Monthly Archives: October 2014

Like many, I’ve experienced anger, horror, rage, frustration, and sorrow this week, as the Jian Ghomeshi story has broken. I have never listened to his program, but am fully aware of his popularity. That such a popular host would a.) get fired  and b.) follow his firing with a massive PR campaign and lawsuit that accused the CBC of prudery in the face of what he articulated as a soft form of Fifty Shades of Grey  was not what I expected. And that the floodgates would then open, with first 4 women and now, three days later, 8, all coming forward with stories of violence, has horrified me. That they would be vilified by so many, even as their numbers have risen and even as Ghomeshi’s word – likely carefully constructed with one of the country’s leading “reputation management” firms – has been accepted as gospel truth, has seen me alternately raging, weeping and nauseous.

And now, as the story progresses, there’s even more: it seems that it was common knowledge that he was a ‘bad date.’  That people have known this – and whispered about it – for over a decade. They also tweeted about it months before his firing.

There is so very much to process here. I find myself overwhelmed with grief – for abused women, for a system that can’t (and sometimes won’t) protect them, and for a society that still thinks that it’s ok to allow this kind of thing to happen.

And if I’m overwhelmed, if I’m angry, if I’m grieving, if I’m horrified, and I’m nauseous, then what must all of this be to the women whose stories have emerged in The Star and on the CBC?

No, the vast majority of these women have not identified themselves. No, they have not gone to the police (Sandy Garossino offers a thoughtful commentary on why this might be). No, there has been no court case. No, these allegations have not been ‘proven in a court of law.’

But now there are 8. Just ponder that for a moment. 8. How many more are there?

If there is one good thing to come out of this ever-expanding horror it is the fact that this conversation about violence against women has now become a very public, national conversation, and that it has led to some very thoughtful, and well-considered commentaries about sex, consent, violence, kink and more . But those conversations should never have had to happen on the bruised bodies of 8 – and possibly more – women.


A beautiful little essay by Gretchen Vanwormer on the power of things to evoke memory, and about how we respond to the memories inside them. Here’s a snippet to get you going:

“Now my mom swings open the front door, and Theresa’s mother trudges inside, squeezes in next to my sister and me on the green couch. The living room has a different feel now, like inside a wave. She says something about how much Theresa loved playing with us, what nice little girls we are, good friends. She hands us each an animal, and my mom squeezes her tight. Then she trudges back out the door.

At first I’m upset that I didn’t get one of the toys that turns inside out. But then there’s something about my mom’s words, or the way Theresa’s mother had held the animal, that lets me know it’s not a toy anymore. And that, no matter which one of Theresa’s animals I got, it wouldn’t be a toy either, but something else. A memory thing.”

What memories do your stuffies carry?

Sunday morning in Zaandam, just two train stops out of Amsterdam. Last night, I’d planned for a quiet morning of reading before a train trip into Leiden to the university library.

This morning I woke to the sound of running water and thought to myself that the apartment owners (who live upstairs) were having a lovely, long bath. That was before it occurred to me that many Dutch homes don’t have a bath. And before the frantic knock on the door and the apologies from the owners (as I stood there in my pyjamas with my hair in all directions). And before they opened up the door to the cellar and discovered a few feet of water with ever more spilling in. And before they walked past all the handwash I had draped over every available surface.

Something had obviously gone wrong. Time to call the plumber. So much for my quiet Sunday morning.

Before their arrival, I was thinking through photography, identity and ways of seeing. More specifically, I was reading through this book, The First Photograph from Suriname, which I picked up at the Rijksmuseum on Friday.

On the cover is a photograph dating from 1845, of a young couple at their engagement: Maria Louisa de Hart, the daughter of an Jewish Amsterdam merchant and later major Surinamese plantation owner (with 500 slaves) and a Surinamese Creole slave, and her betrothed, Johannes Ellis, son of Abraham de Veer, the Dutch governor of the African Gold Coast, and his concubine, a Ghanaian black slave named Fanny Ellis. Here’s a shot of the photo in full, as taken from another website.


It’s a fascinating historical artifact that tells us much, not only about the history of photography – the author notes that the daguerreotype process only emerged in 1839 and had, within six years, already made it to the tiny jungle colony of Suriname – but also about the complexities of kinship in the globalized world of Dutch colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade, where “family” moved well beyond the nuclear model so common in Western societies today. When this photo was taken, slavery and the plantation system were in decline, but the institution of slavery wouldn’t be abolished for another 18 years, and even then, it would be followed by a ten year transition period. Following this, the plantation owners would rely on four decades of indentured labourers drawn from China, India and Indonesia.

