Researching Gender student research panel, September 2023

Researching Gender, a tri-ugraduate student research panel 21 September 2023 at 11 am on Zoom, Wilfrid Laurier University, University of Guelph, University of Waterloo


TUGSA organized a "Researching Gender," panel that was held virtually on Thursday, September 21.

Dr. Kristina Llewellyn served as the panel chair. Dr. Llewellyn is a Professor of Social Development Studies at Renison University College, University of Waterloo and an Associate Member of the History Department at the University of Waterloo. She is a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists. She is one of Canada’s leading scholars in history and education. Dr. Llewellyn is the award-winning author of four books, including Democracy's Angels: The Work of Women Teachers (MQUP, 2012) and Oral History, Education, and Justice: Possibilities and Limitations for Redress and Reconciliation (Routledge, 2019). She is Director of the project Digital Oral Histories for Reconciliation: The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children History Education Initiative and Executive Member of the project Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future. Dr. Llewellyn is a regular commentator for local and national media on education issues, promoting nuanced understandings and practices of history, teaching, and learning for an equitable society.

After a summary of their presentations, the students offer reflections on their research below.

Presentations and researcher bios

Politics & Pleasure: Battles Over Pornography in 1980s America

Kess Carpenter is a PhD candidate in history at Wilfrid Laurier University. They completed their MA at the University of Windsor where they examined gender, sexuality, and post-World War II culture through the lens of Playboy Magazine. While at Laurier, Kess has undertaken specialized study in the history of gender and sexuality, cultural history, and the Cold War. Their current research explores the intersections between culture, politics, activism, and pornography in 1980s America.

Rui (Raymond) Li

“Good Wife, Wise Mother” and Manchukuo Women’s Education under the Kingly Way

Rui (Raymond) Li is a first-year Ph.D. student in history at the University of Guelph. He earned his first master's degree in history from the University of Macau in 2018 and his second master's in history from the University of Guelph in 2023. Raymond's research interests lie in the history of modern Northeast Asia, especially the ideological propaganda issues of Manchukuo, Japan and China. In particular, it focuses on the rise and dissemination of nationalism and feminism in modern Northeast Asia, and their effects in modern Asian societies.

Boys and Their Toys: Gender, Geoengineering, and the Men Who Would Destroy the World  

Jake McIvor is a 2nd year MA student at the University of Guelph. He is the current Guelph TUGSA co-president, and is enrolled in Guelph's first cohort of the Sexualities, Genders and Bodies graduate program. Jake is researching the history of geoengineering and is exploring its heavily gendered dimensions. Geoengineering will soon become increasingly important to the global climate debate, but it represents an unmistakably male approach to science and the environment. Jake's research aims to uncover not only how geoengineering is informed by masculinity, but also maintains the current gender hierarchy in the face of climate change. 

Vera Zoricic

The Black Women’s United Front: “Forward with the Struggle”

Vera Zoricic is a second-year PhD student studying under the supervision of Dr. Ian Milligan. Her research topic focuses on the digitization of the black freedom struggles during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. She is particularly interested in how the issues of race, class, and gender intersect to shape individual and group experiences in Canada and the United States.

Researching Gender presenter reflections

What was your presentation about and what drew you to the topic?

Carpenter: My presentation centered around my ongoing doctoral research, which seeks to unravel how and why politicians, grassroots activists, feminists, the queer community, and the mainstream pornography industry politicized pornography in late-twentieth century America.

Li: "Good Wife, Wise Mother" expresses the ideal image of women in East Asian societies, whether ancient, modern or contemporary. With the rise of imperialism and militarism in East Asia in the modern period, "Good Wife, Wise Mother" was given a zeitgeist. This research highlights the evolution of the status of women in Manchukuo as a result of the nation-building of the Manchukuo and the advocacy of the “Kingly Way” ideology. Women’s education and role as mothers were closely linked to the nation’s modernization and industrial development. The advocate on knowledge and education shaped the image of a “wise and good” modern woman in Manchukuo.

McIvor: My presentation was about geoengineering and its heavily gendered dimensions. I was driven to this topic because I wanted to study gender and masculinity because it is what I’m personally connected to. Geoengineering came about after I trimmed down from my original topic. I knew I wanted to write about climate change and gender since it’s the most important issue any of us will address in our lives, and it does not get a lot of attention as a social phenomenon. Climate change cannot be confined to techno-scientific discussion, and its social aspects are just as or more important in many cases. Geoengineering is also an interesting topic because it will may soon become much more mainstream although it is a bit "wacky" given its fringe position in climate change history.

