December 2015 – Dune Scholar

Dune Scholar

Science Fiction, Feminism, and Digital Humanities All in One Place

Month: December 2015

Medieval and Early Modern Digital Humanities Seminar

This Medieval and Early Modern Digital Humanities Seminar (officially called a Postgraduate Advanced Training Seminar, or PATS) was put on by the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (ANZAMEMS) on November 18, 2015, at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. It was recorded and is available on YouTube.

It featured keynote speakers Professor Patricia Fumerton from the University of California Santa Barbara (US) and Professor Lyn Tribble from the University of Otago (NZ), as well as Dr. James Smithies from the University of Canterbury (NZ), and a panel of library and academic staff from the University of Canterbury (NZ). It was organized by Dr. Francis Yapp from the University of Canterbury’s Music Department, and I helped out with the live-streaming and social media presence. The following are notes from the day — I was also live-tweeting the event (#ANZAMEMS).

 Materiality, Affordances, and the Digital – by Professor Lyn Tribble

Tribble chose to focus on the Early English Books Online (EEBO) database and discuss what the online page vs. print objects reveals and conceals. Interestingly, she said that she doesn’t consider herself a Digital Humanist [though this presentation was very much what I would call DH]. She noted that we count on computers to erase our mistakes and that one of the first chief affordances of the computer was the need to not use white-out anymore. A book is not a transparent container of texts. Her MLIS degree has led her to think about books as not just things you pour words into, but things that have a material substantiality of their own. This affects how she thinks of the digital as well.

New technologies began to denaturalize the book (N. Katherine Hayles’ How We Think, etc.). Affordance is a term coined by J. J. Gibson in The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (1966, 1979) to account for the relationship between human beings, their tools, and their environments. For example, because we’re using livecasting, it constrains how we can use the room and where we position ourselves. This is the same as with lighting in theatres: it changes how we act (ex. Shakespeare didn’t have a light board so operated differently). With an old technology like a cuneiform tablet, it has a permanence so will affect what you write on it, vs. what you would write on a wax tablet that could be erased.

Actors used to receive their lines from a scroll with just their lines on it and cues. This didn’t allow them to see what else was going on, but it did allow them to quickly see the changes that occur with their character over time. It was a different way of preparing for a part. It worked well for people who were doing 5-6 plays a week at that time. It might seem weird to us, but it was embedded in the times (more memorization in education, etc.).

A database is built on older systems of knowledge, even though everyone might not know the history. The switch from the card catalog to the online catalog has sometimes comical issues (ex. student typing the question “what is mitochondria” into library search box). It assumed you know what a library card catalog is or how to use it. People enter the digital world at a different point in time than others.

For EEBO database, what does it mean to say it’s comprehensive? There are lots of things that are omitted from it. What about ephemera? Latin texts on the continent are not in it. It doesn’t really represent a good picture of print world at that time. There is something of a nationalistic idea behind things like Pollard & Redgrave and EEBO as they try to document what books were printed and where they’re held.

EEBO digitization: you can have any color you want as long as it’s black. Red color washes out on the scans. On EEBO, you get whatever copy was easiest to scan, even though there can be differences in print copies. Use with caution: not the same as a scholarly edition. Remember that microfilm was cutting-edge technology in the 1930s. Sometimes things were related on the film, but often not. You would run past Hamlet and other things all together (she recounted still remembering that toxic smell…).

She showed John Overholt’s one-jpeg answer on Twitter as to why you would still want a printed text when it’s on EEBO. It’s self-explanatory!

Screens flatten out information. They limit what you get and what you don’t get. You don’t get size, depth, etc. of a book from a screen. It’s a physical effort to read a big book, but you lose this sense once it is digitized. A socially conscious gentleman could keep a little book in his pocket (The Academie of Eloquence). The social embodiment of knowledge shows what its use might have been.

EEBO has massively changed scholarship in the field. It is owned by ProQuest and is an expensive, proprietary package. It is hard for small liberal-arts colleges in the U.S. to get access. She referenced EEBOgate and how the Renaissance Society of America (RSA) told members that EEBO had cancelled the deal/subscription because people were using it too much (!) and it feared it was losing out on institution subscriptions.

Every technology has its own error that’s likely to be made. Page numbers are often wrong in Early Modern books. Likewise, OCR contains errors. An OCR cautionary tale (semen was actually seven!). The Lost Plays Database tries to show what plays are missing using evidence of their existence, even though they don’t have the actual plays.

Q&A

EEBO-TCP has some transcriptions but these are not linked to the EEBO database. There is a tendency to look where the light is better. We should be aware of our own bias in our research. The search function is awful in EEBO. Part of the Twitter EEBO scandal was the thought that: These are our books. Why is EEBO charging all this money for them?? That’s why the suggestion for guerrilla harvesting came about.

