December 12, 2014


Heath Schultz wrote last year about the sadness he felt living in these times. (See the full and excellent dialogue with Sarah Kanouse: Sarah Kanouse & Heath Schultz (2013) “Notes on Affective Practice: An Exchange,” Parallax 19:2, 7-20.) Heath reflected:

[S]adness is not a neurosis stemming from my ‘personal’ life. Instead I’d like to insist, as others have before, on recognizing it as a political condition, a by-product of our lives under capitalism. The personal is political, as it has always been. Our time, bodies and minds are inscribed with capitalist competitiveness (we hustle to live, if some more than others), rhythms (cybertime, or hyper-speed) and productivity (more & more & more). We know that the American, and increasingly global, way of life is a farce, a tale told to keep us moving. These are the rhythms of our everyday, the geography of our psyches and the landscape that produces our political depression in the form of sadness, fear, boredom, ambivalence, loneliness, depression, impotence and anxiety.

Every day there have been horrible and tragic events unfolding around the globe, but this semester seemed especially to foster despair: Even before the term began, the University of Illinois Chancellor, Phyllis Wise, reneged on the hiring of Professor Steven Salaita. (See my three previous posts.) On August 9, 18-year-old Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson, Missouri; there were 43 students murdered in September in the Mexican state of Guerrero. On November 24 a grand jury refused to indict (former) Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Mike Brown; on December 3, a Staten Island, NY, grand jury refused to indict any of the police officers involved in the July 2014 death of Eric Garner. So much injustice, so many people and places I have not even mentioned. But once a week I gathered with nine graduate students at the University of Illinois in a Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC), “Collaborations in Feminism and Technology,” and for three hours we discussed feminist technoculture and benefited from FemTechNet resources. This was a respite for me, building some solidarity in a place of alienation.


Here are some highlights:

  • We hosted the artist Bonnie Fortune (Denmark via Chicago) early in the term. She shared her research about feminist hacker spaces.
  • We edited Wikipedia, after learning from the late Adrianne Wadewitz about the ins and outs of that huge endeavor. One student wrote and illustrated entries for women who are often categorized as “outsider” artists: Mollie Jenson, Annie Hooper, and Kea Tawana. He took advantage of materials at Intuit Center.
  • Three of the students participated in HASTAC, writing introductory blog posts and, together with another student, submitting a proposal for the HASTAC conference in May.
  • Another student created a LibGuide for teen librarians to learn about resources available related to teens with disabilities. She also compiled a bibliography on books related to suffragettes, artists and pilots (Oh My!), together with a display in the Center for Children’s Books. Did you know about the Amelia Bloomer Project? I didn’t, but now I do, thanks to this DOCC seminar!


  • One participant took to the road and attended a number of workshops on youth and technology, in Champaign and in Chicago, and wrote three lesson plans to be used in the local FabLab or MakerSpace.
  • A doctoral student attended the Digital Labor conference at The New School in New York City and reported back about the “long table” discussion about FemTechNet that took place there.
  • A couple of students made videos that communicated their research, whether on early video technology and masculinity or on video games for youth. The youth focus materialized in a Minecraft workshop at the local public library.
  • Another continued her research on the Coursera MOOC class on sustainable development taught by Jeffrey Sachs, analyzing the course material in relation to global gender equality.
  • International online education and women’s varied engagements with it were the topics of another student project.
  • A couple of us attended via Skype a panel discussion on Open Education: Condition Critical, held at Coventry University.
  • A seasoned Wikipedian joined the Wikipedia Page Curation task force, reviewing over 250 pages in a month.
  • We all learned about Li Shuang (b. 1957), included in a doctoral student presentation about contemporary Chinese female artists in the global context.
  • We also learned about a local artist’s involvement with experimental music in New York and Illinois through an oral interview conducted by one student.
  • Cricket Keating, a professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Ohio State, met online with our class and discussed her articles on coalition building as well as her activity with La Escuela Popular Norteña. I met with Cricket’s class via Skype to discuss Place.
  • We started a glossary of terms that helped us work through some of the readings and FemTechNet videos.
  • We joined two Open Online Office Hours (OOOHs) with other FemTechNet-ers to discuss Archives and Bodies with, at various times, TL Cowan, Karl Surkan, Veronica Paredes, Rachel Kuo, and others.
  • At the suggestion of Melissa Meade and Cricket Keating, we used Today’s Meet a couple of times, learning a rhythm of interacting with others at a distance when sync-watching a Video Dialogue on Race.
  • The Situated Knowledges Map came up in our discussions several times and at least one student contributed to it.
  • One student joined FemTechNet’s Student Committee; another joined the Communication Committee–thank you!
  • In between all these activities, we had wide-ranging conversations in which I learned and learned and learned: about locker baby syndrome, “speaking pain,” Tumblr, challenges of gender-neutral language in Spanish, Patchwork Girl, Wu Tsang, the meanings of “motorcycle” in Taiwan, Anne Elizabeth Moore, multiple apps and on and on!

