrote it in Google Docs after the MLA, after long days at work, in our scant spare time, because sometimes radical community care means working together on a heart-piece that we really care about. But we did eat vegan donuts at the MLA. More than once.}  
feminist communities · you're awesome

Fangirling

Fangirling
transitive verb: to admire excessively, perpetually, intelligently, avidly, with all the feels
A few months ago, I met with a terrifically smart student to talk about some work that she was doing. She had been invited to do a really cool thing (sorry to be so vague – I just don’t want to embarrass her) and I asked her how she knew the organizers. She looked up and said, without missing a beat, “Oh, I fangirled them.”
I loved that.
And I thought about that moment again when I read Laura Fisher’s brilliant review/fan letter on Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. For Brownstein, “to be a fan is to know that loving trumps being loved.” Fisher beautifully observes, “Brownstein finds words for the particular quality of feeling that is love for the stranger who compels you, who has somehow formed you, and who may but more likely will not answer you back.”
I love that.
I love that for so many reasons. For one thing, and I guess this speaks to my essential nerdiness, I immediately thought of all the theorists and critics and writers who compel me, who have somehow formed me, and who will not answer me back because I don’t want them to. I just want to read them. I just want to soak them up and let myself and my ideas and my thinking be transformed by that nearness. It is no accident that they are all feminists. It is no accident that Fisher’s description of the “sensuality reality” of a being at a Sleater-Kinney show (“It’s a mass conversion. You can feel the crowd’s collective longing for a moment of mutual recognition, for any indication that its affection is reciprocal.”) brought me immediately to the intensely sensual reality of reading something that you know, just know even when you barely understand it, will change you.
Maybe you are falling in love – in the way that Eve Sedgwick has so perfectly articulated:
Oh, right, I keep forgetting, for lots and lots of people in the world, the notion of “falling in love” has (of all things) sexual connotations. No, that’s not what I think is happening. For me, what falling in love means is different. It’s a matter of suddenly, globally, “knowing” that another person represents your only access to some vitally
        transmissible truth
        or radiantly heightened
        mode of perception,
and that if you lose the thread of this intimacy, both your soul and your whole world might subsist forever in some desert-like state of ontological impoverishment.
(from A Dialogue on Love and so perceptively re-lived and related in Jane Hu’s poignant exploration of Hal Sedgwick’s devotion)
Fangirling is not mindless. Fangirling demands a certain openness to being “radiantly heightened.” To allow oneself to be open to, and to fall for, this kind of global knowledge is hard work. It is mindful. It asks that we let go of our skepticism and our paranoia and our desire to be too smart to fall into the vulnerabilities of a crush from which there is no return.
And, as this student showed me, it can be productive. It builds connections. It makes communities. It can make the lonely work less lonely.
I’m a fan. I hope you are too.
balance · day in the life · empowerment · feminist communities · summer

The Summer Round-Up: Everything but the kitchen sink

Dear Readers,

It is JUNE! We made it! The snow? Gone. The grading? Done or now in spring-grading mode. The flowers? Out! Conference time? You’re in it! And the possibilities and promises of summer are rolling out before us like a wide open road. 

Here at Hook & Eye we have decided to take some of our own advice. We are taking a summer break from now until late August! We’ll be back as the school year begins again, but for now we have several things for you to read, think about, and, we hope, write to us about when the mood or the inspiration strikes. 

First, a call for guest posts and faster feminist spotlights. Do you have an idea or an issue swirling in your mind that you think is suitable for our blog? We would LOVE to have you write a post for us! We are looking for posts that take up a wide range of issues related to feminism, academia, and work/life balance. Posts tend to be 500 – 750 words, and if you’re not used to writing blog posts I would be happy to work with you to develop your idea and get your post in shape. I’ll be organizing the majority of the guest posts again this year so please send pitches to me at erin dot wunker at gmail dot com. 

We’re also looking to continually diversify our roster of regular writers, so please email me if you have a person you’d like to see write for us, or if there is someone you’d like to see profiled in a faster feminism spotlight. 