Patricia Fumerton noted: We’re such a visual culture. We want images. People don’t go to the ESTC. They automatically go to EEBO and assume they’re seeing everything and don’t go to the ESTC to check against it. It’s a serious problem in scholarship. The British Library’s motto is “all the world’s knowledge.”

Tribble recommended having students in an Honours class go and compare a rare book in their library to its EEBO version to show them what they don’t know.

Alan Liu said that maybe the loss-reading of machine learning is actually closer to how humans read (with errors and such) and the affordances of the human mind. What might have the reading environment been in the Early Modern time? What was the noise like?

Paper was expensive. They wouldn’t have gone back to re-print. What’s an acceptable level of error?

We may have lost the concept of fluent forgetting – when people didn’t have a copy of Hamlet in front of them, actors could get away with errors as long as they kept the meter and kept going. Nobody noticed.

It’s hard to discover what is and isn’t tacit knowledge or awareness for students and others. User testing should take things like this into account (how will it look on an ipad?). It’s easy to squirrel away information and make it seem like you have everything (look how much stuff I’ve downloaded!). When you had to pay per photocopy, you were more careful and selective. Now you face losing the reverence you have for the text.

Serendipity is interesting. You go to get a book and end up getting surrounding books. [This concept keeps popping up at DH events.]


 

The Digital Recovery of Moving Media: EBBA and the Early English Broadside Ballad – by Professor Patricia Fumerton

Fumerton discussed the English Broadside Ballad Archive (EBBA) that she helped found and lots of interesting history about the broadside ballads. The Roxburghe (1500 ballads) and Pepys (1800 ballads) were called veritable dung-hills in the 19th century by Francis James Child. Actually, print ballads were the most popular form of print in the period. They were printed by the millions, affordable (penny or halfpenny), disseminated even into the countryside, and mass marketed to high and low (but especially targeting middling and low). They were a marketing and consumer object, used for toilet paper, lighting pipes, and pasted on walls.

They had been largely neglected until recently. Folk studies in the U.S. focused on oral ballads. Finally, programs of study popped up at places like Harvard and UCLA. The last five years has seen an upsurge in books, dissertations, articles, and book chapters about the broadside ballads. Why now? The popular (mass marketed, low, street literature) is now popular, as are Ephemera Studies.

With market competition, EEBO and ECCO have put their own ballads up in a wildly haphazard way. With EBBA’s advanced search and “assemblage theory”, everything has to be individually tagged and marked because they will occur in different ways on different ballads. You can search by different spellings. The keyword search is tailored to the genre of the broadside ballad, after she and other scholars looked through 1800 ballads. They feel it represents a good way of looking through the ballads. It also has definitions for how words would have been defined at the time. They stopped doing keyword search on the Pepys because they didn’t feel it would help anyone search the images in any meaningful way. They’re now working on a digital tool that will match woodcut impressions (like finding all instances of a particular artichoke lady). All woodcuts get wormholes! You can tell where the woodcut came from and can date it by the wormholes.

The hole in the scholarship is trying to see ballads as multimedia pieces. Fumerton described a couple of the images on woodcuts and feminist and anti-feminist debates about women cropping their hair and wearing pants because the men aren’t able to “wear the pants”. A house full of prostitutes was depicted to critique the aristocracy who spent their money there. She played several audio clips from some modern recordings of the ballads and how individuals can sing them in different ways. The same tune might be renamed just like how images are reused. EBBA opens up fresh possibilities for modern people to experience and create their own imaginary assemblages (Manuel De Landa) of early modern ballads like others did.

Q&A

Fumerton explained how the database shapes her work. EBBA meets as a team, and a digital programmer (off-site from UCSB) is always in the discussion, as are ethno-musicologists and singers. You will have a failed project if you try to tell a programmer what you want and have them try to make it. You will also have a failed project if you have them tell you what they’re going to make and have them make it for you. EBBA has gone through several iterations. There’s always new knowledge coming in through their apprentice-ship graduate students. EBBA has been organic and grass-roots from the beginning.

She started out just wanting to teach a course on street literature and found there was nothing on street literature. So UCSB was the first UC to get EEBO and had it five years before other UCs. Check out her articles on the process of building EBBA. How did you do it is a hot topic in the Digital Humanities. Even if your end project fails, the process of making it is extraordinarily important and valuable. The project embodies the spirit of collaboration and democracy where everyone has a voice.

We complain about the fragmentary nature of texts now with Internet keyword searches, but there have always been holes in knowledge. There is no “whole” and there never was.

Without the database, you wouldn’t be thinking this way about the ballads. But it’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing.

The scientists understand the lab model immediately (and how this stuff can be recognized in academia) while the humanities are not always certain about it. Printing out your data work is actually a good way of impressing people. It comes out to a lot of pages.


