best laid plans · contract work · good things · january blues · positive thoughts as I fill out grant applications · women

Generous Thinking

If you ask me, Mondays sort of beg for some kind of genuine inspiration. Especially Mondays in January. Mondays are, in a micro-manner, a day to ever so slightly return to and reset your larger best laid plans. Sure, it is very easy to slip into Blue Monday mode, but let’s not today.

Why the optimism? Well, this weekend I have found myself thinking time and again about generosity. I thought about it on Friday evening when my partner and I went out for dinner with colleagues. Amidst the genuine anguish about what is happening on our campus here was such an undercurrent of real, palpable care for the spaces in which we work and especially for the students we teach in our classes. We talked about what’s wrong, got angry–righteously so!–about the many systemic injustices, and throughout it all I kept thinking ‘what luck, to be engaged in such generous thinking.’ Generosity was the electric current of the conversation. It kept us coming back from rage or frustration to a refrain of how much we care.

And then, on Saturday morning at oh-my-lord-o’clock I met a former student for coffee before she joined her badminton team for 8:30am game preparations. She took a bus from where the team was staying on the outskirts of the city to meet me. (I’ll admit, all I did was clean off the truck and drive, but it was c-o-l-d!!! and e-a-r-l-y!). There we sat, the only people in the coffee shop, and talked about her classes, my research, her plans for grad school, my intention to shake off fretfulness, the Taylor Swift channel on Songza, strategies for self-care in Canadian winter, how badminton differs from tennis (a lot!), and books we wanted to read.

Later that day, as I worked on a SSHRC application, I was grateful for my colleague’s generosity. As a contract academic faculty member I am not on the research services email list, yet she has continually made sure I get the information and support I need. I thought again with gratitude of the people who have read and edited the proposal on their own time. And I thought about my colleagues across the country who are joining the application. These people are completing the Canadian Common CV for me. How unspeakably generous! Seriously.

Some basic definitions of generosity include “a liberalness in sharing or giving,” and “willingness to give value to others.” In addition to some of the lovely conversations I have had this weekend, I have also come across that liberalness in sharing or giving on the web. Specifically, I have had the pleasure of coming across Ayelet Tsabari’s blog post outlining her reading intentions for last year. Tsabari writes that in 2014 she intended to read only writers of colour. In her post outlining her intent she is candid about her reasons and her reservations:

I thought of VIDA and CWILA and their yearly counts, which often spring an offshoot discussion about the lack of writers of colour in reviews and magazines. And I remembered that the brilliant Madeleine Thien recently spoke about the underrepresentation of writers of colour in literary awards. And then, I thought I should dedicate 2014 to only reading writers of colour. And immediately dismissed it as a silly idea and went to bed.

But I kept thinking about it. When I woke up that night to feed my baby, I thought of books by writers of colour I can’t wait to read and got excited. In 2011, when I only read short story collectionsI discovered many incredible writers I’d never heard of because I was always on the hunt for new collections, and I read more, simply because I made a public pledge to do so. It wasn’t a burden, but a blessing. I imagined this would be a similar experience; by imposing ‘restrictions’ on my reading list I would be reading more widely, not narrowly, the same way that writing under constraints may sometimes result in better writing. And I knew I’d have many great writers to choose from. Last year, Roxane Gay of The Rumpus had conveniently compiled a long list of writers of colour (a list in which I’m proud to be mentioned) in response to the argument that there are simply not enough writers of colour. That list would be a good place to start.
But the idea made me nervous.  Unlike reading books of short stories, this choice felt political. And coming from Israel, politics tend to scare the shit out of me. I shouldn’t be choosing books by authors’ ethnicity, should I? It’s so arbitrary, so random. But then again, what’s wrong with that? People choose to read books because they’re on the Giller list, or on Canada Reads, or on the staff picks at their local bookstore. People choose books based on covers and blurbs and titles and gut feelings. So why not this?
But I was still hesitant. Ethnicity is a complicated thing, and identities can be layered and shifting and blurry. Where do I draw the line? What about writers of mixed heritage? Or writers of colour who write about white people, or choose (stubbornly!) not to write about their heritage? (I loved this article which speaks about the expectation from writers of colour to write about their heritage and their heritage only, or to write novels that—as a dear friend of mine, an Indian-Canadian writer, has put it—“have mango trees.”)  And what about other minorities? LGBT writers? Writers from other cultures who aren’t ‘of colour’? And really, should we be even talking about race? It makes people so uncomfortable. (Read Tsabari’s whole post here)
How generous is this thinking? This willingness to be public, vulnerable, adamant, dedicated, and nervous? Tsabari, it seems to me, gives her readers something of value, and she does it for free. And then, just recently, she returns to give again by returning to her original intent and telling us about her experiences, about her thinking. You can read her post, “My Year of Reading Only Writers of Colour” here
Tsabari isn’t the only person out there thinking meaningful, challenging thoughts in public forums, but as I came across her writing this weekend I was grateful for her. For her generosity and for the generosity of others, like this blogger, who share their thinking, work, and resources. 
What kind of generosity have you come across in the academy or its vicinity,  readers? I’d love to have some more examples to buoy me through this January Monday and maybe, just maybe, right through until spring. 
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? 

