change management · righteous feminist anger

The Notebook Dump

 

giphy

image via

Allegations are coming by the bushel, and we are in a moment of figuring out how to sort them. In journalism, there’s a term called “notebook dump,” the process of throwing together all your reporting — every note taken, interview conducted, scene observed. Some stuff won’t make the ultimate story; the notebook dump is how you see what you’ve got, and figure out how to move forward.

The women of America are currently engaged in a notebook dump of epic proportions, releasing the anecdotes they’ve been carrying since puberty.

— Monica Hesse and Dan Zak, “Who’s next? A moment of reckoning for men – and the behavior we can no longer ignore”

Every day, the whisper network roars more loudly. Women used to tell these stories to each other, but now we can start putting together documents and massive correspondence chains. Once untouchable bullies and titans are coming down and falling hard.

It’s amazing. It’s exhausting. It’s about time.

It is, as Hesse and Zak note, a notebook dump of epic proportions. Most of us are not seasoned journalists with armloads of notebooks to sort through. But I think we have all been doing our own notebook dumps. Quietly, or not so quietly, we have been sifting through all the crap that we’ve lived through and lived with, the grossness of all the stuff we saw, all the garbage behavior we have suffered through.

I don’t know what we should do with all that. But I’m becoming more and more sure that we need to do a real, no holds barred, notebook dump in the academy. Maybe you’re already doing this? As Emma Healey’s “Stories are Like Passwords” passes through our hands again and again, I know that we have been doing this, and doing it for a long time. But, even still, it’s hard to resist holding back a little. I know I have. I’m sorry. I am still trying to figure out know how to do this. Naming names feels dangerous. And this from me, a tenured academic who has much more security in the profession than most. As Jennifer Berdahl’s personal reckoning tells us,

a fancy professorship doesn’t shield a woman from being harassed or empower her to do anything about it… Ambition is the enemy of righteousness in poorly led academia. High h-indexes, editorial power, and social networks protect harassers by motivating their targets to remain silent, administrators to do nothing, and otherwise honorable colleagues to duck in the sidelines. You might end up where and what you want to be, but not who or how you wanted to be when you get there.

We have a lot of truths to tell even though we know all too well that there are still devastating consequences for us when we tell them. And I also know that, for many, even telling in the most private of spaces is not, or not yet, possible. It will trigger too much.

But, if you have some notebooks to dump, and you want to dump them, let’s do this. We don’t have to decide in advance what we want to do with what we share and what we dump. But let’s do this and let’s be really loud about the fact that we are resolutely engaged in a notebook dump of epic proportions. And we are not going to stop.

Just letting everyone know that this is what we are doing, that we are talking to each other and doing so with names and dates, that we are tracking patterns of this crap as much as we are singular incidents, could have a behavioural modification effect going forward. Every sexual harasser should know that their high h-indexes and pals in admin can’t protect them forever. They should wake up every morning wondering if this is the day where the story of their terrible behaviour is busted wide open and their legacies will be swept away in a torrent of righteous feminist anger.

Let’s go back to our notebooks, and find some places where we can start comparing them, again. Let’s help each other figure out what we want next. Let’s do it together and let’s have each other’s backs.

 

generational mentorship · global academy · literature · righteous feminist anger

Reading as Resistance

What does reading do? Or rather, what good does reading do? 

As a scholar of literature I find my self thinking about this big (too big?) question a lot. I think about it on bad days when I wonder what on earth I have devoted my life to, this fighting windmills business trying to find work teaching literature. I think about it on my good days when the answers are so fundamental to moving through life with an ethic of care and what Rey Chow calls responsible engagement that I can hardly believe my good fortune. Teaching books! Reading books! And I think about this on the average day, when I drive the 200km to work and back listening to audio books, or writing lectures trying to think through how to convince a room full of students that yes, it is meaningful and relevant to think about Kate Chopin‘s The Awakening or James Baldwin‘s Giovanni’s Room or Lucas Crawford‘s Sideshow Carnival today, now, in their very own lives.

This week I will be thinking about reading even more as I steel myself for the inauguration of the next President of the United States. I will think about reading and how it is a revolutionary act to think and listen to the perspectives of people whose lives and experiences and oddities differ from my own. I will think about reading as resistance, as solidarity, and as an act of joyful insurrection and radical self-care. 