 

Behind the Scenes: EBBA and Early Modern Making – by Professor Patricia Fumerton

Fumerton explained that EBBA’s digital archival process has been critiqued by McKitterick for being intrusively recreative instead of a facsimile. But all collectors in some way are manipulating the artifact and recreating it. Everything has gone through multiple hands and been processed/manipulated before it came to be digitized by EBBA. Reassemblage is nothing new, and we don’t know every stage and when things were changed.

Before, everyone would come up with different ways of classifying images. Even Iconclass—which is designed for high-end art and extraordinarily complicated has 28,000 terms for identifying whole images and items in images—was difficult to use. So a machine learning tool can come in handy to determine feature points. Now, each image is understood as a Bag of Features instead of a complete image. This is similar to the Bag of Words concept in topic modeling. The trick is trying to train humans to help machine catalog correctly. Human cataloguing terms are based on Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus and Iconclass, using genre terms (narrative, landscape) and descriptive tags (man, horse, book). This increases image interoperability.

The goal is to make the tune recordings in EBBA more accessible to the musically challenged, like her. To do this, they will be transcribing into modern notation the first stanza of every tune recording in Sibelius with text underlay. Users will be able to play the notes in a slowed down midi version (like a fiddle).

The EMC Imprint is the Early Modern Center’s journal which is publishing multi-media literary and cultural studies, 1500-1800. It is trying to capitalize on what the web offers users, rather than just doing PDFs like other digital journals. It is free and open access and peer-review. As soon as you go to the site, you see it’s an active experiential site; it has videos including how-to videos like where they are making their own paper. Fun fact: you can determine where paper was made by looking at the bugs in it!


 

 

How to Write a Digital Project Scope Document – by Dr. James Smithies

Smithies gave an overview of the key document in one of the Digital Humanities classes at the University of Canterbury called DIGI 403. It is called a Digital Project Scope Document and helps students shape their digital project and do project management.

It should take no more than 30 words to articulate the purpose. For New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi impact statement needs to be completed to show how the project will impact local indigenous communities such as Maori. Students are allowed to do off-line prototypes even though they can’t continue on with the project after graduation. They set their own delivery dates for all of the outputs, because all of the projects are different (a rough estimate is 10 key milestone dates). Students are responsible for communicating slippages in dates to the teacher as part of learning project management. It’s not about mastering HTML or PHP but successfully designing and managing a project. It is better to show something that can actually work and is thought through. It’s a way to sit back and examine all of the possible outputs for your project. Tools are fantastic but also brittle with limitations. Amazon’s server is a sand-box to play in and open to anyone. Omeka is designed by scholars so features are baked-in to be useful to them.


 

Roundtable Discussion with Anton Angelo (UC Library), Dr. James Smithies (DH), Joanna Condon (Macmillan Brown Library), and Dr. Chris Jones (History)

 1: Is digitization enough? Is it an appropriate activity in itself?

Jones said that New Zealand has done a lot of work with digitization, but people haven’t always involved historians in the process to determine which texts are a priority to digitize versus other ones that can wait. Smithies replied that some of the disconnect might be because academia has been seen to eschewing digitization (though shalt not digitize attitude). He believes humanists should take responsibility for the digital turn and not rely on outsourcing work to librarians or other people involved in digitization projects. What would be ideal is to have consultative conversations between librarians and humanists. Condon noted that it is hard to measure the impact from digitization so it is often not prioritized. Alan Liu added that there should be more API outputs from humanities research so that people can use them to make things like fun apps that pull information from libraries (like ‘men wearing girdles’).

2: What are your positions on licensing?

Smithies said that open access is needed for the health of the scholarly ecosystem. Business models and legacy systems are still around. Jones told an interesting story of a loophole in a copyright agreement in the UK which allowed for the university here to publish an image from the 1600s. Even on old material, publishers want to control content. Fumerton said that one of the big new challenges is proving sustainability. Funders want to know if a digital project can be sustained by the library. Liu added that we have to rethink what it means to “own” something and issues of curation. Ex. Anne Frank’s diary adding the co-author of her father to extend copyright or Open Access Week.

3: What has to happen for the Digital to get taken out of Digital Humanities? How will it become natural?

Jones believes that it will happen when digital natives become graduate students. There will be a natural evolution and historians will naturally merge their digital skills with the practice of history. It’s likely to happen first among medieval and early modernists because we’ve been early adopters. Smithies said that mainstream humanists will start integrating digital tools into their work. But there’s a naivety about the extent of possibilities within this domain. As Willard McCarty has said, there’s so much out there that still needs digitization; we’ve hardly touched the bulk of it. The cutting-edge will always be out in front of humanists; Digital Humanities incubates future possibilities. It is quite likely that historians in future years will have a colleague who’s a computer. What will advanced AI reading Shakespeare look like? [What a thought!]

