good things · perpetual crush · self care · style matters · you're awesome

Jump in!


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(with huge thanks to Leigh and Michele for agreeing to let me write about our conversation)

Last week, I went to an amazing conference and I admit that one of the many, many highlights was a moment of sartorial sisterhood between one of my totally fabulous co-panelists, Leigh, and me. The panel was done and we stood up, looked at each other, and she said something like, “Nice jumpsuit.” I don’t really know exactly what she said because I had been so busy admiring her jumpsuit. We were in on the same not-so-secret secret: jumpsuits are awesome.

Hers was blue. Mine was black. Hers was more structured. Mine was a little more flowy. Hers didn’t have a belt. Mine did. But, really, it was the ways in which they were the same that mattered. The top was attached to the bottom. Somewhere (in a place usually apparent only to the wearer) there is a zipper. It’s never all that obvious how one gets into one of these things and that, I think, is just one of their many advantages.

More on the advantages in a sec. Let me first get right into what you – if you are not already a jumpsuit convert – are probably already thinking. What about when you need to go the bathroom? Isn’t it a huge bother?

I know. I thought that too. It was the main reason why I resisted for so long. But here’s the thing. It’s not a bad thing to be forced to think ahead a little about when you might need to go. I know you’ve been there. You’re in office hours and the students are lined up down the hall and all of a sudden you have to run to teach or go to a meeting, or you’re writing and you don’t want to stop, or you’re at a conference and listening to mind-blowing papers and you can’t imagine slipping out of the room and missing anything you think you’ll just wait till the break but then the break comes and you end up talking to people you really like and then it’s time for the plenary…  and you remember, too late, that you actually really needed two, three, four, heck maybe even five minutes for yourself somewhere in all of that rushing around. Leigh described actually hopping on one foot by the time she got home at the end of the day because what had been discomfort had verged into crisis. She tells me her husband says, Why do you do this to yourself?

How many days have you had where you were so busy that you didn’t have time to find a bathroom? Let’s not do this to ourselves.

Leigh put it perfectly when she told me that the jumpsuit has taught her a kind of self-care. It forces her to stop and check in with herself about some pretty basic needs. It forces her not to wait until discomfort becomes crisis. It forces her not to do this to herself.

Michele, another conference attendee, overheard this conversation and immediately pulled out her phone to show us a picture of a jumpsuit that her partner bought for her at the very same moment that she had liked it on insta. We paused to celebrate how all these jumpsuit-stars were aligning and Michele pointed out that she likes jumpsuits because they reminded her of a kind of futurism (think: astronauts, star trek). Okay, yes!

Here’s my vote for the jumpsuit as the uniform of feminist futurism. Jump on in. The future is fine.


#shinetheory · academic reorganization · feminist communities · you're awesome

Hot Topic: How to Amplify Women’s Voices in the Academy

Last week a short article was making the rounds on social media. The article was about how women in the Obama administration managed to make their voices heard. The interviewees in the article noted that initially it was difficult to even get into the important meetings. And, when they did get into the meetings they were often overlooked. Or their ideas were not heard and credited as theirs.

Peggy accurately captures my feelings.

So they made a plan.

The women got together (hello, shine theory!) and decided that each time a woman made a suggestion in a meeting other women would repeat her suggestion while naming her and giving credit.

There they were: women boosting other women’s ideas and demonstrating how to give credit where credit is due. Think of it as amplification.

I love this idea, and since I read the article I have been thinking about how to bring this more deliberately into my practice in scholarly writing. So here is the beginning of a list of ways to amplify  work by women and other marginalized people:


I often make an effort to write two lines of argumentation into one paper. Rather than being confusing (two thesis statements?!) this is fun and political. Here’s what I mean: I regularly make an effort to cite friends, peers, colleagues, and mentors in my paper if their thinking is relevant to the work I am doing. I’ve done this since I was a graduate student, and I learned the practice from some of my mentors who thanks me and other students in the acknowledgements of their books. Now, I go out of my way to reference the intellectual work of women when I speak publicly and write. It’s my academic version of Le Tigre’s anthem Hot Topic.

