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.

ideas for change · skeptical feminist · women

Guest Post: ‘You, I, Me, We’: Re-Fashioning ‘Post’-Feminism?

I recently read Kate Bernheimer’s “This Rapturous Form,” which recollects a quote from Angela Carter’s Introduction to the Virago Book of Fairy Tales, “Sisters under the skin we might be,” writes Carter, “but that doesn’t mean we’ve got much in common (79).” Carter’s statement lingered and lingers with me.

I want to begin this post by recollecting the ways we recognize the differance between women. Specifically I am thinking of the various discussions and methods within feminisms that show us differance and also the work required to recognize the differences between women. But just as Carter’s statement echoes in my mind, so too does the oft-bandied and rarely unpacked “post-feminism.” What cultural work does post-feminism do? Sisters under the skin we might be but where is the connective tissue today?

In “The Other F-Word: The Disappearance of Feminism from Our Fiction,” Nicole Dixon writes that the point of the third-wave movement is “varied inclusivity” and a “refusal to set a definition” (Notes & Queries): we are different and that’s it? The current position of ‘post-feminism’ does not resonate with me especially because it is based on a lack or a refusal to engage, and so work through limitations. I often use feminist theory as a method for working against the grain of text, master narratives, and persistent ideological frames to perceive what is on the margins or receding; however, I do not often engage post-feminism as theory due to its absent-presence.

So, what kind of discussion might arise if hook & eye proposed a conversation (on-going or not) regarding the work feminisms does now inside and outside the academy, and, specifically, that of post-feminism.

Firstly, what does “post-feminism” mean to you, readers? How does the concept or claim of “post-feminism” negotiate or add to feminisms in the academy? Although some of the above questions might seem wide-ranging or open-ended, I find feminisms wide-ranging and open, but I am not entirely sure about post-feminism. I am open to convincing rhetoric and more so, convincing ideas about post-feminism. However, I resent the term “post-feminism.” I resent using the term in my critical work so I rarely do. I do not use the term in my classes because rather than open class discussion I find the term requires so much explanation (A. “No, feminism is not dead.” B. “Yes, the ‘Post’ does signal after, but…etc., C. “No, we cannot conflate Post-feminism with Post-Modernism…”etc.,) that any argument, ideas, discussion, and/or questions about feminisms becomes lost in the ‘post’ rhetoric. So, I sort of pretend that post-feminism is a capitalistic maneuver due to socio-economic turn. Or, post-feminism is a form that might, with some transformation, begin another kind of conversation, another kind of cultural work. If we could only begin discussing something other than its name, post-haste.

The questions that I am interested in pursuing are as follows:

-Does feminisms require a definition? Re-definition? Refer to “What’s Political about the New Feminism?” What about Feminist theory? Can a theory operate without definitions, margins, or a desire to engage?

-Why the post? Why do ‘we’ entertain, negotiate, and persist with post? (I know this is more complex than the question implies but I think it is a good starting point).

-Do we continue the waves metaphor? Refer to the recent article, “Is it Time to Jump Ship? Historians Rethink the Waves Metaphor” (Spring 2010). Should we coin a new term or just advocate for feminisms if ‘post’ does not resonate? Work?

-What does post-feminism convey to readers, writers, students, women and men now? v How do we position ourselves, especially in the academy, when the ‘F-word’ is deemed passé, nostalgic, retro, etc? I am feminist so I am passé, nostalgic, retro or worse…?

Am I too concerned with semantics? I do not think so. What’s in a name, after all, often says it all especially when it affects/effects cultural thought and action.

-Carmen Derksen
PhD Student
copper-bottomed bitch · intolerant shrew · reflection · resolution · skeptical feminist

And a Happy New Year, Too

As always, my husband read over the draft of my post before I put it in queue to be published. “Um, Aimée?” he began, delicately, “I think people are going to fight with you.”

It might surprise you to know that I have actually written an article on conflict management in personal blogging (under review! At New Media and Society! October 2010!) and that I’m an expert on the building and maintenance of trust relationships online (Volume 4, Issue 2! Cyberpsychology: A Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace!). Because, inadvertently, I started a minor flame war. Now, in the new year, I don’t want to rehash or re-light, but to consider the process of how we frame our ideas, and how we can disagree with each other with goodwill.

In hindsight, I can see that including the phrase “wanna make something of it?” in a post title is obviously a little combative, but I imagined that readers would see me as I saw myself, comically swinging my oversized red mittens in useless little circles and saying ‘pow! pow!’ while dancing about on my tiptoes. And commenters who know me in real life picked up this tone, probably because they know me in real life: that’s how I speak, and they have the context for that. (In this category, please include SC, Joanne Wallace, and Claire, as well as, of course, Heather.) To others I can see that the text may read aggressive. That’s my bad. Arianna’s comment helped clarify that for me, and I appreciate the holiday wishes with which she closed her comment–thank you, Arianna.

