adjuncts · after the LTA · contract work · ideas for change · media · reform

CAF Bits & Bobs

In lieu of an essay-style post today, I have a request. If you’re a contingent academic faculty member and you haven’t yet taken the HEQCO survey, please head over to their site and fill it out. It’s a little thing, but policy makers are looking to find out what needs fixing, and you’re the ones to tell them. The survey can be found at http://www.nonfulltimefacultysurvey.ca/

And if you’ve missed them, Erin now has four articles in her series on CAF over at Rabble. Check ’em out here: http://rabble.ca/category/bios/erin-wunker

guest post · media

Guest post: Life Chiasmus! How Smart You Are vs. How You Are Smart

Today’s guest post is from Victoria Leenders-Cheng. Thanks, Victoria!
_______________________________________

This fall, I appeared on a CBC television show called Canada’s Smartest Person.
Here is a description of the show, from the website:

CANADA’S SMARTEST PERSON is a new television series that redefines what it means to be smart. We’ll shatter the myth that to be smart you need to have a high IQ, be a math whiz or trivia buff. Every week four new hopefuls battle it out in front of a live studio audience in six categories of smarts: musical, physical, social, logical, visual and linguistic. In the series finale eight finalists will go head to head to earn the title!
CANADA’S SMARTEST PERSON: It’s not how smart you are; it’s how you are smart.
You might have heard of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, on which this TV show is based. It tries to move assessments of intelligence away from traditional tests towards seven different measures (musical, physical, logical, visual, inter and intra-personal, and linguistic). Of course, when packaged for television, the theory loses some of its nuance.
During my qualification episode, we did speed math, puzzles, and a social intelligence challenge where we had to recognize micro expressions – that is, look at pictures of people’s eyes and guess what they were feeling. We also did a choreographed dance and an obstacle course with five challenges lined up one after the other.
I won my episode, meaning that I went on to compete in the grand finale, featuring, in the show’s bombastic terms, the eight smartest people in Canada. (There is no prize of any kind for winning, in case you are wondering. Just a title and bragging rights.) To my great surprise, when I walked into the studio for the first day of taping for the grand finale, I found myself staring at seven men.
I was the only woman to have made the finals. 
The show received almost 4,500 applications (mostly self-nominated, mostly men), which they whittled down to 32 participants. Of those 32, almost half were women. What happened along the way to eliminate all the women but one? Or was it just a coincidence and was I making too big a deal out of it? I’m still not sure I have the answer to those questions.
But here’s the thing. Women are underrepresented in domains ranging from entertainment, corporate environments (executive suite and boardroom alike), in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – fields, and in academia more generally. As a feminist studying human systems, I see my Canada’s Smartest Person experience, and my presence as the only woman in the finals, as a signal to examine this phenomenon.
Another aspect of my participation that made me uncomfortable was how the show dubbed me the “every woman,” the woman with a family and job and exciting life showing that you can have and do it all.
A friend of mine who got her PhD from Harvard and is now a tenure-track professor and trying to figure out how to juggle career, family, and partner, while fending off societal pressure, heard this every woman description and sighed, “Is this where we are now? Is this the new feminism?”
I agree with her. When and how can we stop buying into models of achievement and fulfillment that make each other feel inadequate??
Again to quote the show:
Canada’s Smartest Person is igniting a national conversation about what it means to be smart.
I want Canada’s Smartest Person to ignite conversations about what it means to be a woman, about why women keep showing up in lower numbers in so many domains, and what it means to be a woman in a public environment with power dynamics established by our media and corporate agendas. As some people have been saying for decades, the personal is the political; arguably, the personal is the political is also the professional.
It’s all fine and good to talk, but we also need to act, or, as Sheryl Sandberg says, to the dismay of many feminists, we need to lean in.
What is perhaps most disappointing about Sandberg and Arianna Huffington and other powerful female icons of conventional success, is that they don’t seem to acknowledge the role that wealth has played in their own accomplishments. Financial security provides peace of mind and access to more options and opportunities; not every woman has this privilege.
But some things in life cost ‘nothing more’ than your sense of self; that is, the price of admission is psychological – you simply need to be willing to put yourself on the line:
       To relinquish some control over the conditions of your own success (knowing that many of the conditions are out of your control anyway);
       To potentially be or feel judged based on the most random of traits – weight, intelligence, motives, personality, appearance, etc. – and to be able to ignore those judgments when they are erroneous or irrelevant;
       To confront and dismantle the fear that people will “discover that you are a fraud;” (when I lost in the finale with the lowest score, it triggered every single insecurity I had about being an imposter – this has probably been the hardest thing about the experience)
       To advocate and believe in yourself with the understanding that nobody is perfect – if you aren’t athletic, fine; if your house is messy, who cares; if, like me, you are a terrible cook, embrace the disaster of your efforts. If you don’t like math, though, I strongly suggest you learn to like math…!
       And then, ultimately, to figure out what you really want to do and do it.
As journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman argue in The Confidence Gap, men do many of the above without a second’s hesitation.
I know the points I raise here have been raised many times over but I want the conversation to continue, with humour and with love. I don’t want either men or women to feel blamed but I do want everyone to feel implicated: we are all responsible for asking ourselves the hard questions. I want, and on some days, I even dare to hope, for more.
I may have been the only woman on the finale of Canada’s Smartest Person this year, but if the show goes to a second season, I hope to see many of you out there.

