THE USE OF TIMELINES: ABOUT PRODUCING ONE (ON WOMEN AND FEMINISM IN SPAIN)

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

I am very fond of timelines. I find that one of the problems of the post-traditional model of education is that it has condemned memorizing as a useless nuisance. This leads to a great deal of imprecision regarding exact historical dates, which in its turn produces a hazy impression of historical periods. Without learning particular dates one may think that the whole 20th century is an undifferentiated mass of events with just a few major highlights. Thus, it is not rare in Spain for young persons to name incorrectly the years when the disgraceful Civil War took place (1936-9) and to suppose that Franco’s brutal regime ended much earlier than 1975.

The problem with timelines is that they are actually of little use for study. You may check a detail or two, take a general look –but who can read a timeline in detail and absorb all that information? This is why I find that timelines only help us to memorise dates if you produce them yourself. Hence, I am always producing new ones in my own study time. It is not easy.

I am currently working on a timeline which, here’s the contradiction, I might eventually publish in my website. I realised that I know more about British and American women’s history than about Spanish and Catalan women. This is why I decided to start a local timeline and later on add to it the key dates in US and UK feminism. My timeline is currently 45 pages long, I can say I have already learned very much but I do not know yet where to stop.

In principle, I decided to include key general political events (my grasp of Spanish History is not that good…), and dates connected with women’s advances (mainly legislation, education, labour). I decided not to include literature, only books connected with the ‘woman question.’ The problem came when I realized that, as Isaías Lafuente hints, domestic innovations –like the mop, invented by Manuel Jalón and first commercialised in 1958– and others, like sanitary pads (no reliable date so far) may have changed women’s lives much more deeply than certain pieces of legislation.

Then, I came across a website on the evolution of the women’s liberation movement in Spain during the 1960s and 1970s, and it was so dense with dates that my using them would automatically require the same for all periods. Finally, guess what? The hardest periods to reconstruct are the most recent ones. I don’t know the date when gay marriage was introduced in Spain. Um. It’s 3 July 2005 (just checked).

One thing that is quite clear, reading Geraldine Scanlon’s impressive pioneering study La Polémica Feminista en la España Contemporánea 1868-1974, published in 1976, and Pilar Folguera’s slim but very information collective volume, Feminismo en España: Dos Siglos de Historia (1988), is that Spain is also different when it comes to how our feminism compares with the rest of the Western world.

Both volumes make it very clear that there was no feminism movement as such until, properly speaking, the 1970s. We had formidable individual figures (Concepción Arenal, Emilia Pardo Bazán, Clara Campoamor…), many associations of different signs but no all-encompassing movement. When the chance came for that, after Franco’s death, the ‘Transición’ took much of he necessary political energy away from the movement. At any rate, believe it or not, this is the best historical moment ever for women in Spain. Hopefully, the women living in the 22nd century will find ours still an obscure time.

If anyone cares, this is a rough division into main periods of women’s history and feminism in Spain:

*1724-1868: Enlightenment ideas enter Spain (with the French Bourbon dynasty). Men who believe in them, and a few women, start a very timid reform of public education for women (primary and professional levels, schools for teachers).
*1868-1939 Individual women feminists fight for the rights of women (access to secondary and higher education, and the professions); also, with much division, the vote. Many feminist associations are formed in the 1920s, none major. Brief period of fast advances under the Republic (vote and divorce 1931) and the Civil War.
*1939-1965 Franco’s military regime imposes traditional ideals of womanhood. Women are split into meekly following these ideals, or struggling to end the dictatorship (clandestine resistance organised by left-wing political parties and women’s illegal associations)
*1965-1982 Full emergence of the feminist liberation movement, particularly after 1975. Women are split mainly on class lines between the need to consolidate left-wing policies and the need to work specifically for women’s gains.
*1983-2014… Institutionalised feminism (after PSOE wins 1982 election). Legislation becomes the main tool for equality, together with education, supported by widespread social acceptance of the main feminist tenets (feminist activism remains fragmented in a myriad organizations).

Um… 2014-2044… Full equality of rights and opportunities is reached for women of all classes, mysogyny is considered a relic as intolerable as cannibalism. Gender divisions become irrelevant as all, men and women, face life from the same position.

Now back to the timeline…

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WHAT WOULD PROSPERO SAY?: GIVING BOOKS AWAY

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

Last year a lecturer from a Scottish university, where I’d been a doctoral student, emailed me after more than a decade without contact. She explained to me that she was retiring (to Mallorca) and looking for a home for her collection of books on Gothic. Would the UAB be interested? Oh, my!, I thought, but this is wonderful news. The library kindly accepted to pay for shipping expenses and soon enough they even staged an exhibition to publicise the donation –more than 100 books. I got to keep a few which we already had. Anyone thinking of working on Gothic in Spain or nearby… come to us!!

There are a few things that puzzle me about this case, like why did this lady bring all her books to Spain rather than leave them in Scotland. But what puzzles me above all is what the gesture of giving her professional books away means in relation to our profession.

I recall a colleague who retired a few years ago dismantling his bookshelves in his Department office, even throwing in the bin some old paperbacks but, somehow, I assumed this was the tip of the iceberg and he had the main collection at home. I myself have half my books at home and half in my office, and I regularly take the ones I no longer find uses for to the library. I cannot, however, imagine myself dismantling my library for good, though I also wonder who would want all these, mostly, cheap paperbacks.

The library receives, now and then, immense book collections as bequests. Professor Francisco Rico, who retired in 2012, donated 5,237 documents… which makes me wonder about the size of his home. Professor Xavier Úcar, of the Department of Systematic and Social Pedagogy here at UAB, donated more than 700 SF works a while ago (http://cataleg.uab.cat/search*cat/a?SEARCH=(col•lecci de ciència-ficció de xavier úcar), as he happens to be an avid reader and simply cannot keep at home all he reads. The pity is that the collection remains housed in the basement… so unless you know it exists you don’t see it.

There are, then, circumstances that justify massive donations: retirement, home size and, of course, death. One of my colleagues has often told me that when she is gone she wants me to make the suitable arrangements for the library to keep her books as a special collection. Fair enough.

What puzzles me about the Scottish lady professor I mentioned at the beginning, and a couple of other cases I’ve heard about recently (also in Britain) is the firm severing of the ties with our profession. A while ago I opened a space in the Department for book crossing and it is always empty (except when I leave books there!). The few books that turn up now and then are either extremely specialised studies the owner clearly does not want, or best-selling novels mostly of a trashy kind (best given out anonymously). University teachers, it seems, are, like Prospero, very fond of their books.

Perhaps, though, I simply misunderstand retirement, possibly because I look forward to my own as a time when I will be finally able to write non-stop if I want. My main hobby is reading and, somehow, I imagine retirement as something quite similar to my current holiday time: lots of books, time to think. I keep on forgetting that research as we do it today, with all the accountability mechanisms thrown upon us by Ministries and sundry agencies, can be psychologically oppressive. And that the gesture of giving the books away may have to do with finding relief for that oppression. Yes, indeed, I can think of a few books I’d rather never see again.

Anyway, I must say that all considered I’m very happy that this lady, whom I’m not mentioning because she was not particularly interested in the library naming the collection after her, thought of me. At a time when the crisis has reduced our book-buying sprees to practically nothing, this was a gift from heaven.

Now, please, students and colleagues, enjoy these books… (tip: search the UAB catalogue, cataleg.uab.cat by ‘paraula clau’, type in ‘gothic’ and voilà…)

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WHEN STUDENTS MUST BE EXPELLED (OR, WHEN MUST STUDENTS BE EXPELLED?)

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

I have chosen a very tricky topic for this, my 300th post, inspired by an article in El País, entitled “La Universidad expulsa a 30.000 alumnos al año por rendir poco” (http://sociedad.elpais.com/sociedad/2014/08/27/actualidad/1409163082_894501.html). I don’t know what to make of the word ‘expels’ in this headline, as I connect it with inadmissible behaviour. I would have use instead ‘no permite seguir (sus estudios)’, which is not quite the same.

Some raw data: the Spanish public university has about 1,000,000 students, which means that 3% (= 30,000) are barred from following a particular degree, though not from attending university altogether. The article explains that after two failed attempts to complete a degree third opportunities are hard to get by.

In the old Licenciatura times (before 2008), students might attempt to pass a subject 6 times (this included the September exams, now gone); the trick was that ‘no presentado’ did not count, which in practice meant that students might take years, even a decade, to obtain the corresponding credits. The new ‘regimen de permanencia’ in my university (each has its own) has regulated this, establishing a minimum of credits to continue in the degree and also determining that 3 ‘matrículas’, that is, three chances to register in about there years, is the maximum time for a student to pass a subject.

