Nobody told us…

“Nobody told us we have to study our lives, make of our lives a study.”“Nobody told us…”Language links us through time illustrating the then of that time and the now of…well you know that old phrase of hope in the powers of presentism to obliterate the distracting melancholy of regret.Then and now. What a poem means in 1977 or 1981 and what now in 2014?

“…we have to study our lives…”

But this recent interview reminds me of this Adrienne Rich quote from her 1978 poem “Transcendental Etude” from her collection The Dream of a Common Language: “Nobody told us we have to study our lives, make of our lives a study.” I might have read this two years after I left a very sad and bad marriage and three years after my father died by suicide. My own sense of myself had collapsed. It was a hard time. Of course.

“…make of our lives a study…”

I worked at various jobs and returned to university part-time to study. Reading and writing and my friends and the Women’s Liberation Movement saved my life. I might have read this Rich poem in 1978 but I think it was later when I saw Adrienne Rich and Nicole Brossard give a talk in Toronto on my birthday in 1981. Then I was reading Adrienne Rich and Nicole Brossard in earnest. And writing a dissertation about feminist poetics was my translation of the phrase by Adrienne Rich. There was nothing academic about it.

It’s worth repeating: “Nobody told us we have to study our lives, make of our lives a study.”

Recently this line emerges in an interview discussion of anti-racist pedagogy and it reminds me of a way to upend the kinds of tensions that can emerge in classrooms where diversity informs the writing and lives of students. Peggy MacIntosh wrote about white privilege and male privilege in a famous 1988 essay. And I’m reminded how white privilege, the women’s movement and hard work helped me get a university job. Peggy MacIntosh is still at work at 79 years developing the anti-racist work she wrote about decades ago. In this interview, she reminds us how compassion and probing the limits of our understanding can be key to our work in the classroom. It is difficult to live up to the ideal but try try again is a teacher’s thematic.

Q: “You seem to relate to the idea of privilege in a very compassionate way. But isn’t that hard, since the effects of privilege are so unjust? Isn’t it natural for privilege to make people angry, rather than openhearted? I imagine Tal Fortgang in a college seminar, and the rancor that must accompany conversations about privilege in the classroom. How do you defeat that?

Peggy MacIntosh: The key thing is to let people testify to their own experience. Then they’ll stop fighting with each other. One of my colleagues at SEED says, “Unless you let the students testify to what they know, which schools usually don’t let them do, they will continue to do just what the dominant society wants them to do, which is to tear each other apart.” The students who are sitting there fighting with one another aren’t allowed to have their lives become the source for their own growth and development. Adrienne Rich wrote, at the beginning of women’s studies, “Nobody told us we have to study our lives, make of our lives a study.”

The full interview is here

  – Janice Williamson

“Connecting the Canadian women’s human rights legacy to budgets”

Isabella Bakker, York University

Over the last few decades, Canada has been a signatory to a number of United Nations commitments to women’s equality and more inclusive economic development, such as theInternational Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action (BPA), and more recently, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The signatory countries, including Canada, made commitments to integrate the stated goals of these international agreements into their policy plans. This included mobilizing resources to realize these commitments as well as the monitoring of progress toward these goals on the basis of the documented links between women’s equality and broader economic and social progress.

Despite these stated commitments in both international obligations as well as within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there remain significant gender inequalities in the life experiences and distribution of opportunities among women and men, and between women, in Canada.  For example, in 2007 the average earnings of women working full-time, full year were 71.4 percent of those of men; women accounted for 60 percent  of all minimum wage earners in Canada in 2008; even after transfers and tax credits, 24 percent  of Canadian single parent women were poor as were 19 percent  of unattached senior women (compared to 14.7 percent of men); only 39 percent of unemployed women received EI benefits compared to 45 percent of men; and, regulated child care spaces existed for 18.6 percent  of children 0 to 12 in Canada in 2008.

While women in all social groups face inequalities compared to men, there are also significant differences among women. The erosion of social rights is particularly pronounced among racialized women (29 percent live in poverty), aboriginal women (36 percent live in poverty) and women with disabilities (26 percent live in poverty).

Isabella C. Bakker, FRSC, is a professor of political science at York University and a Trudeau Fellow.

This is published in the Fedcan “Equity Matters” blog. Continue reading at: Connecting the canadian women’s human rights legacy to budgets « Fedcan Blog.

“Witnessing the Alberta Tar Sands Dead Zone and Asserting the Need to Heal” by Aidee Velasco Arenas, Choo-kien Kua, Christine Leclerc, and Rita Wong

with photos by Choo-kien Kua

In the face of the enormous devastation that is destroying forests across northern Alberta, a peaceful group of people are steadfastly asserting the need to heal the land and waters.  On June 25, 2011, the second annual Healing Walk for the Tar Sands occurred, bringing together Indigenous people, Keepers of the Athabasca, elders, children, and supporters, who walked 13 km through the heart of where Syncrude and Suncor extract bitumen on a massive scale.

Bitumen, a tar-like substance that holds petroleum, sits below what the industry, in an Orwellian turn, calls “overburden” – not forest. The destruction we saw is so vast it goes far beyond the visible horizon. The urgent need for healing is evident to anyone who visits this barren expanse. People from many places came to support and join in–including a few activists who participated with Zapatista Indigenous communities and the movement in Oaxaca, Mexico–together they chanted: “Zapata Vive! La Lucha Sigue!”

