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Reporting Feminist Potential at ‘The Rebirth of Feminism’ conference (Middlesex University, 30th October 2013 #mdxfeminism)

By Yvette Taylor, GEA Member

I was excited to be invited to speak at ‘The Rebirth of Feminism’ conference, with the title posing potential… and, perhaps, problems or even pain. A ‘rebirth’ is loaded with prospects and (re)production, as enduring feminist labour. This is messy and, while something (and someone) ‘arrives’, the potential, problems and pain arguably carries on (see ‘feminist failures’).

Intrigued, I wondered what (and who) was being re-birthed, pondering on the newness implied, and the feminist lines and lives continued, renewed or rejected.  Feminism(s) have long articulated and circulated the language of ‘family’, of ‘sisterhood’, and generational ‘waves’, suggestive of a generational inheritance and ‘passing on’; these notions can veer between a ‘never had it so good’ to a ‘failing the future’ sentiment. As the recent Gender and Education Association 2013 conference variously considered, I wondered ‘who gets to inherit and what is accumulated and lost in renewing feminism?’

I considered these questions as I searched for an object’ to bring to the conference, as instructed by the organisers. The chosen object was intended to foster discussion, deliberately deviating from a stand-and-speak format of knowing-feminist speaker versus feminist-in-training audience. Conscious of these knowledge exchanges, often bound up with generational positions, I chose to speak about my own retrieved school report cards, marking my own educational trajectory. Which I wouldn’t easily describe – or feel – as an ‘arrival’ (see here).

Report cards are something we’ve all likely experienced (arguably continued and self-audited as our own academic CVs). We’ve all been evaluated, and as educators, we all evaluate, celebrating potential and lamenting failure. When the question of our own academic biographies intersects with questions of women’s entry into the world of employment and education more generally, questions of potential can quickly become problematic – even recast as feminist failure.  As Angela McRobbie highlights in the Aftermath of Feminism, women’s entry into the workforce, as beneficiaries of and achievers in education, has become a sign of ‘arrival’, that she has found her place in a (post)feminist world. But she can also go ‘too far’ and (some) women’s achievement has also been seen as a cause and symptom of a male-underachievement and ‘crisis of masculinity’ (even with his pay differential).

In presenting, I hoped to remind everyone of this story beyond me, even as I placed my report cards on the floor, in the group circle; as we report on feminist potential (and failure) we must, of course, move beyond our own stories. But here is mine: I rediscovered my school report cards, held as valued and treasured objects, even though what they conveyed on the pages was frequently a ‘failure’ rather than a ‘success’. In reading these educational (mis)representations of me, my initial curiosity moved to an anger and even dismay as I realized the emotional (and material) pull these stories still had for me as an adult.

I am deeply skeptical of the story of meritocratic promise, of working really hard (and, romantically, ‘against all the odds’) and so I certainly didn’t want to convey a problematic beginning, transformed by an educational ‘becoming’. Instead, I wanted to query these official stories, which seem profoundly marked by classed and gendered terms and anticipated trajectories. My own reports are littered with ‘lapses into idle chatter’, of being ‘easily distracted’ and rather ‘slap dash’ in approach: the phrase ‘continual underachievement’ is, for one subject, underlined and in my physical education report a rather harsh judgment is made that I have, in fact, ‘not mastered the basic skills’ (of badminton).

So, when the ‘girl with potential’ becomes celebrated, anticipated and lamented, as a sign of feminist future/failure, we need to be attentive to the re-birthing and recirculation of enduring inequalities, so as to report feminist potential for everyone.

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A report from from the BSA’s Young Masculinities one-day seminar

A report from from the BSA’s Young Masculinities one-day seminar

On Friday the 2nd of November, in an event entitled Young Masculinities: Challenges, Changes and Transitions the British Sociological Association’s Youth Study Group turned their attention to masculinities, an area receiving ever increasing academic attention in light of both the concerns of ‘the problem with boys’ as well as shifts within contemporary theories of masculinity. These shifting theories of masculinity have been usefully brought together in relation to education in particular in a recent article in Gender and Education by Chris Haywood and Máirtín Mac an Ghaill (October 2012), who suggest that “studies of masculinity in education are reconsidering how masculinity is being constituted” (2012: 580). Thus, while researchers within the field of gender and education have had masculinity as a central site of analysis for some time, in the case of the BSA’s Youth Study Group, masculinity has been noticeably absent as Steve Roberts, the group’s co-organiser remarked when opening the seminar. Although education acted as an investigatory location for some of the papers (Cann, Ingram, Kehler, Schalet), education as a specific avenue of investigation for young masculinities was interestingly not at the forefront of the papers being given. Forms of education could nonetheless be observed in the papers offered, with young men learning about acceptable forms of cultural consumption, learning about codes of conduct within particular subcultural contexts, learning to regulate themselves, and applying what it means to be a ‘man’ in transition(s) to the work place. The relationship between education and young men was therefore located, in most of the papers, at the level of social and cultural practice rather than at a formal or institutional level. Continue Reading

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Inclusion and Gender Equity in Education: A Conference at the Institute for Educational Development, Aga Khan University

Inclusion and Gender Equity in Education: A Conference at the Institute for Educational Development, Aga Khan University

Dar es Salaam, 14 – 16 November 2012

GEA Policy Report Continue Reading

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Promoting Equality: UK Feminista