The regulations to remain in a particular degree are not very harsh. My university, for instance, establishes that first year students must pass 12 ECTS credits (out of 60) as a requirement to enrol in second-year subjects. They have two years to complete a minimum of 30 first-year credits. As I’ve been frequently told, one thing is how you design a Syllabus for a degree and a very different one is how students follow it… The regulations are intended, then, to draw a line beyond which a student can be told to give up. Or must be told.

Last Spring we at UAB counted for the first time how our students are doing in the new European-style degrees. I actually got into a panic (I’m BA degree Coordinator) because a good student warned me that he had used up the three chances in two of his subjects and, now in his fourth year, he might not be able to finish the degree. Holy cow, I though, how many more must there be? Well, it turns out that 45 students are facing the same problem –though what really scared me was that a handful, about 5, had exhausted their chances for between 4 and 5 subjects.

Then a Coordinators’ meeting was called and I discovered that this was not so bad, as some students in other degrees were in trouble in 10 subjects, and a particular degree had one third of all its students at risk of being ‘expelled’ (in too many cases because of transversal subjects irrelevant to their studies). We were told that new instructions would soon follow and that, most likely, the 3-chances rule would become a 4-chance rule, as it has (I think). I hope I am not disclosing any sensitive details here…

What do I think of all this? The old Licenciatura system was simply bizarre. It perpetuated the presence of students in our classrooms unnecessarily, and did not encourage them to make an effort. I firmly believe that the new system, with its three chances to register for a subject, is far more reasonable. What I did not expect, and do not quite understand, is that so many students would be in trouble. Somehow, I imagined that the problems would be concentrated in the first and second year but I never imagined that students about to graduate might fail to do so because of just 1 subject, even a first-year one.

I don’t know whether this will have been taken into account but for me there is a clear difference between the student in trouble because of 1 subject, and the student in trouble because of 5 (or 10). The regulations clearly require some leeway to solve individual circumstances, and in a way they already cover that. On the other hand, my very personal impression is that students have not really paid heed to the sword dangling over their heads; many have proceeded with a certain cavalier attitude, perhaps hoping that the university would not really dare ‘expel them’.

The article in El País actually dealt with an unfair situation in the Universidad de Oviedo by which misinformation about registration requirements had put many students on the brink of expulsion. I agree that the regulations must be clear, transparent and sufficiently publicised. I also understand that working students have more difficulties than others to pass their subjects (I sympathise, I was myself a working student).

Yet, there must be a limit: public universities cannot waste resources on educating students whose talents lie elsewhere, it is as simple as that. Besides, I’m sorry but I’d rather be a patient in the hands of a doctor who passed his degree according to plan, and not after 4 attempts for each subject. In our case, with many students stuck in certain subjects because their command of English is not strong enough, I’d recommend a stay abroad –working if they cannot afford anything else. As I did myself.

I know this can raise much controversy but being barred from continuing a particular degree does not mean a student is branded as ‘inept’. They may have simple made a wrong choice in opting for a university degree, instead of professional training, or in choosing a particular degree. It’s not a tragedy.

What I cannot understand is the attitude of the students who must clearly see that they are not doing well but insist on torturing themselves, perhaps to please their parents, or to fulfil an unrealistic personal goal. Why not try something else? Before they tell you to go.

Find how to employ your natural talents best…

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60 HOURS: WATCHING A TV SERIES (AND WHY IT IS NOT WORTH IT)

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

In 2006 I published a monographic volume on The X-Files, entitled Expediente X: En honor a la verdad. I am practically certain that I was the first person in Spain to attempt to cover a whole TV series in a book with the intention of offering an in-depth analysis (accessible to the general readership) rather than just a guide with episode summaries (I did include that, too). If you’re curious the volume is here: <a href="http://ddd.uab.cat/record/118437. The X-Files is still today my favourite TV series, and I still consider it much superior to others who are now much better known. Actually, I find that Chris Carter’s brainchild, which lasted from 1993 to 2002 does not even exist for my own students, born around the time it was launched. A pity.

The X-Files was 200 episodes long and amounted to 150 viewing hours. Others ‘x-philes’ like me can verify for you what a torture seeing the complete series was, as Tele5 cancelled it with no warning, and the final two seasons could only be seen on private channel Fox TV, or on the then new, extremely expensive DVDs. Flat-rate internet access was beginning as the series reached its end and I’m totally sure that The X-Files was a key factor in the popularisation of piratical downloading among us using ADSL services. This, as we know, is a practice that has totally altered the way we see TV series, which is no longer dependent on their being shown on TV at all.

Anyway, a lo que iba: the long struggle to see the end of The X-Files put me off watching any other TV series for a couple of years. Then Lost came, in 2004, and like millions around the world I bit the hook and followed it with a crazy passion until its horrendously disappointing ending in 2010. That’s enough, I vowed to myself: no more TV series for me, unless they’re done and over. Then, last academic year, an MA student handed in an excellent paper on the hero-villain Omar from The Wire (2002-8) swearing to me this was the one series I could not miss. The IMDB rating is 9.4, in the range of Game of Thrones (9.5), Breaking Bad (9.6) or The Sopranos (9.3). 60 viewing hours later I can say now that Omar is the only thing I truly enjoyed from the series.

It is not my aim to review here The Wire, nor to question the taste of those 133,284 IMDB users who have awarded it that impressive 9.4. No. I aim at questioning, rather, the current vogue for TV American series that, more often than not, turn out to be not that good after all. Arguably, the new wave quality TV series started with David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-1), which, in its turn, inspired The X-Files (Fox TV). The current boom, however, is usually connected with HBO’s The Sopranos (1999-2007). Indeed, HBO has produced many other successful series: from Sex and the City to current hits Game of Thrones and True Detective. It also produced everyone’s favourite, best-valued ever mini-TV series, Band of Brothers (2001). But is it all, really, really, as good as so many claim? Hasn’t HBO contributed to inflating this impression?

I have read many opinions in praise of The Wire (also HBO) claiming that it works like a novel. My own consumption of this series corroborates this, even though it’s been a bit accidented (I saw seasons one and two in Spring, not continuously, and then have binged on seasons three to five this August, at a rate of three episodes an evening). The question is that at the (fast) rate I read The Wire would be the equivalent of a 3,600 page novel, more or less. Band of Brothers, which I loved, was 11-hours long, the approximate equivalent of reading a 660-page novel. If you ask me, in the end what we consume with each TV series is one story, no matter how many subplots this has. And my watching The Wire has left me with the clear impression that for one story I’m not willing to use more than twenty hours any more in my life. Whether this is TV or print fiction (sorry George R.R.R. Martin).

At one point in which we were desperately bored (no Omar in that episode), my husband and I worked out that 60 hours amounted to about 30 films, that is 30 stories. Supposing we only enjoyed half of these, we would still have 15 stories to remember with pleasure. Life is short, there’s so much to see and read, why use 60 hours in one story if many more pleasurable ones could be accessed in less time?

When I give friends, students and colleagues my line about why watching overhyped (American) TV is wasting precious time they usually tell me that I don’t understand the pleasures of seeing these new-wave HBO(-inspired) series: the pleasure, they tell me, is in the process not in the end result. You don’t watch to reach a sense of closure but, simply, to watch. Fair enough. My answer is, then, that I’d rather watch comedy (say Big Bang Theory) as in that case I need not worry about narrative arcs extended among many seasons and years. Sit-coms have that: you can plunge in and out, never mind about who Ted Mosby finally met in How I Met your Mother (2005-14).

Conclusions? It seems I am going to stick to mini-series. I am actually yearning to see again the British trilogy based on Michael Dobbs’s novels House of Cards (1990), To Play the King (1993) and The Final Cut (1995), currently being remade (or plundered) by Netflix (yes, not even a TV channel but an internet streaming service). As for Breaking Bad, which I have not followed, and seemed next on the list after The Wire, well, I don’t know… Add to this that I have just given up on BBC’s Sherlock after the awfully embarrassing episode about Watson’s wedding (3×3).

It’s that kind of week in which I just want to read…

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‘I DON’T NEED FEMINISM…’: TEN REASONS WHY YOU DO

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

Next semester I’ll be teaching for the first time a new BA elective, ‘Gender Studies (in English.’ This might be my only chance since, if Minister Wert’s reform of the BA degrees proceeds, we might lose altogether the fourth year and with it the electives. Anyway, I’m paying even more attention than usual to gender issues, which is why I came across the Tumblr space opened in 2013, ‘Women Against Feminism’ (http://womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com/).

