Archive for February, 2012

February 28, 2012

Whine with my wine

by Lady Di

Hey Lady,

Tonight over the dinner table I was commiserating with my husband about time. Specifically, the time stress we experience in our lives. We both have demanding careers and two young children. Combined with running a household and extended family obligations we often feel as though there are not enough hours in the day (especially for working on new, interesting, and engaging blogs!).

Time has become one of our most precious commodities and we are not alone. Time studies reveal that many people would easily give up a day of work and consequently, pay, for an extra day off. There is a major gender difference in how men and women would spend that time, but that’s a difference post, which I have tentatively titled the ‘Stalled Revolution’. In this post, I need to vent about time, or my lack of it.

To go back to the dinner table, I was discussing our blog and how I wish I could create more time to work on it. I know many Canadians would empathize with my situation – Linda Duxbury’s research demonstrates that Canada is becoming a world leader in work intensification. That is, even if people are not working longer hours (but many people are, according to Ipsos-Reid survey data, the average work week in Canada is now almost 48 hours) they are working at a pace they perceive hard to keep up with. Work intensification has major implications for work-life balance and consequently, quality of life.

As a female academic and a mum I struggle to achieve work-life balance on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.  I clock way more than 48 hours per week. And, I often feel torn (physically and emotionally) between my family obligations and my career aspirations. When I make time to read interesting feminist blogs about life in academe (such as Hook and Eye) I know I am not alone. Indeed, when I chat with others in my position, I realize I am not the only one who starts the day at 6 am (at the gym) and ends it 11pm (at my desk) with a whole lot of action in between. There are many people who juggle two demanding careers, childcare/eldercare, and daily life.

At times like this, I am reminded of Carl Honore’s book In Praise of Slow. I swear sometimes I can actually hear him in my ear challenging me to resist the cult of speed in today’s society and to take pleasure in small moments.  And often I achieve this goal. But, at the end of the day, my life is very, very full. And at times, that zaps my creativity or analytical skills, or intellectual capacity, which bums me out.

I say all this recognizing this blog is no longer the sandbox for us ladies that it started out to be, but I just couldn’t resist a little whine with my wine tonight. Thanks for indulging me.

Your friend,

Lady Di

February 23, 2012

The Truth is Out There

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

I made an unhappy discovery about myself last night. It turns out that I have — Pavlovian doggy style — been conditioned to fear The Truth.

I received an email last night from an academic publisher advertizing a new textbook. The subject line of the email read “The Truth is Out There.” As soon as I saw, the subject line, I felt a lump of fear in my throat.

Why? Well, because for four months last year, Our Glorious Institution was terrorized by a misogynist who kept emailing dozens of faculty, staff and students flyers laden with violent imagery and complaining about the evil that is an over-educated woman. One phrase that the sender consistently used in the emails and the flyers was “The Truth” — capitalized just like that.

Of course, women of my generation who were undergrads when Marc Lepine murdered 14 women at Montréal’s École Polytechnique were really frightened that the sender’s hatred of women would escalate into violence. So, for four months, every time I received an email from an unknown (to me) sender with “The Truth” in the subject line, my heart raced with fear.

Since then, the sender was apprehended, tried, and convicted of criminal harassment. I was centrally involved in the case in a bunch of ways that have remained with me. I am, for instance, quite aware that while the author of the emails had no idea who I was at the time he was sending them, he now knows my identity very well.

I’m actually really torn about what to say about all of this. Part of me really wants to write about the experience and what I learned from it. But part of me wants to stay mum because email dude is living in the community on probation and I neither want to cultivate community conditions for him that are less than conducive to rehabilitation nor, quite frankly, do I want to piss him off and remind him of my existence. He’s still scary. And I’m still scared.

And, yeah. That was the lesson last night. I got an email with “The Truth” in the subject line and I felt frightened in exactly the same way that I did this time last year. …Moreso, in fact, because of a bunch of stuff that I don’t at this moment feel safe or comfortable writing about here.

And, do you know what sucks? I’m a professional philosopher. Truth — that’s our thing. For me to feel fear when I see the phrase “The Truth” is kinda like a cobbler who’s afraid of shoes. I don’t know if I’ll ever again be able to see the phrase “The Truth” without being scared. But, for now, I can’t.

Your friend,

Lady Day

February 22, 2012

Logic, huh?

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

Have I ever told you about the so-called “Philosophy exception”? That’s the term that’s used for the fact that Philosophy lags super far behind all other disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences when it comes to the recruitment and retention of women. (Well, Theology lags just as far behind — a function of all-male seminaries.) Seriously. Philosophy’s numbers are in the same ballpark as Mathematics’. Last time I checked, women made up something like 22% of faculty in North American Philosophy departments with grad programs.

