classrooms · faculty evaluation · guest post

Guest post: She’s Hot: Female Sessional Instructors, Gender Bias, and Student Evaluations

This post by Andrea Eidinger was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca and is reposted here with permission.
_________________________________________
I would like to acknowledge and thank the many female instructors who got in touch with me over the past week, not only for their bravery in sharing their experiences with me, but for their strength in continuing in their dedication to the field of history and education. I am profoundly grateful and honoured. 
“I think your feminist stances are slightly overcorrecting reality. I’m sure minorities had a harsher experience than women, ESPECIALLY today, a point you seem to overlook. You’re a really nice person though.”
That comment comes from my student evaluations from one of the first courses I ever taught, back when I was still a graduate student. At the time that I read that, I burst out laughing. I mean really, how else can you react to that kind of statement? But many courses and student evaluations later, I am starting to think that this is reflective of a larger problem in the world of academia, and history in particular, with respect to female sessional instructors and course evaluations.
Over the course of the past year or so, there have been a number of studies that have emerged detailing the gender bias against female instructors in student evaluations.  According to one study, male professors routinely ranked higher than female professors in many areas. [2] For instance, male professors received scores in the area of promptness (how quickly an assignment was returned) that were 16% higher than those of female instructors, even though the assignments were returned at the exact same time.  Another research project, which examined word usage in reviews of male and female professors on “Rate My Professor” found that male faculty members are more likely to be described as “funny,” “brilliant,” “genius,” and “arrogant,” while female faculty members are more likely to be described as “approachable,” “helpful,” “nice,” and “bossy.”[3]
While many of these studies discuss the negative impact that this bias has on tenure and promotion few consider how devastating they can be to sessional instructors, particularly given the overrepresentation of women at this academic rank. Although data on sessional instructors in Canada, both contract and regularized, remains scarce, what we do know based on a 2016 report on sessional faculty at publicly-funded universities in Ontario is that 60.2% of sessional instructors identity as female. Most of these individuals have Ph.Ds. and will spend roughly 4 to 5 years working as a sessional instructors with the hope of securing  full-time positions within academia. During these 4 to 5 years, 53.2% of these individuals will secure contracts that are less than 6 months in duration while the next largest group, at 18.2% will not have any current contract at all.? And declining enrolment in history courses across the country means that jobs of any type are becoming more and more scarce.
The effectiveness of sessional instructors is often evaluated based primarily on student evaluations, particularly when it comes to questions of hiring, contract renewal, regularization, and promotion to tenure-track positions. (This is in spite of solid evidence that student evaluations are not good measures of teaching effectiveness). Consequently, female sessionals often face a serious disadvantage compared to their male colleagues.
Here is a quick sampling of some of the more problematic comments I’ve received over the years:
  • “The focus on social history was good but I did not learn events leading to confederation. I didn’t come out of this course with any more information, except gender and race struggles, than I came in with.”
  • “Although Andrea stated on the first day she would teach a peoples[sic] perspective it was not illustrated how much was going to be focused on first nations and women’s history.”
  • “A bit biased in her views: very feminist and consequently an alternate view isn’t respected.”
While these remarks only represent a small percentage of the student comments that I’ve received on evaluations, they are extremely troubling. They also appear to be fairly representative of the types of comments that female instructors, particularly those who appear to be younger, receive on a regular basis. While writing this piece, I put out a call on social media for Canadian female instructors who teach history to get in touch with me if they were willing to share some of these comments on an anonymous basis. Eight women came forward and shared their stories. These comments and stories generally fell into five categories: bias, inexperience, unprofessionalism, behavior/appearance, and sexualization.
One of the most common critiques is that of “bias.” You can see several examples of these types of comments that I’ve received above. Many female instructors are heavily criticized for including women and gender history in their courses, and this is often described as them imposing a personal bias on history. They are often accused of “only having one point of view” and “shutting down opposing views.”
For instance, one instructor had a student that complained, “it was obvious that she didn’t quite enjoy the boys telling her that men are biologically superior. She rapidly dismissed their explanations as outdated and sexist without giving them the reason (although she did later on in the course elaborate). But it was clear that those students had lost interest since their ideas were being rejected.”
Related to this problem are comments about female professors being “inexperienced,” “new,” or “too young.”  Female instructors often have to face criticism from students who don’t feel that they are qualified to be professors. This is particularly a problem for female professors who appear to be younger than they really are or who happen to be short. Several of the instructors shared comments from students about them being “newer,” or just “getting started in teaching.” In one case, an instructor relayed that, “I also recently had an issue with a mature male student who made comments about me being “early in my career” and that he may be able to “help me” through his own line of work. He also expressed unsubstantiated doubts about my qualifications for teaching the subject matter after admitting to doing an online search of my background.”
On a related note, this can often result in direct challenges to female instructors in classes. Recently, a colleague related the following exchange on Twitter:

 

Another common complaint is that female instructors behave “unprofessionally.” The reasons for this can vary significantly, but often relate to references to one’s personal life. For instance, one instructor I spoke with had been forced to cancel a class because her child was sick. She joked about it in the following class. Then, on her student evaluations, she noted the following comment: “I found it very unprofessional that the Instructor referenced her child as an excuse for not being available or for missing class. This is not the concern of the student or any reputable faculty. Those issues should remain private and availability should be clearly indicated without reference to the Instructors personal life.”

Female instructors are criticized on everything from their behaviour to their appearance. Many are told that they should “smile more” or be “more approachable and friendly.” One student wrote, “she sounds like a dictionary with all the words she uses.” In some cases, students comment on their clothing choices in student evaluations, with comments like, “I like how your jewellery[sic] matches your clothing” and “I would love to know where you shop. You have some great dresses.”
More pernicious are the sexualized comments that female instructors received. These ranged from comments that “she’s hot” and “the prof is not hard on the eyes” to “I would really like to get you into a room alone and have some fun.” Finally, one instructor was told “I like how your nipples show through your bra. Thanks.” As the instructor herself noted, “this one led me to never wear those bras again. I now wear lightly padded bras exclusively. I was horrified when I got this one. Horrified. And not because my nipples were showing. Who the eff cares? But because someone was looking at me that way and sexualizing me while I was teaching a class in political history.”
Instructors have handled such comments in different ways, but nearly all of the instructors that I spoke with have stopped reading comments on student evaluations entirely. This is particularly the case in more recent years, as student comments have become increasingly aggressive and at times violent. Not only are these comments not helpful in any regard, but also they are profoundly unfair.
The end result to these kinds of comments is a situation that puts female sessional instructors in an un-winnable position. Their job performance is judged on teaching evaluations that are significantly biased against them. And yet teaching evaluations are used to make hiring decisions, where female instructors are ranked alongside with their male peers, on the assumption of an even playing field. And when there are no second chances and bad teaching evaluations can spell the end of your entire teaching career, female instructors get the short end of the stick.
Further, there are few support systems in place for female instructors to help them deal with these kinds of comments as well as misogyny in the classroom. While some departments and department members are sympathetic, others are less so, and some are openly hostile to even the suggestion. Female instructors are routinely told to just “ignore” these comments,[4] or are reluctant to even raise concerns for fears of being accused of “not being able to handle it” or of not being sufficiently “grateful for having a job.” Most of us end up feeling entirely alone. The situation is often worse for women of colour, Indigenous women, women with disabilities, and LGTBQ+ instructors.
However, it does seem that at least one Canadian university is starting to take this problem seriously. In May of 2014, the University of Waterloo initiated the Course Evaluation Project Team, to “assess the current practice of course evaluations and provide recommendations for improvement.” Their draft report was released to the university community in November 2016, recommending the adoption of a cascaded course evaluation model that would be consistent across all faculties. More than ninety associations and departments responded, and the final report is pending following a full review of this feedback. Three groups of faculty in particular submitted the most detailed responses, the Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo, the Status of Women and Equity Committee, and faculty members from the department of psychology.[5]
Each of these responses recommended that student evaluations should no longer be used to evaluate faculty members due to the significant gender, race, and other biases. They all specifically refuted the idea that careful design can be taken to counter the gender and racial biases in student evaluations. Instead, these reports advised that written comments in student evaluations should only be for the instructor’s use, and that alternative assessment tools be used instead, such as teaching practice inventory or correlating teaching with in one course with student grades in later courses. It remains to be seen what the final report will say.
While I can’t provide recommendations about what kind of system should replace student evaluations, what I can say is that based on the feedback that I’ve received and conversations I’ve had with other female instructors, gender bias in the classroom, and academia, is a serious problem that needs to be addressed openly, with honesty and compassion. Not only do these biases end careers, but they also deprive students of superb instructors.
Andrea Eidinger is a historian of gender and ethnicity in postwar Canada. She holds a doctorate from the University of Victoria, and has spent the last six years teaching as a sessional instructor in British Columbia. She is the creator and writer behind the Unwritten Histories blog, which is dedicated to revealing hidden histories and the unwritten rules of the historical profession.
[1] Special thanks to Joanna Pearce for her comments on the piece!
[3] Scott Jaschik, “Rate My Word Choice,” Inside Higher Ed (February 9, 2015). You can use the tool itself, which was developed by Ben Schmidt, here. For information on how he developed the tool, click here.
[4] Thank you Christo Aivalis for the suggestion of this example.  The comments section of this article (and many similar articles) highlights the prevalence of the ‘just ignore’ attitude.
[5] To see the background research for the study as well as some of the other responses and commentaries, including those from students, click here. Interestingly, of the responses posted that website, only the Federation of Students was fully supportive of the draft report’s recommendations.
academic reorganization · backlash · guest post · race