Of course, we talked about Steve Salaita, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and others, because in some form they were in our classroom too.


October 11, 2013

Feminist Engineering Education

On October 10, 2013 I went to hear Professor Alice Pawley from Purdue University talk about her research on engineering education at the Electrical and Computer Engineering Colloquium at the U of I.

She has funding from the National Science Foundation to incorporate feminist theory into different educational research studies: an ADVANCE grant that looks at the experiences of women faculty in STEM who work within the promotion and tenure policies, and a CAREER grant called “Learning from Small Numbers” that uses storytelling by undergraduate engineering students to understand how engineering educational institutions are gendered and raced.

Mural about Food Justice at Growing Power, Chicago

Mural about Food Justice at Growing Power, Chicago

Alice Pawley is an associate professor in the School of Engineering Education with affiliations with the Women’s Studies Program and Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering. She has a B.Eng. in chemical engineering from McGill University, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering with a Ph.D. minor in women’s studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She runs the Research in Feminist Engineering (RIFE) group, whose diverse projects and group members are described at the website

Pawley described her work as “critical research” on engineering, because it asks whether the current approaches are what we want to be doing.  Part of her critique is to examine the language we use to describe engineering, as well as the metaphors we use about career achievements. For example, she said the “pipeline” metaphor doesn’t work well for women because many of us have not taken a direct route on our career path. She joked, “If you leak out of the pipeline, you are gone, and if you get back into the pipe, you are a contaminant!” Another goal of her research is to make engineering more inclusive. (At the University of Illinois about 16% of the engineering students are female; nationally, it’s 20%; 15% of the students are of color, if I wrote these numbers down correctly as they zoomed by.)

She argued that the hidden or tacit rules that structure engineering that create a social and functional boundary that separates engineering from not-engineering. Consider: Who is solving engineering problems? Whose problems are considered worth solving? Who decides which problems to solve? Who benefits from problem-solving in this way? Pawley said that most engineers work on projects that are narrow in scope: commercial or industrial or military, but usually not domestic projects. Who makes small-scale things? Inexpensive, low-tech things? Some of these projects that might be considered engineering became “domestic science” or “home economics” and the domain of scientifically-minded women.

Pawley noted that very little research has been done in engineering on raced work, in part because of what is defined as “engineering.” One exception is Amy Slaton’s book Race, Rigor, and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering: The History of an Occupational Color Line (Harvard, 2010). Rather than framing issues around UNDERrepresention and using metaphors like “chilly climate,” Pawley is using life history methods to describe career paths of women and people of color: She has found a variety of terms used to describe these trajectories and also generally positive concepts, such as garden or water. She stressed the need for a polyculture of mental models, an ecosystem of metaphors so that the metaphor does not limit options.

Engineering must counter its history (and that of many other disciplines) when white men made deliberate efforts to exclude: rules were set up in gendered and raced ways and these created entrenched organizational patterns that still shape our institutions.

Pawley cited the work of sociologists Joan Acker and Dorothy Smith as important to her research. Standpoint feminism helps discover the “ruling relations” that impact our teaching, scholarship and learning. (See Smith, Writing the Social, 1999) Gender and race are intersectional, not additive. (We can’t just assume women of color are like men of color.) We need to focus on consequences in meso- and macro-levels, not just micro levels, so that we understand the multiple ways in which educational systems affect individuals and their identity groups.

Thanks for visiting, Alice Pawley!

March 15, 2013

WITS: An Early Electronic Network of Feminists

For about a year I have been following FemTechNet and now I have joined a group committed to teaching a course on feminism and technology this next fall, distributed over about 20 campuses. When Chip Bruce was in town recently, he reminded me of the Women, Information Technology and Scholarship (WITS) colloquium that met at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). WITS helps connect those of us in FemTechNet with an earlier effort.