generational mentorship · guest post · women

Guest Post: Why Dorothy Livesay Matters

To read of other women’s lives, especially in their own voices, is to be given a fuller understanding of ourselves. It is to participate in a community of women writers and readers that generates a different kind of confidence than is permitted to women’s voices in patriarchal culture.

-Joan Coldwell[i]

I am browsing in a bookstore with some friends. One of them pulls a book of poetry from the shelf and tells us about it: “This poet is amazing, but no one talks about her. Dorothy Livesay called her the strongest poet of her generation.” His tone is one of admiration and regret. A man I have just met hears this and scoffs: “Dorothy Livesay.”

I turn sharply. “Did you just scoff at the name Dorothy Livesay?” There is a definite edge to my voice.

He responds with something like: “Dorothy Livesay recommending a poet is like John Travolta naming the year’s best movie.” I have no idea what he means by this, but it is clear he doesn’t consider John Travolta a brilliant cinematic critic. I don’t back down, glaring at him until he expresses surprise that someone would get offended over Dorothy Livesay.

I exit the conversation.

For those not familiar with her, Dorothy Livesay is one of the big names in Canadian poetry. Her writing career spanned seven decades, but she was also a critic, social worker, activist, journalist, teacher, wife, daughter, and mother. I came to her work through Right Hand Left Hand, her documentary/memoir of the 1930s.

The bookstore exchange comes at a time when Livesay and I are at a crossroads. I worked closely on Right Hand Left Hand for a year, and though I deeply admired Livesay, I began to conflate her with all the frustrations and self-doubt of that time. Now, after an eight-month break, I have the chance to continue my work on Livesay–and I am afraid this work will recall my personal stresses. But I am realizing, in this bookstore, how much I care about her. If young male academics can scoff at her name, then obviously its time for a reminder of how much she accomplished

On a more personal level, this confrontation is revealing something about myself. I don’t do confrontation. I don’t challenge strange men in bookstores to explain themselves. But I should; in my daydream revisions of past experiences, I say biting, intelligent things and force the offending person to reconsider. If Livesay inspires me to be that kind of person, then I need her more than she needs me.

Months have past, and I am diving deeper into my work on Right Hand Left Hand. I check out a copy of Livesay’s second book of poetry, Signpost, and when I open it, I gasp. There, on the first page, is a signed note from Livesay to her future husband:

                                                  Duncan Macnair–

                                                  For an outrider–

                                                  this signpost

                                                           Dorothy Livesay October, 1936

Signpost is a book of Livesay’s more lyrical poetry, but by 1936 she was doubting this kind of work. The political and economic realities of the Great Depression demanded, in Livesay’s eyes, a more relevant kind of poetry, exemplified in her 1936 poem “Day and Night.” Livesay had recently moved to Vancouver, where she worked as a social worker and as regional editor of the leftist magazine New Frontier. She was writing poetry about the escalating Spanish Civil War, and articles covering strikes in rural BC and Alberta. The next year, Livesay married Macnair and lost her career in social work–forced out by regulations that prohibited married women from holding jobs.

I have read pages of Livesay’s adolescent diary, seen a picture of her topless, and examined her archives from top to bottom, but this dedication feels different. It feels so intimate, and yet so situated in all these political and cultural contexts. It is a still moment in the life of a woman who was always consciously growing and changing, but it is marked with her past and future endeavours, as if her identity was never stable, even for a few words.