Guest post: I talked About Racism in Canada in a Public Venue. Here is what happened

By Misao Dean
I gave an interview on my research last March on the CBC program The 180. In it I talked about colonialism in Canada, picking away at some of the myths that sustained my childhood sense of “Canadianness,” and arguing that we should read them as representations of colonial power.
These ideas are not that radical in Canada; they’re absolutely conservative, in the context of recent interpretations of Canadian law. But it seems that when you bring those abstract ideas down to specifics – this piece of land, that cultural practice – or when you mention whiteness – well, some people get pretty excited. And someone wrote a reaction to my interview on a British right-wing website called “Heatstreet,” and that got a comment in the Times Higher Education Supplement, and a tweet was picked up by Fox News, and then things went a bit bananas.
On October 23rd 2016 I checked my e-mail and found a request for an interview about my research, from a podcast that is produced in Chicago. My first thought—as a researcher and scholar based in Victoria, British Columbia was WTF? The request referenced a tweet from someone I’ve never heard of, who according to Google, is a sociologist from the UK. My feelings shifted ever-so-slightly from incredulity to careful interests. Maybe my research is really getting some traction, I thought. People are talking about it, excitement, I thought.
By the time I got to work there were more requests for interviews, this time from ESPN, and there was something else: a steady stream of e-mails all consisting or two or three words, calling me a cunt and a fool, an idiot and an “SJW,” (derogatory internet slang for ‘social justice warrior.’) These emails had something in common: they were all lamenting the way I’m poisoning the minds of students. Many of them suggested I commit suicide.
Take a moment and pause on that: I was receiving emails from strangers telling me to commit suicide.
By the time I finished teaching my first class in addition to invitations to be on international news, and the hate-filled trolling, there were also e-mails to the Dean and my department chair, and someone in the Dean’s office had contacted me, offering “support.”
I’m ok, no big deal,I said. When the first death threat appeared in my inbox my stomach dropped, and I started to wonder why I did that interview.
I mean let’s stop and think about this again: I talked about systemic racism in Canada and I got death threats. Me—a middle-aged white university professor whose idea of a good time is a visit to the National Archives—got death threats talking about facts of Canadian social and political history.
My daughters asked me, What did you expect? Talking about race in the mainstream media just makes you a target. I gave this some thought. It doesn’t really help that I was attacked using my own words, taken out of context. This kind of irresponsible and de-contextualized quoting has become an art form among Trump followers who think it’s hilariously funny to post stories that make it look like famous “liberals” have said something entirely opposite to what they actually said: for example, that Michael Moore endorsed Trump, or that a woman academic doesn’t know the first thing about her own research topic.
I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect hundreds of abusive and obscene accusations from people who didn’t even know that the interview was talking about Canada.
I didn’t expect my Rate My Professor  page to be flooded with complaints about my teaching from people I’ve never met, and who can’t find my university on a map.
And I didn’t expect my kids to find abusive comments about me in their Facebook feeds.
I expected a conversation, but this isn’t conversation. Hate isn’t a conversation.
Listen, I’ve been called an idiot before, and survived (after all, I grew up with brothers). I’ve still got my job, and all the privileges that go with it. But last week I was asked to review a grant application for SSHRC and evaluate, among other things, a “knowledge mobilization strategy” in which Some Poor Sap, PhD., wrote that when his book comes out, on an important topic that really needs sophisticated discussion in the public sphere, he intends to create a website, and make himself available for media interviews and panel discussions, and really get his results out there.
I wanted to tell him, publish that book, create those new courses, teach those great ideas, but keep your head down, and don’t talk to the media, at least not before asking yourself these questions: Are you tenured? What will happen to you if colleagues or students Google you and find that the top results assert your incompetence?
And what does this self-policing of necessary and hard research questions do to researchers, to scholars, to our students, and to the public who is meant to receive that mobilized knowledge?
Research like ours, the complicated, risky, challenging ideas that really teach you something: this isn’t the stuff of public discourse anymore, and it’s disingenuous of SSHRC to suggest it is.
Have I learned something from this?  If the CBC calls again I will probably talk to them; the producer who organized the original interview called to apologize, and I think he honestly does feel bad about it. But the stuff is still out there, articles and blog posts and tweets that make me ashamed and defensive about my years of successful peer-reviewed research, and the fact that there’s nothing I can do to correct it makes me feel ill.
Miao Dean is a Professor of English at the University of Victoria. She teaches courses on the Canadian novel, and is interested in non-fiction prose and travel writing as well. She has published extensively on early Canadian women writers, on the literature of wilderness travel, and on animals and hunting in early Canadian writing. Her most recent book, Inheriting a Canoe Paddle, is on the way the discourse of the canoe is mobilized to justify Canadian sovereignty in the context of aboriginal title.

academic reorganization · Audre Lorde · feminist communities · guest post · writing

Guest post: It’s Personal

by Marie Carrière

I am on a half-sabbatical leave from my university. And lo and behold, I am working on a book! In a nutshell, my reflection focuses on our present, or late, feminist moment that I call metafeminism. Here is how I am defining metafeminism: I find the idea ensconced in the prefix meta central to understanding this moment; it delineates the reflections and deflections of the several recognizable faces of feminism with which Western culture has grown familiar. Such vacillation of feminism’s tropes, waves, and manifestations is at the heart of my understanding of metafeminism.

But I want to slow down, and I want to write differently.

In Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks argues that revolutionary feminist theory – meant to inform masses of people and transform the societies we live in – is not, ironically enough, readily available or accessible to a non academic public. It “remains a privileged discourse,” hooks writes, “available to those among us who are highly literate, well-educated, and usually materially privileged.” This is more than a fair point. But unlike hooks’ work here, my essay cannot claim to address anybody other than those already with an interest in feminist thought and writing. I cannot claim nor do I want to pretend that the book I’m writing is not an academically driven project. It stems from my long-standing research into contemporary feminism, especially of the late twentieth century and new millennium. But I am looking to break with the monographic tradition that continues to render so much academic writing, including my own, relevant only to… academic reading and yet more academic writing… I look to also speak to skilled readers and certainly to students curious about feminism’s trajectories through thought and literature.

Of course I am not writing in a generic vacuum with no history. The French essai is a literary genre of writing that comes close to what I have in mind for my book. I’m not sure that “essay” is the most accurate English equivalent. But for now, I’ll take it, with a few qualifications. The online Larousse defines the French term essai as follows:

ouvrage regroupant des réflexions diverses ou traitant un sujet qu’il ne prétend pas épuiser; genre littéraire constitué par ce type d’ouvrages […] action entreprise en vue de réaliser, d’obtenir quelque chose, sans être sûr du résultat ; tentative.

This definition appeals to me. Not only does it help me understand how I might distance my work from the comprehensiveness of the standard academic monograph. It helps me imagine how a personalized (but not, in my case, intimate or confessional) academic essay might take shape and give rise to a different form of scholarly writing.

Simply put, how might I say I in my academic writing?

So “simply put,” that when I read out this last sentence to S., my 13-year old daughter, she replied, “It’s not hard, Maman. We learn that in first grade.”

What I haven’t yet explained to S. is that figuring out how to say I, as a woman, within the academy, even from a tenured, white, cis gender privileged position like my own, is not that simple. Although writing in the first person as a woman will not, of course, automatically produce more accessible scholarship, I still hope that in this essay it might give rise to a different form of scholarly writing. How might I say I in an academic book project and write from a place of intellectual feeling, of literary sensation, and of feminist care? How might I tap into what Audre Lorde describes as a “disciplined attention to the true meaning of ‘it feels right to me’?”

Ann Cvetkovich’s remarkable 2012 book, Depression: A Public Feeling is, unlike my own, partly written in the form of the academic memoir, laying out her personal struggle with depression. Of note is what I would call the metafeminist “rapprochement with legacies of 1970s feminism such as consciousness-raising, personal narrative, and craft” that Cvetkovich recognizes in her blending of memoir and criticism. As in metafeminism, there are in fact multiple sites of influence in Cvetkovich’s work. She also acknowledges the legacy of a generation of feminists including bell hooks, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Jane Gallop who have continued the trend of personal academic writing. And she harks back to the influence of a more marginal feminist confessional zine culture of the early 1990s.

And so, perhaps that’s the big deal (with affection, ma fille): I too would like my own personalized essay to be a kind of rapprochement to these different expressions of feminist thought. To recall a context closer to home, the fiction theories (or fictions théoriques) practiced by feminist and queer Québécois writers in the 1970s (Bersianik, Brossard, Théoret) and their Anglo-Canadian counterparts in the 1980s (Brandt, Marlatt, Tostevin) also serve as my models.

(A girl can dream, especially during a thought experiment.)

I discovered these texts during my undergraduate studies in my early twenties, delving deeper into them in graduate school. Bringing together anglophone and francophone influences has allowed this bilingual feminist room to dream across borders and boundaries. In a sense, these texts have been my feminist super-egos, my propédeutique to literary understanding, my entry into feminist ethics. With their blend of female subjectivity, feeling, creative reflection, and aesthetic experimentation, these authors started to write at an exceptional time in Québécois and Canadian literature, which I examined in my first book (a monograph!). Since then, some, though not numerous, Canadian works of more recent personal criticism by women (Lee Maracle, Catherine Mavrikakis, Andrea Oberhuber, or Erin Wunker) have followed in this vein. Finally, just as Cvetkovich’s turn to the confessional in her critical work on affect fittingly sets out to raise public consciousness through the expression of personal experience and emotion, my own personalized essay, like metafeminism, hopes to fittingly oscillate between various manifestations, or waves, of feminist theory and practice.