As with many disciplines that have trouble recruiting and retaining women, Philosophy does an ok job getting women into its freshman courses, does a less good job getting them to major in the discipline as undergrads (and to graduate with that major), and basically does worse and worse at retaining women the higher up the ranks you go. If you made a bar graph with proportion of women on the x-axis, and academic rank on the y-axis (from full professor at the top to freshman undergrad on the bottom), the result would look like this:

From Yoga Paws (http://www.yogapaws.com/)

See her nice wide wheelbase? That’s the proportion of women in freshman Philosophy classes. Well, actually, you’d have to extend the photo several inches to the right and show lots of empty floor beside our yogini to accurately represent the proportion of women. All that empty floor would be the men. Fortunately (at least for the purposes of our representation), there’s plenty of room for the men at the higher levels. See our yogini’s body more closely approximating to origin on the x axis as we move up the ranks? Yup. That’s Philosophy.

In her classic (2007) article, “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not By Reason (Alone),” Sally Haslanger identifies the following as among the reasons that many women choose to leave Philosophy (or never to come to it to begin with):

    • outright discrimination
    • unconscious bias, schemas
    • climate, social norms

Since Haslanger published this article, there has been a flurry of important research in this area by feminist philosophers like Samantha Brennan and Jennifer Saul. (Brennan does a great job of discussing “micro-inequities,” the constant, tiny inequities with which marginalized groups must contend, and the steady erosion of one’s confidence, energy and success by these micro-inequities. I’ll write to you about that stuff another time.)

Among the challenges to recruiting and retaining women listed by Haslanger, it is perhaps most difficult to get a bead on climate. How exactly does one study something as vague as disciplinary or institutional climate? What makes a climate inhospitable? And how is it possible to adduce evidence that inhospitable climates affect how many women end up in a discipline.

Well, Vincent Hendricks, the editor-in-chief of Synthese, one of Philosophy’s most distinguished journals, has just made that task a little bit easier. Want an example of ways to cultivate a climate that’s inhospitable to women? Just check out Hendricks’s website for his latest logic course. (Update: Don’t bother clicking the link. I’m happy to report that he’s taken the site down. Screenshots linked below if you want to see what was once there.)

Yeah, that’s right. The photos on the webpage for his logic course represent him as a lone smart guy (you can tell by the glasses and vest) surrounded by sexy, pouty women in slutty schoolgirl costumes.

It was worse, actually. Before the utterly wonderful Feminist Philosophers blog broke the story and a shitload of angry people began barraging Hendricks and his colleagues with emails, this is what his course site looked like. (Mystifying, ain’t it, that he’d take some of these photos down, but leave some up? What can he possibly be thinking?)

So, yeah. Climate.

If you were a woman at Hendricks’s university contemplating which courses to take and you looked at this course page, what would you think? Would you think that your professor would regard all students in the class as equally serious? As equally capable of doing logic? As equally deserving of respect? As equally likely to become future peers? And, if you tried to imagine your fellow classmates, what would come to mind? Animal House?

And, don’t get me started on the way that the schoolgirl outfits both infantilize the women wearing them and, since they are schoolgirl outfits, cast those women as students. Sexy female students. If I were an undergraduate woman, I would go nowhere near a course taught by a man who gleefully represents himself as a solitary rational agent surrounded by sexy, childlike female students.

Did I ever tell you that a couple of years ago, I was at a party when a colleague whom I know very slightly from another discipline told me that when he teaches his large classes, he scans the room in such a way that his students will think he’s looking at all of them, but he is actually checking out the breasts of his hot female students? I was so utterly gobsmacked as to be rendered speechless. Don’t worry. Since then, I’ve worked out a script for the next such conversation I have. I used to find myself so surprised by sexism in academe that when some new sexist thing happened, I never knew what to do or say. Now, as I approach early-mid-career, I regret to say that I have a better catalogue of responses available to me. I’ve just had more practice.

The Philosophy blogosphere is beginning to respond to Hendricks’s page. Here are some posts about the whole business that are worth reading:

Your friend,

Lady Day
February 14, 2012

What about beauty?

by Lady Di

Hey Lady,

I’ll keep this brief because I have only moments to write today, but I wanted to discuss that post on FB about beauty in connection with women’s lives. My favourite line in the whole post is as follows: “My confidence in my body will NOT depend on whether or not the majority of dudes think I’m fuckable.” I think, this gets at the heart of the issue. Until later.

Your friend,
Lady Di

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Hey, Lady!

Thanks for your note. Valentine’s Day seems like as good a time as any to talk about beauty, doesn’t it?

