Tag Archives: feminism

  • In Conversation with Roberta Johnson and Silvia Bermudez

    Silvia Bermudez and Roberta Johnson are the editors of A New History of Iberian Feminisms

    Interviewer: Tell us more about what inspired both of you to start this project?

    Silvia and Roberta: Neither of us was encouraged to study literature by our families, as they were more practically minded. Fortunately, we persisted and eventually, after studying and publishing mostly on canonical male writers, we in our separate areas of specialization (Silvia in poetry; Roberta in the novel) came to write on female authors. We have known each other for many years and through our mutual participation in the University of California Iberian Studies Working Group hit upon the idea of co-editing a volume on feminism in the Iberian Peninsula that included Portugal and considered the major linguistic territories of Spain--Castile, the Basque Provinces, Catalonia, and Galicia.

    I: When did you start work on it?

    S&R: Thinking about the project began in 2012 when the first UC Iberian Working Group meeting took place at UC, Davis, and continued at the second meeting at UCSB in 2013. By the third meeting at UC, Davis, Silvia had agreed to co-edit, and we set about finding scholars to write on different periods and territories. We ended up with a fabulous team of dedicated and knowledgeable scholars from the US, England, Spain, Portugal, and New Zealand. These scholars were enthusiastic about the project and were instrumental in moving it forward. It was a real sisterhood of scholars that brought the book to fruition.

    I: What do you find most interesting about your area of research?

    S&R: We are fascinated by the stories of women who in other periods when independence for women was not taken for granted managed to live full creative lives despite the many obstacles they faced, especially in conservative, Catholic countries like Spain and Portugal. The differences in women's experiences in Spain and Portugal was also a revelation. We have been able to travel through time and space and "converse" with extraordinary writers from other periods and places.

    I: What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?

    S&R: We think feminist scholars of other national entities--the US, Britain, France, Italy, or Germany--would find Spanish feminism significantly different from that of the countries they study, and we hope they will want to include Spain in their courses and research now that in this book they have the tools to do so. We are passionate about our subject and are anxious to share our work with students, fellow scholars, and the general public.

    I: What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?

    S&R: We were struck by the importance of class issues inherent in the many ideological disagreements among Iberian feminist positions, and we were especially surprised to learn how well organized Basque feminists are and how cohesive and well developed their feminist research is.

    I: What did you learn from writing your book?

    S&R: We learned many details about feminism in other periods and all areas of the Iberian Peninsula that we did not know before, especially women writing feminist essays in the eighteenth century. Contrary to erroneous assumptions, women throughout the Spanish territories and Portugal were committed from early on to equal rights and advancing women's participation in the public sphere.

    I: What do you like to read for pleasure? What are you currently reading?

    S&R: Silvia reads mystery/detective novels and biographies and is currently reading Leonardo Da Vinci and The Silent Wife. Roberta reads current fiction and non-fiction in Spanish and English. Right now she is reading Fire and Fury and Sapiens.

    I: If you weren’t working in academia, what would you be doing instead?

    S&R: Silvia would be a tour guide, and Roberta would run a horse stables or ranch.

    Silvia Bermúdez is a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

    Roberta Johnson is professor emerita of Spanish at the University of Kansas and adjunct professor of Spanish at the University of Kansas.

  • Grounding Ourselves: On Bill C-16 and Symbolic Legislation

    Written by guest blogger Florence Ashley.

    Stylized sculpture of woman's head, top seperated from mouth up to reveal text insideImage by Nelly Wat

    I was presenting at the Pride Canada National Conference held in Montreal less than a year ago. My presentation centered on my paper “Don’t be so hateful: The insufficiency of anti-discrimination and hate crime laws in improving trans well-being” which was recently published by the University of Toronto Law Journal in what I believe to be the first-ever special issue on trans law in Canadian history. Without going at lengths about the content of the article—I hope you will choose to read it in its entirety—it may be characterised as highly critical of Bill C-16. More particularly, I paint the bill as largely symbolic and as promising but meagre payoff for pan-Canadian trans well-being.

    In the questions period, Susan walked up to the microphone and asked me a question. I must admit that my recollection is rather fuzzy, but two bits of information stand out. Firstly, she called me the next Viviane Namaste which, in my book, is one of the highest praise to be received. And secondly, she questioned the binary labelling of laws as symbolic and substantial, highlighting how laws which are purely symbolic on the surface can be effective educational tools.