Trans/forming Feminisms: Media, Technology, Identity Conference notes

The Trans/forming Feminisms: Media, Technology, Identity Conference was held at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, on November 23-25, 2015. Twitter IDs were @transfem15 and #tf15. There was a large variety of papers, and while I didn’t agree with every viewpoint presented, I found every session that I attended interesting and added considerably to my knowledge about current trends in feminism in general and in this part of the world. The following are some notes from the conference.

The conference organizer, Rosemary Overell, opened by saying that we should be generous to our own challenges and boundaries while we were there and that capitalism wants us to feel disempowered, like we’re at the end of things.

Transgress, Translate, Transcend, Transform? Criminalized Women and Creative Writing – Keynote by Associate Professor Tracey McIntosh, University of Auckland

 McIntosh began by asking, How does prison work as an ideology? It relieves us from having to think about issues of racism, sexism, etc. (from Angela Davis). It’s a naturalized part of our social landscape but remains invisible. 51% of all prisoners in New Zealand are Maori. This is the most well-known social statistic in New Zealand (after sheep). 65% of all women in prison are Maori.

She goes into prisons and prisoners give her approval to share their stories and tell everyone what they’re going through and have gone through, but she wonders if they know who she is telling (i.e., the room full of us at the conference), that people will be analyzing it and seeing them as victims. As people who live under constant scrutiny and surveillance know, to be fully known is to be fully vulnerable. They want to know, Does mainstream society have to give up the sex, drugs, and money? Why do they tell us that we have to give it up?

McIntosh discussed the transformative power of the creative writing that they do and show her, often in the form of poetry. The power of memory through the power of narrative offers alternative ways of reviewing events. [I noticed that the power of the poems she was reading that were written by these women evoked more emotion and carried greater weight than the statistics she was also reading could.]

She told us how women know how to navigate the prison environment, but the outside world is very different. A girl might go in at 13 and come out at 21, too young to qualify for the self-care housing, and having no experience using an ATM or doing grocery shopping. She has no connections, and housing is a major issue for those trying to get out on parole. Also, everyone expects her to be the same as she was when she went in, although she has changed.

Female Dominated Narratives, Online Fan Culture, and the Gravitation Towards Jupiter Ascending – by Täg Hooper

Hooper discussed how the film Jupiter Ascending received bad buzz and was considered a flop, even though it did break even. It was criticized for using the trope of the Chosen One, even though many other films for men have it (Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc.). There is a 37 to 2 male-female film reviewer ration in the New York Times according to Meryl Streeps’ 2015 study. Rotten Tomatoes also skews toward male reviewers and its reviews are even featured on illegal torrent sites. Jupiter Ascending’s review percentages on Rotten Tomatoes are 22% critics vs. 51% fans, a larger disparity than is usual for the site [looks like this might have changed in the meantime. The studios are reluctant to put money toward female fantasy in science fiction, so it does matter that the androcentric reviews turn off filmmakers to take a ‘risk.’

‘I Will Go Down with This Ship’: Gay Slashfiction as a Manifestation of Women’s Eroticism – by Jean Sargent-Shadbolt

Sargent-Shadbolt is researching fandom communities dominated by women. She gave an overview of slashfiction as a genre of fan fiction that specifically includes sexual or romantic relationships (the first example being Kirk and Spock from Star Trek). Fan fiction is a grassroots, DIY medium (zines, comic conventions, the internet). It raises issues of who gets to decide what are the right kind of stories. Traditionally, it has not been women, people of color, the LGBT community, and other marginalized groups. Reboot, retelling, and homage stories are okay in the mainstream, but fan fiction is delegitimized. She is using analytics to determine the most read and popular fan fiction.

Tensions/Triggers: Trigger Warnings Panel Discussion with Rebecca Stringer and Catherine Dale

Stringer said that the panel was inspired by the increasing number of articles on trigger warnings, which can be written or verbal descriptions of content designed to alert people of the potential for retraumatization for those who have PTSD or prior trauma that might come up. Students use them for mental preparation, not blocking. Stringer said that her students want topics on the lecture syllabus to be aired, and that there is a difference between being triggered and feeling sad or upset. Some academics have resisted because they feel constrained, their authority challenged, or their spontaneity hampered. She has taken to calling it “content forecasting”. The critics of political correctness in the 90s are the same ones or sound like the current critics of trigger warnings. It plays into the neoliberal sense of personal responsibility to see students as emotionally dull. PTSD has historically been a contentious diagnosis, especially for the U.S. military with regards to Vietnam veterans. Students are used to warnings online and then wonder where they are in the classroom. The internet has set their expectation for them. She challenged us not to respond with the same brutal reluctance as the U.S. military.

