Monday, August 8, 2016

Why are you getting your PhD (or: What will you do with a PhD in the Humanities?)

I get asked this question almost every time I tell someone that I am getting my PhD. Honestly, it even happens when I talk to other people who are on their way towards their PhD, or who have one already. Academia is becoming increasingly precarious, with a large proportion of people with PhD working outside of the University or travelling over seas to teach or do research in the Middle East or Europe.

I don't want to live in another country. And I really don't want to do policy work or work for a think tank. So, what the hell am I getting a PhD for?

There are very few things that one can "do" with a doctorate in my field. My PhD work will focus on issues of gender and the development and reinforcement of gender norms through popular culture and media - particularly children's media. It will question why, for some reason, people always assume that Blue from Blue's Clues is a boy (even through it's a female dog, y'all), and how it is that children come to recognize themselves and others as male or female based on the clothing they wear, the length of their hair, and the activities in which they participate.

 I don't see the task of pursuing a PhD as being about engrossing myself in an ivory tower-like atmosphere. I actually hate the ivory tower metaphor. It implies that all academics are disconnected from the practical aspects of life. The majority of academics I have met are deeply invested in real world problems and are working their asses off to come up with solutions. My own research is also about the real world. There is also a myth circulating that people who pursue higher education are unprepared for "real life", but that is an absolute absurdity. My friends getting their PhDs come from so many backgrounds. Some are parents; some are retired people seeking new challenges; some are refugees seeking a better life; most have worked and continue to work in the "real world"; most have a vested interest in finding solutions to problems that impact all of us because their lived experiences inform their research.

So, I plan to spend the next 4-6 years of my life immersing myself in gender and cultural theory, and even if I don't come out of this degree with epic career prospects, I will have spent those 4-6 years doing something that I love, which is more than I can say for the many, many people I know who are miserable at their jobs. I will do research that matters to me, I will learn, I will soul-search. I will grow. Or I guess I might fail.

Could I do this type of research, learning, and soul-searching without going to university? Maybe. But doing this work in a university setting provides me with a support system and a relatively stable (if somewhat low) level of income on which I can rely. Will it be a waste of time? Perhaps, by some people's standards. But for me, hell no. Even if I fail. This is going to be such a fun ride.

Happy Monday!

-J




Monday, July 25, 2016

Getting married!

When I first met VOMD he told me that he would never get married. If he did, it would not be with a ceremony and signing papers and matching wedding bands. I liked the idea of marriage; I'm not too hot on the religious aspects, but the idea of binding yourself to someone in front of your friends and families, and signing your name next to theirs in a big book full of other people who also bound themselves to their partners seemed romantic.

Here we are a little more than 2 years later and we are 32 days out from our wedding day with the ceremony and the signing papers, and guess what...we even have matching wedding bands. And I don't think that either of us could imagine it any other way.

All that said, though, there is a part of me who has been thinking about what marriage means, and then this other part of me is worrying that I am thinking too much about what marriage means. Because, really, who gives a shit what marriage means to anyone else? To me it means committing to spend the rest of my life with the most fun, kind, passionate and wonderful man I have ever met

But it does matter what it means to everyone else. An amazing, intelligent and insightful friend told me this weekend that she, while she is married, refuses to be addressed as Mrs. I had never considered the significance of the concept of Mrs. She explained what the concept of Mrs. implies. You are a Miss. You are unmarried, and potentially threatening to married women as a potential target for some philandering man. As a Miss you belong to your parents. As a Mrs. you belong to your husband.

Boys and men are all Mister, because they belong to themselves.

Connected to this disturbing realization is my discomfort with the more traditional aspects of the wedding ceremony we are about to take part in. My father will walk me down the aisle and give me away. VOMD will receive me. The implication of my beautiful engagement ring, and the wedding band which matches is, is that it demonstrates that I am soon to belong to him. I wear it on a specific finger so that others can see that I am not available for courtship. Did you know that the Romans used wedding rings to denote ownership? I guess we still sort of do that.

More than this, though, is the realization that to our more traditional family members marriage means that we are about to be bound in "holy"matrimony, and that I will be bound to VOMD to honor and obey him until one of us dies. To them, we will no longer be living in sin. To them, we will be allowed to have children, because it will finally be acceptable for us to have sex.