Here I am on the finale…
…and here I am watching myself on television.


_______________________________________________________

Victoria Leenders-Cheng is the communications officer for the Faculty of Law at McGill and a master’s student in the Human Systems Intervention program at Concordia University. Find her on Twitter: @vleenderscheng
media · reflection · silence

Forgetting, Silence, and Being at the Ghomeshi Bail Hearing

Today’s post is the second from our several-times-a-semester blogger Lily Cho
_________________________________________________________________
I cut about a third of this blog post about an hour after I wrote it. I was reminded that there was a publication ban on the Ghomeshi bail hearing. I looked at the relevant section of the Criminal Code. It’s pretty broad. Just to err on the side of being safe, I’ve decided to edit out a few things. But that in itself seems significant in a blog post that is about silence, its uses, and its power. Recently, Denise Balkissoon argued that publication bans might not be such a good idea after all. She’s got a point, but maybe we need to find a way for silence, and anonymity, to have more power.
But let me start again by going back a few days. Last Wednesday I was supposed to have lunch with my friend Emma. I texted her in the morning to see if she still wanted to meet up. She did. But then she suggested that maybe we should drop into Jian Ghomeshi’s bail hearing instead. Because Emma is a brilliant criminal lawyer and seems to know every one at various courthouses around town, this shouldn’t such a surprising suggestion. At that point, I didn’t even know he had been arrested. Of course, by the end of the day, we had all heard the news, seen the courtroom drawings, and read multiple versions of the hearings.
Lunch? Or celebrity bail hearing? Happily, I didn’t have to choose.
The rumour seemed to be that the hearing would happen around 2pm. But then it was moved up. I got out of the subway station and noticed I had missed a string of texts from Emma.
Don’t worry. I happened to be nearby. I had planned to spend the morning marking papers at one of my secret downtown hangouts (a place with excellent free wifi, perfect level of ambient noise, terrific public washrooms and no, I’m sorry, I’m not sharing). As I walked over to the courthouse, I was passed by news vans and a handful of very well-coiffed folks running past me. I haven’t watched tv news in years, but if I had to randomly pick people who looked like tv news reporters, I think they would have looked like all those people scrambling past me.   
By the time I cleared security at the courthouse, there was a long line outside the door of the courtroom and various news crews were busy setting up. I couldn’t help but think that one’s place in line signaled one’s level of access to information. Emma had saved me a premium place in line.
And then we waited for a while. The atmosphere was a little giddy and festive but I think a lot of us felt a bit badly about it. It didn’t seem quite right. And we waited some more.
When the doors opened, one’s place in line really did matter. The courtroom is small. There were three rows of seating for the public on either side of the room. Each bench could hold ten or twelve people. When there was no more room, the police closed the doors. I’m pretty sure there were quite a few people outside who were disappointed. For a brief moment, I felt a bit bad about taking up a seat since I was really there for no good reason at all. And then I just stayed put.
I’m sure you have all read the news reports about the hearing so you know about all the newsworthy things that went down – what he was charged with, the amount that bail was set for, that he has to live with his mom.
It’s been a few days since that event and I keep waiting for someone to report on the other things that happened that in the hearing. It seemed as though almost every person around me on those benches was a journalist of some kind. Everyone seemed to be taking notes. Many people were typing into their phones. Some of them were obviously live blogging the whole thing. So I just assumed that everything there was to say about the hearing has been said.
But let me tell you about one thing that hasn’t come up. When the Justice Rutherford turned to address Ghomeshi, his lawyer got up from behind the defense attorney’s table, walked past several Toronto police officers, and stood next to him. Much has been said about Marie Henien. She is striking. But that moment really struck me. The courtroom is a really static place. Everyone stays put. When Henien crossed the floor, she made clear that she literally stood by her client. It was not dramatic. It was not like tv law. But it stayed with me. Maybe brilliant defense lawyers are sometimes brilliant in their silences.
This hearing was only the first, very brief, foray into what will be a long, long judicial process. And in the midst of all this, a lot of details will emerge and a lot of them will be forgotten.
As a literary critic, I work in a field where words and voices are essential. But how do you write silence? How do you analyze that which cannot be heard? My work tends to focus a lot on gaps and absences, omissions and counter-narratives. But that only gets to part of the problem. There are a lot of important silences that we will never hear. I don’t know what to do with that except to think long and hard about it.
We are coming close to the end of what feels like watershed year in terms of public and private conversations about sexual harassment. There are the celebrities who have been accused. There are public institutions that have to start thinking hard about their failures here: the CBC, the House of Commons, our colleges and universities. There is a lot of talking.
But I am worried about how we are going to get to the silences. And I do not mean getting to the silences in terms of bringing more voices to the table or finding more ways for women to speak, to shout, to share, and to say things that have not been said before. I am worried about how to harness the power of silence. For me, what Henien did not say was much more powerful than what she did say. I realize that she is particularly privileged in all kinds of ways and not least because she was in the courtroom in the first place. But how can we find power in silence for the complainants? We acknowledge the courage of the women who have come forward in the Ghomeshi case. In the interest of justice, I can’t help hoping that more will do so. But there are many, many more women who will be silent. How can we make those silences matter.