I think that the post you’re talking about is this one, “Why YOU are beautiful, full stop” (originally posted Feb. 11 on The Master: The Life of a Graduate Student February 11, reblogged yesterday on Feministing, and currently making the rounds on Facebook). The post itself joins in the recent chorus of critiques of the skinny woman vs. “real woman” meme that’s itself all over Facebook these days. You know the one: a photo of Marilyn (or Liz, or whoever…) juxtaposed with a photo of some modern size 2 woman, with a cutline that favours Marilyn because she’s a “real woman.” This particular post is a response to a much-Facebook-shared image of three tall, sexy, underwear-clad women, who are (according to the labels on the image) size 4-8, size 12, and size 16. The labels further characterize these sizes as “women’s ideal,” “men’s ideal,” and “national average,” respectively.

The author problematizes the image (1) for implying that it’s ok to be larger than a size 4 “because men are okay with it,” (2) for embracing other beauty ideals — such as an hourglass figure, clear skin, long hair… — even as it challenges body size ideals, (3) for excluding the many women whose weight falls above the national average, and (4) for opening up a space to critique the bodies of size 4-8 women.

The post concludes that “this photo should NOT be used as an excuse to tell any woman that she is not real or that her body is somehow offending those attempting to cultivate positive body image. A woman’s confidence in her own body should not come about comparatively–whether it’s comparing her body to the national average, to what men deem fuckable, or to what other women’s bodies look like.”

I like this blog post a lot, and also the post linked towards the end of it. And, elsewhere on Facebook, I appreciated various folks’ supplementary observations  that the women in the offending image are all white and able-bodied.

But, I yearn for the day in which we can stop debating who gets to count as beautiful — and not because we disingenuously claim that everyone is beautiful. Frankly, that’s just false. Some people just aren’t beautiful. And some people aren’t smart. And some people aren’t talented. Oh, and while I’m at it, it is not in fact the case that anything is possible if you believe in yourself. (Every convocation, the Chancellor of Our Glorious Institution opines that “What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve.” Um, no. ‘Fraid not.) Also — you are unique, but probably only trivially so. Can we please just stop lying to people about how awesome they are, and instead figure out how to treat everyone — beautiful and ugly, smart and dumb, talented and not-so-much — with care and fairness and respect for their humanity?

I totally get that beauty is such a highly-valued commodity — especially, but not exclusively, for women — that we’re kind of obliged to talk about it, and to care about how we evaluate beauty. But wouldn’t it be better if it weren’t so godawful important for women to be beautiful?

Beauty should be like left-handedness — sort of interesting when somebody has it, useful for some things, inconvenient for others — but no more.

Happy V-Day, Lady!

Your friend,

Lady Day

February 9, 2012

Are you wearing a bra?

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

So, as I biked in this morning, I was composing in my head the post that I planned to write today. It concerned a criminal harassment case in which I was recently involved (as the complainant), and some of the lingering effects on me of that experience. But that post will have to wait because something crazy just happened.

As I walked down the hallway outside my office, I bumped into a (male) undergraduate student whom I’ve taught twice before, who is not currently in any of my classes. We began chatting about stuff and the conversation turned to evidence, especially types of evidence besides seeing something with one’s own eyes. I was in the middle of uttering a sentence about electrons when the student interrupted to ask, “Wait a second. Are you wearing a bra?” I was utterly astonished. (Well, strictly speaking, I was utterly fucking astonished.) All I could think to do was to say “That’s an inappropriate question.” His response: “But it looks like you’re not wearing a bra.” Me again: “That’s an inappropriate question.” (Ok. I grant that his response was a comment, not a question, but cut me some slack here. I was kind of stunned by the whole exchange.) He said “Ok.” I turned on my heel and walked away, went into my nearby office and closed the door.

Two weird things about this (apart from the obvious weirdness of a student asking his professor this question, and moreover, interrupting an academic discussion to do so):

1. Part of me really wanted to tell him that I was (am) wearing a bra because I didn’t want him to think that I was the kind of woman who would come to work without one. (WTF, right?)

2. After I walked away, I felt guilty about embarrassing him and almost turned back to tell him that I wasn’t mad at him.

But I was mad at him.

And I was mad at myself. Why? Well, for starters, for feeling so strongly the urge to tell him that I was wearing a bra, but also for thinking even for a second that it makes any goddamned difference whether a woman wears a bra to work or not. And for not having a better strategy for dealing with the situation.

And mostly for failing to elaborate to the student what exactly was so inappropriate about the question — for failing to make clear to him that when I’m talking electrons, there’s no reason for him to be checking out my breasts. That even though it’s just a biological fact that human beings see and think about each other’s secondary sex traits, those whose relationship is professional must not reveal to each other that they’re having these thoughts. That, in particular, when a man draws attention to a woman’s secondary sex traits in a workplace setting — while she’s fucking talking! — he is, intentionally or not, conveying the message that her body is more important and interesting than her brain. And that when he, as an undergraduate student does this to me with my umpteen degrees, he sends the message that no matter how smart I am or how well educated and accomplished I am, he will always be in charge.

