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Friday, April 15, 2011

Framing the Invisible Matron as Fragment...

Last night's Philosophy Club session began with a discussion of aging and ageism in our society, and ended with a rousing call to tap into our inner researcher and resurrect, over the Easter holidays, the hidden or lost life of a female relative or acquaintance whose story didn't make the cut when it came to producing the "official" version of our family or neighbourhood histories. On the way, we took a foray into how our viewing, listening and living-in-the-world practices over the past week had been impacted and informed by our exploration in Week 2 of spectatorship and the Susan Boyle phenomenon. And - making a quick detour into a Take Back the Night march where feminist activism came face-to-face with its own inherent ageism - we discussed 65-year-old writer and activist Barbara Macdonald's impassioned plea to the world to both remember her, and to never stop looking her in the eye. And speaking of the world...Did I mention the part where we made cookies out of a stretch of dough that was standing in for the whole spectrum of life in the world as we know it?

Alright, so it was a busy night...But believe me, there was method to our madness. You see, we'd been fleshing out our understanding of "the male gaze" through grounding it in our lived experience as midlife media consumers. When we reached a philosophical impasse, out came the cookie cutters and with them, an exercise in how framing works. Many little ginger bread men later, we were well on our way to developing a critical and questioning stance with regard to those prescribed ways of seeing the world, and how we get interpellated by them. As for creating an arsenal of tactics to take on this hegemonic minefield, we found it in the scraps of dough that the cookie cutters had left behind.

Turning to our theme of the week - the Invisible Matron as historical fragment and literary footnote - and comparing our doughy "leftovers" to the place relegated women throughout Western history, we stepped into our sensible researcher shoes and considered how to render someone visible and vibrant out of nothing much. It was reassuring to realize just how much information a fragment or a footnote holds; moreover, just as that leftover scrap of dough can be made into something that hasn't been made before, we saw the advantages in reconstructing a life from overlooked material that had, quite literally, slipped below the radar and escaped the objectifying look of the male gaze! Breaking into teams, we "sped-built" two such lives out of boxed remains that included fragments of letters, old photographs, remnants of clothing, and faded ticket stubs. After the Easter break, we'll be turning the fragment into a revolutionary writing tactic that, when used strategically, can introduce a literary hiccup into the seemingly seamless flow of the traditional Western narrative. Until then, you'll find us up in our attics amongst the fragments...Searching for our "spinster" aunties, searching for our "matronly" great-grandmothers.