If you’re on advisory committees or in department meetings or have any opportunity to influence who gets brought to your campus then speak up! Bring in women. Bring in women of colour. Bring in Indigenous women. Bring in differently abled women. Bring in trans people. In fact, bring them into your classroom! Skype and google hangout are free. Departments often have some sort of funds for guest lecturers. Getting invited to speak, getting paid for your public thinking, and getting your work introduced to a new group of people is invaluable. So speak up and suggest names when you have the opportunity to do so!

Book Reviews
In one of my other writing lives I chair the board of Canadian Women in the Literary Arts aka CWILA. Every year we do a gender audit of book review culture in Canada and one of the things we’ve found that doesn’t show up in the metrics (yet) is that reviews matter in terms of how books and ideas circulate. You know: buzz. It is a real thing. And here is something I have found, though again anecdotally: there’s not as much buzz around academic writing by women and other Others. So pitch book reviews! And feel good about the crucial contribution you’re making to a richer, more diverse and representative discourse of writing happening in academic circles. Hype books you’re excited about (I for one cannot wait for Professor Karina Vernon’s book to come out, for example). And speaking of hype…

When you’re in a conference Q&A or sitting in the department lunchroom talking to colleagues or speaking with graduate students and the inevitable “do you have a text to recommend?” question comes up… recommend with relish and enthusiasm and care! Reference diverse work in your lectures! In your conversations! And…in order to do this, challenge yourself to keep a current sense of new and archival work by to draw on. When’s the last time you had Mary Ann Shadd on your early Canadian Literature syllabus, for example? Or what about Tanya Lukin Linklater‘s work on your Performance Studies syllabus? Referencing and referring feels awesome and it is awesome.

feminist communities · you're awesome


transitive verb: to admire excessively, perpetually, intelligently, avidly, with all the feels
A few months ago, I met with a terrifically smart student to talk about some work that she was doing. She had been invited to do a really cool thing (sorry to be so vague – I just don’t want to embarrass her) and I asked her how she knew the organizers. She looked up and said, without missing a beat, “Oh, I fangirled them.”
I loved that.
And I thought about that moment again when I read Laura Fisher’s brilliant review/fan letter on Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. For Brownstein, “to be a fan is to know that loving trumps being loved.” Fisher beautifully observes, “Brownstein finds words for the particular quality of feeling that is love for the stranger who compels you, who has somehow formed you, and who may but more likely will not answer you back.”
I love that.
I love that for so many reasons. For one thing, and I guess this speaks to my essential nerdiness, I immediately thought of all the theorists and critics and writers who compel me, who have somehow formed me, and who will not answer me back because I don’t want them to. I just want to read them. I just want to soak them up and let myself and my ideas and my thinking be transformed by that nearness. It is no accident that they are all feminists. It is no accident that Fisher’s description of the “sensuality reality” of a being at a Sleater-Kinney show (“It’s a mass conversion. You can feel the crowd’s collective longing for a moment of mutual recognition, for any indication that its affection is reciprocal.”) brought me immediately to the intensely sensual reality of reading something that you know, just know even when you barely understand it, will change you.
Maybe you are falling in love – in the way that Eve Sedgwick has so perfectly articulated:
Oh, right, I keep forgetting, for lots and lots of people in the world, the notion of “falling in love” has (of all things) sexual connotations. No, that’s not what I think is happening. For me, what falling in love means is different. It’s a matter of suddenly, globally, “knowing” that another person represents your only access to some vitally
        transmissible truth
        or radiantly heightened
        mode of perception,
and that if you lose the thread of this intimacy, both your soul and your whole world might subsist forever in some desert-like state of ontological impoverishment.
(from A Dialogue on Love and so perceptively re-lived and related in Jane Hu’s poignant exploration of Hal Sedgwick’s devotion)
Fangirling is not mindless. Fangirling demands a certain openness to being “radiantly heightened.” To allow oneself to be open to, and to fall for, this kind of global knowledge is hard work. It is mindful. It asks that we let go of our skepticism and our paranoia and our desire to be too smart to fall into the vulnerabilities of a crush from which there is no return.
And, as this student showed me, it can be productive. It builds connections. It makes communities. It can make the lonely work less lonely.
I’m a fan. I hope you are too.
mental health · productivity · reflection · silence · winter · you're awesome