On Friday January 20th I will also think about what it means to read with and in community as I take my place with sixty other humans to participate in a collaborative reading of Operations by Moez Surani. Operations–or more properly, ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация–is a book-length poetic inventory of contemporary rhetoric of violence and aggression, as depicted through the evolution of the language used to name the many military operations conducted by UN Member Nations since the organization’s inception in 1945. Moez has invited sixty-one people around the world to each read a year from the book. Some people will be gathered in Toronto at Rick’s Cafe for the reading. The rest of us will read from wherever we are and tweet documentation of our reading. For me, this invitation is an act of hospitality, care, and solidarity: I will be able to participate in an action of protest and witness by reading. Through reading. Through the attentiveness that reading requires. And, while I know that reading will not be enough to resist the current and coming civic aggressions, I am glad to move through this week with reading as a mode of resistance and revolution in my heart. 

In honour of Moez’s invitation and with a nod to the recent circulation of top-ten lists of the albums that most influenced high-school you, I close with another list. This one answers Paul Vermeersch‘s invitation to document the ten books that influenced high-school you. I offer these as document to my sixteen year old self, who was just learning about resistance, revolution, and being a feminist killjoy. I invite you to add your own list. And I send you warmth as we move forward in solidarity, and with attentiveness. 

In no particular order:

1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

2. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

3. Beloved by Toni Morrison

4. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

6. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

7. Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

8. The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

9. The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

10. Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Dandicat

blacklivesmatter · righteous feminist anger · student engagement · systemic violence · women and violence

I am scared, and angry, and here is a scared and angry rant.

I know I probably shouldn’t be, but I am scared. When I crossed the border into Canada over American Thanksgiving last week to spend a weekend on the lake with my family, I knew my chances of not dying in a sudden mass shooting motivated by systemic racism and/or sexism increased dramatically. According to the Mass Shooting Tracker, so far in 2015 there have been 351 mass shootings in the U.S., already up from 2014’s total of 336, and numbering more than one a day. Many of these have been on university campuses, and gun watches and threats are becoming more ubiquitous: some of my Facebook friends have experienced gun threats on their campuses, causing campus closures or the horrible experience of holding class anyway, knowing you shouldn’t let domestic terrorism get to you but not quite sure how to unthink those thoughts. As I’m writing this on Mon. Nov. 30, the University of Chicago is shut down due to a gun threat. Grade schools now include mandatory emergency procedure training to prepare for the event of a mass shooting.

The most recent domestic terrorist attack has targeted Planned Parenthood, an essential health care service for low-income women who don’t have many options or choices when dealing with their own bodies within an otherwise corrupt, inadequate, and unjust health care system. While this attack stands as the natural extension of right-wing conservative pro-gun and pro-life rhetoric (as this brilliant Facebook post summarizes), tweets like this one still emerge, from Gov. Mike Huckabee, twisting the event around inside itself and somehow positioning the pro-lifers as the victims.

Meanwhile, since the Paris Attacks, Muslims all around the world have been forced to dissociate themselves from the extremist group some are arguing (to little effect, it seems) should be called Daesh, in order to further distance them from the peaceful Islamic majority. Yet as this satirical article observes, Christians are never called upon to account for or divorce their practices from terrorists like Robert Lewis Dear, who regardless of his personal convictions is part of a predominantly white Christian power structure which makes it possible to view women’s exercise of agency over their own bodies (sometimes after becoming victimized and raped) as an evil that should be squelched out from the world, perhaps with guns. American white men can be trusted with guns, the reasoning goes, but Muslims cannot, which is one of the reasons we should not let Syrian refugees into the country–because ammunition is too freely available here, and most Muslims are probably terrorists, unlike white Americans who are peaceful and never commit senseless acts of violence. We may as well follow the suggestion of the current frontrunner for Republican presidential candidate, recently featured as the host on America’s most popular and longstanding weekly comedy show, and create a database of all Muslims in the country, tracking their movements and banning them from access to guns. There was another time in history when a people-group was tagged and tracked.