Dale spoke of a generational divide in an article in The Atlantic saying that U.S. students are too coddled, that they’re there to be educated and can check out books beforehand [think this is the article]. Anything could potentially be associated with trauma for someone, so all we can do is flag the most egregious, like sexual assault. Overell added that showing care is feminized in otherwise masculine, rational discourse in the university, and how dare marginalized people push back against this. Stringer told how in one class she had students get together at the beginning to create Class Norms, a collective agreement, which she wrote up and got feedback on to make sure everyone was on board with it. One example was that the class agreed it was okay to leave during a movie if a student were upset. 98% expressed positive viewpoint on the safe space concept after the class finished. Two students felt too safe and coddled.

The discussion opened up to the crowd, and various topics included:

  • There is a danger in allowing people to leave, because the most likely to leave university are certain groups, and the university could become a boundary that they don’t want to cross back into.
  • An accountable space is a better term than safe space, because there is no safe space.
  • One student wanted a warning for yet another theory text that didn’t have any people of color.
  • The phrase “overrepresentation of Maori” can do violence every time it’s said, as it reinforces the grim statistics of Maori in prisons.
  • Using warnings can lead to exceptionalizing certain content or invoking the power of suggestion to show that something is special when an instructor doesn’t want it to be.
  • Some of the resistance by California universities is to the neoliberal push of the consumer-student viewpoint (ex: have to protect students because they’re consumers). It has been top-down, not coming from students, with the potential for lawsuits.
  • Why now? Possibly because of the siege mentality for kids who were 4 years old on 9/11, or the immediacy of images with the internet.
  • Media studies has been doing content warnings for a long time.
  • Maybe it’s part of the affective turn in the Humanities, where there is an acknowledgement that it is more than a cognitive response (trauma).

The Novelty Factor: Finding Your Voice as a Woman in Comedy – by Rosie Howells

Howells didn’t consider herself a woman comedian at first. But she soon discovered that most comedy archetypes were created by men for men. It can feel stale and strange for a woman to play, even though she can (ex. party animal). She likes just writing humans and not assigning a gender, but it doesn’t work for every story. She has been criticized for writing too many women, but also men. She feels a responsibility to write more funny roles for women because men historically haven’t, and there is a drought in opportunities.

Discharge is an all-female troupe now in Wellington. It has been called sexist for being all-female, even though all-male groups like Monty Python aren’t. The group allows her to play a bully and explore issues of gender with other women. Women often have to write their own parts. For example: in male comedies like The Hangover, men are shown as complex with multiple roles (cool one, funny one, geeky one) but the woman is a token and only represents her gender. Bridesmaids is one of few counterexamples. One of their shows is 28 Days which is a take on The Crucible and menstruation. They try to look at a joke from all sides and know that if it offends one of the group, it is likely to offend 20 in an audience. Critics look for meaning more closely with an all-female troupe. Howells’ version of activism is showing that women can be funny.

During the Q&A, people asked if gender-blind writing were actually possible. Howells discussed how stand-up comedy is a really harsh environment with a lot of fragile masculinity at play. Someone asked if comedy needs trigger warnings so audience can choose more carefully or avoid shows – rape culture and rape jokes are apparently common in New Zealand comedy.

Ladies, a table? Or Do I go Hungry? – by Catherine Dale

Dale discussed the term ‘lady’ and whether or not it will continue to be used as a term between girl and woman. The theory from Althusser is around hailing in the street: when someone is hailing and you turn around to respond, you are recognizing that it is you being hailed (theory of interpellation and 9/10 times the right person will turn around). There is no blank slate before you choose lady or woman, but you can have resistance to your subjection. Bathrooms doors are even inconsistent in how they describe themselves. The more demeaning the job, the more likely it is to use the term lady to raise workers up a status (ex. cleaning lady); there is no garbage gentleman [except in an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia!]. Margaret Thatcher was known as the Iron Lady, but the protesting miners were not called ladies because ladies don’t protest or cause a fuss.

She showed the lyrics of Tom Jones’ “She’s A Lady” and a clip from the show Girls where three young women try to figure out who the ladies are that a text is talking about. One believes they are all ladies, while another disputes being called by that term. There is a Fill in the Blanks quiz online by Debbie Cameron where you have to choose woman or lady, and it is fairly easy to tell which one sounds right. For actions done to bodies, the word is usually woman. People now say they’re using the term ironically, for friends who aren’t polite or nice, but are they actually being subversive? It depends on who is using the term.