Rightly, this should be called ‘Young Women Against Feminism’ for a classic problem of feminism is its generational split. I recall a round table on SF and feminism a few years ago in Madrid. My three colleagues and myself were protesting against the ghettoisation of SF women writers, using by no means a radical feminist discourse. To my horror and consternation, a twenty-something girl in the audience told me ‘I don’t know what your problem may be, but in my generation we have solved them all.’ Well, if that were the case I would be happy but it is not –something you learn as you age. “I don’t need feminism because equality of opportunity already exists,” a young girl writes on Tumblr, and my question is “where?” Because if it is only in your own personal life and you don’t see beyond it, then this is a very callous attitude that disregards the reality of many women’s lives around the world.

I went myself through an acute anti-feminist phase twenty years ago, as a doctoral student. I rationalize it thus today: when a woman is young, starting her career and has not come across crude discrimination yet, feminism’s insistence on women’s victimization is annoying and frustrating. It feels disempowering. Besides, radical feminism can be deeply androphobic. This is something that young women going through the process of establishing long-lasting romantic relationships often find incompatible with their being in love. At the end of an angry androphobic conference panel I asked the leading androphobe, a married woman, how she managed to communicate with her husband at all. She was stunned. So was I at my own question… That was a turning point for me. The misogyny that feminism exposes makes me very angry, and this is hard to cope with. Sometimes it is mild anger that my partner sees no dirty dishes to wash, sometimes it is wholesale anger against men because one has killed his wife or raped a little girl. So, yes, there is that.

From what I read in Tumblr many young women think that feminism can be best defined as ‘androphobia’ (i.e. hatred of men). This, however, is just radical feminism, much less abundant anyway than misogyny. For me feminism is best defined as ‘the search of justice for women,’ that is to say, the struggle to ensure that nobody is discriminated against or hurt just for being a woman. If you’re one of the happy few women who have never met any obstacle or aggression in life because of your gender, then congratulations. What you need to do next, as a feminist, is to make sure that all the other women in the world enjoy the same beautiful life.

I have set for myself a target here, which is finding ten reasons why the happy young women writing in Tumblr might want to join the feminist fight for justice and equality in education, job opportunities and personal development. I’ll refer only to Spain, a Western country and a European Union member –paradise, in short. The figures are for 2013:

*women killed by ex-partners or current partners: 54, and this is the lowest figure in 10 years. Current figures for August 2014: 39.
*women who denounced psychological and physical abuse by partners and ex-partners: 124,894. More than 63,000 remain under police surveillance for fear they might be attacked. None really knows how much abuse goes unreported.
*number of rapes reported to the police in 2013: 1,298 (at least 60% are not reported out of the victim’s fear and shame).
*average salary difference for men and women doing the same job: around 20% (16’4% for the whole European Union).
*(un)employment: rates are slightly higher for women than for men and bad for all. 52’3% of women under 25 are unemployed, 23’6% of women above 25. Yet note: 75% of part-time contracts correspond to female workers. Only 75’5% of all employed women have full-time contracts, the figure is 93’4% for men.
*paternity leave: 13 days, as opposed to 16 weeks for the mother. Up to 40% new fathers only take the mandatory 2-day leave. 90% Norwegian fathers take paternity leave (which is months long).
*excess hours women spend per week doing household chores (in relation to their male partners): 6 (which the partners enjoy as free time)
*percentage of women members of Parliament and Senators: 37% (same as the European Parliament). But remember that women are 52% of the population and this was achieved because PSOE introduced a quota system. We have seen so far no woman President of the Government (yes, I remember Maggie Thatcher…).
*percentage of women members in Boards of Directors (for the 35 top Spanish companies): 10’9%. This is where business power lies…
*percentage of women professors (‘catedráticas’): 20% (but percentage of women graduates 54%). So… what happens to women when they start an academic career?

I need only compare myself to my mother to see how privileged I am on the professional and the personal fronts, often thanks to the efforts of feminist women in the 1970s and 1980s, whose names I don’t even know. And men, for let’s not forget that all-male Parliaments and Governments have often legislated in favour of women. Now think of women in less fortunate countries.

If you want to rename ‘feminism’ and call it ‘gender equality’ that’s fine by me. Whatever you call it, we certainly need it.

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UNSUNG HEROES OF SPANISH WOMEN’S HISTORY (WITH MY THANKS)

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

Isaías Lafuente’s non-academic essay Agrupémonos todas: La lucha de las españolas por la igualdad (2004) has been, as I explained in my previous post, a book I have devoured with great pleasure. And shame… that I didn’t know many of the women and events he mentions.

In the effort of trying to grasp the basics of US and UK feminism and women’s history as a specialist in English Studies, I have had no time to do the same for the Spanish and Catalan contexts. My secondary education should have filled in that gap, as it did for many other matters of local History. Yet, apart from the women writers (and not that many), and the queens, no other relevant Spanish (or Catalan) women were made visible to me. Lafuente is dismayed to see that the woman who brought the vote to Spanish women, Clara Campoamor, is not mentioned in the major Spanish biographical dictionary. I’m dismayed to realise that I only understood who she was when I saw Laura Mañá’s excellent TV movie entitled, of course, Clara Campoamor: La mujer olvidada (2011).

One thing I have learned from reading about women’s history is that it is hard to say whether the impact of pro-feminist legislation and social changes is, in the end, what matters most. It should be so, yet reading Lafuentes’ book I’m struck by how truly important are in the struggle to free women from our bonds things we take for granted: such as diapers, sanitary pads or even the mop. It is also peculiar to see how details I recall from my childhood, seeing my mother perform her household chores or worry about ‘adult’ matters, fit a much larger pattern than I assumed (perhaps because Spain has been quite a homogeneous country until recently). This ranges from her washing by hand all our clothes before the first washing machine was purchased to anxious conversations about the mysterious ‘pill.’

The hardest part of understanding recent women’s history in Spain is the realisation that we almost got it right. During the (chaotic) Republic of 1931 to 1939, when the Civil War was lost, Spanish women embarked in an often very fast process of equality with men. It is painful to see how all their achievements were brutally erased in 1939: often the distance between the first and the second woman pioneer in a particular field amounts to forty years. Also, even though the little conquests under Franco’s regime were often made by right-wing women, like Mercedes Fórmica, it is heartbreaking to see how much cruelty was poured on the bodies and lives of the ‘rojas,’ the women of the losing side. The split is so deep that we can say there are two histories of women under Franco, still to be fully written out.

I want to make a note here, then, of the unsung heroes who did the hard work for us, to remind those women who think we don’t need feminism that, if that is the case, which I very much doubt, it is thanks to their spirit and efforts. There are many others, it is just a small selection:

*María Elena Maseras, first woman to enrol for a university degree (1872, Medicine, Universitat de Barcelona) realising there was no formal prohibition against women.
*Dolores Aleu, first woman with a doctoral degree (1882, Medicine)
*Teresa Claramunt, textile factory worker and union activist, co-founder of the Societat Autònoma de Dones (1892)
*Carmen de Burgos (Colombine), journalist and first war correspondent. Published the first surveys on divorce and women’s suffrage (1900s-1910s)
*Emilia Pardo Bazán, major writer, denied three times a place in the Real Academia. In 1916 she was the first female full professor in Spain (by appointment): she never taught, as all (male) students rejected her. (Mª Ángeles Galino, was the second woman professor, in 1953).
*María Espinosa de los Monteros, co-founder of the Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Españolas (1920)
*Victoria Kent, first professional woman lawyer (1924), ‘Directora General de Prisiones’ under the new Republic (1931). She was the first woman MP together with Clara Campoamor, and Margarita Nelken. They were elected in June 1931 when women could not vote yet.
*Matilde Ucelay, first Spanish female architect, graduated 1936.
*Dolores Ibárruri, La Pasionaria, communist politician, Vice-president of the Republican Parliament.
*Federica Montseny, first woman Minister in Europe (1936).
*María Telo, lawyer, founder of the Unión de Mujeres Juristas, helped get back for women the full civil rights lost under Franco in the 1970s.

I’ll end with a reminder of the terrifying forty year gap:
*Vote for women: 1 October 1931. Re-instated in 1975.
*Divorce and Civil Marriage: 28 June 1932 (made illegal retroactively by Franco in 1939). Civil marriage was re-instated in 1978, divorce in 1981.
*Abortion: December 1936, legalised by the Catalan Generalitat. Made illegal in 1941, legalised again with strong limitations in 1985.
*Legal equality with men: 1937. Lost in 1938, re-instated fully only in 1981.
*Birth control: All methods made illegal between 1944 and 1978.

