"Difficult" Women

Oct 28, 2018 | 9:00 AM - 10:30 AM | Studio Theatre

Dr. Carla Ionescu, Doctorate   Humber College

Little Witch Bitch: A Misogynist Insult or A Force for Good?

During the 2016 US presidential election, American social media was flooded with images of Hillary Clinton wearing a black hat and riding a broom, or else cackling with green skin. Given that the last witch trial in the US was more than 100 hundred years ago, what are we to make of this? The dangerous bitch and the hideous old witch are complementary representations, intended to show up women's iniquities and punish them, but also to warn and frighten men. The monstrous old hag who is in contact with evil forces (such as the biblical witch of Endor) and the beautiful enchantress who turns men into beasts (such as the classical Circe) have been reinvented in many guises through the centuries in European art, literature, theater and music.

In the last decade, United Nations officials have reported a rise in women killed for witchcraft across the globe. In India the problem is particularly well-documented, with older women being targeted as scapegoats or as a pretext for seizing their lands and goods. In Saudi Arabia, women have been convicted of witchcraft in the courts, and in Ghana they have been exiled to so-called “witch camps”. We stand therefore at a crossroads – which is fitting, since crossroads are sacred to Hecate, Greek goddess of witchcraft. Will we continue to fear and punish women with power? To call them evil? Or perhaps we can at last celebrate female strength, recognizing that witches – and women – are not going away. This paper examines how the use of a gendered noun (witch) identifies, and vilifies, the sex of the object being signified. By analyzing the idea of fluid grammatical gender as the basic tenet of religion and state politics, we can understand of the power of language to shape human perception.

Kim Hong Nguyen, PhD  University of Waterloo

Losing our words about white femininity

This presentation analyzes Sarah Palin’s candidacy for Vice President in the 2008 U.S. election in order to understand how her feminism created a crisis within liberal feminism over the relationship between gender and electoral power. Where liberal feminism manufactured a binary between what was sexist about interpretations about Palin and what was sexist in her politics, Palin’s feminism was negotiated within postfeminist culture of strong-willed women without core feminist beliefs. Amiss in this misrecognition by white liberal feminists as postfeminism is how Palin deployed white fragile femininity where her struggle within a sexist male dominated profession effaces her racial and white supremacist performance and politics. By ignoring whiteness and white fragile femininity in particular, the feminist critique of Palin reinscribes the very means through which feminism historically has policed women of colour. This presentation will explore the technologies of the white self that Palin deploys.

Samantha Younan, BA  University of Windsor

Tante Chanel: The Cool Aunt we all Have

Since the rise in popularity of both Coco Chanel as a historical figure and Chanel, the brand, research and popular culture have tended to associate her and her design house with mothers and daughters in a variety of ways. Chanel is seen as the “mother of modern fashion,” but also as a prototype for the “modern girl,” or daughter of the new woman; the house of Chanel has frequently employed models in one decade only to employ their daughters in the next, and the brand carries a unique cross generational appeal. Despite these oft comparisons and associations to a mother and/or daughter, fundamental facts about Chanel’s life, the success of the brand, and the psychology of mother daughter relationships makes these evaluations problematic.

I propose an alternate way of viewing the person and brand Chanel. Rather, as that of the “cool aunt.” Often disregarded in familial studies, very little language or pop culture references exist regarding the aunt figure despite how frequently they play a vital role in the lives of their nieces. Similarly, popular media that does feature aunts tend to show them in negative ways, especially in representations of the single aunt without children of her own. It is my aim to present Chanel as correlated with the aunt figure, as well as research on the role of aunts within families, their common representations in popular culture, and the language and references or lack thereof surrounding aunts as a way of advancing the dialogue and roles of aunts in hopes that they may begin to claim more space within our conversations regarding family and social life.


Carla Ionescu, PhD

Dr. Carla Ionescu is a Professor of Liberal Arts and Science at Humber College. Her area of expertise centers on the influential nature of the ritualistic worship of the goddess Artemis, particularly in the city of Ephesus. Her recent research centers around the temple of Jerash in Jordan where the mystery of her stolen cult statue may provide evidence that Artemis was the most prevalent, and influential goddess of the Mediterranean with roots embedded in the community, and culture, of this area that can be traced further back in time than even the arrival of the Greeks. Dr. Ionescu’s latest publication (October 2018)  Feeding the World: Reconsidering the Multi-Breasted Body of Artemis Ephesia, can be found in the edited collection, ‘Bearing the Weight of the World’, by Demeter Press.

Kim Hong Nguyen, PhD

Dr. Kim Hong Nguyen is an Assistant Professor in Speech Communication at the University of Waterloo. Her research and teaching explores the relationship between equity, power, and identity in public controversies related to communication practices. She has published on a wide range of topics: American Tea Party's use of World War II Holocaust references, freedom of speech issues related to the largest and longest Vietnamese American protest, the concern about words with the phoneme nigg-, and representation of war and colonialism in museums.

Samantha Younan, MA

Samantha Younan completed her Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English Language and Literature and Communications, Media, and Film from the University of Windsor in 2015. While completing her undergraduate degree, she was fortunate enough to complete a yearlong study abroad placement at The University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, where she explored her love of Early Modern drama and expanded her understanding of British Literature. She completed the M.A. program in English Language and Literature at the University of Windsor. Samantha Younan recently worked as a Research Assistant for a book about cityscapes and public art forms (currently under publication). Along with her passion for public art and theatre, she also enjoys learning new languages, and is now fluent in English, French, and Italian. Her interests lie in gender studies and she is particularly interested in female-authored works that unsettle cultural and historical perceptions about women and their work within the literary cannon. She is heavily invested in children’s literature, having worked as a Graduate Assistant for a hybrid learning class on the topic, where she completed certifications for online learning and teaching strategies.