The Gender Wage Gap

Happy new year! I cannot believe how fast the Fall 2017 academic term went by. So fast that I didn’t even get to share this article I wrote for T8N magazine. It’s about the gap between what men earn and what women earn, an issue that continues to be relevant (and has been topical since I was a young, young feminist). If you’re interested, here’s the link. Enjoy!

 

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Review: Wonder Women

by Sam Maggs
Quirk Books, 2016

wonderwomanSam Maggs is a Canadian writer and editor. You may be familiar with her 2015 book The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks or with her work on various websites and newspapers. Her new book is called Wonder Women, a breezy survey of twenty-five women who have excelled in science- and math-related disciplines as well as other areas of endeavour. It’s a fun, fact-filled volume intended to inspire girls and young women.

Wonder Women is a well-built book. It represents a range of cultures and eras, with a strong emphasis on women’s accomplishment in STEM fields. It also includes short interviews with contemporary women working in science, research, and communications, exactly the kinds of role models teens and young women need today as they encounter sometimes destructive pressure to conform to narrow social roles and behaviours. I liked the inclusion of the section “Women of Adventure,” featuring a mountaineer, an explorer, a pilot, and several women who pursued interests once believed to be restricted to men.

My major concern with this book is that it underestimates teen girls. Girls reading to learn about feminism don’t need to be lured by slang and anti-male mudslinging. They can handle serious prose; they read it elsewhere in their lives, and if they are serious about understanding feminism, they’ll be motivated to read seriously. I’m not in any way saying feminism can’t be fun, funny, or even silly; I am saying that we don’t need to write as if teens are incapable of reading standard prose. One could read this book cynically to suggest that stories of accomplished women must be made super catchy and accessible to be read, despite that this is clearly not Maggs’s intention.

Wonder Women is a smart, accessible book that should be part of junior and senior high school libraries and would make a lively addition to any public library with a strong teen program. But do anticipate that readers will likely find its references and phrasing out of date fairly quickly.

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, December 2016.

 

Review: Journeys in Community-Based Research

by Bonnie Jeffery, Isobel M. Findlay, Diane Martz, and Louise Clarke, eds.
University of Regina Press, 2016

journeysincoverTo many people, pure academic research seems obscure, even irrelevant. Some organizations pointedly ridicule curiosity-based research, implying that only applied research – research undertaken to be put to use – is valuable. And then there is community-based research, a third form directed at positive action, social change, and advocacy, and also the subject of a recent book published by University of Regina Press. It might just change your mind about the significance of academic research.

Journeys in Community-Based Research examines ten years of community-based research in Saskatchewan. This research has been underwritten by two bodies – the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU) and the Community–University Institute for Social Research (CUISR) – that work with various partners to address community issues and create positive change. Readers may be familiar with some of the projects and their outcomes.

Community-based research (CBR) connects academic rigour with real community needs, producing valuable relationships among universities, policy-makers, non-governmental organizations, and social agencies. The goal is always to discover and deliver benefits for communities at large. As the volume editors explain, CBR relationships emphasize “the central values of power, voice, and control throughout all aspects of the partnership and process.” To realize the bigger goals of a project, partners need to be responsive, flexible, and willing to learn. The projects discussed in Journeys in Community-Based Research demonstrate how to set up partnerships and how to build trust and earn respect. The writers also reflect on what they have learned from specific projects and encourage others to adopt CBR to make lasting social change.

This is an important book for Saskatchewan readers. It discusses urgent local matters and examines how groups are working together to address communities’ most immediate needs. One idea that the book’s contributors take seriously is that successful solutions and directions for change must not be imposed on people. Decades of bad policies and failed initiatives have taught policy-makers this, yet it continues to happen again and again. When they adopt CBR, community agencies can direct researchers’ interests to questions that the members of a community want to address, such as the needs of women escaping domestic violence or the health outcomes of Aboriginal youth. Such an approach gives the community a leading role and encourages member empowerment. In view of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, community leadership and empowerment are vital to our social well-being and healing.

Journeys in Community-Based Research is not a book for everybody, but its potential reach is impressive. Most chapters are fairly accessible, if serious, and suit a broad readership. The book should be of interest not only to scholars and students, but also to community leaders, policy-makers, managers and frontline workers in helping agencies, and anyone interested in learning how on-the-ground research makes our communities stronger.

This review was originally published on www.skbooks.com.