Joan Coldwell’s words strike me to the core. I am beginning to recognize my work on Livesay as work on myself. I am striving to be that kind of dynamic person who cannot be contained–not in a quick note to a new lover, and definitely not in a scoff.

Kaarina Mikalson
University of Alberta

[i] Coldwell, Joan. “Walking the Tightrope With Anne Wilkinson.” Editing Women. Ed. Ann M. Hutchison. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

balance · style matters · time crunch · transition · well-heeled (so to speak) · women

On the ‘Do

In her last post (Go read and comment! It will make your day), Aimee so nicely suggested that she’s hoping to learn more from me “about post-academic careers and what a new kind of life of the mind might look like.” We’ll get to that, but today’s post is anything but life-of-the-mind-y. Rather than writing about what’s in my head, I’m writing about what’s on it–my hair, in all of its shiny and political glory. Hair (at least mine) might be frizzled, but it ain’t just frivolous.

(If you like these style posts, check out all the ones tagged with style matters. And please ignore the fact that I’m shamelessly revisiting Aimee’s post on her feminist haircut).

My recent hair obsession started with three things: 1) being too busy to get a haircut for what seemed like an age and then fussing about with my overgrown mop, 2) starting the new job and trying to figure out how to juggle looking put together at work and fitting in time at the gym before my hour-long commute and my 8:30 start, and 3) seeing a woman on the bus with a beautiful short crop that looked SO stylish and SO easy. In the easy department she beat my rather high-maintenance bob, which requires endless blow drying and ironing every time I wash it, else I look like a electrocuted poodle.

I wasn’t kidding.

In the throes of hair obsession, I seriously considered following the suit of my short-haired muse and hacking the whole business off. If you’ll permit me a whine, expectations around women’s hair just seem so unfair, and so expressly calculated to channel our energies into the frivolous and the decorative instead of into the useful and the intellectual. And I want that half-hour of sleep back, dammit. Most men–at least prior to the advent of the man-bun–can just shower and be on their way, little-to-no fluffing required. (They also aren’t expected by society to put on makeup, or strap themselves into bras, or paint their nails, or jam their feet into high heels–all things which I know I’m not ACTUALLY required to spend my time doing, in any objective sense, but do anyway because I like to look nice and because painting ones’ nails is, not unlike making risotto, very relaxing.) But women in most parts of the world are conditioned to equate long hair with femininity and attractiveness, and thus grow luscious locks that require more babying than my rather neurotic cat. There are exceptions, of course, like those who decide that they just don’t give a damn, or those, like Halle Berry or my friend Belinda, who are made for short hair. And of course there are women who have long hair or high-maintenance hair for reasons other than style. But the coded (and not so coded) message many women get is that short hair is unfeminine, unflattering, unsexy, and only for those beautiful or dynamic enough to make up for their lost hair-related appeal in other ways. (I can’t imagine how terribly those messages must be compounded for women who have lost their hair for medical reasons, and thus are told that they’re doubly unattractive, being both sick and bald.)

Having absorbed this equation of hair = beauty (and being, let’s be honest, just a mite vain), I spend all kinds of time–valuable time, time I could be spending on intellectual pursuits, or with my family, or exercising, or SLEEPING, for goodness sakes–washing my hair, drying my hair, ironing my hair, working to pay for expensive haircuts, shopping for hair products. Think about how much time I could devote to concocting some brilliant money-making scheme, or practicing my French, or writing my dissertation, if I started refusing to style my hair, or cut it into a style that doesn’t require styling. A lot! It’s madness, I tell you! It’s hair tyranny! 

Sure, there are other ways to say screw you to the hair establishment than cutting it all off. The low-maintenance (and very popular) long-hair-always-in-a-bun style (or the every popular ponytail) is certainly one way, although it often comes at the cost of headaches from the weight of all that hair perched atop one’s head all day. (I’d go that route, but the migraines aren’t worth it.) And dry shampoo is a godsend, that’s for certain.  But wouldn’t it be lovely if we lived in a world where beauty and femininity weren’t tied to hair? Where short-haired women were just as unremarkable as short-haired men? Where those of us not in possession of Cate Blanchett’s cheekbones didn’t feel like we needed hair to hide, or accentuate, parts of our faces? Where long hair was a simple choice, and not, as it is for some people, a screen, or armour? Where I could get sweaty and shower and be on my way in the morning, no potions or hair irons required?

