academy · appreciation · change · community · faculty evaluation · feminist win · job market · thank you · you're awesome

To all the men

Right now, I’m on my sixth conference / presentation / workshop trip of the last nine weeks. Let me just say that if I never get on an airplane again for another year (barring the flight home from here of course) it will still be too soon.

Still, traveling and conferencing and workshopping is great, and one of the reasons  is the opportunity to catch up with old friends, with mentors, with former students, and to make new contacts. This latest round of travel for me has felt really strange and wonderful because, for me, it feels a little like a victory lap: I got on my first plane right around the time my tenure was confirmed, and as I had tweeted and facebooked and emailed my friends about it, word spread. Every where I went, people congratulated me, sincerely and joyfully. People I knew well, and people I hardly knew at all. That really made it real for me, and even when Air Canada lost my Congress-bound luggage and I had to present in yesterday’s traveling clothes (hilariously, on a social media panel, wearing a t-shirt that reads “I have tenure and I blog”), I still felt supported and comfortable. Well, as comfortable you can be in a yoga bra in public, without a belt to hold your pants up. (I don’t like to set off the metal detector at the airport …)

What were we talking about? Oh, right. Men and why I’m thanking them particularly, today.

What has really struck me, this spring, is how much of my career and its success I owe to, well, men. Men who have supported me, even when I told them our field was dominated by middle-aged white guys. Men who held a plum gig for me even when I bowed up one year, to give birth, and plenty of others would have been happy to take my spot, and keep it. Men who wrote letters explaining what I contributed to a collaboration. Men who happily agreed to explain how work in my field doesn’t look like regular English professing, and what it’s worth. Men–high-profile, senior, busy men–wrote obviously very supportive reviews of my tenure file.

I knew that the colleagues I had solicited to write support letters for me were awesome. But as I travelled around this spring, tenure assessors came out of the woodwork, eager to know what had happened and very eager to wish me well. Other interested parties made a point of welcoming me to the next stage of my career, expressing genuine support for my work.

We talk a lot here about women moving up the ranks and taking positions of power and influence as chairs or deans or full professors or even vocal members of hiring committees. But for a moment I want to recognize the men who’ve made my climb a little smoother, my ascent a little higher than it might otherwise have been. Starting even with the man who emailed me to solicit my application for the job at which I’ve just been tenured.

Thanks, guys. I’m impressed by your caring, and by your outreach, and humbled by your support. Now, let’s tenure and promote some more women so they can share some of this avuncular glory 😉

feminist win · openness · resolution · sexist fail

The Month in Review

If I recall what I learned in elementary school March is fabled to come in like a lion and out like a lamb. While I have vaguely fond memories of making construction paper lions and cotton ball covered lambs to adorn our class bulletin board, I also remember fretting: what if March came in like a lamb and left like a lion? Worse, what if March came in like a lion and left like one too?

Perhaps my grade-four self was already preparing for the academic life, where March in Canada equals not March break but mid-terms, final papers, and the downhill screaming roller coaster ride that takes us to the end of the semester. Or, possibly, I was just showing early signs of being a worry-wart.

March makes big, lovely promises. One step forward into spring. But March is difficult. Two steps back. Today’s post is a partial review of the month of March.

Last week ended on a high note. It is no secret that Stephen Harper has been no ally of the women of Canada. Among his administrations most egregious actions is the attempt to silence Sisters in Spirit. Inform yourself, and make the effort to get out and vote.

Mid-month we had a guest post by Shannon Dea that was picked up by and garnered Shannon’s post and this site more than 10,000 views in a day. Unfortunately Shannon’s post is about the lack of institutional attention given to a hate campaign that is being waged agains the women of U Waterloo.

There’ve been submissions to This Month In Sexism’s email account as well. Here are some of them:

-Recently the University Librarian at McMaster organized an important agenda setting symposium on the “Future of Academic Libraries.” Of a possible 21 speakers, in the initial lineup 3 were women – the rest men. Egregious in any context, but particularly insulting given that, according to CAUT statistics, a walloping 73% of Canadian academic librarians are women. Adding insult to injury, librarian bloggers who called out the organizers on the omission were accused of being disingenuous, “rattling the cage” and reverse sexism. You can read blog entries about it here and here (note the comments).

At a required professional development conference, one of our reader watched a male administrator cut off, completely misunderstand, and then talk over a female instructor who was trying to ask a legitimate question. The morning of the conference thing was devoted to administrators (predominantly male) telling us about their jobs and what they are doing to supposedly help us (but really, it was about how we needed to do better), and then the afternoon was devoted to the (mostly) female instructors (all instructors, not one of us on the tenure-track) talking about what we did in the classroom. Not one administrator stayed for our presentations. Not. One.

On the other hand, Heather has been writing about her experience of applying for promotion on the basis of teaching excellence. Read her posts closely, they offer templates for crucial, positive institutional change.