Until the 1975 legislation reform, women were regarded as minors to the age of 25 (21 for men). Married women were subjected to the ‘licencia marital’: they had to obey their husbands, who were entitled to their professional earnings (until 1981), and had to obtain their permission to sign contracts, open bank accounts, get a passport…

This, I’m sorry to say, is not History way back in the past but within living memory. Ask your grandmothers, if your mothers are too young.

Learn and remember… and thank those who fought for you.

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3,000 BOOKS: (HALF) A LIFE-TIME OF READING

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

(Back to writing, a bit more relaxed after a well-deserved holiday… spent ‘doing a Wordsworth,’ that is, enjoying the beauties of the mountains, those of the Pyrenees).

Today’s topic is keeping track of reading –here we go.

I started keeping a record of the books I read, out of my own initiative, back in 1980 when I started my secondary school education, aged 14. I used a small spiral-bound notebook, which I still keep, in pretty blue paper (no pretentious Moleskines for me). This lasted me until 1994, when I moved the list onto my computer.

I call this list my ‘reading diary’ because I follow a chronological order but it is simply a list, written now in an impractical series of Word files, with a basic rating system (maximum 4 stars) which I started using also in 1994. Last year I opened a GoodReads account but I never use it (though as you know I read plenty of Amazon users’ reviews).

Now and then I wonder what anyone would make of my life looking at this list, particularly because I don’t keep a personal diary, or journal (this blog comes closest). I also wonder what researchers would do if they came across something similar for, say, Charles Dickens.

What did I want the list for? Obviously, to remember what I read. I was already a voracious reader and knew that sooner or later I would be unable to recall all the books I read. Not that the plan works that well, though, for the list often throws up books I seem to have read but have completely forgotten –quite spectacularly, it turns out I had already read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1992, but I was absolutely sure I never had when I read it this year (without first checking the list…).

Every January, when I start the corresponding yearly list, I have a quick look, see what I’ve been up to the year before. I also keep, by the way, a second list organised by nation and author for fiction, drama, poetry, etc, and by topic for essays. This is a pain in the neck to update but that has proven quite useful when, for instance, programming my future SF subject, as I know exactly which SF authors I’ve read throughout my life so far. And I couldn’t have gone through my doctoral dissertation, either, without my reading list.

Although I set myself some rules, I keep on breaking them which is why my list is such an imprecise record of all my reading. It only includes complete volumes, yet in some cases (plays, for instance) they number fewer pages than I’ve read in volumes I have abandoned half-way through (and that remain unrecorded). Then, sometimes I count re-readings, sometimes I forget. I’m never sure what to do about comics and graphic novels, either. The many articles I read every year go unrecorded, which I often regret for research reasons, but, then, a list of all I read might seem a symptom of some mental disorder rather than a useful memory enhancement tool. And, um, I have been unable to recall more or less reliably what I read before the age of 14.

Anyway, before I took my holidays, I realised that I would soon reach book 3,000. That’s fun, I thought, let’s see which of the many books I’m planning to read this summer becomes volume 3,000. I didn’t want the number to be meaningful, as the list, all considered, is quite inconsistent. Yet, this was not to be. To my amusement, when I updated the list after my holiday break, it just fell short of book 3,000 (book 2,999 was Lois MacMaster Bujold’s fantasy novel The Curse of Chalion, which would have satisfied me enough as book 3,000). Oh my… meaningful it must be, then.

After a longish absence, I visited my beautiful local library (Jaume Fuster at Plaça Lesseps) not really planning to borrow anything, just keeping my husband company as he searched for comics. Yet, book 3,000 came to me (I swear!), as it had to happen: it is Isaías Lafuente’s non-academic essay Agrupémonos todas: La lucha de las españolas por la igualdad (2004). Never heard of it? No wonder, it’s out of print –what a shame. But I loved the book and I totally love it that my volume 3,000 is a feminist book written by a man, teaching me plenty I didn’t know about women in Spain. (More about this in the following post).

I recently saw a BBC documentary on the impact of the social networks in our lives. A nine-year-old boy voiced his learned opinion that life before Facebook (what was he doing using Facebook??) was really boring… people had to read books! It would be idiotic to claim that reading and using social networks is incompatible, so I won’t embarrass myself. I’m just sorry this boy won’t enjoy the company the 3,000 volumes (better ‘friends’ than often Facebook ‘friends’ are) have kept me so far.

By the way, I don’t care and I don’t mind whether 3,000 are a lot of volumes, average for a university lecturer, or pitifully few. I’m not out to break records, whether absolute or personal. Actually, I find that the number has freed me from having to read a minimum a year, as I did when I was a student. I have no idea how many more I’ll be able to add and calling this list ‘half a life-time of reading’ may be not only overoptimistic but downright silly, who knows whether I’ll reach 96…

Just one thing: if you have children who read, start that list for them. They’ll be thankful when they grow up and start managing it themselves.

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ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO: WOMEN, FREEDOM AND WWI

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

My colleagues David Owen and Cristina Pividori are editing a volume on WWI and I was commissioned to write a piece on two middle-brow best-selling novels, Ernest Raymond’s Tell England (1922) and Wilfrid Ewart’s The Way of Revelation (1921). I’m writing on men’s friendship, considering the idea of whether WWI forms a divide after which any expression of male same-sex love/affection was necessarily tied to (homo)sexuality. I am worried indeed that this may sounds homophobic but my argument is that heterosexual men have lost or are repressing a wide range of feelings for fear of homophobia, feelings that pre-1930s fiction candidly indulges in. We may call them homoerotic but I think this is not enough.

Well, before I drift off my topic… It turns out that Ewart’s excellent novel, a very complete portrait of combat in WWI, also offers a terrific insight into women’s lives. Upper-class, yes, and as such, limited but fascinating nonetheless. (Spoilers ahead!!!)

This is done by means of one of those sacrificial heroines that I dislike so much: Rosemary. Since this poor thing is not the main protagonist and her demise is balanced by the pragmatism of the other main female character, I cannot really accuse Ewart of following a simplistic anti-feminist line. It’s more complicated than that, as the question Rosemary answers is what happened to post-Victorian women when suddenly WWI gave them the chance to free themselves. The answer is that not all knew how.

Let me give you the basics of the novel. This is the story of 21-year-old Adrian Knoyle, who’s living ‘la vida loca’ (the ‘gay’ life in the text) with his buddy Eric Sinclair. Adrian is the romantic celibate type and he absurdly idealises the beautiful Rosemary, ensnaring her into a betrothal for which she’s not ready. Eric, fond of dining and wining, etc, a string of chorus girls, typically chooses the steady, down-to-earth Faith to put an end to the fun period of his life. All are rich, by the way.

Here’s the surprise the men are in for: Rosemary’s mercenary mama finds Adrian too poor, Faith finds Eric ‘nice and gay’ but just ‘a little playboy.’ This is solved by WWI, which makes a man of the delicate, girlish Eric. Tall, dark Adrian is not so lucky: his papa dies, he becomes rich, Rosemary’s mama grants her permission.. but the girl insists on living her own ‘via loca’ (and being unfaithful).

What’s wrong with Rosemary? Nothing according to our current standards: she’s a 19-year-old girl who wants to have fun. Her problem is that fun as we know it today had not been invented yet. Initially, she worries herself sick because her mama will think her wicked for being alone, unchaperoned, at all hours with Adrian. As the novel progresses, though, mama looks the other way since Rosemary’s other boyfriend is loaded. He gets free access to their flat and eventually to her body (if I read the opaque prose of the novel correctly, for it took Lawrence still a few years to unveil sex for fiction).

Adrian reappears twice to claim her back from her profligate ways but the idiot decides to join Eric back in the trenches rather than stay cowardly at the home front. Without him, dependent Rosemary spirals down into a course of self-destruction which includes the drug addiction that eventually kills her. More or less accidentally.

I think of Peaches Geldof, 25, wealthy career woman, happily married and a mother of two, dying in April this year of a heroin overdose in the same room where her baby slept. And it seems to me this would have been Rosemary’s fate if she’d married Adrian. The heroine destroyed by heroin, forgive me, is also celebrating its centenary together with WWI.

The usual argument in the case of pre-WWI heroines like Madame Bovary or Edna Pontellier from The Awakening, is that these were women striving for their freedom who chose death instead ( I wonder why Nora’s slamming the door is less often mentioned than Hedda’s shooting herself). What strikes about Rosemary is that when WWI sets her free she does not know how to react.