Sadly, we don’t. And I’m brave about some things, but apparently not about this. My high-maintenance hair is, somewhat to my dismay, a part of my personal and professional identity, and so it stays. I still resent the time I spend on my coif, time I could be spending in other ways, but clearly not enough to give Hannah-the-hairdresser free rein with the clippers. I’m keeping my poodle-free bob, which looks quite nice, I do concede. But I’m also figuring out other ways I can take back my time from the demands of appearances. Time to invest in some no-iron clothes, perhaps?

Makeup, jewelry, dress, heels, manicure, contacts, hair did–the whole shebang.

What about you? Is your ‘do a drag, a drain, a distraction from more important things? Or is your coif something you celebrate? Do you find the discussion of follicles frivolous, or fraught? Do tell!

academic work · canada · empowerment · faster feminism · women

3 Reasons 2 Opportunities to Speak Up About Women

November is a few days away, and with it comes two deadlines you should be aware of:

1) CWILA‘s Critic in Residence competition closes on November 1.

The Residency
CWILA supports a female Canadian writer (poet, novelist, storyteller, scholar) as its resident critic for a calendar year. The aim of the residency is to foster criticism that promotes public awareness of women’s literary and critical presence in Canadian letters. Specifically, the critic-in-residence works on critical essays and/or book reviews and submits them to one or more Canadian review venues (print and web). This work is also archived by CWILA and becomes available through its website following publication elsewhere, copyright permitting. The critic-in-residence is encouraged to support a climate of critical responsiveness in Canadian letters through a collaborative or community-based project of her choice. In addition, the Critic in Residence will comment on the results of the annual Count in a public forum. The residency is virtual, so the writer is free to work from home. The Critic in Residence will finish the term by submitting a dossier summarizing the work done while in residence. The deadline for submission of the essay or reviews to CWILA is December 31st of the year of the residency. At this time, the writer also provides documentation that the pieces have been submitted to other publications.
Application Criteria:
Applications should include a letter of intent describing the project or projects the applicant wishes to undertake, the venue or venues to which they plan to submit, a one-page CV, and one short sample of critical work.
We particularly encourage applications from writers with disabilities, genderqueer writers, Indigenous writers, as well as other women and/or genderqueer writers of colour.
Stipend:  $3,000
Applications: The deadline for applications is November 1, 2013
Please send applications to

2) Abstracts for Discourse & Dynamics: Canadian Women as Public Intellectuals are due October 31. 

This national conference proposes to appraise women’s contributions to dynamic discourse in Canada and Quebec. Scheduled in conjunction with Persons Day, 18 October 2014, the conference will feature among other notable participants Margaret Atwood, Nicole Brossard, Siila Watt-Cloutier, Jessica Danforth, Charlotte Gray, Smaro Kamboureli, Antonia Maioni, Pam Palmater, Judy Rebick, Janice Stein, and Lori Turnbull.
Canadian women have contributed enormously to public discourse, in important but often under-valued ways.  Across different generations and cultural communities, women in English Canada and Quebec address key questions that animate intellectual discussion, from concerns about the environment and the economy to issues of social justice, racism, poverty, health and violence.  But are their voices valued and heard, or are they subsumed in the general noise of public debate?  Why are they not accorded the attention and approbation they merit?

Both the Critic in Residence position and the Discourse & Dynamics conference hinge on the fundamental belief that women have a crucial role to play in working towards a more egalitarian future for people living in Canada. If you’re reading this blog then I suspect that point isn’t one you need to be convinced of; however, it is also almost November. If you’re reading this then chances are you have some affiliation with the Academy as well. Whether you’re a graduate student, sessional, adjunct, precariously or under employed, tenure track, or tenured faculty member we know that this time of year is busy. It is easy to let deadlines slip by. Here are three reasons to consider speaking in public, whether in an application to CWILA’s CIR, or in a proposal for a presentation to Discourse & Dynamics, or simply to circulate these and other opportunities to speak up and speak out. 

1) Indigenous women are leading the fight for land rights and environmental protection against a government that does not respect Indigenous peoples and their rights. 

2) We live in a country saturated with rape culture: from the chants on university campuses, to the ongoing systematic violence against women, to violently engendered language. For example, I just learned about #rapeface this morning, but apparently it has been in circulation for a few years. Speaking out against violence is one step, speaking with people — especially young people — about it is another crucial step towards eradicating rape culture.