And, he probably didn’t mean any of that. But, after centuries of women being reduced to boobs rather than brains, I’m afraid that what men actually do and say matters a whole hell of a lot more than what they mean to do and say.

So, now I have to figure out what to do. Is it possible that the student has some kind of diagnosable condition that could explain such behaviour? Would it matter if he did? I informally told my department chair over lunch. Should I make it more formal? Should I email the student and elaborate why what he did was wrong?

Sigh. Yet another day sidelined by an asshat (to quote our heros Margaret and Helen) dude and his views on how and where women should be.

Your friend,

Lady Day

—————————————————

Later the same day:

The student came by to apologize to me. I was meeting with another student at the time and couldn’t speak to are-you-wearing-a-bra guy. So, I said, “I’m afraid that I don’t have time to talk to you right now. I’m in a meeting.” He said: “It’s ok. It’s quick. I just wanted to say I’m sorry I offended you.” I excused myself to the student with whom I was meeting and stepped into the hallway to speak with AYWAB guy. I asked him whether he was sorry that I was offended or sorry that he did something wrong. “You know it was wrong, right?” Him: “I could tell you were mad. And, I thought, ‘Oh no, I made Mama Bear mad.'”

Just in case the Mama Bear business sounds crazy — which I guess it fucking does, but… — I actually think this student is very fond of me and feels very comfortable with me and that both the offensive question and the Mama Bear remark are outgrowths of this. Granted, this raises a whack of other issues: Are students for some reason or another more comfortable with female than male faculty? Because we’re not so scary maybe? Because we lack scholarly gravitas maybe? And, are they as inclined to think of male professors as papas as they are female professors as mamas? Gaaahhh!

Anyway, I said, “I was mad because you shouldn’t have done it.” I started explaining to him what was wrong with the question, and he kept saying he was “just joking.” I explained why it’s an inappropriate joke — why people whose relationship is professional rather than personal ought not to joke around in a way that sexualizes each other. He apologized again. “And you won’t do it again?” I queried. He said he wouldn’t do it to me again. “Or to anybody?” I pressed him, “You get that you ought not to ask anybody questions like that?” “Not even as a joke?” he asked, looking genuinely disappointed and puzzled. (Aaarrgghh!) “I don’t have time for this,” I said, “I’m in a meeting. Thank you for apologizing. It was brave of you.”

Ok, Lady Di. I’m sure you disapprove of that last bit. Thanking him for a half-assed apology that doesn’t reflect real remorse, and I kind of disapprove of it too. But I thought it was brave of him, and I was glad that he made any effort at all. (See how we learn to scrape for crumbs after a while?)

I don’t know what will come of any of this. I have an appointment (made before AYWAB guy came to my office to apologize) to discuss the matter with my chair. And I have the nagging worry that AYWAB and I only had half the conversation we should have had, but I don’t really want to have to resume it.

Sigh.

February 8, 2012

And so it continues

by Lady Di

Hey Lady!

I went to see Angela McRobbie at Insert-rich-dude’s-name-here University last night. She gave this very compelling paper that analayzed Neoliberalism, feminism and the family. It got me thinking about the intersection of family politics (at the micro level), the state and leisure. I wanted to shift some of her ideas into more of a third wave analysis, but overall throughly enjoyed her ideas and analysis. But my take-away from last night was not only related to her substantive ideas, but also her presentation style. I am intrigued…maybe even fascinated by female academics (especially of her generation as the numbers of female professors would have been even lower than they are currently) who are unapologetically smart and confident without being arrogant. Dr. McRobbie’s cool confidence was as compelling as her ideas. We’ve come a long way baby!

Your friend,

Lady Di

February 7, 2012

And so it begins.

by Lady Day

Hey, lady!

I just found this awesome blog and I emailed you and said, “Check out these righteous, foul-mouthed ol’ ladies tearing strips off dumbass conservatives!” And, you were all like, “We need a blog like that.” And, I was like:

…So, if I just happened to create a little WordPress blog and made you and me administrators, and anonymized us and our institution, and occasionally posted to it when angry or impressed or whatever, maybe you would too? No pressure at all. And probably it wouldn’t turn into anything and nobody would ever see it, but you never know…
 
And, like, maybe we could call it Hey, lady! and we could write back and forth to each other (as time permits, no pressure at all) about feminism, academe, kids, food, asshole drivers, politics, etc. and begin each post with Hey, lady!

Then, I didn’t even wait for your reply. And now we no longer need a blog like that.

Your friend,

Lady Day