WITS began in 1991, twenty-two years ago! The impetus for the group was provided by Australian author and educator Dale Spender, who gave a talk on the UIUC campus in 1991: “Feminism Does Not Compute: The Computer Age—Implications for Feminism.” WITS was an invitation-only group, proposed by Dale Spender, Cheris Kramerae, then professor of Speech Communication at UIUC, and Jeanie Taylor, then Associate Director of the UIUC Center for Advanced Study (CAS). CAS supported the group for five years, until 1996. The aim was to explore gender equity and information technology among various disciplines, represented by about 35 people identified across campus. By the second year, 1992, WITS had an advisory group, its own electronic mailing list, and T-shirts! That summer, Jeanie and Cheris presented the WITS idea to a Gender, Technology and Ethics conference in Sweden. During the spring of 1993, there was a WITS reading group about “Women in Architectural Space” and the following year, several WITS women joined with women in Chicago to prepare for the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in September of 1995. After 1996, the group met for another two years at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS). The spirit of collaboration and innovation still thrives at GSLIS, if I do say so myself (since I work there)!

WITS members edited this volume, published in 1993

WITS members edited this volume, published in 1993

What I had not known before my conversation with Chip was that WITS published an edited book in 1993 reflecting on their discussions about “the politics of information technologies processes.” [1] They asked how “gender, race and class hierarchies are made part of the circuitry in new information technologies.” “We know,” they wrote, “that many campus discussions about new information technologies are actually discussions about the reconstitution of race, sex and class hierarchies in the new systems.” (3) The WITS group of faculty and academic professionals initially met at least once a month, sponsored speakers, and organized workshops. In the book, in addition to lists of colloquium presentations, electronic resources, and publications, there were articles about access, training, pedagogy, and publishing. I learned about the Electronic Salon at Lewis and Clark College, held in April 1992, an early example of a “cyberspace of our own.” Another effort was that by Judy Smith, project director for Women’s Opportunity Resource Development (WORD) in Missoula, Montana, in 1992; she introduced many “reluctant users” to IT.  WITS members noted that “very little of the research on women and minorities is included in existing and developing electronic databases of the humanities and social and behavioral sciences…. If women aren’t involved in the classification systems of the new electronic publishing, women will be excluded not only in the texts but also in the meta-texts.” (23) Jo Kibbee, who went to England in 1992 to research the Joint Academic Network (JANET) there, noted the importance of WITS in studying this early electronic network, providing “an enthusiastic and supportive environment in which intellectual (and technological) curiosity can prosper.” (75) JANET was “one of the first networks to target libraries,” according to Jo.

In 1996, Betsy Kruger and Jo Kibbee co-authored “The Women, Information, Technology, and Scholarship (WITS) Colloquium at UIUC: Feminist Model for Education and Activism on Campus,” in Feminist Collections, 17:2, pp. 38-39. In addition to explaining the programs and structure of the group, the article mentioned a brochure that WITS developed and distributed in 1995, “Gender Equity in Global Communication Networks: A Global Alert.” The WITS group launched a website as well in 1995, called the WITS Policy Quilt, and other groups were invited to share their policy recommendations online.

Design for the Homepage, I think, by WITS members

Design for a T-shirt, by WITS members; according to Cheris Kramerae, there were also sweatshirts

This post on WITS was a great excuse to connect or re-connect with friends about WITS: thanks to Jo Kibbee, Bea Nettles, and Jeanie Taylor. Jo lent me her transparencies (remember overhead projectors?) from a talk she gave about WITS. Apparently there was initial difficulty bridging between women in science and engineering and those in the humanities and social sciences; WITS members worked to develop programming that would meet the needs of a range of disciplines.

Other WITS participants—there were about 35, but membership rose to 50 in the mid-nineties–are still in Urbana-Champaign: Kathryn Anthony, Jenny Barrett, Colleen Bushell, C. L. Cole, Ramona Curry, Leigh Estabrook, Nan Goggin, Frances (Jacobson) Harris, Gail Hawisher, Christine Jenkins, Vicki Jones, Betsy Kruger, Melanie Loots, Radha Nandkumar, Kathy Perkins, Celeste Quinn, Shang-Fen Ren, Dianne Rothenberg, Linda Smith, Beth Stafford-Vaughan, Angharad Valdivia, Liesel Wildhagen, Marianne Winslett, and Joyce Wright. Sadly, WITS members Kate Cloud and Leigh Star died in 2010; Jean Peterson died in 1998. (These names were taken from the WITS directory of 1994-95, supplied to me by Jo Kibbee.) These women represented fields from anthropology, architecture, and atmospheric sciences to radio and theatre, from cinema studies, graphic design, and library science to photography, physics, psychology and writing studies.

Jeanie noted that “one of the great things about WITS is that it continued to have impact beyond those years–WITS folks serving on university technology committees and books published….” Given that I am co-teaching the FemTechNet course with Sharra Vostral and C.L. Cole (Cole was part of WITS), the impact of WITS endures still.

[1] H. Jeanie Taylor, Cheris Kramarae, and Maureen Ebben, eds. Women, Information Technology + Scholarship: Women, Information Technology, and Scholarship Colloquium  (Urbana, IL: Center for Advanced Study, 1993).