Artistic and Nonviolent Resistance in Micronesia: Maga’håga (female leaders) versus the United States Military in the Mariåna Archipelago; or, #OurIslandsAreSacred: Indigenous Resistance and Digital Activism in the Mariåna Archipelago – by Sylvia Frain

She explained that her title changed post-fieldwork and that her work there was the first time a researcher went to participate with them rather just study them. The Archipelago is a key area for TPP compliance for the U.S. and Department of Defense. The complex language used in military documents (like euphemisms for bombs) is difficult to go through, and the public is only given three minutes for comments during session hearings. Looking at a U.S. military map, one can see that they carve up the world into zones of responsibility. A girls’ Catholic high school made a video about protecting the island, and the issue has also made it into the John Oliver show.

Rethinking Feminism in the Face of Intersectionality – by Nikki Aaron

Aaron has done research in India on the devadasis, part of the untouchable class/caste. They dedicate young girls to the goddess Yellamma/Renuka. Sex work is better income than manual labor. Oral histories have been lost, so we don’t really know their past as possible courtesans in previous times. They are reduced to using the language of NGOs regarding morality and told to marry. Are they empowered or exploited? Feminists try to show them as having agency as single women, whereas a couple documentaries like Sex, Death & the Gods and Prostitutes of God show them in need of a white savior. It is problematic to see women as a group with one need when different women may see it as their own best interest to refuse some forms of agency.

Resisting Methods: Doing Research With, For, and On Social Movements – by Massimiliana Urbano

Urbano conducted six months of fieldwork across Italy and critiqued the consent form process as protecting institutions from liability though it is supposed to protect the participant. It reveals the power imbalance between researcher and participants and prevents intimacy; it also reflects the institutionalization of research. There is no follow-up with consent forms.

“Of all the Continents in the World, Asia is the Gayest!” Some Notes on Queer Asia as Method – Keynote by Audrey Yue, University of Melbourne

Yue spoke of the transnational turn in sexuality studies. It sees a need to examine intersections across nation-states rather than within. It doesn’t privilege psychoanalysis. It questions the institutionalization and internationalization of area studies (Asia Studies, New Zealand studies, etc.). And it must consider cultural difference as well as sexual. Yue referenced a lot of books and the case study of Trans-Singapore. Apparently Singapore subsidizes gender reassignment surgery (although it criminalizes homosexuality) because it prefers normative gender to in-between.

Slutwalk Melbourne: Negotiating Feminisms, Organizing Feminists – by Jessamy Gleeson

In covering Slutwalk Melbourne, the mainstream media happily use the term slut but emptied the march of its political content and instead said it was buying into the patriarchy. One quote was that a half naked woman as a form of protest is different from a half naked woman pandering to the male gaze. It is frustrating when academics research SlutWalk without giving activists an active voice and then calling it a “postfeminist masquerade.” A 2014 article only looked a publicly available social media and included trolls who were called collaborators and examined the number of hits even though some posts are deleted. Gleeson said that there were other legitimate critiques of Slutwalk that she would rather spend time on, as opposed to dealing with questions about whether or not they are feminist. The problem is that other academics will build on this article and reinforce the bad data. In Slutwalk, some claim the word slut while others don’t. The term is loaded, especially for women of color. It does respond to local incidents, like the murder of a girl in Melbourne and police officer’s comments that women shouldn’t walk alone in the park during the day. The independent media is much better at coverage.

Beyond Violence, Victimization and the Penal State: Empowerment Pathways for Female Incarcerated Students – by Jenny Ostini

Ostini said that the female incarceration rate has doubled in Australia recently. Their focus is on transformative education because there is a link between domestic violence, incarceration, and educational disadvantage. The academy has rhetoric of community involvement and community justice, but it mostly comes down to citations and the h-index. Most prisoners haven’t completed Year 12 secondary schooling. They are pushing digital literacy in prisons by loading ereaders with not just textbooks but novels. They work on academic preparedness and career aspirations (why would someone be interested in knowing math if they’re going to be a truck driver). Teachers have to be reaccredited every six months to be able to teach in prisons; there is a continually shifting political landscape when government changes. She noted that education can be dangerous for some women so there are issues around this.

Reconsidering Utopia: The Dialectic of Sex and Contemporary Feminist Activism – by Stevie Jepson

Jepson discussed Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012) who was critiqued for biological essentialism and offered a science fiction vision of society (test tube babies) in the women’s rights movement in the U.S. Her book makes strong feminist demands in the last chapter and contains an interesting chart of sex, class, and culture. Firestone believed that revolution must be flexible and open. One example was the Pill which combined activism and science/technology. The ultimate goal was androgyny. Instead of thinking that utopia is fruitless, feminists should see utopia as a way to think about feminism. Jepson mentioned David Harvey’s Spaces of Hope and a new collection on Firestone: Further Adventures of The Dialectic of Sex.