Some commenters prompted me to become more subtle in my thinking. Geetabix offered a useful and interesting personal story: thank you for that. Jana distinguishes between individual and institutional practices, in a way I didn’t do, and she’s right: thanks, Jana. I feel that I have benefited from the thoughtfulness each of you exhibited, and I’m grateful.

Other people outright disagreed with me, but not unpleasantly. SC supports my own practice, while articulating one totally different from it: I appreciate the care that you have used in respecting my position, SC, while disagreeing with it! Thank you, also, to those other readers who couched their negative comments in careful wording: thank you jroselkin for noting that what you read in the post might not be what I have intended, and for noting as well that you mostly like the blog. Jordana did this too. You all modeled a generosity of spirit I want to bring with me into the new year.

Heather, using conflict management strategies I discourse on at some length in my article, deflates the conflict with humour: how do I find time to bake? (Easy: my sister and I do it together–multiple batches of 7 recipes, over one 12 hour day, where her oldest kid minds my only kid.) Claire, too, focused on the baking, probably to cool things down. Humour and re-direction are time-honoured mommy-blogging conflict containment strategies, you should know! We must be becoming a community! Joanne just offered hearty well-wishes, probably to raise my spirits. From my hear, I appreciate the emotional labour you each expended to raise my morale, to maintain relationships and to build community here.

A couple of comments, though, attacked me personally. I have received emails from my friends, commiserating, and asking after my feelings. Let me be perfectly honest here: these comments made me cry. After a couple of weeks of dread whenever a comment popped up in my email, I’ve regained my equanimity and can only say: ad hominem is a logical fallacy. I would let this go unremarked but this space is really important to me so I ask: does vituperation maybe prevent other readers, perhaps more marginally situated than I am, but members of this community nevertheless, from feeling safe to participate if participating might mean disagreeing with a prevailing view?

In any case, let me close with this: Happy new year to all of you, and best wishes for a continued, various, multivocal conversation here at Hook and Eye. I hope we all feel safe and respected in articulating our ideas and our beliefs: I do. We may not always agree with each other–God, I hope we don’t always all agree with each other–but this blog has by and large been a very positive experience for me, and, I hope, for you.

hiring · sexist fail · skeptical feminist

Attachments: Letters of reference, CV, teaching philosophy…and a headshot

Periodically we’ve been thinking here about appearance in/and The Profession. And today is December 6th, a day that, as Nicole Brossard says elsewhere, is among the centuries. A day that in Canada is for remembering violence against women, remembering women who were killed simply for being women. Violence against women–all women–should be in the forefront of national concern, though as one of our commenters noted, “The most terrible and egregious act of sexism this month was the Harper government’s decision regarding the ‘renewal’ of funding for Sisters in Spirit, a Native Women’s Association of Canada initiative that has documented 582 missing and murdered aboriginal women and is developing policy recommendations on [how to deal with and stop] violence against aboriginal women. In true Harper style, the feds reduced funding by one third for the next five years and made ‘renewal’ subject to the following conditions: that the initiative be called Evidence in Action; that their well recognized Grandmother Moon logo not be used; that they cease doing ‘research’ on the missing and murdered women (to focus on ‘action’); and that they not maintain their database.”

I found myself thinking too about Polytechnique. I was ten years old on 6 December 1989 when a man with a gun walked into Montréal ’s L’École Polytechnique. He entered a classroom, demanded that the men go on one side and the women on the other. He told the men to leave the room, and they went. He called the women “une gang de féminists” and then he shot. Fourteen women were killed. I remember sitting on the living room floor in my parents’ house in Ottawa, reading the newspaper and feeling scared. It was night time; I was at home alone. My parents had just started letting me stay home without a babysitter; I was responsible and I liked having space to myself. But sitting on the living room floor on the new blue carpet I was scared. How far away was Montréal? Was this man really dead? Or had he come to Ottawa? I closed all of the curtains, sat in a corner and read and reread the reports. One of the policemen who came to the school found his daughter murdered. One male student said that when he saw the corpse of a woman in the photocopy room he thought it was a sick practical joke. Since when was a dead woman a joke? The sadistic violence acted out on these women was, I think now, the first time I truly recognized that I was a woman. It was, certainly, the first time I realized that women were sought out as victims based solely on their gender, though I do not imagine I had those words at the time. Alone in my parents’ house that night I just had my fear and a heavy sense of isolation.