Further, some readers have found a moment to share some really positive personal accomplishments!

But then, as guest poster Katherine Binhammer documents, some things haven’t changed.

So where does that leave us? Putting one foot in front of the other purposefully, I’d say. Onward with a roar!
feminist win

Feminist WINS

You said:

  • My friends Maggie and Andrea, who will be or who are priests, who are smart capable and completely together women whose liturgical, political, and social work is about the radical need for equality in the spirit of Christ. Having a woman at the altar puts the lie to 2000 years of church misogyny about what women can do and what women cannot.
  • Not that it was covered that way, but the article in the G&M about Ontario vet school is, in some ways, a win. (What’s not a win: that this seems to be a cause for panic rather than an opportunity to talk about how women are meeting the excellence criteria.)
  • I know a bunch of women deans, full professors etc. Many of these are also out feminists (i.e., it’s not just “safe” women who are getting into these positions).
  • Back when I was doing my MSc, I was in a car with my supervisor and his two other grad students (both male), going to a seminar or something. The topic of his upcoming sabbatical came up, and he mentioned that he was staying nearby, working at a well-known institute in the same city where his wife lived and worked. One of the other grad students made a comment that if it were him, he’d go somewhere far away, like Japan, “to, you know, get away from your wife for a bit.” Without hesitation, my supervisor icily said, “If you’re looking to get away from your wife, perhaps you should reconsider being married,” which shut the grad student up. It’s far from the only time he’d shot down stupid comments from that grad student, and as the only woman in the research group, I was heartened by his consistent lack of tolerance for intolerable comments.
  • The Old Girls Network. It works. We may chose to call it ‘feminist networking’ because it sounds better but it’s the same thing: women in positions of power supporting and promoting junior women. I got a job because my boss picked up the phone and called my supervisor, a trick the old boys have been using for decades to keep women out, but in this case both of those boys were girls. And feminists. Let’s take over the academy one phone call at a time.
  • Universities with an optional ‘stop the tenure clock’ policy for faculty who take maternity and parental leave.
  • This year the CBU Boardmore Theatre, co-founded by Elizabeth Boardmore, celebrates its 40th season. Among the shows being produced is The Rover, written by a woman (Aphra Behn) and directed by a woman (me! – Sheila Christie). This production culminates a legacy of feminist wins, including an annual one-act play festival that Elizabeth started which provides young playwrights, including  many female writers, an opportunity to have their voices heard. Given how difficult it can be for female playwrights to get their plays produced, the Boardmore Theatre deserves a feminist win.

Have a great break, everybody! And thanks for being such loyal, smart and active readers. See you in January.
– Heather, Erin and Aimee (in reverse alphabetical order!)

      feminist win

      Reminder: submit your feminist wins

      If you’re reading this from the Maritimes, you’re probably dripping wet. If you’re in Alberta, you’re trying to stay out of the blizzard. North Carolina: y’all might want to rethink that no-house-insulation policy. And if you’re reading this from Sarnia, stop! You need to preserve your battery power until the army helicopters can find you!

      I’m guessing at least a few of you are reading this from an airport, where you’re waiting (and waiting and waiting and waiting).

      How to while away the time? I’ll tell you. There are just a few days left to submit your happy stories! Instead of running “This Month in Sexism,” we will run a post called “Feminist WINS” as our last offering before we take a year-end break.

      What’s a feminist win? You tell us! Same format as TMIS, but this time tell us what’s working. Point form is fine, personal stories are great, institutional triumphs always important – the only thing we’d ask is that your stories have something to do with women working in the Canadian university system.

      Write: editrixes [at] hookandeye [dot] ca
      Deadline: Tuesday 21 Dec
      Post to run: Wednesday 22 Dec
      hookandeye to resume: Wed 3 Jan 2011.

      (PS: Why not spend a couple hours over the semester break – or until your flight is called – drafting a guest post?)

      equity · feminist win · hiring · reform

      Guest Post: Pink Flyer

      March 2002: We invaded.

      Okay, we didn’t “invade.” We, a group of feminist academics in Canada, attended a large Geography conference in the US, “armed” with pink flyers.

      It took us a few weeks to make the flyers, which is surprising given that all we wanted to do was draw attention to the status of women in Geography. We decided to collect data on the number of women faculty in our discipline by scanning PhD-granting Geography departments in Canada and the US.

      You might be wondering why this data wasn’t just readily available. It was, after all, 2002. Wasn’t there data out there? Well, no. The sciences always seem to be ahead of the social sciences in collecting these statistics. In 2002, universities surely were gathering data internally, but no one had published discipline-specific numbers, not for Geography.

      From our data collection, we calculated some basic statistics on women faculty, breaking down data by rank. We wrote out some percentages re: rank and gender. We made some bar graphs. We printed them all out on bright pink paper. There was no mention of sexism or discrimination on the flyer. We merely presented the data that we had collected. We didn’t print our names or affiliations. In fact, until this blog post, no one has ever admitted in print to being involved with creating the pink flyers.

