Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Contemplation on Being a Female Academic

On the Needles: Advent calendar!
Designing: Name scarf, "Untalkative Bunny" scarf

Warning: This post is not particularly about knitting or crafting, although they do figure into what I'm writing. This is more about my academia, something wild and completely different! I'll make sure to do another actual update soon.

This post has been in my mind for a few weeks now. I've been trying to find the right way to phrase the thoughts in my head, and I am still finding the words inadequate. Yet I feel the need to still write this post, so come heck or high water, I'll write it (even if it is a bit incoherent at points).

I feel as though I need to gloss a bit about myself: I am 22, I'm in my fifth year of university, I'm an Honours student in the English department, I'm a woman, I'm a crafter, hiker, and I love cats. Now, the list I just gave falls into lovely theories about "identity politics" that I'm not going to elaborate on that.

Now, I'm currently in a second-year levelled English course for children's literature (it's really interesting and relevant to my Honours project). A few weeks ago, we had a presentation on "boyhood," as we were reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

 Just look at that awesome cover!

Now, there are quite a few contentions that I had with this presentation, and I've discussed this at length with my peers in my English class, and my boyfriend, and they have also brought up very good points that I hadn't thought of at the point. So, this whole post is generated from my ideas and theirs as well.

Within the children's literature class (from now on known as C.Literature), we read the texts (i.e. Treasure Island) and essays about certain keywords within C.Lit. "Boyhood" was one of those essays (from Keywords for Children's Literature edited by Philip Nel and Lissa Paul, 2011).

One of the first contentions, which I didn't have at the time, but that my boyfriend did rightly point out, was that the group was made up of four girls. Who have never experienced "boyhood." As he says, anything having to do with gender really should have a mixed sex group, and I think that is a very good point. Even within feminist presentations, there should be a mixed sex group. Granted, this is difficult in a predominantly female class (with about 1:15 (4/60) ratio of male students, which says something, I believe, about English studies and the study of C.Literature).

Now, there exploration and expansion on the essay and its application to Treasure Island was quite good, I will say. What brought the most contention for me is the fact that they were continually comparing it to being a girl, and that everything that, we as girls, or as women do, is "just" something. We "just" are moms.

I have a real problem with this. Now, I'm not a radical feminist; I am also not particularly versed in area of "Women's Studies." I am, however, still a female academic, and in some ways that gives me ways to say this (hopefully articulately).

When I was younger, my mom and dad always got after me for saying that I was "just" something (i.e. this is "just" me phoning to leave a message); they always told me to take more pride in what I was saying, that what I was doing was something I was doing, not "just" something I was doing. From then on, I always take the word "just," when applied to people or their actions, is taking agency (the power to act) away from the person or their actions.

The example that rankled me in class was that one girl brought in the comparison between these two books:

Now, she said that The Dangerous Book for Boys tells you how to skin a rabbit "and a whole bunch of other cool stuff." But that The Daring Book for Girls tells you "just how to knit and balance your cheque book. Not that there's anything wrong with knitting, since I like it." (The Book for Girls doesn't actually have anything to say about cheques or knitting as far as I could tell from the index; I'll get back to you guys about the Book for Boys, since I haven't found a copy yet.)

In that moment, I feel as though she took a lot of agency away from the ability of what traditional women's roles are. I am for the equality of the sexes, but someone also have to learn how to balance the cheque book and clean the house and sew the buttons on the shirts when they fall off. I learnt those things when I was in Girl Guides. And I take pride in the fact that I am accomplished in some of the traditional women's roles.

Taking the agency from the women's traditional roles instantly says that they are lesser, and inferior, and propagates the circle that so many feminists are trying to overthrow. I am trying to argue that these roles are not lesser and inferior, but that they are something that should be seen as a source of pride.

Now, this comes to the other part of why this whole thing has been bothering me, since it is more personal. In many ways, I am uncomfortable being in classes where these traditional roles are placed in an "inferior" position. As a female academic, and having taken the opportunities that I have worked hard for (going to Japan for an exchange, being in Honours, and hopefully a Master's), I am likely to go and become a mom. In which case, all of these things seen as "inferior" will actually be my biggest ally.

This is where this post has sat for quite a few weeks, because right at this point, I have difficulty in articulating what I want to say on this point.

Maybe I'm running in the wrong circles within the university, but I find that many female academics have very negative attitudes regarding traditional femininity and motherhood. So, as I'm sitting there listening to this, I know that I don't subscribe to these views. And that is my choice, and I know it. I have been educated to read not only literary texts but theories and to make critical decisions about what I want to accept and not accept.

I know that a lot of arguments run that girls should go for higher education, and know their choices, etc. And, again, I am for equal rights. If that's what you want. If you want to go become a mom, I think that you should go for it. There is nothing wrong with it. Yes, I'm looking at this from an very privileged, educated position, but after this, I will be a mom. And what I will need there are those things that I learnt when I was young and being raised by my own mom. I will need to use the traditional female roles that I developed being in the traditional female organizations, like Girl Guides.

And I will be happy and proud to pass those traditional skills down to any girls I have. And if they be boys, well, then they'll also be learning these skills. Because that's part of equality, too.

So, that's my contribution for today. This is completely different from what I've posted before, but I hope that you enjoy. As I said, I'll tell you about the crafting updates later.

Take care,



  1. I think a lot of what you're hearing from your peers (the negativity) has to do with age. At 22 a lot of people aren't yet thinking of having children. I know I felt that way at 22. I wanted a career and I wanted 'more' out of life than raising a family. Now here I am at 33 with two kids who have made my life more than what I'd ever imagined it could be (no career could do what they've done for me)and all I want is to be with them 24/7 and raise them well. They enrich my life in ways I never knew possible - they have allowed me to become a complete person.

    I have one boy and one girl and I plan on teachig them both to iron and sew and cook and craft and write and fix things with hammers and nails and on and on and on because I don't think those tasks should be split via gender. I think any girl should be able to fix a toilet and any boy should be able to iron his own's part of being self sufficient which IS important.

  2. I agree with Heather. And a lot of it is those who harness creativity vs those who don't. And also those who place value on things that don't always need to have value. I can't fully express what I mean, I need caffeine LOL.

  3. A lot of what you have learned are what I would call practical life skills, and honestly, a lot of parents just aren't teaching those these days. I know so many adults who can't sew, knot, cook, had to learn in college how to do their own laundry, and ruined many loads, etc. I see nothing wrong with learning to be self sufficient. In fact, my 10yo son just completed a 4 week sewing class where he made a patchwork pillow. Is it perfect? No. But I he has learned the basic skills of sewing from someone who is better at it than I am.