In Europe, one has the legal right to be forgotten. These laws remind me of one of the many beautiful lessons from Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for a Time Being which closes with the liberation of invisibility. At the end of the novel, the protagonist has engineered her erasure from the online world. She has found the right to be forgotten. Maybe, finding power in anonymity and silence lies in Ozeki’s reminder for us embrace some kinds of forgetting. We do not have to fear being outside of memory. And this is hard because all of my training, and my understanding of social justice, lies in remembering, in thinking about the ways in which the past haunts the present, about transforming grief into grievance. But I’m coming around to the idea of letting go a little bit.
           

Lily Cho
York University
media · social media · systemic violence · women

Restorative Justice and Social Media: More Thoughts on Recent Events

Did you see the homepage of Huffington Post yesterday? Here is a screenshot of the first third of it:

These are just a few of the Tweets that use the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported. They are gathered on Huffington Post without naming the names of the aggressor, or naming the identity of the Tweeter. They stand together on the homepage as a chorus of voices speaking to experiences that, while individual, attest to a common experience of gendered and sexualized violence.

The editors at HuffPo contextualize the page like this:

Today, we at The Huffington Post Canada have no words. Today, they’re yours. 
Countless women and men have shared this week their stories of rape and sexual assault with a powerful Twitter hashtag, #BeenRapedNeverReported. 

The #BeenRapedNeverReported hashtag and the Huffington Post curatorial project have me thinking about rape culture, and about restorative justice on the Internet. Specifically, it has me thinking about the risks of speaking about gendered and sexualized violence in public. 

Last week I wrote: 

I’ve written elsewhere that I fear that restorative justice and social media are incompatible. I want to return to that thought here, by way of opening up conversation. How are we–by which I mean (for the purposes of readers of this blog) women working in the Canadian academic sphere–working to sustain slow thinking about these pressing issues in a public way. “Public” here is key, I think. Publicness is not a failsafe, often for women it is the opposite, but it does keep attention on a topic maybe–just maybe–long enough to shake the systemic conditions that sustain inequity.

