As part of our UNDEFINED project, Ooh St. Lou will be sharing bios of the women featured in the original shoot.
What do you do?
I’m writing my dissertation right now, the last step in my Ph.D. program in social studies education. My research focuses on how people learn about history in all kinds of places, not just school. So I’m looking at unconventional sites, like playing video games or acting in musicals. Students consistently tell me about how they feel a greater emotional connection to people in the past when they engage in these things. We don’t usually associate video games with promoting empathy for others, but honestly my data suggests we probably should.
What prompted you to take part in the UNDEFINED project?
It was like an instant thing: I saw the call go out and I wrote an email as quickly as I could. Later I tried to figure out why my response was so immediate.
I kept thinking about all the messages I receive all the time about how the problems I see would go away if I just found a way to be nicer, a way to go along with what people so often say, or think, or do. That if I could just be the right kind of woman, I wouldn’t get singled out for being too strong, or too forward, or too something. Too feminist. Like any of those are bad things!
And here was this photo shoot with a bunch of women going along with something that was obviously wrong – but maybe they felt so much pressure to go along with it that they didn’t even realize why they were willing to do something that men would never, ever be asked to do. I’m not blaming them, but I am asking: what then are the messages that get sent to other women about what they too have to go along with?
“Laughter in the face of serious categories is indispensable to feminism.” – Judith Butler
What challenges do you think women face in their careers?
I think one of the greatest challenges facing women in the professional world today is that institutions frequently don’t take harassment and discrimination seriously. What they claim to be doing and what they’re actually doing are often two different things.
Even when survivors speak up, they often do so only to watch the institution sweep what happened under the rug. Sara Ahmed, a noted philosopher who recently resigned her post in protest over this kind of mishandling (see: London university professor quits over ‘sexual harassment of female students by staff’), writes about how institutions can always fail to find evidence they don’t want to find – even when they make a show of looking. (see: Evidence)
Then come the personal and professional repercussions: getting branded a troublemaker and watching a career stall out. Relationships with other women sometimes take a hit because they see the negative impact of speaking up and want to distance themselves from the whole thing.
I’ve witnessed this so many times. It’s no wonder that we so often remain silent or tell ourselves that what happened didn’t really matter – even though it really did.
People who support those who accept the responsibility of speaking up are worth their weight in gold.
Where can people find out more about you/what you do?
I love teaching flute and piano lessons – you can see more about my studio (and watch videos of performances) at gilbertmusicstudio.wordpress.com.
I’m also starting to publish in academic journals. A recent piece uses feminist epistemology to look at how museums often claim to promote respect for diversity but really their attempts too often end up commodifying other cultures. It uses the #KimonoWednesdays controversy at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston as a case study – like #Shoegate, it’s an example of something that an institution really should have been able to figure out was problematic before it ever happened.
The Undefined project explores and is a response to sexism in local media, for more information see our original post on the project. UNDEFINED will be on display at SOHA gallery in January 2017, visit the Facebook event page for more information on the show.