With gendered and raced identity at the forefront of my mind, naturally I thought of this discursive space when, while catching up on my blog reading this weekend, I came across an article from the New York Times. Called “Beauty Discrimination During a Job Search” the article considers research from social scientists that suggests looks have something to do with whether or not you get a second interview. Here is a wee excerpt:

How much do looks matter during a job search? A new study suggests that while handsome men do better while looking for work, good looks can end up hurting a woman’s chances of scoring a job interview.

The gist of the research is that looking good is fine if you’re a man and bad (read: threatening) if you’re a woman.

After feeling whipsawed by the predictability of this article (and the more predictable commentary) I found myself thinking about how you readers would respond to this article. I also found myself thinking about my students.

I’ve just finished teaching a contemporary critical theory course. We spent the semester thinking about norms: gender, race, class, ethnicity, language, form. In short we engaged in consciousness-raising in a classroom. When these students were faced with a stunningly devastating binary they fought it. Fought to understand it, fought to unpack it, fought to think through alternative ways of being in the world that might upend extant inequities.

Did we get very far? In certain ways, no: we covered a huge amount of material in a semester. They may not all remember the difference of differ
ance, but some of them will. More of them might think about Peggy Phelan‘s work of the politics of visibility or Benedict Anderson‘s imagined communities.

I chose to organize the course in a rhizomatic structure. Modules, if you prefer. I was fascinated to find that when we reached the module on gender and sexuality–and read (among many others)
Rich, Cixous, and Mohanty. The students almost invariably gravitated to/were interested in Mohanty’s article on feminist scholarship and (post-) colonial discourse, while they found both Cixous and Rich prescriptive. Mainly, the concern was that the texts by Rich and Cixous showed their age. They weren’t prepared to say that there was no such thing as gender inequity, but they were resistant to the notion that it was so blatant, boring, and obvious.

So I find myself wondering what they would make of this article which, as it states, is based on social science research (you can link to the scholarly article informing the NYT one here).

And I find myself wondering what to make of it as well. Like my fellow blogger(s), I certainly think about my professor-y appearance. But this seems even more complicated than that. Certainly I’m not in a profession that is in the practice of asking for photographs to accompany applications (yet) but that seems beside the point. What does this say about “progress” for women gendered or made? What does it say about striving for ethnic and racial diversity?

Here’s (a teeny tiny top three list of ) what concerns me:
-what counts at “good looking” seems thinly veiled. This means ‘classic good looks,’ right? Which means heteronormative at the very least. And that, friends, is hugely problematic.
-as one commenter states, it seems that in any version of this scenario women are the most disenfranchised by this trend. This echoes my first concern: Are these women who look like, pass as, or choose to identify as women? Probably the former.
-in an attempt to “eliminate potential racial bias, the judges selected photos of individuals who appear to have a more ambiguous ethnic background.” So if you look too anything you’re out of luck? Wow.

What do you think readers?
copper-bottomed bitch · emotional labour · skeptical feminist

Working like a Woman

What’s hard about my job isn’t the work, and it isn’t the people (though believe me, I have my days). What’s hard about my job is me – specifically, the fact that I have never learned how to not take things personally. Part of this is A Heather Problem: I tend to be intemperate, drawn to extremes. I love what I like and I hate what I dislike, and there is a special place in my heart for the Brussels sprout (a mean little vegetable). So, sure, part of it is me.

But I suspect that it’s also A Gender Problem. Having been “made” a woman (Beauvoir), I am now someone who acts, and feels, and responds, like a woman. What does that mean? Among other things: I want my colleagues and students to like me. That’s certainly not the only thing I want, and I wouldn’t say it’s what I want the most – but do I want it? Yeah, I do. Also, I work to make people happy. When they are unhappy, I don’t shrug it off; I work harder. Although I don’t mind honest confrontations, it upsets me to be in the middle of intractable discord, particularly with people who have no interest in working things out. Other examples: when a journal turns down a publication, I think I’m stupid. When a colleague attacks a process I’ve put together, I assume s/he speaks for everyone. When I find myself in a why-do-the-wicked-prosper moment in public, my blood boils, my face reddens, and my voice shakes. The strongest emotions – fear, rage, frustration, incredulity, resentment, envy, homicidal PMS – are disfiguring for everybody; for women, they can be professionally debilitating. Angry men are respected; angry women are shrill. Etc.

Understand, please, that this is not an intellectual problem. Philosophical disagreements?: you win some, you lose some, you change your mind on some. I am fine with the fact that we academics make our living on principle. Nor am I asking for therapeutic advice. I don’t wish to be a different kind of person. I don’t imagine the academy to be my world; my job is not my life; I know that institutions have no soul. I know all of that, in my head. But in my heart? I’ve never figured out how to park my emotions at the committee room door. I can’t seem to find a way to care less.

