Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Feminist WINS

You said:
  • My friends Maggie and Andrea, who will be or who are priests, who are smart capable and completely together women whose liturgical, political, and social work is about the radical need for equality in the spirit of Christ. Having a woman at the altar puts the lie to 2000 years of church misogyny about what women can do and what women cannot.
  • Not that it was covered that way, but the article in the G&M about Ontario vet school is, in some ways, a win. (What's not a win: that this seems to be a cause for panic rather than an opportunity to talk about how women are meeting the excellence criteria.)
  • I know a bunch of women deans, full professors etc. Many of these are also out feminists (i.e., it's not just "safe" women who are getting into these positions).
  • Back when I was doing my MSc, I was in a car with my supervisor and his two other grad students (both male), going to a seminar or something. The topic of his upcoming sabbatical came up, and he mentioned that he was staying nearby, working at a well-known institute in the same city where his wife lived and worked. One of the other grad students made a comment that if it were him, he'd go somewhere far away, like Japan, "to, you know, get away from your wife for a bit." Without hesitation, my supervisor icily said, "If you're looking to get away from your wife, perhaps you should reconsider being married," which shut the grad student up. It's far from the only time he'd shot down stupid comments from that grad student, and as the only woman in the research group, I was heartened by his consistent lack of tolerance for intolerable comments.
  • The Old Girls Network. It works. We may chose to call it 'feminist networking' because it sounds better but it's the same thing: women in positions of power supporting and promoting junior women. I got a job because my boss picked up the phone and called my supervisor, a trick the old boys have been using for decades to keep women out, but in this case both of those boys were girls. And feminists. Let's take over the academy one phone call at a time.
  • Universities with an optional 'stop the tenure clock' policy for faculty who take maternity and parental leave.
  • This year the CBU Boardmore Theatre, co-founded by Elizabeth Boardmore, celebrates its 40th season. Among the shows being produced is The Rover, written by a woman (Aphra Behn) and directed by a woman (me! - Sheila Christie). This production culminates a legacy of feminist wins, including an annual one-act play festival that Elizabeth started which provides young playwrights, including  many female writers, an opportunity to have their voices heard. Given how difficult it can be for female playwrights to get their plays produced, the Boardmore Theatre deserves a feminist win.
Have a great break, everybody! And thanks for being such loyal, smart and active readers. See you in January.
- Heather, Erin and Aimee (in reverse alphabetical order!)

      Monday, December 20, 2010

      Due to arctic weather conditions this blog post was almost delayed. Or, what do botched travel plans have in common with an academic profession?

      As you know from last week’s post I’ve been on vacation…. And now my partner and I are two of the thousands and thousands of people who are trying desperately to get out of London’s Heathrow airport. We’re not traveling with children, we’re not sick, and though we don’t really have a whole ton of cash (& certainly not so much that we budgeted for this) we’re ok.

      Great, right? So what am I all uptight about?

      I mean, don’t get me started on the inanity of the fact that we’re grounded (for days or maybe a week) over 4 inches of snow. Or the frustration over the fact that even though we’re in a neat and fancy spot we’re not actually able to enjoy it because we’re with everyone else trying to find a place to pop our bags while we look for Internet and queue for customer service.

      All this stress over travel plans is uncanny: the feeling of no control, the slow realization that we’re on our own, the realization that there might be ways to make things work if we’re willing to be flexible* and a little scrappy. Truth be told this stress has reminded me of the stresses I’ve written about on this blog. But this travel stress also has me thinking about the skills we have, hone, or forge as academic women. I fancy myself a semi-worldly and adaptable sort. For example, you’ve read my musing on the pros and cons of moving for the profession (mostly I like it) as well as my thoughts on the DIY Academic career.

      Indeed, professing in the profession seems to require a certain kind of worldliness. Or awareness. Or self-reflexivity. Call it what you like, working in the academy means meeting such a wide variety of people with diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and, yes, holiday greetings. In fact, call me Pollyanna because I (usually) love what this requires of me. Mindfulness. Openness. And what I’m coming to understand as a kind of careful compassion. After all, we're all in this hotel/terminal/concourse/classroom/job hunt together, right?