Zoricic: I was drawn to the topic of the Black Women’s United Front (BWUF) because very little has been written on it. This organization is unique because it features women within the Black Power movement, and it demonstrates that women played a significant role in shaping the development of Black Power ideology and politics. BWUF, created in 1975, offered African American women an alternative to conservative gender doctrines embodied in cultural nationalist organizations.  While BWUF had a rather short existence, its impact is significant because it helped elevate the position of women within the Black Power movement. A key figure of this time was Sylvia Jones, who was born on December 5, 1942, in Charlotte, North Carolina. She later changed her name to Amina Baraka (meaning faithful one). Baraka’s dissatisfaction with the gender roles in her cultural nationalist organization led to her decision to explore socialism which revealed her acknowledgement of “class contradictions and class struggle” within the Black Power movement. Amina Baraka clearly situated the “Woman Question” within the context of the “Class Question.” Unfortunately, BWUF failed to overcome three challenges. Disagreement with cultural nationalists over socialism as a way forward for the Black freedom struggles, refusal to participate with white socialists, and fear of the negative influence of the white women’s movement led to the downfall of BWUF.  During its short existence, however, BWUF set a new tone for the Black Power movement and helped to insert Black women into the conversations surrounding labour, power, and politics.

What sources did you use and why did you use them?

Carpenter: This project is informed by sources such as the Women Against Pornography archival collection, feminist and queer newsletters, legal cases, and newspapers.

Li: The primary sources I used were mainly official archives of the Manchukuo government, as well as state-owned newspapers and miscellaneous journals of the early Manchukuo period.  "Good Wife, Wise Mother", as the ideal image of women which was vigorously publicized by the Manchukuo officials, was bound to appear repeatedly in some official newspapers with a large circulation and wide literate audience. Therefore, whether it was the Ministry of Education of Manchukuo or the newspaper operated by the propaganda department, it was possible to find articles by officials and intellectuals promoting "Good Wife, Wise Mother". Therefore, these two types of source materials are of great help to this study.

McIvor: My research rests heavily on gender theory that is based on the work of Raewyn Connell, who is the most important academic writing about masculinity. My primary sources come from scientific publications and presentations given by important geoengineers from history, most of which is publicly available. There have also been some valuable secondary sources on the history of geoengineering, such as Fixing the Sky and Earthmasters, but many of these lack gender analysis, which is what I hope to produce in my own original work.

Zoricic: My sources rested primarily with newspapers from the local organizations from the time. These documents provided a rich glimpse into a complex shift in ideology from cultural nationalism to socialism during the 1970s. Some of these sources have been digitized and are available online. Since these documents provide an invaluable perspective, it would be beneficial to have more documents digitized for the purpose of research and study.

How does your work challenge binary thinking?

Carpenter: My work challenges binary thinking through examining the 1980s porn wars dialectically and considering how a diverse range of voices such as anti-pornography feminists, the queer community, pro-sex feminists, the New Right, free speech advocates, and those involved within the pornography industry clashed and coalesced. Rather than a two-sided debate, the 1980s porn wars, and more broadly the 1980s culture wars, reveal the many fractures and odd alliances that occurred in American political cultural during the latter half of the twentieth century.

Li: In my research, I have sketched out the status of "Good Wife, Wise Mother" women in Manchukuo under the ideology of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere of the Japanese Empire. In such a hierarchy, both women and men are victims of authoritarianism. The social status of women in East Asia is even more underground due to the long history of patriarchal oppression. Thus, while emphasizing the oppression of "Good Wife, Wise Mother" by the modern East Asian patriarchy, this study also highlights its oppression by the alienated nationalism and imperialism of modern East Asia. "Good Wife, Wise Mother" is not only a dualistic male-to-female dictum, but also a tragedy in the human hierarchy.

McIvor: It would be fair to argue that my work is heavily critical of geoengineers, but we must also acknowledge that, despite their faults, geoengineers are doing things which they ultimately hope will save people from the worst damages of climate change. Several of them only support geoengineering because they have given up hope on more desirable solutions being implemented. It can be easy to see a divide between the techno-scientific approach to climate change and the socio-political approach, but as I said earlier, the issue is so large that everyone really needs to contribute their own knowledge to make sure we make the right decisions and ensure whatever we do is implemented equitably. The future we need is going to be made by scientists with social awareness, and people in the arts engaging with practical and technical solutions.

Anything else you would like to share?

Li: Admittedly, research on modern East Asian history does not receive much attention here. Nevertheless, this study hopes to provide Canadian historians with some exotic information in an attempt to better understand why many East Asian immigrants to North America still appropriated the gender consciousness of their ancestral homelands. Perhaps this is a small contribution that this study can make to the study of history in Canada.

McIvor: The Transgender Issue: Trans Justice Is Justice for All by Shon Faye is a very good book to introduce people to a plethora of issues, mostly related through the lens of trans women in the UK. It touches on gender in politics, medicine, prisons, etc., and is a fairly easy read. If first year students or other people you know want to read up on gender issues but don’t know where to start, I think that’s a good recommendation.