Further to the resistance of academic exhaustiveness in my adoption of the personalized essay is perhaps the issue of exhaustion itself. Attributing the appeal of personal memoir in criticism to humanities scholarship’s affective turn (Clough; Gregg and Seigworth), Cvetkovich entertains the idea of personalized academic writing “as a sign of either the exhaustion of theory or its renewed life.” I find the idea very provocative. But I’m also a bit loathe to pigeonhole theory in those terms. I refuse to believe that theory is exhausting, exhausted, or even exhaustive.

Theory, I try to reassure my students (to a variable degree of success), is just theory: a thought experiment, a set of principles, a string of ideas; it’s always historical with a material context, and to an attentive reader willing to take a few risks and work a little harder, it should be no more daunting than any other narrative. But I do think there is room for deeper thinking about why more open forms of theoretical writing, that draw from intimate experience and personal understanding, might be apt at this time in feminist, indeed metafeminist, work. I’m thinking especially of theory that draws from intimate experience and personal understanding, and adopts a jargon-free, intelligible, fathomable language. In what is still a profoundly scholarly meditation on the socio-cultural aspects of depression, Cvetkovich’s book, particularly its “depression journals” segment, is as personal and readable as it is intellectually engaging.

This work also falls in line with other recent turns to academic memoir, such as Maggie Nelson’s brilliant feminist “autotheory” in The Argonauts, at the heart of which she traces her relationship with her fluidly gendered partner, her experience of queer pregnancy, and her realization that pregnancy is queer. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s personal essay We Should All be Feminists, adapted from her TEDx talks of the same title, is in turn an attempt to free feminism from stereotypical notions that Adichie grew up with in Nigeria and still encounters in American culture. (And this is before that orange fuckface entered politics.) Wunker in turn writes, in her own words, at the “interstices of critical and literary theory, pop culture, and feminist thinking” in Notes from a Feminist Killjoy. She posits her use of the pronoun I as a personal and intellectual gesture of positioning herself, textually and socially, as a white privileged woman writing about feminism in Canada today. Most recent is Sara Ahmed’s highly anticipated, Living a Feminist Life, an academic memoir that Ahmed began to construct through her ongoing blog, feministkilljoys.com.

To my mind, these works are not exhibiting theoretical exhaustion. They are brazen, filled with admirable feminist boldness, as they pursue the more open forms of writing that may, from a neoliberal standpoint, be slowing them down, and that the neoliberal university may not be ready to fully acknowledge. But these are forms that feminism today – whether intersectional, queer, or oriented around affect studies – fully warrants. Given the accumulation of its multiple variables and directions, metafeminism, to hark back to hooks’ argument, “needs to be written in a range of styles and formats.” I would love to continue to see feminist writing that loosens, as do the works mentioned above, age-old boundaries separating the academic and the personal, or the scholarly and the accessible. I believe such efforts can address the need for stylistic diversity and enrich both a common reading experience and a more specialized scholarly one.

It’s difficult not to notice as well the early second-wave mantra of “the personal is political” being powerfully re-invoked by works like Nelson’s or Cvetkovich’s. Hence my argument that my book, my personalized essay is an attempt, my attempt, at a metafeminist form of academic writing. This project is also an attempt to figure out how my scholarly learning, which is always in process, can breathe life, or let life breathe, into forms of expression that fall outside of strict or standard academic norms of writing. Finally, and maybe this is (too) brazen on my own part, but could these personalized moments in my writing be a form of queering such norms? Through Nelson’s own take, I recall Sedgwick’s controversial notion of queer as encompassing various kinds of disruptions and subversions. “Queer is a continuing moment, movement, motive – recurrent, eddying, troublant […] relational, and strange,” writes Sedgwick, to which Nelson adds:

She wanted the term to be a perpetual excitement, a kind of placeholder – a nominative, like Argo, willing to designate molten or shifting parts, a means of asserting while also giving the slip. That is what reclaimed terms do – they retain, they insist on retaining, a sense of the fugitive.

Meanwhile, Sedgwick also acknowledged the danger of dematerializing the term through this removal of “same-sex sexual expression” from queer’s “definitional center.” As Nelson again adds: “In other words, she wanted it both ways. There is much to be learned from wanting something both ways.” (29).

That’s what metafeminism, by the way, is all about: reflecting and deflecting; having it both ways.

Writing about feminism today, at least for me, craves a suppler form than the monograph allows. One that’s less exhaustive and less exhaustible, one that’s fugitive perhaps, and maybe even queer. One that wants it both ways. To write, then, an academic personalized essay. To take the unfinished wave of a scholarly attempt, and to chase the tides of feminism’s first, second, third, and even fourth movements in the texts of Canadian women writers today. Maybe a personalized essay is the only form possible for an academic study of metafeminism. Vast and extensive in historicity as well as content, metafeminism encompasses what has been referred to for some time as feminisms in the plural; it denotes those shifting parts of sexual, racial, gender, and trans identities articulated beyond the normative categories of a very old and very persistent patriarchal tradition. Perhaps metafeminism’s breadth, multidirectional texture, and ambivalences, indeed its queerness, already resist the monograph – the highly detailed, authoritative, legitimized account of a single thing.

Perhaps only the essai personnalisé, with its open process and its desire to give academic discipline the slip, will do.

Marie Carrière directs the Canadian Literature Centre at the University of Alberta where she also teaches literature in English and in French. Her most recent publication is a critical anthology co-edited with Curtis Gillespie and Jason Purcell, Ten Canadian Writers in Context.
academic reorganization · grad school · guest post

Guest Post: The Grad School Decision: Thoughts and Advice for Students, Professors, and Mentors

Last weekend, I took a two-day workshop on active listening organized by my campus’ student union.

The workshop was geared towards supporting survivors of sexual assault and harassment, but needless to say the skills could be widely applied. I started thinking about the conversations I have with my friends and family, especially regarding personal difficulties or decisions, and how I can be a more effective support person. Specifically, I started to notice that people were coming to me seeking certain things, whether they (or I) realized it: sometimes they need hard, clear advice; sometimes they need commiseration; and sometimes they just need someone to listen deeply, and to leave the analysis and decision-making up to them.

To be clear: these needs aren’t always mutually inclusive, and it’s ok for me (and others) to mistake one conversation for another. Communication is hard, and as they reminded as in the workshop, there is no ‘right way’ to support someone. But the very act of stopping, listening, thinking, and setting your own concerns, experiences, and judgments aside can be as valuable as it is challenging.

So why is this post about choosing to continue grad school?

Well, it’s February. The applications for scholarships and programs are submitted, or about to be. Grad committees are meeting. And students everywhere are seriously contemplating whether or not they should go to grad school, and where. And though many students may not have heard back on their applications, the decision starts to press in from all sides (especially if your lease expires in just a few months).

In this post, I hope to offer two things: reassurance to my fellow students or would-be students; and advice to profs, supervisors and mentors who will be consulted on this major decision.

To students and potential-students:
· It’s ok to want to go to grad school, even if you don’t see a job at the end of it.

· It’s ok to not want this (anymore), even if you’ve worked towards it. It’s ok to feel worn down, or like you aren’t up for this, or like you want to put your energy elsewhere. You are so wonderful, and you will be valuable no matter where or how you work, fight, and love.

· It’s ok to feel weird at any/every stage of the process. I felt sick to my stomach when I got my acceptance. I’m not the only one.

· It’s ok to prioritize family, community, health, comfort, geography, and financial stability in your decision-making. You are more than just a student, and your program will go smoother if you let yourself know this.

· It’s ok to think short-term: does your funding package appeal because it’s more than you make at your retail/service job? Does student-status look better than precarious work or unemployment? It’s ok if this is your motivation, rather than a passion for research and teaching. Maybe your motivation will shift, maybe it won’t.

Which brings me to this:

· It’s ok to imagine yourself dropping out or not finishing. Sometimes, just the knowledge that you can leave is the only thing that keeps you going. (Shout out to RM and MK: one or both of you told me this when I felt full of despair).

· It’s ok to leave. Whether that means turning down that offer next month, or leaving your program mid-way through.

· And above all: this decision affects you most of all, so centre yourself and your needs. No matter what your decision, your supervisor(s) will be fine. That helpful grad coordinator or administrator will be fine. Your best friend in the program will be ok. You’re the one who has to live with this decision, so listen to yourself.

To the faculty, advisors, supervisors, professors, and mentors:*
This is when my thinking around active listening comes in. I can imagine it’s incredibly difficult to provide emotional and professional support to your students. Maybe you feel invested in them, or maybe you are too busy to be the kind of helpful prof that you had or needed or wanted. But if you know you’ll be a part of these conversations, my primary advice is to apply the basic principle of active listening: wait, listen, think, and try to gauge what the student actually needs from you.

· Do they need information? That could be straightforward. Maybe they just need to be put in touch with a grad coordinator. Maybe they need that kind of tacit knowledge Aimée has discussed. Or maybe they need the kind of information that feels like gossip but is actually vital. If you don’t feel comfortable telling them that that star academic probably won’t give them the support they desire, try and put them in touch with a grad student or colleague who can speak honestly with them.