Her friend Faith blames Rosemary’s mother and the whole social system for failing to provide women with guidance at this time of crisis. Yet, surely, the whole point is that neither could really provide any pointers as nobody had a clue about what was going on. Reading about Rosemary and Adrian’s new-style of courting, with no chaperons, I suddenly realised that this is very new. The rules were so confusing that Rosemary has to force Adrian to spend the night with her –yet, it seems clear they spend it ‘making love’, that is, talking about love, rather than ‘making love’, that is, having sex. (I think it’s not so with the other boyfriend)

Rosemary thinks she’s found in Gina Maryon’s avant-garde clique the answer to her search for excitement but Ewart points out this is just shallow excitement. If she were alive today, Rosemary would be performing fellatios non-stop in a Majorca disco or getting drunk on a boat off Barcelona’s coast. Professionally, she’d be a successful top model. The idea is the same one: you’re young, beautiful, rich and female –your mama no longer controls you, and society tells you you’re free to behave as you like as life is short and who knows what the future may bring. Rosemary gets so afraid she begs Adrian to rescue her; needing rescuing himself he fails to play gallant knight. And down she goes.

Now here’s a nasty thought (which never crosses desolated Adrian’s mind): perhaps if Rosemary had been drafted into combat, as young men her age were, she would have found all the excitement she craved for. Sometimes, being a woman is strangely privileged.

Still, I thank Ewart for his peculiar insight into the problem of women’s freedom. And on terrible, fascinating WWI.

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THE PROBLEM OF AVILABILITY: MAKING RESEARCH ACCESSIBLE (OR NOT…)

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

Samuel sends in a comment which includes a question: “Surely if the government is sponsoring academics, they should want the results of their hard work to be available to a much wider audience?” He also writes that “There’s been a lot of good work done to make journals available to at least current university students, but I don’t think it’s enough.” Certainly. Inspired by open-access policies suggesting exactly this –that research should be made freely available online for all to see– I have spent MANY hours this past academic year organising my website, opening an Academia.edu account and pestering the very kind workers at my university’s repository (UAB’s DDD).

Here it’s how this has worked.

To beging with, I had to go through my CV, make a list of what was potentially of interest (should I put online my pre-doctoral articles?) and start a very, very long round of emails asking for permissions. Yes, it’s my own research work but even when publication was paid for with funds from conferences or research projects I might be infringing publishers’ rights (in many cases it was not even clear whether I retained copyright).

In the case of journals, those whose articles are available on databases were not necessarily more reluctant to grant permission. Only two journal editors flatly denied me permission: one editor, of a smallish but well-known journal, very clearly explained they wanted to make money out of past issues’ sales (of which we authors see not a cent, penny, whatever). The other one called me an idiot to my face for not knowing the basic rules of academic publication. Really.

Except for these two, practically all I have published in journals is online at UAB’s DDD (they double-checked on these permissions). I must say that both in the case of journals and book chapters, I spent hours scanning my work myself. Actually, if my Department hadn’t purchased a totally user-friendly photocopier/printer/scanner, I would never have started this process. No, I don’t have a teaching assistant nor an intern to help.

Chapters in books. My!, that’s complicated. I scanned them all, asked for permission, checking first whether the books were available from the publishing houses’ websites. In some cases I’m speaking about work 10 to 15 years old. I discovered that there’s a kind of gray area, as editors could no longer contact publishers, nor could I myself. Most gave me permission and you can see the corresponding .pdf files in my personal website. Funnily, the repository administrators are far more reluctant to upload pieces of books, and to ask for this kind of permision. To be honest, I’m not sure that all is legal in my website (I think it is) and, anyway, whatever I have made available is split between my website and the DDD.

As I have commented on here, my web and the DDD have also opened up for me very interesting possibilities for self-publication, at the cost of discounting part of my production for official research assessment. I’m not using Academia.edu for publishing, just to offer information on all I have published, leading to the corresponding web and repository links. It seems that Academia.edu and other networks like Research Gate might be infringing copyright by allowing researchers to upload there own work. So, I will not risk it…

So, Samuel: two answers so far. One, it takes time, a moderately advanced user’s knowledge of computers and much stamina to make one’s own work available. We have to do it ourselves, none will do it for us (at least not where I work). Two: the main obstacle, from what I see, is money, the money that academic presses and journals are still making out of work published long ago. In a way, the idea is that the more successful research is, the least available it is made as that’s the type of publication experts and students are willing to pay for.

Now for two odd situations. I have recently published an article in a collective book issued by a British press. They volume is expensive (£54.99) and since we get no courtesy copies, we asked the editors for, at least, a .pdf file of our own chapter (for own reference, not even to upload). They said no, as the publishers adamantly forbid this. So, if I want the .pdf of my own work I’ll have to spend money on the volume or buy it for UAB’s library. My own work.

The other case: I’m sending this week an article to a young journal that started online. Checking their website, I saw a recent announcement I had missed: they’re leaving open internet publishing for limited JSTOR and MUSE availability (apart from print). You must be thinking, Samuel, that this will not increase their readership, quite the opposite. Yet, from what I deduce, still today, almost twenty years after the internet totally upset our world, free online publication is frowned upon and considered less serious than the other, more restrictive type.

Every time I visit Academia.edu I notice two things: one, not even in platforms like this have people understood the need to self-publicise and make available as much academic stuff as possible; two, relatively few senior academics are present there. In the future, as I keep on preaching, things will change as younger academics will learn to self-publish using resources like this (which, besides, have a helpful labelling system). The only barrier you need to add to all this is, as I always explain, Ministry rules.

So, going back to the initial question: “Surely if the government is sponsoring academics, they should want the results of their hard work to be available to a much wider audience?” No, as long as the experts determining quality matters foreground the less accessible (i.e. expensive) over the cheaper, or, in short, where you publish and not what you publish.

Still frustrated, right? Me too…

But, then, if you’re not bound to a Ministry, nothing prevents you from publishing for free all you want… use your own blog or website, open and Academia.edu account, see how far you can go.

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PUBLISHING IN SLOW MOTION (AND OTHER LIMITS TO PUBLICATION)

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

Last summer 2013 I managed to finish two articles I’d been working on for a long time. One is called “Rewriting the American Astronaut from a Cross-cultural Perspective: Michael Lopez-Alegria in Manuel Huerga’s documentary film Son and Moon (2009)” and the other’s title is “A Demolition Job: Scottish Masculinity and the Failure of the Utopian Tower Block in David Greig’s Play The Architect and Andrew O’Hagan’s Novel Our Fathers.”

The reason why they took so long to write is that lately I have very little quality time for writing, which means that basically I can only find two or (with luck) three weeks in July/August to write in peace and quiet. It’s very frustrating to see how productive a single week off email and teaching can be in comparison with the usual weeks during the course, with time split among a myriad little things.

Anyway, as any scholar knows, completing an article is just a small step in the long process of publishing. For both essays I had a certain idea of to which journal I wanted to send them. In the case of the article on Huerga’s atmospheric documentary on the manly Lopez-Alegria I chose first a journal on masculinities studies. They found it inappropriate, since they focus on sociology mainly, but pointed me in the direction of Culture, Society and Masculinities from the same Men’s Studies Press. This was fortunate, as the editor found me sympathetic reviewers. This week I have finished the revisions I was asked to introduce and I’m very happy to say that the article is off my hands.

I did agree with the reviews though, as usual, they suggested several small modifications that have made my article grow to almost 10,000 words. The whole process is so slow that a film I mentioned in a footnote, not yet released, occupies now a long paragraph, as it’s become practically inevitable to discuss it regarding the astronaut on screen (I mean Gravity). All in all, my astronaut has kept me busy for about two and a half years, since I first saw Son & Moon and knew I had to write about it during Christmas 2011. The article will come out next Spring 2015, making this process in a total three and a half years long. That’s the happy story.

Now for the unhappy one. I first read Andrew O’Hagan’s novel Our Fathers back in 2002 and saw David Greig’s acclaimed play The Architect at Teatre Lliure in January 2011. I can safely say, then, that the idea for the comparative article was already two and a half years old by the time I sat down to write it last August.

Funnily, I did check the website of the journal I had targeted for the word limit –always my nightmare, as I tend to write much more than required. The web nonchalantly announced it would accept pieces with no specific word limit, so I let myself go, read like crazy about Le Corbusier, the residential blue-collar skyscraper and local council regulations in Scotland to end up with a piece 12,000 words long. To my immense mortification, the journal sent me back the essay claiming they only accepted articles up to 6,000 words. I did cut down my article to that size… and sent it elsewhere. This second journal found my methodology ‘too Cultural Studies.’ So, back to the first option.