Slowing Down

It’s mid-semester. We’re all a little tired, cold, and overworked. Today, as I race against yet another dissertation deadline and feverishly inscribe as many mid-semester tasks as possible into my dayplanner, I want to take a moment and remind us all to……:

Here’s some Rothko for ya. Click on the image. It’ll help.

I used to be such a daydreamer, and those moments of thinking and reflecting and just sitting on the couch, staring into space, or going for long walks in the neighborhood, allowed my mind to wander and explore in a way that is becoming increasingly unavailable now that I’m constantly scrolling through my iPhone, oh that accursed piece of wondrous technology.

The Bored and Brilliant project begun by New Tech City has been asking listeners to think hard about our relationship to our devices, now that 58% of American adults own a smartphone. Our smartphones make us connected and entertained, NTC observes, but also dependent and addicted. (I write this as someone who has, on multiple occasions, worried that probably this person is really very angry with me–or, worse, annoyed or indifferent–because he/she has not responded to my text from three hours ago. AND I SAW THE BUBBLES.) At the risk of sounding like a crotchety luddite, I’d suggest that in this digital world, we are losing the capability of being idle; and “idle minds lead to reflective, creative thoughts,” according to this project and the research behind it. How often, during a spare moment, do you fill your mental space by grabbing your phone and scrolling through Facebook or Twitter? When was the last time you let your mind wander? When was the last time you got lost in a work of art, or just freewrote for a few minutes–about anything? Or just sat with your eyes closed, headphones in? (Spotify has some great mood playlists; I’m partial to “Deep Focus”).

I want to emphasize that I’m not advocating for slowing down primarily because it will, ultimately, increase your productivity when you speed up again. Such mentality feeds into a neoliberal need to produce, and to serve the all-consuming academic system to which we are hopelessly bound. You should slow down for you, because you are awesome and have cool, creative, independent thoughts that don’t always need to overlap with academia or the primary work you do. Because “academic” is not the sum-total of your identity. Because this is not about productivity, this is about self-care.

Related to the power of boredom is the “power of patience” (article of the same title here), and decelerating can constitute part of our classroom practices as well. Harvard art historian Jennifer L. Roberts believes that educators should “take a more active role in shaping the temporal experiences” of students, learning to guide practices of “deceleration, patience, and immersive attention.”* Exercises that require students to slow down, to meditate on the material at-hand and allow it to open up to them in its singularity, counter that which in the eyes of some critics has become a modern impulse toward distraction, shallow reflection, and superficial thinking. Roberts in particular requires her students to position themselves in a museum and gaze at a work of art for a veeery long period of time (though I have to say that three hours seems a little excessive…), reflecting on their experience afterwards. Colleagues of mine have had success with this exercise, and I look forward to trying it with my students in March. Do you have any other thoughts on how to guide the temporal experiences of our students, and encourage them to practice creative idleness?

So, feminist friends, let this be a reminder to you to slow down today, even just for 10 minutes. And the night-owl in me is going to practice what I’m preaching right this moment and head to bed.