To add to all of this domestic terrorism, violent misogyny, and downright fascism by prominent political leaders in the States, student protesters demanding equality and respect for people of all colours on university campuses after a series of overtly bigoted and racist acts–including at my home institution of Fordham University–are being shot at during peaceful protests, again by white supremicists who are most certainly the same kind of people who would vote Trump for President, who laugh when he mocks those with disabilities and shrug off accusations of racism with xenophobic comments about how bad the economic conditions are in this country. Because they are, that is true. And after the Paris attacks, in response to #blacklivesmatter actions continuing to grow around the countries, other high-profile bigots say stuff like this–
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

–and receive 900 likes and over 700 RTs for an idea that completely obliterates the legitimacy of those who are always already disadvantaged before they step foot on campus, let alone enter the work force. And, back on my home turf, white-power chants are heard in Fordham dormitory housing situated in the low-income, black and Latino neighborhood of the Bronx. And female students whose cab drivers attempt to rape them are denigrated as ungrateful liars and subjected to interrogation about the state of their mental health.

I care so much about all these issues, and I want my students to care too, to be active and step outside the classroom to voice their dissatisfaction within an increasingly terrifying political climate. But I know my students won’t all be on the same page as I am (let’s not forget those white power chants), and I’ve witnessed what happens to leftist feminist professors in student evaluations, upon which the future of my academic career depends.

And last week, when I attended a protest at Washington Square Park expressing solidarity with the protestor shootings in Minneapolis and the police killing of unarmed 24-yo Jamar Clark, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of fear for my own safety. Perhaps this is an irrational response, perhaps my chances of being shot in this city of eight million people is infinitesimal, but as we were chanting and waving flags, I was keeping watch over my shoulder, I was jittery.

Photo by author from Nov. 25 Wash Sq Park protest

Terrorism in the United States is working, and while I in no way mean to belittle analogous problems faced by Canada, still sometimes I find myself gazing longingly north…

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

righteous feminist anger

Rex Murphy again, and Against a Disembodied Academy

In case you weren’t aware, Erin’s open letter to Rex Murphy from last week was a major online hit. Currently on H&E has 5472 hits, and it was cross-posted to rabble.ca, generating lively (and sometimes awful) commentary. In fact, the post gained so much mileage so quickly that it received on the same day a misogynist, vitriolic backlash piece published in the Halifax-based tabloid magazine Frank, entitled “Wunker of the Week.” In that piece, Andrew Douglas slings mud at our beloved H&E cofounder, corroborates Murphy by questioning Emma Sulkowicz’s rape, and ridicules women’s studies generally:

Not only is Dalhousie enrolling record numbers into its various femme-babble gender studies programs this year–much to MSVU’s chagrin, I’m sure–I see that a Dal prof has taken it upon herself to loudly condemn National Post columnist/CBC troll doll Rex Murphy for (gasp) making fun of that silly girl at Columbia University who’s been dragging a mattress around behind her all year. 

So patronizing, so dismissive, so sarcastic, really hardly even worth a close-read. A bit of research on this publication unsurprisingly revealed that Douglas has traveled in or somewhere near rape apologist circles for awhile, dating back to the suicide of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons in 2013, when he claimed that there “wasn’t enough evidence” to charge the boys accused of her gang-rape, and proceeded to level blame at Parsons’ mother. In 2011, Frank Magazine was involved in another seemingly anti-feminist scandal when Douglas fired one of his employees for “questioning a column on sexism.” With 14 000 followers on Twitter, this guy is certainly not a nobody.

In this post, I’d like to stand behind Erin and the urgent, brave work that she does for this blog, which itself is an outlet for women to express our outrage with the system that makes it possible for national news figures to publicly mock the “vacant head[s]” of educated women who dare to speak out in ineluctable ways about misogyny, victimization, and their own experience with rape. Additionally, however, I want to unearth the implicit violence that Douglas and Murphy themselves enact on female bodies insofar as they both strive for an erasure of affective, embodied approaches to education and to literature. It is notable that the two main pop culture figures Murphy cites in his mockery of modern educational practices are Madonna and Beyoncé, with her “hermeneutic hip tossing grinds.” In this latter instance, Murphy not only targets a female pop culture icon, but a woman of color, drawing attention to her hips and her gyrating body in a way that subtly reinforces misogynoir stereotypes. This in addition to his transphobic opening rant against categories like “cis” and “hetero” or pronouns like “ze” and “xe.” 