      What I mean by this is not that working in the academy means being a push over (hah!) but rather that this kind of compassion is the stuff that travels, that discerns. It is an (unpaid, granted) emotion that is often for students, regularly for colleagues, and sometimes, increasingly, for me.

      Compassion is often among the feminized emotions, and certainly would fall under the unpaid emotional work that needs further discussion and radical rethinking. But I think one of my resolutions is to pay it forward, carefully.

      So while I’ll be saying happy holidays to the other stranded people I meet and keeping my eyes peeled for vegetarian food in the airports (even if it means another meal of bagels) I’ll be practicing compassion with my fellow travelers and myself…because I’m going to need it in January when a new term, a new year, and a new batch of fantastically and astoundingly diverse students show up in my classrooms.

      Warmth to you all and apologies for the bleary prose.

      *the willingness to be flexible may forever remind me of the infamous meme… even though I know being flexible doesn’t equal moving to nowheresville Canada/USA/UK I can’t help but hear that automated Dean’s voice…

      Friday, December 17, 2010

      Merry Christmas! -- Wanna make somethin' of it?

      On the syllabus of my first year class this year, December 6th is noted thus: "Papers handed back; receive Christmas cookie."

      Yeah, that's right. A Christmas cookie. And I wished them all a Merry Christmas on the way out--and told them to relax over the break from studies and the enjoyment of whatever holiday they celebrate. Me, I celebrate Christmas, and wanted to share good wishes from that angle. I bake Christmas cookies, and host a Christmas party, and send out Christmas cards, and hang Christmas lights, and I even have more than one Christmas screen saver.

      I was raised Catholic, so I come by this honestly. I'm not Catholic anymore, and my Christmas is more about the secularized rituals of decoration and eggnog and Santa and such. But still. It's Christmas. It's not "the season" nor is it "the holidays," particularly not as such locutions are generally meant, in the most hysterical of politically correct hypercorrection, to not offend someone who might not celebrate Christmas. You don't have to celebrate Christmas; that's fine. I'm by no means intending to proselytize. However, I don't get what's offensive about me sharing good wishes with you on the basis of a holiday I jump into with both feet every single year: part of my Christmas is smiling at people and wishing them Merry Christmas.

      We are arrived at a sorry state when cheerful greetings and a desire to share buttery baked goods chokes up in our throats because we don't want to offend anyone. Because we're scared. How on Earth can I offend anyone by smiling and wishing them well, wishing them shortbread dusted in icing sugar and coloured sprinkles?

      Surely, we are not so delicate as to be offended by kindness? I am a vegetarian. Sometimes, I go places where people don't know that, and prepare food with meat, and offer it to me with kindness. You know what? I eat it. I eat it because it was prepared with good will and generosity, as a gesture of human contact. Also, usually, I'm pretty hungry.

      So. I think it's terrible, this slicing and dicing of acceptable phrases of mush that are deliberately context- and culture-free. It's a vague, bland, nothing kind of self-expression of the sort that if it showed up in an essay I'd draw a field of Rudolph noses all over it. What do you mean? Be precise! Weasel words!

      In this vein, I'm actually a lot more sympathetic to those who lobby to "keep the Christ in Christmas" than I am with the purveyors of "season's greetings" and "holiday sale." They are trying, at least, to keep some specificity and rootedness in their celebration. Still, I'm a sucker for red and white decorations and for the (religious) traditions of my own childhood.  So yeah, I'm secularizing and generalizing Christmas. But I draw the line at changing the name. And I draw the line at the idea that calling Christmas what it is is somehow offensive. One of my friends and I were out for supper the other night, and heard a really loud someone at another table speaking loudly of "ghetto blasters" and we looked at one another, askance: we call them boom boxes now, because 'ghetto blaster' is a derogatory term. Christmas, I suggest to you, is not a derogatory term, and needs to emendation.

      So then. From my keyboard to yours: Merry Christmas, goddamnit.