 

Review: Audacious

by Gabrielle Prendergast
Orca Book Publishers, 2013

AudaciousHaving left trouble behind and looking to make a fresh start, Ella — formerly Raphaelle — reinvents herself as she arrives in a prairie city. But she can’t make herself too plain: she is, after all, an artist. When she meets Samir, a Muslim boy, art and trouble come together again. Ella must grapple with what it means to be forbidden, to be authentic, to be audacious — even if it means losing almost everything she’s come to value.

Audacious is a well-crafted verse novel. Some of the best-known book in this genre include Ellen Hopkins’ Crank (which follows a teen girl addicted to methamphetamine) and Sonya Sones’s books Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy and One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies, among others. (For those interested in exploring the genre, I’d also recommend Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade trilogy and Martine Leavitt’s stunning 2012 novel My Book of Life by Angel.) Audacious stands up well against the best representatives of the genre. The narrative is thoughtfully structured, and the verse form allows the author to engage in more word play and ambiguity than is typical in a prose novel.

I really liked Audacious. It’s smart, funny, clever, and bold. Ella is a quirky, appealing character with a complicated back story and realistic, identifiable problems. I found it a pleasure to get to know her and to understand her art and artistry. While there are many strands to Ella’s story, the main plot involves a piece of Ella’s artwork. Ella creates a photo montage organized around the word audacious and featuring a problematic image at the centre. When her art is challenged, Ella has to make difficult decisions about her values and principles, where she is willing to compromise and where she must stay true to herself. Her decisions affect her boyfriend, her teachers, her peers, and her family as well as herself, and force her to examine issues she’s run away from in the past. We see real growth in Ella, but she remains a resistant creator, not ready to make nice quite yet.

I strongly recommend Audacious for school and classroom libraries. It explores important, highly topical themes in an intelligent way, and never moralizes or patronizes. Some readers may need to know that the central plot involves a controversial word (and image); the “forbidden” word appears in the text several times in acrostics, for readers who might not be reading closely, but other so-called bad words appear with asterisks in them. This decision engages some of the central themes of the book itself and could lead to valuable discussions about censorship, appropriateness, and context.

Happily, this is not the end of Ella/Raphaelle’s story: the next volume, Capricious, has been announced. I’m looking forward to it.

This review was originally published in Resource Links, December 2013.

Uncertain about the androgynous mind

“Why do you think I won’t like it?” a friend asked after I described a book I had read and liked but said he wouldn’t enjoy. I have been reaching for an answer, because simply saying It’s a feeling I have is insufficient. But Virginia Woolf, whose writing I adore, has provided a reason:

 This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room. A scene in a battle-field is more important than a scene in a shop …. (67)

That. The authorship of a book and the subject of a book still influence how readers position ourselves relative to the book. Many readers — even open-minded readers of “better” literature — want to read the book about the metaphorical or actual battle-field because they believe it will be more important, more worthwhile, than a woman’s book about interior matters.

Woolf made her comments in 1928, but the sentiment still applies. Look at whose books are reviewed, whose books win major prizes. Look at how books by women writers tend to be handled when they are reviewed. Whether we acknowledge the fact or not, books by women are perceived to be less serious, less important, than books by men. This perception troubles me deeply. It’s not a perception I share.

It is necessary, as Woolf says elsewhere in A Room of One’s Own, to write “as a woman who has forgotten that she is a woman, so that her pages [are] full of that curious sexual quality which comes only when sex is unconscious of itself” (84). I’m not sure I agree with Woolf on this point, but do feel that books by women may be different from those by men — and by no means less for that difference.

Source: Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (London: Penguin Classics, 1993).

 

Thoughts on gifted girls

Returning to one of my long-term interests, this time in the context of literature and analysis. This article has really struck a chord, personally and academically.

Academically, gifted girls are usually precocious readers. The National Association for Gifted Children’s (2006) position statement on early childhood states that characteristics of young gifted children include early reading skills and advanced vocabulary, and most of the gifted eminent adult women were precocious readers whose talent was nourished at an early age (Kerr, 1997). … Too often, gifted girls’ precocious reading is discounted as merely memorizing or decoding without comprehension …. Although early entrance to school is frowned on by many (Frey, 2005), research consistently shows that these accelerated children show advantages throughout their entire academic careers (Colangelo, Assouline, & Gross, 2004). When kindergarten entry policies are based on average boys’ readiness, tradition, or financial considerations, rather than on an individual child’s actual readiness, they are gendered practices.

Source: Barbara A Kerr, M. Alexandra Yuyk, and Christopher Read, “Gendered Practices in the Education of Gifted Girls and Boys” (Psychology in the Schools 49.7), 647–55.