And here is the real kicker. The very things that make me susceptible to bruising (bruise = internal bleeding, remember) are the things that make me really good at my job. As a woman, I have developed exceptional emotional intelligence. I can read the feel of a room within seconds. More importantly, I can work with that. To tension I bring peace, to shyness I offer inclusiveness, and I ease social awkwardness with good humour. When I’m confronted by someone who is angry, or upset, or frightened, I know what to do – I know intuitively, I want to say, though what i mean is: I know because I have been made a woman.

I believe these are important skills – important to the individuals involved, but also important to the institution, and therefore important to all of us. (See “cycle of abuse.”) But these so-called soft skills play in the most undervalued aspects of our universities: teaching, meeting, mentoring, supervising. When it comes right down to it, whether by reputation, by conviction, by tradition or by culture, the university still values the disembodied thinker above all.

And that – I find enraging.

(Okay, readers: some hefty claims here, I know. Bring it!)

banting · equity · skeptical feminist

Here we go again: Equity and the Banting postdoc

So, to match the super-doctoral award (Bombardier CGS), the super-recruitment award (Vanier) and the super-CRC (CERC), the federal government has announced the Banting super-postdoc.

In order to avoid another embarrassing episode of sexism laid bare, as happened when the CERC results were announced (19 awards and no women? – but we’re not sexist!), universities are required to demonstrate their commitment to equity:

In order to ensure that gender equity issues are considered in an institution’s decision to support a given applicant, proposed host institutions will be required to confirm their commitment to gender equity and involve institutional equity officers (or equivalent) in the endorsement of applicants for these awards. [Banting website]

At the UofA, an equity officer will be part of the final institution-level review. After being scanned at the Faculty level and vetted by a SSHRC subcommittee, applications are subject to university-wide endorsement. That stage involves an equity officer in some as-yet-opaque capacity.

Will this process give us the equity we seek? More specifically:

  1. What are the equity goals for the Banting competition? Given the ubiquity of quantitative measures for all aspects of postsecondary life – think university rankings, ratios, research impacts, institutional report cards, etc. – I am struck by the absence of hard targets according to which universities/Ottawa will measure their equity success.
  2. Which women is the Banting for: the postdocs themselves or the women researchers they will work with? The competition is being described as a boon to superstar researchers rather than as a help to promising (post)grad students caught in a vicious market. The explanation for the deplorable CERC results was the familiar demographic excuse that there are simply not enough senior women professors in Canada. If this is the case, measuring equity by the applicant‘s gender will simply perpetuate the demographic pyramid – especially in a challenging job market, which will do its part to ensure many of these postdocs will never become professors of any kind, let alone senior ones.
  3. Here’s a big and obvious question. As we know, equity is not just about gender. How will this competition speak to the other protected grounds: Aboriginality, disability, race/visible difference?
  4. Is the penultimate stage of a four-part review process really the place to take up equity? Cast your mind forward to that moment. The university president is in the room. The review committee is examining applications that cost, conservatively, 110 person hours to craft. All remaining competitors are deserving. But …. The equity officer clears her throat. There is a pause. What happens then? What happens then is that a discourse takes shape. Even if the committee puts aside some applications in favor of others, perhaps others they rejected earlier, the rhetorical ground for pitting equity against excellence has taken shape. In other words, even if we win the Banting, we lose the war.
  5. The Banting postdoc, like the Vanier and the Trudeau awards, emphasizes “leadership” (more on that in future posts). However, unlike the Vanier and Trudeau, the Banting measures leadership in narrow terms, as “demonstrated capacity for leadership in the research domain defined by the sphere of influence achieved to date by the applicant.” So my final question: won’t the Banting’s limited emphasis on research structurally disadvantage women, Aboriginal and racialized applicants, given that we know these groups are disproportionately called on to serve academic and community groups?

I actually posed a version of these questions to SSHRC, through our university’s postdoc office. Their answer [sic]:

The goal of the program as it relates to equity is to ensure that each institution has considered equity when endorsing their applicants. In terms of success rates of the program we realize that we aren’t able to ensure an equal representation of men and women since the peer review committee does not consider equity as part of their reviews. However, our expectation is that the institutions keep it in mind in the hopes that we receive as equal a balance of total men and women applicants as possible. There is no strict rule about % of men vs. women per institution however, and the idea is that the institutions would indicate to us that equity has been taken into consideration when they are deciding which applicants to endorse. We don’t need any more detail than that in the endorsement letter. Other protected grounds are not explicit in our requirements and therefore are left at the institutions own discretion to determine how they are considered in the endorsement process.

Over to you, readers.