The Tar Sands Healing Walk was led by elders such as Lillian, a Cree woman, and Violet, an 83-year-old elder and the oldest woman in the community of Fort McMurray First Nation. These elder women possess a wonderful sense of humor and sharp minds, and with other elders, guided the traditional prayers, smudge and ceremonies. This walk faced the enormity of the land stolen from Indigenous peoples that is now destroyed, lifeless, and empty save for ugly scarecrows called “bit-u-men” to keep out the birds from its poisoned soil.  Horrid continuous booms from sound cannons scare the birds from landing in the enormous reservoirs of toxic waste.  We marched beside the machinery of destruction, the surreal gigantic Tonka trucks, cranes and pipes. The air pollution, a putrid stench, gave a headache to many of the people who participated in the healing walk.

Continue reading ““Witnessing the Alberta Tar Sands Dead Zone and Asserting the Need to Heal” by Aidee Velasco Arenas, Choo-kien Kua, Christine Leclerc, and Rita Wong”

Janine Brodie “On courage, social justice and policymaking” & a short doc about her work

Political scientist Janine Brodie,  FRSC, is a University of Alberta Distinguished University Professor, Canada Research Chair in Political Economy and Social Governance, and a Trudeau Fellow This excerpt from a panel presentation delivered at the Trudeau Foundation’s 2011 Summer Institute in Whistler, British Columbia, is republished here with the author’s permission. It was originally posted on the FedCan Equity Matters blog, an excellent resource for insightful discussions of equity and an initiative developed by Malinda Smith, Equity Issues board member of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Science.

The spring of 2011 opens an instructive window to reflect on the question of courage in policymaking. For some months now we have witnessed “the Arab Spring” when millions of people filled streets across the Middle East in defiance of oppressive regimes and in the face of violent state repression. Paradoxically, the blurred YouTube images of the multitudes are actually variegated composites of profound acts of individual courage, ordinary people willing to risk all for the promise of democracy, human rights, and a more equitable future.

These images resonate with familiar lexicons of courage as a quality that enables a person to confront difficulty, danger, or pain instead of withdrawing from it. All of us at one point in our lives or another are challenged to confront threatening obstacles, but these private and daily acts of courage, by definition, defy a common yardstick. How then are we to think about courage in the collective enterprise of policymaking? How does the personal capacity to stand up in the face of threatening obstacles intersect with the negotiations and compromise, the institutional constraints, and the gradations of power that together shape public policy?

Continue reading “Janine Brodie “On courage, social justice and policymaking” & a short doc about her work”

Afghanistan worst place in the world for women, but India in top five | World news | The Guardian

Afghanistan worst place in the world for women, but India in top five | World news | The Guardian.
Note that NATO airstrikes that kill civilians contribute to the dangers for Afghan women. We are part of the problem as well as imagining ourselves intervenors on the side of good. Are we Canadians in a permanent war? What do you think about the way women’s rights are used to justify military intervention?

“Survey shows Congo, Pakistan and Somalia also fail females, with rape, poverty and infanticide rife”

The women in Afghanistan resorting to self-immolation
India, where domestic violence is endemic
‘No woman in Somalia is happy to be a woman’
Congo, ‘the rape capital of the world’
A Pakistani acid attack victim fights for justice


A woman works at a sunflower field at Kunwarpur village, east of Allahabad, India. Her country has been ranked the fourth worst in the world for women. Photograph: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP

Targeted violence against female public officials, dismal healthcare and desperate poverty make Afghanistan the world’s most dangerous country in which to be born a woman, according to a global survey released on Wednesday.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Pakistan, India and Somalia feature in descending order after Afghanistan in the list of the five worst states, the poll among gender experts shows.

Continue reading “Afghanistan worst place in the world for women, but India in top five | World news | The Guardian”

Rita Wong on Courageously Speaking Against the Politics of Fear: Thank You to Brigette dePape

 A Fresh Page in an Old Story

Rita Wong is a poet, blogger, teacher, cultural critic, and contributor to the pomegranate

You may not agree with Brigette dePape’s protest – she displayed a “Stop Harper” sign during the throne speech in the Senate – but dePape acts from a place of genuine concern for Canadians. She feels that we are in danger, and this justifies stepping outside the mode of business-as-usual into creatively thinking about how to best warn her fellow citizens. Living through a year with the highest greenhouse gas emissions on record, I take her warning seriously.

Interviewers in the mass media seem to miss or avoid engaging with dePape’s point that our government’s parliamentary system will not protect the peace and the environment that most Canadians value. They take a superficial definition of democracy that begins and ends with an election, whereas dePape asserts that democracy is much wider and deeper than an election where three quarters of the Canadian population did not vote for Harper. The Conservatives got 40% of the votes from the 61% of Canadians who participated in the election, translating into one quarter of the population. Ms. dePape’s math turns out to be more accurate than her media interviewers’ calculations that accept the conventional definition of a majority government and disregard the many people who did not vote.

Math aside, it is very important to consider DePape’s argument—broadcast on CTV news June 4, 2011—that millions of Canadians will not see their concerns adequately addressed within the Canadian parliamentary system for the next four years. A quarter of the country helped to elect a government that will build enormous, expensive prisons, buy fighter jets, and speed up the destruction of our planet through increased global warming. The 75% of Canadians who did not vote for this violent, fearful agenda are nonetheless held hostage to it, and the sooner they realize this, the better. It is our children and grandchildren who will pay for our mistakes, as they inherit a more polluted, degraded planet with acidifying oceans, as well as a more violent society with greater extremes of inequality. The Tory agenda is a corporate agenda, specifically a tar sands agenda where the rich will increasingly rule, at least temporarily, before leaving an enormous toxic mess for everyone else to clean up. Continue reading “Rita Wong on Courageously Speaking Against the Politics of Fear: Thank You to Brigette dePape”