Andrew Douglas, in turn, derides Erin’s reference to “Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women” (which, yes, is a Thing, a horrifying and urgent Thing), and ridicules one of her class assignments in which she incorporates the study of affect into digital mapping technology–the very kind of “Thinking Through the Body” practice about which she has recently blogged. Murphy claims that the goal of the discipline of the humanities is “to teach what is worth knowing; to train the intellect; to acquaint students with, and help them appreciate, the glories of the human mind and its finest achievements.” In proposing that the university system must draw us away from popular culture to that which he deems “the glories of the human mind,” in objecting to Sulkowicz’s use of her body as a locus for protest and change, Rex Murphy implicitly calls for the erasure of disruptive female bodies from university campuses. This form of sexism, epitomized in Murphy’s and Douglas’s articles, does not simply involve slut-shaming or antiquated approaches to literature, but additionally involves an internalized discomfort with women’s bodies as topics and subjects of engagement in humanities classrooms.

My vision of the academy involves Jane Austen, John Milton, and Madonna, and accepts that honest educational encounters with contemporary culture and with the past will uncover unpleasant truths, truths that lie far below the “glories of the human mind and its finest achievements” (which are implicitly, in this context, gendered male). My vision of the academy incorporates womens’ bodies into the conversation and exposes the ways they are systematically attacked, erased, murdered, and raped. My vision of the academy embraces embodied practices and approaches to literature, and resists the neoliberal urge to reduce what we do as scholars to impersonal numbers and metrics. Basically, my vision of the academy wants nothing to do with the twisted vision offered by these offensive online attacks against women in major Canadian media outlets.

NB: A version of this blog post appeared a week ago, under the title “Solidarity with Dr. Wunker,” but I removed it soon after posting because it wasn’t quite fully developed. Thanks are due to Andrew Ferris (Department of English, Princeton) for reading that earlier draft with a generous eye, and helping me clarify and expand some of my ideas regarding the proper role of the academy.

righteous feminist anger

An Open Letter to Rex Murphy and the National Post

Dear Mr. Murphy:

I am an assistant professor at Dalhousie University where I teach in the Department of English. Some of my colleagues are trained as Shakespeareans or Victorianists. Others are trained in Modernist literatures, or American literatures, or post-colonial literatures. I myself am a Canadianist, which means I study, research, and teach literatures of Canada. I also teach my students about Canada’s colonial legacy, about the violences of Canada’s historic and contemporary relationships with First Peoples. For example, I strive to teach my students about what an ongoing national failure to meaningfully acknowledge and address the ongoing crisis of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women has to do with early narrative representations of First Nations peoples in settler-colonial literature. Oh yes, and I teach my students from a feminist and anti-racist perspective.

I wanted to tell you some of the places from which I teach so that you can be very clear about my deep concern with your article “Institutes of Lower Education.” 

Here’s the thing: it is easy to the point of being banal and boring to take uncritical potshots at university curriculums and especially at the arts and humanities. Moreover, given that this country is in the midst of an election campaign, taking cheap shots at the humanities is a thinly veiled partisan trick at best. And you can bet that students who have been taught to close read and think critically will have seen this. It irks me that another national newspaper is willing to thoughtlessly toss humanities education out the window, but that isn’t what has enraged me enough to take time away from preparing my lectures to write to you here.

No. What enrages me, Mr. Murphy, is your seemingly blithe attitude towards gender inequity, rape culture, violence against women, and, frankly, real rape. Add to that your willingness to dismiss outright creative modes of consciousness-raising, analysis, and collaborative learning and you have me not only angry, you have me deeply concerned. If you haven’t noticed, Canada is in crisis. There are many facets of this crisis, but the one I want to draw your attention to is our national crisis of violence against women. Let me explain how your article undermines the severity of this crisis.

You begin your article asking “Who can be considered a highly educated person in today’s world?” After making reference to a few touchstone pop culture icons you quickly move from sounding like an angry old man shaking his fist at the clouds* to simply being hateful. You poke fun at crucial interventions into heteronormative language as a means of undermining university education. Just in case we’re not clear, what you’ve done is denigrate linguistic attempts to make space for trans identities and denigrates the spaces and classrooms where some of those discussions take place. All in the name of suggesting that university education isn’t what it used to be back in the day with Mr. Darcy.
Are you kidding me, Mr. Murphy? 

