Department of Gender Studies Graduate Theses

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    Helpful or Harmful? An Institutional Ethnography of Self-Injury and Mental Health Care
    Smith, Sarah E. K.; Gender Studies; King, Samantha
    This dissertation is about people who self-injure, how they come to be understood as mentally ill, and the work they must do to “get well.” Using institutional ethnography and autoethnography as my methods of inquiry, I grapple with the disjunctures that exist between experiential and professional knowledges of self-injury and outline the material impacts that these disjunctures have on people who self-injure. Using semi-structured interviews and textual analysis, I trace people’s experiences with mental health care back to diagnostic and therapeutic texts which frame people who self-injure as manipulative, attention-seeking, and almost always suicidal – discourses which often do not align with people’s own perceptions of the meanings and motivations for their self-injury. I reveal how these discursive and definitional inconsistencies generate critical disconnects in the lives of people who self-injure as they become forced to navigate the stigma and iatrogenic harm imposed by these perceptions and illustrate how people’s experiences with self-injury and the mental health care system occur against a backdrop of misogyny and sanism. I argue that the deprivileging of experiential knowledge and the imposition of biomedical explanations for self-injury can lead to greater levels of mental distress, keeping people caught up in “the work of getting well” as they try to find the right supports within psychiatric services which are not always designed to help them flourish. This dissertation builds on a strong body of psychiatric survivor research and activism that has fought to frame experiential knowledge as legitimate and valuable and constructs a counter-discourse of self-injury that favours experiential knowledge and challenges epistemic injustice. I conclude by centring recommendations from my research participants as to how mental health care could be transformed and share ideas for future research, education, and activism about self-injury.
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    Ma(r)king Space, Selling Place: Afro-Caribbean Women’s Spatial Negotiations at Caribana
    Gibbons-Taylor, Celine; Gender Studies; McKittrick, Katherine
    This MA thesis explores the gendered geographies of Caribana, Toronto’s carnival-festival that celebrates Caribbean dance, music, band competitions, and masquerades/Mas. A longstanding feature of the festival has been the fence along the parade route, which separates the performers from the audience; the fence, which is meant to maintain security and order within the parade, has come to define the geography of Caribana since 2009 (Baute, 2009; News Staff, 2009; Aveling, 2009; Elder, 2016; Otchere, 2017). A prominent logistical feature within the parade, and an entry point into this thesis, I read the fence as a metaphor that interrupts “Canadian” consciousness and illustrates material and ideological representations of the nation’s multiculturalism policy. Specifically, I assert that the Multiculturalism Act codifies racial and cultural difference through its diversity rhetoric and, in turn, normalizes whiteness as an indicator of “proper” citizenship. Thinking about this process alongside the spatial politics of Caribana, the fence, then, unfolds into a material, rather than simply metaphoric site that divides the population according to racial, gendered, and sexualized markers. Afro-Caribbean women are particularly vulnerable to and implicated within these violent processes of place-making as they visibly dominate the parade. The thesis works with interdisciplinary scholarship, creative texts, and original accounts (semi-structured interviews and a survey questionnaire) to explore: how Afro-Caribbean women articulate a sense of belonging that disrupts the normalized construction of Canadian citizenship; how the spatial politics of Caribana are predicated on the maintenance and subversion of white settler nationalism—specifically within official multiculturalism and other policies that promote diversity; and how Caribana illuminates Black spatial negotiations and Black women’s liberatory geographies. This research complicates the multicultural nation by demonstrating the ways that Afro-Caribbean women’s relationship to Canada is contingent on their own creative imaginings of a “deterritorialized citizenship” (Walcott, 2001). Whether outside of, against, or next to “Canadianness,” Afro-Caribbean women’s sense of place is always in conversation with longer collective histories of Black and Caribbean movement, migration, and diaspora, whereby their struggles for liberation and freedom are always in motion.
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    “What’s love got to do with it?” Race, Gender, Nation and the Criminalization of Polygamy in Canada and the United States.
    Alexopoulos, Anastasia; Gender Studies; McKittrick, Katherine
    This project interrogates the weaponization of heteronormative marriage in processes of state formation and in relation to practices of polygamy. This dissertation explores how gender and race have been used at the service of the white settler-colonial state via the criminalization of polygamy; and, the role of law, policy, and science in the contemporary construction and perpetuation of normative gender roles and racial hierarchies which rely on the primacy of monogamous marriage and the criminalization of polygamy to remain coherent. Engaging with bodies of theoretical work that highlight how polygamy has been and continues to be utilized in a myriad of processes including normative constructions of the family, nation building, the state and citizenship; race and racism; sexuality; and gender equality, this dissertation investigates and interrogates struggles over the meaning and representation of polygamy at the intersection of history, law, and culture.
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    Ballet's Legacies: Beyond the Phallic Pointe
    Mazurok, Katherine; Gender Studies; McKittrick, Katherine
    This thesis examines how an embodied aesthetic of classical ballet comes into being through modernities’ discourses and material realities of nation, state, colonialism, heterosexuality and their constitutive logics. Accordingly, ballet bodies are produced within a Marxist mode of production and circulate through a movement linguistic system that is phallologocentric. To consider how to move beyond such a system, an evaluation and expansion upon Susan Leigh Foster’s oft-cited work “The Ballerina’s Phallic Pointe” examines the holds modernities’ take over ballet bodies through their production and highlights potentialities for alternative futures. The thesis turns to autobiographical and biographical works of professional ballerinas to express the affected material realities of ballet’s mode of productions’ acts on material bodies.
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    When and Where We Enter: Situating the Absented Presence of Black Canadian Art
    Lacharite, Yaniya; Gender Studies; McKittrick, Katherine
    My thesis situates recent black visual arts practices in the context of exhibition practices and art history. I undertake a content analysis of 10 years of black visual arts reviews in FUSE Magazine and perform a close read of Tau Lewis’ 2017 exhibition cyphers, tissues, blizzards, exile. Through the FUSE content analysis, I am able to explore how an artist’s gender and race influence if and how black arts are discussed in a Canadian context. In my exploration of Lewis, I find that in the exhibition, she—a black woman artist—uses opacity as an aesthetic strategy to avoid presenting her work in a traditional, consumable way. In both of these chapters, the ongoing absented presence of blackness in Canada frames my approach to the case studies.