Since last week I have had numerous discussions about the efficacy of anonymity as a public intervention. Some people I have spoken with feel strongly that anonymity is an absolutely necessary in initial steps to making public declarations about experiences of abuse. Other people who, I hasten to underscore, are equally passionate and invested in eradicating misogyny, have expressed their deep ambivalence–even concern–with anonymity. Doesn’t it reify silence? Doesn’t it allow abuse to continue? Do anonymous statements of experience in actuality perpetuate cycles of violence? 

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have concrete answer to these massive and crucial questions. But I am deeply invested in talking about them in public, and because I have a platform through this blog, I feel responsible to try and do that. Here goes.

How might we employ the message and tenets of restorative justice in the medium of social media? 

If you’re not familiar with the term, ‘restorative justice’ is a theory of justice that puts emphasis on repairing the harms caused by criminal behaviour. And here’s the catch: restorative justice is best achieved through cooperation between all stakeholders involved in the injustice. It is predicated on the following principles:

1. Justice requires that we work to restore those who have been injured
2. Those most directly involved and affected by crime should have the opportunity to participate fully in the response if they wish.
3. Government’s role is to preserve a just public order, and the community’s role is to build and maintain a just peace. 

As information and narratives about rape culture and misogyny in Canada–and indeed, globally–circulate in particularly public ways right not I find myself thinking about the medium and the message. Social media is incredibly important for circulating information and topics quickly. It is less useful, I think (as have others), for facilitating sustainable change over the long-term. I am heartened that conversations about rape culture and misogyny in Canada are trending on Twitter and on the front pages of newspapers and websites, though I am acutely aware that we have great distances to go before these are holistic and encompassing conversations. Where, for example, is the sustained public outrage over the more than 1,200 documented Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women? Where are the sustained conversations about the ways in which risk of gendered and sexualized violence increase when you are a person of colour or of a lower socioeconomic group? Don’t get me wrong, as these conversations are happening, have ben happening, but they fall out of the media spotlight. And then what? 

When hashtags and trending topics fall out of media attention, what do we do to keep the conversations and focus and energy on these necessary issues? 

canada · media · righteous feminist anger · skeptical feminist

More Thoughts on Recent Events

I watched the story unfold in real time. I heard of Jian Ghomeshi’s leave of absence on Friday, then Sunday that the CBC had cut ties with Ghomeshi, which was a considerable surprise. Then I read Ghomeshi’s Facebook post. Then Twitter. Then the comments. (Yes, I read the comments. Probably a bad idea). Then the Star Article. And Twitter again. Yesterday and today I’ve been following closely how the mainstream media has been reporting the story.

There is a lot of confusion related to this thing. As Erin said yesterday, we are not privy to the discussions that have gone on behind closed doors. There is little that is definite, much that is said, more that is unsaid. Voices have been heard, helped by high-stakes media management companies or filtered through the writings of independent male journalists. One voice has laid out the terms of the debate, and another has responded.

One thing is clear: We still don’t know the whole story. We have yet to hear the unfiltered voices of those barred from doing so because of lawsuits alleging wrong-doings, or from those too afraid to speak out in public.

Reading comments like this one, I fear that we may never:

I hope for the unfolding of both sides of the story. For voices that refuse to be silenced by fear of reprisal or backlash, or because the public has already told them how they should feel about what happened. For the truth to come out. For the public to make judgements based on determined facts, not because they take one person’s defence at face value or because they really liked ‘Q.’ We know that only 10% of all sexual assaults are reported to police. That advocates of BDSM have come out questioning Ghomeshi’s claims. And it is important to note that in Canada, you can’t consent to bodily harm. There is clearly more to this than what has currently come to light.

Like Erin, I want to keep the dial tuned to questions of power, issues of misogyny, and rape culture. Let’s continue the conversation.

canada · media · righteous feminist anger · women in the news

Social Media vs. Slow Academe: Some thoughts on recent events

Less than two weeks ago, I was at a conference about Canadian women and/as public intellectuals. On the first of a series of moderated public panel discussions Christl Verduyn interviewed Dionne Brand, Mary Eberts, and Janice Stein. In the question and answer session I asked the panelists about risk. Specifically, I asked them to think with we, the audience, about the ways in which risk is inherent to a woman speaking in public. For context, I cited #GamerGate–specifically feminist gamer and media critic Anita Sarkeesian‘s then-recent cancellation of her public talk at the University of Utah after threats of violence…and the police’s response that guns are allowed on campus if the carrier has a legal permit. I also referenced a less widely known event: an article published on Hairpin by Canadian writer Emma Healey in which the author carefully thinks through her own experience of a relationship that proceeded despite unequal relations of power and was, for her, damaging and abusive. In both cases the women continue to receive varying degrees of public backlash for speaking publicly, albeit about substantially different issues. The connecting thread, for me, is that they are women taking up public space.