*For this article, as well as the “slow looking” exercise that accompanies it, I am thoroughly indebted to Julie Orlemanski; thanks, Julie, for a particularly generative–and generous–Facebook post!

free time · peer review · perpetual crush · you're awesome

A Love Letter to Peer Reviewers Everywhere

Dearest, loveliest, most gorgeous,
Are you surprised that I am beginning with terms of endearment even though we hardly know each other? But you and I know that you really are gorgeous. Oh yes, you. Don’t blush. This is not the time for bashfulness. It is true that I hardly know you. Indeed, chances are, if I walked past you in the street, I would not even know to say hi. But you should know that I am tipping my hat to you, even if I don’t really know you. Indeed, the crazy thing about our relationship is that it is almost completely dependent upon not really knowing you. Our relationship is at its best when I admire you from something of a distance – or at least from arm’s length. Anyways, enough was enough and it is high time I tell you how I feel.
             I need you. Sorry to sound a bit clingy. But I really need you. I’m not even sure that ours is one of those healthy co-dependent relationships. Where would I be without you? Where would any of us (the tenured prof whose book is out with a university press, the precariat worker whose article is now happily out with that sweet little journal you never say on to, the graduate student with that first pub under her belt, the mid-career academic whose grant just bought her a little space and time to get that project together, the mildly totally desperate academic journal editor who is trying to usher through that one last piece so that the next issue can come out) be without you?
             Did you come back from the winter break to an inbox full of “gentle reminders” for things that you had promised in a haze of exhaustion and a rush of nobility? Did you scramble to get all those grant apps assessed, those articles reviewed, that book manuscript evaluated? All while teaching your courses, writing reference letters, maybe pulling together a job app, or (in a slightly different version of peer review) reading lots of job apps files and so on, and so on, and so on. You did it, didn’t you? I know, you were pretty late with some of those. I know you felt bad. But the point is, you got that report in. You totally came through.
              I know, sometimes it hurts.
               Like when your words are referred to as fecal matter and perhaps taken out of context.
               Or when you are depicted as a vicious sharp-toothed sea monster.
               I get it. Our relationship would be nowhere without your brutal and unflinching honesty. Indeed, along with that arm’s length business, this brutal honesty is foundational to our relationship.
               And I know, sometimes you just don’t feel seen, as though you are totally being taken for granted.
              Like, when no one, not even the editor (you’ve given up expecting anything from the actual author because you realize, having been there, that it does feel a bit weird to acknowledge “the anonymous reviewers whose comments were so helpful yaddy, yaddy, ya”) who asked you for this thing in the first place, remembers to thank you.
             Or when you write a ten-page, single-spaced review of a manuscript with detailed notes for revision, and then you see the thing come out in print and the author seems to have ignored everything you said.
              Or when you told the editors that the ms was truly awful and should not be published only to see it out, with nary a comma moved, months later.
              At times like these, you wonder why you bother with this relationship. It’s not for the money (hullo, unpaid and invisible labour? Sign you up!). You wonder if it makes you happy. You wonder why you can’t say no more. You wonder why the relationship feels so one-sided. You put out all this brilliance, and, at best, you get a pre-scripted thank you spit out from some OJS robot. You wonder how it is possible to feel so under-appreciated and so unloved. It’s not like anyone asks you how many pages of peer review reports you wrote this year as part of how they assess your “performance.” Certainly, your dean doesn’t pat you on the back and say, Those peer reviews you did were really great! Good job!
              So maybe you wonder if you should say yes the next time. You wonder if they could at least treat you to a milk shake for once.
              And then you remember that arm’s length thing. I couldn’t hug you even if I wanted to.
               And okay, I know that we are not “exclusive.” Yes, I admit, there are a lot of you in my life. And, even weirder, sometimes I am you. (Woah, mind twister!) You know that this relationship wouldn’t work at all if you were the only one. Think of the pressure!
              And you remember that other people have sometimes done this for you. Or they might. You never know. And mostly, you remember that the profession would be nowhere, really and truly nowhere, without you.
               If you walked out on me tomorrow, the world as I know it would pretty much collapse. I’m not exaggerating. There would be no publications, no grants, no academic books.
               But there’s more. I want you to know that I think about you all the time. Sorry if that sounds a bit stalkerish. Don’t worry. Remember that part about not knowing you if I passed you on the street? But I do think about you. I think about how great you are. I think about how you always come through even though you must brace yourself for potential ingratitude and disregard every time. Not to mention the nagging (hello, “gentle reminders”).  I think about how you are the one who says yes after that poor, desperate journal editor (sometimes me) has been fully rejected by a string of others. You can’t imagine how grateful I am when you say yes. When you say yes, I do a little happy dance. I know you can’t see it. But it’s pretty cute. Trust me.
              So, dear anonymous peer reviewer, I just wanted you to know that I would bring you flowers and buy you chocolates if I could.
               You are marvelous. You step up. You come through. You shine quietly, brilliantly, in that space of anonymity that is the condition of our relationship. Some people might think that I should simply be writing a letter of gratitude. A love letter can be a bit weird given the nature of our relationship (yes, yes, arm’s length!). But I’m not just thankful and grateful. I am, but there’s more.
               I sit at my desk and look around and I see you everywhere – in that book that changed the course of my dissertation, in that first article of mine that saw the light of printed day, in that other article that I taught in my grad seminar that re-oriented the entire discussion for the better, in all these journals that I read when I get a chance, marveling at all this marvelous work out there. You make all that happen.
               You make my world smarter, brighter, and just plain better.
               You rock.
boast post · empowerment · media · you're awesome

