Sinister Patterns: Women and the Knowledge Massacre

By Erin Wunker

(cross-posting from the blog, Hook and Eye: Fast Feminism, Slow Academe)

Is it just me, or does the Harper Government seem to hate women and knowledge?

That’s a rhetorical question, obviously, but one that I found myself thinking about again this weekend as I edited a letter written to Ministers involved with the knowledge massacre and the ongoing cutting of women’s programs.

The current government is and has been attacking women’s rights. Don’t forget, for example, that in 2010 the government strategically cut out the crucial and groundbreaking work of Sisters in Spirit. Don’t forget that in that same year Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth told the spokespeople of several women’s groups to “shut the f-k up about the abortion issue” unless they wanted more backlash from the government.

And in case you’ve missed it, there is a corollary attack on knowledge going on in this country. National and international media platforms are referring to the burning of archives as libricide. As a literary and cultural studies scholar I teach my students to look for patterns in a given text, to consider the material and historical conditions of that text’s construction, and to make critical observations and analyses about how those things are all working together. The systematic disenfranchisement of women’s groups and the destruction of archives is a pattern, and a sinister one at that.

A pattern that I didn’t expect was this: virtually none of the ministries whose libraries have been closed or cut are led by a man. What can we make of this? Understanding how ideologies work is part of the process of breaking them down. How do we understand the correlation between these devastating policies and the ways in which women, women’s knowledge, gendered identity, racial identity, the diversity of knowledge production, and the lands on which knowledges are produced are systematically being shut down?

A few days ago I was talking on the telephone with a dear friend of mine who survived his trip to the MLA. We were chatting about that same “pervasive emotional buzz of desperation” that Melissa unpacked last week. We talked about our similar experiences of being on the job market long term, of the ways that the market has changed even in the years we’ve been on it, and we teased out (again) some of the emotional effects of the current state of affairs. And then he said this: “I always felt as though education – at the university level and outside the university – would lead to some kind of proactive community. I felt as though if workers – let’s say miners – were to go on strike then we would have created enough knowledge of how ideology and material reality work that we would all join them in solidarity.” What worried us then, and worries me now, is this: what is it going to take to get us out in the streets literally or figuratively?

Sign CWILA’s open letters against libricide and against cuts to women’s programs.

Published January 24, 2014

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