The panelists took up my question in turn. Janice Stein spoke about the threats she has received over her career and told the audience that she tries to keep them from her family so that they don’t worry about her. Ultimately, though, Stein’s advice was to keep speaking and ignore the threats. Dionne Brand spoke about some of the ways in which speaking publicly as a woman, and as a woman of colour, are always-already risky. And yet, said Brand, I have to do it. Not speaking would be worse than any public backlash, she told the audience. Mary Eberts responded last, and she said this: women can speak about almost anything in public and survive the backlash. In some cases, they can even use the public backlash to underscore the points they are trying to make. However–and this was the big however–Eberts then paused–there is one thing no woman can speak publicly about without fear of fundamental and ongoing reprisal and that, said Eberts, is sexual abuse. No one else responded after that, and we moved on to the next set of questions.

I have found myself thinking about Mary Eberts’s statement repeatedly in the last week and a half. Since yesterday, since the CBC announced that it was severing its relationship with Q host Jian Ghomeshi, and since Ghomeshi’s own public Facebook post, I find myself with Eberts’s words on a loop in my head. Let me be clear: I don’t know what happened between Ghomeshi and his partners.  I don’t know what went on behind closed doors. Lawyers for both sides have apparently been discussing allegations of abuse–by four women who allege varying degrees of non-consensual abuse, by Ghomeshi for defamation of character — but I wasn’t privy to those conversations. None of us were.   What I do know is this: women are statistically less likely to speak out about abuse. Women are more likely to trivialize their experiences. Women are more likely to use backchannels (emailing, using social media, talking) to alert one another to potentially harmful situations or to circulate stories of inequity. What I do know is that every day Mary Eberts’s words are given more evidence.

But that’s not all I know. I also know a thing or two about close reading and critical thinking. I know that recognizing, addressing, and changing longstanding systemic issues takes time, and that in a hyper-mediated world slow thinking–slow academe–is not something that is particulary valued. It is, however, something that is necessary. Take, for example, Ghomeshi’s Facebook status update. Reading it purely as someone trained as an academic (I am 50% of the Star’s strange, yet predictable qualifications for the women’s credibility: they are described as “educated and employed”) what I see it this: smart placement, smart rhetorical crafting. First, placement: Among other things, Facebook functions as a kind of faux-intimate confessional. As Chelsea Rooney wrote on Twitter:

In terms of rhetorical craft, the person who speaks publicly first sets the terms of the debate, or so it would seem. Ghomeshi’s post makes the issue about sexual preference and desire that falls outside the restrictive parameters of traditional heteronormative relations, whatever those are. I could go on, but the point, for this post, is not to close read this event. Rather, I’m interested in opening a discussion about how to sustain slow, deliberate, and public thinking about issues of misogyny, rape culture, and asymmetrical power relations in the face of the rapid-fire pace of social media. I’ve written elsewhere that I fear that restorative justice and social media are incompatible. I want to return to that thought here, by way of opening up conversation. How are we–by which I mean (for the purposes of readers of this blog) women working in the Canadian academic sphere–working to sustain slow thinking about these pressing issues in a public way. “Public” here is key, I think. Publicness is not a failsafe, often for women it is the opposite, but it does keep attention on a topic maybe–just maybe–long enough to shake the systemic conditions that sustain inequity.

I don’t know how to draw this to a conclusion, because having the final word is the last thing I want or feel prepared to do. Rather, I will leave you with this cartoon my colleague Xtine sent. The original posting is here:

boast post · empowerment · media · you're awesome

It’s that time again! Boast Post!