      Have a cookie. I made 'em myself.

      Thursday, December 16, 2010

      Guest Post: Breaking up is hard to do…

      So I’m leaving. After more than 11 years at the University of Alberta, I’m packing up my office at the end of this term and starting a new position at Concordia University in Montreal on January 1. As has already been discussed on this blog, moving around is a fact of academic life, but it mostly seems to affect graduate students, post-docs and sessional instructors. Mid-career moves – at least in the humanities – are rare and as I’m discovering, emotionally difficult.

      The move to Montreal is a happy one: my new department has existing strengths in my particular research field; my new colleagues are all lovely; I’ll be within driving distance to the archives I use on a regular basis; and I’m going home.

      It’s not like I was itching to get away from the U of A. I have wonderful colleagues here and am part of an incredible research community that has fostered my writing and intellectual thinking in ways that I had not imagined was possible. I will admit that Edmonton has been a bit of a tough slog at times (why are the restaurants here so expensive and unimaginative?) but it has been home for a while now and there are many things about this place I will miss when I am freezing/sweltering in the damp cold/heat of Montreal.

      But leaving has been hard. I knew that saying goodbye to friends was going to be difficult, but these are the people I know I will be keeping in touch with, the ones to whom I say with all sincerity: “Yes, please stay with me when you come to Montreal.” I’m also sad about leaving my department colleagues, both academic and administrative, but I’m sure I’ll see many of them at conferences. And of course there are the other people in my life that I have been saying goodbye to: my amazing and funny chiropractor, the trainer who has whipped me into shape over the past 5 years. Then there's my partner who has to finish up a job here and will not be moving to Montreal for another year and a half (hooray for skype and direct flights!).

      What surprised me about leaving the U of A was how sad I was to leave the institution. Last week I dragged my ass to every class with an overwhelming feeling of ennui and sadness; and on Wednesday, when I told the 95 (ish: it was the end of term after all) students in my 20th century Canadian art history class that this was the last class I would be teaching at the University of Alberta, I got all choked up. This surprised me, because while I knew that saying goodbye to the people I cared about would be difficult, I was unprepared for the grief I would feel about no longer teaching at this institution.

      What gives? People in the “real world” leave jobs all the time. What is so special about our lives as academics that we feel so attached to our institutions? As this blog makes clear, we are explicitly and frequently critical of the institutional culture of the university; we rail against the short-sightedness of our senior administration and the inadequacies of our colleagues; and despite many positive experiences, our students drive us crazy with their lack of self-awareness and basic knowledge. Yet the university remains our home, the place we know we will return to physically and psychically for the better part of our lives, not because we don’t know any better, but because it gives us the intellectual and emotional security we need. I know I’ll find that at Concordia as well, but right now breaking up with the U of A is proving to be very hard indeed.

      Anne Whitelaw
      Associate Professor, University of Alberta Concordia University

      Wednesday, December 15, 2010

      Reminder: submit your feminist wins

      If you're reading this from the Maritimes, you're probably dripping wet. If you're in Alberta, you're trying to stay out of the blizzard. North Carolina: y'all might want to rethink that no-house-insulation policy. And if you're reading this from Sarnia, stop! You need to preserve your battery power until the army helicopters can find you!

      I'm guessing at least a few of you are reading this from an airport, where you're waiting (and waiting and waiting and waiting).

      How to while away the time? I'll tell you. There are just a few days left to submit your happy stories! Instead of running "This Month in Sexism," we will run a post called "Feminist WINS" as our last offering before we take a year-end break.

      What's a feminist win? You tell us! Same format as TMIS, but this time tell us what's working. Point form is fine, personal stories are great, institutional triumphs always important - the only thing we'd ask is that your stories have something to do with women working in the Canadian university system.

      Write: editrixes [at] hookandeye [dot] ca
      Deadline: Tuesday 21 Dec
      Post to run: Wednesday 22 Dec
      hookandeye to resume: Wed 3 Jan 2011.