· Do they need advice? This is tricky. First of all, do they need advice from you in a professional capacity or as a friend? Does this difference mean something to you? More on advice-giving below.

· Do they need reassurance? Don’t we all. If you’re not able to give the kind of emotional support they need, especially during that awful period of waiting-to-hear-back, then just ask them “Do you have someone you can talk to about this?” This can help to signal that maybe you are not that person, and can remind them about that other student going through the same process, or the career counselling services on campus.

· Do they need space? Then please give it. Note if you are always the one starting the conversation about [ominous tone] next year. Note if they try to change the topic. Give them back control: remind them that you are available to talk, and let them start these conversations when and if they need them.

Some general advice:

· Your student is not you. What was right for you won’t necessarily work for them. They can’t follow your trajectory–times have changed and so has tuition.

· No matter what decision they make, they will never be wasted. Yes, professors have told my friends that if they don’t go to grad school, it would be ‘a waste’ of their ability; this can sting. If your student is talented, intelligent, passionate, and skilled, they will bring that spark to any job, career, program, or path they choose.

· You don’t need to know their personal context in order to respect it. Maybe they are hesitant to move away: they don’t need to disclose to you that they want to be near a sick relative, or that their partner’s job is a priority, or that they need to prioritize adequate mental health services. You just need to recognize that geography is a major concern for them.

· Money is personal. They may need more–or less–than you did. Again, they may not want to disclose that they are supporting dependents, or dealing with debt, or accounting for the cost of healthcare, divorce, family planning, a long distance relationship, etc.

· We all value different things. Some people prioritize prestige or reputation more than others. If they signal that they don’t share your values, that’s not a judgment on you. Rather, it’s a sign that they know themselves pretty well.

· Just because the academy needs them, doesn’t mean they need the academy. Shout out to HM for this. This applies especially to students who are marginalized within institutions. Yes, we need more Black and Indigenous students. More students of colour. More queer and trans students. More disabled students. More students from working class backgrounds. But it’s not on your student to make diversity happen. If they fought to earn a degree or two from institutions that aren’t built for them, then they are fierce as hell, and you can remind them of this. But if they are ready to leave and put their energy elsewhere, that’s ok too. Back to my first point: they will never be wasted. And if you feel like they would have stayed if the university didn’t have oppression built into its very old, very white bones, then let this be your motivation to make the institution better for the next student.

*I came to my PhD with the support of some amazing professors and fellow students. The advice offered here is modelled off of supportive behavior I have witnessed, and should not be taken as shaming faculty and instructors for being imperfect. Your efforts are so valuable and so deeply appreciated.

Kaarina Mikalson is in her second year of her PhD in the Department of English at Dalhousie University. She doesn’t regret it (yet), though the initial decision made her nauseous and weepy. She reads CanLit and comic books, and currently researches the Spanish Civil War and labour in literature. She plays roller derby, sews and embroiders, and now owns a soldering iron, so she’s ready for the apocalypse.

#womensmarch · fast feminism · solidarity

Guest Essay: A Canadian Feminist in Washington

Note from Hook & Eye Managing Editor Erin Wunker: This post by Margeaux Feldman is long–it is an essay. We here at the blog feel it is important to read it in its entirety, and so we will leave stand as the sole post for this week. Take your time. Follow the links. Think with Margeaux and with us. 
 
In solidarity, 
Erin, Melissa, Aimée, Lily, Boyda, and Jana
I. Preamble; or the Work of Situating.
When I woke up on November 9th to find out that Donald Trump was the President Elect, I was in shock. It felt like someone had died unexpectedly and I was in the beginning phases of grief. And then I read an essay by Courtney Parker West, “On ‘Woke’ White People Advertising their Shock thatRacism just won a Presidency.” In the essay, West addresses all of those “white people whom I often love,” and tells them how “advertising your shock and surprise that racism, sexism, xenophobia, and bigotry are pervasive enough to hand that man the Presidency is a microaggression. Please stop.”
Reading her words, I had to admit that I was one of the folks she was addressing. For folks of colour, for immigrants, and Muslims, and members of the indigenous community, Trump winning the election wasn’t a shock. It was a confirmation of the racist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, and sexist world that people of colour inhabit daily. As a privileged white woman, and one who lives in Canada, I had to confront just how privileged my shock was.[1]
So I interrogated my shock and tried to figure out how to mobilize. But I felt stuck.
Overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the work ahead. And again I had to encounter the privilege of being able to inhabit a space of stuckness. I was left wondering, as Erin Wunker does in Notes From a Feminist Killjoy: “Where do we being when the work of deconstructing, dismantling, and burning down oppressive systems seems so immense?” (39). Wunker’s response to this question: “First, we situate ourselves. Then, we widen the scope of our looking. Then, we situate ourselves again. And repeat.”
There is something hopeful in the repetition of this act. And something forgiving.
When I fail at being a feminist killjoy, when I refuse to speak up when I see racism and misogyny taking place, and worse, when I say or do or think something racist, it’s all too easy to get caught in a shame spiral, to inhabit that space of stuckness. But if I can situate myself as a feminist who is striving to be intersectional,[2]then I need to confront my shame, my humiliation, and my failure, then “widen the scope of [my] looking,” and figure out how to do better next time.
Trump’s win forced me to think about how my allyship needed to grow and shift. I decided upon two different actions that I would take:
1. The first was to educate myself.
Specifically, I would educate myself so that I could do the work of educating other white women and men. And I wanted to do that work outside of the neoliberal university that supports transphobia and racism (see: Jordan Peterson’s refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns; see: theanti-racism protests at Ryerson that the director of the School of Social Work to step down). I put out a call on Facebook, asking if anyone else might be interested in joining a reading group where we exclusively read work written by authors who are indigenous, black, or from other POC groups; who are disabled; who are Muslim; who are part of the queer community, especially from the trans community.
In other words, we will not read anything written by a cis white man. And if we read anything by a cis white woman, we will, as I state on the group’s page, “interrogate why that voice and not another. I would prefer that we ask ourselves how reading something by a white woman will help us become better intersectional feminists. Is that author intersectional in her approach? Does she provide us with an example of how we can live our intersectional feminist politics?”
This group is a space where we are actively working to interrogate our white privilege, where we can address the ways in which we are racist because we have been raised in a racist world, and where we can figure out what it means to be an ally. This is a space where we can say, “I’m trying and I’m failing, and I’m continuing to try.”
2. I would go to more protests.
Taking up space in the streets is a necessary act for me because it feels unsafe and thus forces me to go outside of the comfort zone of my white privilege. It means that I might have to place myself in a zone of conflict, and I don’t do well with conflict. (My brother and I had a pretty volatile relationship growing up and conflict was a constant in our home. I was taught that it was safer to say nothing than it was to stand up for myself and deal with the screaming and slamming of doors and silence from my father. I’m still dealing with the trauma.) And yet, women of colour find themselves time and time again in conflicts that they haven’t chosen, conflicts that have been forced upon them just because of the colour of their skin. They don’t get to choose this discomfort – but I can.
I decided that I would try to go to the Women’s March on Washington. My best friend and I talked about driving down together, but unfortunately the plan fell through and I basically gave up on the idea and decided to attend the sister march in Toronto. But then a woman in a Facebook group that I’m a part of posted that her bus had a few empty seats and I jumped at the opportunity. We would drive overnight on Friday, arrive Saturday morning, attend the rally and march, and then get back on the bus Saturday night, arriving back in Toronto Sunday morning. It would be an intense trip, but it felt like it was meant to be.
The reasons it was “meant to be” were much different than I had anticipated.
I thought that I would go and feel overwhelmed by all of the solidarity amongst the feminists in attendance. And that did happen. To see so many folks who support feminism and women’s rights was a truly incredible experience. And I went aware of the issues within the organization, from the fact that it first took its name “The Million Woman March” from the 1997 protest of black women, to the erasure of a line in support of sex workers from their Unity Principles.
The March both produced a feeling of solidarity and it revealed just how divided feminism is – and just how much more work I need to do if I want to consider myself an ally.
II. Learning How to Do Better
i. The Future is…Female? 
Okay, it’s called the “Women’s March” and so automatically we’re talking about a particular gender identity, one that doesn’t account for those gender-queer and gender non-conforming individuals who don’t identify as “woman” or “man”, “girl” or “boy,” “male” or “female.” I put these words in scarequotes because, following Judith Butler, I believe that these gendered and sexed categories are products of the social world that we live in and that they are not fixed categories.[3]
And yet I packed my “The Future is Female” sweatshirt for the March – a slogan that I love and feel ambivalent about, for it privileges the biological category of “female” over the socially and historically constructed category of “woman.” I’ve tried to tell myself that it just sounds better to say “female” (I can’t count the amount of times I’ve tried to write a sentence using “woman” instead of “female” and felt frustrated by the ways in which “female” reads much more smoothly). But this ambivalence over the trickiness of language is trumped by what I see as the slogan’s utopian vision: a world that isn’t run by the patriarchy.
It is this utopian vision that was at the forefront of the Women’s March, a vision that is desperately needed in the face of a President who has openly promoted rape culture with the words “Grab her by the pussy.”
Throughout the March you saw signs that read “Not this Pussy” or “Pussy Grabs Back.” And all around you was a sea of pink and red Pussy Hats. I was one of many wearing a Pussy Hat. My decision to wear one came about by accident. My friend’s mother was making one for herself and asked if I wanted one and I said “sure, why not?” It wasn’t until after the March that I started to read people’s criticisms of the hats for being transphobic: because trans women do not have pussies – biologically speaking – and because pink is a highly gendered colour.
While I’m all for utopian visions of the future, especially ones in which the patriarchy has been dismantled, I think that we need to take a moment and realize how utopias can be exclusionary. It is useful to think of queer scholar José Muñoz’s definition of abstract and concrete utopias. In Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, Muñoz argues that abstract utopias are “are akin to banal optimism,” while concrete utopias “are the realm of educated hope” or what Muñoz calls “critical idealism” (2-3). In not thinking about how all of the pussy signs and hats were exclusionary, all we have is an abstract utopia, one in which banal optimism evokes utopia’s definition as a “no place.” And those on the margins are forced to occupy the “no place” in very real ways.
One way that we can think about the different between abstract utopia and concrete utopia is by looking at this viral photo taken at the March. 

