Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Undisciplined Women: Tradition and Culture in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Undisciplined Women: Tradition and Culture in Canada

Article excerpt

Pauline Greenhill and Diane Tye, eds. Undisciplined Women: Tradition and Culture in Canada. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1997. xv, 306 pp. ISBN 0-773-51614 (hardcover).

This interdisciplinary volume contains twenty essays dealing with women and culture in Canada. These essays contribute to the growing body of literature that addresses women's issues in folklore studies. It continues in the vein of folklore publications, like Rosan A. Jordan's Women 's Folklore, Women 's Culture and Claire R. Farrer's Women and Folklore, which initiated challenges to the public/private boundaries of women's culture and related issues.1 Moreover, Undisciplined Women endeavors to redress the general neglect of Canadian culture in broader academic folklore spaces, and folklore in Canadian studies. The editors note in their introduction that the book's title both recognizes the "exclusion of women and feminism" in Folklore, and marks their "resistance to it" (p. x). In this way, the articles challenge ways of knowing and making knowledge within academic spaces, or "how folklore is done" (p. xvi). These essays represent work by senior folklorists and younger academics at different points in their careers; also, notably, the volume addresses and includes authors who work outside academic spaces. This is the first mark of the volume's "(un)discipline" - to include "as significant and valid collectors and (re)presenters of traditional and popular culture not only those women associated with the academy but also those who have never been near it" (p. xi).

The word play in the book's title signifies in a variety of ways. Perhaps most obviously, the women and female/feminine constructs (including "witches" and female taxi drivers) explored in the chapters often challenge socially-palatable and conforming notions of identity. This kind of challenge is encapsulated in the book's cover art, a painting created by Canadian Ukrainian artist Natalka Husar. It appears to be a scene much like those found at Ukrainian (and other) community dinners commonly held in church basements and halls in various regions of Canada. Two older women sit minding a table where they are selling tickets, very clearly in charge of the situation. Behind them a young woman is dressed in Ukrainian folk-staged dance costume - painted upside down! In this way, she "turns on their head" socially prescribed norms of behavior; she is not quite the demure or conforming young maiden her costume might suggest.

The ways in which the authors write about the communities they worked in often disrupts more conventionally accepted understandings of identity constructs found in popular culture; here, Greenhill' s article that challenges heterosexist interpretations of cross-dressing ballads comes to mind. This is immensely significant not only to the discipline of folklore, but when considering that identities of related communities are tied up with conventional or "traditional" perceptions of identity constructs. This is due in large part to the fact that these identity constructs are inextricably linked to gender, as the authors both explicitly and implicitly argue in their various chapters. I can well imagine that some of the articles may present epistemologica! challenges to the ways in which communities and individuals understand themselves and their identities. Yet, as the editors point out in their introduction, some of the contributing authors "describe themselves as committed feminists; others find the terms and its connotations problematic" (p. xiii). This group of authors, then, is not easily bounded but themselves experience unsettledness and undisciplined-ness in relation to women's issues and academia.

Considering recent discussions regarding the efficacy or desirability of disciplinary boundaries and distinctions in academia, this volume's "undisciplined" title seems especially pertinent. Together, the authors break through disciplinary boundaries, writing across and through women's studies, folklore, anthropology, sociology; they find themselves at "the intersection of three all too often marginalized areas of academic inquiry - folklore, women, and Canada" (p. …

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