Living the Experience in the Public Domain: New Media and Public Perception of Women in Malaysia – by Rohana Arrifin

Arrifin discussed the changing nature of images of women in politics in Malaysia. Now they always have headscarves. This is known as the Arabization of women’s image (headscarves, long robes, etc.). The Obedient Wives Club has 600-700 members and believes that if they learn first-class prostitute skills, their husbands won’t stray. It is a big joke that the prime minister is controlled by his wife who is seen as more domineering and does not conform to all of the conservative trends. Conformity, conservatism, and patriarchy are the order of the day now.

Women as Men and Men Made by Women: Transgressive and Transforming Images of Beauty of 19th Century Qajar Women in Iran – by James P. Mirrione

Mirrione looked at 19th Century Persian dynastic history and the changes that have occurred in what is acceptable. It used to be acceptable for men to have young boy lovers in addition to wives; colonial influence changed that. The moustache on women was an image of beauty. Once photography came, control over dress and women tightened. In pre-1979 revolution Iran, the flag was a male lion with a female sun behind it; women were supposed to be pure for the nation. Today, the scarf is not a cultural symbol but a means of control. While young women may not understand the orthodoxy, they have to cover up regardless. Even a picture of Adam and Eve in literature anthologies is considered scandalous. Mirrione is interested in how women perform in the paintings, photographs, etc. because everything is ultimately a performance.

Patriarchy, Women, and Islam: Narrative Framing of Sisters in Islam – by Tha Era Yousef

Yousef discussed the dual court system of Sharia and civil courts. If you are born in Malaysia, you are Muslim and not allowed to convert. There was a fatwa (religious ruling) issued against Sisters in Islam NGO on July 31, 2014, and the coverage in the media is biased based on each outlet’s readership. In Malaysia, the Hindu and Buddhist past is not acknowledged and Hindu sites have been destroyed. 60 percent of the population is Malay, which means one must be Muslim, speak the language, and practice the culture, and the Malay race is institutionalized in the constitution, even though the constitution does have religious freedom.

Sex Work in Industry and Academe: Feminist Porn – keynote by Constance Penley

The Feminist Porn Book (2013) was the first to bring together feminist porn producers and scholars. The porn/sex wars began in the 1980s. Feminism being channeled into the attacks on pornography was one of the worst things to happen to feminism and a big setback that absolutely divided women. Penley has been teaching a class on pornography since 1993 and is working on a book on how to teach it. She said religious organizations can no longer rely on moral attacks on pornography so are relying on university studies and research to make their case, so they don’t like books like hers that don’t help their cause. The Citizens United Against Pornography in Santa Barbara had as its only credentials that they had never watched an R-rated film. Teaching pornography is a good exercise in academic freedom. There is an epistemological shock at discovering that porn isn’t what people think it is (ex. she introduces Deep Throat on the first day of class). Once you’re in the realm of popular culture, everything is impure anyway. It’s the class that keeps on teaching because students go on discussing after class. Porn parodies have been criticizing Hollywood since 1923’s Casting Couch, and are not getting more violent, unlike Hollywood films. Her students are some of the few people on the planet who have historical and theoretical basis to be able to discuss and critique pornography.

Women’s Studies: Here to Stay – by Hilary Lapsley

The Women’s Studies Association Aotearoa New Zealand has accusations of essentialism thrown around a lot at it. But it has played a key role in the development of feminism in New Zealand, and its contributions have yet to be researched. There is a lot of opposition from young women to women-only spaces at conferences (women fought hard for that right). When issues of intersectionality get raised, she notes that women were trying to deal with issues for Maori and women of color, but capitalism ended up coopting many middle-class white women. They do now have a Maori name: Pae Akoranga Wahine. Lapsley has misgivings about how good digital is compared to real-life interactions and community. During the Q&A, the question was asked: does Gender Studies water down political potential for women? There doesn’t seem to be opposition to the term feminism in the same way as women’s studies. Postmodern theorizing is not very accessible to a lot of women. The question for the future is how can Women’s Studies stay vibrant?

Walking the Knife’s Edge: Self-defense, Victim Blame, and Empowerment in Neoliberal Times – by Bell Murphy

Murphy discussed the Women’s Self Defence Network, Wahine Toa. Sexual violence is bad in New Zealand: 1 in 3 women report unwanted, distressing sexual contact (vs. 1 in 10 men). Of 10% reported, only 13% of those result in conviction. Rebecca Stringer’s book Knowing Victims (2014) talks about how now it seems victimization doesn’t so much happen ‘to’ someone as arise from the self through personal responsibility. Ex. SafetyChick.com. There is a slippery slope between safety tips and victim blaming which has long been known by feminists. Offering self defense classes is controversial in this climate. However, structural solutions take a long time, whereas feminist classes boost people in a matter of hours. Study showed 50% reduction in campus rapes. Murphy referenced Jocelyn Hollander (2009) in that agency does not equal responsibility.