Angela Peoples holding sign (photo by Kevin Banatte)

 

The three white women in the background can be read as representing the abstract utopia, in which it’s enough to show up to the March, put on a pussy hat, and call it a day (to be fair, I know nothing about these women and their lives and so I speak of them, in this moment, as representing the white feminism that refuses to be critical of its own complicity in racism).
Angela Peoples, who stands wearing a hat that says “Stop Killing Black People,” holding her sign that reads “White Women Voted for Trump,” presents us with a different form of utopic vision, one that is critical of the current state of things, one that calls attention to the truths that white women would rather not acknowledge.
As Peoples explains in an interview, most women responded to her sign by saying, “‘Not this white woman,’ or ‘No one I know!’ I’d say, ‘[Fifty-three percent] of white women voted for Trump. That means someone you know, someone who is in close community with you, voted for Trump. You need to organize your people.’ And some people said, ‘Oh, I’m so ashamed.’ Don’t be ashamed; organize your people.”
I’d like to turn back to the pussy hats. In an essay for The Establishment, Katelyn Burns explains her own response, as a trans woman, to the overwhelming presence of pussies at the March: “I understand the impulse to use your vagina as your protest image, especially in the face of a president-elect who has boasted about grabbing vaginas, and an administration seemingly hell-bent on stripping women of their reproductive rights — but the fact of the matter is that when you do so, you subtly let trans women know that their place isn’t in your protest. You’re letting trans men know that you don’t see their gender, because your idea of gender is seemingly based exclusively on genitalia. Wearing pussyhats, or chanting about vaginas, lays out a hierarchy based on genitals that is exclusionary and painful.”
In other words, in the pussy-filled landscape of the March, there is no place for those whose genitals do not match their gender.
Upon realizing just how exclusionary these symbols were, I felt horrified.
How could I, as a queer woman and educator, who has been with gender-queer folks and has many trans friends, have not realized how this symbol was trans-exclusionary and therefore transphobic?
When I attempted to process these feelings with a friend of mine, she very gently pointed out how my question could be read as another version of the claim “I’m not racist because I have X number of black friends.”
Ouch. Necessary truths hurt.
My surprise, to borrow the words of Wunker, “is an example of just one of the ways myopias work” (30). Wunker continues: “Situating your knowledge means that you have to start recognizing the ways in which your knowledge has been shaped—for better or worse—by external social forces. It also means opening yourself to the truth that you don’t have access to every experience” (30).
As a friend of mine phrased it, racism and transphobia are so deeply internalized “that when they come up it’s almost like you’re vomiting.”
I want to take a moment to admit that I’m struggling with where to go from here, from this knowledge that the pussy hats and all of the signs depicting women’s reproductive organs are transphobic.
I’m left wondering, is there a way that I, as a cis woman who had an abortion, can connect with these symbols without excluding others? Is it okay to read “pussy” more figuratively? Can “pussy” be detached from its literal connection to the female body and be read differently, as a representation how patriarchal violence is enacted upon cis and trans-gendered bodies? Can “pussy” serve as a metonym for the bodies that have experienced violence at the hands of men?
I ask these questions earnestly, and from a position of privilege: I am a queer woman and a literature scholar – two different forms of privilege – who thinks about the ways that we can queer language, can shift and change the meanings that oppress into meanings that can challenge those systems of oppression.[4]I ask this question and I acknowledge that I’m not the one who has the right to answer it.
For Katelyn Burns, “maybe womanhood is more about the fight and not about the flesh. Maybe vagina symbolism can be more symbolic than exclusionary.” But before that can happen, she notes, we need to focus on creating language that is trans inclusive, we need to acknowledge how the right to surgery that would enable a trans woman to have a pussy is one that we must continue to fight for.
First we situate ourselves: I wore a Pussy Hat. A hat that is meaningful for me as a woman who has experienced sexual assault and who has long thought of the word pussy as a dirty one because I was taught that my body and my sexuality were dirty.
Then, we widen the scope of our looking: I failed to think about how these symbols are tied to female genitalia, and thus work to exclude trans women.
Then, we situate ourselves again: It is my privilege as a cis woman that enabled me to not see how there is more than one way to read this symbol. I can do better. I must do better. I will do better.
And repeat.
ii.  Unity versus Intersectionality: A False Binary
The scene is this: I’m standing in a crowd of people during the rally. I’m many blocks away so I have to rely on speakers and jumbo screens. Based on my location I can’t see the speakers, but I can hear what they’re saying. Beside me there is a short stone partition, and on it stands a sea of white bodies that are able to see one of the coveted jumbo screens. They can see and they can hear. The people standing are mostly women, but some men. And I think, with so much anger, “Don’t these men understand how their choice to stand on this ledge is the perfect manifestation of their white male privilege? Why don’t they get the fuck down and offer their spaces to other women?”
And yet I said nothing.
An hour or so passes and an interruption occurs: a Muslim girl finds her way to the top of the porta potties on the other side of this stone partition. And then this happens: the sea of whiteness protests. “Get down from there! You can’t be up there! You’re blocking our view!”
And I begin to run through all of the reasons why their protests are totally effed up:
1.     This is a rally, not night at the opera! You are choosing to stand on the stone wall, thus blocking other people, and so she can get up on the porta potty.
2.     Could you be a better example of white supremacy??? This Muslim girl spends her whole life being blocked from seeing, being silenced, being called a terrorist. And now she faces the threat of the Muslim registry! And you’re telling her to get down?!??!
This scene reminds me of Sara Ahmed’s theorization of walls on her blog feministkilljoy.com. She discusses how diversity work can feel like you’ve come up against an institutional brick wall, because the institution (in this case the university) does not want to acknowledge that it is racist. For Ahmed, a wall “is what you come up against. It is a physical contact, a visceral encounter. When I write this, I might not at first be talking of literal walls. A wall is an effect of coming up against.”
This girl jumped over a literal wall that was being created both by the porta potties and by the white people who stood behind her, who told her to get down. And then she stayed up there. She tried to figure out how she could position her body so as to not totally block the sightlines of the white sea behind her – but she still stayed up there. She turned herself into a wall: “a wall as material resistance to being changed by force.”
She was this force all on her own.
I, the person who saw the racism she was experiencing, said nothing.
And this is what it looks like to be complicit in racism.
The day after the March I read a Twitter thread by Sydney Rain, in which she describes “one indigenous woman’s take” on the Women’s March on Washington, “in a sea full of white women.”[5]Rain describes how when she left the prayer circle she was a part of, white women (WW) snapped photos of her and best friend, Ashley, in their regalia without asking permission. When Rain and Ashley started to chant, “You’re on stolen land” she tells us how “WW shot us ugly looks. One shouted in her face, ‘We know but it isn’t our fault!’”
While the Tumblr account has cut out all of the responses to Rain’s thread, there was one that summarized all that is wrong with white feminism (and since the thread has been made private, I’ll have to paraphrase): “we need unity not intersectionality.” This line has been repeated by countless others, including HeatherWilhelm of the Chicago Tribune who called the Women’s March an “intersectional torture chamber.” And an essay on Feministing cites responses to a diversity statement on Facebook, in which women wrote, “‘No woman, no matter what race you are is ‘privileged’ in this culture … This division has to stop;’ another white woman chimed in, saying, ‘I will march. Hoping that someday soon a sense of unity will occur before it’s too late.’”
I’m having a difficult time parsing how and why this false binary has been set up. How and, more importantly, why is acknowledging intersectionality antithetical to unity? Perhaps we can return to the distinction Muñoz makes between abstract and concrete utopias. The unity being proposed by all of these white women is akin to the abstract utopia wherein optimism becomes an excuse for refusing to acknowledge the power and privilege we hold. And so intersectionality is read as cynicism.
Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza notes how “cynicism cannot build a movement.”  In a moving, and to me, a very generous response to the criticism surrounding the Women’s March, Garza describes how “Checking my social media feed that evening, I read comment after comment dismissing the march — an experience that was transformative for hundreds of thousands of people. I wondered what would have happened if, instead of inviting people in, I’d told people to fuck off and go home. Would they come back? Did it matter if they didn’t?”
Garza asks those who are committed to radical politics to hold space for those whose politics are new and thus far from perfect: “Hundreds of thousands of people are trying to figure out what it means to join a movement. If we demonstrate that to be a part of a movement, you must believe that people cannot change, that transformation is not possible, that it’s more important to be right than to be connected and interdependent, we will not win. If our movement is not serious about building power, then we are just engaged in a futile exercise of who can be the most radical.
As Garza offers a much needed intervention in the conversation about unity and intersectionality in the wake of the March, she holds space for us to fail – without falling into a shame spiral – and acknowledges that being political is always a process of learning how we can do better.
III. Conclusion: Towards a Critical Utopia
“There’s still so much work I can do to accept my privileges, explore the opportunities I have to use my abilities and access to help myself and others. This is a commitment we can all make for our self-care – because self-care is about nourishing ourselves, not necessarily comforting ourselves.” – Dom Chatterjee, “The Healing Power in Owning Our Privileges”[6]
Where to go from here? What does it look like for me to return from Washington with a newfound sense of my inner white feminist? How can I move forward, towards the critical utopia that Muñoz proposes?
As a PhD candidate and educator, I can use my knowledge of feminism and anti-oppression to teach others how and why we must acknowledge our privilege. I can harness my commitment to a pedagogy of non-mastery to hold space for others to be vulnerable – because encountering one’s privilege is a vulnerable act, and recognizing our complicity can feel devastating. But it need not destroy us. Our privilege can harm others and it can be used to heal others and ourselves.
First we situate ourselves: I am privileged. I can do better. And this is hard work.
Then, we widen the scope of our looking: I can educate others and myself. I can go to protests and speak up.
Then, we situate ourselves again: The work might not always feel doable, but I don’t have to do it alone.
And repeat.
 