Datamining our archive, I see the urge to write boast posts falls upon me at the ends of semesters, those last draggy few weeks where all the promise and hope of the beginning of term is snuffed under the weight of missed deadlines (mine as well as my students’) and piles of grading, and worries about the not-yet-quite-planned-enough plans for winter teaching.

So here we are again. Let’s try to find something we’re proud of, something we did right, something we love telling people we get to do for our jobs. Share a piece of praise someone else directed your way. Imagine writing a letter of reference … for yourself, where you really want the candidate to win whatever she/you has been nominated for. Find something specific to really crow about.

As always, I’ll start. Mine is a little thing. I’ve been writing about digital photographic life-writing practices, on a number of fronts, but including, of course, the ubiquitous “selfie.” I was just doing some free-writing about Selfies at Funerals on Monday. Tuesday, “selfie” became Oxford Dicionaries’ word of the year. I got a call to feature in a local news segment on the topic (filmed right after I had had my hair done, hooray!)

But the boast part is this. After the TV interview, I thought, I want to go bigger. So I emailed Nora Young at Spark and pitched her the selfie story and me as an expert to consult. She wrote me back in 9 minutes, saying it wasn’t on their radar, but she would pitch it to her team. She wrote again 23 minutes later: it’s a go. We’re currently trying to schedule an interview time. I got to send her an outline of what I think are the important parts of the selfie discussion.

What I’m proud of is that I didn’t hem and haw: I just wrote to her and did the pitch. And I’m proud that I am making a real effort to shape public discourse on the topics I research. This kind of opportunity to be in whatever minor way a public intellectual is really meaningful to me. So yay!

What about you? C’mon don’t leave me hanging, bragging by myself. Boast away in the comments, please!

faster feminism · media

Dismantling Rape Culture

Last week, I was approached by a Globe and Mail books section editor to contribute reviews of three books that delve into rape culture from a feminist perspective. This invitation was spurred by the recent Steubenville rape case. The Ms. Foundation circulated this infographic last week that sums up much of the media coverage:

In the interest of responding to and fighting rape culture through media, it’s important to create and circulate resources for folks to draw upon–resources that debunk myths about rape, offer sex-positive feminist perspectives on sex and sexualities, and link interpersonal and state/institutional violences.  

I’ve included the short reviews, here, for those interested in further reading. The original version is in the March 23 print edition of the Globe.
Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, eds. Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power
            and a World Without Rape. Forward by Margaret Cho. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2008.
This collection of essays responds to rape culture by advocating for women’s rights to joyful sexual lives. The essays dismantle the victim-blaming discourses of rape culture and the notion that it’s women’s responsibility to not get raped, and instead advocate for holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. Readers will find essays, grouped thematically, that promote healthy sexual identities for youth; critique institutions regulate and violate women’s sexual autonomy; analyze the impact of rape culture on people of colour; and explore what sexual consent really means. The collection looks at male sexuality and presents queer-positive perspectives that reject sexual shaming. Written from a perspective that honours sexual healing and survival.
Jane Doe The Story of Jane Doe: A Book About Rape. Toronto, ON: Vintage Canada, 2005.
A woman known as Jane Doe tells her story of surviving rape and the high-profile battle she fought when suing the Toronto police for failing to alert the public of a serial rapist in her neighbourhood. This failure, Doe successfully argued in court, essentially used her as “bait” to attract the rapist. Doe uses her story to respond to and debunk common myths about rape and rape survivors. Doe satirizes the list of things that women are told to do to prevent being raped (e.g. don’t walk alone at night), arguing that these messages reinforce the myth that women who don’t act “perfectly” are responsible for their own rapes.
Andrea Smith Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. Forward by Winona
            LaDuke. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2005.
Women of colour are disproportionately targeted by sexual violence. Smith explores the links between interpersonal violence and state violence. She argues that we need to understand rape as a tool of not only patriarchal control, but also of racism and colonialism. Smith focuses on the effects of rape culture on native women and connects rape culture with the colonialist histories of residential schools and medical experimentation. The final part of the book focuses on alternative, community-based anti-violence strategies.

election · media · politics · popular culture · women

Mission accomplished?

There has been a lot of media fanfare about the status of women in recent weeks. With the final episode of Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, the New York Times featured an article “Tina Fey Signs Off, Broken Barriers Behind Her” in which Alessandra Stanley elaborates on the milestones Fey has reached, and the doors she has opened for other female comedians.