And then, despite your attempts to hinge your hateful tirade on a public figure’s woeful historic ignorance, you slut shame a young woman who was allegedly raped. In fact, you more than slut shame her. You put Emma Sulkowizc’s rape in quotation marks. You make her experience of physical violation ironic and mockable. And then you take her thesis project which, by the way, operates in a genre called endurance performance, and you mock her. You mock this young woman, her bravery, and her attempt to translate her experience of violence into both art and activism. You mock her in a national newspaper. Shame on you. 

Let me tell you a bit about Ms. Sulkowicz’s project, because it isn’t clear to me that you did your research. 

In the fall of 2014 an art student at Columbia University by the name of Emma Sulkowicz began carrying her mattress with her to class. This act of endurance performance entitled “Carry That Weight” was her senior thesis project for her Fine Arts Degree. It was also a public acknowledgement of her experience of sexual assault on campus. Sulkowicz was sexually assaulted in her dorm room at the beginning of her second year of university. She began carrying her fifty-pound mattress with her around campus—to class, to lunch, to study—as a visual and physical statement both of her assault and of the fact that her rapist was still a student at Columbia. He was unpunished despite several complaints of assault from Sulkowicz and other women. She, meanwhile, was carrying the weight of her assault as she moved through the same space as her assailant.

Here’s the thing, Mr. Murphy: we—by which I mean culture at large—don’t know how to talk about rape. We don’t know how to differentiate between different experiences of rape which, by the way, can require a shifting use of pronouns. We don’t know how to address the perniciousness of rape in history as a calculated tool for violence and subordination any more than we know how to discuss rape as a sometimes-facet of consensual sexual relationships. And we certainly do not know how, as a culture, to talk about rape culture on campuses. 


You wrote this article nearly a year to the day that the Jian Ghomeshi scandal broke. You published this article nearly a year after the Dalhousie Dentistry Scandal Broke. And let’s not forget that nearly a year ago the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported trended to such a degree that it became the opening page of the Huffington Post. You published this article less than a week after three women were murdered in Ontario by a man they all knew. And you pretended that this article was about the failure of humanities classrooms specifically and university curriculums more generally. That is not just reprehensible journalism, it is faulty rhetoric.

There will be some readers, I’m sure, who will tell me I shouldn’t have read your opinion, that I should have known what I was in for. But here’s the thing: when a national newspaper chooses to publish openly misogynistic opinions it tells us something about our cultural climate. As my students and I discuss in our classes the historical and cultural context out of which a text is produced can tell us as much about a cultural moment as the text itself. We have incredible discussions about how language reveals systemic injustice and inequity. You’re welcome to join us if you’d like to do some research for your next article on what actually happens in humanities classrooms.

Sincerely,

Dr. Erin Wunker
Dalhousie University


coping · empowerment · grad school · mental health · PhD · righteous feminist anger · systemic violence

Mental Health and the PhD (Part II)

I’m a fifth-year PhD student, finishing the seventh year of my graduate studies overall. I’ve been trained in pedagogy, in writing a thesis, in publishing articles, in archival research, in networking, in library research, in organizing conferences, professionalizing, in mastering a field of literature.

But never have I been trained in how to deal with the emotional and psychological stress of writing a dissertation.

It has been difficult, to say the least. My mind is constantly hovering around the exigencies of the imminent job market, and on where my academic partner and I might find ourselves the year after next. Will we find jobs? In the same place? In the same country? WHAT WILL HAPPEN?! Needless to say, these persistent thoughts and questions do not inspire passion or motivation to write about fourteenth-century apocalypse prologues written in Anglo-Norman. They do not push me to delve deeply into my dissertation material, or traipse gleefully through bibliography items. They make me question the point of it all, and they are deeply and profoundly unproductive.