      (PS: Why not spend a couple hours over the semester break - or until your flight is called - drafting a guest post?)

      Dear Santa

      Here's what this academic hopes to find under the tree next week:
      • A ball gag and the judgment to use it - on myself - so that I stop being the mouthiest person in the room (every room), because it only makes meetings last longer. Actually, Santa? I'll take a dozen. 
      • A family broker: someone to set reasonable expectations and work out schedules and assuage hurt feelings and plan a menu that suits the four-year-old and the 64-year-old.
      • Justice. Go big, Santa.
      • Hey, Santa, can you make it so that the very first day of this semester break lasts forever, so that I can dwell at the delicious beginning of a fabulous utopia where I sleep when I'm tired and read what I like and eat nothing but the most delectable food? Stop time, just for a day or so at the beginning.
      • A clone.
      • Could you please send the filing fairies to my office? If you have leftover fairy power, maybe some could be put to work on these writing projects, which I know are here ... somewhere. Also a grading fairy, if you don't mind. 
      • A date with Lisbeth Salander.
      • Oh, a new federal administration. Liberal, New Democrat, Bloq Quebecois, Green, Marijuana Party, coalition - I don't care! But this Harper crap has Got To Go.
      • Vanishing email. Or maybe just a new, supersecret email address.
      • A quick resolution to the sexual assault charges against Julian Assange. 
      • A ban on the verb "enhance."
      • Less winter, more sun, and an old-fashioned wife for my partner and me, to make doctor's appointments and pick up cat food and keep track of the housekeys and get a hot meal on the table. You can call him/her "an assistant" if you want, but please write back and let me know you're clear on the concept. Also a yard butch and a basement boy. I promise, Santa, I've been super good this year!
        Oops! How did this Alexander McQueen dress get on the list?

      Tuesday, December 14, 2010

      Guest Post: Pink Flyer

      March 2002: We invaded.

      Okay, we didn’t “invade.” We, a group of feminist academics in Canada, attended a large Geography conference in the US, "armed" with pink flyers.

      It took us a few weeks to make the flyers, which is surprising given that all we wanted to do was draw attention to the status of women in Geography. We decided to collect data on the number of women faculty in our discipline by scanning PhD-granting Geography departments in Canada and the US.

      You might be wondering why this data wasn’t just readily available. It was, after all, 2002. Wasn’t there data out there? Well, no. The sciences always seem to be ahead of the social sciences in collecting these statistics. In 2002, universities surely were gathering data internally, but no one had published discipline-specific numbers, not for Geography.

      From our data collection, we calculated some basic statistics on women faculty, breaking down data by rank. We wrote out some percentages re: rank and gender. We made some bar graphs. We printed them all out on bright pink paper. There was no mention of sexism or discrimination on the flyer. We merely presented the data that we had collected. We didn’t print our names or affiliations. In fact, until this blog post, no one has ever admitted in print to being involved with creating the pink flyers.

      Now comes the fun part:

      We distributed these flyers at the national conference. We placed them on empty seats in conference rooms. We handed them out to groups of geographers, chatting between conference sessions.

      The response was overwhelmingly gendered. Approaching groups of older men was always a hit or miss activity. A warm smile and a “Pardon me. I just wanted to hand these out to you” was met with pleasant faces. Then, once they realized what had been handed over to them, often they became annoyed. If someone already knew what the flyer was, I would sometimes get a very hostile response of “I don’t want that.” As if I was handing over something covered in dog poo.

      Okay, so right now this isn’t sounding like a feminist win, but it is! Even with some disgruntled recipients, it was a fantastic intervention. It got a lot of people talking at the conference. There were both men and women who were thrilled to see this data collected.

      Conference gossip (usually salacious) is often the hot topic at dinner and drinks, but that year, much of the conference “gossip” was the paltry numbers of women faculty. People were abuzz. What were departments going to do when they were presented with these stats? What strategies did people have for changing things?