It’s that time again! Boast Post!

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

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

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

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

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

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

academic work · faster feminism · you're awesome

Writing in Public

Here’s a confession: speaking in public makes me nervous.
When I am lecturing for classes I usually give myself a few extra minutes to walk to class with my headphones in and the music loud. Other times, I dance in my office by myself. True story. The nerves don’t quit when I am giving conference papers. Never mind that I have given dozens in the last few years. I still get a racing heart, sweaty palms, and tunnel vision. It’s the best I can do to keep the shake out of my voice.
I’m lucky. I’ve been told that my performance anxiety doesn’t show. That’s a relief, in a way, because I’ve certainly been taught not to show my weak points. (Or to reveal them in a strategically self-effacing way as a means of making a point. Cough cough.)
But the place that makes me the most nervous to speak in public isn’t necessarily about speaking at all. No. It is writing in public that gives me the most anxiety, and I think there is good reason for this—or at least reason that extends beyond my personal foibles.
Writing in public is risky. It is more risky that speaking in public in some ways. Sure, when your body is there before an audience there is the possibility of physical affronts. There is the fact of your body, the way that it reacts to stress and strain. You might sweat a bit, you might stutter. You might cry. Or laugh. I have done all of these things in public—usually in front of a class—and I have lived to tell the tale. It isn’t always pleasant, but it is almost always a pedagogically useful moment, if only in hindsight. There is also the more dangerous fact of your body as a body in front of others. I have certainly felt threatened when speaking in public or as a result of it, and I have very good friends and acquaintances—almost all women—who have similar experiences or worse. So yes, placing one’s own body in front of the bodies of others while speaking is risky. Why, then, do I feel it is alright to suggest that writing in public is the most anxiety-producing mode of public “speaking” for me and for many others I know?
Again, the body: in the place of my own body is my body of writing. It can’t defend itself, reiterate, or retort on its own. It requires my intervention, my reiteration, my retort. My writing—any public writing—can be taken up and out of context, deliberately or accidentally misinterpreted, and it can become fodder for more pernicious kinds of aggressive engagements.
Some years ago Sina Queyras wrote a post on Lemon Hound wondering where the women bloggers were. Her query was rhetorical. “Look to the margins,” she said. “Look to the gaps, the fissures, the silences.”
Writing in public is risky business, even when it looks innocuous. Today, I want to thank all of the positive risk-takers and public-writing women I know. Thank you, you make me feel a bit braver, and you make me recognize my own responsibility to speak. 

kindness · mental health · slow academy · you're awesome

To Connect or to Disconnect

I came to Facebook rather late, and it was as much a reluctant step as it was a strategic one. I joined once I had handed in my dissertation, and people who knew I was on the job market started sending me postdoc opportunities and such that were posted on Facebook. If that’s the way the cookie crumbles, I thought, then I’m not making a stand here, really, by opting out, but merely depriving myself of opportunities. That was in 2010.