And there are other things. At this advanced stage, many in my cohort have become isolated with our projects, rarely crossing paths and engaging in the fun, collegial decompression and emotional support that occurred frequently during coursework. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one gripped with fear and anxiety about The Future; we all develop our own coping strategies, sequestering ourselves with our work, pouring all free time into surfing listservs for networking and publishing opportunities, simply attempting to stay sane with television and other hobbies and relationships. (I frequently insist that we need to maintain lives outside academia, to enjoy these years as funded [hopefully, if insufficiently] graduate students, not because doing so will make us more productive as academics [though it will], but because “academic” is not the sum total of my identity, as much as the academic superstructure attempts to inculcate our identities differently.)

A little over a year ago, Jana reposted this article from The Guardian about the “culture of acceptance” in academia over mental health issues—not only is mental illness rampant in academic culture, but it becomes almost a marker of accomplishment, as though if you don’t push yourself to the brink of depression or alcoholism, you’re not doing it right (in the follow-up to this article, various PhD students suffering from mental illness share their stories as they battle the attitude of “if you can’t stand the heat, you shouldn’t be here”). A post on The Professor Is In assesses the paralyzing effects of academia’s uniform dependence on “the principle of external validation. You are good only if others in authority authorize that you are good. Your comps, your diss, your job docs, your job talk, your book, your article, your grant proposal, your tenure case…all live or die based on the judgment and approval of people ‘above’ you. And the properly socialized academic makes that approval the core of their identity.” I really do want to follower Dr. Karen’s [edgy] advice to “write like a motherfucker”—to “say no to the less-than status, the linking of your identity to others’ judgment, the servile dependence on others’ stamp of approval.” Sure….I’m all about empowerment and fierceness, but–barring leaving the profession (a perfectly viable choice, of course, but I’m still holding out hope here), how do we do that, exactly?

I wish I had more answers to such questions, but I guess I’ll just keep striving for a healthy work-life balance while fighting against the complacency fostered by the #DWYL neoliberal dictum, as Melissa has so eloquently blogged about. Despite my whining, I have some wonderful, brilliant, and supportive friends, both inside and outside the institution, and I’ve been part of productive academic communities, such as the online writing group that Christy Pottroff described a couple weeks ago. I have library buddies, yoga buddies, and cat buddies. I think I’ll be okay, but the point stands: there are some serious structural changes that need to happen in order to begin to reverse the endemic guilt and anxiety that thrives in precarious academic communities, and a simple bulleted list of coping mechanisms and facile individualized solutions just ain’t gonna cut it for me right now.

bad academics · equity · one · righteous feminist anger

A little spring "sunshine list"

If you live in Ontario, you know that the so-called “Sunshine List” is out. An innovation from the Mike Harris Progressive Conservative government in 1996, the list, featuring all public sector workers who earn total public compensation of more than $100,000, was introduced to “make Ontario’s public sector more open and accountable to taxpayers.” Alberta introduced its own sunshine list in 2014. They make for compelling and controversial reading.

The lists are generally mined publicly to two purposes. First, to decry the sheer number of public sector employees who join the list each year, a means to note that ever more sun seems to shine in civil service while others suffer. Some of this is exaggerated: if the sunshine threshold of $100,000 had been pegged to inflation, for example, the cutoff salary for disclosure would have rise to $142,338. Here, the tool is incredibly politically useful to to pit workers against one another, particularly as the real purchasing power of the threshold salary decreases: the list gets “too big” and despite inflation many (underpaid) workers find it unfair that so many others are tagged as earning a salary high enough to be publicly disclosed. The general move of this is not to argue that private sector workers ought to be better compensated, but that unionized public employees ought to be brought down. So every year the number stays the same, and every year the private sector holds its wages down, the sunshine list becomes more useful as a tool to attack the public service unions. Pegging to inflation would defeat the purpose. In fact, using the inflation-adjusted cutoff of $142,338, there would be 4000 fewer workers on the sunshine list now than in 2005, for example. That would take, for example, a ton of police officers and university professors (including most of my own department, and, well, me) off the list. In fact, if the number stayed pegged to inflation, I would probably never get on it. Ever.

Unless I move into administration in a more serious way.

The second use of the list, of course, is to find the outliers: generally, this group includes C-suite executives of crown corporations–hospital heads, apparently anything to do with electricity, and, this year, Western University President Amit Chakma.