Margeaux Feldman is a PhD Candidate in English and Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto and she holds a certificate in Community-Engaged Learning. Her dissertation, “The Hideosity of Adolescence: Refiguring Intimacy and Sexuality in America” draws upon feminist, queer, and critical race theory to analyze representations of adolescent girls in contemporary literature, film, and popular culture. Her essay “Undutiful daughters: growing up in feminism and psychoanalysis” was published in Psychoanalysis, Culture, and Society in 2016. Margeaux also runs the blog Floral Manifesto, which is committed to talking about the intersections of fashion, feminism, and feelings.


[1]I think that it’s crucial to critique the rhetoric of “things are so much better in Canada.”
[2]This term was first coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in her 1989 essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” For Crenshaw, when we discuss systems of oppression, domination, and power (such as the patriarchy, neoliberalism, capitalism, systemic racism), we MUST consider how different aspects of our identity make us more or less vulnerable than others. For a further discussion, you can checkout my blog post “Defining Our Term: Feminism 101”
[3]In Butler’s seminal text, Gender Trouble, she argues that Butler wants to challenge the traditional feminist argument that sex is a biological category while gender is a historic and social category. Butler does not believe that sex is anatomically defined; for example, if one of the characteristics of being a female is your ability to procreate, then what do we do with those women who are unable to do so?
[4]I shy away from using the word “empower” (i.e. “meanings that empower”) because of the ways that neoliberalism has co-opted phrases like “girl power” (see the essay “Girl power and ‘selfie humanitarianism’” by Gill et al) and the ways in which “empowerment” is the privileged cite for thinking about feminist sex, one that, as I argue in my dissertation, refuses to hold space for sex that is more ambivalent, that lies in-between sex empowerment and sexual assault.
[5]Rain has since protected her Twitter account, but her thread has been archived Tumblr.
[6]I want to acknowledge that Chatterjee’s essay isn’t dedicated to or for white people. As a disabled trans man of colour, Chatterjee is talking to those who experience privilege and oppression, and while I am a woman, I want to be careful to acknowledge my own power and privilege as I use his words. You can find the rest of the essay here.

generational mentorship · global academy · literature · righteous feminist anger

Reading as Resistance

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

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

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

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

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

In no particular order:

1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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

3. Beloved by Toni Morrison

4. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

6. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

7. Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

8. The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

9. The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

10. Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Dandicat

best laid plans · new year new plan · teaching · twitter

Draining & Sustaining: My Relationship With Social Media

I like to think of myself as a pretty dependable correspondent. Email, text, social media: I’m on it. And if I’m not responding then I am there, listening. I know the conversations, the key talking points, the hot takes and the thorough think-pieces. I can point you to a dozen “important” conversations in my field (which is, cough cough, Canadian literature…)  At the very least, regardless of the length of my to-do list, I get the emails sent on time. I tweet back. I message. I respond. I engage. I try and listen. But today when I signed in to schedule my post and found two dozen emails, a few direct messages on Twitter, eighteen notifications on Facebook, and read Aimée’s piece on Lindy West’s departure from Twitter for the first time (she published it four days ago) I finally had to admit what other people have known for a while: I’m dropping some balls.

Or rather, I am tired. Existentially. Politically. Poetically, even, if you count the gorgeous one-liners I think up in the liminal space between waking and sleeping. What has tired me out, I think, is not social media per se, but rather what my friend Sue Goyette identified the other day as the slippage between impact and intent. Let me break it down: I love Facebook for the news. It keeps me in contact with people I would otherwise have long lost touch with. Sure, we don’t write to one another daily, but seeing photos and thoughts and comments from far-flung friends and acquaintances has broadened my access to other people’s lives and perspectives. It isn’t a stretch to say I feel enriched by the connections of many people I know and “know” on Facebook. I like Twitter too. I like the speed of conversation, the way that information and ideas and writing and news travels. It feeds the impatient part of me (a big part of me…)

But for about two years now social media has felt at least equal parts draining and sustaining. I have been trying to mark a moment when that shift started happening, and I think there are, for me, two. The first was when Chief Theresa Spence was on her hunger strike in Ottawa, and the second was was when Emma Healey published her brave, necessary, and gutting “Stories Like Passwords” on The Hairpin. There have been many many more moments since these two, but for me those events mark moments in my digital life when it was made clear to me that hate–in the form of racism and misogyny and rape culture–was so clearly fed and fanned by the conditions of social media.

I’m fortunate: I’ve not been cyber-bullied. I’ve only had a handful of rape threats on Twitter. I am not a lightening rod for charged conversation. I have friends, mentors, and acquaintances who are, and while I am so grateful to them and in awe of their energy, I worry for them. I can see the toll it takes, being constantly accessible. Feeling, I suspect, constantly responsible.

And so, as we head into this new year with its uncertainties and ruptures I find myself wanting not resolutions but reorientations. I aim to reorient my relationship with speedy responses. Yes, I’ll respond to students and colleagues on time. But perhaps I won’t keep Facebook on my phone. Maybe I will schedule time for social media and when that time is up it is up. Maybe I won’t do any of this and bring it to my students as a case study for letting ourselves fail and learning from our failures. Who knows. What I do know is this: I’m working to be more generous in my engagements with others–online, in the classroom, in my home, and with myself. And sometimes being generous means taking a moment and a step back.

So here’s to a new term, dear readers. Here’s to another Monday, another opportunity to take a tiny moment for ourselves to reorient how we’re moving through the worlds and with and alongside others. And here’s to writing and reading feminist work. We need it, we’re going to need it.

collaboration · community · feminist communities · grief · guest post

Guest Post: Why my feminist teenage daughter should not despair on the mornings after 8 November 2016.

This is a first in a series of posts about concrete actions we can post-US election take as feminists working in the Canadian academy. We need intersectional and intergenerational feminism now more than ever. 
_________________________________
 