To my surprise they asked me for the names of possible reviewers. I named two; they disagreed. I was ask for a third name, which I supplied. And, then, on the basis of not three but only two reviews they told me I had to rewrite and resubmit, with no guarantee of publication. They found my poor stumpy article under-theorised (no wonder…).

I took a deep breath, spent 24 hours agonising about whether to go back to the drawing board or not and recalled a friend’s words. When they start asking for major revisions… the bloom is gone. So, I went back to the unpublishable 12,000 word version and emailed it to the Deposit Digital de Documents of my university, where it will soon be available online. That’s the unhappy story.

Why’s that unhappy if I have made my work available and will hopefully reach a few dozen readers? Well, it’s unhappy because the time employed and the effort I made will count for nothing as regards my future research assessment by the Ministry. It’s 2014, and this is due by the end of 2017 which means that I’m already in a hurry. I’ll remind you, readers, that I need to have published five ‘quality’ pieces in six years, which is why ‘throwing’ on line this article I’m telling you about feels very much like hitting myself in the face –hard.

On the other hand, experience tells me that when an article starts doing the rounds with difficulties and nothing has happened after one year, it’s better to move on, write another article (which is what I’m doing these days), try my luck elsewhere. Online publication at my university’s depository is, of course, a sort of consolation prize and much, much better than the proverbial drawer (or personal computer disk) where discarded papers used to die. Yet, tell the Ministry that.

There’s a third strange story. I emailed an article to a Spanish quality journal last November (2013). The editor did not acknowledge receiving it for a couple of months. I insisted, he’d been sick, poor thing. My article (he told me) would be considered for publication and I would get an answer by May 2014. June and early July came, still no answer. I checked their web: there’s a new editor. I emailed her and it turns out they’re restarting the journal as the former editor has retired. She suggested that I resubmit next November (that’s 2014, one year gone from the original submission) when things start rolling. I said yes out of loyalty, as she’s a friend, wondering whether the new journal will keep the good ratings of the old one.

I wonder how journal publishing works in the sciences, I really do. I doubt Nature or Science take so long to publish articles. I know everyone does what they can but on the whole we can safely say that in the Humanities publication lags about two years behind research. It’s a long time… Not to mention how word limit conditions us, for not all ideas can be properly argued in under 6,000 words. As I know.

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‘HEAVILY FICTIONALISED’: THE SADISTIC TREATMENT OF ARTEMISIA IN 300, RISE OF AN EMPIRE

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

When I saw Zack Snyder’s 300 (2006), based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, I knew at once that was a film I would write about –infuriating but original, ridiculous but deliciously camp, dangerous in its exaltation of laddism but key to understand today’s patriarchal backlash.

I did write about it, criticising its failure to produce a dignified model of masculinity for the hero and its blatant homophobia. You may see the results at my own web (http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/content/chapters-books). I also included it in the syllabus of the sessions I teach on heroism for the Cultural Studies module in UAB’s MA in Literary and Cultural Studies. It never fails to stir debate, particularly as regards its wild departures from historical evidence.

Sooner or later, then, I was bound to see the sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, directed by Noam Murro, but scripted, like 300, by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, and also based on a graphic novel by Miller, Xerxes. I’m now horrified –not just in an intellectual sense, meaning that I abhor the film for its low quality. I’m horrified in a very physical sense, for I am worried sick about the (possible) reactions of male audiences when seeing what is done to Artemisia, played by Eva Green. Let me explain. (I’m actually writing this to keep a clear memory of my dread for future reference, as I need to teach 300 again in the MA and in my new BA course on ‘Gender Studies’).

300 takes the story of Leonidas’s defeat by Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae and turns it into a celebration of the male body in military action. A handful of almost naked Spartans sporting awesome six-pack abs maim in slow motion, displaying plenty of blood and guts, the heavily-clad, ineffectual ‘Immortals.’ The Persian forces are led, to cap this widely distorted version of History, by an orientalised Xerxes styled as a barbarian drag queen. The whole concept depends on the by now famous scenes of carnage and on the unwitting camp subtext contributed by Rodrigo Montoro’s bejewelled Xerxes and, to a great extent, by Gerard Butler’s tongue-in-cheek performance as Leonidas. If anyone on that set understood how preposterous the whole film was, that was Butler.

If you check IMDB you will see that the tide in favour of 300, by now a cult film, has not abated in eight years. The film still has a remarkable 7’8 rating despite the many protests from Iranians outraged at Hollywood’s mistreatment of the glories of the Persian Empire (the Americans were then occupying Iraq). 300: Rise of an Empire (which empire? even the title is confused) has a much more modest 6’5 rating, absolutely too high in view of the trash this film is.

What has changed is the amount of resistance from those misrepresented. Many non-American spectators, including many from Iran and Greece, have raised their voices against this atrocity for its total disregard of the History books (a matter that begs the question of why historians work at all). Among the very negative reviews only one, though, complained that Eva Green’s Artemisia is an ‘obscene’ rendering of the Strong Female Character. In contrast, and this is scary, her Artemisia is often praised among the most positive opinions about the film (mainly by American men).

The point I want to raise here is not so much a complaint against this Queen’s misrepresentation on the screen but in particular about the end that Green’s Artemisia receives. The historical character was, though Greek, a wily ally of Xerxes. She did command five ships in the battle of Salamis, which she survived with a little bit of trickery. And, well, she was an aristocrat, daughter, wife and mother of kings and a queen herself. Instead, Miller, Snyder and Johnstad imagine her as an orphan raised by Xerxes’ father Darius, saved from a miserable life of sexual abuse after her whole family is massacred by the Greeks. The girl is raised to be, basically, a psychopathic killing machine enmeshed in an obsessive game of revenge. She participates with the same glee as the Athenians in killing and maiming her enemies.

What scared me is that the whole point of this movie is raising a justification to (spoilers!!) kill Artemisia. Queen Gorgo, Leonidas’s widow, is given the narrator’s voice and the final battle scene as a way to maintain a certain political correctness, if that makes any sense at all. Yet, the whole concept behind this sequel is justifying the scene in which Athenian general Themistocles (played by a totally useless Australian actor) stabs Artemisia in the belly (the womb?), draws the corresponding explosion of blood and watches her die. What you see –forget about the characters– is a heavily muscled man doing his ‘duty’: killing a woman, who, well, was asking for it.

In a previous scene, said Themistocles is, predictably, seduced by beautiful Artemisia in an extremely ugly and vulgar scene, which is anything but subtle. The whole point in that scene is that Themistocles gets to fuck (excuse me) Artemisia but refuses her tempting offer to side with her in battle –thus humiliating her. I forgot to say that Xerxes, who respected the real Artemisia very much, slaps this one hard as soon as he has the chance.

Strong Female Characters, about whom I wrote a post last September, reach with Artemisia a sad climax. Male screen writers routinely present them in isolation from other women, as signs of how freakish female empowerment is, and, what is more worrying in 300: Rise of an Empire, as embodiments of pure misogyny disguised as something else (justified enemy hatred in battle). You might argue that Miller, Snyder and Johnstad’s Artemisia is the very incarnation of Judith Halbertsam’s questioned ‘female masculinity’ and, thus, a step beyond femininity.

The physical prowess she displays, though, which is simply impossible in real life in which even a small gang of brutal men can overpower any woman, is by no means intended to cheer women up but to give a further justification for Artemisia’s murder –for, after all, she shows herself quite capable of attacking Themistocles. Her choice to die as an honourable enemy rather than live captive (again) makes sense in the patriarchal script. Still, no matter, I see a man kill a woman callously and brutally for ‘justified’ reasons.

What made my hair stand on end was the realization that lads all over America, and possibly in other countries, must have cheered on at this climax. Green/Artemisia’s screen death is, of course, just one more among many thousands cinema has depicted, both male and female. Yet, what makes it particularly galling for me is that Artemisia is initially presented as a victim of patriarchal violence as a child and a young woman. The victim grows revengeful by embracing the very violence that turned against her family and for that she is victimised again –not raped, as she becomes too powerful for that, but killed.

So much for (anti-patriarchal) justice.

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BA DISSERTATIONS/TFGs: EMOTION RUNNING HIGH…

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

Oddly enough, BA dissertations are eliciting quite a high degree of personal involvement from both students and teachers. I say oddly enough because this is unexpected for a dissertation at this basic level, and because the teachers are not reacting in the same way to students in their own BA courses. Possibly, not even to their own tutorees if registered in those.