“When ’30 Rock’ had its premiere in 2006 Ms. Fey was that rare thing, a female writer starring in her own prime-time network show.” – Alessandra Stanley

In Canada, we have our own little version of women’s liberation supposedly realized, with 5 provinces and 1 territory currently featuring a female Premier, a majority of Canadians are now governed by a women.
Kathleen Wynne
  • Kathleen Wynne (Lib) – Ontario 
  • Alison Redford (PC) – Alberta 
  • Kathy Dunderdale (PC) – Newfoundland and Labrador 
  • Christy Clark (Lib) – British Columbia 
  • Pauline Marois (PQ) – Quebec 
  • Eva Aariak – Nunavut
Politics, like comedy writing/production, has pretty much been a man’s game. So what should we make of the sudden proliferation of female leaders?
           
Is it time to be cautiously optimistic that talented women are not just breaking barriers, but changing the industries in which they work, permanently opening them up to a broader spectrum of participants? Is this it for the boys’ club?
While Stanley admits that other female comedians have also made it in the past (Lucille Ball, Carole Burnett, Roseanne Barr), she suggests that there is something different about the impact that Fey has had, having paved the way for other comedians like Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation) and Whitney Cummings (Whitney; Two Broke Girls).
Has Tina Fey really broken the glass ceiling in television production, or is she just this generation’s Roseanne Barr? Maybe every generation gets one female performer that makes it through into a position of relative power. Overall numbers of women in comedy remain low (don’t believe me, go to a comedy club tonight and count them), so a handful of successful female comedians on television is perhaps proportional to their overall participation in the industry. In that case, until numbers increase overall, not much will change, no matter how successful individuals like Fey become.
Michaelle Jean
David Johnston
And what of our female politicians? There is a precedent in Canadian politics for women to be handed parties when they are imploding – for example, Kim Campbell for the post-Mulroney Progressive Conservatives. The argument could certainly be made that Kathleen Wynne has been handed a hopeless case.

I worry is that this random moment in which women happen to hold powerful positions will be taken as a sign of mission accomplished. We might believe equality has been won, even if in the coming years, overall numbers of women in positions of power don’t actually improve all that much. This week, as John Kerry took up the position of Secretary of State in the US (formerly held by Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton), he joked that the question on everyone’s mind is “Can a man do this job?” We might have said the same thing a few years ago about Canada’s Governor General after both Adrienne Clarkson and Michaelle Jean proved very capable and popular in the position, but then current GG David Johnston looks a lot like every other accomplished, grey-haired, white-man to hold the position prior to 1999. 
Are we really going places fast? Is Clinton the next President? Or was this just a blip on the gender equality radar? Will it be back to business as usual?

animals · learning · media · popular culture · random · teaching

Unexpected Lessons (Ikea Monkey)

I’ll be honest: I’m on a short break right now between end of classes and exams and all I want to do is relax. Fast Feminism. Slow Academe? Try, Fast Nothing. Slow Liz.
So, when I sat down to write this post, the only thing that I felt like sharing was Ikea Monkey.
Ikea Monkey has been bringing a smile to my face. And I’m not the only one. Ikea Monkey has gone viral, at least in Toronto. I’ve talked about IM with multiple people and overheard others in restaurants discussing IM, which has become an Internet meme.
Anyway, (and here comes my somewhat tenuous connection to Hook and Eye content), it’s got me thinking about what kinds of stories and ideas get picked up and circulated—the stories that spark something, that make people want to talk about them and share with others.
When I’ve taught a class and I can hear my students still talking about a particular topic as they’re leaving, I feel that I’ve done a good job as an instructor. I want to have Ikea Monkey moments in my classes.
Most of the teaching advice I’ve been given, when it comes to lecturing, centers around this basic principle: if you just try to get one or two key ideas across in a class, it’s much more likely that those one or two key ideas will stick with students.
So, I ask you, readers, now that we’re reaching the end of a semester: what are the most important things you want to achieve by the end of a course (either as an instructor or as a student)? Does it relate to course content, a style of thinking, or a set of theoretical concepts? Looking back on courses that you have taught or taken, what has stuck with you? Have you ever taught or taken courses with unexpected learning outcomes? Can we “meme” our students?