It turns out, my then line of thought finds itself in good company, and it is no coincidence. Apparently, famous business women like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer. I haven’t read Lean In, but it would be highly surprising if a Facebook executive would be advocating anything other than staying connected. Marissa Mayer–of the no-Yahoo-employees-shall-work-from-home-and-I-only-take-three-weeks-mat-leave-cause-I-can-build-a-nursery-in-my-office-bitcheeez fame–also advises us to stay permanently connected if we wish to succeed. The “we” here comprises the usual audience of such dicta, I assume, and I’m not sure I would count myself included. However, it’s no coincidence that social media corporate executives urge connectivity for the ideal neoliberal subject. But I digress. Anyhoo, I’ve decided to opt out most of the time, and to stay disconnected as much as possible, especially when compared to my previous presence and usage.

You see, between Facebook, Twitter, email, Pinterest, and the like, and enabled by my smart phone, I have developed an addiction. I’m not using this term lightly: if I had a moment free, e.g., on my way to the bathroom, or waiting for my coffee to brew, or walking towards my office, I would check any and all of the above. And if I didn’t have a free moment, I would make one. I was enough aware of the extent of the problem that I abstained from getting a data plan. Honestly, I knew I’d check email/social media anywhere, and there would really be no stopping. Plus, I told myself, there’s wifi everywhere these days. Even Safeway. Which means, every time I’d get into a store/coffee shop, first thing I would do is check email/social media. Stuck on the right word during a pomodoro? Check FB. Feeling low? Check Twitter. Yeah, like that’s gonna get my spirits up.

gratuitous picture of the Columbia Icefield

And that was exactly my tipping point: the realization that I was looking outward instead of inward. No wonder I felt like I lacked direction. I was expecting other people’s status updates, tweets, emails, to bring me calm, serenity, and happiness. And you know how often that happens. I was putting stumbling blocks in front of my already-wobbly legs. Whenever I was writing, I would mentally check in with myself, thus breaking my own advice, not to mention my flow. “Hey, I’m doing pretty well here, and I’m sure I’ll be able to pick it up after a brief FB break. I deserve it: I wrote a whole 100 words.” You probably know as well as I do that a “brief FB break” turns into an epic read-athon of updates and interesting articles that my wonderful friends post, and that I simply have to read the moment I encounter.

It’s not productivity or its lack that I’m worried about here. No. It’s mental health. Breaks, true breaks, are good for me. In fact, my brain needs down time in order to process stuff. I used to feel really bad when I was writing my dissertation, because I spent a lot of time doing nothing with a palpable result (read: words in a document). But then I’d sit down to write, and words would flow, because, you see, while I thought I had been doing nothing, my brain was actually working, mulling ideas, finding its way in a maze, synthesizing research, compiling evidence, putting ideas together and articulating them to the overarching concerns, etc.

gratuitous picture of a pine cone

You will notice I used the past tense and its variations a lot in the previous paragraphs. It’s been about a week–I’m not a big fan of milestones, so I didn’t write down the day that I actually started–and things are going well. I’m much calmer, and I’ve been managing the withdrawal with more exercise, more actual down time, and more reading of books that are printed on paper. And other stuff, which I’ll list here. Things like

Read a poem
Read a book (or part of it)
Do a quick savasana (I won’t tell anyone if you take a nap)
Take a nap
Get a coffee/tea/water while looking into the distance
Walk your dog
Pet your cat
Sit/stand while looking in the distance
Pull weeds
Do other gardening
Listen to your favourite music with your eyes closed (I won’t tell anyone if you take a nap)
Go for a walk/run
Play an instrument

I can’t think of any more, but please do add your own suggestions for alternatives to social media procrastination.

modest proposal · you're awesome

Don’t read the comments. Write them!