      A few years ago, I came across an article from a geographer in the UK. He writes that in 2002 he attended a conference, and at some point a pink flyer ended up in his hands. He didn’t know who had created the flyer, but it contained some important stats about the low numbers of women in the discipline in the US and Canada. The flyer got him thinking about departments in the UK. His article then went on to present the data he collected and analyzed about gender and UK Geography.

      None of us knew exactly what impact our pink flyer would have or where it would travel. Numbers, while significant, don’t indicate what systemic changes need to happen in the academy, but, still, the impact at that conference was awesome. For me, it’s a definite feminist win.

      Bonnie Kaserman is an academic geographer and the author of (un)becoming academic, a blog featured on the Academic Matters magazine website (

      Monday, December 13, 2010

      Playing Hooky

      Guess what? I'm in England!

      I'm not here for a conference, or for work of any kind, and though I have lugged 50 student final papers with me I am actually here...for vacation!

      I can hardly believe it. In fact, as the title suggests, I kind of feel like I'm playing hooky. I feel like I should tell you that my wonderful Department Chair knows where I am (and that I am here for pleasure, not work--hi Christy!), that my TAs are not being exploited (hi Matt! Hi Vanessa!), and that I have been preparing my students for departure since, oh, October. I've had a term in which all the final assignments are papers rather than examinations, so there was no need to adjudicate or arrange for others to do this for me. In fact, some of my students don't have papers due until 48 hours before I return, so there's plenty of time to grade and submit before the deadline. I feel like I should tell you all this because I left town the day after classes ended.

      Why does this feel so illicit?

      I can only speak for myself of course, but I have to say that it feels illicit because I am not used to taking a vacation. Since I entered graduate school back in 2002 I because accustomed to working 6-7 days a week with few breaks, and with those breaks feeling wrong. They were haunted by the sense that I should be doing something. Writing. Reading. Grading. Something.

      But I've been learning (yes, I am late to the game on this 'revelation') that taking a real vacation is part of my work.

      One of my favourite poets (and most inspiring bloggers) Sina Queyras has written about the need for movement because it is essentially kinesthetic thinking. It seems to me that this whole vacation thing is not so different from that. Sure, I'll be thinking literary and cultural thoughts while we sit in the pub in Dorchester aka Thomas Hardy country. (Though frankly I'll be thinking about how when I was in grade six Jude the Obscure was my favourite book... Is that weird?) I'll be thinking about Emily Bronte (mostly about one of my brilliant students who is a huge fan of Wuthering Heights. Also I will likely think more about Anne Carson's return to Bronte in "The Glass Essay," which was the first poem that took my breath away when I was a Master's student). But mostly I'll just be on vacation.

      Let me close by saying this: I'm writing about being on vacation because I tend to feel guilty about taking breaks, and maybe you do too. Guess what? We need 'em, and we need to give ourselves permission to take them. I hope you're taking one soon.

      Ps. Here's me, with vacation hair (aka Forgot A UK Power Adaptor Hair), jet lag eyes, and Winchester Cathedral behind me. Sorry for the bad lighting, but iPhoto does not love the pale British sunlight that is creeping in my hotel window.

      Friday, December 10, 2010

      "My" students; a meditation on power and language

      I Twitter. I like it: I keep in touch with far-flung colleagues, share and receive interesting and relevant links to material that I use in research and teaching and cocktail party conversation. I particularly like the economy of the format: 140 characters as a hard limit imposes a useful check on extravagant prose styling.

      (See what I did there? That was waaaaay more than 140 characters.)

      However useful the enforced to-the-pointness of Twitter is, though, I've lately come up--BUMP!--against my limit. My limit is this: when I write about my teaching, say, to send a tweet about how a student sent a great link for class, or about how the discussion was really great, or all the essays handed in on time, I find that I can't bring myself to say ...

      "My students."

      It grates. I also don't like to say "my graduate students" in reference to those enrolled in a class I'm teaching, and I don't like to say "my graduate students" in reference to those whose projects I supervise (and I supervise their projects; I don't, I'm careful to phrase, "supervise students"). I feel that this possessive construction is ... wrong? Kind of offensive? "My students," surely, belong only to themselves. "My graduate students," furthermore, are in large part independent scholars, who require my guidance (and the authority conveyed by my signature on their work) to meet their own goals.