Dispatching Patriarchy one tweet, blog, and Facebook entry at a time? – Keynote by Sandra Grey, President of Tertiary Education Union

Grey said she would be using social movement theory and its intersection with ICT (Information and Communications Technology) for her talk. Her world has become dominated by her cell phone, but she doesn’t use PowerPoint because she doesn’t want technology driving teaching. There is less and less space in the room with people and more online (some Vice Chancellors are also pushing this). She referenced Celeste Liddle’s writing on 22-year-old Ms. Dhu’s death. Grey writes on the New Zealand women’s movement and comes under fire for saying that from 1990-2010 there has been no broad-based women’s movement in New Zealand. Can ICT help create one perhaps?

Some ways the Web might help include allowing people to mill and form collective identities online. It enables people to make a personal appeal to invite their friends to join them in a cause. It can change public narratives. Information bubbles are problematic, so you have to find a way to shake people’s consciousness using targeted campaigns (like other groups use babies or whales instead of sharks to promote their cause). Kiwiblog by David Farrar l is the most read political blog in New Zealand. Clever ads (like the Equal Pay campaign) can be picked up by mainstream media and stick in people’s minds. Even in a union, equal pay is not at the top of the agenda. Around 30% of New Zealanders have university degrees. Grey reiterated that the Web isn’t as open and transformative as we think, since it is controlled by capitalism, so we have to go in with our eyes wide open.

During Q&A, it came up that strategic essentialism is sometimes the most efficient way to get things done. For example, at some point, women have to pick up one issue and support it. What is not helpful is the phenomenon of out-lefting the left, as in people condemning others for not being a good enough feminist, etc. Issues brought up by audience members included the activist work of the academy being outsourced to students who already have limited resources, the right coopting the language (reverse sexism, racism, etc.), and problems with using corporate tools like Facebook to organize. One alternative is Riseup.net.

Women in Politics session – Shirin Brown and Rohana Arrifin

In New Zealand, there is around 30-35% representation of women, but officers are still largely men. Australia is apparently now requiring people to take a local government class before standing. Brown suggested that being used to academia and its processes made her better positioned to deal with the bureaucracy in local government in Auckland. She saw standing for local council as helping her community. Arrifin noted that politics is power and can bring about changes. It was brought up that India requires 30% quota to be filled by women, but it ends up being wives and daughters of politicians rather than just anyone. The private sector still is vastly underrepresented by women (12% for New Zealand companies). Being a mother can have all kinds of benefits and skills in a job (motivated to get things done with less time, motivated for the sake of their children) and yet employers still discriminate. Brown said that because women already have the experience of being Othered, they may be better able to have empathy and listen to other viewpoints in government. They need to learn how to fundraise and campaign, and name recognition is important. Even if a woman is the “token woman”, she can use it as an opportunity to have a seat at the table and speak up. It was noted that the University of Melbourne is starting a program called Pathways to Politics.

Digitized Domestic Violence: Technology Violence is a Feminist Issue – by Jenny Ostini

There is a lot more violence than is captured by the term “domestic” violence, including cyberstalking, bank accounts hacked, social media harassment, etc. This exertion of control (violence) is increasingly taking place online. Ostini noted that abuse in cyberspace can be as damaging as in real life. One can be a Luddite, but they will be missing out on looking for jobs, banking, government claims that have gone online, etc. She is interested in plans to use big data to map where domestic violence is coming from to aid police. She emphasized that we should build a digital toolkit instead of just telling students ‘no’; all they hear is blah, blah, blah, no and do not get the information they need to be aware. She mentioned a Digital Champion program and working group on Respectful Relationships. We can help out by not criticizing or judging other women online and using the Golden Rule, as well as supporting people who get into trouble (we all make mistakes) and avoiding the pack mentality of the internet. We should talk about privacy settings and how students can change them. We should emphasize that sharing a password is not a token of love. Also, if you are being harassed, screenshots are evidence that can be taken to police.

Back to the Future: A Story of Women’s Rights in India Traced through Time and Cyber-space – by Gurleen Khandpur

Khandpur discussed the rape cases in India that have gone viral and compared them to what happened in previous cases. It took a lot less time for action to happen after the Delhi rape case because of social media as compared to the case from the 1970s. India has 75% rural population with not much access to the internet. Part of the huge response was because young educated Indians saw themselves in the victim. Meanwhile, in the recent Park Street rape case, Suzette Jordan, a single mother of two, did not receive the same response. Since she was out drinking, she was supposed to feel ashamed and people did not rally around her in the same way.

The conference concluded with a gathering of everyone in the main room where we had the chance to give feedback and discuss some of the ideas that came up over the past few days. I thought it was a good way of closing and giving people an opportunity to voice their thoughts about ways to improve in the future. Hopefully there are more feminist conferences during my time in New Zealand — the Women’s Studies Association is supposed to be having their conference next year I believe.

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