Amit Chakma was given $942,000 in salary last year. This is an outrageous number. (Even in 1996 dollars: $661,803.) I am finding it very, very hard, in this age of adjunctification, of poverty-level graduate student funding, of rising class sizes and 50 year old classrooms with 40 year old chairs, to find a way to wrap my head around a nearly $1,000,000 annual compensation package for the president of a public university.

Ok. I’m finding it impossible.

Apparently, Chakma’s salary is in a one-time doubling scenario, because he’s skipping a full sabbatical. Regardless, in a shared governance scenario where university leaders are supposed to rise up from within the ranks, it seems outrageous to then separate them so effectively by vaulting them into the 1%, a socioeconomic stratum from which they never seem to descend to re-join the ranks.

At my university, when you take a full year sabbatical (after six years), you have your salary reduced to 60% of its value for the duration. If you take an early (six month) sabbatical (after three years), you have your salary reduced to 80% of its value. Under no scenario that I know of can you double your salary by not taking an earned sabbatical. This very term, I myself am meant to be on sabbatical–but I’m not, because grad chair. I am earning a stipend for this work, to compensate for the responsibility and aggravation and the lack of sabbaticals: this stipend amounts to something south of $5000 annually, if you’d like to know. I consider this incredibly generous.

As Jason Haslam noted in an open letter to the Western Board of Governors, the compensation provided to Chakma could fund 130 classes offered by sessionals at Western’s rate of pay. He asks: is President Chakma’s work worth 130 undergraduate classrooms of students? I might add: is President Chakma’s work worth 15 junior assistant professors? Worth 9 mid-career associates? Is it worth a $10,000 top-up to the funding of 94 graduate students to bring them above poverty-level wages for teaching all those undergrads?

These are questions internal to the operations of the university sphere. We who toil (with radically different compensation packages) within it understand what’s at stake. And just how much we’re losing.

Perhaps even more damaging, though, is the blow that Chakma-gate deals to the university in the general conversation. The sunshine list in general and presidential salary in particular lead the public to believe that universities are rife with enormous salaries and privilege. It makes it very hard to understand how so many instructors can be so very poor. It makes it hard to understand why tuition and fees are so high but the teachers are bringing their own whiteboard markers to class. It’s hard to claim austerity and ask for increased government funding for education when university presidents are drawing such outrageous compensations packages.

Here we are, crying structural institutional impoverishment while trying to split hairs that #notallprofs are overpaid (or even profs, for that matter) but #yesalladministrators are taking too much, but could the same government that pays the salaries give us more for … salaries? And, as usual, it’s the students and the contingent workers–and the university project as a whole, understood as a public good–who will be the losers. So many April fools.

emotional labour · equity · faster feminism · righteous feminist anger

Anger: We Need It

There is a place for anger in feminism.

This statement seems incontrovertible. But what about this one?

There is a place for anger in academia.

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


The material conditions of precarious academic workers.

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

backlash · bad academics · copper-bottomed bitch · hiring · job market · professors · righteous feminist anger · structural solutions

The backhand side: stupid job ads and equity

I hate red tape. I hate that every time I travel for research, I have to ask for and then save the receipt I get for buying a $5 sandwich on the airplane, and that if I get breakfast in my hotel room because the conference starts at 8:30am, I have to make sure that my toast and eggs are itemized on the hotel invoice because “Room Service Charge” is not reimbursable. This feels petty and annoying to me.

But sometimes, the pettiness and rules of the bureaucracy are an equity-seeking device.

Last year when I taught our graduate professionalization class to the second-year PhD cohort, we had as a guest lecturer a departmental colleague who was chair for a long time, and was hired in the 1980s. He was talking about the academic job market now and then. Now, as we all know, it’s a paper-heavy bureacractic mess. But then, it was a phone call between two dudes, exchanging grad students and privilege. No application, just backchannel.

In this vein, Sydni Dunn in Chronicle Vitae just reported on Jonathan Goodwin’s work with vintage MLA job ads (building on prior work by Jim Ridolfo). Here’s an ad that really stuck with me:

This is a marvel of insider-clubbiness. There might be an opening, and it doesn’t matter what field you’re in, but we’d like your degree from somewhere good and you should be able to play tennis and engage in repartee about same. The vague requirements leave the position completely open to whim; the emphasis on the rank of the school tends to reproduce privilege. The only real metric you could use to distinguish among candidates is actually tennis: publications are “helpful” but not required, so you can’t compare candidates on research record. You can’t distinguish by specialization, because none is required. You could in fact not hire at all. I can just imagine the deliberations. Oh wait: there wouldn’t be any. Because this was before committee-based hiring. Shudder. I’ll take Interfolio any day, frankly.