      Now comes the fun part:

      We distributed these flyers at the national conference. We placed them on empty seats in conference rooms. We handed them out to groups of geographers, chatting between conference sessions.

      The response was overwhelmingly gendered. Approaching groups of older men was always a hit or miss activity. A warm smile and a “Pardon me. I just wanted to hand these out to you” was met with pleasant faces. Then, once they realized what had been handed over to them, often they became annoyed. If someone already knew what the flyer was, I would sometimes get a very hostile response of “I don’t want that.” As if I was handing over something covered in dog poo.

      Okay, so right now this isn’t sounding like a feminist win, but it is! Even with some disgruntled recipients, it was a fantastic intervention. It got a lot of people talking at the conference. There were both men and women who were thrilled to see this data collected.

      Conference gossip (usually salacious) is often the hot topic at dinner and drinks, but that year, much of the conference “gossip” was the paltry numbers of women faculty. People were abuzz. What were departments going to do when they were presented with these stats? What strategies did people have for changing things?

      A few years ago, I came across an article from a geographer in the UK. He writes that in 2002 he attended a conference, and at some point a pink flyer ended up in his hands. He didn’t know who had created the flyer, but it contained some important stats about the low numbers of women in the discipline in the US and Canada. The flyer got him thinking about departments in the UK. His article then went on to present the data he collected and analyzed about gender and UK Geography.

      None of us knew exactly what impact our pink flyer would have or where it would travel. Numbers, while significant, don’t indicate what systemic changes need to happen in the academy, but, still, the impact at that conference was awesome. For me, it’s a definite feminist win.

      Bonnie Kaserman is an academic geographer and the author of (un)becoming academic, a blog featured on the Academic Matters magazine website (

      Adrienne Rich · feminist win · grad school · learning · solidarity

      Let’s see some feminist WINS

      So here’s my December 6th story.

      It was my second year of graduate school in the bewildering universe known as Stanford, where the sun shone every day on the matching sandstone buildings. The late 1980s were the glory years for raceclassandgender, even though most of us didn’t know how to think multidimensionally. In my feminist theory class, we were asked to analyze our families in terms of race, class and gender, and I didn’t have a clue where to begin. What is “class” under democratic socialism, as Canada appeared to be? Is “Canadian” a race? My bafflement only grew when a classmate from New England broke down under the impact of the assignment: “I never realized,” she said, tearing up, “that all of our maids were Filipina.”

      This was before the first Gulf War, which we didn’t know we’d have to refer to as the first Gulf War. Our politics were US Out of El Salvador and Divest from South Africa. Jesse Jackson came to campus recruiting for the rainbow coalition; ROTC came to campus recruiting for the CIA. My talented friend Diane used Madonna lyrics (early Madonna: we didn’t know we’d have to say that, either) to challenge George Bush (yes, the first George Bush) to “justify my war.”

      I felt my difference from all of this daily. It was super exciting, but it was someone else’s reality. I couldn’t put the “ultimate” into “ultimate frisbee”; I charmingly took the term “unearned income” to be an oxymoron; and even my disordered eating appeared amateurish by comparison. Well-meaning friends would say things like, “I keep forgetting you’re Canadian!” or, “Face it, you’re basically American.” What could I say: “You hoser!”?

      December 6, 1989 is one of the few times I heard Canadian news in California.

      On December 7th the sun shone again on Stanford, as it always did. I was walking insensate across the quad when Adrienne Rich hailed me. She was sitting on a little sandstone wall under a palm tree, alone.

      “Heather. I heard the news. I am so sorry.”

      I was shocked. I was not used to being seen. But I was also shocked the way you are when you suddenly learn something big. It was as though all that Stanford sun served to illuminate one single concept, the politics of location. Everything that Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, the Combahee River Collective, and Rich herself had been saying suddenly made sense. I understood the politics of location because Adrienne Rich, there on her little wall, lived it. She modeled a solidarity that informs my feminist politics to this day.


      I know that sounded like a middle-aged ramble across memory’s palmy quad, but it was actually a carefully crafted homily. How so? Well, what with December 1st and December 6th and December 21st, this month feels dark enough already. So instead of running “This Month in Sexism,” we want to run a post called “Feminist WINS” as our last offering before we take a year-end break.

      What’s a feminist win? You tell us! Same format as TMIS, but this time tell us what’s working, what feeds and soothes and reassures you that goodness (i.e., feminism) is not gone from this world. Point form is fine, personal stories are great, institutional triumphs always important – the only thing we’d ask is that your stories have something to do with women working in the Canadian university system.

      Write: editrixes [at] hookandeye [dot] ca
      Deadline: Tuesday 21 Dec
      Post to run: Wednesday 22 Dec
      hookandeye to resume: Wed 3 Jan 2011.