February 26, 2010

Book Sales Strong!

The University of Minnesota Press just wrote on their blog:

Our top 3 most popular books at this very busy, well-attended conference [College Art Association in Chicago] were: Suzanne Lacy: Spaces Between, by Sharon Irish; String, Felt, Thread, by Elissa Auther; and Modernism after Wagner by Juliet Koss.

Go here for more:


February 14, 2010

Images from College Art Association 2010

The College Art Association’s annual conference met this year in Chicago. Apparently there were 4000 registrants, but many were unable to get there because of bad weather. Suzanne Lacy was awarded the CAA Distinguished Artist Lifetime Achievement Award, Griselda Pollock received the Distinguished Feminist Award, Holland Cotter received the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing on Art, and Dawoud Bey was the convocation speaker. A terrific start to the conference, in my book. The conference ended with an all-day series of panels organized by the Feminist Art Project, open to the public.

Artists Heather Ault and Bonnie Fortune at Feminist Art Project, Chicago

Artists Heather Ault and Bonnie Fortune at Feminist Art Project, Chicago

Sharon Irish and Suzanne Lacy at Minnesota Press booth

Sharon Irish and Suzanne Lacy at Minnesota Press booth

January 1, 2010

The Cover Controversy

In September of 2009, the graphic designer at the University of Minnesota Press presented an idea for the cover of my book on Suzanne Lacy. Suzanne and I had both agreed that one image from her “Anatomy Lessons” series might be a good choice. The designer chose one that was a close-up of her in a pool, from the mid-70s, and then also flipped the image. I loved it, but Suzanne understandably had reservations. She objected to the manipulation of her work by placing it upside down as a double. She also (again rightly) felt that this one work was not representative of her entire oeuvre and that it was removed from the context of her lengthy visual consideration of violence against women. While I agreed with her on all counts, I also felt strongly that the cover worked powerfully and that its effectiveness made it worth the distortions. I am still not sure that I did the right thing pushing for this cover, but here is what I wrote several months ago, in support of the cover.

September 29, 2009

My relationship with Suzanne Lacy has been one of the most important of my life. (Did I say thank you?)One of the basic points of my book is that art exists in the relationships among people, who are anything but easy and straightforward. So this conversation is both “only about a cover” and about “everything” at once. Given the time crunch, the anxiety levels on all sides, and the importance of the issues, I think it helps to say that this is challenging work!

Here’s why I want to proceed with the current cover (beyond my own personal response of “I love it”):

This book is for an art audience. Using this work makes sense because it is beautiful and repulsive and not well known.Suzanne’s work is not merely pretty or gentle, and often edgy. This work is beautiful and repulsive, calm and alarming, and difficult, one reason why it is so powerful. Film historian Bruce Elder noted that Stan Brakhage [and Lacy in turn] set up a “tension between responding with horror at the images [in his film], and responding to the real beauty of the images (for they are astoundingly beautiful); that this is the character of the film’s central tension [and] suggests that beauty and horror lie close to one another, an idea that has long been a key to radical aspiration in the arts.” This is radical art. I don’t use “radical” lightly—by “radical art” I mean that art challenges glib assumptions and damaging values that have otherwise been normalized and are invisible.

By turning the image upside down, while it is not what Suzanne did, in a way brings out another aspect of the original: that floating can be like flying, disorienting, that bodies turn in water and air, that shadows in water alter forms. That bodies exist in space.

This is a work from early in Suzanne’s career—one of a series that is aesthetically very strong. On the cover, it provides a jumpstart to the beginning of the book. On the cover it supports the themes of the book: body, feminism, space.

I think this is an award-winning cover. If it won a design award, of course that wouldn’t hurt me or Suzanne that I can conceive of, but more importantly, I think it would be a small triumph for art of the seventies that was informed by feminism. Now of course it doesn’t represent all of that decade and certainly not all of Suzanne’s work. I don’t think there is one image that can do that, particularly because Suzanne has worked across scales, media and issues.

If feminism is a political position that analyzes power relations among people in order to foster social justice, how does this cover support that? I think it works more like a tactic than anything else. It is a beginning. People pick up the book to find out what that image is about, and look at the color plates in the middle. (Libraries will bind the book so the cover won’t show, so that eliminates some readers from this cover discussion.) They might even read some of the text!