In my Facebook feed, then, in 2015, I was surprised to see a link to this ad from MIT. It starts out okay, or at least standard:

The MIT Media Lab (www.media.mit.edu) is seeking candidates to fill two tenure-track positions. Appointments will be within the Media Arts and Sciences academic program, principally at the Assistant Professor level. 

Successful candidates for either position will be expected to: establish and lead their own research group within the Media Lab; pursue creative work of the highest international standard; engage in collaborative projects with industrial sponsors and other Media Lab research groups; supervise master’s and doctoral students; and participate in the Media Arts and Sciences academic program. Send questions to faculty-search [at] media.mit.edu. 

MIT is committed to building a culturally diverse educational environment; women and minorities are strongly encouraged to apply. EOE.

Yes, that sounds like a job ad. Job type, job rank, job duties, number of jobs available, contact information, assessment criteria. Also, equity statement.

Good. Then the two available positions are listed out. One, in climate change and environment, is pretty standard, too. But then, this, in “undefined discipline”:

The Media Lab is a cross-disciplinary research organization focusing on the invention of new media technologies that radically improve the ways people live, learn, work, and play. 

We are seeking a new kind of early career faculty member, not defined by discipline, rather by his or her unique and iconoclastic experience, style, and points of view. You can be a designer, inventor, scientist, or scholar – any combination – as long as you make things that matter. Impact is key. 

This means somebody with at least these three sets of characteristics: 

  1. Being deeply versed in a minimum of two fields, preferably not ones normally juxtaposed;
  2. Being an orthogonal and counter-intuitive thinker, even a misfit within normal structures;
  3. Having a fearless personality, boundless optimism, and desire to change the world. 

Any disciplines apply as long as their confluence shows promise of solving big, difficult, and long-term problems. And, most importantly, candidates must explain why their work really can only be done at the Media Lab. We prefer candidates not be similar to our existing faculty. We welcome applicants who have never considered academic careers. If you fit into typical academia, this is probably not the job for you. 

Applications should consist of one URL—the web site can be designed in whatever manner best characterizes the candidate’s unique qualifications. Web site should include a CV or link to a CV.

So. Not a real application. Make a website, any kind of website, but unique, and submit that as your application! Also, there’s a personality-based assessment–be orthogonal as well as polymathic! We want you to be young (early career) and iconoclastic! This is a professor job, but if you fit into academia, you’re not the right fit. Except you’ll still need a PhD and do the work of a professor. The ad seems to be asking for a set of personal traits–and personal traits that seem to inhere in a very particular kind of applicant:

Venture-capital tech-dude types who skipped college and traveled to India (not to see family, but to experience life, man) and who have foregone the scholarly article in favor of something showier because they like attention and feel they deserve it and they have rebellious haircuts and gender-bending accessories.

Look. I regularly lobby to have my media appearances and blog work count on my CV. I get “iconoclastic”–and I get weird haircuts and gender-bending accessories. I wear My Little Pony swag to teach. But this kind of ad, in its emphasis on personality and attitude, feels insulting to all the hard, verifiable, assessable work that academics do to become trained and competitive for professorships. And it will lead to bad candidate assessment.

The ability to receive a serve on the backhand side is not named, but implied. Again, how on God’s Green Earth can you sensibly sort a candidate pool? I’ll tell you right now it’ll be like an American Idol open tryout, except many of the sensible people will just not even go.

Once more: in many ways, I’m all about thinking outside the academic box: I take Facebook seriously as life-writing and I refuse to call everyday social media users naive or thoughtless. I’m lobbying hard to change a lot about the PhD at my institution. What is killing me about this job ad is that it gets loosey-goosey about all the wrong things in ways that are going to disadvantage applicants who’ve just barely got a toe-hold into the academy. By removing assessable metrics and by opening the ad so widely, it’s nearly guaranteed that a very narrow set of possible winners is going to emerge.

You can bet your backhand on it.

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.