The family histories of the couple captured in this photo span three continents, and mark many kinds of journeys across the Atlantic Ocean – the journeys of a moneyed elite travelling for work and leisure, and those of enslaved peoples, on whose bodies the wealth of the de Hart family was based. The photo itself also functions as a time capsule, revealing dress, hairstyle, posture. And more than all of this, it opens us to what John Berger would call a “way of seeing” – it teaches the viewer about the eyes that took the photo.

The oldest photo in my collection is a copy – a modern reprint of a photo taken in 1911 of my grandmother, then a baby, in Suriname. She’s wearing a white, lace-trimmed dress, her brown toes sticking out the bottom. Her mother – presumably – is holding her, her face serious, her pose stiff. Both are posed in front of an idyllic pastoral painted backdrop that resembles no photo of Suriname I have ever seen. It’s a wonderful, curious photo that’s filled with stories I have yet to discover…

We met in 2008, all of us new faculty members. And we decided, right then and there, that we’d meet for lunch. Once per term, we’d get together to chat, laugh, dish, complain, and worry. And we’d support each other. It was a loose plan, but it was a good one. Over the past six years, we’ve managed (sometimes just barely) to meet every few months just to be social together. We are the lunching ladies, the ladies who lunch, and our time together has been vital to our continued well being at the university.

We’ve supported each others’ writing. We’ve talked through challenges. We’ve laughed at things. In six years, three of us have had five kids (and I already had two). One of us (me), now has a teenager. One of us has a newborn. We’ve published books. We’ve been awarded grants. We’ve achieved tenure. We haven’t slept (or we haven’t slept enough). We’ve graded more assignments than we can count and laughed our way through particularly entertaining essays (“expanding gender rolls” remains one of my favourite typos). We’ve shared many stories together, and worked through the frustrations and the joys of parenting and of our careers.

And last week, together with several other fabulous colleagues, we wrote a letter.

I’ve made no secret about my commitment to reproductive justice on this blog. You can read about it here and here and here and here. Reproductive justice is a key concept in my teaching and I always introduce students to the fabulous work of SisterSong. They define it like this:

The reproductive justice framework – the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments — is based on the human right to make personal decisions about one’s life, and the obligation of government and society to ensure that the conditions are suitable for implementing one’s decisions is important for women of color.

It represents a shift for women advocating for control of their bodies, from a narrower focus on legal access and individual choice (the focus of mainstream organizations) to a broader analysis of racial, economic, cultural, and structural constraints on our power.

Reproductive Justice addresses the social reality of inequality, specifically, the inequality of opportunities that we have to control our reproductive destiny. Our options for making choices have to be safe, affordable and accessible, three minimal cornerstones of government support for all individual life decisions.

More simply put: reproductive rights + social justice = reproductive justice.

Reproductive justice allows us not only to think through things like abortion and contraception (the most visible facets of the reproductive rights movement) but it also asks us to consider such issues as involuntary sterilization (in Alberta from 1928-1972 and BC from1933-1973. See the case of Leilani Muir), the residential school system and the 60s scoop, among other things.

Last week, we learned that the university chaplains, the Christian Medical and Dental Society and the Counselling Centre were sponsoring a visit by Dr. Martha Shuping, a faith-based anti-choice psychiatrist. All well and well and good for campus faith-based organizations to support her visit; however, we were very troubled by the Counselling Centre’s support.

A few emails and Facebook messages ensued. Well, make that 60 emails and 10 Facebook messages. A number of people were able to attend the talks. And in 24 hours we collectively wrote, revised and edited our letter, which we sent to the Counselling Centre, the Associate Vice-President (Academic) for Undergraduate Studies and The Muse, the university student newspaper.

One of us later met with the Head of the Counselling Centre, who was just as disturbed as we were (see his response here). And another wrote a column for a local paper:

In short, while she presents herself as an advocate for women, Shuping’s work and affiliations add up to a program whose default approach is not just paternalistic—women can’t be trusted to make their own choices; they need “experts” to protect them against decisions they might later regret—but would outright restrict the availability of abortion.

We haven’t met for lunch in the last several months. One of us is on parental leave, one has a busy life with a baby and a young toddler and two of us are on sabbatical leave. But together with a group of like-minded women, we were able marshal our collective energy towards something more important this fall.

Here’s to you, lunching ladies, and to our next meal whenever that will be.