Feministing says goodbye

I just found out that Feministing is closing up shop. And the reason why is close to my heart. From their goodbye post:

“As digital media has become corporatized, many independent news sites and blogs have been forced to shutter. As the New York Times reports today, unfortunately, we find ourselves among these. While we became more financially sustainable over the years—in large part thanks to the support of readers like you!—we ultimately couldn’t build a long-term funding model in today’s media environment that would allow us to compensate our team fairly for their valuable work.”

The corporatization and convergence of both print and digital media have narrowed the perspectives represented as “mainstream” over the last several decades. Social media have, of course, arisen to offer an even greater variety of perspectives, but they do so without the oversight of journalist integrity that made independent media sources so important.

I’m very sad to lose Feministing as a site to read.

Screenshot showing Feministing's blog post about why they're shutting down

Women’s names

This article was sent to me last month by a smart friend who is thinking about the ramifications of name changes in academe. I wanted to pull out a few important quotes and ideas.

I love this idea: “For me, I realized that my marriage and the name-changing question gave me an opportunity for empowerment: to reclaim my identity with a name of a family I chose.” I like to see name-changing as an opportunity, a potential gain rather than a loss. After all, changing your name doesn’t mean you have to lose the name you had.

Also, this one: “We should not have to weigh the possibility that taking a new name equates to being taken less seriously as a scholar.”

Finally, this paragraph, which is one place where I don’t totally agree:

“When I asked colleagues to point out academic women who had taken a new name, they could only identify three conditions where scholars changed their names and went on to have a successful career. The first was in the early years of graduate school. For graduate students with only a few publications or presentations, the decision is often less frowned upon and might even go unnoticed by those looking over one’s curriculum vitae. The second acceptable condition is following a divorce posttenure. The idea here is that a woman is reclaiming her identity and thus it’s viewed as empowering, or at least respectable, due to the circumstances. The third acceptable condition is to hyphenate, joining one’s birth and married names.”

I think these conditions may seem more acceptable to some, but as a woman who changed her name before graduate school, I’ve still taken some heat. This usually has to do with my identification as feminist–aren’t feminists supposed to keep their names? Spoiler alert: No. Feminists are supposed to do whatever the heck they please with their names and we don’t owe anybody an explanation.

In the end, the only true downside I see about changing your name is functionality. If you do already have publications and somebody reads one and likes it, having different names on different articles may hinder them from finding your other work. But strategies exist for working around this problem.

Of course, all this presupposes that we only get one name and that name is static. That may be true for one’s legal name, but we can operate with different names beyond what is “official.” I take joy in operating as Erin Frost, Erin A. Frost, Erin Clark Frost, and Erin Clark across different contexts. They are all me, with some names representing identities that have closer associations to certain spaces, times, people, or ideas. I claim all these names as mine, and I never want to lose any of them.

CFP: Embodied and socially constructed?:  Dis/ability in media, law, and history

While the timing doesn’t work out for me, this call looks fantastic–I hope lots of folks apply! Deadline is in a month.

Call for Papers

Embodied and socially constructed?:  Dis/ability in media, law, and history


We invite proposals for papers to be included in a symposium and an edited book entitled, Embodied andsocially constructed?:  Dis/ability in media, law, and history. The symposium will be held at Suffolk University, Boston, from July 29-31, 2020.  We anticipate the anthology will publish at the beginning of 2021.

Whereas the older medical model of dis/ability saw people as physically, mentally, or otherwise lacking in ways that could be calculated as deficits, dis/abilities scholars now more broadly explore the variety of human bodies and their interactions with the social world.  The strong version of the social construction approach would say that bodily attributes are basically irrelevant, as their meanings will be determined entirely by ideologies.[1]  A strong version of embodiment theory, while not ignoring ideology, grounds its analysis almost entirely in the bodily senses and corporeality.[2]  Despite their shared rejection of the medical model, proponents of constructivist and embodiment theories have frequently disagreed on how to understand the relationship between bodies and society.  