To get you inspired for your summer plans whatever they may be many of us regular writers have jotted down our plans for hitting work/life balance … with a major emphasis on living life. Here’s what some of us will be up to in the coming months:

MelissaThis summer is going to be spent settling into my new job, figuring out how to grow the Research Training Centre and my career, and doing things that push my boundaries a bit–speaking about the York strike at Congress, teaching my first course at DHSI, and taking a holiday where I’ll be speaking solely in French. The summer is also going to be spent settling even more firmly into my now well-embedded writing routines and getting much of the dissertation wrapped up and ready to go in anticipation of defending by the end of the year. It is also going to be spent thinking about how best to serve our H&E readership next year–I’ll definitely be continuing the #Altac 101 series, but I also want to think and write more about the gendered aspects of career choices (or lack thereof) for PhDs. I’m looking forward to a break and to seeing you all again, refreshed and ready to go, in September. 
Aimée: I’m looking forward to rounding out my first year as Associate Chair for Graduate Studies—things slow down a lot in the summer, at least until Orientation planning swings into gear in August. I’m saying “no” to most things this summer: I’m not traveling anywhere, I’m not doing any conferences, I’m not undertaking any big home projects (other than weeding). I’m saying “yes” to sitting on the porch and writing and reading (and getting my book finished), “yes” to long walks with the dog, “yes” to more unstructured time with my family, “yes” to mid-day yoga classes and hanging my laundry on the line.
MargritMy year has been packed, so I’m leaving my summer uncluttered to balance things out: there will be some international travel, some more local camping, and maybe an impromptu road trip or two. There will be reading, and there might even be some writing—which I found I cannot live without, not after structuring the last decade of my life around it—but it will be unstructured and aimless. Overall, however, I want a flimsy, balloon-light summer to even the scales. If you’d like to check in, I would love to hear from you, too: find me on Twitter @Dr_Margrit. I wish you have the summer of your dreams (nightmares not included).
Boyda: will be spending her summer soaking up the rays and the often unbearable heat of New York City, feeling generally like a wet sponge. She is aware, however, that this may be the last summer she has in this glorious metropolitan center, so will make the most of it by scoping out outdoor film festivals, fighting for beach space on Coney Island, and keeping a journal of rat spottings. She hopes to visit her people in the Great White North at least once, and she will join that art class she’s been meaning to join for years. In terms of professional goals: she plans to finish drafts of two chapters of her dissertation, and is crossing her fingers about an article that she’s already submitted. She will also be preparing her job market documents and fighting off the inevitable anxiety induced therein. Will miss her online H&E community!
LilyAlthough my admin work does not really slow down in the summer (hello, undergraduate program with its endless needs!) there’s no need for me to pull out my tiny violin at all because I get to represent York at the Institute for World Literature hosted by the University of Lisbon this year. It is going to be unbelievably cool to be sort of a student again. I am buying a new notebook and sharpening my pencils! I’m enrolled in Debjani Ganguly’s seminar on “The Contemporary World Novel: Hauntings and Mediations” and will be part of the affinity group on “Postcolonialism and World Literature.” Umm… so excited.

Erin: As I wrote ever so briefly last week one of the things I haven’t felt able to write about this winter is the fact that I was pregnant. Being on the job market and being pregnant? That’s a post I think I’ll be ready to write in the fall… I just had our daughter twelve days ago. In fact, as I type this she’s asleep on me. Hurrah multi-tasking! So this summer while I will be working on a non-fiction handbook about how to be a feminist killjoy (SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS BOOK!) I will also be spending the majority of my time getting to know my girl. My partner and I will take trips to the shore, visiting family and friends, walking the dog, and introducing the babe to East Coast summers. I’ll be thinking about career changes and writing projects and all the rest of it, but not right away. For now it is all about my partner, our new kiddo, the dog, and the salty air of here. 

Hi from me and the newest Hook & Eye kiddo!
Let us know what you’re up to, whether you have an idea for a post, or someone you’d like to see write for us. And please, above all, don’t forget to make time for yourself. September will come soon enough. The work will get done. Make taking care of you and yours part of your daily practice too, will ya? (& tell us about it, because we all need reminders for self care as well as reminders that self-care is part of a feminist praxis and pedagogy).