I’m aware that BA dissertations are common in many degrees all over Europe. In Spain, as happens, until recently they were a requirement only for Engineering and Architecture old style ‘Licenciaturas’ (for which students actually submitted ‘projects’). Some bureaucrat in the Education Ministry had the ‘brilliant idea’ of introducing dissertations without taking into account how the staff would cope with so many… nor the high anxiety that naming them ‘degree’s final work’ (‘trabajo de fin de grado’) would generate among students.

It is, however, simply not true that the new BA dissertation comes at the end of the degree (for us the only requirement is that a student has passed 160 credits), nor is it true that the TFG has an impact on the whole degree. It certainly tests the specific competences of the degree but it is, after all, just one more subject. It should have been named something like ‘Advanced Academic Skills’, or, perhaps just ‘Project.’ The problem is that we’re beginning to tell ourselves this now, two years into organising the TFG. If we had started with this plain truth rather than with the assumption that the TFG was a kind of proto-MA dissertation or the students’ only chance to truly choose a subject for themselves we’d be better off today. Both sides.

Although numbers have been growing, and many more students have submitted their TFG this second year than the first (63 instead of the original 22), we have tried to maintain the spirit of that first year, when we used too many hours to tutor the pioneering students who dared submit their TFG first. With a growing demand (perhaps up to 90 for 2014-15), we have no option, though, but to curb down the students’ and our own enthusiasm –though, to my surprise, this has already led to intense misencounters among teachers. Some feel somehow sorry that students will no longer be given the chance to freely choose their topic (we’ll offer a closed list, pre-inscription will depend on the student’s average grade); others (like me) worry above all about the impossible workload we’ve been assuming in the first two editions.

The personal involvement I was talking about, nevertheless, has other foundations apart from the so far free choice of tutor and topic. One is the decision we made to have supervisors (or tutors) be present as examiners in the oral presentation; the second, the decision to honour two deceased colleagues.

Generally speaking, the impression is that we tend to overvalue TFGs as tutors/supervisors, since the final product comes at a the end of quite a long process, which may have involved many meetings with the student (an exceptional situation in relation to our regular courses). In contrast, the second examiner knows nothing about this and generally has a less involved view of the matter.

About the presence of the supervisor in the oral exam, I’m myself in two minds about it. On the one hand, I’d rather ‘protect’ my students from that second less sympathetic examiner (though, to be fair, this is not always the case); on the other hand, as second examiner I have often felt quite annoyed by having to put up with other supervisors’ fierce defence of their students. About the prize awarded to the best Language and the best Literature TFGs in honour of our deceased colleagues, this has unleashed a strange competition among tutors promoting the candidacy of this or that student. Strange in the sense that, from what I have seen, who happens to tutor the best TFG is quite a lottery.

I have been asking colleagues in other Departments how they have organized matters both to limit teachers’ workload and to reach fairer standards of judgement. My impression is that the same problems are repeated everywhere. A colleague explained to me that she’s tutoring 19 different TFGs, the figure necessary for her tutoring to count as 6 ECTS, or a full course. This is, for me, madness (sorry)…

In our case, we started with 2 to 3 TFGs per teacher, supervised for free, apart from our official teaching hours. We’re still following this pattern, complemented with a novelty. With the application of the new teaching model, some teachers will have to supervise up to 10 TFGs to complete their teaching workload, a situation which surely calls for some kind of streamlining. We’re asking students to work on very similar TFGs if possible connected with electives (you’re teaching Shakespeare? Then you tutor that year only TFGs on Shakespeare). We’ll see how all this works.

I know students are not too happy, as the chances for a free choice of topic and tutor have dramatically diminished –and we’re bracing ourselves for the pairings in which neither tutor nor student will be happy to work together. Yet, there is only so much we can do before putting at risk precious time we need for research.

About my own experience, well, in the first edition I tutored three TFGs in which I was personally highly involved as I loved the topics and enjoyed the whole process very much (you may read them following the links in my own website). This year I have tutored three more, and though I loved once more the topics, contact with my tutorees has been more erratic, my involvement lower. Ironically, I have established the closest working and personal relationship with the student I have tutored online. Her TFG has been, all in all, an experience I’ll never forget on literary, academic and personal grounds –she’s done very well, of which I’m proud and happy. So you see…

I spent, by the way, two very enjoyable days attending the 23 TFG presentations (which I coordinated)–for, as I told everyone, I’m so fed up with discussing only bureaucracy with my colleagues that the chance of talking books was absolutely refreshing.

This, of course might be the root of that personal involvement I mentioned at the beginning of the post. The hours spent tutoring are often the only real chance along the semester to discuss books in depth with someone equally involved (which is not always the case in BA classes). What a pity, then, this will have to change… for lack of time.

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NETWORKING: BEYOND THE ANGLO-AMERICAN WORLD?

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

[The last two weeks have been too hectic for me to keep up the pace of regular posting here. Yes, teaching is over but not marking, or BA and MA examining boards. Bureaucracy is, well, eating me alive. Every time friends or relatives ask me whether I’m already on holiday I go ballistic…]

Two very different matters lead me to consider today networking. One is a conference, the other a doctoral dissertation.

Recently, I attended in Barcelona the Spring conference of At Gender: The European Association for Gender Research, Education and Documentation (http://www.atgender.eu/). I found out about this association through an email sent by the Institut Interuniversitari d’Estudis de Dones i de Gènere, to which I belong –and whose name has always puzzled me (aren’t women gendered??). Since I’m used to English Studies conferences it took me a while to get the idea behind At Gender: no Americans, hardly any Brit, plenty of Scandinavian scholars and many others from all over central and eastern Europe. Ah!, I thought, so Europe does exist after all –how nice.

I did enjoy the panels I attended and met two awesome ladies, one from Finland, one from Barcelona itself. Chances for networking? Well, frankly much higher with the local lady than with the other lady for, let’s be frank about it, it’s hard to keep in touch with people you are with for a couple of days, much easier to meet for coffee with someone nearby. Second observation about networking: attending a conference in one’s city is a very bad idea as the need to socialise (=network) with one’s peers is lower than if you’re thrown together with them in a distant location. Third observation: once an association has been running for years, the chances for new incomers to network diminish as the basic nets have been formed. When you see so many people greeting each other by first name, the chances to introduce yourself and start conversation dwindle (or that must be my shyness). Anyway, so that you know: At Gender exists, and so does the grandly named, EU-funded ‘European Institute for Gender Equality’ (http://eige.europa.edu). That its central office is in Vilnius, Lithuania says all I need to know about how peripheral gender is to the European Union. With apologies to gender scholars in Vilnius.

My doctoral student Auba Llompart, author of an impressive dissertation on children’s Gothic to be soon submitted, has applied for a ‘Mención Europea’. This is a certificate added to her doctoral degree stating that she has done research elsewhere in Europe for at least 3 months under another scholar’s supervision. Now, if you’re into English Studies, ‘elsewhere in Europe’ means Britain, where, by the way, hardly anyone knows what a ‘Mención Europea’ is. It turns out this is not a way of certifying all over Europe that you’re a doctor but just something that Spanish universities are promoting, with validity in two or three more countries.

Anyway, Auba must have on her board a foreign expert and we have invited someone from the British university where she did her research. Now, here’s the tricky situation: we need two other scholars to act as external examiners and write reports on her dissertation. It seems that one of these can also be based at a British university but the other must be based in some other European country. Uff. Not that easy… as my networking gravitates towards Britain.

Apart from the corresponding emails to anyone who might help, I spent a couple of hours surfing Academia.edu, trying to make a list of suitable specialists outside Britain. Start with my own contacts, check those of my followers and of people I follow, use research labels to locate other scholars and so on. I came up with a couple of names, one in Germany and one in Sweden but what Academia.edu revealed was what I already knew: networking is pyramidal, with the UK and the USA at the top. You get a smaller web of local connections (Spanish scholars following each other) and then a bigger web of international connections all pointing to ‘Anglo-America’. How many, say, Finnish and Italian scholars know of each other? If any? Something’s wrong here, I’m not sure what. Surely, my non-British equivalents in academic inclinations and aspirations must exist in all European countries, but how do we find each other?

Conferences? Well…

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UNIVERSITY TEACHERS WHO DON’T DO RESEARCH (SO, WHAT DO THEY DO?)

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

A pleased colleague tells me he’s been awarded the fifth ‘sexenio’, which means that his last personal research assessment exercise was positive and that he has validated by now, before the corresponding Ministry’s agency, 30 years of research. He tells me that this fifth exercise is valid for the rest of his professional life and so he need not worry about the sixth ‘sexenio’ (which is also the maximum allowed).