The fields of Media Studies, Critical Legal Studies, and History have been at the vanguard in exploring the intersectionality[3] of race, gender, class, etc., but, with notable exceptions, have not significantly theorized dis/ability.  For example, media studies scholars highlight subjectivity and affects, but have not considered how both are embodied experiences; legal scholars currently focus on whether dis/ability laws can or should be used to help solve problems related to supposedly distinct identities, such as race; while history has focused on dis/ability but without engaging meaningfully with Critical Disability Studies.  This symposium and book will bring together interdisciplinary and intersectional scholarship on the simultaneous social construction and embodiment of dis/abilities.  We will thus ask how Media Studies, Critical Legal Studies, and History can interrogate dis/abilities at the nexus of corporeality and meaning making. Using the term “dis/ability” highlights the spectrum of disabilities and abilities and rejects the assumption that abilities are the norm.[4]  Moreover, it acknowledges what a person can do rather than what one cannot.  Lastly, it sees dis/abilities as processes rather than permanent states.

We will accept novel arguments from one or more of the fields of Media Studies, Critical Legal Studies, and History that approach dis/ability within the framework of the debate between embodiment and social constructivist perspectives. Authors are especially encouraged to consider the intersectionality of dis/abilities with both other identities and other structures of power.  Some questions that papers might ask include the following:

  • How, when, and where do people realize they have dis/abilities?
  • How do dis/abilities function as lenses of experiences?
  • How does (or does not) dis/ability shape identity/selfhood?
  • How do social/civic institutions shape experiences of dis/ability?
  • To what extent do dis/abilities compare and contrast with race, gender, class, and so on, as categories or vantage points of analysis?
  • How is the representation and treatment of people with neurodiversity similar or dissimilar to that of persons with non-normative physical abilities? 
  • How do cultural anxieties produced by the visibly disabled, people having imperceptible dis/abilities, and dis/ability as a concept compare and contrast with one another?
  • What are the costs and/or benefits for people with dis/abilities of drawing attention to non-normative bodily and mental attributes in their campaigns for equitable treatment?
  • Does considering pain to be both a physical experience and a site of meaning-making make it a particularly useful point of departure for analysis of dis/ability?

Regardless of an author’s topic, the editors will review all proposals and make selections based on quality and relevance to the project’s underlying themes.  Both veterans of DisCrit theory and emerging scholars are encouraged to submit proposals.  Authors of accepted proposals will be expected to participate in the “Embodied and socially constructed?:  Dis/ability in media, law, and history” symposium.  Symposium participants will provide a high-quality draft paper at the symposium, which will be read in advance by other attendees and thus not formally presented; provide constructive feedback on others’ papers during the symposium; and finalize polished book chapters shortly thereafter.  Participants in the symposium are rebuttably presumed to be accepted into the published book.

Interested contributors should note the following deadlines:

  1. Friday, January 17th, 2020:  Send a 250-750-word abstract with a working title, biography or CV, and contact information to mlee@suffolk.edu, placing “Symposium” in the header;
  2. Friday, February 28th 2020:  The editors will notify contributors of their acceptance into the symposium;
  3. Wednesday, July 8th, 2020: Final deadline to submit a 5,000-7,500-word paper for peer review among symposium participants;
  1. Thursday, July 9th-Tuesday, 28th, 2020: Read three to five drafts of other participants’ papers and prepare oral feedback;
  1. Wednesday, July 29th-Friday, July 31st, 2020: Symposium in Boston: Make a brief (5 minutes) presentation at the symposium then receive feedback from other participants and also discuss others’ drafts;
  1. Monday, August 3, 2020:  Editors will confirm that papers have been accepted for publication;
  1. Monday, August 24th, 2020:  Submit final 5,000-7,500-word book chapter for editing and publication.

Send inquiries and proposal submissions to Micky Lee, mlee@suffolk.edu.