    Although I continue to believe that purely symbolic laws should be criticised, the underlying critique stays with me to this day. The symbolic is one of the most characteristic traits of human societies. We lead symbolic lives, and deal in symbols every day of our lives. What does it mean, as activists who aspire to a grounded approach, to demean symbolic change?

    Indeed, the very same activists who seek to radically alter the arrangement of society oftentimes spend significant amounts of time analysing the minutia of language on the grounds that linguistic changes are an integral part of social change. Nowhere is this truer than in trans activism, where critiques of language are omnipresent—I myself contributed a chapter on transantagonism in the French language to the acclaimed book Dictionnaire critique du sexisme linguistique.

    Can I with one hand critique legislative focus on symbols while writing chapters on symbols and linguistic sexism with the other hand?

    To quote from the great G.A. Cohen, “The present paper has no conclusion.” I do not have a satisfactory answer to this question. But as I think of how I stand vis-à-vis the issue, I also wonder if consistency and coherence is something we should ask of ourselves.

    Perhaps the best we can do is be incoherent. Perhaps the value of the critique of symbolic legislation is not so much to highlight the limitations of symbols, but to recall us to the very real lives of trans people who aren’t helped by our laws. People who, like Sisi Thibert, didn’t find survival in anti-discrimination and hate crime laws. People who need us to do something else, to do more.

    Florence Ashley is an LLM Candidate at McGill University in Montreal. Metaphorically, a cyborg witch with flowers in her hair. Read her article in the latest issue of the University of Toronto Law Journal here: https://doi.org/10.3138/utlj.2017-0057

  • Updating the History of Women's Sport in Canada

    Girl and the Game 2e_webThis month, at the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities in Calgary, Alberta, we will be releasing the much-anticipated new edition of M. Ann Hall’s ground-breaking work, The Girl and the Game: A History of Women’s Sport in Canada. First published in 2002, this book has had a profound impact on a generation of students, scholars, researchers, and athletes. We are honoured to be involved in the updating of this classic work. In the paragraphs below, M. Ann Hall, Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta, explains how the first edition came into existence, as well as the process of updating her work for an entirely new generation of readers.

    Why study sport? It’s a question I ask myself even after spending a lifetime participating in sports or teaching, researching, writing, and publishing about sport. As a kid, I was your classic tomboy, happiest when playing with the neighbourhood boys, usually baseball in summer and street hockey in winter. I was a committed athlete (though never outstanding), which led me to train as a physical education teacher. I taught in a high school for a short while but soon decided my vocation was to study sport in a serious way. It was the mid-1960s when physical education (now called kinesiology) was in the process of transforming itself from a teaching profession into an academic discipline. New areas, such as the sociology and history of sport, were being defined and developed. I went back to school, obtained post-graduate degrees, and settled into a university teaching and research career.

    When the first edition of The Girl and the Game: A History of Women’s Sport in Canada was published in 2002, I had been retired from the University of Alberta for several years. The project began initially as my master’s thesis, but it took almost 30 years for me to return to it. While still employed, I had the assistance of several graduate students (funded through a substantial SSHRC grant) whose diligence and ingenuity saved me countless hours of research. Even still, the first edition required almost 10 years to complete.

    After publishing The Girl and the Game, I wrote two other books stemming from the original project. Immodest and Sensational: 150 Years of Canadian Women in Sport (James Lorimer, 2008) was an illustrated history designed for a younger audience. The Grads Are Playing Tonight! (University of Alberta Press, 2011) told the story of the legendary Edmonton Commercial Graduates basketball club and the women who played on the team between 1915 and 1940.

    There are several reasons why I felt it was important to write The Girl and the Game in the first place, and why I believe it is still relevant today. Sport, from my perspective, is an undervalued area of study because many people view sports as being removed from the more serious pursuits in life; in other words, sport is something you do or watch when you need a break. Academics often dismiss sport as unworthy of study. For many women, and especially feminists, the highly competitive, sometimes violent, overly commercialized sports world represents distinctly non-feminist values and a field of study they generally ignore. However, at the same time, women often seek ways to experience their physicality, or at the very least they want their daughters to be strong and fit. Another reason for this book is that even today girls and women often come up against widespread masculinist resistance to their equal access to sports. Why this is so, and how it can be explained historically, is the subject of The Girl and the Game.

