When news of Boko Haram’s abduction of more than 200 Nigerian girls from a school in April, finally broke, the world was outraged. Opposed to the education of women, the group’s actions were viewed as misogynist extremism – an unimaginable, reprehensible and unacceptable act by a group of Islamic fundamentalists.

More recently a similar explosion of misogynistic extremism rocked the small town of Isla Vista. On Friday, May 23rd (ironically at the same time as a major feminist conference was being held in Toronto) 22-year old Elliot Rodger went on a massacre that left him and six others dead and seven more injured. Prior to his rampage, Elliot posted a video titled “Retribution” on YouTube, outlining in it how as “the true alpha male” he was going to “slaughter” all the “sluts” that had rejected him, saying “…you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you.” Filmed in the front seat of his black BMW – that would later power his killing spree – and with palm trees and a golden California sun glowing in the background, Elliot was quite literally and figuratively speaking from a particularly privileged position of upper-middle class, masculine power.

In a similar manner to the ways in which the Boka Haram kidnapping incited the hastag #bringbackourgirls, after the Isla Vista massacre the #YesAllWomen started a polarized social media debate on the ways men feel entitled to women’s bodies. Comments included:

“I have a boyfriend” is the easiest way to get a man to leave you alone. Because he respects another man more than you. ‪#yesallwomen

I’ve spent 19 yrs teaching my daughter how not to be raped. How long have you spent teaching your son not to rape? ‪#yesallwomen

BC when my husband asks me to slow down when we walk together I realize he hasn’t spent his life avoiding street harassment ‪#YesAllWomen

These tweets were all posted by women. One of the few in agreement by a man included:

The ‪#yesallwomen hashtag is filled with hard, true, sad and angry things. I can empathise & try to understand & know I never entirely will. 

Popular in this discussion has been the misquotation of Margaret Atwood, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Her full comment came in from a lecture given at the University of Waterloo on February 9, 1982, when she said:

“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.

Apparently not much has changed in the last 32 years.

Big Berks 2014

This weekend I am participating in the 16th Berkshires Conference. Held at the University of Toronto (and the Art Gallery of Ontario!) this is the first year the conference is being held outside the United States. With the theme of “Histories on the Edge” over 2000 participants and 100 sponsors and university departments will be exploring issues as war-displaced, immigrant and migrating women; transgressive women; women and psychiatry; reproductive health; and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) histories. 

“Big Berks” not only supports the telling of women’s histories but it also supports the work of women historians. Nearly eighty years ago a marginalized group of female professors participated in informal retreats in the Northeastern United States, that would come to be called the “Little Berks.” During the 1960s and 70s second-wave feminists reframed the gatherings as the Berkshire Conference or “Big Berks” – formal meetings that presented women’s histories and gender as legitimate subjects of historical inquiry, bridged gaps in scholarship and most importantly solidified women’s roles as respected academics. 

In keeping with the conference theme of “critical edges – sharpening, de-centering, decolonizing histories,” the panel I have organized examines visual and material transculturations in various colonial projects on the margins of the early modern Dutch world. This investigation maps the cultural networks created, disrupted and adapted by the production and consumption of both biographical goods and also public commodities. With an attention to the materiality of the “things” made and exchanged at home and overseas, we will observe the translations in styles, changes in conventions and shifts in popular tastes that occurred as goods circulated through the international commerce first established by the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) and Dutch West India Company (West Indische Compagnie or WIC), and continued through both official and other trade routes well into the eighteenth century.

In the first presentation Chi-ming Yang examines chinoiserie design books and lacquer and ceramic objects alongside the atlases to explore intersections between chinoiserie ornament and early modern ideas of race. Next Martha Chaiklin utilizes Dutch and Japanese trade documents and Japanese contemporary accounts to demonstrate how early modern trade greatly impacted the material culture of Japan fueling a consumer revolution. The last speaker Dawn Odell will examine a range of domestic goods related to dinner parties to demonstrate how the material culture of the home defined social status and gender relationships in seventeenth and eighteenth century Batavia. Finally, Benjamin Schmidt will comment on the implications for “things” made manifest on edges through “rough encounters [and] jagged conflicts as well as intimate exchanges”. While focusing on three different yet interrelated material histories on the edge of early modern trade networks, these papers contribute to a larger discussion focusing on the ways gender, race and class were conceived of as a result of new goods and also how these social, political economic and cultural shifts were reflected in visual and material cultures.





Next time you think that feminism is no longer necessary, remember that there is a group of people out there who believe that women should not be educated. As Obama says, it is not an isolated issue, violent measures are being taken around the world to stop girls from learning. 65 million girls around the world are not in school.

“Give every girl on this planet the education that’s her birthright”. Michelle Obama.

184 Days…

fc9b708b3d594efcd8dce435b8446193184 days. That’s how long I went without being in “school”. When I finished my PhD last fall I thought I was done with school, but apparently I just couldn’t leave. #lifelonglearning, #continuousimprovement, #igetboredeasily 

This week I enrolled in VCC’s Provincial Instructor Diploma Program. One of the assignments for my first class, PIDP 3100: Foundations of Adult Education is to create a blog, so here I am, blogging!