Suzanne Lacy: Spaces Between

Book on artist Suzanne Lacy

Book on artist Suzanne Lacy

At long last, my book on Suzanne Lacy is coming out next month from the University of Minnesota Press. I will be tweaking my website over the next month to feature it more prominently, because this project was a very long haul and I am delighted to have it completed. I first corresponded with Suzanne in 1991 and worked with her a bit in Chicago in 1993. By 2000, I had made sufficient space in my life to start research on her work in earnest. From 2000 until 2008, then, I was immersed in archives, travel, article-writing, and generally trailing around after Suzanne, which was an intense, exhilarating endeavor.

I had long wanted to connect myself to someone whom I admired and learn their process from the inside. Because Suzanne is a most generous and amazing soul, I was able to be a participant-observer for a number of activities, as well as visit sites of many of her projects. I was able to fund Suzanne’s ten-day residency here in Urbana in 2001, and I visited her in Oakland and Los Angeles a lot.

Suzanne has just been awarded the Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement from the College Art Association and will come to Chicago to receive it in February 2010. Congratulations to her and many thanks to Jerri Allyn for spearheading the nomination process.

October 25, 2009

Women Hold Up Half the Sky

by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

A number of friends have read the book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. There’s also a movement by that name. The book was excerpted in the New York Times Magazine recently, which is where I first learned of it. Then my friend Carol interviewed Sheryl on WILL Radio, after reading the book.

My sister Gail compiled a short list of groups from the book that we all have the opportunity to support:

Afghan Institute of Learning operates schools and other programs for women and girls in Afghanistan and in the border areas of Pakistan.

Apne Aap battles sex slavery in India, including in remote areas in Bihar that get little attention.

Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) supports schooling for girls in Africa.

Fistula Foundation supports the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, established by Reg and Catherine Hamlin.

Global Fund for Women operates like a venture capital fund for women’s groups in poor countries.

Heal Africa runs a hospital in Goma, Congo, that repairs fistulas and tends to rape victims.

Worldwide Fistula Fund works to improve maternal health and is building a fistula hospital in Niger.

With all the bad news in the world, it is gratifying to know of these amazing, tenacious efforts to support women, and men.

September 7, 2009

Every Body! Again

Artist Bonnie Fortune, organizer and curator of the exhibit “Every Body!,” asked some of us to reflect on these questions, or similar ones:

  • How feminist health movements challenge/change the images of  women and/or men and health?
  • Where do you think the visual representation of  bodies in feminist health movements needs to go, and/ or the new concerns they must grapple with?
  • What is the future feminist health movements in general?

Here’s what I wrote:

Dorothy Roberts pondered in Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, “how is it possible that Black women’s reproduction has been subjected to so much degradation and intrusion?” Roberts published her book in 1997, but after more than a decade, I still agree with her that we in the feminist health justice movement must focus “on the connection between reproductive rights and racial equality.” This is not an abstract connection, given that entrenched social injustices prevent many women the choices that the government supposedly protects. These deep injustices mean that we white, well-off women also have to examine our own collective past–organizers in the birth control movement who collaborated with eugenicists; or opposition to sterilization reform by Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League because the reforms seemed to make access to sterilization difficult for middle-class women. We must expand what we mean by “reproductive rights” beyond “right to abortion” and tackle other hard realities: the rights to a healthy pregnancy and parent-child relationships along with safe, fail-proof, and non-coercive birth control. My own challenges include coming to terms with artificial reproductive techniques: While not discounting the emotional costs of infertility, I’m not sure that anyone should use them. But that only the wealthy can do so, points to a profitable and questionable system of access that again excludes the poor and not white.

Dorothy Roberts' book

Dorothy Roberts

September 5, 2009

Every Body! Visual Resistance in Feminist Health Movements, 1969-2009

Artist Bonnie Fortune is tremendous! She conceptualized, organized, and raised funds to produce a two-city, multi-event extravaganza called Every Body! This past week I have gotten the flier for the public performance of Terri Kapsalis’s “The Hysterical Alphabet,” and the flier for the series of “Every Body!” events. In addition to Kapsalis’s performance, there will be a display of Feminist Health Political Graphics at the Women’s Resource Center on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign, and a small display of books and posters by the History Library up the street. The books will include publications by UIUC scholars like Sarah Projansky, Leslie Reagan, and Ruth Nicole Brown, as well as some of our inspirational books by Andrea Smith, Dorothy Roberts and Suzann Gage. In addition to Terri Kapsalis’s books, there will be some zines and posters in that case too. Suzann Gage is coming from California to give an artist’s talk on September 12 at the I-Space Gallery in Chicago where the main exhibit will be held. Artist Christa Donner will give a presentation in Champaign on October 5. So the next month will be a flurry of activities around women’s health justice! Melissa Mitchell of the UI News Bureau wrote a nice publicity piece too. Congratulations Bonnie!