    I thought that a second edition of The Girl and the Game was necessary because of what has happened regarding women’s sport in Canada over the past decade and more. I am grateful to Michael Harrison, and especially Natalie Fingerhut, for their advice and support from the early proposal stages through to the completed manuscript. In retrospect, had I realized how much work would be involved in producing a revised edition, I might not have taken on the project. Nonetheless, it has been a rewarding experience, and I have been encouraged by the amount of new historical research about women’s sport in Canada that has emerged over the past 15 years.

    Aside from simply updating the first edition, and including much of this new research material, I set several objectives to be accomplished through the new edition. One was to make a concerted effort not only to include more about Aboriginal women’s sport, but also to point out how their experiences were (and in many ways continue to be) significantly different to their white counterparts. The history of Aboriginal women in Canadian sport cannot simply be grafted onto a traditional history of Canadian women’s sport, especially one that uses major turning points, such as two world wars and second-wave feminism, to frame the story.

    Although important to the experiences of white Canadian women, these are not the dominant historical events and movements of significance to Aboriginal women, and furthermore they obscure how their identities have been simultaneously gendered and racialized throughout history. Much more important to the lives and experiences of Aboriginal women, especially over the past two hundred years, are their first encounters with Europeans, their role in fur-trade society, the Indian Act of 1876 and its various revisions, the establishment of reserves and forced residential schooling, and more recently, the confluence of sport and Aboriginal policies.

    Although the second edition retains the chronological structure of the first, it begins with an entirely new chapter, entitled “Aboriginals, Colonization, and Early Victorian Sport,” which examines traditional Aboriginal games and sports before contact occurred with European explorers and settlers. Also discussed are women’s lives and active leisure in New France, during the fur trade, and after the mid-nineteenth-century British Conquest. Increasing government control over Aboriginals at this time restricted their traditional Indigenous activities and ceremonies. The remainder of the book contains much more information about the history of Aboriginal women’s sport including a discussion of gender and the residential school system, overlooked Aboriginal champions of the past, and the issues faced by today’s proudly Native sportswomen.

    A second objective for the new edition was to update content by thoroughly reworking current chapters and adding another new one. The chapter now entitled “Feminist Activism for Equality” has been substantially revised by consolidating information, bringing it up to date, and including a section about contemporary Aboriginal sport within both the Native and the mainstream sport systems. The last chapter, “The Present Reflecting the Past,” is entirely new. It asks and tries to answer a series of questions: Why is it difficult to make physical activity and sport more inclusive among females, especially for newcomers, Aboriginals, and those experiencing disability? How does the LGBT social equality movement challenge homophobia and transphobia? Why have team sports for girls and women seen a resurgence in recent years? Why do women continue to be under-represented in Canadian sports leadership? Why are there so few professional sport opportunities for women? Why are women athletes mostly missing from mediasport? And why doesn’t sex sell women’s sport? This chapter ends with a brief examination of advocating for change both in Canada and on the global level.

    A third objective was to make the book more appealing to readers, and especially to students using the text as either required reading or as a reference. For example, chapter titles are more descriptively clear; additional sub-headings have been included within the chapters; endnotes have been simplified and placed at the end of each chapter; and over 50 archival photographs are distributed throughout the text.

    I hope this revised edition of The Girl and the Game continues to be a “go to” reference for students, scholars, researchers, and general readers who wish to know more about the rich sporting heritage of Canadian women.

    -M. Ann Hall, Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta

    Note: The Girl and the Game: A History of Women's Sport in Canada, Second Edition is now available. If you are scheduled to teach a course in which this book might be useful, please email requests@utphighereducation.com for an examination copy.

  • Canadian Journal of Women and the Law Author Denise Brunsdon Explains Choice of Gun Control for Book Review

    blogWritten by guest blogger, Denise Brunsdon

    I have been a spokesperson for the Canadian Coalition for Gun Control for many years now. Though working with the organization is immensely satisfying, there are days when it seems like the Harper Government is dismantling every aspect of gun control progress ever made.

    But historians have a way of putting the contemporary cut and thrust of partisan politics in perspective. Legal history in particular reminds of the overall reduction in judicial and statutory sexism and racism. And this is why R. Blake Brown’s Arming and Disarming: A History of Gun Control In Canada is a calming and insightful read. It’s the kind of book that everyone in Canadian politics should read. I wrote the review in the hopes that it might encourage just a few more to learn about Canadian gun control from this wide lens.

    Also, it was a dream of mine to publish with the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, even before I even went to law school. The CJWL is one of the country’s most prestigious law journals. To open up a copy and see my book review alongside book reviews by Canadian law giants Rosemary Cairns Way and Mary Jane Mossman is proof positive of the journal’s continued relevance and influence.