My daughter turned 15 about a week ago, and she is a feminist. I love my daughter just for being, and I love her for many reasons, and I also love her for her integrity and her passion and her bravery.  My daughter’s world, High School, is largely closed to me much like her room. When the doors to that world open slightly, I get a whiff of the misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia, ageism, and every other conceivable exclusionary sentiment that reeks in that hot bed and that structures the lives of teenagers in the western world today.  Into that world, my daughter walks every day and proudly declares herself a feminist. She wrote articles to the school paper on sexual harassment, sexism and violence against women. She joined a group advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people on campus. She joined an environmental club. She gets into regular confrontations with “racists” and “xenophobes” and refuses to allow them a free pass, ever. On weekends she volunteers with the public library youth advisory group and with Amnesty International. She is an advocate for social justice. Politically and socially, she is every progressive parent’s dream child.
When America entered this election cycle and my daughter took notice, she identified strongly and predictably as a Bernie supporter. She knew the figures and the positions, downloaded every John Oliver clip on the elections, pulled out a few hairs every time she saw or heard Donald Trump. But with a wisdom, or perhaps cynicism, beyond her years, she reflected on the irony of wishing for the loss of the first credible female nominee in the democratic presidential primary.  When Bernie lost the democratic nomination to Hillary, she was devastated. Then she did some soul searching and came out strongly in support of Hillary Clinton. She bought her autobiography. She became more and more frightened of Trump and of his America. But it was his misogyny, more than anything else he represented, that repelled her. She believed that Hillary must win.
Last night, like millions the world over, she went to bed defeated, broken, incredibly sad. In the coming days, my daughter will be forced to confront the aftermath and navigate her way through this historic slap in the face America has delivered. I can already taste her outrage: how could women, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims vote for Trump? But women especially—how could they?
I steel myself to field her questions and help her walk her way through the oncoming piles of discursive crap, with her passion and her commitment and her feminism intact. How do I acknowledge not only her outrage but more importantly her heartbreak? She is not only angry, she is hurt, betrayed by fellow humans and fellow women she trusted would know better, would choose differently. For she imagined her community: a community of well-informed even if not progressive voters, of committed even if not politicized women.
There is no doubt that the election results are frightening. Support for Donald Trump reflects an America that is comfortable with intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and other exclusionary phenomena. It also reflects an affinity for a brash irresponsible populism that is deeply worrying in the leadership of the most powerful country on earth. Hillary Clinton’s political history is troubling as well: ruthless and hawkish internationally, elitist and opportunistic nationally. Her career is sustained by incriminating ties to the military industrial complex  driving international conflict, and the banking and finance sectors and multinationals fueling rising inequality at home. But at the level of discourse, she presented a vision of America that was more conciliatory, less abrasive, discursively (if not economically or politically) more inclusive. There is value in that. And yes, it would have been a significant achievement for the United States to finally catch up with the many countries all over the world from India and Sri Lanka to Chile and Brazil who have known female leaders for decades now. For many girls and women in the US today, the disappointment must be crushing. In her concession speech, Clinton proved again that she could be articulate, wise, graceful and generous. Adjectives one would hardly extend to the president-elect.
Much will be said in the coming days about the need to reflect on the shortcomings of what stands—only in America perhaps—as the left, or more accurately the center right represented by Hillary Clinton’s democrats, and on the need to listen to the silenced majority in rural areas and non-coastal states. Experts will pontificate on Trump’s instinctual control of and affinity for the dynamics of reality television, and of the increasing tilt in American politics towards populism. As in the shocked and humbled voices that rose after Brexit, some will call for a deeper understanding of the roots of anger against a political system dominated by elites.
But what about the women of America? And what about feminism in America? Overall Clinton won among women by a margin of 54% to Trump’s 42%, a respectable margin but not exactly impressive. Among white women, however, Trump beat Clinton by 53% to 43%, and among white women with no college degree by 62% to 34%. Why did the white women of America not only reject one of their own, but give their votes to a man who openly and proudly denigrates women in almost all spheres of life?
Many commentators are thrown by the fact that Trump’s overt sexism did not repel women voters. Many women, many feminists, are today outraged, dumbfounded, unmoored, despairing. The results are mad, crazy, incomprehensible. I heard all three words over and over from friends as the results started coming in late last night. The words also dominated Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. The words dominate my daughter’s world today as she struggles to lift her head up and find her voice. I hope that the voice she finds in this cacophony of hurt indignation is not that of the enraged despairing feminist, but of the committed curious one.
The charge of madness is silencing and dehumanizing, and, as women especially have known for centuries, it is a handy patriarchal charge. The political act of those who voted for Donald Trump, but especially the political act of the women who chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, cannot be dismissed as mad or incomprehensible. If we find it so, it is because we are unable to comprehend, wedo not have the knowledge or the tools to read that act and recognize its context. It is because we, the ones whose feminism is fixated on breaking glass ceilings in Washington may well be unaware of who walks the grounds of the cities and towns beyond Washington’s radius, and the conditions that structure the reality and the imagination of those women who rejected Hillary Clinton.
And ultimately, it is because as feminists, some of us are unable or unwilling to concede that different women in different places and in different times have the right to comprehend their own reality and prioritize their own goals differently. It is because as feminists, some of us are still unwilling to accord respect to women who may code their struggles for justice in language other than that of educated middle class feminists. Women who may see their struggles against racism or neoliberalism or imperialism, for example, as constitutional of their feminism, but not to be subordinated in its name. Women who have the right and the awareness to strategize their engagement with the political spheres of their communities and country.
Many feel today that Hillary Clinton lost the election because she is a woman. We could note, and take comfort even, that 80% of black men voted for Hillary. 62% of Latino men voted for Hillary. I am not sure of the numbers but I would guess that the majority of Muslim men in the US also voted for Hillary. While gender may have certainly been a factor, for us to insist that Hillary lost because she is a woman is to reinstate a worldview bleached of race and possibly class as well. Only in a posited non-racial world would we discount the votes of the majority of non-white men and women in the US who voted for a woman. If we only see that Hillary lost because she is a woman, then we do not see those who voted for her regardless of her gender or because of it, and more importantly, we do not hear their voices, we do not consider their political act, we do not give credence to their fears.
I do not necessarily know what reasons the majority of white women who voted for Trump have for doing so. But I extend them the respect to recognize that they must have their reasons and that those reasons are varied. And those reasons may ultimately turn out to be regressive, or at the very least unsavory, even plain wrong. Perhaps. I do not know. And if I want to know, I should go find out. I hope my daughter tries to find out. Despair follows from incomprehension. We despair when we no longer know what is to be done, when every effort has been spent and yet no enlightenment has been reached, no change is forthcoming. We have not yet spent every effort to understand. In some cases we may not have even begun. This is not the day to despair. I hope that today of all days my daughter is filled not with a desire to drown out the madness of the crowds but the drive and determination to ask questions and listen and learn. For women, a lot of women, in the US, have spoken. As feminists, we need to listen.

 

Maisaa Youssef has a PhD from the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. She works in international development and her research is in the areas of biopolitics and social justice.

faster feminism

Notes from the Road

Last week after teaching classes in Wolfville I packed my carry-on suitcase, kissed B. and bébé goodbye, and got into a taxi. I was heading to Toronto for my first ever reading from my new, non-academic book. Three and a half days later I am sitting in the Montreal airport waiting for my delayed flight to take me home to Halifax. I will hug B. and bébé. B. and I will get ready for the week. I hope to get home with enough time to take the dog (and me, really) for a walk. To have enough time to get my lectures ready and help with the things that need doing over the weekend. What follows is a collection of loosely connected thoughts and moments from my time on the road with my still-new-to-me book:

Book readings are fun!
Several years ago I had the opportunity to see Erín Moure and Karis Shearer talk about the reading as a public and discursive space for poetics to unfold differently. (You can read their essay here). I have only ever been an audience member or a facilitator at a literary reading, so I had no idea what to expect when I shifted to the other side of things and was a reader myself. I know how to give a lecture and a conference paper, I said to B., but what makes a good reading? 

I’m not sure I know, but I can tell you this: preparing for a reading was fun. When I started to get out of my own way (you know, when I started to quell those imposter-syndrome voices) I realized that reading a book I wrote meant I was the subject-matter expert! This might seem obvious, but for me it was revelatory. Even when I am presenting a conference paper I am keenly aware of how partial my subject expertise is–I almost always present work that is in-process or being aired in public for the first time, and while this was true for the new book it felt different some how. Lighter? I’m not sure that’s the right word. Perhaps its just the cliched-but-true saying that a change is as good as a break. And yesterday, as I sat beside my dear friend Johanna Skibsrud waiting to hear her read from her newest book of poetry, as I listened to a former student and now friend, graduate student, writer, and conference co-organizer Karissa Laroque introduce us and talk about intergenerational friendship, I’ll tell you this: I was feeling pretty wonderful about the CanLit world despite/in spite of news to the contrary.

Writing a non-academic book doesn’t mean its a non-academic book
On Thursday, the day after I got to read at the Pivot Reading series with Stevie Howell and Leesa Dean and Rob Taylor I drove to Kitchener-Waterloo. There, I got to speak with the Gender and Women’s Studies Students at the University of Waterloo, and then to give a lecture at St. Jerome’s University as part of the UN Women Solidarity Movement for Gender Equity. I know, I’m lucky. What surprised me so much, though, is that these universities were willing to bring me in to speak to their students and read to them from my book. A book that I thought–until recently–wasn’t “academic enough,” whatever that means.

But we know what that means, don’t we? I thought an academic book was one that underwent peer review, was published by an academic press, and helped one’s tenure file (if one has a tenure file). Those books–those academic books–are the kinds of books I am familiar with, they are the kinds I strive to write. When I wrote Notes from a Feminist Killjoy I wasn’t thinking about whether or not it would get me an academic job. I was thinking about how much I love Sara Ahmed’s thinking, how much I love Maggie Nelson’s thinking, how much I love Zora Neale Hurston’s thinking, and how I wanted to try and write out my own attempts to think with them and others.

I wrote an academic book, it turns out, but it turns out that in working with a non-academic publisher (yay BookThug!) I wrote it for me, and not reviewer #2. The research is there, the footnotes are there, the rigour is there, but in a different form. And what I remembered, in trying to reconcile what I’d made with where I trained, is what I try to teach my students: epistemology is not uniform. Funny, how we have to keep remembering to unlearn our habitual lines of thought.

There are more innovative ways to run a roundtable discussion

Off the Page is part of the Writers Read Series at Concordia. See the schedule here.

 


On of the last roundtable discussions at Off the Page–a student-facilitated conference co-ordinated by the inimitable Sina Queyras and Concordia students–was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, much less had the opportunity to take part in. Here’s the scene: several months ago I received an invitation from Off the Page to come participate on “A Roundtable Discussion on Appropriation.” The prompt I was given was Lionel Shriver’s unapologetic and racist speech defending her own caricatures of people of colour and defending anyone’s right (white rights, it would seem) to write whatever they please. Participants of this roundtable discussion were given a few articles to read. We were also asked about dietary restrictions. Why? Because, as the organizers wrote, we’d be sitting on stage eating dinner together while talking through appropriation, “rights” when writing, and who has a place at the table. This invitation made me nervous and excited. Of course I said yes.