To us, it means we get to share our commitment to each other with one another and our loved ones.

But it comes with lots of baggage.



Friday, June 24, 2016

Activism and Academia

Before I wrapped up my classes for the semester I had a conversation with one of my students who was considering leaving university. He explained that he felt disenchanted by the academic process, and would rather direct his energies towards activism and direct political action.

This is a struggle for many social-justice motivated people who like myself have found themselves in the academic world.

This year has so far been a tumultuous one for the global LGBTQ+ community. The tragedy which took place in Orlando struck a chord with those of us who identify with the struggle for gender and sexual identity in a world that often rejects those who do not easily conform to heteronormative male/female societal standards. And it has struck a chord with me as someone who has begun to build a career for myself by reflecting on and theorizing about the gender binary and its implications for trans and queer people. Last week I defendes my thesis and I had to stand up in front of my committee and my colleagues to speak about something that seems never to have been more pressing than it is right now - the tragedy and violence that exists within exclusionary spaces.

The horror of the situation, beyond the absolute depravity of the monster who committed then mass murders in Orlando on Sunday, is that as a culture we are continuously allowing this type of atrocity to take place. When we silence queer and trans voices on our university campuses, when we ignore requests from queer and trans students for safe and accessible spaces, we are letting these atrocities happen.

This week I am overjoyed that my MA is finally over, but I am horrified that my success this year is largely a result of the pain and misery of so many people.

I don't know how to reconcile the excitement I feel about my future in academics with my agreement with my past student whose frustration with the ineffectuality of academics, which is reinforced every time I read the news, and every time I read and reread my now complete thesis.

-J

Monday, April 11, 2016

Monday Happies: April 11th 2016


Today is a good day. I've finally completed the first draft of my thesis (minus my conclusion)! I'm basically doing back flips here!

Also, VOMD and I found an adorable cat who is the sweetest, most cuddly dude we've ever met (notwithstanding our current cuddly buddies, of course). We've taken him to the vet and he is not neutered or chipped. So, if nobody calls or emails us to claim him within the next week, he's ours for keeps.

Taking in another furry friend is something I didn't expect to do so soon after losing Toojoh. But, this guy showed up at our doorstep - actually, at our kitchen window - and VOMD immediately fell in love. He's a crazy cat lady at heart.

George and Lego are not too happy to have a new dude in the house. His un-neutered maleness is a lot to handle, I guess. He's in my office for now and has only come out twice. (Both times he's marked.)




If he is not claimed in the next week we are going to take him to get neutered, which should stop the marking behaviour and make the other cats less crazy. Also, he seems like the kind of cat who will likely run outside whenever he has the chance... so neutering it is.


This week I am working on being more positive, more active, and more open.

So far, so good.

Happy Monday!

-J

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The [imaginary] hierarchy of injustice

I am nearing the end of my MA thesis, and beginning to daydream about my PhD, which will likely focus on cultural studies rather than political science. I hope to look at the way media produces and reproduces masculinities. If I mention this to a certain type of person they immediately go on that classic tirade anyone interested in gender or animal issues has heard far too many times before. There are people dying in the world; what about homeless people?; so what if people can't access washrooms?; so what if children are placed into narrow categories; there are worse things in the world than having to be a girl or a boy. 

The same sort of rant tends to come our of the mouths of people who don't want our tax dollars directed towards refugees because we should take care of Canada first. Of course this is usually the same person who refuses to acknowledge their settler privilege, and that they owe their lives to the bloodshed of indigenous peoples.

As people interested in social justice we've probably even considered these things ourselves. I know I have. Last Friday night, during a long and fruitful conversation with VOMD, I admitted that sometimes I feel like all the work I'm putting into my thesis is pointless, and even my social activism, and my work for animals, are just bandaid solutions to a problem of inequity and systemic injustice that is so deep it will take a revolution to fix (uh oh, my communist is showing!). I worried that I should be focusing on something more immediate. I considered leaving the education system altogether to pursue activist work, and to remove myself from a system that has been largely co-opted by capitalist ideals. I ask myself those same questions that the conservative on a tirade asked "What about the homeless? What about people dying?"