      Don't get me wrong: I'm in charge of the classroom, and I do the grading, and I am the expert on the subject matter, and generally I make and enforce the rules. It's not the power relations of teaching-qua-teaching or authority more generally that I quibble with here.

      Talking in the possessive about "my undergrads" seems paternalistic in a really unnecessary way; talking in the possessive about "my grad students" seems like a form of academic currency where the number of them I can lay claim to says something about my level of power or importance. The possessive construction does not describe either the actual or the ideal relations between me and them. I feel like an ass when I talk like that, frankly. Then again, I feel like an ass when I nibble my nails and hem and haw about how to call "my students" something more unicorns-and-rainbows-appropriate than "my students." This can turn into hairsplittling of the very easily parodied kind, very quickly. Sigh.

      As a writer, I don't like saying things the longer way. That's bad writing, usually. Like E. B. White, I want to be economical, precise, and clear when I write: "my students" is a lot less circuitous a locution than "the students enrolled in my first-year course" (whoops, there's another possessive--I guess it should be "the students enrolled in the first-year course I am teaching). This nicety feels like an overprecision, sometimes. And it leads to overlong and ugly sentences.

      But then again, as a writer, I'm also attuned to the nuance of language, its implied power relations, its hierarchies. And I can't really get past feeling that the the possessive when employed with respect to students ... is kinda ideologically or practically, err ... icky.


      Thursday, December 9, 2010

      Guest Post: Aging in the Academy - it gets (somewhat) better

      I’ve been thinking about writing a guest blog for Hook and Eye and anticipated turning my hand to it next term. But Leah MacLaren’s Dec. 3rd Globe and Mail column – “Boomers’ bodies are breaking down? Cry me a liver spot” – spurred me to action, especially since it seemed to follow so quickly upon Claire Campbell’s Nov. 16th guest blog, “An Open Letter to the Baby Boomers.” Claire’s post begins “Please, when the time comes, retire” though, citing as it does folks “in their fifties and sixties,” it’s not altogether clear when “the time” is meant to be. At the traditional retirement age of 65? or maybe 55? or even 50? Leah MacLaren resents hearing baby boomers talk (and write) about the difficulties of aging, and says “When we are young, we’re not preoccupied by the physiological minutiae of youth.” Well, actually, Leah, you are. You just can’t see it. Take your column about jogging in London and being told you have a “nice butt.” Fast forward thirty years. Get it?

      It’s not that you won’t have a nice butt. It’s just that your butt, and everything attached to it, will be invisible. It’s really true what they say. Middle-aged (and older) women are invisibled, including in the academy. What they don’t tell you is … that’s not always such a bad thing. You don’t have to worry about whether or not to wear glasses or power suits. Having a bad hair day? Who cares! No one can see your hair anyway. And who hasn’t always wanted an invisibility cloak? It can be pretty hilarious to sit in a high-powered meeting (say, a selection committee for a very senior administrative position), offer an opinion, and have the chair of the committee look startled. As he squints in the general direction of your voice you can see the cogs laboriously turning. Where’d she come from? Is she on this committee? Wish I could remember her name. All this in spite of the many senior positions you have yourself held, your hard work in and on behalf of the university.

      So why do I say that being an older woman in the academy is not such a bad thing? Three words: you know stuff. Knowing stuff gives you confidence. It can give you the courage to take positions on tough issues. It fine-tunes your bullshit barometer. The stuff you know can make you a formidable opponent … or proponent. You want to change the curriculum, introduce anti-harassment or equity policies, find money for a new scholarship or visiting professor program? No problem! The (other) old women I know have done all this and more. Believe me, you want old people, and especially old women, on your side. Which is not to say that senior administrators are always happy to hold on to their elders. We really have seen it all before and we’re a little leery of bandwagons.

