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UTSC’s WIDEN series tackles the subject of “work”

Annie (Xiao Yu) Gong talks about gender and housework. (Photo by Ken Jones)

Speakers traded ideas about the role of the artist, housework and gender, and the future of the movie critic in UTSC’s second WIDEN talk last month.

The new interdisciplinary speaking series is organized by Barry Freeman, professor of theatre and performance studies, and Alen Hadzovic, lecturer in chemistry. WIDEN is intended to bring together faculty and students to share ideas from within their field on a broad topic.

 “It’s really about meeting people and talking about different things, getting exposed to different research areas,” Hadzovic says. “The most exciting things are happening exactly where two disciplines meet, where they meet a hole and they want to bridge it.”

The topic at the March 19th discussion was “Work.”

Annie (Xiao Yu) Gong, a fourth year sociology student, discussed her research into a previous and paradoxical finding about gender and housework – as women’s earnings rise relative to those of their husbands’, women at first tend to do less housework. But as their earnings surpass those of their husbands, the amount of housework women do increases again.

 The reason for this “curvilinear” relationship between earnings and the amount of housework done by women isn’t clear. But one idea is that as women’s incomes exceed those of their husbands, some women may feel the need to re-assert their traditional gender roles as homemakers.

Gong decided to test both the existence of the curvilinear relationship and the gender role explanation. She analyzed data from the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey of 2003, which asked thousands of people detailed questions about themselves. Crunching the numbers, Gong confirmed that the curvilinear relationship exists.

But when she looked at questions about women’s attitudes towards gender roles, she found that attitudes didn’t explain the relationship – women with traditional gender role attitudes were no more or less likely to do more housework than others.

“The question is, if the curvilinear relationship really exists between earnings and hours of housework, and if the women's gender role attitudes don't influence the amount of housework they do, then what does influence this relationship? That’s a question that's worth discussing,” Gong says.

Chris Sheppard, a graduate student in sociology, talked about his work examining the role of the professional film critic. At the beginning of film, he says, critics were normally just journalists writing short and relatively shallow reviews of films they had seen.

But as film developed into a recognized art form, criticism took on the status of a profession as defined by sociologist Andrew Abbott – that is, an occupation which requires the application of special, abstract knowledge. People looked to critics to distinguish good movies from bad, and movies with artistic merit from those without.

The rise of the Internet has threatened the profession of art critic, Sheppard says, by democratizing opinion and challenging the role of cultural gatekeepers. Blogs and film criticism sites like Rotten Tomatoes give people seeking opinions other alternatives.

However, film festivals and film museums seem to be filling the role that film critics used to perform. Sheppard says he is now studying the function that the Toronto International Film Festival plays as a cultural mediator.

Sherri Helwig, program director for arts management at UTSC, discussed the role of the artist in Canadian society, especially from an employment and tax perspective. She told the story of Toni Onley, a Canadian landscape artist who quarreled with Revenue Canada over their designation of artists as “manufacturers.” The designation prevented Onley and others from deducting expenses for their art work until it was sold, and also required them to pay taxes on unsold inventory. Onley won his battle after he threatened to burn 1,000 unsold prints rather than pay taxes on them.

In 1992, Canada passed the Status of the Artists Act, which recognizes the important role that artists play in society. Nevertheless, Helwig said, they still face battles with the tax authorities. For instance, many arts organizations are fighting to continue to hire artists as independent contractors, rather than as employees. The status matters to artists because as independent contractors they don’t have to pay employment insurance (which they will usually not benefit from), and they can also deduct their expenses, Helwig says.

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