We tend to create this hierarchy of injustice in our society... homelessness comes before refugees; sexism comes before bigenderism; access to housing comes before access to washrooms, and so on and so forth. But why can't we just see that all injustice is bad and that as individuals we must choose where to direct our attentions to maximize our effectiveness as scholars and as activists? Yes, I care that many people in Canada are homeless, and yes I care that people on First Nation reserves do not have proper water, and access to healthcare, and adequate housing, and yes I care deeply that sex-slavery still exists all over the world and that the environment is degrading by the hour and that women still get paid less than men and that Jian Ghomeshi won his court case and that children are body shamed in grade school....

But for now, I am going to finish my thesis. I am going to argue that there is a problem with the strict adherence to a binary gender system that demands individuals fit within narrow categories of what it means to be a man and a woman. I am going to argue that the abuse and violence that takes place within public washrooms against non-binary and trans individuals must be addressed immediately, and in the right way, to ensure meaningful and consistent participation of all people in the public sphere, and especially in high education in Canada. And I am going to recognize my place of privilege as a cisgendered white woman. And in my private life I will fight for non-human rights and I will rescue animals and I will continue to eat and live vegan.

And I will keep caring about all the other injustices in the world. But I am just one person. And you are just one person too. So, don't let someone tell you that your work doesn't matter because there may be something more pressing you could be addressing. Commit your heart and your mind and your life to your work. Do something.

Happy Wednesday,

J

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

I don't wear a bra



A group of teen to twenty something young men were laughing at my nipples showing through my shirt the other day, and it motivated me to write this post. Apparently women who don't wear bras are a big deal.

When I was about 11 or 12  my older sister told me that I should get a bra because you could see my nipples through my shirt. Until that point I had never really considered wearing a bra. I knew that people wore them. I had been seeing my mom's stretched out cotton bras hanging on the clothes line since I could remember, and I knew that my elementary school friend wore what she called a training bra because she had proudly shown it to me literally the first day we met in kindergarten when we were 4 years old.

Since then I have worn bras almost consistently, barring the short time between the ages of 15 and 16 when I experimented with androgyny (I still miss my buzz cut and baggy jeans sometimes). But about a year ago I started noticing that my breasts were not as round and perky as they used to be. I shrugged it off. I'm getting older now and of course my body is going to change as time goes by. Then I started reading a few studies here and there that showed that women who don't wear bras actually have perkier and rounder breasts than those who do. What?!

The more you work out any muscle, the stronger it gets; so, why wouldn't this be the case for the muscle that hold up our breasts?

Coupled with the problem of diminishing perkiness are the cultural implications of wearing something that changes the shape of our breasts to make them more uniform, straight, round, and high. While I don't think it is wrong for us to want perfectly round breasts, I do think it is strange that this is one cultural norm that we don't regularly question. People are very willing to shout it out loud that women shouldn't feel obligated to wear makeup; but we tend to think of bras as a necessity. I know even now some women will probably respond to this saying they have to wear a bra because otherwise their breasts would be sore and would hang uncomfortably due to their size (for stories from women who choose note to wear bras, follow this link!)

But my breasts are fine just the way they are. One is slightly bigger than the other, which means that one nipple always sits a little higher. They are spread wide apart so that cleavage is basically a pipe-dream (even when I wore one of those 2 cup sizes up bras for my girlfriend's wedding last year), and their shape and size varies throughout the month depending on where I am in my menstrual cycle, and their size and shape varies throughout the day depending on how warm or cold it is, or how active I've been. I don't need them to be perfect and round and high. I know it doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but my choice to not wear a bra is empowering.

And if you want to make that choice too, it's completely up to you. But please consider why it is you think the bra is necessary, and where it is you got that information from. Chances are you were told that if you didn't wear a bra your breasts would sag as you aged. Maybe you were told it is inappropriate to let your nipples be seen through your shirt. The people who told you that are wrong. And if you like the bra, no part of me will ever judge you for that. Because you have the freedom to choose what you do to your own body.

Happy Tuesday!

J


Monday, April 4, 2016

Monday Happies!

Monday Happies are back!

It snowed. I wrote 7000 words. I drank way too much coffee. I cuddled with my fiance. I started packing to move at the end of the month. And I wore a sun dress to spite the stupid weather. Isn't it spring?




Happy Monday!

-J