Promoting Equality: UK Feminista

GEA Policy Report Autumn 2012

UK Feminista is a relatively new organization of ‘ordinary women and men campaigning for gender equality’. Founded just over 2 years ago, it has wide and international aims, namely a ‘vision of a world where women enjoy all the rights enshrined in CEDAW – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women – otherwise known as the ‘women’s bill of rights’. Continue Reading

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‘Keeping it Real’: teenage girls and everyday feminism

‘Keeping it Real’: teenage girls and everyday feminism

It is an overcast Friday in mid-October as the Cardiff University contingent (that’s us!) pull up outside a rated-but-dated business hotel in Newport; we are attending the #KeepingItReal conference for teenage girls, run by the South Wales charity Full Circle, who seek to support aspiration in young people, and as we find our way into the conference suite the atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm is already building. A large room is decked out as if an awards ceremony is about to take place, with over a dozen huge round tables, bedecked with linen and festive balloons, arranged in front of a stage where a sound check is underway. The walls are lined with exhibitors from local charities promoting sexual health, domestic violence services, and education opportunities, and what we thought to be a big purple bouncy castle in the corner turns out to be an inflatable ‘Big Brother Diary Room’ for the teenage attendees to record their thoughts about their lives and the conference away from adult eyes. No bouncing for us then, we sigh, and set up our stall nearby.  Filling the table with pamphlets and adverts for our gender and sexualities research group, we also lay out our GEA leaflets and journal copies, later eagerly seized by both teachers and charity representatives alike. Continue Reading

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Ester McGeeney on ‘Collisions, Coalitions and Riotous Subjects: The Riots One Year On’

Ester McGeeney on ‘Collisions, Coalitions and Riotous Subjects: The Riots One Year On’

A Conference Report for GEA

At the end of last month I started my week with a colleague from Sussex University, a few of our new masters students and a trip to the CLF theatre in Peckham Rye. We were there to watch The Girls – a play based on the lives of the four young people who performed in the play. The play was set at a group counselling session in South London. Four young people turned up and waited for the counsellor who never arrived. And as they waited, London started rioting and as the news of the looting and violence poured in via their mobile phones, the on-stage drama followed each young person’s story – the mistakes they had made, the anger and pain they had experienced and the hopeless, stuck position in which they found themselves. This was a harrowing welcome to child hood and youth studies for the new students. As a youth practitioner and researcher I think I am pretty hardened to harrowing tales of young peoples’ sexual exploitation, domestic violence, neglect, hunger, gang violence, anger, loss and pain, but the raw emotion and hopelessness of this play still hit me hard.

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Abby Hardgrove on ‘Collisions, Coalitions and Riotous Subjects: The Riots One Year On’

A Conference Report for GEA

I work as a post-graduate research associate on a research initiative focused on young men’s experiences of unemployment in the UK during a time of austerity: ‘Diaspora geographies and generations: spaces of civil engagement’. This is a collaborative research endeavour directed by Professor Linda McDowell and in collaboration with Dr. Esther Rootham. This research has particular relevance to gender and education as we look at gendered experiences of unemployed young men in the UK with specific interest in how their formal education and skills training map onto their structured experiences of precarious work and unemployment. Continue Reading

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Sarah Burton on ‘Collisions, Coalitions and Riotous Subjects: The Riots One Year On’

Sarah Burton on ‘Collisions, Coalitions and Riotous Subjects: The Riots One Year On’

A Conference Report for GEA

Recently I had the pleasure of attending Collisions, Coalitions and Riotous Subjects:The London Riots one year on. The riots in August 2012 came just as I was preparing to begin my teacher training; I was fascinated by the reporting of the disturbance and violence as emanating from a disenfranchised, feral youth, unconnected to the society around them and wondered if I would see this in the teenagers I was about to embark on teaching. Throughout the course of the year I explored concepts of privilege and power with my pupils. Though my postgraduate research predominantly focuses on narratives of sexualities within the law and I was keen to combine my education background and current sociological perspective in order to explore further the narratives created around youth and misrule. Particularly interesting was the focus on riotous bodies and the idea of them as both dissonant and representative of specific groups or perceptions.

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Collisions, Coalitions and Riotous Subjects: The Riots One Year On

Collisions, Coalitions and Riotous Subjects: The Riots One Year On

A Conference Report for GEA

Over the past year, academics have brought critical perspectives to bear on the complex causes and consequences of the English riots of 2011. Important questions have been raised about the relationship between the riots and the increasingly hostile conditions of neolib

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eralism and Coalition policies, including: growing unemployment, rising tuition fees, the withdrawal of the EMA, cuts to Sure Start and an overhaul of welfare provision. Re-visiting the causes, consequences and ongoing effects of the riots has been vital, particularly when key policy figures, such as London Mayor Boris Johnson and Prime Minister David Cameron have dismissed the need for any sociological analysis, claiming the rioters were simply driven by pure criminality, greed and opportunism.  On the 28th September 2012 myself, Yvette Taylor of The Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research (London South Bank University) and Sumi Hollingworth and Ayo Mansaray of the Institute for Policy Studies in Education (London Metropolitan University) held a one day collaborative conference ‘Collisions, Coalitions and Riotous Subjects: The Riots One Year On’ to provide a space for the kinds of critical debates and questioning so readily dismissed by our politicians. Continue Reading

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GEA Interim Conference, 11th – 13th April 2012

GEA Interim Conference, 11th – 13th April 2012

The interim conference, Gender and Democracy: Gender and Research in Times of Change’, was hosted by the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Education and Special Education. Continue Reading

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