      A few more good things about being older in the academy: your kids are grown up and most of them have turned out to be kind, smart, and interesting people; undergraduate students are revealed as the very young and vulnerable people they are; your research and teaching get even more interesting and rewarding. Best of all, your brains do not go flying out the window when you turn fifty. They stick around. A little more accommodating. A little less anxious.

      Jo-Ann Wallace
      University of Alberta

      Wednesday, December 8, 2010

      Let's see some feminist WINS

      So here's my December 6th story.

      It was my second year of graduate school in the bewildering universe known as Stanford, where the sun shone every day on the matching sandstone buildings. The late 1980s were the glory years for raceclassandgender, even though most of us didn't know how to think multidimensionally. In my feminist theory class, we were asked to analyze our families in terms of race, class and gender, and I didn't have a clue where to begin. What is "class" under democratic socialism, as Canada appeared to be? Is "Canadian" a race? My bafflement only grew when a classmate from New England broke down under the impact of the assignment: "I never realized," she said, tearing up, "that all of our maids were Filipina."

      This was before the first Gulf War, which we didn't know we'd have to refer to as the first Gulf War. Our politics were US Out of El Salvador and Divest from South Africa. Jesse Jackson came to campus recruiting for the rainbow coalition; ROTC came to campus recruiting for the CIA. My talented friend Diane used Madonna lyrics (early Madonna: we didn't know we'd have to say that, either) to challenge George Bush (yes, the first George Bush) to "justify my war."

      I felt my difference from all of this daily. It was super exciting, but it was someone else's reality. I couldn't put the "ultimate" into "ultimate frisbee"; I charmingly took the term "unearned income" to be an oxymoron; and even my disordered eating appeared amateurish by comparison. Well-meaning friends would say things like, "I keep forgetting you're Canadian!" or, "Face it, you're basically American." What could I say: "You hoser!"?

      December 6, 1989 is one of the few times I heard Canadian news in California.

      On December 7th the sun shone again on Stanford, as it always did. I was walking insensate across the quad when Adrienne Rich hailed me. She was sitting on a little sandstone wall under a palm tree, alone.

      "Heather. I heard the news. I am so sorry."

      I was shocked. I was not used to being seen. But I was also shocked the way you are when you suddenly learn something big. It was as though all that Stanford sun served to illuminate one single concept, the politics of location. Everything that Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, the Combahee River Collective, and Rich herself had been saying suddenly made sense. I understood the politics of location because Adrienne Rich, there on her little wall, lived it. She modeled a solidarity that informs my feminist politics to this day.


      I know that sounded like a middle-aged ramble across memory's palmy quad, but it was actually a carefully crafted homily. How so? Well, what with December 1st and December 6th and December 21st, this month feels dark enough already. So instead of running "This Month in Sexism," we want to run a post called "Feminist WINS" as our last offering before we take a year-end break.

      What's a feminist win? You tell us! Same format as TMIS, but this time tell us what's working, what feeds and soothes and reassures you that goodness (i.e., feminism) is not gone from this world. Point form is fine, personal stories are great, institutional triumphs always important - the only thing we'd ask is that your stories have something to do with women working in the Canadian university system.

      Write: editrixes [at] hookandeye [dot] ca
      Deadline: Tuesday 21 Dec
      Post to run: Wednesday 22 Dec
      hookandeye to resume: Wed 3 Jan 2011.

      Monday, December 6, 2010

      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?

      Friday, December 3, 2010

      Looks good, looks "professor-y"

      I waited in the doorway at the optician's, waiting for my dear friend (a colleague) to catch up to me, to see my new glasses.

      "Oh!" she said, "I like them!" She considered, and then added, approvingly, "They're very professor-y, they make you look older."

      She was smiling, so I know it was a compliment, and when she popped into my office to say hello the next morning, noticed them again, and said, "I really like those on you!"

      Later that morning, another dear friend and colleague took a good look at them: "They're great," she said, "very nerdy."

      Older. Professor-y. Nerdy. You know, that's what I thought of them, too. (Except maybe the older part. I'm 37; I am no longer really trying to look any older than I am, thankyouverymuch.) Anyhow, it's not too much to say I picked a pair of glasses that made me look more like a professor.