It seems like all the signs point to “never read internet comments.” It’s true: the more you’re invested in a topic, the more broken-hearted you will be if you read the comments on the internet. The Atlantic has a piece on internet comments, and how they’re still pretty awful. There’s a twitter account dedicated to dissuading you from the very thought. It’s hilarious, and you should check it out. Everybody and her cousin will tell you not to read the internet comments. I’m here to propose something revolutionary: don’t read the comments, but write them instead! I exaggerate, of course, but while writing thoughtful, encouraging, or just plain decent comments won’t shift the axis of the Earth, it might shift the terms of discussion and make the internet a better place for women and for everyone else.


There are several separate, but similar instances that have led me, an avowed long-time blog lurker, to think and act. While I haven’t transformed overnight into a prolific comment-writer, theses instances have made me rethink my role as avid internet user as a responsibility. It’s kinda like voting: if you can, but opt not to vote in an election, then what have you done to improve your political landscape? Here are the things that have occasioned my mental shift:

1. Under the heading “Sikh woman teaches Reddit a lesson in tolerance,” Balpreet Kaur’s story of bravely taking control of her own narrative unfolding derisively on Reddit became viral. What struck me was the pedagogy: Balpreet transformed a potentially traumatic event into a teaching moment for the internet. As a teacher, I thought I could do the same, and take the two minutes it lasts to write a comment. As an academic, on the other hand, I suffer from chronic perfectionism syndrome, which is part of the reason I’m such a reluctant commenter: “surely, it would take too much time I don’t have,” I would tell myself, “to put this thought into cogent prose that would represent my persona accurately.” But here’s the thing: the anonymous commenters who generally overpopulate the comments section [present company excluded, of course*] and transform it into a snake pit obviously discard their venom immediately, and without any packaging; also, the genre does not require polishing beyond what’s generally due to a tweet, a FB status update, or an SMS text. Bottom line: take the five minutes it takes to add your two cents, support an opinion you agree with, or demystify an idea in polite terms.


2. Michelle Moravec and Heather Froelich performed a corpus analysis of the comments in an open thread on Postcolonial Digital Humanities website, and came up with startling results, especially for an academic discussion:

Of 38 individual commenters producing a total of 153 comments, we coded 26 commenters as male (68.5%) and 12 (31.5%) commenters as female. 72% of all the comments were written by men compared to 28% written by women.

Beyond comments:
3. The Wikipedia stats on women editors stand as the most eloquent example of why we need more feminine and feminist voices  online. As teachers, we know, probably best of all, that EVERYBODY reads Wikipedia; that it’s the first line of information, for teaching and for research. And yet, this example shows that far fewer women engage in editing Wikipedia articles than men. There are drastic consequences for this statistic: women writers are under-represented or brushed aside; if they exist at all, entries on women are underdeveloped. As one of my wonderful students put it, “women’s voices have been silenced long enough,” so why aren’t we taking this opportunity for redress? There are many reasons, and this blog response to the article from NYRB linked above lists nine of them.
4. Even if it’s impolite to quote oneself, Hook and Eye has many articles on why more women’s writing, reviewing, and commenting is vital. 

Finally, there are many circumstances impeding women’s participation: time, labour, emotional investment, fatigue, etc. We’ve discussed them here on H&E, and their disproportionate propensity to affect women. Yes, we need to draw a line between enough and too much labour. But do consider, every now and then, writing a comment, a Wikipedia entry, or a review. We have the expertise, the skills, the knowledge. Let’s get ourselves a voice!

* There are many good reasons to remain anonymous, especially given the environment I am describing, and what’s often at stake in revealing one’s identity. I am not referring here to people who feel this pressure, but to those who use anonymity to spew vitriol, as our commenting policy puts it.

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!