3) We need more images like this one of women celebrating the recognition of their lifetime achievements.

faster feminism · new year new plan · openness · women

Faster Feminism Redux: Welcome Back, Y’all

I am sitting at my new desk in my new office at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. If you missed my hello/goodbye announcement in the spring here is the short version: I have moved. I’m now in this lovely town for a 12-month limited term contract. I’m thinking about beginnings and I am thinking about changes. I am also — always — thinking about poetry…

You fit into me / like a hook into an eye

That is how Heather began our first post three years ago. If you’re a long-time reader you may recall that Hook & Eye began in part as a reaction to the CERC brew-ha-ha in which absolutely zero of the nineteen new Canada Excellence Research Chairs we women. We also began Hook & Eye as a means of fostering community. Where, we wondered, were women working in universities in Canada? How were they negotiating the quotidian and extraordinary challenges of their diverse work environments? How are our colleagues–old friends or yet-to-be met acquaintances–thinking about and living through their experiences as raced, gendered, classed, and situated people in today’s Canadian university? And what are they wearing?

You see, I find myself once again in a Janus-faced stance looking back at the original impetus for this blog, and looking forward towards the unknown of another semester. Fresh as a newly-cracked moleskine or foreboding as start of hurricane season? Only time will tell…

You fit into me / like a hook into an eye
A fish hook / an open eye

In the three years since the blog began we have addressed an incredible amount in inequity. We have had guest posts that deal with rape culture on Canadian university campuses. We have had pieces on job-place harassment. We had — and then stopped running — a monthly post called This Month In Sexism. We didn’t stop running the feature because we rant out of material, no. We stopped running it because readers requested that we stop because it was too disheartening. Fish hook to open eye, indeed. Or rather, here’s to the undeniable need to keep talking, thinking, teaching, and practicing faster feminism.

Of course, as Heather wrote in that first post Hook & Eye’s aim is a double one: it is both an intervention and an invitation. We envisioned this space as a place to talk politics, pressures, panics, and pleasures. And yes, we probably do want to know what you’re planning to wear for your first day of class. We also want to know how your feminist praxis is evolving. In short, we want to know what our readership cares about and we want to continue to bring a diverse set of topics to you for your consideration.

Oh yes, we. That trickiest of pronouns. Such an easy one to wield with blindness to the kinds of exclusions it can enact; such a wonderful work when one feels a part of that we. We have undergone shifts in who we are here at Hook & Eye. Heather has moved into the position of Editrix Emerita as she moved into her new office as Vice Dean of Arts. Aimee and I have welcomed Margrit into the roster of weekly editrix-writers. Last year we were fortunate to have a collective of regular writers (thank you Danielle, Liz, Jessica, Liza, and Melissa!) and this year Melissa will be joining us on a semi-regular basis. And as ever we are grateful to out guest posters who give of their own time and take the risk of thinking in public.

Perhaps to my eye the greatest shift in who makes up the collaborative writing we of Hook & Eye is the shift to the sheer number of precariously employed. We now have a disproportionate number of un- under- or precariously-employed writers. And while writing in public is always risky, writing in public while precariously employed carries its own unique challenges. As I have performed (again, and again, and again) with a mix of determination and complete sheepishness the number of precarious workers is on the rise. Writing publicly, creating a readerly collective, trying to create the conditions for solidarity: these are some of the possibilities afforded to us by social media. Of course, we — in that shifting collective of bodies that comprises the pronoun — need one another as much as we need our own political and social consciousness to keep us from forgetting the various ways in which these generative aims carry the potential for permeating inequity. Fish hook to open eye? Yes, that’s the risk, but I would like to suggest rather that these pernicious and diverse inequities offer us new ways of coming together. Faster feminism.

As we head into a new school year another section in the Hook & Eye archives opens. We would like to invite you to continue to read, comment, and heck, maybe even write a guest post for us. For now, though, how about inspiring us with some of your new year’s resolutions?

solidarity · women · you're awesome

Hot Topic: Solidarity and Shout-outs

Remember that song “Hot Topic” by Le Tigre? I sure do. The first time I heard it was in Chapel Hill, North Carolina at the Cat’s Cradle. I was just about to finish my undergraduate degree. Kathleen Hanna was jumping up and down and shouting out the names of women who have been of the utmost influence in her life. Behind her, JD Samson and Johanna Fateman were rocking out and adding names of their own. It was one of the last shows I saw before I left North Carolina and moved back to Canada, and I think of it often. Hearing Le Tigre give shout-outs to women was revelatory for me. Here were women celebrating other women. Here was a joyful and empowering naming of names, a series of affirmations and citations bound together with a refrain of “Don’t stop! Please don’t stop! I can’t live if you stop!”