Initial thoughts on contract grading

This semester I’ve experimented with a form of contract grading. I’ve used contract grading in summer semesters before—in short, six-week courses—and it’s worked out pretty well. I find that a great advantage of contract grading is that it values proficiency and practice. The major disadvantage, in my eyes at least, is that it de-emphasizes merit and minimizes the amount of feedback I can give on any single assignment.

Because the emphasis is on students getting a lot of practice writing, the classes have a lot of assignments. For example, my two sections of 3880 have 41 potential assignments in one class and 40 in the other (students negotiated their grading contracts a little differently). Let’s just call it 40 … that’s 40 assignments across 50 students, which means the possibility of 2000 assignments to track in a semester—and this doesn’t count assignments that students don’t pass initially and then subsequently revise. (No wonder I’m tired.) All told, out of the 40 assignments I mentioned above, 25 to 30 (case assignments, peer review, and some in-class assignments) are what I would classify as “writing assignments” and the remainder are something less intensive in terms of assessment (for example, visiting the University Writing Center or submitting to the University Writing Portfolio—although these assignments do still generate writing that I must assess in some way before counting an assignment for credit). Most students will not do all 40 assignments, but this is still an enormous amount of work to track.

I have had a hard time with assessment in this model. Because of the volume of assignments, I have to quickly assess a piece of writing to determine if it passes or fails, offer a little feedback, and move on. This is immensely difficult for me; it’s not how I was trained to give feedback, and it feels like I’m not doing enough. I’ve had many, many (constant?) moments where I have to remind myself to fully commit to the practice/process model rather than trying to give feedback as I usually would. I average 1 or 2 sentences of feedback per assignment in these classes, instead of the page or so I would offer in a differently structured course. I worry that the large amount of practice students get is not a sufficient trade-off for the lack of in-depth feedback from me. I’ve tried to value peer review highly both because I think students learn a lot from it when it’s set up well and also because it garners more detailed feedback for students without my having to give all that feedback. But, peer feedback is still not the same as instructor feedback. Plus, in order to ensure that peer review in the class does flourish, I assess it—which means that peer review is part of the assessment burden.

The students generally seem to like contract grading—unlike in this useful account by Lisa Litterio, I haven’t had a single complaint, though I am eager to see the end-of-semester evaluations. It seems as though the students who would have excelled anyway still excel; the students who would have struggled still find themselves challenged but feel more in control of their final grade. I really like the latter effect; this empowers students to approach learning in ways that work for them. But honestly, I’m on the fence about whether that control students feel combined with the large amount of practice is sufficient reason to trade a more merit- and instructor-feedback-based approach. I believe that lots of practice in writing is beneficial, in the same way that lots of practice in reading is beneficial. Students in this class are practicing with a variety of genres, and they are genres that they will encounter after their time at college. I’m just still struggling to figure out if this is a context in which the benefit of large amounts of practice writing is the best approach, or if more detailed instructor feedback on fewer assignments would be better. Hopefully, I’ll gain a better sense of this as the semester comes to a close.

Litterio, Lisa M. (2016). Contract Grading in a Technical Writing Classroom: A Case Study. Journal of Writing Assessment.

Workplace fashion

Wow, this article provides a lot to think about. But the passage that really interested me was this one:

“Two years ago, the British government rejected calls to outlaw mandatory high-heel policy. Japan, where a heel policy is commonplace, is the latest battleground, with a vocal #KuToo campaign – a pun on kutsu, meaning shoe, kutsuu, meaning pain, and #MeToo.”

I had never heard of a workplace where heels were formally required. As someone with a blood clot that has taken up permanent residence in one leg, wearing heels for 8 hours would be a real problem–by which I mean both a pain and a health hazard–for me. I’m left wondering the same thing as with North Carolina’s bathroom law from a couple years ago: Why on earth do governments and companies feel the need to legislate people differently depending upon what’s in their pants? So strange.