      I know very few academics who have perfect vision. Most of us wear glasses. And many of us make some kind of statement with those glasses. I wear contacts as well as glasses, so when I wear my glasses on any given day, it's a choice: maybe I'm too lazy to do the full eye makeup thing that unadorned eyes require, or maybe my eyes feel too tired for them, but usually when I wear my glasses to work, it's because I'm trying to up the 'professor' quotient on my self-presentation.

      For example, on the first day of class, I used to wear my glasses, so students would know I'm a Serious, Qualified Person. However, increasingly I find that I walk and talk and dress like a serious, qualified person (erect bearing and controlled movements, speech in paragraphs with complicated clauses, wool pants and architecturally clever sweaters) and that I might need to tone it down a bit. I mean, the other day, I was out for coffee in jeans and a sweatshirt, and struck up a conversation with a new mom next to me--she ultimately asked me if I was an English professor, because I used the word 'ambulatory'. The Force is strong in me, I guess. Anyways. Now I wear contacts on the first day to look less like an ancient and alienating grammar robot.

      But you're damn right I wear the glasses when half the class turns in their assignment late and I'm going to Address the Issue in class. And I wear my glasses to proctor exams. I often wear them when I'm on a hiring committee, because lately I'm always the junior person and we've been interviewing senior candidates and sometimes they ignore me.

      I guess where I'm going with this is that I wear my glasses to look and feel more powerful in the world; I take them off when I want to hide or diminish my power. I don't mind that they make me look older or more serious--I mean, in general, I now wear my glasses a lot more frequently than I wear my contacts--and this surprises me, because the prevailing cultural narrative (you might be familiar with this) is that women are supposed to always try to look younger and ... softer? I guess 'sexually approachable' is what I mean. But 90% of the time, I'm more likely to be deliberately keying my self-presentation to a scale of authority rather than a mass-mediated attractiveness. Unlike the 'sexy librarian' who reveals her inner hotness by dropping the bun and tearing off the glasses, I actually really think I'm really my best, most attractive self in the wool pants and the glasses.

      What about you? Do you count yourself among the legion of book-addled myopics? How do you choose to correct your vision? Do you deploy your glasses or contacts as props in the performance of self?

      Wednesday, December 1, 2010

      A Legacy that Counts

      One of the delights of a career well spent, I'm learning, is a world full of former graduate students.

      My partner and I spent a marvelous Monday evening with LGT, who finished her PhD here in 2001 (her defense was the week after September 11th) and landed a job at a small college in the deep south of the USA. It's probably not the job she imagined - did I mention, the deep south? - but she has flourished. She is, I confirmed last night, a marvelous teacher. I saw her Teacher Look and I heard her Teacher Voice, both of which are awe-inspiring (and, therefore, awe-some, though usually to different audiences). She told stories about her colleagues and her classes, her triumphs and her questions. She has established an annual lecture series; she is working on her second book; she is tenured and promoted. We talked about her grad school experience ten years out. All evening I just kept thinking how proud I am of the person she's become and what a gift it is to work with someone like her.

      This morning, a current graduate student aced her candidacy exams. This afternoon, I started organizing the thesis defense for yet another brilliant student. And although we haven't said this explicitly, Aimee, aka digiwonk, aka Friday's blogger, completed her PhD under my supervision too.

      It's a world of amazing people that just keeps growing.

      Next week at my school the Faculty Evaluation Committee will hole up for five continuous days to evaluate the successes and failures of the academic year. They will proceed with scrupulous procedural fairness; whether that's what the academy needs - whether that's what women in the academy need - remains, for me, an open question. Increments will be handed out and moved around and reconsidered. Nonetheless, at the end of the week many people will feel that their teaching is unrecognized, their research undervalued, their service made invisible. FEC can make you feel like crap, but even when it rewards you, it's nothing like spending an evening with a fully fledged colleague and friend.

      As I like to say, when all else fails it's nice to have your integrity to fall back on.