I have had “Hot Topic” on my mind a great deal for a few reasons in the last few weeks. First, it is nearing the one-year anniversary of the founding of Canadian Women in the Literary Arts. A cause for both reflection and celebration, the nearing anniversary has come with several mentions in the news. In some cases, those mentions are positive. In other cases, they come with an undercurrent of dismissal towards CWILA’s mandate. I find myself thinking through the reasons for these multifaceted reactions to the crucial volunteer work being done by CWILA members.

I also think of “Hot Topic” and the importance of giving shout-outs and solidarity to women who speak out in public forums. Sina Queyras aka Lemon Hound is currently fundraising for a prize for the best piece of critical writing by a woman. Recently, Lemon Hound published Zoe Whittall’s poemUnequal To Me,” a poem that calls attention to  the ways in which men review women’s book. It went viral. That same week Jon Paul Fiorentino wrote a piece for the Huffington Post on sexism and silence in the Canadian literary scene. I am still thinking through my response to the reason Fiorentino needed to write the post, but what I do know is that solidarity matters, and being vocally supportive in public matters. So much.

So here is the beginning of my shout-outs. In the spirit of Le Tigre I offer the beginning of a list of women who have been and continue to be formative in my life. This is just a start, I’ve limited myself to people I have seen, spoken with, or whose texts I have read in the last month, otherwise I would never finish the list:

Sina Queyras, Gillian Jerome, Jade Ferguson, Heather Zwicker, Susan Bennett, Carrie Dawson, Smaro Kamboureli, Laura Moss, Afua Cooper, Marina Young, Shelley Young, El Jones, Tanis McDonald, Aritha van Herk, Emily Ballantyne, Anne Carson, rita wong, Marie Clements, TL Cowan, Nicole Brossard, Erin Moure, Marjorie Stone, Larissa Lai, Tasha Hubbard, Vanessa Lent, Natalie Walschots, Martha Radice, Christl Verduyn, Peggy Phelan, Toni Morrison, Susan Brown, Claire Campbell, Kaarina Mikalson and a million more. As Kathleen Hanna says: don’t stop! Please don’t stop!

Add some more names in the comments!
faster feminism · global academy · solidarity · women

Faster Feminist Spotlight: Afua Cooper

It should come as no surprise that I have faith in words. I mean, I teach in a literature department. I have spent the better part of my life learning ways of seeing and being in the world through the written word, the spoken word, the language of bodies on stages or in various states of performance. I know words have power. I know that words spoken through bodies, through the hand holding a pen or the mouth speaking, have incredible and powerful potential. 
And yet. 
And yet I am still amazed, humbled, grateful, and staggered when I have the opportunity to see word artists at work. Afua Cooper is one such artist who makes my heart skip a beat, my mind reel, and my conscience snap to attention.

Dr. Afua Cooper is the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie, here in Halifax. She is a scholar, a poet, a performer. I first encountered her through her scholarship when I read The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of  Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal. This historical biography not only tells the story of Marie-Joseph Angelique, a slave woman who was convicted and killed for the suspected arson that destroyed a large portion of Old Montreal, it tells one story from Canada’s history of slavery. Cooper pulls Angelique from the darkness of the archives, and Angelique brings with her a portion of Canadian history that has been all but occluded from cultural memory and dominant historical narratives of the nation.  

Cooper is also an incredible poet. This past week I had the opportunity to see Cooper perform along with Shauntay Grant and Valerie Mason-John. These three women were performing their poetry in celebration of the launch of The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry, which is edited by Mason-John and Kevan Anthony Cameron aka Scruffmouth. She performed one poem spoken from the voice of Angelique, and another that again drew from the archive and told of the last request of a former slave to the Governor General asking that he be sent back home to Africa. As Cooper performed the whole room seemed to hold its collective breath. 
Here is a video of Cooper at the 2008 Dub-Poetry Collective International. 
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?