He is particularly happy that under the current Ministry’s regulations he’ll only have to teach 16 ECTS until he retires. I understand his happiness. The little detail missing here is that he’s already 60. He still has 10 years ahead before retirement at 70 and, so, the chance to obtain that last ‘sexenio’. But, well, excuse me, 60 seems respectable enough anyway for active researchers like him to be awarded some kind of leeway after 30 years of service…

I think of myself trudging on, with at least 9 years ahead in the best case scenario, before capturing the golden snitch of that fifth ‘sexenio’, or else. Else meaning that instead of my current 16 ECTS I’ll be ‘punished’ if I fail to validate my research with 24, or at worst 32 ECTS. My colleague and I discuss after his happy news how little enticing the system is now. The perspective of my reaching the nice age of 60 burdened by 32 ECTS despite all my research sinks me. Just don’t think, as we all know, that doing research is the same as having research officially validated.

Deep sigh…

Searching for information about that fabled fifth ‘sexenio’, however, I come across a piece of news that both puzzles and irritates me. Angers me. The headline, from ABC (http://www.abc.es/sociedad/20140505/abci-educacion-universidades-rectores-201405041703.html 06/05/2014), claims that ‘Más de la mitad de los profesores de universidad apenas investiga’ which is a peculiar way of saying that ‘Less than half of the Spanish university teachers do research’. Empty bottle, full bottle. The sub-headline is a bit trickier, for it clarifies that ‘El 57% del personal docente tiene uno o ningún sexenio reconocido.’ I wonder whether this is misinformation… How many of those with one ‘sexenio’ are still active researchers? If not, why they did abandon research? Can you really compare someone who does have a ‘sexenio’ with someone who’s never cared or bothered to publish?

Let me gather some figures from the article. According to a 2010 report by the Conferencia de Rectores de las Universidades Españolas (CRUE), Spain occupies position 22 worlwide by scientific documents by million inhabitants, 16 by number of citations. Not that horrific. But now consider more figures, connected with that 57’6%: 37’6% of Spanish university teachers have no ‘sexenio’, 20% has one. Now for the remaining 42’4%: 18’4% has two. If my calculator is right 24% have three or more ‘sexenios’. My five-sexenio colleague must be in the top 5%… Yet… Only 70% of all full professors, 40% of all lecturers do research (how the rest got their tenure mystifies me; maybe it’s a matter of ‘when’).

If you follow me, this means that the minority, the 42’4% who has more than two ‘sexenios’, is producing the documents that result in that 22nd position. I know that my argumentation is quite murky but so is the reality of the Spanish university. Between 42’4% and 60’4% care or have care at some point for validating their research (that’s not compulsory, by the way, it’s voluntary). Let me wonder about the remaining 37’6%.

I know quite a few cases in which research is being done but the Ministry has not validated it for its own reasons (lack of money being one, surely). So, let’s suppose that the actual figure of university teachers who do no research at all is 20%. One in five. These are teachers who, let’s recall this, are employed the same number of hours I am and earn the same salary (minus the research complements, a grand total of 120 euros a month each). If all teachers are supposed to teach, do research and contribute to admin tasks, what do those who only teach do in their daily routine? I wonder.

By contract we’re supposed to work 37,5 hours a week, with a teaching workload of 6 to 8 hours for teachers employed to teach 24 ECTS. Teaching involves 15 weeks per semester. If I manage to do my teaching, my admin tasks and my research by working, say, a 45-hour-week (evening and weekend reading aside), what do the colleagues who only teach do? If, for me, say, teaching involves half my workload, 22 hours a week, what do they do with the spare 15’5 hours? Suppose they read though, of course, reading is not the same as doing research, not even in the Humanities, as we’re supposed to write and publish. But, here’s the creepy thought, suppose they do nothing professionally relevant in that time.

Now complete the sentences:
*if that 20% put their 15’5 hours a week to the service of research…
*if validating regularly your own research was compulsory and not voluntary, teachers who do no research…
*if the Ministry’s validation system was more supportive of researchers…
And:
*if ‘sexenios’ are used to punish rather than reward, the effect…

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ATTACKING ACADEMESE IN THE HUMANITIES: THE HARD SF VIEW (ON GREG EGAN’S TERANESIA)

Enviat per Sara Martín Alegre

Reading the SF novel Teranesia (1999) by Australian novelist Greg Egan, I’m surprised to find an anti-academese critique embedded in a key subplot.

The protagonist Prabir, a teenager, and his younger sister Madhusree lose their parents in the first segment of the book. The couple, Indian scientists doing research on a mysterious butterfly in a remote Indonesian island, are killed in terrible, war-related circumstances. The children survive to be eventually fostered by a cousin, Amita, who works as a ‘Diana Studies’ lecturer in Canada. Her ex-partner, Keith, whom she keeps around in case the children need a “male narrative” is also an academic specialising in ‘X-Files Theory’… Egan, whose domain is hard science-fiction, has a BA in Mathematics, according to Wikipedia, and used to make a living as a computer scientist before becoming an author. He has very little sympathy for the current theory-based Humanities discourse. Or maybe this is a case of seeing the Emperor’s clothes for what they are. Only he misses the point that there seems to be more than one Emperor.

Amita and Keith are good people, well meaning by the kids who are so unexpectedly dropped on their laps. It’s just that they speak academese all the time, the kind of jargon you do find in academic publications on Feminism, Literary Theory, Cultural Studies, etc. too often. Egan gets it right, to my great amusement, but quite humourlessly, forgetting that the liberal humanities crowd is doing much to get SF out of the ghetto. Including hard SF. I’m not going to defend that kind of molasses-thick prose whose meaning very often collapses the moment you attempt translation –not only into another language but into simpler terms. I’ll let you judge whether Egan goes too far.

One day brilliant Madushree returns from school, she’s just 9. What have you learned today?, Amita asks. Her lesson: since in the 1960s and 1970s people’s fight in the streets and the institutions for actual power –both in feminist and civil rights movements– was beginning to succeed, the concerned Government had to seek a solution to curb it down. In the 1980s the CIA, Madushree explains, “hired some really clever linguists to invent a secret weapon: an incredibly complicated way of talking about politics that didn’t actually make any sense, but which spread through all the universities in the world, because it sounded so impressive.”

The new babblers eventually hijacked street activism, and delegitimized its language, so that instead of shouting “‘How about upholding the universal principles you claim to believe in?’ the people in the social justice movements ended up saying things like ‘My truth narrative is in competition with your truth narrative!’” Logically, those in power could then dismiss their claims as unintelligible. “And the secret weapon,” Egan has his little puppet conclude, “lived on in the universities for years and years, because everyone who’d played a part in the conspiracy was too embarrassed to admit what they’d done.”

I agree with Egan that academic prose in the Humanities has been colonised by unnecessary, distorting jargon that seems designed to obscure rather than illuminate meaning. Obviously, there is no conspiracy, although I’m well aware that an inability to spout certain types of jargon is a serious obstacle to publication in many major journals. Whenever I hear someone confidently delivering a paper in a conference written in said jargon, I marvel at how it is done. It often feels like a foreign language embedded in English which I will never master. I do doubt that, apart from papers, though, people speak like this in real life, at least I’ve never heard anyone use the language Amita uses with the children in Teranesia. Language from which Prabir feels called to protect his sister to the point of claiming a very early emancipation from Amita, which even jeopardises his own education.

Madushree, who chooses to pursue an education as a scientist, plays in the late stages of Tiranesia a crucial role, though still an undergrad. Here’s the joke on Egan: these final chapters of his novel (too hurried, not that well written) reveal ultimately the inability of current scientific language to connect with the average reader. I trusted that the medical bio-babble his characters were spouting made sense in a scientific context, though some reviewers pointed that was not the case. The particular problem revealed by Egan’s dialogue, I’ll insist, is that hard SF highlights the enormous distance between scientists and non-scientists in our current culture. As everyone knows, of course, who is aware of the disputes in the field of SF between the hard and soft options.

Egan, of course, would tell you that unlike Amita and Keith he is using accurate language and that for him a spade is a spade. I can even hear Amita and Keith celebrating the complexity and richness of Egan’s scientific mentality, and even defending the idea that they’re contributing to creating a scientific vocabulary for the Humanities (as if criticism needs that). I just feel frustrated that while he sees that the Humanities’ Emperor may be naked, he does not see –quite stubbornly– that the Sciences’ Emperor is, if not naked, at least wearing very strange clothes.

I wonder how Egan and Amita would communicate if left alone for coffee. And if anyone listening in would understand a single word.

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