My earliest philosophical influence was probably Star Trek. Usually I hear women cite Star Trek as an influence for studying physics, astronomy, or engineering. For me, watching this franchise with my family sparked my curiosity about big philosophical questions relating to selfhood, identity, time, multiculturalism, and justice.
I decided to major in philosophy in university after reading Plato’s Republic and Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit in grade twelve English. I earned an MA from Georgia State University, where I first discovered feminist philosophy in Christie Hartley’s teaching. I wrote my master’s thesis under the wonderful supervision of Christie Hartley and Andrew I Cohen on the essentialism critique in feminist theory. Feminist theories have been guilty of talking about “woman” in general, when those theories actually describe (and privilege) the experiences of white, heterosexual, financially secure cisgendered women. I attempted to articulate a concept of “woman” that is sensitive to differences in class, race, and sexuality. The lasting influence of this project on my research and teaching is that examining how power functions can be more useful than merely looking at identity for addressing injustice.
I completed a PhD from the University of Western Ontario. I wanted to study at Western because of the strong feminist philosophy program there, and because the department had a large number of feminist philosophers. I wrote my dissertation under the artful co-supervision of Carolyn McLeod and Helen Fielding on transnational commercial contract pregnancy, drawing from Hannah Arendt’s philosophy of agency and judgment to theorize about gestational labourers’ resistance to oppression. Although tangential to my academic work, my social justice work with the TA/Post Doc union helped me realize the limitations of doing philosophy in my office. Union work, more than any of my academic studies in isolation, helped get me out of the philosophical armchair and into the streets in solidarity with others.
Before coming to Waterloo, I was the Libman Professor of the Humanities at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. At Hood, I co-coordinated the Women’s and Gender Studies program and administered the NEH Colloquium Series in the Humanities. My time at Hood College has been crucial for me professionally in two main ways. First, my work building the women’s and gender studies program helped me shift from thinking about teaching feminist theory. Previously, my main goal was to help students recognize oppression and privilege in their own lives. Hood helped me see that I needed to do more. While we must recognize oppression and privilege, we must also address it. Learning about feminism and social justice should also be about doing feminism and social justice in the world. Another big influence on my teaching and thinking has been the research I have done with Charlotte Wood, a gender studies major, on emotional dimensions of learning. The second experience that has been formative for me relates to the advocacy I did for the humanities more broadly–ways in which humanities disciplines are unique, but also ways in which our disciplinary specialities complement each other when we work on questions together.
Questions I discovered in my dissertation research relating to contract pregnancy, agency, and judgment continue to animate my research programs in feminist bioethics, animal ethics, and feminist interpretations of Arendt. Some of the questions I continue to think through concern the limitations of (Arendtian) judgment across difference, the political and ethical status of the commodification of labor, the epistemological value of narrative, and responses to neocolonial oppression. I also continue to think about how to support students’ well-being–mental, emotional, and physical–in my teaching.