    The material is as relevant as the authors. From gender in judicial appointments to Indigenous women’s self-determination to the masculinity of workplace grievances, the most recent CJWL issue faces today’s top legal topics.

    Congratulations to my fellow authors and the Editorial Board on a courageous issue.

    Sign up to hear more from Canadian Journal of Women and the Law.

  • The F-Word

    Punk Star Wars Ninja Barbie, Pregnant Barbie, I'm-Not-Necessarily-Oppressed Barbie: this was the welcoming scene at the inaugural F-Word Symposium held at the Brantford campus of Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) on November 18th. Preceding a panel discussion on the relevance of feminism today was a fair where attendees could remake Ken and Barbie dolls to encompass a broad range of identities, abilities, and body types. The process was simple: choose your doll, find a glue gun, and get crafty, but the results ranged far beyond any packaged dolls you’ll see on toy shelves this holiday season. By the end of the afternoon, at least 50 dolls were on display, presenting a striking visual reminder of just how narrow commercial conceptions of Barbie can be compared to the lived reality of humans around the world.

    After Ken and Barbie were de-constructed and re-constructed, over 150 students, professors, and members of the community gathered in an auditorium for a panel discussion that openly addressed the stigmas, shapes, and relevancy of feminism today. Moderator Kate Rossiter, a professor at WLU Brantford, prefaced the discussion by explaining how the F-Word Symposium came into being as a result of nation-wide cuts to social programs that focus on women's issues. Offices for the Status of Women in Canada have closed, and last spring Women’s Studies departments in many Canadian universities were forced to downsize or close. Not only do these cuts endanger the practical efforts and support provided by such groups, but they also tend to stifle the discussion of women’s issues and feminism.

    It was news of the challenges faced by Women's Studies programs in Canada that recently sparked discussion at UTP Higher Education of the course book needs for Women's Studies classes, and led to the recent acquisition of a book project by Victoria Bromley at Carleton University. The project will address many of the questions raised at the F-Word Symposium and is intended to support students and professors in introductory courses in their attempts to unravel the complexities of gender and feminist thinking in a real and tangible way. It was our work on this book project and our interest in the issue that led us to attend the F-Word Symposium, where one of our current authors, James Cairns, sits on the newly-formed F-Word committee.

    In the F-Word committee’s own words: "What is it about the term ‘feminism’ that causes some to cheer, others to squirm, and leave others unsure of what to do? What does feminism mean, anyway? These questions go to the heart of our communities and personal lives. They cross gender lines, occupations, academic disciplines, and political perspectives. So let’s talk about feminism…”

    And we did. The four panellists included award-winning broadcaster Lyla Miklos, part-time student Bryn Ossington who studies Philosophy and Women’s Studies and is on the board of the Hanging with the Boys program in Waterloo Region, student Alicia Sayers who has volunteered in many capacities with groups focused on Indigenous communities, and WLU’s only full-time Women’s Studies Professor, Margaret Toye.

    Whatever the question at hand, the discussion returned again and again to the topic of what it means to adopt the identity of “feminist.” The panellists spoke candidly about their experiences of adopting or resisting the label, reactions they receive when making the statement “I am a feminist” in various social settings, and what the term feminist can mean.

    As the conversation shifted from the panel to questions from the audience, one recent graduate asked about the current shape of Women’s Studies at Brantford. She expressed frustration at trying to obtain a minor in Women’s Studies and having few course options on campus. To obtain the necessary credits, she had to take online courses or travel to the main Waterloo campus. In response to this comment, it became clear that the majority of the students in attendance would welcome the formation of a Women’s Studies program at WLU Brantford.

    What emerged at the end of the day was not a clear idea of what feminism is or a certainty about the status of Women’s Studies programs in Canada, but rather what feminisms can look like and the kind of changes they are capable of creating. With a recent article by Katrina Onstad in the Globe and Mail, Thinness – and female unhappiness – is big business, it’s clear that feminism is still relevant and needed. What if Barbies were pregnant or differently abled or available in different shapes, sizes, and ages? How far-reaching would the implications be on female body image?

    The F-Word Symposium created a space to have this conversation, and audience reactions clearly indicated that thinking about feminism is not passé and that there is a value to continuing the conversation and considering the possibilities this dialogue might achieve.

    So, let’s talk about feminism…

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