So, last night at Temps Libre, I walked into a room with a small stage. On the stage was a dinner table replete with wine, water, cheese and bread and tapenade, and four other people I had not met until that moment. Indeed, as we quickly learned, none of us knew each other (though some of us knew of each other). At the table was Trish Salah, Kai Cheng Thom, Madelyne Beccles, Fariha Roísín, and me. As we sat across from one another, first introducing ourselves, then, at Kai’s suggestion, doing an emotional check-in and intentions-setting for our selves and the audience, we were served food. The food had been prepared for us by an amazing member of the organizing committee, and they carefully placed plates of it in front of us as we, five strangers to each other, grappled with questions of ethics, accountability, and belonging from our five different histories.

The conversation wasn’t so much slow as careful and tentative at first. It seemed, without saying, that we were trying to go around the table and make sure each of us responded to an idea or a question before we went on. But, as the evening progressed, as we became not so much less aware of the audience than more comfortable with it and each other (I think, at least that’s how it was for me) words moved across the table more organically. People talked, they fell silent. Always, though, we were listening to one another. We started leaning over and giggling. At one point our amazing chef brought figs with pumpkin seeds out and I whispered to Kai “hold me while I swoon.

There was a sixth chair at the table, which was meant for audience members. It was empty for a while, and then one audience member came, sat with us, had a glass of wine, and contributed to the conversation. From that point on there was a line to come sit at the table. We shared food. We talked. I know I learned for everyone, and I felt listened to when I spoke. When it was over I felt something had shifted, if only for the time we were at the table.

How much more can we ask from a panel of relative strangers getting together to talk before an audience?

fast feminism · generational mentorship · guest post · ideas for change

Guest post: An Anti-Elite Manifesto for Canadian Public Intellectuals

Last winter, I took graduate level seminar Public Intellectuals in Canada: Their Essays, Talks, and with Dr. Joel Deshaye at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, and it got me all riled up.
Considering the academy is churning out so-called intellectuals without even recognizing the status, or implications of the term, I wrote “Anti-Elite Manifesto for Canadian Public Intellectuals.”
Why? Because manifestos harness imaginative power.
Manifestos intervene. Manifestos are excessive. Manifestos are relentless. Manifestos interrupt. Manifestos persuade. At their core, manifestos are public declarations, often pushing political, social or artistic motion.
While elitism is defined as a select part of a group that is superior to rest in terms of ability or qualities, to truly be successful as a Canadian Public Intellectual one needs to speak to an audience, and appeal to a broad range of voices. One voice can’t speak for the whole, but many voices can create a chorus. A manifesto is a critical poetic choir of sorts.
As a poet and journalist, I’ve written several manifestos. In my opinion, the manifesto acts as a conversation between private and public thought. In my tenure as Canadian Women In Literary Arts critic-in-residence, I wrote “An Incomplete Manifestofor Canadian Women In Literary Arts,” in 2014, though it wasn’t the first time I was drawn to the manifesto as a genre. I’ve also written a “Modern Day Riot Grrrl Manifesta,” in 2011 for International Girl Gang Underground zine, and “A Fragmented Manifesto,” for GULCH: An Assemblage of Poetry and Prose published in 2009.
I am drawn to manifestos. They exist somewhere between poetry and criticism.
According to Mary Ann Caw, who edited Manifesto: A Century of Isms, “Originally, a manifesto was a piece of evidence in a court of law, or put on a show to catch the eye. The manifesto is: “a public declaration by a sovereign prince or state, or by an individual or body of individuals whose proceedings are of public importance, making past actions announced as a forthcoming.”
Manifestos articulate specific plans for action, and can discuss the intersections of feminism and social justice. Unlike the essay, which is quieter, more textual, manifestos are loud. Manifestos are messy. Manifestos elicit. Manifestos ignite. Caw notes, “The manifesto is an act of the démesure, going past what is thought of as proper, sane and literary.”
I didn’t intend to write to convince or convert, only to consider. This “Anti-Elite Manifesto for Canadian Public Intellectuals” is an invitation, an offering.  Hopefully, I’m not coming across as a one trick pony. I’m only taking Atwood’s advice to “think pink, and pack black.”
________________________________
 
An Anti-Elite Manifesto for Canadian Public Intellectuals
By Shannon Webb-Campbell

BECAUSE we need to acknowledge the land where we gather
BECAUSE this is unceded and unsurrendered Mi’kmaq and Beothuk territory
BECAUSE Indigenous communities of Newfoundland and Labrador have always existed despite what was declared in 1949
BECAUSE we relate to the characteristics of this country now called “Canada”
BECAUSE private actions can have public impact
BECAUSE public is a relationship among strangers
BECAUSE we have a responsibility as publics
BECAUSE we are involved in the affairs of a community
BECAUSE not all communities are recognized as publics
BECAUSE we must examine
BECAUSE we want to discuss poetry’s potential in public
BECAUSE Michael Warner notes, the diary can’t have an imagined public
BECAUSE public sphere is purely imaginary
BECAUSE publics are internalized as humanity
BECAUSE an image of writing should be the ghost of freedom
BECAUSE there are all kinds of knowledge transfers
BECAUSE public language addresses a public as a social entity
BECAUSE Daniel Rigney believes capitalist ideology is the main type of anti-intellectualism
BECAUSE paradox is the elitism of intellect and progressive ideals
BECAUSE mass media is a manufactured product
BECAUSE we are of the public, by the public, and for the public
BECAUSE of Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message
BECAUSE personal and social consequences of any medium is an extension of ourselves
BECAUSE new technology eliminates jobs
BECAUSE fragmentation is the essence of machine technology
BECAUSE electric light is pure information
BECAUSE it’s a medium without a message
BECAUSE Glenn Gould reminds us, you can’t forget to pay homage to the source where all creative ideas come
BECAUSE we don’t have to duplicate the eccentricity of experience
BECAUSE we must discover how high our tolerance is for the questions we ask of ourselves
BECAUSE questions extend the vision of our world
BECAUSE this is a performance of the self
BECAUSE self-reflection means you always question yourself
BECAUSE questions paralyze the imagination
BECAUSE there is a new kind of listener
BECAUSE there was two hundred thousand “so-called” Indians in what became Canada
BECAUSE most of Canada clings to the attitude of a dominion
BECAUSE we’ve been watching from a ring seat, waiting for our time
BECAUSE Conrad Black deliberately had absolutely no contact, direct or indirect with anyone
BECAUSE in the past he’s known the prime minister
BECAUSE like Phyllis Webb, all our desire goes out to the impossibly beautiful
BECAUSE the glass castle is an image for the mind
BECAUSE we claim the five gods of reality to bless and keep us sane
BECAUSE a place of solitude is not where I choose to live
BECAUSE I prefer a suite of lies
BECAUSE Thomas King knows the truth about stories
BECAUSE stories is all we are
BECAUSE I’m not the Indian you had in mind
BECAUSE you are beginning to wonder if there is a point to this
BECAUSE you can’t say you would have lived differently years down the road if only you’d heard this story
BECAUSE we’ve heard it
BECAUSE George Eliot Clarke is parliamentary poet laureate
BECAUSE journalists turn facts into jazz
BECAUSE we have all the public fun
BECAUSE revolution is the orgasm of history
BECAUSE you really want to be prime minister
BECAUSE we have the privilege of academic freedom
BECAUSE poetry begins where lying ends
BECAUSE when I tweeted that last Clarke quote, Sina Queyras responded: if only
BECAUSE publicness can’t be underestimated (especially for women)
BECAUSE to think publically takes great risk and vulnerability
BECAUSE women’s work and criticism is still under-represented
BECAUSE we’re taught not to take up space
BECAUSE we are rarely invited to speak
BECAUSE there isn’t one way to write or think about anything
BECAUSE women are prevented from evolving in public
BECAUSE poetry makes its own mouth
BECAUSE the public doesn’t read
BECAUSE poetry repeatedly enacts its own construction and deconstruction
BECAUSE David Suzuki doesn’t have to kiss anybody’s ass
BECAUSE he doesn’t have to mask truth that comes from his heart

BECAUSE if you want everyone to like you, you are not gonna stand for anything
BECAUSE there will always be people that object
BECAUSE the greatest need we have is for clean air
BECAUSE we owe it to mother earth to take care of her
BECAUSE Margaret Atwood knows she is omnipresent and omniscient 
BECAUSE those are two attributes of the divine
BECAUSE the issues of responsibility are legal, moral and societal
BECAUSE intimacy builds worlds
BECAUSE we need to run the marathon
BECAUSE speaking in public still makes me sick
BECAUSE we must think pink, pack black
BECAUSE Atwood’s done her job
BECAUSE we’ve yet to do ours
Shannon Webb-Campbellis a Mi’kmaq poet, writer, and critic. Still No Word (Breakwater, 2015), recipient of Egale Canada’s Out In Print Award, is her first collection of poems. She was Canadian Women In Literary Arts critic-in-residence 2014, and is a board member.
Shannon holds a MFA in Creative Writing from University of British Columbia, a BA from Dalhousie University, and currently studies and teaches English Literature at Memorial University. Her work is anthologized in IMPACT: Colonialism in Canada (Manitoba First Nation Education Resource, 2017), Where the Nights Are Twice As Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets (Goose Lane, 2015), This Place A Stranger: Canadian Women Travelling Alone (Caitlin Press, 2015), and others.
She curated “Screening the Offshore” at The Rooms Provincial Museum, Art Gallery and Archives, and worked as a curatorial assistant at Eastern Edge Gallery. Shannon is poetry editor at Plenitude Magazine.
Her play Neither Love Letters Nor Moonlight, premieres at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland February 2017. She is a member of Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.